by John W. Taylor
At 3:30 a.m. on February 10, 2009, a 9-1-1 call came into a Putnam County, Florida emergency call center. Seventeen year-old Misty Croslin reported five year-old Haleigh Cummings missing. Misty was the girlfriend of Haleigh’s father, Ronald Cummings. At the time, she was babysitting Haleigh and her four year-old brother, Ronald Junior, while their father worked the night shift.
Misty put the children to bed around 8:00 p.m. She cleaned and did laundry prior to retiring to bed at 10:00 p.m. In the master bedroom of their trailer, Haleigh slept on a small bed about four feet from where Misty slept, while Ronald Junior slept in the bed with Misty. Shortly after 3:00 a.m., Misty awoke to use the bathroom. After noticing the kitchen light was on and seeing the back door propped open, she returned to the bedroom and noticed Haleigh was not in her bed. Misty immediately searched the trailer, but could not locate Haleigh. She called Ronald several times on his cell phone, but he did not answer. Ronald pulled into the driveway about five minutes later and instructed her to call 9-1-1.
Shortly thereafter, the police responded to Misty’s call. They found no signs of forced entry, foul play, or any forensic evidence regarding Haleigh’s disappearance. Further, Ronald locked and secured the back door prior to leaving for work. Haleigh was unable to open the door on her own. She was simply gone.
Several years prior, Ronald Cummings and Crystal Sheffield, Haleigh and Ronald Junior’s mother, stopped dating. Ronald was awarded custody because he had a job with health insurance. A few months before Haleigh’s disappearance, Ronald started dating Misty Croslin. Misty had quit school in the sixth grade and left home by the age of 15. Both Ronald and Misty were allegedly using illicit drugs and fraternizing with individuals who used and supplied drugs. Ronald had been previously arrested on drug charges and was known to have a temper. Child Protective Services had interviewed Ronald Cummings on several occasions.
Several co-workers confirmed Ronald remained at work during his entire shift and his cell phone only pinged off of the cell tower near his job site. With a solid alibi, the police appeared to eliminate him as a potential suspect. However, Misty continued to be a person of interest. Misty was not a good witness. She was young, uneducated, not overly intelligent, and apparently on drugs. The combination likely resulted in confusing and illogical statements and her inability to remember things she should have. These factors may completely explain her inconsistent statements and at times, odd behavior, or they could merely be a complicating factor in trying to fathom what she actually knew.
Misty initially indicated that Haleigh was sleeping in the bed with her, but later stated that Haleigh slept in a bed near her in the same room. She also claimed she tried to call Ronald prior to looking for Haleigh and at other times she indicated that she tried to call him after she searched for Haleigh. The police alluded to other inconsistencies, but this information has not been released. Misty appeared to be withholding critical information.A careful analysis of the 9-1-1 call, suggests Misty made many unusual statements and further demonstrated signs of deception.
The call opened as follows:
911 Operator : 911. What`s your emergency?
Misty Croslin: I just woke up and our back door was all open, and I can`t find our daughter.
Misty stated that “our back door” rather than the back door “was open.” It was an unnatural way to speak. Why did she feel the need to identify possession of the door? No one says, “I let the dog out our back door.” Though Misty is uneducated and typically fails to use proper English, it was not a grammatical error. Misty was not speaking naturally, which can be a sign of deception.
Misty finished her opening statement by saying, “…and I can’t find our daughter.” The use of the “I” likely meant that Ronald had not looked for Haleigh. Though one would have expected Ronald to search the house for his daughter, his first instinct was to elicit help. However, Misty referred to Haleigh as “our” daughter, though this was incorrect. Haleigh was not her daughter. Misty had only known Haleigh for a few months. And Misty and Ronald were only dating at this time.
Next, the following exchange took place:
911 Operator: OK. When did you last see her?
Misty Croslin: We just, like — you know, it was about 10:00 o`clock. We were — she was sleeping. I did cleaning.
Though Misty does not possess a strong intellect and that should be considered when evaluating her responses, this question clearly troubled her. She stopped and started her response and then utilized two stalling responses, “like” followed by “you know.” She then answered the question asked, “It was about 10:00 o’clock.” Again, Misty started and stopped her statement with, “We were…” We do not know whether the “we” referred to Misty and Haleigh [and her younger brother] or if it referred to Misty and someone else. She ended her response by stating, “I did cleaning,” which was unnecessary information. However, Misty felt it was necessary and important. She provided a quasi-alibi, which may indicate Misty felt the need to account for her time.
911 Operator: Ok, what was she last seen wearing?
Misty Croslin: She was in her pajamas. We were sleeping.
Once again, Misty conveyed unnecessary information. She stated what she was doing [sleeping] though the operator did not ask. Misty wanted the police to know she was asleep when Haleigh went missing.
Ronald Cummings was in the background when Misty called 9-1-1. At one point during the call, the operator asked to speak to Ronald and he responded, “I just got home from work, my five-year-old daughter is gone- I need someone here now.” Ronald conveyed to the operator only relevant information and in the order it happened. He walked in the door and found out his daughter was missing. Further, he asked for help. Though he conveyed anger and hostility, he did not exhibit any signs of deception.
Law enforcement primarily focused on Misty, her activities, and the people she most closely associated with. Around the time of Haleigh’s abduction, Misty spent time with her brother, Tommy Croslin, and their cousin, Joe Overstreet. Authorities interviewed both Tommy and Joe based on their proximity to Misty and Haleigh. The police seemed to be less than fully comfortable with what Tommy and Joe told them.
With a five year-old missing and her life possibly at stake, the police had no tolerance for the apparent deception by the participants in this case. The police believed many people knew more than they were saying. Though the police stated that Misty Croslin was the key to solving this case, they also believed Misty’s brother, Tommy Croslin, was withholding vital information.
In 2010, both Misty and Tommy, along with Ronald, were arrested for drug-related offenses. Though not always imposed, many drug-related crimes have the potential for extremely long prison sentences. The police used the threat of significant incarceration as leverage. If Ronald, Misty, or Tommy provided information on Haleigh then they would receive lighter sentences, but if not, they would face maximum terms in prison.
Ronald provided no new information, but he agreed to help in any manner regarding Haleigh’s disappearance. Notwithstanding their previous statements, Misty and Tommy implicated their cousin, Joe Overstreet, in the disappearance and murder of Haleigh. Through her attorney, Robert Fields, Misty claimed that her cousin Joe Overstreet abducted Haleigh while she hid under the covers with Ronald Junior.
A couple of months later, Tommy Croslin provided similar details on Haleigh’s disappearance through his attorney James Werter. Tommy claimed that he and Overstreet went to Ronald’s trailer to get a machine gun. When it was not there, Overstreet became angry and took Haleigh. Tommy claimed Haleigh was already dead when he left the mobile home with Overstreet. He stated, via Werter, that Overstreet forced him to go along as he dumped Haleigh’s body into the St. Johns River.
Conveniently, both Misty and Tommy provided information through their attorneys, which prevented the police from thoroughly vetting their stories. Both conveyed a fairly simple storyline lacking much concrete detail. The simplicity limited the possibility of contradictions in their statements. As a result, little credibility can be placed on their stories. Misty and Tommy managed to avoid any direct responsibility in Haleigh’s murder. They both also claimed an extreme fear of Overstreet was the reason they had never previously told anyone about his actions.
Though it is difficult to conceive of any reasonable explanation for the senseless kidnapping and murder of a five year-old girl, Misty and Tommy’s story defied logic. What does a five year-old girl have to do with picking up a machine gun? Why would someone who was mad at an individual who was not there, intentionally kill the man’s little daughter as retribution? There was absolutely no link between the gun and Haleigh. Further, there was no evidence to support Misty and Tommy’s story.
Joe Overstreet completely denied all accusations against him. He did not try to blame Haleigh’s death on Tommy or Misty, which would have been expected if the three of them were present when Haleigh was killed. He simply denied their accusations.
The Overstreet story arose when the police threatened Tommy and Misty with significant prison time. This was not a coincidence. Law enforcement’s strong-arm tactics inadvertently placed Misty and Tommy into situations where lying was in their best interest. Though their intentions were well-placed and understandable, the police tactics did more to complicate Haleigh’s disappearance than clarify it.
Though young children do get kidnapped, it is a rare occurrence. It is even rarer for a child to be taken from her home in the middle of the night. Haleigh could not have propped the back door open herself; therefore, she was taken by force. There are several possible scenarios that would explain why a young child would disappear in the middle of the night: 1) For ransom, 2) To conceal homicidal violence against the child, 3) To cover up a fatal or near-fatal accident, 4) To conceal abuse or molestation, or 5) She was taken by a loved one.
Nothing about Ronald Cummings demonstrated that he was in a financial position to pay ransom. Further, there was no evidence of anyone attempting to extract or extort anything from Ronald in return for Haleigh. Misty’s version of the story required a stranger to take Haleigh out of her bed while she slept within four feet of an adult. Haleigh was afraid of strangers and the dark. A stranger abduction would have likely awoken Misty. It is unlikely this occurred without Misty’s cooperation.
On the night of her disappearance, someone could have become frustrated with Haleigh and injured or killed her in a fit of rage. Essentially, Misty and Tommy claimed this happened when they attempted to receive lighter sentences by placing the blame on their cousin, Joe Overstreet. However, their stories lacked credibility and supporting evidence.
Though there was no evidence of an accident or that Haleigh was molested, something horrible could have happened to her. One or more persons close to her could have removed Haleigh from the trailer to conceal the initial incident(s). However, it would have required a cover-up.
Though many theories link Misty and one or more of her relatives to Haleigh’s disappearance, it required a cover story. Any cover-up would have required Misty to be the front person. She would have been responsible for explaining (and convincing) to the police what supposedly happened. Misty did not exhibit a strong intellect or confident demeanor. She was only seventeen and lacked the maturity and knowledge of even a typical teenager. She was uneducated and very possibly under the influence of one or more illicit substances on the night of Haleigh’s disappearance.
Misty would have been unable to convey a convincing cover story. There would have been gaping holes in her story. She would have constantly contradicted herself. Her version of events would have immediately crumbled. However, this did not happen; there were only minor inconsistencies in her statements. In multiple television interviews, Misty’s story stayed materially the same. If she made up the story, there likely would have been obvious changes as she forgot what she said during previous interviews and statements.
The police believed Misty was lying to them and withholding information. This may have been true, but Misty’s weak intellect, drug use, or other factors affecting her mental acuity could have come across as deception. Things that almost anyone in her situation would have known, she did not know. When asked why she had inconsistencies in her statements, Misty simply responded, “I don’t know.” If Misty intentionally lied and concealed the murder of a young child, she would probably have had an answer to this question. There were many reasonable explanations, but she could not come up with a single one.
Why did Misty feel the need to provide alibi information during the 9-1-1 call? She likely knew on some level that the police would want to know what she was doing during the evening and night. How did she let this happen? She may have been asking herself the same question.
The vast majority of child abductions involve a parent. Since Ronald had an alibi and already had custody of Haleigh, he should have been excluded early on. However, Haleigh and Ronald Junior’s mother, Crystal Sheffield, lost custody of her children. Haleigh’s mother or another close relative could likely have pulled Haleigh from bed, without her resisting. With the back door of the trailer propped open, the person who took Haleigh may have intended to return for Ronald Junior, but something could have prevented her from re-entering the trailer.
There is no evidence however, that Crystal Sheffield or any other family member abducted, murdered, or currently has custody of Haleigh. Although the police immediately zeroed in on Misty and her family, did they adequately vet Crystal and her close friends and relatives? Could they still be hiding her out of fear that if found, she would be returned to her father?
Ronald Cummings is currently serving 15 years on drug charges. He received a reduced sentence because he agreed to testify in future cases related to drugs or Haleigh’s disappearance. Tommy Croslin is also serving a 15 year sentence on drug charges and Misty Croslin is serving 25 years for a single count of trafficking Oxycodone. As for Joe Overstreet, the police still consider him a person of interest in Haleigh’s disappearance.
Haleigh Cummings disappearance came on the heels of the disappearance and death of Caylee Anthony. As in the case of little Caylee, Haleigh’s disappearance has captivated American true crime followers, including Nancy Grace, who interviewed Ronald Cummings and even, according to some, developed a friendship with him. Sadly, given the present state of what is essentially a stalled investigation, we will probably never know what really happened to Haleigh Cummings.
Friedman, Emily, “Police Say 5-Year-Old Haleigh Cummings is Dead, Identify Persons of Interest in Case, ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/US/investigators-missing-girl-haleigh-cummings-dead/story?id=10393476, April 16, 2010.
LaSalle, Lisa, “Haleigh Cummings Was Once Lost but Now She Is Found,” The Trouble with Justice, http://www.thetroublewithjustice.com/haleigh-cummings-was-once-lost-but-now-she-is-found-2/, July 5, 2014.
Treen, Dana, “Misty Croslin attorney: She told who took Haleigh Cummings,” The Mayport Mirror, http://mayportmirror.jacksonville.com/news/crime/2010-08-17/story/misty-croslin-attorney-she-told-who-took-haleigh-cummings, August 10, 2012.
Treen, Dana, “New, chilling details in the case of Haleigh Cummings,” The Florida Times-Union, http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-08-19/story/new-chilling-details-case-missing-girl-haleigh-cummings, August 19, 2010.
Treen, Dana, “A year since Haleigh vanished, Ronald and Misty lost their way long ago,” The Florida Times Union, http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-02-07/story/a_year_since_haleigh_vanished_ronald_and_misty_lost_their_way_long_ago_1#, February 7, 2010.
Staff Report, “Timeline of events in Haleigh Cummings case,” The Gainesville Sun, http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100413/ARTICLES/100419756?p=1&tc=pg, April 13, 2010.
Transcript, CNN, Nancy Grace, http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1209/21/ng.01.html, aired September 21, 2012.
Victim’s Heartland, Crime and Current Events Forum, http://victimsheartland.forumotion.com/t1758-transcript-of-911-call-to-report-haleigh-cummings-missing
Unknown Author, “Attorney: Croslin’s Cousin Killed Haleigh,” News 4 Jax, http://www.news4jax.com/news/attorney-croslins-cousin-killed-haleigh, August 20, 2010.
Misty Croslin prison interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8glLJjVQLHY, published March 17, 2012.
Click below to view John W. Taylor’s previous intriguing posts:
John W. Taylor writes in the true crime genre at www.truecrimewriting.com. He has written short pieces and articles on the death of Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. John wrote and published Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of JonBénet Ramsey and Isolated Incident: Investigating the Death of Nancy Cooper in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
John’s interest in the darker side of human nature has compelled him to conduct numerous research and writing projects on various unsolved crimes. He currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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