Content warning: This article mentions allegations of child murder.
In 1991, seeing a child's face on a milk carton or featured prominently on America's Most Wanted was quickly becoming the norm. A 1988 study conducted by The Justice Department found that "As many as 4,600 children were abducted nationwide by non-family members in 1988, and more than 100,000 were the targets of attempted abductions, primarily by passing motorists," as reported by The Washington Post.
Of those 4,600 kids, "200 to 300 children disappeared for longer periods or were killed," cited the study. On May 25, 1991, Timothy Wiltsey was with his mother, then 23 year-old Michelle Lodzinski, at a carnival in Sayreville, N.J. when he disappeared. Five months later, his body would be found less than ten miles away. Dateline is revisiting this baffling story which involves his mother being convicted for his murder, 25 years after his death. Where is Michelle Lodzinski now? Here's what we know.
Where is Michelle Lodzinski now?
Currently Michelle Lodzinski is out of prison, after spending nearly six years there for the 1991 murder of her 5 year-old son Timothy Wiltsey. This story, and the case itself, are filled with twists and turns, with a side of wildly confusing lies. It's clear Michelle Lodzinski has made a lot of bad decisions in life, but mistakes do not a murderer make. So, how did Michelle end up getting convicted?
According to My Central Jersey, "By the time the FBI and police found Timothy’s scattered remains — a skull and bone pieces of his jaw, arms and legs – he already had been dead for months, his body submerged in water." Though his cause of death was never determined, it was ruled a homicide. Police were always suspicious of Lodzinski who could never seem to keep her story straight.
A week after Timothy disappeared, Lodzinski had already taken and failed two lie detector tests (though it has been established by those in the medical field that these tests are not accurate). Evidently Lodzinski told several different stories about the exact moment Timothy disappeared at the carnival. She initially said she couldn't him find after going to get a soda. From there, the stories got even more bizarre.
"A man grabbed Timothy off a carnival ride and warned her to stay away before walking off with two other men," Lodzinski told FBI. She would later admit to lying about that because she just wanted them off her back. A woman named Ellen, who was allegedly a customer at the Amboy-Madison Bank where Lodzinski worked, was brought into the mix. Lodzinski claimed Ellen did anything from holding, "her up at knife-point and abducted Timothy," to involving at least two accomplices.
Regardless of these wild tall tales, authorities had no concrete evidence to suggest Lodzinski murdered her own child. For years they kept track of the case, and never fully gave up. Then, someone remembered a blue and white blanket that Timothy's body was wrapped in. That's what they used to arrest Michelle Lodzinski.
What happened with the blue and white blanket?
When the blanket was shown to Lodzinski and her mother, at the time Timothy's body was discovered, they both claimed to have never seen it, per My Central Jersey. In 2014, police decided to show the blanket to one of Timothy's old babysitters as well as Lodzinski's niece. Both said they recognized the blanket as Timothy's. In August 2014, Lodzinski was charged with murder.
Despite the trial consisting of only circumstantial evidence, with one juror being dismissed for doing independent online research, Lodzonski was convicted on May 18, 2016 (NJ.com) and on January 5, 2017 is sentenced to 30 years in prison.
How did Michelle Lodzinski get out of prison?
In August 2019, "A three-judge appellate panel denies Lodzinski’s appeal, saying 'there was available proof for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Timothy’s death was neither suicide nor an accident, but rather he was the victim of a homicide,'" noted NJ.com. However, Lodzinski's lawyer was not ready to give up so he took this all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court who agreed to hear the appeal in February 2020.
The argument by the defense is simple, the judge in the original trial should have declared a mistrial when one jury was dismissed once it was discovered he was trying to Google his own little answers. Lodzinski's attorney also argues there was not enough evidence to convict her. Not only was there no blood found in her vehicle, but the blanket had absolutely no DNA on it that would connect it to Lodzinski or her home.
After a split-decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court, they decided to, "take an unprecedented second look at the conviction of Lodzinski with the addition of a 'tie-breaker,' as the court again hears the case," reported NJ.com. The tie-breaker was the senior most member of the state Appellate Division, Judge Jose L. Fuentes. This time the court ruled in favor of overturning the conviction, thus vacating the decision of the jury in the original trial.
For more insight into this story, tune into Dateline Friday April 29 at 9:00 p.m. EST on NBC.