Murder of Riley Ann Sawyers

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Riley Ann Sawyers
Riley Ann Sawyers

(2005-03-11)March 11, 2005
DiedJuly 24, 2007 (2007-07-25) (aged 2)
Cause of deathHomicide by beating[1]
Body discoveredOctober 29, 2007
Galveston Bay, Texas
Resting placeAshes buried at Mentor Municipal Cemetery, Mentor, Ohio
41°38′19″N 81°19′04″W / 41.6387°N 81.3178°W / 41.6387; -81.3178 (approximate)
Other namesBaby Grace
Known forVictim of child abuse, filicide, and child murder
Parent(s)Kimberly Dawn Trenor (mother)
Robert Sawyers (father)

Riley Ann Sawyers (March 11, 2005 – July 24, 2007) was a two-year-old American girl who was beaten to death by her mother Kimberly Dawn Trenor and her mother's partner Royce Zeigler in a filicide. Her body was later found in Galveston Bay, Texas.[2]

The level of decomposition meant that police were unable to immediately identify the remains and began a nationwide effort to learn the child's name.[2] Riley Ann's identity was confirmed when her paternal grandmother, Sheryl Sawyers, notified police after seeing a composite sketch. Her remains were then positively identified through DNA testing on November 30, 2007.[3][4][5][6]

Prior to her 2007 identification, Riley Ann Sawyers was known as Baby Grace due to her age and sex.

Home environment[edit]

Riley Ann was the daughter of Robert Thomas Sawyers and Kimberly Dawn Trenor. Her mother became pregnant at the age of 15 when the pair developed a relationship while students at Mentor High School.[7][8][9] Her father dropped out of high school during his junior year. The family lived in Mentor, Ohio, with Robert's mother, Sheryl, who was Riley Ann's primary caregiver.[9] During this time, Riley Ann's parents grew apart and were no longer a couple. They all continued to live in the same home. Riley Ann's father began dating a woman named Catherine Priester, whom he later married. In October 2006, alleging physical abuse and having filed a domestic violence charge against Trenor, Sawyers left the home.[9] In May 2007, Trenor and Riley Ann moved to Spring, Texas.[10] Trenor married Royce Clyde Zeigler, Jr. on June 1, 2007.[11][12] Trenor met Royce Zeigler while playing World of Warcraft; Robert Sawyers had introduced the game to her and Trenor began putting a lot of time and energy into it.[9]

Zeigler believed Riley Ann should be disciplined to say "sir" and "ma'am" to adults, as well as the phrases "please" and "thank you," and that corporal punishment was the best means of disciplining a child.[6] Believing that Trenor was not properly administering the beatings, Zeigler himself beat the child.[12] Zeigler's former stepmother explained that his father had used similar methods to raise his children, which often involved abuse. Other ex-wives also gave recollections of Zeigler's father's abuse and likened the circumstances to that surrounding the death of Riley Ann.[13]

Death of Riley Ann[edit]

In a videotaped confession and signed affidavit, Trenor admitted that on July 24, 2007, she and Zeigler beat Riley Ann with two leather belts and held her head underwater in the bathtub.[9] Trenor also stated that Zeigler picked Riley Ann up by her hair and threw her across the room, causing her head to slam into the tile floor.[11] Riley Ann, having been injured by the beating, was unable to stand up when ordered to do so. "She didn't have control of her legs," Trenor stated. The child had also tried to hinder the beating by saying "I love you" to her mother as the abuse that night took place.[14][15] She maintained that the death was accidental and that it was "a case of discipline that went too far." When they realized Riley Ann was dead, Trenor and Zeigler went to Walmart to buy a Sterilite plastic storage container.[2] They wrapped Riley Ann's body in garbage bags and stuffed it into the plastic container.[10] They kept this container in a storage shed for about two months before dumping it into Galveston Bay from a bridge near the Galveston Causeway.[9][7]

Trenor forged legal documents as an attempt to conceal the murder. Such documents cited that Riley Ann had been removed from their custody due to alleged "sexual abuse." She claimed Zeigler had forced her to do so.[8]

A forensic facial reconstruction of Riley Ann Sawyers (left), alongside an image as to how Riley Ann had physically appeared in life

Discovery and investigation[edit]

Riley Ann's body was discovered in Galveston Bay by a fisherman on October 29, 2007.[9][16] A coroner discovered three skull fractures on the body, and the investigation then proceeded as a homicide case.[2][8] The extent of the injuries was described as having similar force to falling from a rooftop.[16] After police were unable to identify the remains, forensic artist Lois Gibson was recruited to create a forensic sketch to illustrate an estimation of the victim's appearance during life, as the body was unrecognizable.[17][18][19] The unidentified body was then nicknamed "Baby Grace."[10]

National efforts began to uncover the identity of the remains and the reconstruction was released to the public.[20] Eventually, Riley Ann's paternal grandmother, Sheryl, reported to authorities that the sketch resembled her granddaughter.[16][11][17] Sheryl had discovered the sketch online when she made the connection between the cases.[21] DNA testing later confirmed that the remains were that of the child, as authorities had already suspected, given the statements made by Riley's grandmother.[8][13]


Shortly before Thanksgiving Day in 2007, Zeigler attempted suicide by overdosing on blood pressure medication and prescribed anti-depressant pills. He left a suicide note stating, "My wife is innocent of the sins I committed".[11][8] However, he later claimed during his trial that he was in another room of the house when Riley Ann died, and therefore could not have been guilty.[22]

The Mountain View Unit. Kimberly Dawn Trenor is currently incarcerated within this facility

Following their arrests, the pair were held at separate bonds of $350,000 each. They had initially been charged with injury to a child and tampering with evidence.[23] The trial for Trenor was delayed due to her becoming pregnant and it was postponed until after she gave birth in January 2009.[14]

Murder convictions[edit]

Trenor and Zeigler eventually took responsibility for Riley Ann's death.[24][20] Trenor was convicted of capital murder on February 2, 2009. It took the jury 90 minutes to reach a verdict. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[6][25] She is incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas.[26]

Zeigler was charged with capital murder and evidence tampering. On November 6, 2009, he was convicted and received an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.[6] The sentence was automatic because the state did not seek the death penalty.[22] Such verdict was reached after four hours and thirty minutes of conversation by the jury.[6] He is incarcerated in the Wallace Pack Unit near Navasota, Texas.[27]


On January 14, 2008, the cremated remains of Riley Ann were turned over to her family in Ohio, after a Texas judge ruled that evidence collected during the autopsy would be sufficient for trial.[24] Sheryl Sawyers' employer also raised money through a fundraiser to pay for the child's funeral.[9] A ceremony later took place and Riley Ann's remains were interred at the Mentor Municipal Cemetery. As many as twenty countries reportedly performed a similar memorial service for the victim.[6][28]

The Hitchcock City Commission in Texas named "Riley's Island" after the victim in March 2008.[14]

In media[edit]


  • The Investigation Discovery channel has broadcast an episode focusing upon the murder of Riley Ann Sawyers. This episode was first broadcast in June 2011.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ People v. Kimberly Dawn Trenor
  2. ^ a b c d "'Baby Grace' Sketch Unleashes Wave of Tips". ABC News. Associated Press. November 5, 2007. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007.
  3. ^ Sara McDonald (November 30, 2007). "DNA confirms Sawyers is 'Baby Grace'". Galveston Daily News. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007.
  4. ^ Harvey Rice (November 30, 2007). "DNA test confirms Riley Sawyers is Baby Grace". Houston Chronicle.
  5. ^ "Resolved Cases". The Doe Network. Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Royce Zeigler, stepfather of 'Baby Grace' -- Riley Ann Sawyer -- sentenced to life for murder". Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland Scene. November 7, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Christian, Carol (October 23, 2014). "9 notorious crimes with ties to Galveston Island". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Report: Woman details death of 'Baby Grace'". USA Today. Gannett Co. Inc. The Associated Press. November 27, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Langford, Terri (December 2, 2007). "How did Riley Ann Sawyers' mom end up here?". Houston Chronicle. Houston, Texas. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Celizic, Mike (November 29, 2007). "Father, grandmother say 'Baby Grace' was loved". Today News. NBC. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d Sean Callebs (November 26, 2007). "Police: Mother describes beating of 2-year-old, hiding her body". CNN.
  12. ^ a b Harvey Rice (December 3, 2007). "Riley's death fits 'stepparent syndrome' mold". Houston Chronicle.
  13. ^ a b Austin Peterson, Liz (December 11, 2007). "Ex-wives of accused killer's father say Baby Grace case familiar". exas District & County Attorneys Association. Associated Press. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c Montaldo, Charles. "The 'Baby Grace' Case". About. Archived from the original on August 8, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  15. ^ MÄKELÄ, KATRIINA (November 29, 2007). "Isäpuoli pieksi kuoliaaksi "Baby Grace ei osannut kohteliaisuuksia"". Iltalehti (in Finnish). Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d Shofar, Cassandara (June 15, 2011). "Investigation Discovery to air episode on murder of Riley Ann Sawyers, 'Baby Grace'". The News Herald. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  17. ^ a b McLaughlin, Michael (July 23, 2012). "Lois Gibson's Composite Sketches Have Helped Catch Texas Criminals For 30 Years". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  18. ^ Reece, Kevin (May 25, 2016). "HPD forensic artist helping identify missing children". KHOU. Tegna. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  19. ^ "Lois Gibson – Forensic Art". Nic Herbert. 2012. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  20. ^ a b Freidman, Emily (April 20, 2010). "Texas: Authorities Search For Identity of Boy Found Dead in Park". ABC News. ABC. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  21. ^ Wigglesworth, Valerie; Kim, Theodore (April 17, 2010). "Police hope illustration will help identify child found dead at Wylie park". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  22. ^ a b Juan A. Lozano (November 6, 2009). "Stepfather convicted in death of 'Baby Grace'". Associated Press.
  23. ^ "Cops: Mom says couple tortured 'Baby Grace'". NBC News. NBC. November 26, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  24. ^ a b M.R. Kropko (January 15, 2008). "Ashes of 'Baby Grace' Flown to Ohio". ABC News.
  25. ^ "Mom found guilty of murder in 'Baby Grace' case –". CNN. February 3, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2010.
  26. ^ "Trenor, Kimberly Dawn Archived 2015-12-27 at the Wayback Machine" (Archive). Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 28, 2015.
  27. ^ "Zeigler, Royce Clyde II" (Archive). Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 28, 2015.
  28. ^ Martin, Maggi (January 16, 2008). "'Baby Grace' Riley Sawyers laid to rest". cleveland. Retrieved May 17, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Franscell, Ron (2010). Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Texas. Connecticut: Morris Book Publishing. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0-7627-5965-1.
  • Gibson, Lois (2008). Forensic Art Essentials: A Manual for Law Enforcement Artists. New York: Associated Press. ISBN 978-0-12-370898-4.
  • Meyer, Cheryl; Oberman, Michelle; White, Kelly (2001). Mothers who Kill Their Children. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5643-3.
  • Stone, Michael H. (2009). The Anatomy of Evil. United States of America: Prometheus Books. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-977378-33-0.

External links[edit]