CENTREVILLE • It started with a mother’s tip from Las Vegas: Search the garage.
Hours later, authorities in St. Clair County found the decomposed body of child in a garage at a vacant home in Centreville. The body was wrapped in blankets and stuffed in a plastic storage tote with cat litter, possibly to mask odor.
Police in Las Vegas said Tuesday night that the body is apparently that of the 6-year-old daughter of a woman who had moved to their city about two years ago and was allegedly forced into prostitution by her husband.
The tale of the child’s murder, the mother’s torment and the virtual imprisonment of two older children at the family’s home in Las Vegas unfolded after the woman sought refuge from her husband at a women’s shelter, Las Vegas police said.
The details came out as they announced the arrest of the woman’s husband, Jason Quate, 34. He was being held there Tuesday on suspicion of sex trafficking of an adult and accepting or receiving earnings of a prostitute.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said Wednesday that no charges yet had been filed against Quate.
Any charges related to the death of the child here will be up to authorities in St. Clair County, said Las Vegas police Lt. Raymond Spencer.
He said the case began to unfold Monday night after police were summoned to the shelter to help the mother. “She stated that she was being forced to prostitute herself and wanted help,” Spencer said in a videotaped statement.
She also told police that her husband was abusing two children who lived with them. Police found those children, who Spencer said were in their early teens, at the couple’s home.
“I can tell you it was a very disturbing scene, seeing the condition of the children, because you could tell they had obviously had limited outside involvement of the last 18 months to two years,” Spencer said.
In addition to showing signs of physical abuse, the children had not been allowed to leave the house or enroll in school. Despite living in the same home, the mother said her husband kept her away from the children.
Spencer said the children were taken into protective custody.
Body in Metro East
In addition to pointing the officers to the other children, the mother told police that while living in Illinois her husband had killed another of their children.
“She told us during the course of that interview that during a physical altercation, one of the children had died as a result of her husband,” Spencer said.
Las Vegas police gave that tip to police in St. Clair County, which led to the grisly discovery in the garage behind a home in the 7200 block of Russell Avenue in Centreville.
Centreville police got the call from Las Vegas police about 2 a.m. Tuesday and went to the address about 4 a.m., said Sgt. DeMarius Thomas Sr.
The owner of the home, which is vacant, let officers into the garage, where they found the body wrapped in some blankets.
Thomas said police believe the child was killed in Belleville and dumped in the garage. It wasn't clear whether the family had any connection to the home in Centreville. Thomas referred all questions to Belleville police. Phone calls for comment were not immediately returned.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children does not list any missing children reports from Centreville or Belleville that appear to match the case, according to its website.
St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr. said the child was pronounced dead at 6:55 a.m. Tuesday, and was in such an advanced state of decomposition that the child’s gender wasn't apparent to investigators. The body, wrapped in blankets, was inside a plastic tote that also contained cat litter, Dye said.
An anthropologist will be assisting with the investigation, and an autopsy will be conducted Friday, Dye said.
A neighbor, Isaac Parker, said he was shocked by the news. He watched as the coroner removed a plastic tub from the garage Tuesday morning. He said he has not seen anyone live on the property for about two years.
“If she didn’t call the police, we never would have known,” said Parker, who has lived nearby with his wife for more than 40 years. “How could a woman allow the death of her child, and then to know it and not tell anyone? What happened? How could she have known this all this time and didn’t say nothing?”
The home and detached garage are at Russell Avenue and Kathryn Street. Several other homes in the area are also vacant.
Overgrown brush, weeds and trees surround the house and garage, which are not visible from homes behind it.
A piece of yellow crime scene tape hung from the garage door Tuesday. Splintered wood covers the windows and door to the small, one-story home.
A notice taped to one of the boarded-up windows declares the property as vacant and warns that a mortgage servicer would be notified and the locks changed and plumbing winterized “within the next few days.”
The notice is signed by a representative from Cyprexx Services, a Florida-based property management service for lenders, with an inspection date of June 3.
Reached by phone Tuesday, a man identified in property records as the owner of the home declined to comment, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation.
Spencer, the Las Vegas police lieutenant, said the details of the case were jarring even for a longtime veteran like himself.
“I will tell you that in my 19 years of law enforcement it is one of the cases that I will never forget,” he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Jason Quate has been arrested but as of Wednesday afternoon not charged in Las Vegas.