5-year-old Crystal Lake boy's body was found by tracking the location of parents' cell phones before his disappearance
The body of five-year-old Crystal Lake boy Andrew "AJ" Freund, who went missing last Thursday, was found on Wednesday near a private property in Woodstock, police officials confirmed.
In a press conference, the police and the FBI confirmed the body was "buried in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic." The officials added that AJ's parents — Andrew Freund Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham — have been charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder.
Law enforcement authorities reportedly used "digital forensics" to track the movement of the child's parents before he was first reported missing. The data pinpointed suburban cell towers where the parents' phones were and showed their whereabouts prior to the child's disappearance, ABC7 reports.
The authorities then leveraged this information during interviews with the boy's parents leading them to reveal the exact location of the child's shallow grave containing the remains of their son.
The operation started in the early hours of Wednesday when the FBI's mobile forensics truck and a sizeable troop of law enforcement officers gathered at a farm field in Woodstock, almost eight miles from AJ's residence.
"During the overnight hours, investigators with the Crystal Lake Police Department and the FBI interviewed both Joann Cunningham and Andrew 'Drew' Freund Sr. after information was obtained through a forensic analysis of cell phone data," said Crystal Lake police chief James Black before charging the duo.
AJ's parents were forced to reveal the location of the shallow grave containing the remains of their son after detectives confronted them with cell phone data in the early morning hours.
Forensic examination of cell phones aren't new and have been conducted since the late 1990s. The technology has improved by leaps and bounds since, and these methods are now widely used to track people and identify their proximity to crimes or accidents.
ABC7 legal analyst Gil Soffer, a former federal prosecutor, said, "It can be very powerful evidence and, as happened here, it looks as if it was used to extract an admission or a confession that led the police to the body. Without this kind of evidence, all the police would be able to do is to look at someone and say 'Now just tell us the truth, where were you and what were you doing?' That doesn't get you very far."
The suspects were in jail by Wednesday night facing 23 felonies including five counts each of first-degree murder.
"There are different ways to commit first-degree murder under Illinois law," Soffer continued. "The state can offer different theories for first-degree murder and if the evidence supports any of those theories you have a conviction so it really is the state covering their bases and making sure they're putting all viable theories for a jury to consider someday."
Authorities are yet to reveal how they arrived at the slew of charges against the parents. According to Soffer, both parents of little AJ Freund are charged as equally culpable in his murder.