by Lise LaSalle
Eminem’s song for daughter Hailie – Now it don’t feel like the world’s on my shoulders, Everyone’s leaning on me, ‘Cause my baby knows that her daddy’s a soldier, Nothing can take her from me
Little Haleigh Cummings was reported missing from her family’s Satsuma, Florida, home on February 10, 2009. She was 5-years-old at the time with blond hair and brown eyes. The police in this small north Florida community had nothing else to go on, but this physical description.
Haleigh disappeared from the mobile home of her father Ronald Cummings, after being put to bed for the night. By the next morning, an Amber Alert and 14 months of search efforts and investigation into thousands of tips covering several states had begun.
Misty Croslin, 17, who was Ronald Cummings’ girlfriend at the time, was the last person to have seen Haleigh. Her story about the events of that night kept shifting and it became very difficult for the investigators to determine the exact time or circumstances of this vanishing act.
Croslin was the live-in girlfriend of Ronald at the time and while he was working that night, she was babysitting Haleigh and her little 4-year-old brother, Ronald Jr. At first, she claimed that Haleigh was sleeping with her in the big bed but eventually said that she was sleeping on a small mattress on the floor in the master bedroom, barely four feet from the bed.
Croslin said she went to sleep around 10:00 p.m. after doing laundry. Ronald Cummings was working the night shift as a crane operator. He says the back door was locked and secured by him before he left and that the deadbolt was hard to open even for an adult. No way that his daughter Haleigh could have opened it.
Croslin supposedly woke up during the night to use the bathroom and saw a light in the kitchen and the back door held ajar by a cinder block. Someone had opened that door and it was not Haleigh who was gone baby gone.
So far, the story made sense and was going to be properly investigated. But what came next could only be described with words spoken by Slim Shady: Let’s get down to business, I don’t got not time to play around, what is this, must be a circus in town, shut the shit down on these clowns, can I get a witness?
The morning Haleigh was reported missing in Florida, a Memorial service was held in Orlando for Caylee Anthony. The media, especially HLN, had filled the air with this story and it had become the cash cow of the century for them. They kept the public enthralled with the ‘search’ for Caylee when we all knew from day one that she was dead, dead, dead. But it was profitable to keep her alive and missing. The girl’s grandparents played their part with brio in this charade at keeping their granddaughter missing from here to eternity. It kept suspicions from floating directly to the culprit, their daughter, known as ‘tot mom’.
It is not surprising that pretty little Haleigh would become the logical replacement for Caylee who was never missing but had been found nevertheless. So the networks jumped at the chance of interviewing the protagonists in this sad case of ‘real’ kidnapping. But boy would they be in for a big surprise. If they thought that Caylee Anthony’s case was gloomy, this investigation was going to blow the lid wide open from this Satsuma portable toilet.
As it turned out, Ronald Cummings and his underage girlfriend, were living in a world surrounded by drugs, violence and shadiness. They were definitely in a state of 911. Ronald had obtained custody of his two children because their mother, Crystal Sheffield, allegedly had a history of drug problems and basically did not show up for a custody hearing because she had not received the notice. Being unemployed had also been a huge strike against her. This distraught and vulnerable mother who had met Cummings when she was also underage, described him as a volatile man with a drug-related past. She accused him of violence against her and the children. It so happened that Ronald was also another woman’s baby-daddy.
The fact that he would leave his two children in the care of a defiant, troubled, uneducated teenager constantly high as a kite demonstrated very well his lack of parental skills or care.
The circus really came to town when several TV stations started ‘trying’ to interview Ronald and Misty on their shows. It was like asking a donkey if God exists. Ronald was somewhat in control but his teenaged girlfriend would stare ahead with this glazed look. She was not just high, she was in a stuperous, narcotized state.
Ronald soon enrolled his mother Teresa for the media rounds because unlike Misty, she could cry a river in front of the camera and act distressed. Ronald would go down on his knees in front of the cameras, and cry an oxy/meth river of tears.
When NBC host Meredith Vieira asked Misty why she changed her story so often, she woodenly replied, “I don’t know.’’ When Ronald was asked by Vieira why he had married Croslin recently, knowing full well she might have been involved in his daughter’s disappearance, he became rude and defensive and basically told her to mind her own business. It was not going well for the media.
Most of the stations pulled out but HLN kept on trucking with a string of guests like toothless grandma Flo and her crocodile stories and cousin Jo Overstreet with his ‘It was not me’ mantra. Jo was in town visiting family when Haleigh disappeared and he supposedly had a fight with Ron over a gun. Nancy Grace was not going to let go of this bone easily. She was never going to be hungry again and would maintain her ratings no matter what. In the meantime, most people were starting to say “frankly my dear Nancy, we don’t give a damn about these people.’’
Mark Fuhrman said it very well in his book The Murder Business:
“It had turned into too much of a white-trash nightmare, too much of a freak show. Viewers can take the bizarre, frightening underbelly of White America only in small doses in a careful context, as guests in Jerry Springer or Maury Povich’s circus acts or when they’re anonymous.’’
A colleague of Fuhrman called him from Satsuma to urge him not to make the trip there to investigate. “Everybody here is high on something.’’ “And everyone is a nightmare to interview and put on TV.’’
Strangely enough, Nancy Grace, who is the queen of outrage when it comes to cases of missing children, took Ronald Cummings’ side in this saga. She invited him on her show and would soothe him and cheer him on during his ‘cry me a river’ displays for his lost daughter. She brought up every possible suspect, including illustrious cousin Jo, Misty, her brother Tommy, drug dealers, the pedophile brother-in-law, but in her eyes, Ronald remained white as snow, pun intended. He became her favorite pet rat. I even wondered if she carved Nancy loves Ro on a tree in the enchanted forest in her head.
We know that Nancy Grace went shamelessly after Richard Ricci in the Elizabeth Smart case and never apologized publicly when he was later found innocent. The poor man died in prison, no doubt aggravated by her actions. Poor Melinda Duckette committed suicide after being badgered by Grace. She also went after the Duke Lacrosse players with a vengeance. They were eventually cleared and declared innocent of the charges. What is it about Ronald Cummings that touched her heart? Maybe he was her perfect soul mate, considering the darkness they both share. They would have been perfect partners on Dancing with the Stars. What a hot tango they would have pulled off.
It never bothered her that Cummings had married Croslin shortly after Haleigh’s disappearance, probably to keep her from testifying against him. Who would marry the woman minding the fort when his own child is abducted under her watch? He obviously had to keep her close to minimize the possibilities of her singing the blues to the police.
We can only speculate as to what happened to this precious child. Many scenarios are possible but if they do not involve or incriminate Misty or Ronald, you would think someone would have spilled the beans by now. Misty claimed to have passed a lie detector test but according to Texas Equusearch who had administered the polygraph tests and a voice stress test, she had failed miserably. Ronald Cummings was asked by Nancy Grace about taking a polygraph test. He declared he had passed but there is no evidence and such information was never released by the authorities.
Grandma Flo said on TV that it was cousin Jo with Misty’s brother, Tommy Croslin, who threw Haleigh’s body in the river attached to cinder blocks because of a gun and some unknown dispute. I think this poor woman, in her own way, was trying to get to the bottom of this murky story. Rumors of trafficking circulated and of Misty not even being at the trailer that night. Did she leave the children alone while out on a drug binge as she had done recently with another cat? Ronald had tried to call her incessantly that night and she never answered. Some speculated they had a fight. The story of a drug debt floated around. Maybe some dealers took his daughter as collateral because he owed them money. A jail letter circulated stating that Haleigh died after ingesting oxycontin at the trailer. Either way, Haleigh’s demise was surely not one for the faint of heart.
For a while, a detective working for Haleigh’s mother claimed to have cracked the case. It was another dead end. They tried to revive the story in the media but it always fell flat because of lack of evidence. Two years ago, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office finally released a statement saying: “The ongoing investigation has minimized the likelihood that Haleigh’s disappearance is the work of a stranger.’’ Thank you, Captain Obvious!
It turns out that Ronald and Misty’s magical union did not last longer than their usual high. Meanwhile, the Putnam County police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Task Force and the Office of the State Attorney decided to investigate them during a month-long undercover operation. They were arrested with Tommy Croslin for trafficking controlled prescription medications on January 20, 2010.
Their bond were set excessively high so they would have to be remanded while in jail to await trial and sentencing. They were looking at up to 25 years. One cannot help but think that the set- up was to entrap them into confessing about little Haleigh’s disappearance. The ball was in their court now.
It was a complete bust, literally. HLN played the tapes of their jail conversations and wheeled back grandma Flo to the forefront but to no avail. We heard of a sentence reduction for Ronald Cummings for cooperating with the authorities. Misty’s time in custody did not agree with her. She aged 15 years while incarcerated but never gave an iota of helpful information, in spite of the huge sentence she was facing.
It was very telling. If the truth about Haleigh was not despicable or dangerous, why wouldn’t one of them cut a deal? They obviously had a lot more to lose if they came clean.
The prison sentences they received were excessive. Ronald Cummings’ sentence was reduced to 15 years for agreeing to testify for the state in future cases involving the drug counts or his missing daughter, Haleigh. Misty received 25 years for a single count of trafficking Oxycodone. Tommy Croslin was sentenced to 15 years. It is utterly ridiculous to send drug addicts to prison for that long on those type of charges but that seems to be how they roll in Florida. In my opinion, they should have undergone mandatory drug rehab or received much lighter sentences.
This pitiful band of ill-equipped human beings were probably targeted and thrown in the slammer to pressure them into talking about the case. These tactics should never be allowed. Abuse of power is not acceptable even in cases of suspicion of a more severe crime.
During Misty’s trial, we heard of earlier abuse in her life. She came from a broken home and both her parents did time on crack cocaine charges. It is only normal to infer that the next logical step for that poor girl was to land in the trailer of a sick bird like Ronald Cummings. Unless of course, she could have received support or directions from a teacher, friend or family member; I hear crickets on that one. Ronald was also from the school of Hard Knocks with no sugar on top. He grew up with his grandmother and was arrested multiple times for possession of drugs including heroin and GHB, the rape drug, but the charges were dropped. His mama Teresa was a police dispatcher at the time so some speculate that she scratched someone’s back. He was awarded custody of the kids after he lied to Crystal about the hearing. He is dishonest and has a long history of Child Protective Service being involved with raising his kids. He likes young girls and also has a special needs child with one of them. What you would call a triple threat on the dating scene.
They are undoubtedly the product of their upbringing and surroundings. Like so many in small town America, they got caught in the vicious circle of drug addictions and trafficking and did not have the tools or the intellect to get out of Dodge. They are what famous attorney Vincent Bugliosi described as prime candidates for the mental poverty program. But in my opinion, there is more nature than nurture brewing in the mind of Ron Cummings.
Do I believe they are sorry for what happened to Haleigh? Hell to the yes I do! But not enough to come clean and do the right thing. Saving their hide became more important, which speaks to their character but also to the horror and terror that befell that little girl.
In my mind, this case is closed. I do not want to hear the details of her demise. If more guilty parties are out there, they will hopefully be arrested and appropriately sentenced but as far as this little girl goes, she is now free from a future riddled with drugs, neglect and prison. She was trapped in a vortex of emotional emptiness and on a slow ride to hell. The adults in her life never fought for her. They chose mediocrity and self-gratification. Maybe she would have escaped that life of moral and physical stupor and moved on to greener pastures. But let’s say that the odds were not stacked in her favor. We will never know.
Through time, many artists claim to have created their best work under the influence of drugs. But what is happening right now in places like Satsuma is the mind-body decimation of the residents addicted to prescription drugs and other dangerous and destructive substances like crystal meth. Not a romantic notion anymore if it ever was one.
Lately, I imagine her running in a gigantic field under a beautiful blue sky and she is falling into the arms of the Catcher in the Rye who catches her so she does not fall from the cliff — that beautiful image of innocence so brilliantly described in the novel.
Or maybe she is clicking the heels of her red ruby slippers three times to be transported to Oz. She might also be entering a rabbit hole to follow in Alice in Wonderland’s footsteps. For the religiously inclined, she might be in the arms of an angel. For the reincarnation believers, she might be one day reunited with Ronald, Misty and her mother after a long healing.
What counts is that by some Amazing Grace, she was lost and now she is found.
Author’s note: What I have related is only my opinion. I am a huge Eminem fan and I resent Nancy Grace but I have nothing against trailers. And I totally realize that some might hope that Haleigh is still alive or would want to know exactly what happened to her.
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