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Police: 5-year-old AJ Freund was put in cold shower, beaten to death

By Don Babwin
Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Police believe the Crystal Lake couple who reported their 5-year-old son missing last week killed him days earlier by beating him and forcing him to stand in a cold shower for an extended period of time, according to court documents released Thursday.

The allegations are included in a criminal complaint that outlines first-degree murder, aggravated battery and several other charges against Joann Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, in the death of Andrew “AJ” Freund. A judge on Thursday set bail at $5 million, meaning each parent would have to post 10%, or $500,000, to be released from jail.

An autopsy was scheduled for later Thursday to determine a cause of death and to confirm that the remains found a day earlier wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave are those of the child, as investigators believe.

Investigators say they found the body a few miles from the family’s Crystal Lake home based on information provided by Freund. The couple’s brief court appearance Thursday came exactly a week after Freund triggered a massive search on April 18 when he called 911 to report that the couple hadn’t seen their son since bedtime the night before. Police believe the boy was killed April 15, according to the criminal complaint.

Authorities say the boy had lived in deplorable conditions.

“It is my hope that you may have some solace in knowing that AJ is no longer suffering and his killers have been brought to justice,” Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black told reporters Wednesday, in a statement directed at the child’s relatives.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Service had a long history with the family — including an investigation that was launched shortly after AJ was born when tests revealed there were opiates in his body that prompted the agency to place the boy in foster care for nearly two years.

Crystal Lake police also have repeatedly been called to the family’s house. Officers in police reports described finding filthy living conditions, broken windows, evidence of drug use and the overpowering smell of dog feces.

After AJ’s parents reported him missing, authorities immediately placed his younger brother in the custody of state welfare workers.

Lawyers from the McHenry County public defender’s office represented the parents during Thursday’s hearing, and it was unclear whether they had hired private attorneys. Judge Mark Gerhardt ordered the couple return to court for a preliminary hearing on Monday.

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