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'We Never Gave Up Hope': Six Years After 10-Year-Old Arizona Boy Disappeared, His Adopted Mom Is Charged

“Jesse’s case has always been a priority for this department and we continue to seek justice for this little boy,” Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall said Tuesday while announcing charges of abandoning or concealing a body against Crystal Wilson.

By Jill Sederstrom
Tragic and Disturbing Cases of Child Abuse

More than six years after a 10-year-old Arizona boy vanished from his home, his adopted mother has been arrested in connection with the case.

Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall announced during a Tuesday press conference that Crystal Wilson, 54, is now facing one count of abandoning or concealing a body in the death of 10-year-old Jesse Wilson.

Crystal was taken into custody Monday at her Georgia home after a grand jury indicted her on the charges last week.

“Jesse’s case has always been a priority for this department and we continue to seek justice for this little boy,” Hall said.

Jesse disappeared in July 2016. At the time, his adopted mother told police that Jesse ran away from the Buckeye, Arizona home in the middle of the night after slipping out of his second-story bedroom window.

“In the days and weeks that followed, residents from Buckeye and all over the valley put their heart and soul into helping us search and try to find Jesse and bring him back home,” Hall said.

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The search failed to yield any sign of the 10-year-old but on March 8, 2018, a Buckeye municipal employee stumbled upon skeletal remains on the side of the road near State Route 85 and Broadway Road, according to KTVK/KPHO.

The remains were later determined to belong to Jesse, but the medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death and Hall said “no information provided” in the recovery could tell investigators what happened to the 10-year-old — though Hall personally speculated that Jesse died of issues stemming from "neglect," according to the Arizona Republic.

A police handout of missing child Jesse Wilson

A new investigator was assigned to the case in 2020, after which the investigators gathered additional information and interviews. After working closely with the FBI and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, investigators had enough evidence to charge Crystal with abandoning or concealing the body.

Hall said Tuesday that DNA evidence allegedly found in Crystal’s jeep, along with technology and visual evidence recovered during the investigation, placed Crystal in the area where the remains were later discovered on the same night that Jesse disappeared.

“It was a blessing and a curse that this was a high-profile case because we got a lot of leads on this case, but all of our leads led back to Crystal being responsible,” he said.

Hall said that over the years, Crystal provided “conflicting statements” and there was “never an admission on exactly what happened,” leaving some of the case a mystery.

According to Hall, the abandonment of a body charge was the “most fitting” charge investigators could file at this time.

“Jesse Wilson was a 10-year-old boy who deserved the best in life,” he said. “He deserved the love and care every child needs to thrive.”

Jesse’s biological grandmother, Cynthia Lauderdale, also spoke at the press conference Tuesday, thanking investigators and the public for their efforts to make an arrest in the case.

“We’d just like to thank everyone that has put all their time and effort in as a team to bring this to justice,” she said. “We love Jesse very much and we never gave up hope and he’s in our minds and he stays with us every single day.”

Jesse’s biological mother lost her parental rights to her son and later died herself, but Lauderdale said Jesse was never far from her mind.

A police handout of Crystal Wilson

“One thing that she said before she did pass away is that ‘justice will be served mom, it’s just a matter of time,’” Lauderdale said. “So, God took her and she’s in another place and what I see is that she’s working behind the scenes.”

Lauderdale said she had her “suspicions from the very beginning” that Crystal may have been involved in her grandson’s death. She hopes that someday investigators will have enough evidence to file murder charges, adding, “These charges that we have right now to go with in the beginning, that’s just the beginning stages."

Following Crystal's arrest, Jesse’s biological father, Jesse Machado, told KTVK/KPHO that the years-long investigation has been painful for the family.

“He didn’t deserve that,” he said. “He could’ve had a better life.”

Three months before Jesse disappeared, police were called after Jesse was found in a man’s front yard, according to the news outlet. Crystal told police that he had climbed out his bedroom window and authorities concluded there was no reason to contact the Arizona Department of Child Services.

“Based upon that incident alone, there was nothing to indicate he needed to be removed from the house,” Hall said Tuesday. “If there was, we would’ve contacted DCS and taken steps to have him removed, but there was nothing on that initial call to indicate abuse, neglect or anything along those lines the time we went out there.”

Jesse’s biological family is now left wondering whether authorities could have done more.

“Why wasn’t the state doing anything?” his biological paternal grandmother Carolyn Lasenberry asked. “They had seen what was going on. They didn’t do anything. They did not protect this child.”

Crystal is expected to be extradited back to Arizona to face the charges against her.

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