Details of Disappearance
Rilya and her two siblings were removed from their mother's custody when Rilya was an infant. They were placed with Geralyn (alternatively spelled "Gerrilyn") Graham, their alleged grandmother or godmother, in Miami, Florida in 2000. Their mother, Gloria Wilson, abused cocaine and neglected her children. Her parental rights were eventually terminated. Photos of Gloria and Graham are posted with this case summary.
Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) was obligated to check on the children's well-being during monthly visits. The final recorded visit for the family took place in early January of 2001, when their social worker, Deborah (sometimes spelled "DeBorah") Muskelly, stopped by Graham's residence. A photo of Muskelly is posted with this case summary.
Graham told authorities that an unidentified African-American female arrived at her home in the 10100 block of southwest 145th Place on January 18, 2001. The individual claimed to work for the DCF and said that she was removing Rilya from the home for an evaluation. Rilya had reportedly been diagnosed with behavioral problems prior to the visit. She has never been heard from again.
Graham said that the alleged abductor spoke with a thick accent that may have been African in origin. The woman, Graham said, was extremely familiar with Rilya's history and said Muskelly was aware of her visit. Graham stated two other people visited her home in February 2001 and requested additional toys to help Rilya become accustomed to her new surroundings.
Muskelly and her supervisor, Willie Harris, resigned from the DCF in March 2002 amid accusations that their records of home visits were fraudulent. The agency contacted Graham during its investigation into Muskelly's records. Authorities learned about Rilya's possible abduction in April 2002, 15 months after the child disappeared.
Graham said that Muskelly was not one of the individuals who visited her home one month after Rilya disappeared. Muskelly's attorney said that his client offered to cooperate with authorities regarding Rilya's case. He also claimed that Muskelly was being used as a scapegoat by the DCF to mask its own internal problems.
Muskelly was criminally charged with 41 counts, including grand theft, relating to her deficiency at her job. She pleaded guilty to one count of official misconduct and had the grand theft charge adjudicated, and was sentenced to five years' probation. The other 39 charges were dropped.
Muskelly admitted that she billed the state as a social worker for times when she was actually at her second job as a substitute teacher. The state sought $5,000 in restitution for Muskelly's salary, sick pay and vacation pay. She has not been charged directly in connection with Rilya's disappearance.
Graham told several media outlets that she contacted Muskelly several times after Rilya was removed from her home. She claimed Muskelly told her that the child would be returned shortly. Graham admitted she continued to cash checks from the state of Florida for Rilya's care after the child had disappeared. Graham said she called the DCF to report the error, but maintains that she was instructed to keep the money due to the difficulty in the re-application process.
DCF officials said that they have no record of Graham's phone calls and only learned of Rilya's disappearance on April 25, 2002, which is the date she was reported missing. Graham said she believed Muskelly was aware of the circumstances surrounding Rilya's disappearance, but nothing has been proven.
The DCF has been under scrutiny for some time as bureaucratic mistakes in other situations were discovered. The agency has since acknowledged that it failed Rilya.
Gloria told reporters Graham was not Rilya's paternal grandmother. Graham denied that statement, but admitted her son, Kenneth Epson, never took a paternity test to confirm if he fathered the child. Graham maintains that Gloria has named several men as the possible fathers of Rilya, but none of the allegations have been proven.
Gloria said that she met one of Graham's daughters in a substance abuse rehabilitation center prior to Rilya's birth. She said that she elected to name Graham as Rilya's godmother. The actual relationship between Graham and Rilya is unclear.
Manville Cash claimed to be Rilya's father in early May 2002. He is currently imprisoned after being convicted of automobile theft and drug charges. Cash was named as Rilya's prospective father on papers terminating Gloria's parental rights. He has never taken a paternity test to prove his claims.
Cash told the media that he saw Rilya three times a week prior to his incarceration. He said that he saw the child for the final time at her third birthday party at the home of Pamela Kendrick in Brownsville, Florida. Pamela Kendrick is often referred to as Pamela Graham and some accounts claim the two women are sisters, but they are not, in fact, related.
Kendrick is Cash's aunt and Gloria allowed her to take custody of Rilya shortly after her birth. Rilya was removed from Kendrick's house in April 2000 after allegations of neglect surfaced. Kendrick denies any wrongdoing in Rilya's case. Rilya and the other children were placed in Graham's custody shortly thereafter. A photo of Kendrick is posted with this case summary.
Authorities removed Rilya's siblings from Graham's care in early May 2002. Graham claims that there was no reason for the custodial change. Investigators have reportedly administered polygraph exams to several of Rilya's relatives, but the results have not been publicly released.
Media reports revealed that Graham has used 42 different aliases over the past 20 years. She was convicted of food stamp fraud in Tennessee during the 1980s and was sentenced to probation in Florida as the result of theft charges.
Reports stated that Graham filed at least eight lawsuits for personal injury compensation, child support and racial discrimination charges throughout the years. Graham has been sued by twelve creditors and was named in seven landlord-tenant disputes. A physician diagnosed Graham with a psychotic syndrome similar to schizophrenia months before Rilya and her siblings were placed in her custody.
Her attorney claimed that the stories deflected attention away from the DCF's errors. He also said that Graham used numerous aliases in an attempt to hide from an abusive former boyfriend during the 1980s. Graham continues to maintain that she suffered severe injuries and memory loss in a vehicular accident in the mid-1990s.
Gloria has admitted that she was not able to care for her children while she struggled with her cocaine addiction. The DCF was aware of possible problems at her home since 1996, when a neighbor became concerned that Gloria's children were being neglected. She relocated to Cleveland shortly after Rilya's birth. She said that she told the DCF about her plans.
Graham told the media that Gloria's anger over Rilya's disappearance was contrived and said that she had not spoken to her daughter since 1999. Gloria claims that the agency instructed her not to contact her children after leaving Florida. Gloria has never publicly identified Rilya's father and at least one additional man has claimed Rilya is his child.
A Miami pastor and his wife came forward in mid-May 2002 and announced that they have had custody of Rilya's older sister for several years. The couple told the media that Gloria joined their church in 1995 and promised to improve her life with their assistance.
Rilya's half-sister was an infant at the time and the couple said that Gloria neglected her. They provided material goods for the child until Gloria asked them to care for the baby during a weekend. She never retrieved her and the child has resided with the couple since that time. Court records indicate that Gloria was given numerous chances to rehabilitate herself during the following years, but she has not seen her daughter since 1996.
The couple decided to finalize the adoption process in the late 1990s, but their DCF case worker was Muskelly. They claimed that Muskelly neglected to check on the child's welfare and was difficult to keep in touch with.
The pastor said that Harris, Muskelly's former supervisor, visited their family after Rilya's case came to attention in April 2002. He said that Harris claimed the DCF had "too many" cases to track and defended himself and Muskelly. The couple received word that the DCF was preparing adoption papers for them in April 2002. They had been asking for the documents for years beforehand.
In mid-May 2002, a judge ruled that Rilya's younger sister, Rodericka Wilson, was neglected by DCF officials and by Graham and Kendrick. The judge stated that Rodericka suffered from developmental problems and an untreated eye condition. Neither the DCF nor her caregivers provided needed medical care when necessary.
Media sources speculated that authorities may begin searching locations in the Miami area for possible evidence in the near future. The reports have not been confirmed. Investigators said that they have not received any tips regarding Rilya's whereabouts.
America's Most Wanted profiled Rilya's case in mid-May 2002, but the producers omitted a sketch of the unidentified female Graham claims abducted the child in 2001. The series's representatives stated that the most accurate sketches were created before witnesses viewed lineups or photos of possible suspects. Graham looked at numerous photos at the DCF's headquarters after Rilya's disappearance was reported; the sketch was considered compromised as a result.
Media reports stated that officials located a witness who may have seen Rilya and Graham together in February 2001, one month after Graham claimed a DCF worker removed the child from her home. A medical worker reportedly told investigators that Rilya accompanied Graham and Rodericka during the latter's checkup. Graham denied that Rodericka's physician saw Rilya.
In addition, sources allege that Graham may have falsified Rilya's vaccination records in 2001 to continue receiving state benefits for the child's care. Documents reportedly state that Rilya was vaccinated after she disappeared. Sources claimed the doctor who signed the papers never saw the child on the specified date.
Authorities continued to focus on Graham and Kendrick's actions in their investigation. In October 2002, the two women were charged with stealing over $14,000 from the state of Florida. Officials stated that Graham and Kendrick engaged in fraud by accepting funds from the state for Rilya's care after she disappeared. They were later convicted; Graham was given a prison term and Kendrick was placed on probation.
Authorities stated that both women have consistently failed lie detector tests in connection with Rilya's case. Graham allegedly told at least six people that an unnamed Spanish woman had taken Rilya on a trip to New York or New Jersey, after the individuals noticed the child's absence but before the DCF did. She said the Spanish woman intended to adopt Rilya.
When confronted by police about her changing story, Graham said the woman returned Rilya before the DCF worker picked her up and she vanished. She denies abusing or killing the child and has stated she believes Rilya is still alive. Graham says Kendrick made up the abuse allegations to escape a long prison sentence.
In August 2004, two and a half years after Rilya vanished, Graham was charged with kidnapping and three counts of child abuse, and Kendrick with two lesser counts of child abuse/neglect.
Kendrick pleaded guilty to neglecting and abusing Rilya, but not to harming her, and was sentenced 364 days in prison, followed by five years' probation. She promised to testify against Graham at her trial. She says both of them spanked Rilya with switches, locked her a dog cage and in the laundry room, and occasionally handcuffed her to her bed at night.
Kendrick denies any knowledge of what happened to Rilya, however, and claims she asked Graham that question several times and got no answer.
In March 2005, Graham was additionally charged with first-degree murder in connection with Rilya's case. Investigators believe the child was suffocated or beaten to death sometime in December 2000, a month before Graham says Rilya disappeared and over a year before the DCF found out about it.
A large part of the evidence supporting the charges came from information provided by Robin Lunceford, a former cellmate of Graham's, who says Graham confessed Rilya's murder to her. Lunceford said Graham told her Rilya had "demons" from her previous abuse experiences. Rilya had refused to wear an angel costume for Halloween and wanted to dress up as Cleopatra instead, which caused Graham to decide she was "evil" and had to die. Graham supposedly buried Rilya's body in a ravine near a private lake where she had previously gone for fishing and cookouts.
A photograph of Lunceford is posted with this case summary. She is a career criminal with fifteen convictions for robbery and a history of prison escapes, and she was awaiting trial for another armed robbery charge when Graham supposedly confessed to her. Graham's defense questioned her credibility, emphasizing her criminal history.
In June 2005, Lunceford ceased cooperating with authorities and stated that she would not testify against Graham unless she could get a much-reduced sentence for the robbery in return for her testimony. The prosecution offered twenty years; Lunceford wanted three. Earlier, she had stated she had gone to the police with her information out of conscience and was not expecting leniency in exchange for her cooperation.
At Graham's bail hearing in August 2005, Lunceford invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify against her. Lunceford was convicted of the armed robbery in September 2005 and sentenced to the maximum, life in prison without the possibility of parole, under Florida's habitual violent offender laws.
Prosecutors later came to an agreement with her, however, and in March 2011, her sentence was reduced to ten years in return for the promise to testify against Graham. Kendrick cooperated with the prosecutors and told them she had nothing to do with Rilya's disappearance, but knew all along that Graham was making up the story about the DCF worker coming to take Rilya.
Graham's trial took place during December 2012 and January 2013. Lunsford, Kendrick and Muskelly were among the witnesses who testified. Graham's attorney argued there was no evidence Rilya was dead, and suggested she had been sold. The jury convicted Graham of kidnapping and child abuse, but deadlocked 11 to 1 on the charge of murder.
The judge declared a mistrial on the murder charges, and Graham was sentenced to 55 years in prison for the crimes she was convicted of. As she is presently in her late sixties, the sentence will probably keep her in prison for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, the prosecution has elected to re-try on the murder charge. Graham is awaiting her second murder trial.
Rilya has never been located, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.