Details of Disappearance
Zaela was last seen in North Las Vegas, Nevada on August 22, 2018. She lived with her mother, Lakeia Walker, and maternal grandmother, Carla Richardson, in the 4600 block of Mission Cantina Avenue at the time of her disappearance. Richardson reported Lakeia, Zaela and Zaela's father, Ricky Beasley, missing on August 25.
By then, Richardson hadn't seen Zaela in nearly two weeks. Lakeia had left Zaela with Beasley on August 15 while she went on a job interview, and Beasley refused to return the child later. Lakeia called 911 to try to get Zaela back, and begged Beasley in text messages to return Zaela, but her daughter was not returned to her. Beasley said he only give Zaela back if Lakeia paid him $13,000, and Lakeia promised to raise the money.
During that time period, Lakeia told her mother Beasley had taken Zaela to California to visit a relative. Richardson last saw her daughter when she left in a hurry on August 22, saying, "I'll be right back."
According to Beasley's mother, late on August 21 she heard a loud thud coming from his bedroom that woke her up. She ran into the hallway and saw Beasley carrying Zaela, who was crying. Beasley said he'd gotten angry and thrown a cot against the wall after Zaela wet herself. He took the child into the bathroom to clean her off. The next day, Zaela and her parents disappeared.
Photos of Beasley and Lakeia are posted with this case summary. The couple went on an unannounced trip, leaving behind their cellular phones, Lakeia's wallet and her car. During their trip up and down the state of California and then east across the country, passing through New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, West Virginia and Tennessee. Lakeia later stated they slept in the car at highway rest stops and never stayed in one place for long.
By September 17, the pair had run out of money, so they returned to North Las Vegas to get Lakeia's identification and credit cards. Lakeia met with one of her cousins there, but dropped out of sight again after her cousin asked about Zaela. They then traveled across the border into Tijuana, Mexico, and spent two days there, before going back to California. San Diego police questioned Lakeia and Beasley at the time and asked about the missing persons report, but they said they were in no danger and that Zaela was with Beasley's relatives.
On November 17, Lakeia and Beaslery were detained in Houston, Texas in November, when police ran their names at a traffic stop and learned they, and their daughter, had been reported missing. Zaela wasn't with them at the time and both her parents said they hadn't seen her in several months. Lakeia initially said Zaela was staying with Beasley's relatives. Lakeia was released after 48 hours, but Beasley was booked for possession of a stolen vehicle; he was driving his mother's car, which he had taken without permission.
Beasley and Lakeia returned to North Las Vegas after getting out of jail in Texas and they were detained by police there in December. Lakeia was released, but Beasley was arrested again on the stolen vehicle charge. He was subsequently jailed on charges of first-degree child abuse/neglect and kidnapping in Zaela's disappearance.
The police interviewed Lakeia several times, and she failed a polygraph test. She claimed Zaela was with various other people, including Beasley's ex-girlfriend, his brother, and his mother. The information she provided "led detectives to believe that Zaela was not alive." Beasley's story to police changed multiple times as well; at one point he said Zaela was with Lakeia, and another time he said she was with his own mother. In a phone conversation with Beasley while he was in jail, Lakeia said, "You always say no body, no crime."
A check of the couple's phones, which they left behind in North Las Vegas, showed Beasley had performed Google searches on August 21 about how to stop seizures in children, including whether marijuana would help. He went to a marijuana dispensary that day and purchased some.
Investigators were able to confirm that no one in Zaela's mother's or father's family ever had custody of her after her disappearance in August, and that her parents never reached out to anyone about her. Investigators believe Zaela suffered a traumatic injury at the time of her disappearance and died as a result, and that her parents disposed of her body, then went on the run.
Lakeia had begged to be with Zaela after Beasley took her in mid-August and refused to return her, but after August 23 she suddenly stopped showing any concern about her daughter's whereabouts or well-being. She didn't even try to call or text Zaela on the child's third birthday, or send her a card or present.
Although Beasley's mother stated she normally kept her car clean, Lakeia told police that while she and Beasley were traveling around the country after Zaela's disappearance, there was a terrible smell coming from the car's trunk, "like rotten meat". She and Beasley tried to get rid of the odor by vacuuming the trunk and cleaning it with lemon-scented ammonia. Police stated the odor Lakeia described is consistent with decaying human remains.
In March 2019, Beasley, who was still in jail on the other charges, was charged with murder in his daughter's disappearance, and Lakeia was arrested on the same charges. After her arrest, she asked police, "So you all are telling me that you found Zaela?"
The couple is awaiting trial for the murder. Authorities don't know the whereabouts of Zaela's body, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.