Police are focused on a small polygamist sect in suburban North Carolina after two members — a 5-year-old boy and a 28-year-old woman — have gone missing and are presumed dead.
Authorities believe they were killed by members of the group, but haven't been able to find the bodies, nor have they been able to locate the suspects for weeks.
Investigators have evidence the boy's mother, Vania Sisk, and Peter Moses Jr. "were directly involved in the murder of a juvenile and an adult," according to court documents. The pair haven't been charged, however.
The investigation began earlier this year when the family of Antoinetta McKoy, 28, reported her missing. They hadn't seen her since early December.
She had moved to North Carolina from Washington, D.C., to start a new life, a family member said, but soon lost touch. When she didn't call on her mother's birthday, the family knew something was awry, said Kevin Shields, McKoy's brother-in-law.
"I'm just hoping they find the body so we can know where to go from there," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Investigators believe McKoy had been living with Moses and Sisk in Durham with a religious sect known as the Black Hebrews. The group believes it descends directly from the ancient tribes of Israel, and some of the sects — like the one in Durham — practice polygamy.
As police were investigating McKoy's disappearance, they discovered a 5-year-old, Jadon Higganbothan, was missing, too.
Investigators found a former sect member who told them McKoy and the boy had been killed and provided graphic details of the slayings, court documents said.
Police also seized evidence from the sect's homes in Durham and later in Teller County, Colorado. Court documents related to those searches painted a grim snapshot of what happened to the victims.
The former sect member, who was not identified in documents, said Moses became "extremely angry" at the boy in October, grabbed a gun and began pacing around the house. Then Moses called the boy to the basement, and the former member said he heard "loud music and the sound of a gunshot," according to documents.
The ex-member said he saw Moses wrap the body and put it in a suitcase in the attic. A few days later, when the "body began to stink," Moses disposed of the suitcase, the documents said.
Argument over car keys
The former member told police McKoy was killed in February after a heated argument over car keys. McKoy ran from the house, but she was eventually escorted back inside by two women, according to court documents.
Once inside, the two women began beating her. Later, Moses handed Sisk a handgun and told her to shoot McKoy, "which Vania Sisk did," according to the documents. Moses and the two women then buried her at an undisclosed location.
Police went to the house several times in February to inquire about McKoy. On one occasion, they found Moses hiding in a cabinet and arrested him on warrants charging him with carrying a concealed weapon, discharging a firearm within the city limits and writing a worthless check. He was released after posting $1,500 bond.
A later search turned up a bullet, shell casing and possible human blood, but by that time, members of the group had fled to Colorado. Durham police contacted the Teller County sheriff's department for help, and that agency executed its own search Feb. 29.
Nine children and several adults were in the seven-bedroom house, unpacking boxes, Teller County sheriff's Sgt. Nick Olmsted said. The children were turned over to local child welfare officials and returned to North Carolina.
It was not clear whether they were still in the custody of the state. Child welfare officials in North Carolina wouldn't talk about the case.
'Losing all of our kids'
Colorado investigators also found Sisk at a local Wal-Mart, and told her they had an order from Durham child welfare officials to take custody of all the children. At that point, a women pointed angrily at Sisk and said: "We are losing all of our kids cause you don't know where one of yours is."
Sisk told police she had four children — three with her and one back in North Carolina who was staying with a friend. Police were unable to verify her story, according to documents.
Durham police declined to talk about the case Wednesday, and it's unclear how Sisk met Moses or how and when the group ended up in Durham.
Sisk, on her MySpace page, said she was from Waterloo, Iowa, and had lived seven years in Colorado Springs, where Jaden was born. At least two members of the sect also lived in Colorado Springs.
In a post several years ago, she described herself as "laid back" and called her sons, including Jaden, the "most important people in my life."
Weiss reported from Charlotte, North Carolina; Associated Press writer Eric Turner in Washington and researcher Monika Mathur in New York also contributed to this report. Weiss reported from Charlotte, N.C. Associated Press writer Eric Turner in Washington and researcher Monika Mathur in New York also contributed to this report.