Since her tragic death and her mother Casey Anthony’s controversial acquittal, the image of little Caylee Anthony has been burned into the brains of all of us with an interest in true crime.But almost no one remembers five-year-old Haleigh Cummings, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who went missing in the small Putnam County town of Satsuma, Florida.
Haleigh, who would be 13 this year, was last seen alive on February 9, 2009 at the home of her father Ronald Cummings.An Amber Alert was issued for Haleigh on the day of Caylee’s memorial service, and the media immediately jumped on the story of another missing girl in Florida.
Misty Croslin, who was Ronald Cummings’ then-17-year-old live-in girlfriend at the time, said she was babysitting Haleigh and her younger brother Ronald, Jr., and that Haleigh disappeared during the night.
Investigators became suspicious when Croslin first claimed 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.
Croslin said she went to sleep around 10:00 P.M. after doing laundry, then woke up during the night and saw a light in the kitchen, the back door held ajar by a cinder block — and no sign of Haleigh.
But while Caylee’s story focused on a middle-class family, the world inhabited by Cummings and Croslin brought out a cast of seemingly less sympathetic shady characters, violence, and drugs.
When TV stations tried to interview Cummings and Croslin, Croslin just stared ahead in what appeared to be a drug-induced stupor.
Ronald had obtained custody of his two children because their mother, Crystal Sheffield, allegedly also had a history of drug problems. Sheffield, who had met Cummings when she was also underage, had accused him of violence against her and the children.
In his book The Murder Business, former LAPD detective Mark Furhman (who took the spotlight during the O.J. Simpson murder case) wrote:
“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.’’
Investigators cleared Cummings, who was working that night, of involvement, but later said that other people were present at the house the night Haleigh disappeared, including Misty Croslin’s brother Hank Croslin, Jr., and her cousin Joe Overstreet.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office brought Misty Croslin and the others in for questioning for months, but no trace of Haleigh was ever found.
Reporters left the scene, and the case is rarely mentioned, except in local papers.
On April 15, 2010, Sheriff Jeff Hardy announced Haleigh was most likely dead, and the case was being worked as a homicide. The Sheriff’s Office released a statement, saying the ongoing investigation has “minimized the likelihood that Haleigh’s disappearance is the work of a stranger,” and that those who know what happened still won’t tell investigators.
But — while murder was one of several scenarios detectives investigated — police have said that with no body, they did not have enough evidence to bring charges against anyone suspected of involvement. Until a body is found — or a killer brought to justice — Haleigh’s agonized family continues to wait for answers.
Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an updated age-progression photo of Haleigh at age 12.Misty Croslin, Ronald Cummings, Hank Croslin, Jr., and two others were arrested in January of 2010 for trafficking in pain pills during an undercover sting operation that had been going on for months. They all eventually pleaded guilty or no contest, and are all serving lengthy prison terms.
Police ask anyone with information about Haleigh Cummings to call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at (386) 329-0808.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Main image: Haleigh Cummings missing poster