UPDATED at 6 a.m. Friday with charges
LAS VEGAS • Jason Quate says it was an accident.
His 6-year-old daughter, whose body was found Tuesday morning in a Centreville garage, choked to death about four years ago when their family lived in Belleville, Quate told a reporter in a jailhouse interview in Las Vegas.
He and his wife hid her body because they were afraid authorities would take their two older girls, who are now 13 and 11, he said.
Quate, 34, was arrested Tuesday by Las Vegas police after his wife took refuge at a women’s shelter and accused her husband of murdering their youngest daughter, Alysha. Authorities in St. Clair County found the decomposed body at the address she provided. The wife also said he was forcing her to work as a prostitute.
Quate is charged in Clark County, Nevada, with sex trafficking of an adult and accepting earnings of a prostitute. Both charges are felonies. He is due in court at 8 a.m. Friday for his first court appearance there.
In a rambling 90-minute interview on Thursday, Quate said the girl’s death had been an accident and that his wife — not he — hid the body in the garage before the family moved to Nevada.
“I’m not the monster she’s making me out to be,” he said.
There are no criminal charges in Illinois in his daughter’s death. An autopsy for Alysha is scheduled for Friday.
The wife, 35, was also being held in Las Vegas on Thursday as a fugitive from a probation violation in a 2014 forgery case in St. Clair County. The Post-Dispatch is not publishing her name because authorities believe she is a victim of sex trafficking. She declined to comment.
Quate told a Post-Dispatch reporter that when the family lived in Belleville, his three daughters had a habit of keeping food in their mouths well past mealtime.
One day, when the youngest daughter was 6 — which would have been between October 2012 and October 2013 — she was playing with an older sister, fell off a bed and lightly hit her head, he said. Quate said he spanked her, unaware she had Salisbury steak in her mouth, and she choked to death.
He said he stayed in disbelief with her body for three nights on the dining room floor of their home in Belleville. He said he and his wife were afraid to call police because they feared their children would be taken from them.
He repeatedly referred to the event as “the horrible.”
Quate said his wife put Alysha’s body in a tote with some lime, and kept it in the kitchen for a long time. In January 2016, he said, someone at his older daughters’ school called with concerns about how he was kissing them goodbye at dropoff time.
He said investigators from the Illinois Division of Children and Family Services came to their house, and he and his wife panicked. They said the girls weren’t home. The investigators said they would be back the next day, and the family fled to a hotel in Caseyville for more than a week.
Representatives of the state agency did not respond to questions about contacts with Quate’s family.
Quate said it was his wife’s idea to come to Las Vegas to work as a prostitute. It was she who found the garage in Centreville and left the girl’s body there, he said.
“She was looking for a good place to hide the body,” he said. “And that’s the house she found.”
The wife’s parents, who live in Greenville, Ill., about 45 miles east of St. Louis, told KSDK-TV (Channel 5) on Wednesday that they made repeated efforts to get help for the family, although they weren’t specific about the problems. (They declined to meet with Post-Dispatch journalists who visited on Thursday.)
“I even talked to the school where they went to school, and they even tried to help us, but we couldn’t get it done,” said the wife’s father.
Representatives of Belleville schools did not respond to a request for information about the Quate girls’ time in the district.
A woman who lived next door to the Quates in Belleville said she used to drive Quate’s wife to work at various fast-food restaurants because she had crashed cars her parents had given her and had no transportation.
The neighbor, who declined to be identified, said the wife had a “temper like a wildcat.” She said she would not allow authorities to enter and check the children’s well-being.
“She told them, ‘I’m home schooling them, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’”
Another neighbor, Diane Denison, 73, has lived in her house in the neighborhood for 43 years and is close to Jeremy Quate, Jason’s twin brother. Up until about five years ago, Jason’s in-laws would pick the girls up every Friday and the girls would spend the weekend with their grandparents. Then that stopped, and Denison stopped seeing the girls.
Other neighbors talked about seeing the family in the backyard, where there was a pool and trampoline, in the middle of the night, she said.
The last time Denison talked to the girls’ mother was a few years ago. The mother was in the alley and came up to Denison and told her to “stay … out of their business.”
Denison said she feels guilty, like there was something she should have done. But she doesn’t know what that would have been.
It was not immediately clear how long the family stayed in the St. Louis area after Alysha’s death. The wife was charged in March 2015 in St. Clair County with a retail theft case that was later dismissed.
The family lived in a multi-unit apartment building in Las Vegas about five miles northeast of the center of the Las Vegas Strip. Their apartment overlooked a swimming pool.
John Mendiola, 35, said his sister’s apartment is next to the Quates’ and the frequent screaming and what sounded like someone being thrown against walls coming from the Quates’ unit had her living in fear. He said he often stayed with her for her safety.
Mendiola said he and his sister had never seen the Quates’ daughters although they sometimes heard children’s voice next door in the middle of the night.
Las Vegas police said they received one call in February 2017 to check the welfare of occupants at the Quates’ address. No one answered the door, and the officer heard nothing suspicious. No more calls came in.
After the wife came forward, police went to the apartment and found “a very disturbing scene,” said Lt. Raymond Spencer. The girls had not been allowed to leave the house or enroll in school for the last 18 months to two years. There were so many gnats that officers had to wear masks.
The two daughters had a “significant amount of scars and bruises on their bodies,” Spencer said in an interview Thursday. One of the girl’s hair was falling out in clumps. Both were pale, thin and small. They needed support from police to get into the car that took them away and into protective custody, he said.
“I can tell you, there was no home schooling going on in that house,” Spencer said.
Quate said he always knew the day would come that he would be arrested. He said he just wanted to spend time with his older daughters before he was taken away.
While he pretended on social media to be a co-pilot for Delta Air Lines, he was actually a “stay at home father.”
He also addressed a statement he made to the Las Vegas TV station on Wednesday — that his wife had told him in 2013 that she had found a family to adopt their daughter.
He said it was his wife who came up with the lie about the adoption. “And that’s why I told the reporter yesterday, and I initially told the police, that she had been adopted off. Because that’s the version she wanted me to say.”
He said he was shocked that his wife had gone to a shelter and turned him in. The last he knew, she was leaving for a few days to meet a client for sex. He insisted he never forced her into prostitution.
Quate said his wife was “not a good mother” and never told her daughters she loved them.
He said they had broken up as a couple long ago but were staying together for the kids “and I think she was just fed up with supporting financially a man and children who did not love her.”
Spencer said he didn’t know what the catalyst was for the wife coming forward, “but she clearly felt that her children were in danger.”
Jeremy Kohler, Ashley Jost, Kristen Taketa and Denise Hollinshed, all of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.