Police and neighbors in Wilmington, Illinois, were beyond disturbed when a father called 911 to report his three-year-old daughter missing. Wilmington was a small town in northern Illinois where it wasn’t uncommon to leave your doors unlocked. In fact, Kevin and Melissa Fox had a back door that could not be locked, it was broken. That all changed in June of 2004 when Kevin reported three-year-old Riley Fox missing. This story is A Parent’s Worst Nightmare: The Murder of Riley Fox.
Kevin Fox met his wife Melissa in high school. They attended the prom together and were high school sweethearts. As young adults, the couple welcomed their first child, a son named Tyler. They married shortly after Tyler was born. They welcomed their daughter Riley on March 31st, 2001. Riley was a beautiful little girl with lots of energy. Her family, especially her father, adored her. She was very much a daddy’s girl.
In the spring of 2004, when Riley was three years old, she served as a flower girl at her uncle’s wedding. Friends and family will never forget her running up the aisle to her father’s arms. The Fox family took a family photo that day, which would be the last they would take as a family.
Kevin and his brother-in-law went to a concert on Saturday, June 5th, 2004. Melissa was in Chicago with friends for a Breast Cancer Walk. Kevin planned to meet Melissa in Chicago on Sunday, the second day of the race, with the children. They made signs to hold up for her when she crossed the finish line. When Kevin got back to town, he insisted on picking his children up from their grandparents’ home and taking them home. It was very late, so Kevin laid Riley and Tyler on the couch for the night.
The next morning, Kevin woke up to his son Tyler, age seven, standing by his bed. Tyler told Kevin he couldn’t find Riley. Kevin searched the house and found no sight of the three-year-old. Kevin called 911 and reported Riley missing. Melissa called and checked in on Kevin and the kids but knew instantly that something was wrong. Kevin said, “Riley’s gone” (ABC 20/20). She rushed back to Wilmington to help in the search for her daughter.
On Sunday, June 6th, a large search party spread out across the area to look for Riley. Meanwhile, police looked for clues at the Fox home. There were no signs of forced entry, nothing missing, but they did note the broken lock on the back door. Kevin explained that it had been lost for quite some time. Before the day was over, a searcher would find the body of three-year-old Riley Fox faced down in a creek in the nearby Forsythe Woods. Riley was pronounced dead at the scene.
On the same day and the same block as the family’s home, police responded to a burglary. The burglary took place at the house directly across the street from the Fox home. A red Beretta was also reported to be driving around the neighborhood early Sunday morning. However, police told the media that there was no connection between the murder of Riley Fox and the burglaries or suspicious vehicles.
At the scene of the crime, police found two white sneakers in the creek. They matched footprints found on the bank of the creek. Inside the tongue of the shoe, they noted the letters “EBY” written with a marker. The shoes were put in evidence, but it was not evident if they were related to the crime according to authorities.
The autopsy found that Riley Fox died of drowning and was alive when she went into that creek. She had duct tape over her mouth and was bound. She had no chance to fight back. The little girl had non-life-threatening head wounds and had been sexually assaulted. DNA and other forensic evidence were collected and sent to the FBI crime lab at Quantico.
Meanwhile, police were suspicious of Kevin Fox. They asked family and friends if Kevin could have been involved, but all the individuals who knew Kevin denied that possibility. The investigators decided to interview Tyler Fox, who was seven years old. He was sleeping in the same room as Riley and was the first person to notice she was gone. This interview was grossly mishandled.
The interview of Tyler Fox took place at the Child Advocacy Center by a specialist in interviewing children. She asked him if his father took Riley out of the house more than once. In fact, she asked Tyler 168 times if his father had taken Riley out of the house. Tyler became upset and started crying hysterically, but the interviewer kept pushing for Tyler to implicate his father. Even after asking the little boy 168 times, Tyler insisted his father did not take Riley out of the house.
Months went by and the investigation drug on. Police found a grainy surveillance tape at a local convenience store that showed a car similar to Kevin Fox’s leaving the area toward Forsythe Woods early in the morning. That September they called Kevin and Melissa into the police station to tell them about new developments. However, upon arrival, the two are separated into different rooms. The room Kevin was brought to was designed to facilitate recording, but the cameras were turned off during the interrogation.
According to Kevin Fox, the authorities began to accuse him of sexually assaulting and murdering his daughter. He adamantly denied the allegations over and over. He said that the police threatened him and berated him. Police gave him a polygraph test, which Kevin agreed to. According to police, Kevin failed his polygraph. They continued to yell at him and insist that he killed Riley. They even bring Melissa in and tell her that Kevin killed Riley. Melissa did not believe this and stood up for Kevin, at which time the two were again separated. They berated Melissa for not turning against her husband.
After fourteen hours of interrogation, police suggest that maybe it was an accident. Kevin says he felt broken down mentally, physically, and emotionally. He felt like there was no way out. He gave a confession that he had accidentally hit Riley in the head with the bathroom doorknob and panicked, taking her to the creek. Police announced that Kevin Fox had confessed and was being charged with first-degree murder. Kevin immediately recanted the confession and insisted that police had coerced the confession.
Will County States Attorney, Jeff Tomczak, was up for re-election and going against a fierce opponent: James Glasgow. Many people believed that he needed a high-profile win to secure his election win. Despite announcing the arrest of Kevin Fox just weeks before the election, James Glasgow defeated Tomczak.
Meanwhile, Kevin Fox was in jail awaiting trial. The state was seeking the death penalty. Kevin was concerned about survival, as other inmates knew he was in jail awaiting adjudication on child sexual abuse and murder charges. Kevin felt helpless, but his family had secured a high-profile attorney. Kathleen Zellner, who now represents Steven Avery, became Kevin Fox’s attorney. Zellner is known for helping clients who are wrongfully convicted be exonerated.
Zellner learned that the DNA from Riley’s rape kit was sent to the FBI but had never been tested. The FBI told the new State’s Attorney, James Glasgow, that Will County investigators told the FBI to stop testing the samples after Kevin Fox was arrested. The DNA testing revealed that Kevin Fox was not responsible for the sexual assault and murder of his daughter. Exonerated, Kevin Fox left jail with the charges against him dropped. Melissa never stopped supporting Kevin or believing in his innocence.
When investigating the coerced confession, Zellner learned that Kevin had been called a “baby killer”, had been threatened with rape in prison, and promised leniency if he confessed to an accidental death theory. “Innocent suspects confess because they are terrified and confused and exhausted; because they are deceived or tricked; because they don’t understand what they are doing; because they feel hopeless and helpless and isolated” (Gross & Possley, 2016). Kevin Fox told ABC 20/20 that he felt hopeless and that a confession was his only way out.
Kevin and Melissa Fox filed a federal lawsuit against Will County. Kevin and Melissa explained that they both received harsh judgment and ridicule in their community, often called baby killers, despite Kevin being exonerated. Kathleen Zellner, Fox’s attorney, alleged that police focused on Kevin Fox and ignored evidence that may have linked the actual killer including the shoes, reports of a red Beretta, and the burglaries. The Fox’s won their suit and received 8.5 million dollars (Wikipedia).
With Kevin Fox exonerated, the investigation into Riley’s abduction, assault, and murder was reopened. In 2009, five years after the murder, the FBI took over the case. The FBI investigators received a tip from an anonymous woman. She was dating a man who was out of prison on parole and living in Wilmington in June of 2004. She said that her boyfriend acted strangely about the murder and made her feel uneasy. She said he was now in prison again after raping a relative. The man was identified as Scott Eby.
Scott Eby was born on July 22nd, 1971. Scott had a troubled childhood and was abused. A woman who knew Scott as a child said he would often have welts and bruising on his back and buttocks (Schorsch & Dardick). He got in trouble as a youth for stealing things from home and school. By the time he was seventeen years old, Scott Eby was sent to prison. His first conviction was for forgery in 1988. He was then sent to prison in 1992 for burglary. He returned to prison again in 2000 for another burglary.
Scott spent the majority of his adult life in prison. In the brief periods between incarcerations, he married a woman. Her family stated that Scott abused her physically and she eventually divorced Scott. “I heard her screaming one night all the way down the road. She was trying to climb in the window, and he was hitting her and pulling her hair and stuff” Eby’s former sister-in-law said (Schorsch & Dardick). Scott was out on parole in 2004 and living with his mother in Wilmington, approximately one mile from the home of Riley Fox.
In 2005, Scott was convicted of raping a family member while her husband slept in the next room. He was in prison in Lawrence County, Illinois. The FBI learned Scott Eby had tried to commit suicide many times, including on the day of Riley’s disappearance. Police had responded to Scott Eby’s home that day but didn’t connect the two incidents. The FBI went to talk to Scott Eby in prison, but he adamantly denied knowing anything about the murder of Riley Fox.
After the FBI agents left the prison, Scott Eby called his mother and told her she had to come to see him one last time and that he had “done something really really bad” (ABC 20/20). He later confessed to his mother that he killed Riley Fox. He wrote a suicide note in which he confessed to the murder that night and attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell. Scott survived the incident and gave a videotaped confession to FBI agents.
Scott told the FBI that he had been under the influence of cocaine and alcohol and decided to burglarize some local homes. He entered the home across the street from the Fox home, connecting the burglary to the murder. He also told the FBI he was driving his mother’s red Beretta, the car spotted in the area and reported to police as suspicious. He said he found the Fox home and realized the back door was not locked. He entered the home looking to steal something.
When he entered the living room, he saw Riley and Tyler lying on the couch. He decided he was going to abduct Riley. He said that “I fixated on that little girl” (ABC 20/20). He backed his vehicle up to the back of the Fox home, re-entered the house, and abducted Riley. He said he put his hand over her mouth and then put her in his car. He drove out to Forsythe Woods and raped Riley in the bathroom. The bathroom had never been processed by police despite being close by where her body was found.
Scott told the FBI that his bandana had slid off his face and Riley had seen him. He said he panicked and decided that he had to kill her. He bound her, duct-taped her mouth, and put her in the creek to die. Riley drowned in that creek. Adding even more disgusting detail, Scott shared that Riley cried out for her daddy throughout the attack. The father who was accused of this heinous crime was not the monster, but the protector Riley cried for the night she died.
The Will County detectives missed so many clues in this case. The shoes found in the creek had “EBY” written inside the tongue and matched the shoe prints on the bank. Scott Eby’s last name is spelled E-B-Y. Scott admitted they were his shoes. He said he took them off and threw them in the creek to avoid connection to the footprints. The red beretta and burglaries were reported to police the day Riley went missing but were brushed off as not being connected to the crime. Scott attempted to kill himself that same day, and police responded to his home. He asked the cops about Riley Fox. If they had run his name through the system, they would have known his criminal history and may have been able to catch him sooner. It seems the Will County police were focused on Kevin as a suspect and ignored clues that would have led to the actual killer.
Scott Eby pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and one count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child on November 10th, 2010. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. As a condition of his plea, Eby forfeited his right to appeal his sentence. Scott Eby will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Melissa and Kevin went on to have another daughter together, but their marriage did not last. They are both now remarried with more children. Riley would now be twenty-one years old as the 18th anniversary of her death approaches. She had so much life ahead of her until a monster stole that from her and her parents. This story truly is every parent’s worst nightmare.
ABC 20/20 (2021) 20/20: The Accused. ABC 20/20, Season 43 Episode 24. Available on Hulu
Smith, J., Diaz, J., Rivas, A., & Yang, A. (2021). How FBI’s hunt for Riley Fox’s killer revealed major mistakes by local detectives. ABC News. How FBI's hunt for Riley Fox's killer revealed major mistakes by local detectives - ABC News (go.com)
IDOC (2022) Eby, Scott N91067. Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)
Wikipedia (n.d.) Murder of Riley Fox. Murder of Riley Fox - Wikipedia
Schorsch, K. & Dardick, H. (2010) Trouble followed Riley Fox suspect. Chicago Tribune. 13 Jun 2010