The Haleigh Cummings Case
A very long time ago I researched several cases and let them pile up without composing them. I was having Internet issues over the last few days and thought I would pull those cases out and look over them. Many of them needed more research, including this one, to make them complete and without Internet access I had to wait for that. There are likely several different reasons why those cases have sat in a pile and I did not compose them but this one had a few of it's own.
Haleigh Cummings was five years old and was reported missing from her Satsuma Florida home on February 10, 2009, the very day that in Orlando a memorial service was be held for Caylee Anthony. It is unlikely that I need to tell the readers who Caylee Anthony was as it captured the nation. Haleigh's case also tore at the nation's heart strings but was often over shadowed by the Anthony case. While the majority of people wholly disagree with the eventual verdict in the Caylee Anthony trial, one can argue at least someone was charged. That is not the case here and it is unlikely anyone ever will face charges in her disappearance that has been classified as a homicide although a body had never been found.
I was always hoping that there would be a conclusion to this case. It seemed rather obvious from the very beginning who was involved but in my opinion the fact that Casey Anthony was found not guilty in July of 2011 played a huge role in this case. Authorities already had an issue because they did not have a body in this case and they were attempting to get the key suspects to talk. In fact, most of them were arrested the year following Haleigh's disappearance on unrelated drug charges and although they were guilty of those things also, it is believed it was solely done to get more information in Haleigh's disappearance.
Seventeen year old Misty Croslin would call 911 at about 3:30 on the morning of February 10, 2009. Misty was dating Ronald Cummings and at the very least babysat for his two children, five year old Haleigh and three year old Ronald Jr., while he worked third shift. She would claim that she had woken up around 3:00 to use the bathroom and noticed that the kitchen light was on, then she noticed that the back door to the mobile home had been propped open. She said she then went back into the bedroom where both children had been sleeping with her and noticed that Haleigh was gone. She had supposedly gone around the house looking and attempted to call Ronald. He was apparently on his way home from work at that time. When he arrived Misty told him Haleigh was gone and while he continued to search he told Misty to call 911. Much was made about her 911 call because she would not only claim “our” daughter is missing but would seemingly repeatedly tell the operator what she was doing and what she had done, rather than more about Haleigh. What I mean by this is when they asked her when she had last seen Haleigh Misty would tell them that she had put her to bed around 8:00 and that she had cleaned the house and went to bed about 10:00. When they asked her what Haleigh was wearing she would simply say “PJ's” and let the operator know that she (Misty) had been sleeping. Some have scrutinized her phone call as saying that her stumbling and comments could have come from the fact that she was uneducated as well as immature for her age, while others saw the call as her attempts to establish her own sort of alibi and lessen her culpability.
The search for Haleigh began quick and later that day dogs were brought in to sniff the area. They quickly led their handlers to the St. John's River. This would be the first of several searches done in this area but nothing was ever found. Eventually Texas Equasearch was also brought in. To this day Haleigh has never been found.
The investigation seemed to always center on Misty Croslin as the main suspect. Ronald was quickly ruled out for many reasons. First it was determined that he had been at work the entire night and cell phone records, as well as co-workers confirmed this. Ronald would claim that he locked the the door that was still propped open when he returned home that morning. The door was not one in which Haleigh would have been able to unlock and open. Secondly, many felt that his responses and his cooperation was genuine. Whether he ever participated in a lie detector test is unknown.
For her part however, Misty seemingly kept changing her story as to the events of the night, where Haleigh was specifically sleeping and who was at the home that evening. At first Misty stated that Haleigh was sleeping in the bed with both her and Ronald Jr. Later she would say that Haleigh was sleeping on the floor in the room, not four feet from her. Either way it seemed highly unlikely that anyone would have been able to get in the room, wake the child and get her out of the room with Misty being right there and hearing . There are reports that took at least one lie detector test and while she would claim to have passed it, authorities would say other wise. There are also reports that she took as many as four lie detector tests and failed them all.
Two other people that were largely investigated was Misty's brother, Hank “Tommy” Croslin Jr and their cousin, Joe Overstreet. In at least one story that Misty would tell she would claim that the two men had also been at the mobile home on the night prior to Haleigh disappearing. There were also reports that there were possibly two other men at the home that night with Croslin and Overstreet.
Some argue that the investigators focused too soon and with tunnel vision against especially Misty and her brother Tommy without looking at other potential suspects harder, such as Haleigh's mother, Crystal Sheffield. Ronald and Crystal had split up apparently when the children were rather young. There was always a lot of talk about the fact that Crystal had a problem with drugs but the fact that Ronald was also involved with drugs in some way does not fully explain why either parent had custody of the children. However, it was said that Ronald retained custody due to the fact at the time of the custody issue he had a job and provided insurance for the children. While it was said that Haleigh feared the dark, as well as strangers, it was theorized that Crystal could have somehow entered the home and gotten Haleigh without her crying out and Misty knowing. However, it seems that the door that was supposedly locked in the evening and later “propped open,” as well as the light being left on in the home pointed more away from this theory. Even if one wanted to theorize that Crystal had been able to this (as it was argued for this theory to be true it would have had to have been someone Haleigh knew well) the odds of her being able to do all of this while Misty lay in the same room seemed impossible. And, to be fair there was no evidence that Crystal was involved in any way. There were people who stated that Ronald was violent towards Crystal and that she was scared of his entire family but there was no solid evidence to either of these claims. In fact, it was reported that by 2012 Crystal was actually living with Ronald's mother, Teresa.
After multiple interviews with several people and no real evidence to be found the investigators were really at a loss. It seems they felt at this point without a body unless someone confessed this case would never be solved. They had uncovered some possible evidence however that there was drug dealing going by many of the main suspects. It seems that two counties began working together on getting more evidence in this area, hoping that someone in this circle would eventually talk.
One of the things that baffled people the most was that sometime after Haleigh's disappearance Ronald and Misty would marry. While Ronald had been cleared of any involvement, it was becoming increasingly clear that Misty and likely her brother, Tommy, were hiding more than they were saying. The marriage did not last very long at all.
By January of 2010 investigators felt they had enough to get several people on drug charges in both St. John's County and Putnam County. In the St. Johns County case Misty and a friend of hers, Donna Brock would be charged after they had sold oxycodone to an undercover officer. In the Putnam County drug trafficking charges would be brought not just against Misty, but also her brother, Tommy, her husband Ronald, and his cousin, Hope Sykes. None of the participants apparently argue that they were involved in the drug trafficking, in fact in the end they would all plead guilty and make deals with the state. Even fewer argue that the investigation was pushed by the need and desire to get information on Haleigh's disappearance. The families, as well as later some of the defendants, would make this claim intending for it to make investigators look bad but even the investigators did little to argue this and few criticized them for it. They would openly admit that they did take this opportunity to drill the participants more and hope that one of them would crack and tell the truth as to what happened to Haleigh. Sadly, while on the surface it appeared at first that it had worked, it would soon be thought that more lies were being told.
I will start with those who were less involved. Donna Brock and Hope Sykes would both receive fifteen year sentences. They are both scheduled for release in the year 2023. Ronald, who I have said before was never considered a suspect in the disappearance of his daughter, was able to make a plea agreement in which he also received fifteen years but it also required that he testify in any cases against the other defendants whether it was about the drug cases or involving Haleigh's disappearance and now presumed death.
Remember that I said on the surface it may have looked as if some answers would have been found surrounding what happened to Haleigh? The first “break” came from Misty through her lawyer. She would vaguely claim that her brother, Tommy and cousin, Joe Overstreet had come to the mobile home the night of the disappearance and that Overstreet had abducted Haleigh while she hit under the covers with Ronald Jr. There seemed to be little more than this statement made and as I said, it came through her lawyer so it was not in an interrogation in which the police were able to ask questions. Two days later, also through his lawyer, Tommy Croslin would also give a statement to police. He would say that he and Joe Overstreet would go to the Cummings home to obtain a machine gun (something that apparently there was little to no evidence of) and that he had become angry and attacked Haleigh. He would go on to say that he believed Haleigh was dead before they left the home and that Overstreet had forced him to go with him as he placed her body in a bag and dumped in the St. John's River. This would prompt another search at the river and Tommy even took divers to the boat ramp but nothing was ever found.
To be fair, while Misty and Tommy Croslin were behind bars and accusing Joe Overstreet of involvement when Overstreet was question he would simply say he was not there and was with someone else. Unlike the other two, he did not place himself at the scene or even place blame on anyone else. I cannot say for sure if Overstreet ever participated in a lie detector test or what the results may have have. It is almost a certainty that his alibi would have been looked into but to be honest I have not heard anything on that.
There was a lot going on in the news about all of this as it was coming out. Nancy Grace ( you generally either love her or hate her) had this story on her show for a very long time, filling in the holes left by the Casey Anthony case while she was awaiting trial. Whether it was on her show, or elsewhere the Croslin/Overstreet grandmother would be interviewed. She would seemingly pick up Misty and Tommy's story, in blaming Joe Overstreet, although she did put more on Tommy than Tommy himself had, and she added that a cinder block had been attached to the body. It was unclear where for sure she came up with the claims but authorities did not seem to put a lot of stock into them. The overwhelming idea was that Misty and Tommy felt as if they could get lower sentences in their drug cases if they gave answers to what happened to Haleigh. In the process of doing that A) they did it in a way in which they could not be questioned to really get more information from them, B) their stories were seemingly very vague yet similar and C) putting the blame on Joe Overstreet lessened their responsibility. The overwhelming thought was that they knew they would serve time on the drug charges and if they were charged with anything to do with Haleigh it would be obstruction of justice or accessory after the fact, surely not murder, and would serve that sentence at the same time.
Like the others in the drug cases Tommy would plead guilty for his role. Like the others Tommy would receive a sentence of fifteen years. For her role Misty would plead no contest and receive twenty-five years. Some have argued she received more because she is considered to be the most culpable in Haleigh's disappearance but in fairness she was the only one of the five to have charges in two counties. Like the others Tommy's release date is set for the year 2023. Misty is not scheduled for release until the year 2033.
By 2011 investigators would say that throughout their investigation they had “minimized the likelihood that Haleigh's disappearance is the work of a stranger,” but that no one would talk and until someone did the case would likely not be solved. There had been a witness who had come forward in 2009 stating that he had “heard” that Misty cut Haleigh's throat so that alligators would attack the body and that it had occurred because Haleigh had accidentally gotten into some drugs and had overdosed. Satsuma is a very small town so that could have just been small town gossip and it was unclear where this man supposedly got this information. But, it did become a theory. Investigators never believed the Joe Overstreet/gun theory. Not only does it not seem they could substantiate the gun at all, they felt that saying he attacked a five year old child because he did not find a gun he wanted (and apparently no one had a reason why he wanted it to begin with) just seemed rather far fetched, especially in the realm in which it was told. In reality, while it could not be proven they felt a more plausible theory did involve either an accidental overdose in the drugs inside the home or some sort of accident in which Haleigh died and Misty and/or Tommy covered it up, disposed of the body and staged the scene and story. The idea that if her body was ever found at this point, which seems unlikely, that a cause of death would be found that could conclusively point to someone is pretty implausible.
I am unsure just where Ronald Jr. went after his sister's disappearance or especially after his father was jailed. It seems unlikely despite not filing charges against Misty that he would have been allowed to stay in the home as long as his father still had a relationship with her, but anything is possible. But, I can feel assured he was not in jail with his father. Whether his mother was given custody is also uncertain. In 2013 his mother, Crystal Sheffield was arrested for theft, disorderly intoxication and possession of drug paraphernalia. I cannot say what her sentence was but the last I found of her was an arrested in 2014 in which she violated her parole.
Neither Crystal Sheffield, nor Joe Overstreet show in the Florida Department of Corrections site which obviously means they are not serving any prison sentences for anything at the current time. Whether Florida is one that maintains the records through their site after a sentence is served and/or for how long is unclear. Also, I should point out that during this investigation there was a big deal that Joe Overstreet did not live in Florida either at the time of the disappearance and was just visiting or moved shortly after to Tennessee. I also checked the DOC in Tennessee and found nothing on him, at least if his first name is Joseph as it seems.
In 2016 Misty attempted to appeal her drug conviction. Her claim stated that she had been misled by her attorney, she had been tricked by her friend, and that at the time of much of this she was “dazed by drugs prescribed to fight depression and stress” and unable to clearly understand what she was pleading to. She would also argue that the drug charges were used as leverage to find information on Haleigh's case, which as stated earlier was not necessarily argued as untrue. She would claim that her attorney had “promised,” in her words, that because the arrest was less than a month after she turned eighteen that she would be sentenced as a “youthful offender” and only receive six years. Her attorney, Robert Fields would tell the court that he had in fact not promised Misty anything but had told her the youthful offender status would have been a long shot at best considering the other issues. He argued that after her sentencing, the longest being twenty-five years for the eight charges she faced, that he told her it was really a win since the sentences could have been consecutively, meaning one right after another and she could have served over 100 years. The courts would ultimately deny her appeal and affirm her sentence.