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A Deadly Friendship

In the late 1980s, Jimella Tunstall and Tiffany Hall met as they started kindergarten in East St. Louis, Illinois. The girls became best friends and their families also bonded quickly. Over the years the girls remained close until tragedy struck in 2006, leaving one of them dead. This is the story of a friendship destroyed by jealousy and the tragic aftermath of a deadly friendship.

Jimella Tunstall was born in February of 1983. Shortly after starting school, she became best friends with Tiffany Hall. Jimella and Tiffany both grew up in the same East St. Louis neighborhood and faced many challenges at a very young age. Throughout these tribulations, they developed a strong friendship. Those closest to the girls say they were like sisters.

Jimella grew up in foster care and had difficulty trusting people. However, she trusted her dear friend Tiffany with her life. Jimella was sixteen years old when she gave birth to her first child, DeMond Tunstall. She had another son, Ivan, in 2003 and a daughter, Jinella, in 2004. Jimella loved being a mother but had struggled with motherhood at times.




In 2005, Jimella temporarily lost custody of her children and faced a domestic battery charge for whipping her oldest son with a belt and an extension cord. She completed parenting classes and worked hard to get her kids back. The charges were dropped after successful completion of the parenting classes, and Tunstall was granted custody of her children again. She purchased a vehicle with her tax refund and was trying to better her life through college classes. She hoped to work in photography someday, but that was on hold after she learned in early 2006 that she was expecting her fourth child.

Tiffany also faced struggles as a young adult and even as a juvenile. Tiffany’s mother, Beverly Cruise, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Tiffany once set her mother’s kitchen on fire as a teenager and was very rebellious (Sultan, Hollinshed, & Thorsen, 2006). At age fourteen, Tiffany was sent to a juvenile corrections facility on battery charges after she kicked her mother. She dropped out of school before junior high.

Like her best friend Jimella, Tiffany also became a mother at sixteen years old. She gave birth to a daughter. Another daughter followed a year later. In August of 1999, when her second daughter was just two months old, Tiffany came home carrying her limp baby in her arms. Her mother quickly called 911 and the baby was transferred to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis. It was determined that the child had been abused and faced long term disabilities as a result of her injuries that day in August.

The Department of Children and Family Services took Tiffany’s children out of her care and filed an abuse suit against her. However, charges were never filed by the State’s Attorney in this case. DCFS continued to work with Tiffany and a judge ruled in 2002 that Tiffany was no longer a danger to her daughters. The girls were then returned to her custody. That same year, Tiffany was charged with possession of a stolen credit card.

By September of 2006, Jimella was seven months pregnant with her daughter and Tiffany had also announced a pregnancy to her family. But tragedy struck on Friday, September 15th, 2006. Tiffany Hall called 911 and reported she had given birth to a stillborn baby. She and the deceased baby girl were taken to the hospital in Centreville, Illinois. Tiffany refused to be examined but told authorities that she had been sexually assaulted in St. Louis, causing her to give birth. Special Victims Unit Detectives were called in from St. Louis to investigate the crime. The baby’s cause of death was unclear.

On Thursday, September 21st, a funeral was held for the baby, known as Taylor. Tiffany’s boyfriend, an active military member, was home on emergency leave to attend the baby’s funeral services. The day took an unexpected turn when Tiffany confided in her boyfriend that the baby was not his and that “she had removed it from her cousin’s body after killing her” (Graber, Sultan, & Kohler, 2006). He immediately notified authorities of what Tiffany had told him.

A few hours later, the body of Jimella Tunstall was found in a weedy patch on North 56th street in East St. Louis in close proximity to Tiffany’s home. An autopsy was completed on Jimella and determined she was beat with a blunt object but died of blood loss due to a large laceration to her abdomen. Her infant daughter had been removed from her womb, likely while she was still alive.

Tiffany was taken into custody and both girls’ mothers were devastated by the tragedy. There was also a sense of panic, however, when the families and authorities realized that Jimella’s other three children were no where to be found. Tiffany’s children were located and safe, but no one had seen DeMond, Ivan, and Jinella since the previous week.


(Jimella pictured above)

Jimella’s boyfriend told authorities that on September 18th Tiffany came to his apartment to pick up the kids. Tiffany told him that Jimella had asked her to pick the kids up and babysit. This was a common occurrence as Tiffany frequently babysat for Jimella. However, that was the last time he saw his children. Jimella had already been killed by that time.

Authorities went to Jimella’s apartment on Friday September 22nd but were unable to find any sign of the kids. They did, however, obtain recent pictures of the children for the missing person reports. A widespread search was conducted, primarily focusing on Frank Holten State Park. However, the searches all came up empty. Authorities put the pressure on Tiffany to tell them where the children were. Eventually, she cracked.

On Saturday September 23rd, Tiffany told authorities that the children were in Jimella’s apartment. She told them to look in the washer and dryer. After returning to the apartment for another search, the deceased body of DeMond was found in the dryer and Ivan and Jinella were found in the washing machine. The bodies were all nude except underpants on one child. DeMond was just seven years old. Ivan was two years old and Jinella was one year old.

Autopsies showed the children had been drowned, but authorities stressed they were not killed in the washer and dryer. It is believed that Tiffany picked the children up and took them back to Jimella’s apartment. There she gave them a bath, like a babysitter might do. However, during this bath she would drown the kids one by one and place their bodies in the washer and dryer.

The East St. Louis community was devastated and shocked by this brutal crime and struggled to comprehend what had happened. Tiffany and Jimella’s mothers grieved together. Why would a woman kill her best friend? Why would she kill three innocent children? Did Tiffany have a miscarriage? Was she even pregnant to begin with? Did she suffer from some sort of mental illness? The questions were endless.

At first, Tiffany was only charged with the murder of Jimella and her unborn daughter. Eventually, three additional counts of murder were added in relation to the other children. Tiffany plead not guilty at first and a psychiatric examination was ordered. Tiffany was assigned a public defender. However, when the state announced it planned to seek the death penalty, Tiffany was assigned another lawyer who had experience in death penalty cases.

In 2008, Tiffany’s attorney had negotiated a plea deal for her that would eliminate the possibility of the death penalty. Tiffany plead guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of the unborn child. She was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in exchange for the plea.

Tiffany told the court that she “had contemplated taking Ms. Tunstall’s unborn child for quite some time” (Associated Press, 2008). Approximately one week before the murders she purchased rubbing alcohol, a nasal aspirator, and a sharp object. She then felt she was ready to put her plan into place.



Tiffany admitted to beating Jimella on the head with a table leg on September 15th, 2006 until Jimella was unconscious. While she was still alive, Tiffany drug her to the bathtub and cut open her abdomen, removing the baby. Jimella bled to death in the bathtub. Tiffany then dumped her body in a vacant lot. The baby had not survived the attack despite showing no signs of trauma. That is when Tiffany called 911 to report she had given birth to a stillborn baby.

Three days later, Tiffany picked up Jimella’s children from their father’s home. She took the children back to Jimella’ apartment and drowned them in the same bathtub their mother had died in. She placed their bodies in the washer and dryer and left the apartment. She spent the next several days planning the funeral for the baby, claiming the girl as her own child.

James Gomric, one of Hall’s attorneys, said “Hall had been mentally fit to stand trial but also said she had unresolved mental health issues and tested at an IQ in the mid-70s” (Associated Press, 2008). No motive was provided, but it is believed that Tiffany either lost her pregnancy or faked the entire pregnancy and desired to pass Jimella’s baby off as her own. An important distinction between Tiffany and other women who have committed similar crimes is that Tiffany had children of her own at the time. Her daughters were seven and eight at the time of the murders.

In September of 2008, Hall moved to withdraw her guilty plea claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The request was denied. Tiffany filed a petition in 2012 for a new defense attorney alleging ineffective assistance from her trial attorneys. That petition was also dismissed, but Tiffany persisted as she felt her attorneys did not appropriately investigate her mental health and fitness to stand trial.

In her petition, Tiffany claimed that Gomric, her attorney, “actually didn’t receive documentation of my psychiatric evaluation until two days after my guilty plea was entered” (People V. Hall, 2014). The report from the second psychiatrist, who’s purpose was to determine sanity at the time of the offense, was stamped RECEIVED JUNE 11th, 2008. Tiffany entered her plea on June 9th. Another report from a different psychiatrist was received earlier and deemed that Tiffany was mentally fit to stand trial but did not assess her sanity at the time of the offense.

The second report said Tiffany “has a prominent mental health history that began when she was a young child and includes several psychiatric hospitalizations” (People V. Hall, 2014). Further supporting her appeal, records from psychiatric evaluations after her plea and incarceration led to diagnoses of psychotic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorder, bipolar disorder, and mild mental retardation. For these reasons, Tiffany’s denial of her post-conviction relief was reversed allowing her to proceed legally.

The petition had to be revised several times. New attorneys for Hall worked throughout 2015 and 2016 to amend the petition and were given several extensions. Hall again requested a new attorney, but the request was denied. Eventually, the petition was dismissed as it did not meet requirements for relief. Tiffany appealed this decision as well, claiming her attorney failed to appropriately amend the petition to meet requirements. In 2020, Tiffany won her appeal on the dismissal and is given another opportunity to file a petition for relief.

While it is likely that Tiffany’s case will be tied up in the appeals process for years to come, at least Jimella’s family can rest easy knowing she is behind bars. Tiffany is currently housed at Logan Correctional Center where she is serving a life sentence. Jimella’s baby was exhumated from the grave Tiffany gave her and reburied with her mother and three siblings in Millstadt, Illinois.




References

FindAGrave (2021) Jimella R. Tunstall; Retrieved at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15868781/jimella-r-tunstall

IDOC (2021) Hall, Tiffany; Retrieved at: Offenders (illinois.gov)

Pistor, N. (2008) Woman gets life for killing five; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 10 June 2008; Pg B001

Holland, S. (2020) Woman who killed friend and her children entitled to new relief hearing, panel says; Madison-St. Clair Record

People V. Tiffany Hall (2014) Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County Nos 06-CF-1612 & 07-CF-415

Associated Press (2008) Downstate woman to serve life term for grisly killings; Chicago Tribune; 10 June 2008

Sultan A. & Shaw, M. (2006) Suspect’s baby was abused; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 26 Sept 2006; pg A001

Sultan, A., Hollinshed, D., &Thorsen, L. (2006) For close families, shock and disbelief; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 23 Sep 2006; pg A009

Rozas, A. (2006) East St. Louis suspect in court; Chicgao Tribune; 26 Sept 2006; Page 1-7

Garber, S., Sultan, A., & Kohler, J. (2006) Suspect in killing was victim’s dear friend; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 23 Sept 2006; Page A008

Suhr, J. (2006) Suspect: Dead kids in washer and dryer; The Pantagraph; 25 Sep 2006; Page 1

Moore, D. (2007) Woman gets new lawyers in death penalty case; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 2 Feb 2007; P C003

People V. Tiffany Hall (2020) Appeal from The Circuit Court of St. Clair County Nos 06-CF-1612 & 07-CF-415

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