Murder of Timothy Wiltsey
Timothy Wiltsey, from 1991 missing-child flyer
|Born||Timothy William Wiltsey
August 6, 1985
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
|Died||May 25, 1991
|Body discovered||Edison, New Jersey|
|Residence||South Amboy, New Jersey|
|Alma mater||St. Mary Elementary School|
|Known for||Victim of homicide|
Timothy William "Timmy" Wiltsey (August 6, 1985 – May 25, 1991) was a 5-year-old boy from South Amboy, New Jersey, whose 23-year-old single mother, Michelle Lodzinski, told police that he went missing from a local carnival on May 25, 1991. Almost a year later, his remains were discovered miles away. After 25 years of suspicion, Lodzinski was ultimately convicted of his murder.
In the weeks and months after Timmy's disappearance, the case received considerable regional and national publicity. On April 23, 1992, his partial remains were discovered across the Raritan River in the marshlands of Edison, New Jersey, near one of Lodzinski's previous employment locations. She was considered the primary suspect in the crime – but despite major inconsistencies in her story, two failed polygraph tests, a self-kidnapping hoax, and years of intense scrutiny, she was not charged with Timmy's death until August 6, 2014, which would have been his 29th birthday. At trial, extensive witness testimony for the "cold case" prosecution successfully overcame inadmissible facts and a lack of forensic evidence directly connecting Lodzinski to the crime. On May 18, 2016, a unanimous jury convicted her of first-degree murder. After unsuccessful motions of appeal, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison with no possibility of parole.
The evening of Saturday, May 25, 1991, during the Memorial Day weekend, Michelle Lodzinski said she and her son visited the South Amboy Elks Club carnival in Sayreville's Kennedy Park. Lodzinski told police that her son went missing when she left him waiting in a carnival ride line as she went to buy a soda. Police officers, firefighters, volunteers, and trained dogs immediately launched an exhaustive search of the carnival grounds and the surrounding area, to no avail. Timmy's father, George Wiltsey, was at home in Iowa, uninvolved in the boy's life, and eliminated as a suspect. The case was televised twice on America's Most Wanted, and Timmy's photograph was circulated on thousands of missing-child flyers and milk cartons. In a "bitter irony", May 25 was National Missing Children's Day, an annual observance inspired by a previous high-profile disappearance.
Lodzinski reported to investigators that she and her son had spent time at Holmdel Park during the afternoon before driving to the evening carnival. According to park police, the Holmdel lot where she claimed to have parked was closed that day. Despite her claim to have spent more than an hour at the Elks carnival, with Timmy dressed in bright red, the authorities could find no one who had seen her son that night. As one witness testified: "I spoke with her and she did not have a child with her. I was very upset. There was a child missing and there was no child." The last confirmed sighting of Timmy was by a neighbor who saw him playing outside that morning.
More than a week later, at a police interview in Sayreville, Lodzinski claimed two men with a knife had taken her son and intimidated her into silence. Later that day, she returned to the police station and recanted the story, as the police began to consider her a leading suspect. The following day, she returned and gave a third story that her son had been taken by two men and a woman. She claimed to have known the woman as Ellen, a local go-go dancer and customer of the bank where Lodzinski had worked as a teller. Despite an exhaustive FBI search, no such "Ellen" was ever found, and Lodzinski failed two polygraph tests.
On October 26, 1991, schoolteacher Dan O'Malley was birdwatching and exploring marshlands in the Raritan Center business park in Edison, New Jersey. He discovered a child's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sneaker, which had been highly publicized as the kind Timmy was wearing when he disappeared. O'Malley brought it to the Sayreville Police Department that same day. The sneaker was shown to Lodzinski, who stated it was not her son’s. It was then stored in an evidence area and apparently forgotten. After weeks with no word from the police, O'Malley reported the sneaker to a local newspaper, The Home News of New Brunswick, resulting in a front-page story and FBI forensic testing.
Months later, after the forensic testing had been inconclusive, FBI agent Ron Butkiewicz read the newspaper story, contacted O'Malley, and they toured the location together on April 6, 1992. Upon re-interviewing Lodzinski's friends and family, Butkiewitz learned that she had once worked and taken frequent walks at the Raritan Center complex, within a few blocks of the sneaker's discovery, although Lodzinski herself omitted just this location when investigators had asked for her complete employment history. On April 23–24, 1992, law enforcement teams conducted a full search of the area. They quickly located a matching second sneaker in Timmy's size, and then found the boy's partial skeletal remains in and around a truck tire in Red Root Creek, near pieces of his clothing, a Ninja Turtles balloon, and a blue blanket. His identity was confirmed through dental records, and his death was ruled a homicide, although the time, location, and medical cause of death could not be determined due to advanced decomposition.
On January 21, 1994, Michelle Lodzinski's car was found idling at her New Jersey home. The next day, she turned up in Detroit, Michigan, claiming abduction by FBI agents "to teach her a lesson for talking about Timmy." Two weeks after she returned home, her brother found an FBI business card on her door with the message "It's not over." Agent Butkiewicz resumed his investigation and found a local print shop that had recently printed FBI business cards for Lodzinski. She admitted faking her own kidnapping but refused to discuss her contradictory accounts of Timmy's kidnapping, and was sentenced to six months house arrest and three years probation for the FBI hoax.
In 1997, pregnant with her second child, Lodzinski pleaded guilty to stealing a computer from a former employer, and was again sentenced to house arrest and probation. In 1998 she moved to Florida, then in 1999 to Minnesota, where she was married in 2001 and started a new family. The marriage did not last long and pregnant with her third child she returned to Florida in 2003, where she bought a small home in Port St. Lucie.
As part of a "cold case" review that NJ prosecutors began in 2011, three of Timmy's former babysitters were each able to identify the distinctive blanket that had been discovered near his remains. Investigators realized that the boy would not have been carrying a 10-foot (3 m) blanket through a carnival on the humid 90 °F (32 °C) day when he disappeared, and they concluded that the blanket was taken from Lodzinski's South Amboy home, for covering the boy after his death, despite her denial of ever having such a blanket.
Arrest, trial, and sentencing
On August 6, 2014, which would have been Timmy's 29th birthday, following a sealed indictment by a grand jury, Lodzinski was arrested in Florida and charged with her son's murder. After reviewing extensive legal arguments from the defense and prosecution, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Dennis Nieves issued a key pretrial ruling that "Lodzinski's active omission and hindrances to the investigation through her statements may reasonably establish circumstantial evidence of her guilt." However, New Jersey does not allow failed polygraph tests as evidence in criminal trials, and Nieves also ruled that Lodzinski's self-kidnapping hoax could not be presented to the jury. The criminal trial began on March 16, 2016, and after testimony from 68 witnesses, the unanimous jury delivered a widely publicized guilty verdict on May 18 for first-degree murder, a week before the 25th anniversary of Timmy's disappearance.
Sentencing was scheduled for August 2016 and then postponed, as Lodzinski's attorney appealed the judge's earlier rulings on juror misconduct and insufficient evidence. On October 25, Nieves denied the request for a new trial; and then on January 5, 2017, he sentenced Lodzinski to 30 years in state prison without possibility of parole.
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