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Court documents reveal new details about death of 7-year-old boy found in Denver storage unit

Caden McWilliams

DENVER — Sixteen pages of court documents released Tuesday reveal new details about Elisha Pankey, the mother accused of killing her 7-year-old son whose body was found encased in concrete in a southeast Denver storage unit in December. The documents also include new information about Elisha’s husband Leland Pankey.

Elisha, 43, was charged with child abuse resulting in death and abuse of a corpse in connection to the death of her son Caden McWilliams and is due back in Denver County Court on April 2.

Caden’s body was found in a storage unit in the 5000 block of East Evans Avenue on Dec. 23, 2018. Elisha surrendered to the Denver Police Department.

Elisha’s arrest affidavit was one of the main documents released Tuesday by the Denver District Attorney’s Office. It details the events that led to her being charged in her son’s death, including being allegedly abused by Leland at an Extended Stay hotel in Aurora. Leland also allegedly threatened to kill Elisha.

On Dec. 21, 2018, Aurora and Denver police coordinated to monitor the TownePlace Suites at Marriott hotel in southeast Denver where Leland was reportedly staying. When officers saw Leland enter the lobby, he was arrested by uniformed Denver Police Department officers.

An officer asked Leland where his daughter and Caden were. Leland said his daughter was at an Aurora daycare center, but changed the subject when asked about Caden.

DPD officers checked Leland’s hotel room for Caden but could not locate the boy.

Officers then went to a daycare center near Interstate 225 and Parker Road. While they found Leland’s daughter, they could not locate Caden. At this point, officers went to speak with Elisha.

Elisha told an officer that she had driven a BMW X5 to another Extended Stay hotel in Greenwood Village in the Denver Tech Center. Officers found the SUV in the hotel’s parking lot and saw a number of large plastic totes in the back seat and saw an air freshener.

“Officers became suspicious that this vehicle, and the totes may contain evidence related to Caden’s disappearance,” the affidavit states.

The vehicle was secured by the Aurora Police Department and towed to the Aurora Vehicle Impound Lot.

Then, Denver officers returned to the Marriott to conduct a more thorough search of the hotel room for Caden. They were unable to find Caden. However, they did find approximately $40,000 in cash.

A detective later went to the daycare center and spoke with staff. The detective learned that on Nov. 29, 2018, during the enrollment process, Leland said he wanted his daughter to be social with other kids because she had lost her brother.

A daycare employee said Leland said something similar to, “He was sick and we couldn’t help him,” and something along the lines of, “He had died,” in reference to Caden.

While searching the Extended Stay room in which Elisha was living, officers found heroin. Elisha was charged with possession of a controlled substance and booked into the Arapahoe County Jail.

According to the affidavit, investigators learned that the principal of Caden’s school said the boy last attended the school on May 24, 2018. On Aug. 24, 2018, Elisha went to the school and said she intended to home-school Caden.

Additionally, the affidavit states that a detective contacted Leland’s mother, who lives in Virginia. The woman stated that Leland told her Caden had died earlier in 2018. She also said her son mentioned wanting to get rid of items in a storage unit.

While searching Elisha’s Extended Stay room, officers found a business card for Public Storage on East Evans Avenue near I-25 in southeast Denver. On Dec. 23, 2018, Aurora police got a search warrant and cut the lock on the storage unit belonging to the Pankeys.

“Detectives discovered a large object sealed in numerous layers of plastic. Detectives removed a few layers of the plastic, at which time they could smell the distinct odor of a decomposed body,” the affidavit states. Cadaver dogs were brought to the storage unit and alerted officers to the object covered in plastic.

The DPD homicide unit was contacted and investigators began processing the crime scene after getting another search warrant. They found empty bags of Quikrete and a number of plastic water bottles.

“It appeared that the large item covered in plastic that the cadaver dogs alerted on contained cement,” the affidavit states.

After photographing and measuring evidence, the DPD crime lab began removing the plastic from the large object. A large plastic animal cage was found inside, and there was a large chunk of cement inside the animal cage.

A DPD bomb technician took X-rays of the object, but the results were inconclusive.

The animal crate was taken to the Denver Coroner’s Office. On Dec. 24, 2018, a child’s body was found inside the concrete.

While speaking with a fellow jail inmate, Elisha said Leland forced Caden to go into the animal carrier. Elisha said she would also make Caden go into the animal carrier when she took showers. According to the affidavit, some time in July, Elisha found Caden dead in the animal carrier. Elisha told the inmate that she and Leland then took the animal carrier to the storage unit, filled it with concrete and covered it in industrial-strength trash bags.

Autopsy results released earlier this month showed Caden had evidence of cocaine and methamphetamine in his liver.

Caden was malnourished and had signs of abuse including injuries on his head and body, according to the coroner’s report.

The coroner could not determine the cause of death.

The report says he may have also suffered from dehydration, asphyxiation and hypothermia but those results could not be confirmed.

Elisha remains in jail on a $250,000 bond.

Leland appeared in court in December 2018 for an assault charge stemming from an incident that allegedly occurred between him and Elisha in 2017.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Elisha told details about the animal crate to investigators. She actually spoke about the animal crate with a fellow inmate, according to the court documents. 

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