“I don’t think anybody really prepares you for the loss of a child. I never had any thought of this happening. I’m so grateful that I tucked you in real good, that I said I loved you.”
It was the 25th of May 2019. A Saturday. Jessica Whipple lived in Logan, Utah, United States with her fiancé Detrich Black and five year old daughter Elizabeth Shelley and Elizabeth's younger sister Maddy. Jessica had plans for Elizabeth that day. She loved spending time with her daughter. She was such a good little girl and so well behaved. Elizabeth's favorite color was "rainbow" as she couldn't pick a single color that she liked the most. She loved them all. Even though she was only five years old, she was so kind and loving and wanted to protect and love everything from little worms to paramedics and people in need. When ambulances drove by, Elizabeth would blow kisses at them. Jessica had told her that people in the ambulances needed her love.
Elizabeth's bedroom was right next to Jessica's bedroom so when Jessica got up at 9.30am that morning, the morning of the 25th of May, she went to see if Elizabeth was awake. But Jessica noticed something alarming. Their front door was wide open. Elizabeth wasn't in her bedroom. Jessica searched the house and outside but there was no sign of her anywhere.
Elizabeth wasn't the only one missing. Jessica's brother was missing too. And his cell phone was in the house so Jessica couldn't even call him to see where he was.
Jessica's brother, twenty one year old Alex Whipple, stayed in Jessica's house the night before and slept on the couch. Jessica invited him over via Facebook messenger. The two girls were already in bed that Friday night, the 24th of May, when he arrived. He called around to the house after 10pm and played video games and drank with Jessica and Detrich. Jessica went to bed around midnight and kissed Elizabeth goodnight. Elizabeth was in bed wearing a teal skirt with white lace and a red tank-top with a Fourth of July theme. Detrich looked in on Elizabeth at around 1am when he was going to bed. He saw her asleep at that time in her bed. He told Alex he could stay on the couch as he looked like he was about to"pass out."
Detrich and Jessica had no idea where Elizabeth or Alex were so Detrich reported Elizabeth missing at 10am.
The 911 Call
A huge search began. Police found several items of interest close to the home. Later that afternoon, at 3pm, police found Jessica's brother. Police found Alex in a remote area near 2400 W. 8000 South. But Alex was alone. Elizabeth was not with him.
Alex was arrested for violating his probation. He had a criminal record for assault, theft, and drug-related crimes. He was taken to the station to be questioned.
When police put Alex in one of the rooms at the station, they noticed that he started to lick his hands to try to clean them.
When they asked him about Elizabeth, Alex said that he wasn't at Jessica's house on the Friday night. But when he was questioned further, he changed his story multiple times. He said he was at the house two days ago and then said it was two weeks ago. Eventually he admitted he was at the house on the Friday night.
According to Alex, he drank with Jessica and Detrich. He told police that Jessica and Detrich were"horny" so he left the house to go for a walk and look at the scenery. Alex claimed he went for a walk just before sunrise. When asked about Elizabeth, he told police that he didn't see her at all when he was at the house and did not know where she was.
Police noticed dark stains on Alex's pants. It looked like dried blood. His hands were dirty and there were several cuts on them.
Police found several pieces of evidence near Elizabeth's home. They found a knife, a PVC pipe that had a red substance on it and a palm print. The knife was from Jessica's LivingKit knife set.
Police also found a teal skirt with white lace. It was buried under some dirt and bark.
Swabs were taken from the items that were found to test for Elizabeth's DNA. Blood found on the LivingKit knife, Alex's watch and a hooded sweatshirt all had positive matches to Elizabeth's DNA profile. The palm print on the PVC pipe was determined to be Alex's. Police believed that Elizabeth was dead.
Police believed they had enough evidence to charge Alex with desecration of a human body because he had taken "sustainable steps to move, remove, or conceal Elizabeth's body." But even though they had enough to charge him, they still did not know what happened to Elizabeth or where she was.
When Alex was in custody and had been charged, he told his lawyer he would reveal where Elizabeth's body was if the Prosecution would not seek the death penalty. They agreed.
"Alex felt it would be appropriate to disclose the location of the body. He wanted at least the family to know she had passed away, so that they could get some kind of closure."
The Prosecution believed that Alex took Elizabeth from her bedroom after Jessica and Detrich went to bed. They believed he took her to a remote spot near the home and sexually assaulted her. Elizabeth was then stabbed in the back with a knife. The wound pierced her lungs causing them to fill up with blood which in turn caused her to drown.
Jessica and Detrich
In exchange for pleading guilty to aggravated murder, child kidnapping, rape of a child and sodomy upon a child, other charges were dismissed.Two counts of obstructing justice and one count of abuse or desecration of a human body were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
In sentencing Alex, the Judge said:
"You will never see the light of day. You will never breathe fresh air again. What you did was so abhorrent and vile that you must spend the rest of your life in prison.”
Alex was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Elizabeth's aunt, Liesel Merrill, said:
"Lizzy was about kindness, happiness and looking for butterflies and rainbows.We ask that people everywhere, remember to live like Lizzy."
Elizabeth's family asked people who were attending her funeral to bring a picked flower because Elizabeth loved to pick flowers. She was a child who saw the beauty in absolutely everything. Unfortunately not everyone in her life was as pure as she was.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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