Note to readers: This story contains graphic details about allegations of child abuse and murder.
WOODSTOCK – AJ Freund’s father led investigators to the spot where he allegedly buried the 5-year-old boy’s body after storing him for days in a plastic tote in the family’s basement, McHenry County court records show.
Previously sealed search warrants filed in McHenry County court reveal details about the investigation into AJ’s disappearance and the cellphone records that eventually prompted the boy’s father, Andrew Freund Sr., to confess his role in the child’s death and burial.
An affidavit written by McHenry County Sheriff’s Detective Edwin Maldonado describes a pattern of physical abuse against AJ, including a two-minute cellphone video from March that showed the boy lying naked on a bare mattress, covered in bruises and bandages, Maldonado wrote.
On the morning of April 24, Freund led police to an area near ComEd transmission towers off Dean Street, near Woodstock, the affidavit shows. It was there that Freund, 60, buried AJ’s body in a shallow grave and covered it with straw, Maldonado wrote. Freund also told investigators how he and AJ’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, forced the child to take a cold shower on the evening of April 14 as a punishment for lying about soiling his underwear, Maldonado wrote.
“Drew explained that he wanted JoAnn to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent form of punishment,” Maldonado wrote. “Drew said cold showers was decided.”
According to Freund, AJ was forced to stay in the shower about 20 minutes before his parents put him to bed “cold, wet and naked.” The father went on to say that sometime later, Cunningham discovered her son unresponsive in bed. An examination of Freund’s cellphone revealed an internet search for “child CPR” at 3:17 a.m. April 15, Maldonado wrote.
Later that morning, Freund told police he put AJ’s body in a large plastic tote in the basement of the family’s home at 94 Dole Ave. in Crystal Lake, Maldonado wrote. Freund said it was two days later, on the night of April 17, that he put the boy’s body into garbage bags, then put the body in the trunk of his car, and drove the body to the burial site, Maldonado wrote.
Cunningham and Freund each face multiple charges including first-degree murder in connection with AJ’s death. They are being held at the McHenry County Jail with bond of $5 million apiece, and are barred from contact with one another.
Freund confessed to FBI Special Agent Carrie Landau and Crystal Lake Detective David Eitel around 2:40 a.m. on April 24, nine days after AJ is believed to have died, and six days after Freund reported him missing on April 18. An autopsy conducted April 25 determined that AJ died of brain trauma as the result of multiple blunt-force injuries to his head.
Police received warrants to search both Freund’s and Cunningham’s phones, along with a phone belonging to a close friend of Cunningham, to find information that led to the confession.
In addition to the early morning search for “child CPR” on April 15, investigators found a picture of a shopping list taken to the Crystal Lake Jewel-Osco store around 9 p.m. April 17, which contained items including duct tape, plastic gloves, air freshener and bleach, according to the affidavit. Freund told police he purchased the bleach for cleaning, and the tape to hang photos. Freund said the family usually would go through a gallon of bleach each week.
Freund called police April 18 to report AJ missing. The 60-year-old attorney told police he had a doctor appointment at 6:30 a.m. that morning in Elgin, and had been careful to collect proof.
“Two FBI agents followed up at the doctor’s office to confirm Drew had been there. Once there, they spoke with [an employee] who confirmed Drew has been there,” Maldonado wrote. “[The employee] said when she checked Drew out and asked if he would like a receipt, Drew accepted and commented to her something to the effect of, ‘The lawyer in me thinks I need a paper trail.’ ”
Freund showed Crystal Lake police his appointment card, and suggested the officers make a copy of it and put it in the case file, Maldonado wrote.
“… It struck [Eitel] as suspicious in light of the additional information learned,” Maldonado wrote.
Cunningham’s phone contained a previously deleted March 4 video of AJ lying naked in a crib, with bandages around his wrists and hips and an ice pack over his eyes. The boy’s chest, neck and eyes were badly bruised, Maldonado wrote.
“In the video a female with a voice consistent with JoAnn’s is holding the phone and videotaping,” Maldonado wrote. “She is berating AJ for urinating his bed.”
It did not appear AJ had received professional medical care, according to the affidavit.
When FBI and Crystal Lake investigators confronted Freund with the video on April 24, he confessed that he believed AJ died April 15, according to the affidavit. Freund allegedly told police that Cunningham caused AJ’s injuries as seen in the video.
Phone records also revealed at least 88 deleted contacts between Cunningham and her friend between April 11 and 15. In a message from April 16, Cunningham complained to her friend that AJ was misbehaving, Maldonado wrote. Freund told police that Cunningham believed AJ had a disorder that made him defiant of authority, and so had to punish the boy, including with beatings or by locking him in his room for hours at a time.
Child removed from
On April 19, investigators interviewed AJ’s younger brother at the McHenry County Child Advocacy center, Maldonado’s affidavit shows. The 4-year-old boy told interviewers his parents had told him not to talk about AJ, and said that his mother told him AJ had “fallen down the stairs and has a lot of owies,” Maldonado wrote.
The younger boy is in the care of the Illinois Department of Family and Child Services, and prosecutors have petitioned to terminate both Cunningham’s and Freund’s parental rights. The agency is involved in an ongoing investigation into claims of abuse and neglect inside the home.
DCFS had contact with AJ on and off since he was born in 2013 with opiates in his system, placing him in foster care for more than a year after he was born. Cellphone records obtained during the investigation into the boy’s death provided video-recorded evidence that AJ had suffered injuries in the past.
As police continued to search Freund and Cunningham’s home, the family appeared to be living in what Maldonado described as “hoarder-like conditions.”
The basement area, in particular, was filled with “numerous garbage bags stacked upon each other,” the warrant stated.
Police also noted household debris piled up throughout the home, as well as outside against the attached garage, which was filled from floor to ceiling with garbage and debris, Maldonado wrote.
It wasn’t officers’ first time at the home.
Police had numerous contacts at the Dole Avenue house, a majority of which were in reference to well-being checks or domestic violence situations, Maldonado wrote. Both Freund and Cunningham were also known of to have abused narcotics in the past.
While Freund’s phone was being analyzed, officers searched inside the home, where they located a pair of red and black men’s size 11 Nike gym shoes that were “dripping wet with mud,” police wrote. The shoes were sent to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, to be examined.
As the search inside the home continued, police located in the dining room a white garbage bag containing wet clothes that smelled heavily of bleach, police wrote. Officers located a total of four empty bleach bottles that had been thrown into garbage bins, Maldonado wrote.