‘Little Jacob’ case: Police release graphic photo of boy found dead on beach

Texas investigators have taken the unorthodox step of releasing a graphic photo of a young boy found dead on a Galveston beach in October, saying the image may be their final shot at identifying the child they have nicknamed "Little Jacob."

The boy, who was about 3 or 4 years old when he died, was found Oct. 20 in the water along a relatively undeveloped stretch of coastline on the eastern edge of the city. Capt. Joshua Schirard, public information officer for the Galveston Police Department, said during a news conference Tuesday that despite the release of an artist’s rendering of the boy and detectives’ exhaustion of hundreds of leads, the child’s identity remains a mystery.

“We’re not releasing this photo lightly. It’s really being done at this point as a last option,” Schirard said. “We’ve exhausted all other things we could do to get this child identified.”

Click here to see the boy's photo, which was shared on the department's Facebook pageWarning: The image may be too graphic for some readers. 

More typical methods of identification have not been fruitful and even a $10,000 reward offered by the FBI has failed to produce the right lead. Tips can be phoned in at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).

“Evidence found and collected at the scene and during the autopsy is limited,” Schirard said. “DNA samples have been collected and submitted to multiple labs in the hopes of identifying the boy.

“Unfortunately, these methods have been unable to assist with identification, as children of this age usually don’t have fingerprints or DNA on file.”

Cameras clicked as Schirard taped a photocopy of the boy’s photo to the podium at which he stood. Some reporters asked questions as others remained silent, looking at the boy’s face.

The photo, which was taken on the sand where he was discovered, showed a boy with thick eyebrows and black hair plastered to his head. He appeared to have an olive complexion and may have been Latino.

The previously released artist’s rendering of the boy, which showed him as he might have appeared alive, was released with pleas for help from the public written in both English and Spanish.

Detective Jeff Banks, an investigator on the case, said Tuesday that the photo was touched up to remove early signs of decomposition and water damage so the image would be more appropriate for release. The boy’s autopsy indicated that he was in the water between 12 and 48 hours when his body was found.

Schirard and Banks gave some of the few details gleaned from the boy’s autopsy, including the fact that he was already dead when his body was placed in the water. He is believed to have died on Oct. 17 or 18.

The autopsy results, along with studies of the flow of the Gulf of Mexico by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Weather Service, indicated that he was discarded somewhere in Galveston County, east of where his body washed up. Investigators included the area of East Beach and the Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay as possible locations.

The boy was abused and malnourished, the autopsy found.

“Autopsy results indicate that prior to his death, Little Jacob showed signs of neglect and injuries consistent with abuse,” Schirard said. “However, none of those injuries appear to have been fatal.”

The spokesman declined to detail the signs of abuse discovered. Banks, the detective, said that the boy weighed about 28 pounds -- about half of what a boy his age should have weighed. He was about 3 feet tall.

Credit: (Kelsey Walling/The Galveston County Daily News via AP)

Credit: (Kelsey Walling/The Galveston County Daily News via AP)

His cause of death has not been determined, but along with no signs of a fatal injury, the medical examiner found no indication of a fatal illness in the boy’s system. The case is being treated as a homicide until investigators can rule it out.

“Further information is needed to find out what happened to Little Jacob, and the first and most crucial step in that investigation is identifying him,” Schirard said.

Inquiries with dozens of law enforcement agencies have turned up no missing child reports matching the boy’s description, and searches of databases up to the national level have also offered no results.

Banks said that investigators decided to release the photo in the hopes that someone who was already suspicious after seeing the artist’s rendering of Little Jacob would recognize him from his “true likeness” and come forward.

“I hate to release that photo,” Banks said. “It’s terrible. But I think at the end of the day, the objective of identifying him outweighs it.”

Schirard said that investigators continue to believe that someone, somewhere knows the boy’s identity.

“That child deserves to be identified and properly laid to rest, but for this to happen, input from the public is absolutely crucial,” Schirard said.

Lois Gibson, the renowned forensic artist who created the rendering of the child, said she believes that police officials made the right decision in releasing Little Jacob’s actual photo.

"I have one goal. It's to find out who the baby is," Gibson told KHOU in Houston.

Gibson has previously worked on six criminal cases similar to the Little Jacob case, including one involving the death of a child nicknamed “Baby Grace” in 2007. Gibson’s drawing helped identify Baby Grace as Riley Ann Sawyers, 2, after her paternal grandmother recognized the image as one of her granddaughter.

Riley's mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, and her stepfather, Royce Clyde Ziegler II, were both convicted of capital murder for killing the girl during an all-day punishment session in July 2017, the Houston Chronicle reported. The abuse reportedly included whipping the girl with a belt, pushing her face into a pillow, holding her head underwater and throwing her multiple times onto a tile floor.

The Chronicle reported that Trenor told police that after Riley died, they put her body in a plastic box and kept it in storage for about two months before hurling the box off a railroad bridge near the Galveston Causeway.

A fisherman found the girl’s body that October on an island in West Galveston Bay.

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