A North Carolina couple accused of killing their baby and burying its remains in the backyard are cousins, according to a family member.
Dustin James VanDyke, 28, and Gracie Kaylene Riddle, 18, allegedly “panicked” when they realized she was pregnant, and the child was delivered alive, local NBC affiliate WRAL reported.
VanDyke and Riddle are now charged with first-degree murder, jail records show.
The precise age and gender of the child have not been publicly released, but Erwin Chief of Police Jonathan Johnson said detectives believe they were killed in November 2021. Authorities said they are still working to determine if the baby was alive or dead when it was buried.
Police began looking into the two last Friday, after a tipster who knew the couple told investigators that VanDyke and Riddle had failed to report the death of their newborn last year. Cops got a warrant to search the property, and were led to the decomposed body by a cadaver dog, Johnson said. VanDyke and Riddle were arrested the next day.
“Where the child was buried, there was a lawn mower that sat there for a long time,” one of VanDyke and Riddle’s neighbors told ABC11. “And it was a nice lawn mower, but it never moved. We just figured that something was wrong with it. And it was just sitting there. Now the lawn mower moved in the last month, so now this child is uncovered.”
Additional charges are likely, according to cops.
“I think this person just finally got to the point to where their conscience got to them and they decided they needed to talk about it and tell someone and that’s how we initially got the report,” Johnson told WRAL.
VanDyke and Riddle appeared in court on Monday, where a family member refused to answer questions posed by a reporter with CBS17. They remain detained without bond at the Harnett County Jail and are due back in court on Sept. 6.
Addressing the media, also on Monday, Johnson said he was “not willing” to confirm accounts of a familial relationship between VanDyke and Riddle. However, a relative later confirmed to WRAL that the two are in fact cousins.
The death did not appear to be accidental, and autopsy results are pending, according to Johnson, who described the scene as “pretty gruesome.”
“This is one that’s going to stick with us for a while,” he said, noting that “when it’s a child or an infant it just makes it that much worse.”
Little information about either VanDyke or Riddle has been made publicly available. VanDyke’s social media footprint is littered with images of pickup trucks, Confederate flags, and dark aphorisms such as, “Never trust the living.” On Instagram, VanDyke describes himself as a “Redneck for life.”
In a foreboding 2014 Facebook post reviewed by The Daily Beast, VanDyke shared a picture of a red-and-white sign reading, “NO TRESPASSING. WE’RE TIRED OF HIDING THE BODIES.”