News - McHenry County

AJ Freund forced to stand in cold shower, beaten by parents before death, prosecutors say

Bond set at $5M for Crystal Lake boy’s parents accused of murder

JoAnn Cunningham, 36, of Crystal Lake, and Andrew Freund, 60 of Crystal Lake

WOODSTOCK – Days before law enforcement searched the fields and lakes of McHenry County for Andrew “AJ” Freund, the 5-year-old boy’s parents forced him into a cold shower, beat him, and buried his body in a shallow grave, court records show.

The body of the child unearthed Wednesday in an unincorporated area south of Woodstock has been positively identified as Andrew T. “AJ” Freund, according to a news release from the McHenry County Coroner’s Office.

An autopsy conducted Thursday determined AJ died from brain trauma as the result of multiple blunt force injuries, according to the release. Police believe the boy’s parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr. killed their son 3 days before reporting it to police on April 18, according to charging documents.

Cunningham and Freund made their first court appearances Thursday on first-degree murder charges in connection with AJ’s death. McHenry County Judge Mark Gerhardt set their bond at $5 million each. Cunningham and Freund would need to individually post $500,000 bail to be released, at which point they would be subject to a series of court-ordered bond conditions.

Should either parent post bond, they would be required to wear electronic home monitoring devices, and barred from having contact with one another or anyone younger than 17. They also would need to surrender any firearms and submit to random drug screens, Gerhardt ordered.

Meanwhile, Cunningham, who is 7 months pregnant, will receive medical care while she is at the McHenry County Jail, Sheriff’s Deputy Sandra Rogers said in an email Thursday. Authorities will transport the expecting mother to the hospital if necessary, and Illinois Department of Child and Family Services will determine the next steps once the baby is delivered, Rogers said.

AJ is Cunningham’s second child. He has one younger brother, whom DCFS has removed from the home. A shelter hearing will take place Monday in McHenry County court to determine where Cunningham’s younger son will stay while DCFS investigates abuse and neglect allegations.

It’s not the first time DCFS has investigated Cunningham.

The agency has had contact with AJ on and off since 2013, when he was born with opiates in his system, according to DCFS reports, several of which were unfounded.

He spent the first 2 years of his life in foster care before returning to his mother in 2015, the reports showed.

Freund and Cunningham are disputing DCFS’ decision to remove Cunningham’s younger son from the Dole Avenue, Crystal Lake home where AJ was reported missing. At a hearing Tuesday, Freund, a licensed attorney, was dressed in a suit and glasses when he embraced a tearful Cunningham, clad in a black and white striped shirt and blue jeans.

By Thursday morning, however, the parents were kept separate as they stood expressionless in orange McHenry County jail scrubs, and heard the felony charges read aloud by a judge for the first time.

Cunningham is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery and failure to report a missing child. She’s additionally accused of harming AJ in another instance on March 4, according to the criminal complaint.

Freund is similarly charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery, concealment of a homicide and failure to report a missing child.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Cunningham, 36, and Freund, 60, could face life in prison. They each were represented by a public defender to represent them on bond matters Thursday, and are scheduled to appear in McHenry County court Monday. Both Cunningham and Freund are being housed in segregation in the county jail, Rogers said.

Questions remain about the timeline leading up to AJ’s death. Criminal complaints filed in McHenry County court Thursday morning alleged AJ died on April 15 – 3 days before his parents reported him missing.

Neither the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and Crystal Lake Police Department would comment further on the lapse of time.

Crystal Lake police and FBI agents interviewed the parents overnight Wednesday after information was obtained through a forensic analysis of cellphone data, Black said. Details about the parents’ cellphone activity was not immediately available.

Freund and Cunningham continued to speak with investigators, eventually leading officials to the rural site where AJ’s body was discovered Wednesday morning wrapped in plastic, police said.

Word of AJ’s death sparked frustration throughout the community. Neighbors who watched Cunningham cry in front of news crews or who heard Freund make public pleas for AJ to come home, were crushed to hear the seemingly grieving parents knew where their son was all along.

“I have kids [AJ’s] age and I couldn’t imagine it,” Woodstock mother, Rose Taylor said on Wednesday. “It makes me sick.”

Freund had told a 911 dispatcher on April 18 that he returned between 8 and 8:30 a.m. from an early-morning doctor appointment and discovered that AJ wasn’t in his bedroom, a redacted 911 tape revealed.

Freund claimed to have meticulously searched the home for the 3-foot-5 boy with short blond hair. The parents also checked for AJ at an unidentified school and a local gas station before reporting him missing, Freund said.

Both he and Cunningham told police they last saw AJ Wednesday evening, after their family dinner, bedtime prayers and a bath, Cunningham’s attorneys have said. The young boy was reportedly wearing a blue Mario sweatshirt and black sweatpants.

In the wake of AJ’s death, community members have hosted vigils outside the boy’s home and in the Woodstock Square. The cards, stuffed animals and other memorabilia the house have since been removed so they can be turned over to AJ’s family – including his younger brother – in good condition, police have said.

Officials have also warned against potential scams related to AJ’s slaying. The Crystal Lake Police Department cautioned residents to research anyone accepting financial donations to ensure their intentions are legitimate before donating.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald from 2017 through 2021. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.