In the summer of 2004, a little girl named Riley Fox was abducted and murdered in the small town of Wilmington, Ill., about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. It was a gruesome crime that rocked the Rust Belt community and remains a mystery to this day.
But more than just a tragedy and a whodunit, the Riley Fox case is the story of her family's strange, overwhelming ordeal -- a nightmare in which Riley's death was only the first excruciating episode.
On the morning of June 6, 2004, Kevin Fox was home alone with his two children, 3-year-old daughter Riley and son Tyler, 6. His wife Melissa was away that weekend for a walk to raise breast cancer awareness in Chicago.
Just before 8 a.m., Tyler woke Kevin and told him that Riley was gone. Kevin began searching for her himself, but after 40 minutes with no luck he called the police.
By the time Melissa found out and rushed home from Chicago, nearly the entire town was helping search for the little girl. The turnout was a testament to just how close the community is.
"Everybody was so supportive. I mean, I still, I can't thank everyone enough ... It was really unbelievable," Melissa said.
Kevin and Melissa Fox grew up in Wilmington and were high-school sweethearts. Kevin, a painter, doted on his precious daughter, saying she had "big brown eyes, the way she would look at you, and her smile. She just made your heart melt."
The sequence of events on the night of Riley's disappearance would prove crucial to the case. While Melissa was in Chicago, Kevin made plans to go to a street festival in Chicago with one of Melissa's brothers, leaving Tyler and Riley with his mother-in-law for the evening. How big an issue was alcohol that night? "It wasn't a big issue at all," says Kevin. "I had some beers. I was definitely not wasted."
Around 1 a.m., Kevin returned home with the children, who were both fast asleep. He put Tyler on a chair in the living room and Riley on a couch, covering her with a yellow blanket. He went to bed and slept until Tyler woke him to tell him Riley was gone.
At around 3:30 that afternoon, two female volunteers found Riley's body face-down in a creek in the Forsythe Woods, about a two-and-a-half miles from the Fox residence.
"I just had this really bad feeling about this place," one of them said. "And that's why I came here."
The police were called, but it would be some time before Kevin and Melissa would learn of their daughter's grisly death. They were first brought in for questioning. Later that day, they were told that Riley had been sexually assaulted, bound and gagged with duct tape and drowned.
Through their sadness, the family resolved to find the killer.
Because Riley's body was found outside of Wilmington, the investigation was taken over by the Will County Sheriff's Office. And as is typical in cases like this, Riley's parents and the rest of the family all agreed to be questioned and provide DNA samples. Kevin and Melissa even allowed investigators to interview Tyler, who police hoped could offer clues because he was asleep next to Riley before she vanished.
From the beginning, the Foxes believed an intruder came into their house and kidnapped Riley.