Details of Disappearance
Joe was last seen at his home on Garners Creek Road in Dickson, Tennessee on April 4, 2018. At 6:30 a.m. his father, Joseph Ray Daniels, called 911 and said his son was missing. He said he and his wife went to wake Joe up for school at 5:20 a.m. and found him gone, then searched their home and property for an hour before calling police. He speculated Joe had unlocked the door and wandered outside in the night.
On April 7, Joseph was charged with criminal homicide in Joe's presumed death. On April 9, Joe's mother, Krystal Nicole Daniels, was charged with aggravated child neglect, criminal responsibility and filing a false report. The couple other two children in the home, age three and eight, were sent to live with relatives.
Photos of Joseph and Krystal are posted with this case summary. Their marriage was troubled. Krystal was having an affair, which Joseph knew of, and was considering a divorce. Joseph didn't believe Joe was his biological child and called him "that boy" when speaking about him.
When he was interviewed by authorities while on videotape, Joseph initially strongly denied having spanked or hit his son. He said he woke up in the night and found out Joe had urinated on the floor, and sent his son back to bed. However, about thirty minutes into the questioning, Joseph admitted "something happened" and said he "spanked" Joe several times, then said he saw Joe got outside and chased him down the street.
Joseph subsequently changed his statement again and said after one of his other children told him Joe had urinated on the floor, Joseph tried to send all the children back to bed but "Baby Joe started laughing. So I beat him. That’s when he ran out the front door. Baby Joe ran to the road. I saw a car drive by. I ran out and got him back in the house. I beat him some more. That’s when I killed Baby Joe."
Joseph said the beating happened in the living room, but none of Joe's blood was found there, which is inconsistent with his account of what happened. He said he beat Joe over the course of fifteen to twenty minutes. He said he hit his son with a closed fist "several times" on his head, as well as "a few times" on his face, and also thrown Joe onto the floor and against a coffee table.
He told different stories as to what he had done with Joe's body: at one point he said he'd put it in a field, and other times he said he'd thrown it off a bridge or put in into a pond.
Krystal admitted she present when her son was killed. She said she heard a scream, then "it went silent" and she saw Joseph standing over Joe. Joe was lying on the floor, Joseph had his fists clenched. Joseph threatened to kill her if she told anyone what she had seen. She went back into the bedroom, then she heard a car door shut. She went back out of the bedroom, and Joe was gone.
Joseph subsequently recanted his confession. In October 2018, while he was in custody awaiting trial for his son's presumed death, he wrote a letter to his parents, telling them he thought Joe was still alive and that Krystal had abandoned him by the roadside or given him to another man to care for.
Although Joseph's attorney argued the confession was coerced and tried to get it removed from evidence, the confession and other statements Joseph had made while in custody were admitted into evidence at the murder trial.
Joseph's stepson, Alex Nolan, who was eight years old at the time of Joe's disappearance and shared a bedroom with him, testified at the trial. Alex said he'd woken up twice during the night Joe disappeared. The first time, Joe had urinated on the floor and Joseph beat him.
Both boys went back to sleep eventually, but then Alex woke up "to a loud bang", left the bedroom and saw Joe "lying on the ground". He saw Joseph pick up Joe and carry him out the back door. Joe's younger brother and aunt were in the living room at the time, and Krystal was in the kitchen.
Alex said he sneaked out of the house and followed his stepfather outside. Joseph saw him and threatened to kill him if he didn't help. Alex helped his stepfather by opening the door to a gray car, then Joseph told him to go back inside the house. Alex continued watching for a few minutes, however, and saw Joseph carrying his son down the driveway, turn right and walk down the road.
The next day, Joseph told Alex that Joe had run away. In his testimony, Alex admitted he'd initially told a false story to the police and said he hadn't seen anything unusual that night, saying he did this to protect his stepfather.
Following his trial, Joseph was found not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of second-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated child abuse, evidence tampering and initiating a false report. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Krystal was set to stand trial in March 2022. Before the trial could take place, while jury selection for it was underway, she pleaded no contest to the four charges against her. A no contest plea means she does not admit guilt, she only admits that there is enough evidence to convict her at a trial. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with credit given for the time served since her 2018 arrest.
Joe's body has never been found, but foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.