Baby Grace: Sleeping in the Bed Her Mother Made

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


You have to be made of stone not to have been following the Baby Grace case. The one that had hardened cops weeping and fondling tiny pink sneakers after her little decomposed body was found floating in Galveston Bay. Even the forensic artist brought in to create her likeness so she could be identified came away moved. After 14 weeks of nature taking its toll on Baby Grace’s tortured little body, one would imagine that job to be a horrible one, but the beautiful innocence of a child whose true face she’d only ever see in her mind’s eye makes the artists’ description of that task simply transcendent:

A man in the medical examiner’s office pushed back the cheeks on Baby Grace’s corpse to put a smile on her tiny, decaying face. That’s how forensic artist Lois Gibson captured the open-mouthed grin with spangled risotto-sized teeth. It was one of the girl’s few features that had survived six weeks in a shed during a Texas summer and nearly two months in Galveston Bay.

But it was the way the blond toddler looked outside of the black body bag that made Gibson draw large, lid-filling eyes on the picture of the girl that led to identifying Riley Ann Sawyers.

“She was so very, very small. She looked like the size of a child that you would change the diaper on, just laying there on a metal gurney like a giant stainless steel cookie sheet,” Gibson says just above a sad, disbelieving whisper before her voice shifts and she’s strong and scientific. “If you are very, very small, then the iris, that colored part of your eye, takes up almost the entire eye opening.”

The corpse’s decay helped Gibson perfect the gentle downward slope of Riley’s eyes. “The decomposition was such that I could see that bone on her face,” she said. “And her eyebrows were going to follow her little ridge.”

Gibson said she felt her blood pressure rising during her morgue visit. It passed quickly, she said, and “I turned into the artist. I was going to make the best picture possible and get every piece of anatomy right and find her name and get justice for her.” In spite of what lay on the gurney, Gibson said, “I knew that she was beautiful, and the picture would reach out to people who knew her and loved her.”

Well, her grandmother knew and loved her; she recognized in an instant the child she hadn’t been able to speak to since June. That would be when Riley Anne (identified tag-team by an artist and a granny who may never meet) and her mother moved from Ohio to Texas so that mom could marry a man she’d met on the internet. A month later, mom Kimberly did nothing while dad-for-a-day tortured her daughter for 4-6 hours and allegedly prevented her from summoning help; OTC pain relievers were all she claims he’d allow. Riley’s crimes? Insufficient “pleases’ and ‘thank you’s” and “yes sir”. Feminist that I am, and as much as I revile male violence, I hope Kimberly is punished more severely than her psycho husband, Royce Zeigler. He had a duty not to hurt Kimberly. She had a higher duty to protect her child from strangers which is exactly what her new husband was. On a month’s acquaintance, as it appears from news reports, he shouldn’t have been allowed to babysit, let alone overrule his wife’s parenting decisions (he’d stayed home from work the day of the killing to ensure that his new discipline regime was carried out).

Giving the seemingly never ending stream of stories about kids tortured and dying at the hands of their chicken-headed mothers’ pond-scum boyfriends, I was surprised to find that they don’t abuse children more than bio-dads do. I’d expected the split to be about 70-30, given the wrath of the father’s rights crowd and didn’t look forward to having to agree with them, but the data paint a different picture. It’s a complicated subject that the number crunchers munch in all directions but the bottom line is that “Nearly one-half of all perpetrators were male, and of these, one-half were biological fathers.” So, my assumption was wrong but my umbrage remains intact: a bio- dad is a bio-dad. Unless he can be shown to be a real and present danger to the kids, he should stay in the picture. But a non-bio-dad must be thoroughly vetted and not allowed access to helpless children, even as a babysitter, until proven harmless.

No one outside her family can object to a 19 year old marrying a virtual stranger but pretty much we can when she tosses her innocent baby into that maelstrom. I’m a single mom. Dating is my problem, not my kids’. Kimberly Dawn Trenor had no right to introduce a strange person into her child’s life without extremely close supervision. But, of course, the real issue here is that Kimberly herself needs extremely close supervision–she’s pregnant again. She should be shown no mercy.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate