Digital Forensics Dispatch

Digital Forensics Blog
by Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

Police Advance Child Murder Case by Decrypting Cell Phone Data

July 22, 2021

Texoma’s recently reported on a breakthrough Wichita Falls Police investigators were able to make in the case of the death of two-year-old Wilder McDaniel. In 2018 Wilder was found dead at his mother’s, Amber Odom McDaniel, boyfriend’s home. The boyfriend, James Staley, already faces murder charges in relation to the death but this breakthrough has resulted in charges of child endangerment and tampering with evidence for Amber as well.

The charges result from deleted text messages that were recovered from a cell phone that was collected at the home the day of the murder but unable to be analyzed at the time because of device encryption.  The encrypted phone was recently unlocked with assistance from examiners from the US Secret Service forensic lab. With the encryption bypassed, investigators were able to, with the help of a digital forensic examiner, analyze the phone and uncover what was described as “a long pattern of Staley telling Amber he was a threat to Wilder”.

Many of these messages had been deleted but were able to be recovered during the examination. During an interview Amber admitted to deleting some of the messages as well as doing a factory reset of the device a few months before the incident.

According to the affidavit the messages included threats of physical violence against the child that included punching him in the face, kicking him to the floor and that he needed “to be culled”.  In many cases Amber reportedly responded indifferently to these messages. The affiant goes on to state that “Your Affiant believes that there were multiple violent messages from Staley about Wilder that would have caused any protective mother to cut off Staley’s access to her son”.

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