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Starving boys, one child's body, found in basement

Woman sought; homicide charges possible

Sherry Murphy
Sherry Murphy

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New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey calls 'reprehensible' the case of three boys held in squalor, one of whom died. CNN's Jamie Colby reports (January 6)
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NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- Police are searching for a woman who they say abandoned three boys, one of whom was found dead and the other two locked in a filthy basement, possibly for weeks, according to Newark, New Jersey, officials.

The body of 7-year-old Faheem Williams was discovered in a locked basement room, said Newark Mayor Sharpe James, inside a plastic container, Newark police said. An autopsy has determined he died from starvation and blunt force to the stomach, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Tuesday.

His twin brother, Raheem, and 4-year-old brother Tyrone Hill -- who were found nearby in a locked room -- are at University Hospital in fair condition, being treated for dehydration and starvation, James said. The mayor said Tyrone had suffered burns from his neck down that affected his ability to walk.

"The room was a nightmare: feces, you name it ... vomiting, all the ills that you'd think from two boys ages 7 and 5 having been locked in a room without any care or any treatment," James said.

Police issued an arrest warrant for Sherry Murphy, who was supposed to be looking after the boys while her cousin, the boys' mother, was in jail. The Associated Press described Murphy as a "go-go dancer."

Newark Mayor Sharpe James talks to CNN on Tuesday. He says that all  Newark police are looking for Sherry Murphy.
Newark Mayor Sharpe James talks to CNN on Tuesday. He says that all Newark police are looking for Sherry Murphy.

"All of Newark's police are out looking for Miss Sherry Murphy," James said.

Authorities initially sought Murphy on child-endangerment charges, but they planned to upgrade that to homicide, James said Monday afternoon.

That decision was based on an interview investigators had with Murphy's three daughters and ex-husband, who is a Newark firefighter, James said. Information from the interview leads police to believe the boy's body might have been moved to the locked room after his death, the mayor said.

'Reaching out for love and caring'

Police were called Saturday by Shawn Slappy, who said he had been dating Murphy and had gone down to the basement to find shoes and boots. He found two children in a room "in a terrible state," James said.

When Raheem told authorities he had a twin brother, police returned to the house and discovered a child's body in another room.

Newark house where children were found
Newark house where children were found

Officials do not know how long the boys were in the basement. Murphy moved into the apartment the first week of December, and neighbors said they did not recall ever seeing the children.

"Raheem couldn't talk about any school he's been attending," James said. "It could be a case where the children were moved from one locked condition to another. ... There's a real mystery unfolding here."

Both boys were enjoying food and freedom to play, he said, noting that Tyrone was eating jelly from a jar.

"[They are] two kids with good manners, good spirit, suffering for no reason of their own," he said. "They're reaching out for love and caring."

Mother had given cousin custody

James said the boys' mother, Melinda Williams, 41, was being treated in a hospital in New York for serious injuries after being hit by a car last weekend.

Williams turned the boys over to Murphy in March, when she was jailed on an assault charge, the mayor said. When the mother was released in August, she was unable to find Murphy or her children.

She finally learned their whereabouts from an aunt and had been en route to see them when she was hit by the car, James said, adding that it was possible she may never walk again.

In another unfortunate twist, the Division of Youth and Family Services was supposed to be monitoring the boys when their mother went to jail, James said.

He said they closed the case for reasons that are not clear, and there are no records of DYFS following up on the boys after their mother went to jail.

"I'm not going to accuse anyone," the mayor said. "Probably there's a lot of blame, but even if we go beyond DYFS, no one can take the place of the parents and those who are entrusted to care for our children. So right now, Sherry Murphy and Miss Melinda Williams -- they too have to answer to the condition of these wonderful boys."

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