In 2002, the foster care system in the state of Florida, finally discovered that 4-year-old Rilya Wilson was AWOL from her foster home, the residence of Pamela Graham, Rilya’s official foster mother, and Geralyn Graham (no relation). The girl was last seen in 2001. When it was discovered in 2002 that she was no longer living there, the Grahams claimed a Department of Children and Families worker had taken her for medical tests and never returned. Rilya’s body has never been found. Police have no witnesses to any killing and scant physical evidence.
Poor little Rilya had a tough, if brief, life. She was born Sept. 29, 1996, to a homeless cocaine addict. The girl’s name was an acronym for “remember I love you always.” She was taken into state custody when she was less than 2 months old when her mother’s parental rights were terminated. Years later, Graham, while spending time in jail on an unrelated charge, “broke down, said she couldn’t take it anymore, that she had killed the little girl and buried her near her home.” Graham told a cellmate that she smothered Rilya with a pillow because the girl insisted on wearing a Cleopatra costume for Halloween rather than going as an angel. There have been further claims that Graham tied Rilya to a bed or locked her in a small laundry room as punishment for misbehavior. There were also reports by friends and acquaintances that the girl was frequently seen with bruises and scratches.
Graham has a long history of fraud and other crimes. When she was arrested for Rilya’s murder, police found that she has used 47 aliases and was carrying 10 different driver’s licenses. That history was somehow missed by a DCF background check. “Her whole life was a scam. We still don’t know who she was, even after she was fingerprinted,” said former Miami-Dade detective Gregory Scott, who retired in 2004 and was an early investigator in Rilya’s case. Even so, “It is always problematic for the government when it has to build a case on jailhouse snitches…in the end, the government may lose, particularly if Graham can present a reasonable alternative explanation for Rilya’s disappearance.”
In Graham’s case, the star prosecution witness will be the jailhouse snitch, Robin Lunceford, who had been sentenced to life behind bars before revealing Graham’s purported confession. Lunceford’s sentence was reduced to 10 years after she came forward. She is now scheduled for release in March 2014. An investigation showed that a DCF caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, did not make required monthly visits to the Grahams’ home for more than a year, even though she was filing reports and telling judges the girl was fine. Muskelly was eventually placed on five years’ probation after pleading guilty to official misconduct for falsifying time sheets. Graham was convicted of collecting government payments for the child for months after she disappeared. Pamela Graham has turned state’s witness against Geralyn Graham, after being arrested on charges of child neglect and abuse.
One reason Rilya’s disappearance went unnoticed for so long was the her caretaker, Pamela Graham (no relation), who was Graham’s roommate, withdrew her from school. Her disappearance led to the passage of Rilya Wilson Act, which required all foster children in Florida to attend school and required schools to report unexcused absences to authorities. Twelve years after little Rilya went missing, Graham, now 66 years old, is set to be tried for her murder. Graham is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. Rilya’s body has never been found.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who sponsored the Rilya Wilson Act when she was in the Florida legislature, wrote in an op-ed to the Miami Herald that the trial of Graham should receive the same attention as the trial of Casey Anthony. ‘We must fight for Rilya because her murder trial, like Caylee’s murder trial, deserves the national spotlight. Nancy Grace and the national media should dedicate their time and resources to Rilya’s trial, and simply not ignore her because she is a child of color. This happens too often,’ she wrote.
We must also fight for Rilya, the precious 2-month-old infant who should never have been placed into Graham’s care, or else who will?