A bit of case commentary

My “delayed-reported missing children” post got me thinking. I added two names to it this evening, kids I’d missed in the first sweep of the site.

As you all know I try to sound objective and unbiased and all that in my case profiles. I just try to tell the story as I see it and let the reader draw their own conclusions, if any, as to what happened. And then there’s my blog, where I can say what I really think. Even there, I try to keep it cool. I’m a big believer in giving the benefit of doubt, and many times on here I’ve ranted about the judgmental, accusatory statements people make in missing child cases that are often based on nothing other than a “feeling.” I really can’t stand that.

Today, however, I’d like to try something new and provide a bit of play-by-play commentary on one of my cases. I picked Ke’Shaun Vanderhorst. It’s an utterly tragic disappearance. A helpless toddler was failed by so many different people who were supposed to help him. Justice was not served. He will probably never be found.

From the top:

Ke’Shaun was last seen at his residence in the 1400 block of north 17th Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 25, 1995. His mother, Tina Vanderhorst, told her relatives and police that the Department of Human Services (DHS) had taken the child. {A common enough cover story in such cases. Of course, someone who wasn’t a complete moron would have realized it wouldn’t hold water for long.} Her family became suspicious, however {wonder why?}, and her sister reported Ke’Shaun as a missing person on October 13. Investigators who searched Tina’s apartment in the 1400 block of 17th Street after the child went missing described it as filthy, cluttered and rat-infested. Tina repeated the story about Ke’Shaun being in DHS custody, but the DHS had no child by that name in their care. She was arrested for parole violation. Later, she was charged with dealing in infants, endangering the welfare of a child and corrupting the morals of a minor. {She got off easy. I wonder if they would have hit her harder today, in the wake of Aarone Thompson, Rilya Wilson, etc.}

Tina had long-standing problem with drugs and alcohol at the time of Ke’Shaun’s disappearance, and her boyfriend had threatened to remove Ke’Shaun from her custody as a result. {If only he had! Though, if he was dating Tina, chances are the BF wasn’t a terribly functional individual either.} He had previously been in foster care while his mother was incarcerated. Ke’Shaun was given back his mother in November 1994, after Tina was released from prison. He was classified as being at low risk for abuse, as his mother had never been accused of harming or neglecting him. She had been in jail when he was born and he was taken away from her immediately. {It seems to me that “was in jail from the time he was born until now” ought to cancel out “never accused of abusing kid” because, hello, she CAN’T abuse or neglect him while she’s in jail and he’s in foster care.} Beginning in January 1995, a social worker visited the family regularly to provide counseling to Tina and help her care for her son. DHS workers who observed Tina during this time described her as a devoted mother and found no evidence of drug use. After six months, they requested that the DHS close their file on Ke’Shaun, as they didn’t believe he and Tina needed supervision. {Wonder if they knew about her previous parenting fails, as shown below?} In August 1995, the file was closed. Ke’Shaun disappeared the following month. {Whoops.}

Tina had seven children, including Ke’Shaun, by 1995. Four of her children died in the 1980s. Eight-month-old Terrance Slaughter died in 1980, three-month-old Catrina Stephens died in 1983, and ten-month-old Kenneth Stephens died in 1985. Those deaths were attributed to pneumonia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). {Shades of Marybeth Tinning here.} Tina’s daughter Marie was born premature and addicted to crack cocaine in 1988. She weighed only one pound at birth and she never left the hospital before she died at age four weeks. {Okay, technically this was natural causes, but, um, yeah, her mom pretty much killed her.} Tina’s remaining two sons, born in 1986 and 1987, lived with their paternal grandmother at the time Ke’Shaun vanished. {The sole survivors of Tina’s children. I really hope they grew up to become better people than their mother was. I really hope the authorities didn’t do anything dumb like give her custody of them after she got out of jail for the 1996 charges. (See below.)} Tina visited them regularly.

After her story about Ke’Shaun and the DHS was proved to be false, Tina stated that she sold Ke’Shaun to an African-American female named Virginia Graham. {If only this story was actually true.} She was paid $500 in twenty-dollar bills and used the money to buy crack cocaine. {Well, the crack part is probably true.} A sketch of the woman is posted below this case summary. She is described as being approximately 35 to 40 years old in 1995, 5’4 and 140 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. The abductor’s ears are pierced and she was well-dressed; she wore a maroon skirt, a cream-colored shirt or jacket and designer fingernails. Tina stated that Graham, whom she did not know, visited her apartment one day {like a fairy godmother} and offered to take Ke’Shaun because “someone” told her Tina was having difficulty caring for him. Graham drove a light blue four-door sedan with the letters “AL” in the license plate number. She had a white child seat inside the car for Ke’Shaun. She told Tina she lived in Philadelphia, was married and had two children of her own. Graham, if she exists {which she most certainly does not}, has never been identified.

Tina later changed her story yet again and stated that, while under the influence of drugs, she took Ke’Shaun at a friend’s fruit stand on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. She could not remember what happened to the child after that. {Of course he somehow magically disappeared from the fruit stand without anybody seeing or hearing anything, and Tina totally had nothing to do with it, no way.} Tina frequently left Ke’Shaun at the fruit stand for short periods of time prior to his disappearance, but would always come back and get him eventually. {If only she hadn’t.} Neighbors reported Ke’Shaun always wore clean clothing and did not appear hungry or abused prior to his disappearance, and they never saw Tina mistreat him, but she would frequently leave him in the care of others, sometimes overnight. {Hard to reconcile this with Tina’s past history and the cops’ description of her apartment. But of course, the neighbors would hardly say “yeah, the kid was screaming all day and all night, we heard her beating him, we saw the bruises, we just didn’t care enough to do anything about it.” Not saying that was the actual situation either. It was probably something in between. Abusers and abused children are excellent at keeping up appearances.}

Neither Ke’Shaun nor the {imaginary} woman Tina told the police about have been heard from again. His mother pleaded no contest to child endangerment in connection with his case in November 1996, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 7 years in prison. {That’s a bargain price to pay, for what she did to Ke’Shaun. And to all her other kids.} Police began reinvestigating Tina’s other children’s deaths after Ke’Shaun disappeared. {Gee. I wonder why.} No charges were filed, however. After her release from prison, Tina was arrested for prostitution at least once.

Ke’Shaun has never been located. {Another forgotten symbol of the dangers of drugs, self-centered sociopathic parenting, and inept child protection officers.}

27 thoughts on “A bit of case commentary

  1. TexasRose October 2, 2010 / 10:40 pm

    I would bet dollars to donuts that her deceased children were suffocated…w/o reason for suspicion, suffocation can be mistaken by officials for SIDS.

  2. Princess Shantae October 2, 2010 / 10:56 pm

    With Tina living the way she was and all, she didn’t even have to smother the babies, she could just let the germs and drugs and dirt do the work for her.
    Garbage. Did she keep on squirting out more babies after KeShaun went missing? Probably unless something happened to her insides to stop her. Women like that don’t change.
    And why is it just about every parent that hurts or kills their kids is described as a devoted parent? Even by the social workers? Even after all their histories?

    • Meaghan October 3, 2010 / 12:55 am

      The same way every serial killer and mass murderer is described as a nice guy who never bothered anybody and kept his lawn mowed.

      • Princess Shantae October 3, 2010 / 10:44 am

        No, the serials are all describwed as quiet and kept to himself. If somebody keeps to himself its like a red flag he’s up to something. So if you don’t want to be suspected, be loud and obnoxious and get up in everybody’s business. lol

      • Meaghan October 4, 2010 / 12:31 am

        I keep to myself. AND I have half a dozen bodies buried in the basement.

  3. Zoe October 2, 2010 / 11:30 pm

    With contraception (and even abortion) so freely available why does anyone need to have that many seeminly unwanted children?

    Shantae, I think being a social worker must be hard work, especially when dealing with people who appear to tick all the right boxes. How hard would it be to put on a show for a while?

    Great idea for a post BTW.

  4. Princess Shantae October 2, 2010 / 11:44 pm

    It might be easy but for a hard core crack head you’d almost have to be on crack yourself to not see clear through them.
    Somketimes it seems like social workers are so over worked they can’t do their job right, and other times its like they’ve been arond low lifes for so long they have sunk down almost to that level theirselves. What is it they say about cops? Whoever fights monsters has to be careful he doesn’t become one himself.

    • Zoe October 3, 2010 / 3:47 am

      Maybe. I sometimes think some people who become social workers want to see the good in people and will believe whatever they think they see. Of course, over time, no doubt the overwork, horrible stuff they deal with, etc, some just stop caring, fill in the form, tick the box, move on…another six people to see before lunch…and when they do suspect something and courts then do nothing due to lack of evidence?

      Besides, we sometimes deal with social workers through work and often they can’t get hold of people, they move/ aren’t hardly ever home/ have no contact numbers/ etc.

      • danielle October 3, 2010 / 11:39 am

        zoe: you are so right……

  5. Justin October 3, 2010 / 2:17 am

    For crimes involving abuse or gross neglect of children, I believe manditory steralization should be part of the sentencing.

    Wild animals that have been known to canibalize their young have better parenting skills then some people.

  6. Jaime October 3, 2010 / 9:11 am

    You can see part of the scope of young children who are never reported missing by anyone on the Doenetwork. They have quite a few very young John and Jane Does that they cant match to any known missing children. midlandsconnection.com has an article on Stacy Renee Lester her mom has started a Facebook page to find her.

  7. Candice October 3, 2010 / 10:15 am

    This was really interesting to read. I agree with you and think you do a great job of writing unbiased case files.

  8. Princess Shantae October 3, 2010 / 10:51 am

    A lot of the real young Does on teh Doe site are abandoned right after they’re born, so nobody except the mother probably knows they even existed.
    Zoe, in Philly where KeShaun was from, a few years ago there was a huge scandal with the social service people, b/c a very disabled girl named Danieal Kelly was supposed to be under their watch and she was neglected and starved by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend of the week and her older siblings. After she died the social workers got together in the office at night and shredded a bunch of documents to try and cover their butts. They had evidence she was in danger and they’d seen the shape her house was in and the sape she was in and knew she wasn’t going to school or the doctor, but they lied in their reports and destroyed things that proved they had knew about it all. I think like ten of them were fired and some were charged in Danieal’s death.
    This wasn’t about overwork so much as it was about them not giving a damn.

    • Meaghan October 4, 2010 / 1:48 am

      In Canada there was a case where a young woman concealed her pregnancy and then gave birth to the baby in secret, and this was discovered when the woman’s father found the baby’s body buried in his yard. The police did not file charges in the case, perhaps in part because it wasn’t immediately clear how the baby had died. Then, you’d think she would have learned her lesson, then she went and did it AGAIN a year or two later. Now she’s facing two counts of murder. A little too late.

    • Zoe October 4, 2010 / 2:55 am

      Wow, thats pretty low! Good that they got charged etc.

  9. Jamie October 3, 2010 / 11:12 am

    Meg, Your right, when I read one of the missings report, its hard not to say….”now come on..last seen with..the EX..boyfriend..husband..step-father,family friend…I always think to myself…is the police that stupid? Or they lawyer up, and that kills me too…they dont have to speak or answer questions? The case of the missing mom-to-be from NY.,just eats @ me…He’s a doctor from India, name Rudy, She finds out he married, and then she meets him and poof…shes gone…Never to be seen again…This is what should have been done…POOF..he disappears…(now see how his family feels the lost) hang him upside down about 2inch from the rat infested floor..nake…blindfolded…find out where her body is…and walk away! If he talks you know where to find her if he doesnt, he gets what he asked for!!!

    • Meaghan October 4, 2010 / 1:46 am

      Having a strong gut feeling about who committed the crime, and being able to prove it, are two different matters altogether. Which is why, in spite of the fantasies we all have about suspending suspects by their thumbs in a dank dungeon until they talk, really can’t become official policy.

      And some people just have rotten luck and look guilty when they’re not. Like, for awhile there Richard Ricci looked like a VERY good suspect in Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping. The poor man died with thousands of people thinking he was a kidnap/murderer. I don’t blame the police for thinking the way they did — their theory made sense. It just happened to be wrong, dead wrong.

    • Meaghan May 30, 2012 / 7:40 pm

      Rudy Persaud was actually from Guyana. Most of their population is of southeast Asian descent.

  10. Princess Shantae October 3, 2010 / 1:07 pm

    Wow with that kind of tactics you better hope you aren’t ever accused wrongly of something.

    • Meaghan October 4, 2010 / 1:44 am

      I’m assuming Jamie wasn’t being altogether serious.

      • Kat October 4, 2010 / 11:14 am

        Yeah, but I get it. We’re so bogged down in this country’s legal system (nice as it is) that ALL I ever hear about is the criminals right in jail, etc, etc. I get SO tired of hearing it. No one talks about the victims. Sometimes I think other countries have it right.

  11. Princess Shantae October 4, 2010 / 10:54 am

    Meaghan, you posted not long ago about Surrette Clark, and I remembered it b/c of the discussion on here about even realy good theories being wrong sometimes. I mean, its understood that Surrette’s step father killed her, he kinda confessed to it later, but they were so sure they knew where he buried her b/c of their aerial pics that were supposed to show the way the plants grew different in one place the right size for her to be under the ground, and all along she was a little Jane Doe they’d found in a river bed or something.

  12. Kat October 4, 2010 / 11:13 am

    Truth. It was wrong, but look at what they were going on, and when. I tend to think they did the best they could, esp. with the circumstances.

    • Meaghan October 4, 2010 / 11:54 am

      Yeah, that’s my thoughts on the matter too.

  13. elisabeth October 4, 2010 / 8:48 pm

    One thing I’d like to point out is that suffocation murderers, which Tina seems to have been, are not always physically abusive before that act. I wouldn’t buy that she was never neglectful, given the home conditions, but it’s not necessarily the case that she was beating the babies. Marybeth Tinning, Marie Noe, etc., didn’t beat up on their kids — they “just” got sick of them and smothered them. Horrible, sick, and sad, but it helps explain the neighbor/social service reports on Vanderhorst.

    (Also, I’m really tired of hearing about how victims have no rights and therefore we should whip suspects with electrical cords until they confess. I think we should be better people than that – “they did it first” is not justification. But that’s a whole different topic.)

  14. Jen October 4, 2010 / 9:27 pm

    Ha! Weeks before I has just moved in a few blocks from his house at Temple University. I did a police ride along for about 9 hours overnight. That area at 17th and Master- all of those rowhouses would be rat infested. etc. They were always falling down into the street (seriously!)

  15. Jen October 4, 2010 / 9:33 pm

    I should also add…. the fruit stand on Cecil B Moore… most stores there- the cashier is behind bulletproof glass. He lived in a rough ‘hood.

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