On February 26, 1999, a cemetery employee was preparing for a funeral in Decatur, Georgia. The worker discovered the decomposing remains of a child. The body was in a wooded area near the intersection at Clifton Spring Church Road and Clifton Spring Road in DeKalb County. The little body was too decomposed for officials to determine a cause of death. They determined the unidentified boy was between 5 and 7 years old. He was deceased for three to six months before he was discovered. The little boy was wearing a white and blue plaid shirt, red denim jeans, and brown Timberland boots.
No one claimed the little boy. Investigators were unable to match him to missing person reports across the country. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) released a photo recreation of the young boy, hoping someone would recognize the deceased child. For 23 years, they searched for his identity. In May 2020, they received a tip. The tipster, a woman named Ava, saw the image released by NCMEC and recognized William DeShawn Hamilton.
In 1998, Teresa Ann Bailey Black and her son, DeShawn, lived with a relative in Charlotte, North Carolina. DeShawn was described as a child with a sense of humor. He was artistic and had wisdom.
“He liked to crack jokes,” Ava told the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “He did like to draw a lot, color, mainly read books. He didn't want you to read to him…he wanted to read to you!”
In December of 1998, Teresa suddenly withdrew DeShawn from school, and the pair moved to Atlanta, Georgia. The following year, in 1999, Teresa returned to Charlotte, without DeShawn. When asked about DeShawn, Teresa provided conflicting accounts of his whereabouts. Still, no one suspected anything was wrong or reported DeShawn missing. Except for Ava.
"For more than two decades, a woman in Charlotte followed her gut feeling that something wasn’t right,” Angeline Hartmann, the director of communications at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said in a press statement. “She made phone calls, scoured the internet, and talked to anybody who would listen. We’re grateful she never stopped until she found that rendering of William online and gave investigators the missing piece to help solve this 23-year-old mystery.”
Investigators used DNA to link the unidentified body to Teresa. On June 28, 2022, she was indicted on two counts of felony murder, child cruelty, aggravated assault, and concealing the death of another. Authorities arrested Teresa in Phoenix, Arizona on June 29, 2022. Teresa is currently awaiting extradition to Georgia.
“For far too long, this precious little boy had no name and no story,” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said in a statement on Wednesday. “Through the tireless efforts of several individuals and organizations who were determined not to let this boy be forgotten, William has been identified, and justice will be served in his memory.”