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Authorities: Years of abuse in house of horrors

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mitchelle Blair subjected her children to years of intense abuse before killing two of them and forcing her daughter to entomb her younger sister in a deep freezer atop her dead brother, according to police and court documents.

Mitchelle Blair, clockwise from left, Stephen Berry and Stoni Blair.

A Detroit police investigator's report and a petition filed Thursday in Wayne County Juvenile Court provide a horrifying glimpse into the ordeal Blair's four children endured inside apartment No. 804, a low-rent townhouse in the Martin Luther King apartment complex on the city's near east side.

The documents detail Blair's alleged beatings of her children with hot irons, wood planks and extension cords. She also reportedly starved her daughter before strangling her to death, nine months after allegedly scalding and killing her son.

The picture painted through interviews with Blair and the surviving children belies the image she projected on her Facebook page, where she wrote "Loyal to my babies," and posted a picture with the message "there is no greater blessing than being called Mom."

For the past year, the two surviving children, ages 8 and 17, lived in the small apartment near their slain siblings, 9-year-old Stephen Berry and 13-year-old Stoni Blair, whose frozen bodies were found Tuesday in a chest freezer near the apartment's front door, the children told police and social workers.

The records also show state Child Protective Services workers twice investigated Blair for abusing her children, and that the abuse was substantiated, although she was allowed to retain custody. When doctors examined the two surviving children this week, they found them covered with welts and scars from repeated beatings, according to court records.

After Blair allegedly killed her children, she continued to receive welfare benefits, according to the petition, obtained through the state Attorney General's Office, which was based on what the two surviving children told counselors. The petition seeks to terminate the fathers' parental rights and give the state custody of the children.

Blair, 35, was arrested Tuesday near her apartment on Detroit's east side after bailiffs who arrived to evict her discovered the bodies inside the freezer.

Blair was arraigned Thursday in 36th District Court on four counts of first-degree child abuse, a 15-year felony; and one count of committing child abuse first-degree in the presence of another child, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. Bond was set at $1 million. She's being held in the Wayne County jail.

During police questioning, Blair told investigators she became enraged in August 2012 after finding out Stephen was allegedly sexually assaulting a relative, so she "placed him in a boiling hot tub of water until his feet blistered." The report doesn't say how he died, but that it happened on or about Aug. 30.

Blair told police she then "wrapped him in his favorite blanket and placed (him) in the freezer," the report said.

Nine months later in May 2013, Blair told police she found out Stoni was allegedly sexually assaulting the same relative so "over the course of the next week, (Blair) assaulted (Stoni), starved her, serving her only a bowl of oatmeal a day and water," the report said.

"Finally, they got into a physical confrontation when (Blair) strangled (Stoni) with a black shirt and suffocated her with a black garbage bag," according to the report.

The children did not mention sexual abuse to counselors, according to the juvenile court petition. It says Stephen died Aug. 30, 2012, and Stoni died May 25, 2013.

"Mitchelle Blair tortured Stephen for approximately two weeks prior to his death by tying a belt around his neck, throwing hot water on him while in the shower, and putting a plastic bag over his head," the court petition said, adding that when Blair found Stephen unresponsive, "she wrapped his body in the bed linen and placed him in the deep freezer."

The petition deviated a bit from the story Blair told Detroit police investigators about why she killed Stoni. According to the petition, "Stoni informed her mother that she did not like (her two surviving siblings). Mitchelle Blair became enraged and strangled Stoni with a black T-shirt and suffocated her with a plastic bag.

"Mitchelle Blair then made (the oldest daughter) put Stoni in the deep freezer following her death."

The surviving brother told counselors he knew his siblings' bodies were in the freezer, the petition said.

According to the police report: "(Blair) stated that whenever someone would inquire as to the whereabouts of (the two children), she would make up an excuse. She even took (her other two children) out of school and told the school she was going to home school her children so they wouldn't become suspicious as to why (Stephen and Stoni) hadn't been in school."

A view through the sliding door of the apartment where Mitchelle Blair allegedly tortured her children and killed two of them.

Scars from mistreatment

The girl told counselors her mother burned her back with a curling iron. She had a visible cut above her left eye which she said was the result of her mother hitting her with a plank of wood, and that her front tooth was chipped when her mother hit her in the mouth with a curling iron.

"Her mother refused to provide her with medical treatment," the petition said.

Bruises were also noted on the boy's back and "were caused by his mother," the petition said.

Doctors at Children's Hospital examined the pair and found multiple examples of abuse, according to the petition. "(The children) disclosed being abused throughout their childhood," the petition said. "Twenty-five scars and injuries on (the boy's) back, both old and new, as a result of physical abuse by ... Blair.

"Numerous loop-shaped scars and injuries on (the boy's) body, including his back, right buttock and right hip," the petition said. "These injuries are consistent with ... Blair using an extension cord to physically abuse them.

"(The girl) has also been beaten with a cord and burned with a clothing iron and has burns on her body," the petition said.

Abuse substantiated

State Child Protective Services workers had contact with Blair in September 2002 and February 2005, after allegations of abuse surfaced, the petition said. The petition said the abuse was substantiated.

It was unclear whether any action was taken after the abuse was determined. After the February 2005 Child Protective Services complaint, "Blair was referred for services through Families First, CBC Counseling Services, Eastwood Clinic (individual and family counseling and psychological evaluation) and Work First." It's unclear whether she received the services.

Blair received $771 a month in food assistance and Medicaid through March, "accepting governmental benefits for two deceased children," the petition said.

Alexander Dorsey, father of Stoni and the surviving girl, said he last saw his children two years ago, and that Blair barred him from her home, according to the petition.

"He talked to (the surviving girl) ... approximately seven months ago," the petition said. "When he asked about Stoni's whereabouts, he was told she was visiting her maternal great-aunt."

The petition said Dorsey "failed to protect his children from an unfit home environment where the children were physically abused, tortured and murdered," adding he owes $39,000 in back child support payments.

Stephen Berry, father of Stephen and the surviving boy, said he last saw his children in April 2012 and that Blair prevented him from seeing them. He owes more than $10,000 in child support for the two children, the petition said, adding he also "neglected to protect his children from an abusive environment."

Both fathers have criminal records, according to the petition, including convictions for drunken driving and firearm offenses.

Apartment 'trashed'

According to the police report, a neighbor said Blair told her what she'd done.

"(The woman) stated (Blair) told her she made (Stephen and Stoni) move away to their aunt's because they were doing mean things to (the relative) such as taking food from him and raping him," the report said. "It was finally on (Tuesday) that (Blair) admitted to (the woman) as to what she had done ... and why."

The report said the family's apartment "was trashed with garbage and food tossed about everywhere in every room. The apartment appeared to be almost unlivable."

Wayne County Medical Examiner spokesman Ryan Bridges said plans to perform autopsies on the bodies have been postponed until the bodies thaw.

A probable cause hearing has been set for April 2 before 36th District Judge Kenneth King. A preliminary exam has been scheduled for April 9.


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Victims to be honored

Community members and clergy are expected to gather Friday in the Martin Luther King apartments for a vigil to honor slaying victims Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry.

Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield organized the vigil. It will be from 7-8 p.m. Friday at the homes at Chene and Lafayette.