THE parents of a murdered five-year-old made him stand under a freezing shower as torture before beating him to death, a court heard yesterday.
Andrew “AJ” Freund’s remains were found wrapped in plastic and dumped in a shallow grave seven miles from his family home in Crystal Lake, Illinois, on Wednesday.
Yesterday, his parents Andrew Freund Sr, 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, appeared in court accused of torturing and killing the young boy.
They had initially reported their son missing last Thursday and issued emotional appeals for his safe return.
Cunningham, 36, was last week seen weeping while being comforted by her attorney as a desperate six-day search was launched for the boy.
But a bond hearing in Springfield, Illinois heard harrowing details of the alleged abuse the boy suffered at his parents’ hands before his brutal murder.
‘CAMPAIGN OF TORTURE’
Cunningham appeared to fight back tears as the court heard little AJ’s parents allegedly killed him by beating him and subjecting him to long, cold showers as punishment.
An autopsy concluded the boy died from blunt force trauma to his head and had been struck multiple times.
Freund Sr, who stood emotionless in court, called police last Thursday morning to report his son missing.
Cunningham claimed to police that he had not been seen since she put him to bed at around 9pm the previous night.
But prosecutors alleged the boy was killed three days before his parents called cops.
Freund Sr and Cunningham have each been charged with first-degree murder and other charges.
A judge ordered both held in jail on $5million (£3.9m) bail.
Child welfare workers had been called repeatedly to the filthy family house that stunk of dog faeces.
Birth tests also revealed the boy had opiates in his bloodstream.
The revelations have led to intense criticism of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services over its failure to intervene.
Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee, said: “This agency, there is no direction, no mission and it certainly has not been protecting children.”
Marc D. Smith, the agency’s new director, will face questioning from US lawmakers later today.
‘IN HEAVEN’S PLAYGROUND’
The parents were arrested on Wednesday after they “provided information” that ultimately led to authorities locating the child’s body, authorities said.
Police Chief James Black said: “AJ is no longer suffering and his killers are being brought to justice.”
Chief Black added: “To AJ’s family, it is my hope that you may have some solace knowing that AJ is no longer suffering, and his killers have been brought to justice.
“To AJ, we know you’re at peace playing in heaven’s playground, and are happy you no longer have to suffer.”
Earlier on Wednesday, officers were seen carrying items including a dirty shovel and brown bags from the family’s home.
AJ’s three-year-old brother has been taken into care while the family’s dog – a boxer named Lucy – is being looked after by Animal Control officials.
PARENTS’ EARLIER PLEAS
Cunningham stopped co-operating with police on Monday after detectives began suspecting she was involved in the boy’s disappearance.
But her lawyer George Kililis had insisted that she “doesn’t know what happened to AJ and had nothing to do with the disappearance of AJ.”
He added: “Ms Cunningham is worried sick. She is devastated.”
AJ’s father had issued a desperate plea to his son – telling him to “please come home.”
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He said: “We love you very much. You’re not in any trouble. We’re just worried to death. Please, please come home.”
Jeffrey Sallet, special agent in charge for the FBI’s Chicago Office, said: “No one was going to sleep, and no one will sleep until justice is brought to AJ.
“This is the beginning of the process.”
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