A nationwide dragnet launched in 2002 for a missing Florida foster child turned up no trace and also nothing to back up her caretaker's claims that a state worker had taken the girl for mental tests months earlier, a police detective testified Tuesday in the caretaker's murder trial.
"Every lead, every information that I was provided came to a dead end. Nothing panned out," said Det. Giancarlo Milito of the Miami-Dade Police Department. "All rocks were turned."
The investigation began as a missing persons case once the Department of Children and Families discovered in April 2002 that 4-year-old Rilya Wilson had been missing for some 15 months. Her caretaker, 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, told Milito that an unknown DCF worker had taken Rilya for psychological testing and never returned the girl.
"She did not know who she gave the child to," said former Miami-Dade Police Det. William Clifford, who administered a polygraph test to Graham, which she failed. "When I asked about the condition of the child, she told me the child had welts on the legs from where she whipped the child with a switch."
"Very cooperative. Very cordial. Very polite," said Milito. "No distress whatsoever. No question as far as 'Where's Rilya?' Do you know where Rilya is?'"
Milito said Graham was precise about the date — Jan. 18, 2001 — and that the supposed worker was a dark-skinned black woman who was unusually tall, somewhere around 6 feet, and spoke with an unspecified accent. Graham said the woman asked for some clothes and toys for Rilya as well, Milito said. Graham had no contact information or a name for this person but told Milito she thought she could identify a photograph.
Authorities provided Graham with a pair of 6-inch-thick binders of DCF worker photographs, but she never responded, Milito said. After using law enforcement databases and resources of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Milito said the decision was made to turn Rilya's case over to homicide detectives.
Graham was eventually charged with Rilya's slaying even though no body or crime scene has ever been found. She faces life in prison if convicted but insists she is innocent. A key to the prosecution's case is testimony from jailhouse snitches who claim Graham confessed to smothering the girl with a pillow.
Rilya's disappearance, and DCF's long delay in discovering it, led to a high-level shake-up at the agency and numerous changes in the way foster children in Florida are tracked and monitored.
Investigators decided to contact Rilya's biological mother, Gloria Wilson, to see if she knew anything about the girl. Gloria Wilson did not, but she did provide a DNA sample that was later used to determine that the body of a child known as "Precious Doe" found in Kansas City, Mo., was not that of Rilya.
"I turned South Florida upside down," said Milito. "Came to dead ends, every lead. Every information I was provided came to dead end. Nothing panned out."
Graham attorney Scott Sakin questioned whether police might have focused too much on finding matches for Rilya's name in various databases and sources. Part of Graham's defense is the suggestion that without a body, Rilya might be alive somewhere under another name.
"If it's not that name, it's going to be a problem?" Sakin asked.
"Potentially, yes." Milito replied.
Graham and her companion, Pamela Graham, were also caretakers of Rilya's younger sister Rodericka. The director of a day care center that Rodericka attended, Mary Rosado, testified earlier Tuesday that she never heard about Rilya's existence from Graham until the month she was discovered missing.
"She told me she had, Rodericka had a sister, a sibling, and her name was Rilya Wilson," said Mary Teresa Rosado, the director at the day care where Wilson's younger sister, Rodericka, went. "She would tell me that Rilya had really bad habits. It was hard for her to adjust to those."
Rosado, however, said that Graham told her a male DCF worker had picked up Rilya for the mental tests, not the tall female with an accent. Rosado said she asked Graham, "Did you call to find out about her? Where did they take her?"
"She said, 'They'll bring her back when they're ready," Rosado testified. "She didn't know who she gave the child to. She said she never asked for identification."
She added that Graham called her from New York before she went on a talk show.
"Did she explain why she had to go on television to talk about Rilya?" asked prosecutor Sally Weintraub.
"To see if she can be found. That she's a foster care mother and DCF removed the child from her care and misplaced it and she doesn't know where she's at," said Rosado.
A few days after that conversation, as the investigation into Rilya's disappearance kicked into gear, DCF removed Rodericka from the Graham house and from Rosado's day care center.