"Dig deeper." Those were the last two words Anna Reyes said to Avelino Tamala before the tiny body of her daughter, Crystal, was lowered into the ground in April 1997, and a chilling glimpse into the tragic life and death of the 3-year-old at the hands of her caretakers—a "brief chapter in a tangled narrative of crime and love, deceit and heartbreak," as the account published by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting notes. Justin Price, Brandon Quester, and Evan Wyloge sifted through a nearly 20-year supply of court docs and police reports to analyze the major players, why the case went cold, and what happened after it was reopened in 2013. Central to the case was Reyes, a young drug trafficker who managed to seduce both prison guard Darren Stockwell and Tamala, a detective with Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and drag them into her world of lies.
Stockwell fell in love with her while she was an inmate at his jail, and after she was released, she became pregnant with Crystal; they broke up over her scheme to tell the man she was still married to that Crystal was his so he'd pay child support. Witnesses say Reyes tried to give Crystal away soon after she was born in November 1993, and she ended up in jail for parole violation in 1994 (Crystal stayed with her grandmother in Mexico). Reyes was released as an informant who worked for Tamala, who soon fell under her spell, dumped his police career, and started helping her smuggle drugs. Then Crystal came to live with them, and a heartbreaking pattern of abuse started, including the couple keeping her in a dog crate and starving her. Her final dreadful hours on that April day in 1997 were later detailed to investigators by Tamala, who was found guilty in November 2016 of first-degree murder for Crystal's death. Reyes was also found guilty, but she was deported to Mexico and has fallen off the map. Read the sad tale of Crystal's short life here and what turned the case around. (Read more Longform stories.)