Amanda Avery was a single mother struggling with a relentless addiction who entrusted the care of her toddler to a friend upon going to prison, only to learn of a most unforgivable betrayal, MEAWW reports.
Avery was serving a two-year sentence for multiple probation violations, including allegedly testing positive for methamphetamine, according to an Inside Edition report. She told a prosecutor in March 2020 that she’d used meth for at least 15 years. Avery left her daughter, Khaleesi Cuthriell, with her friend, 42-year-old Candi Royer, to care for the three-year-old during her mother’s absence.
Months went by during which Avery claimed she couldn’t get in contact with Royer or Royer’s boyfriend, 30-year-old Travis Brown, the Inside Edition says. After seeing a news segment which revealed that Royer was reported missing by family on Sept. 3, jail officials permitted Avery to call Augusta County Sheriff Don Smith.
When Smith opened his investigation on the same day he received the mother’s desperate call, Sept. 4, 2021, he learned that the family hadn’t actually seen Khaleesi since Jan. 2020, the Inside Edition says.
“The mother was talking to Royer and Brown from the jail,” Smith said, adding that: “they stopped communicating with her, stopped taking her calls, stopped taking her text messages. Everything went black.”
He said that police opened a full investigation into the disappearances of both Royer and Khaleesi, the Inside Edition says. Royer and Avery were friends who allegedly shared an addiction to meth.
“We were searching for both Royer and Brown. We couldn't figure out whether Candi was in danger and whether Khaleesi was in danger,” Smith said.
The reason why contact with Avery stopped is enough to make any mother’s blood run cold: Smith said Royer and Brown had gone on a crime spree that involved stealing a car, passing bad checks, and other drug-related offenses, according to the Inside Edition. Royer had a criminal record including drug possession, robbery, and larceny.
Smith also discovered, through a digital database search, that Brown had been wanted in Virginia since August 2021 on several other charges, including strangulation, assault and battery of a family member, felony eluding, grand larceny, and breaking and entering, the Inside Edition says.
Preceding this, Royer had allegedly fed all sorts of stories to Avery’s family regarding Khaleesi: that Khaleesi had gone to stay with her grandmother, or an aunt, and then claiming that the toddler had been picked up by Virginia Child Protective Services, the Inside Edition says.
Police and the U.S. Marshalls arrested Royer and Brown on Sept. 12, 2021 at a Pennsylvania motel, the Inside Edition reports. Inside their room, police allegedly found methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, and stolen checks.
“Khaleesi is nowhere to be found,” Smith said of the arrests.
Following the arrests, Smith filed felony child abuse charges against Royer and Brown, the Inside Edition says. Smith made several trips to Pennsylvania to interview them regarding the missing toddler. He wouldn’t reveal the details of those conversations, but he released public statements and told Inside Edition that he believes he knows the fate of the girl.
“I can confirm that Khaleesi is not alive. I can confirm to you that she died at the address where Royer and Brown resided,” he said.
But Smith hasn’t given up his search for Khaleesi, the Inside Edition reports, despite the fact she has been missing for almost two years.
“I want to make sure that these two people are held responsible for what they did to this child. There's a lot of information that they’ve withheld and I've really tried to keep the integrity of this case together,” Smith said.
Those two people have pleaded guilty to the charges in Pennsylvania and face sentences of two months to a year in prison for the drug-related offenses, the Inside Edition says. They’ve been extradited to Virginia to face the charges related to Khaleesi.
Despite keeping details of the case quiet, Smith reflected on how badly Khaleesi was failed by the people and system around her, the Inside Edition says.
“Frankly, the system failed this kid in every way,” he said. “From the caretakers, to social services, to the courts, to the people around Royer and Brown,” he said.
According to Smith, Avery claimed that child protective services were involved when she placed Khaleesi in Royer’s care, though he said he was told that social workers had no part in the arrangement, the Inside Edition says. Smith said the blame for Khaleesi’s tragic fate also lies with CPS. The Inside Edition’s request for answers was declined by CPS.
“It doesn't help that CPS didn't do anything to find this child, who was removed from her mother in October 2020,” Smith stated.
New evidence surfaces while Royer’s defense attorney steps down
Royer’s trial, scheduled to start May 8, has been postponed to October 16 after her attorney, Michael Hallahan, stepped down due to a conflict of interest, according to MEAWW. The conflict of interest involves another one of Hallahan’s clients in another jurisdiction who asked Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin in a letter for a more lenient sentence in exchange for their testimony against Royer.
“And even if the Commonwealth in this case declined to use this other client as a witness, the other client could blame this counsel for suppressing the opportunity to get credit and consideration on those other cases because I am counsel for this defendant,” Hallahan wrote in his motion to the court.
Attorney Jessica Sherman-Stoltz will take over representation for Royer, MEAWW reports.
Investigators say they have also found items confiscated after Royer’s arrest. A wire handle wrapped with tape allegedly holds DNA from both Khaleesi and Royer. Brown’s DNA was found on a picture frame, while investigators say they found a wall also containing Khaleesi’s DNA. Carpeting taken from the trunk of a 2002 S60 Volvo and from the backseat of a 2001 Toyota Camry turned up no DNA.
Royer and Brown have both been charged with aggravated murder, felony murder, unlawfully concealing a dead body, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and conspiracy to conceal a dead body, Tim Martin announced in May 2022.
Royer is scheduled for trial regarding Khaleesi starting Oct. 16, 2023, and is expected to last until Oct. 20, WHSV reports. Brown’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 28, and is expected to last until Sept. 1, 2023.