DENVER – The father of a young boy who was found dead and encased in concrete in a Denver storage shed in December has been charged with first-degree murder in the case, accused of abusing the boy and keeping him inside of a dog kennel, the Denver District Attorney's Office announced Thursday.
Leland Pankey, 39, also was charged with felony charges of child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human.
The body of Caden McWilliams, 7, was found inside a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue in Denver on Dec. 23, 2018.
In an interview with police in March, Elisha Pankey told investigators that Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in an extended-stay hotel, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The couple and their two children had moved into the hotel in May 2018, and Leland Pankey watched the children while Elisha Pankey went to work, she told investigators.
Elisha Pankey said Caden died in July 2018 after his father kept him in a dog kennel, the affidavit said. A woman who had been in the Arapahoe County Jail with Elisha Pankey in December said Pankey told her that she believed her son suffocated in the dog kennel.
Leland Pankey kept Caden in the kennel overnight – with blankets on top of it – and the boy cried out that he was hot and thirsty, Elisha Pankey told her fellow inmate, according to the affidavit.
On the day Caden died, his mother and father bought Quikrete, trash bags and water, drove Caden's body to the storage unit on Evans Avenue, and mixed the concrete and poured it into the kennel, the affidavit said.
The boy's body wasn't discovered until December, when officers responded to a domestic violence call involving the Pankeys.
Police learned that the couple had two children, and Elisha Pankey told officers that the children were with their father. When police contacted Leland Pankey, he said one child was in daycare, but he avoided answering questions about Caden, eventually telling officers the boy was with his mother, the affidavit said.
When officers interviewed a woman whose name was redacted in the affidavit, she told police that Leland Pankey had lost his son and that Pankey said her family could have their storage "because it had too many memories," the affidavit said.
Investigators obtained a search warrant for the Pankeys' storage unit and found Caden's remains inside.
The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner ruled in a report in March that Caden had been malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system. The boy also had numerous injuries to his head, torso and extremities, according to the autopsy. He may have suffered from asphyxia, dehydration or hyperthermia, but that couldn't be confirmed, the autopsy said.
“What began as a domestic violence call to the Aurora Police Department rapidly evolved into a homicide investigation because responding officers cared enough to ensure the involved children were safe,” District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement Thursday. “We have now implicated both parents in this truly horrific crime.”
Timeline of events
July 2018 — Caden dies after his father keeps him inside a dog kennel overnight, Elisha Pankey tells police, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The Pankeys fill the kennel with Quikrete and take Caden's remains to a storage unit, Elisha Pankey says.
Dec. 21, 2018 — An Aurora officer discovers heroin inside a hotel room belonging to Elisha Pankey after responding to a domestic violence call
Dec. 22, 2018 — Elisha Pankey is arrested at an Aurora hotel for felony drug possession amid a missing child investigation. She is booked into the Arapahoe County Jail.
Dec. 23, 2018 — The body of Caden, the Pankeys' missing 7-year-old son, is discovered inside of a Denver storage unit.
Dec. 24, 2018 — Elisha Pankey is released from Arapahoe County Jail after posting a $1,000 personal recognizance bond in the drug possession case.
Dec. 28, 2018 — Elisha Pankey is formally charged with a felony drug possession count and a drug paraphernalia possession count.
Jan. 2, 2019 — Elisha Pankey turns herself into the Denver Police Department on a charge of child abuse resulting in death.
Jan. 3, 2019 — The suspect makes her first court appearance in connection with the child abuse resulting in death case.
Jan. 7, 2019 – Elisha Pankey is formally charged with child abuse resulting in death and abuse of a corpse in connection to this case.
March 2019 – The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner rules that Caden was malnourished and had cocaine metabolite and methamphetamine in his system.
March 15, 2019 – In an interview with police, Elisha Pankey says Leland Pankey abused Caden while they were living in the hotel and that Caden died after being kept inside a dog kennel, an affidavit says.
May 30, 2019 – The Denver District Attorney's Office announces that Caden's father, Leland Pankey, has been charged with murder in the case.