June 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

FBI, state police join search for children after mom's body found in vacant Detroit house

Detroit Police undercover officers interview neighbors near 18491 Alicia Fox's home on Ardmore on Wednesday. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Relatives of two missing children, whose mother’s dismembered body was found inside a vacant home, continued frantically searching Tuesday for the 6-year-old girl and 8-month-old boy, along with local, state and federal police.

More than three weeks after their disappearance, Detroit police began working with Michigan State Police and the FBI in hopes of finding 6-year-old Kaylah Hunter and her 8-month-old brother, Kristian Justice.

“Our family is passing out fliers, and talking to people in the neighborhood, asking if they’ve seen anything,” said Christene Doughty, sister of Alicia Fox, the 27-year-old woman whose dismembered body was found in a home on Penrod Street on Monday night by family members who were searching for her. “We haven’t heard anything new, unfortunately.”

Fox was last heard from June 3, when she sent a text message to Kaylah’s father, Kevin Hunter, said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. Police didn’t begin investigating the disappearance until Friday because it wasn’t listed as a missing person case, Craig said, adding that Fox and her children had simply moved out of their home on Ardmore Street.

“The alarms did not go off initially,” Craig said. “It was a mother who left (a) residence who took her children. We are doing everything we can to find the children.”

Bill Canty, 56, who lives across the street from the vacant home where Fox’s body was found, said several relatives returned around 7 p.m. Monday to search for Fox after a woman who lived on Penrod told them there was suspicious activity involving a U-Haul truck outside a vacant house about two weeks ago.

“We saw a U-Haul at the house also,” Canty said. “But we figured maybe the house has been empty 14 years, so we thought maybe someone was moving furniture out or someone was scrapping. We didn’t think nothing about it.”

The family searched the backyard of the property until a man who described himself as Fox’s uncle went inside to search the basement.

“He came out and just said, ‘There’s a dead body down there,’ ” Canty said. “He seen one of the doors was ajar and he saw a piece of trash or something on top of her and when he moved it he saw two legs cut off at the knees of a light-skinned female.”

The front door was still open at the abandoned dwelling Tuesday. Just inside the doorway, a hanging statuette of an angel leads into a cluttered room full of rubbish including sneakers and a couch. The house, surrounded by knee-high weeds, was one of only two on the block.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy, identified the body as that of Fox and determined the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, including two to the head. The body was intact, according to the autopsy.

“It is in a state of severe decomposition,” said Mary Mazur, spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s Office. “Tattoos on the body of Alicia Fox were key to her formal identification. Many times, tattoos have helped in identifying bodies and body parts of individuals involved in crimes.”

The vacant house is nearly eight miles from where Fox was last seen with her two children by her mother on May 24 in the 18400 block of Ardmore, the chief said. Fox recently moved out of the home where she lived with her children and, until “very recently,” with her husband, Erin Justice.

Police became involved on Friday when Hunter submitted a missing person report for Fox and her children.

“There is no indication it was involuntary,” Craig said about Fox leaving the residence. “When we’re talking about a domestic situation someone leaves their home and messaging back and forth. There is no indication something is wrong. It doesn’t mean they are missing. Sometimes people will voluntarily leave the location to get away from their spouse or significant other ... it’s any number of factors.”

Neighbors, including Phillip Blunt who used to cut the family’s grass, said Fox’s husband was seen loading up a truck outside the family home about a week ago.

“He was down there for two days with a small U-Haul truck,” Blunt said.

Neighbors said they weren’t aware of any domestic disputes.

Craig said police contacted both Hunter and Justice, who are cooperating with the investigation. No one is in custody. FBI agents in Georgia on Tuesday reached Justice, who voluntarily gave a statement and was released, Detroit Police Officer Adam Madera said. It wasn’t clear why Justice was in the state.

Detroit police described Fox’s daughter, Kaylah, as 4-foot-7, 65 pounds, with a light complexion and black hair in cornrows. Police did not release a physical description of the baby Kristian Justice.

Fox drove a burgundy Chevrolet Impala bearing the Michigan license plate CCR1286, according to police.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Detroit Police Department’s Criminal Investigations at (313) 596-1240.

Alicia Fox, 26, was last seen with her two children at her home in the ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Kaylah Hunter
Kristian Justice
Alicia Fox's body was found by relatives at about 9 p.m. Monday in the ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)