The case is incredibly complicated and tragic. Rilya was neglected and abused by her mother, a cocaine addict, but Graham was clearly no better, something that should have been obvious long before Rilya disappeared. The state of Florida must have been really hard up for foster parents to certify a convicted fraud with a string of alias and an alleged “psychotic disorder.” A social worker was supposed to visit Rilya once a month to determine her well-being, but Rilya’s social worker didn’t so much drop the ball as deliberately hurl it into the abyss. She falsified records of visits she wasn’t making. As a result, no one found out about Rilya’s disappearance until over a year after it happened. I am quite sure that Geralyn Graham killed Rilya, but I’m not at all sure the state can prove it, given that one of their major witnesses backed out and will not testify after all. There is no body. As far as I know, there’s no physical evidence at all. There are no direct witnesses to the alleged homicide.
Too bad we can’t put the entire Florida DCF on trial for Rilya’s homicide. They all killed her together, them and Graham. Rilya’s case is unique on Charley, not because she was gone a long time before she was reported missing, but because of the way she was abysmally failed by the very system set up to protect her. Let’s look at some other Charley cases that are similar:
Brittany Williams, age 8, missing from Virginia since 2000. Disappearance not discovered for over two years. Brittany was living with a guardian at the time of her disappearance; her guardian had legal custody of her and she wasn’t in the foster care system. My theory is that Brittany, who had full-blown AIDS by the time of her disappearance, simply died and her guardian hid her body somewhere in order to continue to collect benefits from the state.
Peter Kema, age 6, missing from Hawaii since 1997. Disappearance not discovered for several months. Though Peter and his siblings were being supervised by the Hawaii Department of Human Services, they were living with their biological parents at the time of his disappearance. In retrospect, the DHS should have taken them all away long before he vanished. I believe they did act correctly once they realized Peter was missing, though. If the DHS had not demanded Peter’s parents produce him in person, it’s possible his disappearance wouldn’t have been discovered for much longer. It’s plain as day what happened to him and who did it.
Rene Romero, 4, missing from Nevada since 1994. His mother and her boyfriend killed him, then immediately moved out of state with their other kids to conceal his disappearance. It’s not clear when his disappearance was discovered, but it came to light when Rene’s parents were investigated for abusing their other children. They were both charged with murder in 1998, and eventually convicted. I don’t know whether Rene was under any kind of supervision by child protective services at the time of his death, but it seems unlikely.
Michelle Pulsifer, 3, missing from California since 1969. Her disappearance wasn’t reported to the police for over thirty years. Michelle’s mother had full custody of her and her father had no legal rights to her, and though he visited her and her brother there was nothing he could do when the family up and moved to another state very suddenly. This was to conceal Michelle’s death; she was murdered by her mother or her mother’s boyfriend or both of them. Decades later, Michelle’s aunt hired a private investigator to find her, and the police began investigating after the P.I. couldn’t find any record of her after 1969. Michelle’s mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder, but Mom was acquitted and the boyfriend died before trial.
Garnell Moore, 7, missing from Maryland since 2002. Bizarrely, even his own relatives didn’t notice he was gone for almost three years. Garnell’s parents weren’t part of his life and he was passed around to various (probably unwilling) relations, was never enrolled in school and never came to the notice of child protective services or, apparently, anyone else. It wasn’t that the system failed him, per se; he was never in the system to begin with. The last person known to have cared for him claims she abandoned him on the doorstep of a social services building, but the address she gave did not exist. God only knows what happened to him and if he’s still alive.
Adam Herrman, 11 or 12, missing from Kansas since 1999. Disappearance not noticed for nine years. A former foster child, he was legally adopted by his foster parents. They continued to pick up his benefit checks in his absence and gave various explanations for his absence to those who asked. Adam’s disappearance came to light when his adopted sister, who thought he had been given back to the Department of Social and Rehabiliation Services, tried to locate him though the SRS and found out that as far as the SRS knew, he was still with his adoptive parents. His adoptive parents claim he ran away and they were afraid to report it at the time. Riiiight. After Adam’s disappearance came to light, many credible witnesses came forward saying Adam had been severely abused by his adoptive mother. I think we all know what really happened.
Ke’Shaun Vanderhorst, 2, missing from Pennsylvania since 1995. Disappearance not reported for three weeks. His mother told her family he’d been taken by the state Department of Human Services, but they got suspicious and went to the police. Ke’Shaun’s mother, when confronted, gave several stories to account for his disappearance, including one where she sold him to a nice lady who promised to take care of him. She later pleaded no contest to child endangerment.
All these children were badly let down by those around them. Their parents or guardians abused them. Others in their lives knew about the abuse and failed to stop it. In some cases, child protective agencies failed to rescue them from abusive homes, or rescued them from abusive homes only to place them in other abusive homes. These kids never had a chance.
In my opinion, however, none of them were let down nearly as badly as Rilya Wilson was. In none of the above cases was there the level of supervision expected in Rilya’s case. The children were living with biological relatives or adoptive parents, not foster homes like Rilya, and social workers weren’t required to check up on them as Rilya’s social worker was supposed to do.