Inside Timothy Wiltsey's Disappearance And Murder

It has been over 30 years since 5-year-old Timothy Wiltsey was abducted from his New Jersey home and murdered. His mother claimed that he had gone missing after attending a carnival, and 11 months later his body was recovered near a business park near Edison, New Jersey, which, according to NJ, just so happened to be where Wiltsey's mother, Michelle Lodzinski, had once worked. That piece of the puzzle, coupled with her seemingly ever-changing account of what transpired before her son went missing, led to suspicions focusing on her.

In 2016, 25 years after Timothy went missing and his body was discovered, Lodzinski was convicted of her son's death and sentenced to 30 years in prison. However, that wasn't the end of the story, because in late 2021, after multiple appeals and even the need for a tie-breaker, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the decision, saying there was insufficient evidence to convict her (via New York Post).

Timothy Wiltsey allegedly went missing from a carnival

It's a scene that's easy to picture. A warm Saturday night on Memorial Day weekend, with the sights, sounds, and smells of a carnival midway providing a case of sensory overload. This was what it was like on May 25, 1991, when Michelle Lodzinski, a single mother at the time, took her son to a carnival in John F. Kennedy Park in Sayreville, New Jersey. Lodzinski alleged early on that after going on a handful of rides the then 23-year-old left her son alone for a few minutes while she went to get a soda. "He doesn't like to wait on lines," she later told The New York Times as her reasoning for leaving Timothy alone.

Lodzinski returned to where she had left her son, but he was gone. She started searching the area and about 15 minutes later ran into her niece, who reported to police officers working the carnival that the 5-year-old had gone missing. Soon, hundreds of police and volunteers combed through the park along with helicopters and SCUBA divers who searched some of the park's ponds, but they found nothing.

"We did a search of the whole park. We are satisfied that he's not in the park and there is nothing further we can get there at this time," Sayreville Police Sgt. Timothy Brennan said at the time, per NJ.

The investigation continues and the story changes

According to The New York Times, Michelle Lodzinski (above) and TImothy's father, George Wiltsey, were estranged from each other when their son disappeared, and Wiltsey was living in Iowa. Authorities were quick to interview Wiltsey and confirmed that he was in Iowa at the time of the carnival, that he hadn't seen his son in six months, and had no interest in getting custody of him. He was quickly crossed off as a suspect.

On June 5, 1991, Lodzinski showed her strength in front of the media. ”Everyone is waiting to see a grieving mother on TV break down, crying, hysterical because the public they thrive on that stuff. But I'm not going to do it,” she said, per NJ. However, just two days later, her story of what happened that night at the carnival started to change. Lodzinski claimed that she had left Timothy with a woman she knew from when she worked as a bank teller, but only knew the woman as Ellen. She said Ellen had a young girl with her as well as two men. She said that when she returned from getting the soda, Ellen, the girl, the two men, and Timothy were all gone.

About a week later, during an interview with investigators, she changed her story again, saying one of the men with Ellen had held her at knifepoint and threatened to hurt Timothy. Lodzinski eventually had to leave the interview to go to the hospital where she sought treatment for hyperventilation.

Timothy Wiltsey's body is discovered and Lodzinksi goes missing

The first piece of evidence was found several months after Timothy disappeared. On October 26, a muddy children's Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles shoe was discovered near an office complex in Edison, New Jersey. The shoe was the correct size and fit the description of the ones Timothy Wiltsey had reportedly been wearing before he vanished.

Another discovery wasn't made until the next year, when in April of 1992 police discovered a skull near where the shoe had been found, and later confirmed that it belonged to Timothy Wiltsey. The remains didn't offer any clues as to the manner of his death or who may have killed him, but the case was treated as a homicide.

According to NJ, in 1994, the police were called after Michelle Lodzinksi's car was discovered parked at an apartment complex with the engine running, but she was nowhere to be found. The next day, she was located in Detroit and claimed to have been kidnapped. Police believed that what had really happened was that she had fled knowing she was likely to be subpoenaed in relation to a case against a friend of hers who worked for the Union County Police Department.

Years later, there was a break in the case

The Timothy Wiltsey case ran cold. Lodzinski eventually moved out of state and settled in Florida. However, in 2014 there was a major break in the case (via The New York Times). Investigators had reopened the case a few years earlier and had spoken to Lodzinski's niece, who was at the carnival the night Timothy disappeared. They showed her a piece of a blanket found near Timothy's remains, and she was able to identify it as one that belonged to Lodzinski. Lodzinski, who by this point had two sons, was arrested and charged with the murder of Timothy Wiltsey.

The blanket was a key piece of evidence in her trial, and two other witnesses would also say that they recalled the blanket belonging to her. However, her defense team argued that aside from people recognizing the blanket, there was no forensic evidence linking her to the crime. Apparently, it was not enough to sway the jury, and Lodzinski was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The New Jersey Supreme Court makes its ruling

Lodzinski and her legal team filed an appeal, but her initial appeal was denied in 2019, according to NJ. However, in 2020 the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to hear her case. In front of the Supreme Court, her defense argued that there wasn't any evidence aside from the blanket that linked her to the murder and that the original trial judge should have declared a mistrial. The Supreme Court wound up with a 3-3 split decision after the Chief Justice chose to recuse himself from the case. This upheld the ruling of the judges on her original appeal.

Again, her legal team went to the Supreme Court seeking a tie-breaker decision, a request they were granted. Finally, in December 2021, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that there was not enough evidence for a conviction, and the charges against Lodzinski were dropped. "After reviewing the entirety of the evidence and after giving the state the benefit of all its favorable testimony and all the favorable inferences drawn from that testimony, no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Lodzinski purposefully or knowingly caused Timothy's death," the court stated (via New York Post). After the Supreme Court's ruling Lodzinski (above, after her release) cannot be tried again for the crime.