The Nightmare: A Look at the Riley Fox Case

FROM OUR JULY 2006 ISSUE: Five months after three-year-old Riley Fox of Wilmington was brutally murdered, her father, Kevin, confessed following a long night with Will County detectives. He recanted almost immediately, but spent eight months in jail before DNA evidence led to his release. For the first time publicly, Kevin and his wife, Melissa, talk about their ordeal, an account of pain, mystery, and undying faith, wrapped around an enduring tragedy

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From the beginning, the attorney Kathleen Zellner (below left) was struck by the Fox family's unwavering belief in Kevin's innocence. Chad (middle, with his wife, Stacy) took the lead in the fight to clear his brother's name. When detectives sought to persuade Melissa (at right, with Kevin) that her husband had killed their daughter, she reached out to him and said,
From the beginning, the attorney Kathleen Zellner (below left) was struck by the Fox family’s unwavering belief in Kevin’s innocence. Chad (middle, with his wife, Stacy) took the lead in the fight to clear his brother’s name. When detectives sought to persuade Melissa (at right, with Kevin) that her husband had killed their daughter, she reached out to him and said, “I believe you.”

 

Dressed in a tuxedo-dapper but slightly self-conscious-Kevin Fox took his place at the wedding altar inside Holy Name Cathedral, awestruck by the majesty that surrounded him: the light slanting through the stained glass windows, the arches soaring up to gilt ceilings, the bas-relief of Abraham offering to sacrifice his child. A self-described small-town boy from Wilmington, Illinois, he was there to act as best man for his older brother, Chad. But if he felt out of place as the ceremony began, his discomfort melted at the sight of his two children now making their way down the aisle.

Tyler, the six-year-old spitting image of his dad, bore the ring; beside him toddled Tyler’s three-year-old sister, Riley. Her hair a tiara of chestnut curls, she wore a snow-white “princess” dress, a gossamer confection of satin and lace over white satin slippers. Reaching into a tiny white basket, she doled red rose petals along the aisle like a pixie spreading fairy dust.

The ceremony’s original choreography called for Riley to turn right at the front of the aisle and join her mother’s pew. Instead, she marched up the marble stairs and past the groom. With a huge smile on her face, she headed straight to her daddy, who scooped her up into his arms. As Kevin and countless others in the sanctuary laughed with delight, he returned her to her mother, who shook her head with resignation and took the girl to the pew.

A few hours later, at a reception at the Park Hyatt, Kevin drew on the moment as he stood to toast his brother, Chad, and Chad’s new wife, Stacy. “Throughout my life, I’ve always followed in your footsteps,” Kevin said. “I tagged around when we were in high school. I made you drive me around when you got your license. I pledged the same fraternity. But now that I have a wonderful wife, and the two most beautiful children in the world, you get to finally follow me and make a family. It’s your turn to follow in my footsteps.”

Chad hugged Kevin as the room burst into applause. The band broke into song. The extended Fox family danced the night away, though before too long Riley and Tyler had curled up under a table and fallen sound asleep. A picture of the children would make its way into Chad’s wedding album, a cherished memento of a perfect day.

The image was almost as precious, in fact, as the photo a few pages later of Chad, Stacy, Kevin, Melissa, Tyler, and Riley smiling back at the camera in their wedding formalwear. At the time, it seemed like a happy though standard family portrait. In fact, it would be the last photo of all of them together, taken as it was just two weeks before the little girl would be found floating face-down in a creek.

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Photograph: Andreas Larsson

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