Haleigh Cummings was 5 years old when she vanished. Was she kidnapped? Killed? Or did she run away? No-one knows. Eight years on, her disappearance is still unsolved by police, and the case remains open to this day…
Little Haleigh Cummings was wearing her blonde hair in a ponytail, fastened with her bright-pink bobble.
It was Tuesday 10 February 2009. Her dad Ronald was working the night shift as a crane operator.
So his girlfriend Misty Croslin had put 5-year-old Haleigh to bed on a mattress in their caravan in Satsuma, Putnam County, Florida.
Misty went to bed at about 10pm on a second mattress, just feet from Haleigh’s. But when, a few hours later, she awoke needing the toilet, she found Haleigh gone.
The back door of the caravan was ajar, held in place by an old breeze block.
Straightaway, Misty raised the alarm. But police hit a dead end, finding no trace of Haleigh anywhere.
Within 24 hours, photos of the 5-year-old were being broadcast on news channels across America, as were interviews with Ronald and Misty.
But something seemed off.
Misty’s story kept changing. She couldn’t remember what Haleigh had been wearing when she’d vanished.
Some sneered at the couple.
‘White trash,’ they said.
Ronald was 25, Misty, 17. Reports were rife – people said the couple did drugs, their caravan was filthy, neither knew how to care for a child…
Misty was from a broken home. Her parents were charged with crack-cocaine offences. And, as a teen, Ronald had been arrested countless times for drugs possession.
Questions arose. Why had Ronald left his daughter with a teenager rumoured to have a drug habit? And where was Haleigh’s mum?
Soon, she came forward.
Crystal Sheffield had left Ronald a couple of years earlier. She claimed he’d abused her.
‘He’d punch me in the back of the head,’ she told journalists. ‘He was very abusive.’
She even claimed he’d hit little Haleigh.
‘He back-handed her,’ she said.
Ronald denied it. And, after the split, he’d gained custody of Haleigh Cummings when Crystal had failed to turn up for the custody hearing.
Perhaps Haleigh had run away.
But police investigators said there was no way a 5-year-old could’ve opened the caravan door by herself. And she wouldn’t have got far before police found her…alive or dead.
Someone had to have snatched Haleigh. But who?
Perhaps Misty? Was her story always changing because she was lying?
Except Misty had no motive – unless she wanted Ronald all to herself.
Maybe Haleigh had been kidnapped by a stranger.
In the days after she disappeared, a woman said she’d spotted Haleigh Cummings in a restaurant miles away in Tennessee.
She said Haleigh had been with a man driving a red Toyota, and didn’t seem to want to be there.
But the tip-off led nowhere.
Then the Press got another lead. Living in a neighbouring caravan to Ronald and Misty’s was a known sex offender.
In 2001, he’d been convicted of ‘promoting a sexual performance by a child’.
He’d been listed as a sexual predator, had been put on nightly curfew, and wore an electronic tag.
The night that Haleigh disappeared, the man didn’t meet his curfew.
But the GPS in his tag showed he hadn’t been anywhere near her caravan. So he was ruled out.
Then, weeks on, another story broke. Ronald had proposed to Misty and they’d got married. But surely this wasn’t the time for romantic gestures and joyful weddings?
Investigators were suspicious.
If Misty and Ronald were married, that meant they would be unable to testify against each other in court. So did the couple have something to hide?
More rumours spread. Could the disappearance be drugs-related? Had Haleigh been taken to pay off a debt? Or even sold?
Misty and Ronald insisted she had not.
But then Misty made an unexpected claim.
She said she’d known what had happened to Haleigh Cummings all along, but had been too terrified to say.
She said that day in February 2009, Ronald had argued with Misty’s relative about the ownership of a gun.
Later, when Ronald was at work, the relative had shown up with another family member. The two men had turned the caravan inside out looking for the gun.
Failing, as a ‘replacement’, they took Haleigh, bundling her into a black bag and promising to drown her in a nearby river.
Officers soon discovered the two men had been in the area that day. But no evidence could be found against them.
The police had nothing. No body. No clue. No lead.
Then, a year on, in January 2010, Ronald Cummings and Misty Croslin were arrested for trafficking controlled prescription drugs. Both were caught as part of a police sting, and were jailed for 15 years and 25 years respectively.
The sentences were heavy.
Some criminologists believe it’s part of a plan to break the pair into confession, or into revealing what they know about Haleigh’s disappearance.
Still, eight years on, neither has revealed anything.
Maybe they have nothing to confess… But someone has.
And they’re still out there, hiding the terrible secret of what really happened to the little girl with the pink bobble in her hair.