Authorities: Parents charged with murder after directing police to Crystal Lake boy's grave

  • Joann Cunningham, left, and Andrew Freund Sr. have been charged with murder in the death of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5.

    Joann Cunningham, left, and Andrew Freund Sr. have been charged with murder in the death of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5.

  • Janelle Butler, a neighbor of Andrew "AJ" Freund, stands in front of his Dole Avenue home in tears after the announcement Wednesday that the 5-year-old's parents were charged with murdering the boy and burying his body in a rural area. "To bury your own child, how do you do that?" Butler said.

      Janelle Butler, a neighbor of Andrew "AJ" Freund, stands in front of his Dole Avenue home in tears after the announcement Wednesday that the 5-year-old's parents were charged with murdering the boy and burying his body in a rural area. "To bury your own child, how do you do that?" Butler said. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Blue ribbon in support of Andrew "AJ" Freund is wrapped around a tree outside his Crystal Lake home. The 5-year-old's parents were charged with his murder.

      Blue ribbon in support of Andrew "AJ" Freund is wrapped around a tree outside his Crystal Lake home. The 5-year-old's parents were charged with his murder. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A McHenry County sheriff's officer searches near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund.

      A McHenry County sheriff's officer searches near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search Wednesday near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock. Investigators ultimately found the boy's body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave.

      McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search Wednesday near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock. Investigators ultimately found the boy's body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Authorities say his parents directed investigators to where he had been buried.

      McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Authorities say his parents directed investigators to where he had been buried. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • McHenry County sheriff's officers search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund.

      McHenry County sheriff's officers search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • McHenry County sheriff's officers search for 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock on Wednesday.

      McHenry County sheriff's officers search for 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock on Wednesday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Officers search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund.

      Officers search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Andrew Freund Sr. attends a vigil Saturday in Crystal Lake for his missing son, 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund.

    Andrew Freund Sr. attends a vigil Saturday in Crystal Lake for his missing son, 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • JoAnn Cunningham, mother of missing 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund, appears in an interview Saturday for ABC's "Good Morning America."

    JoAnn Cunningham, mother of missing 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund, appears in an interview Saturday for ABC's "Good Morning America." Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • JoAnn Cunningham, mother of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5, appears outside the home Friday afternoon with her attorney, George Kililis, for a brief news conference in which Kililis said she had nothing to do with the boy's disappearance.

    JoAnn Cunningham, mother of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5, appears outside the home Friday afternoon with her attorney, George Kililis, for a brief news conference in which Kililis said she had nothing to do with the boy's disappearance. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • JoAnn Cunningham, mother of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5, who has been missing since he was last seen a week ago at his Crystal Lake home, appeared outside the home Friday afternoon with her attorney, George Kililis, for a brief news conference in which Kililis said she had nothing to do with the boy's disappearance.

    JoAnn Cunningham, mother of Andrew "AJ" Freund, 5, who has been missing since he was last seen a week ago at his Crystal Lake home, appeared outside the home Friday afternoon with her attorney, George Kililis, for a brief news conference in which Kililis said she had nothing to do with the boy's disappearance. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

  • Andrew Freund Sr. walks near his home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake Friday as reporters try to speak with him.

    Andrew Freund Sr. walks near his home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake Friday as reporters try to speak with him. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund.

      McHenry County sheriff's officers and other law enforcement search near Route 176 and Dean Street south of Woodstock Wednesday for clues to the disappearance of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Sallet speaks during a Crystal Lake news conference Wednesday about the charges against the parents of Andrew "AJ" Freund.

      FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Sallet speaks during a Crystal Lake news conference Wednesday about the charges against the parents of Andrew "AJ" Freund. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • A man places a candle on a growing memorial outside the Crystal Lake home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund on Wednesday after the announcement that the boy's parents have been charged with his murder.

      A man places a candle on a growing memorial outside the Crystal Lake home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund on Wednesday after the announcement that the boy's parents have been charged with his murder. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/24/2019 7:06 PM

The parents of missing Crystal Lake 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund were charged with his murder after investigators found the boy's body wrapped in plastic in a shallow grave about seven miles northwest of his home Wednesday.

Crystal Lake Police Chief Jim Black announced the charges against the boy's parents JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund Sr., 60, at a news conference Wednesday.

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An analysis of cellphone data provided information key to the case, Black said.

When confronted with that information, both parents "provided information that led to the recovery of a deceased subject," the chief said.

The body was buried in a grave in a field south of Woodstock, Black said.

The cause of death is unknown at this time, Black said. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning, officials said.

The parents each face multiple charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death. Freund Sr. faces an additional charge of concealment of a death, Black said. They are both due in bond court at 8 a.m. Thursday, a McHenry County state's attorney official said.

Black did not take questions but spoke about the emotional toll the investigation has taken on him, his investigators and members of the community, some of whom wept or gasped as police announced the boy's death and the murder charges in a news conference at city hall. At one point, Black addressed the dead boy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"To AJ, we know you are at peace playing in heaven's playground and are happy you no longer have to suffer," he said.

Jeffrey Sallet, special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI, complimented the investigators involved in the weeklong hunt for AJ.

"This was not the outcome we had hoped for," Sallet said. "Listening to the emotion and the commitment that our folks have exhibited over the last six days to bring justice really brings a lot of emotion to me."

Developments in the case moved quickly Wednesday. Cunningham was seen in the police station early in the morning with her lawyer. Meanwhile, a McHenry County sheriff's squad car blocked a gravel access road along a ComEd right of way in a semirural area off Dean Street north of Route 176. Dozens of law enforcement vehicles converged on the area.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

FBI evidence technicians deployed a drone over the site as part of the search.

Around noon, sources began telling reporters that AJ's body had been found.

Public records paint a long and troubled history of the family.

According to disciplinary records from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Freund Sr. met Cunningham when he represented her in divorce proceedings in 2012. The two began a romantic relationship and ultimately wound up in jail together after they removed property from Cunningham's then-husband's McHenry home, defying a court order.

Freund Sr. was suspended from practicing law for two years in 2015 following a series of criminal misdeeds that also involved Cunningham, according to the disciplinary records. That suspension was lifted after 90 days, and he was put on probation.

Freund Sr. blamed his behavior on his addiction to cocaine and opiates and was ordered by the ARDC to undergo treatment and counseling to regain his law license. He is currently licensed to practice law in Illinois.

AJ was born in 2013 with opiates in his system, triggering the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' first interaction with Cunningham and Freund Sr. The boy was removed from their custody a month after he was born and placed in foster care, but he was returned to Cunningham and Freund Sr. in June 2015, DCFS records show.

DCFS was asked to investigate the family again last March but determined allegations of neglect to be unfounded. The agency was called again in December by police after Cunningham was arrested on a misdemeanor traffic charge. Police documented significant problems with the couple's home on Dole Avenue, including an "overwhelming" stench of feces in the boys' bedroom. Again, DCFS determined the allegations of neglect to be unfounded.

When AJ was reported missing April 18, DCFS removed the couple's younger son and placed him in protective custody.

In a statement, DCFS said: "Protecting vulnerable children who come to our attention is at the core of our mission at DCFS. All of us feel this loss. Our priority is the care and safety of Andrew's younger sibling.

"The Department is committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with Andrew's family to understand our shortcomings and to be fully transparent with the public on any steps we are taking to address the issues," said the statement attributed to DCFS acting Director Marc Smith.

• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

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