I challenge you to look at any photo of this sweet baby and imagine a scenario in which you could be angry enough, frustrated enough, or evil enough to beat him to death, wrap his little body in plastic, and bury him in a shallow grave in a field. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
No, I won’t. You know why? Because, unless you’re a stone cold psychopath or a really terrible person, you can’t imagine it. Guess who can imagine it? His parents, because they did it.
That’s right, folks. Andrew “Drew” Freund Sr. (age 60) and his ever-so-charming partner, JoAnn Cunningham (age 36), of Crystal Lake, Illinois, have been charged in the death of their precious 5-year-old son, Andrew “AJ” Freund Jr.
The details that have come out since AJ’s body was discovered are stunning in their depravity. Search warrants in McHenry County tell us that Freund Sr. admitted to police that on April 14, when little AJ allegedly lied about soiling his underwear — which, y’know, 5-year-olds do — he and Cunningham decided to punish little AJ by forcing him to stand in a cold shower for 20 minutes before sending him to bed “cold, wet, and naked,” according to reports.
According to an affidavit from McHenry County Sherriff’s Detective Edwin Maldonado, “Drew explained that he wanted JoAnn to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent forms of punishment. Drew said cold showers was decided.”
Seems much less cruel, doesn’t it? *crickets chirping*
The affidavit also described a two-minute video, recorded in March, which showed AJ lying naked on a bare mattress, covered in bruises and bandages. “In the video a female with a voice consistent with JoAnn’s is holding the phone and videotaping,” reads the document. “She is berating AJ for urinating his bed.”
The detective’s statement details how on or about April 15th, some time after sending AJ to bed in dripping wet misery, Cunningham found the boy unresponsive in bed. Hours later, after searching for “child CPR” on his phone, Freund placed his son’s body in a large plastic tote in the basement of their home — the same home which, according to Maldonado’s report, exhibited “hoarder-like conditions,” including a wealth of garbage bags filling the basement.
On April 17th, Freund said he put AJ’s body in garbage bags, transferred it to the trunk of his car, and buried it near electric utility towers near Woodstock, which is about 7 miles from the family’s home.
The next day, on April 18th, Freund finally deigned to report his son missing. When filing the report, Father of the Year here stated AJ’s eyes were blue, but he changed his answer after Mommy Dearest contributed that AJ had brown eyes. At least she was good for something.
Finally, on April 24th, approximately nine days after AJ’s death, his father led police to the shallow grave containing AJ’s bruised, beaten, and decomposing little body, which was buried wrapped in plastic and covered in straw. An autopsy later showed AJ’s death was caused by head trauma from multiple blunt-force injuries, which, according to Freund, were caused by JoAnn. Of course.
Possibly the worst part of this entire story is that while AJ lived most of his tragic life in this disgusting, abusive environment, he was fortunate enough to spend his first eighteen months in the care of a cousin. He was born with opiates in his system and immediately taken out of his parents’ custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Unfortunately for AJ, his parents ultimately regained custody. However, DCFS remained involved with the family on an ongoing basis, reportedly visiting the home often. Several hotline calls were placed throughout AJ’s short life, including reports of squalid living conditions, domestic violence, substance abuse, and unexplained injuries. The Chicago Tribune detailed a timeline of the Freund family’s interactions with DCFS, which you can read here.
One particularly vivid description of conditions in the home came to light in 2013 when Cunningham’s mother, Lorelei Hughes, filed for custody of Cunningham’s eldest son. “[The boy] was not provided food on a regular basis, eating a meal on approximately four of the seven days of the week and a remainder of the time there was no food in the house,” read the court document. “The child was sent to school daily with no food and no money to purchase a lunch… there was no food in the residence and the child had only marshmallows and water to eat.”
Another DCFS report, this one from December 2018, noted the Freund home was filthy, in disrepair, and could potentially pose a hazard to the children.
“Upstairs in the room where the boys slept the window was open and the smell of feces was overwhelming,” the report stated. “The boys were running around the residence playing and I noticed [name redacted] was only wearing a pullup and had a large bruise on his right hip.” During the same welfare check, officers took note of dog urine and excrement throughout the home, especially near the boys’ bedroom, as well as broken and open windows, a leaky pipe in the kitchen, “jagged or broken off” areas of the kitchen subflooring, and other atrocities. The house was reported to be “cluttered, dirty, and in disrepair.”
A few months before that, a tip that the family had no power in their home for weeks sent authorities to the residence for another welfare check. Court documents show Cunningham would not allow officers to enter the home.
Through Chicago-based attorney Peter Flowers, the cousin who raised AJ for his first eighteen months told the Illinois Daily Herald that although the extended family hadn’t been allowed to see AJ in over a year, “he was, and will always be, our loving and caring little boy. With his brave short life, AJ made the ultimate sacrifice to save his younger brother and unborn sibling. His life shall not be in vain. AJ will always be our little superhero.”
Yes, you read that right: “unborn sibling.” JoAnn Cunningham is seven months pregnant, although court documents obtained by CNN show good ol’ Drew Freund is not the father of the unborn baby. She will likely give birth behind bars, at which time DCFS will become involved with the child. According to CNN, in Illinois, family members are given consideration in cases like these if it is in the best interests of the child. The child’s placement will be decided by a judge.
The silver lining here is that these pathetic excuses for parents have agreed to give up custody of their surviving four-year-old son, and are each being held on a $5 million bond. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 10th.
Charges against Cunningham include five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery, and one count of failure to report a missing or child death. Freund Sr. has been charged with five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealment of homicidal death, and one count of failure to report a missing or child death.
A memorial service for AJ was held on May 3rd at the Davenport Family Funeral Home and Crematory in Crystal Lake, drawing hundreds of mourners. An honor guard watched over the service, at which several emotional support dogs were also present. AJ’s tiny wooden casket was engraved with a cross; floral arrangements abounded, sent from local businesses and individuals as far away as Florida. Large, smiling photos of AJ looked down on a bevy of stuffed animals, toy trucks, artwork from nearby St. Mary’s Preschool, and a Batman balloon.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established to raise money for AJ’s siblings. Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/d62g4d-rest-in-peace-aj.
Because he did not deserve to live in squalor and terror or to die at the hands of the two people he should have been able to trust with his life, I’ll end this post with a little more info about AJ, the beautiful blond boy with brown eyes and a wide smile. “While we had him in our lives, he had a happy, fun-loving life,” said his surviving relatives in a statement. “This smart little boy loved having books read to him, doing puzzles, his Thomas the Train, playing with his fire trucks, bulldozers, cement mixer, and Ninja Turtles. He was very curious and always wanted to learn about everything.”
Click here for more of my coverage on AJ’s case.