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Affidavit: Aurora police found charred remains as they searched for missing girl

Jun 13, 2023Jun 13, 2023

AURORA, Colo. — Investigators found charred human remains inside a bag in a utility closet at an Aurora apartment complex as they searched for a missing 5-year-old girl last week, according to an affidavit.

Alexus Tanielle Nelson, 27, was arrested on charges of attempting to influence a public servant on May 30. After a child's remains were found in a closet at her Aurora apartment late on May 31, new charges were added, including child abuse resulting in death, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence, according to the Aurora Police Department (APD).

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During a press conference on June 1, APD Interim Chief Art Acevedo said Nelson will likely face a murder charge in the near future as well, adding that the department is "highly confident" the remains belong to Nelson's daughter, 5-year-old Maha Li Hobbs. The child was reported missing on May 30 from the Aurora area and was said to likely be with Nelson, who is her primary caretaker. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered missing alert for Maha around 1:30 p.m. on May 31 and it was deactivated around noon on June 1.

As of Monday morning, the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office has not identified the remains as Maha.

Nelson's arrest affidavit in connection with the charge of attempting to influence a public servant detailed that after her mother — the missing child's grandmother — called police to request a welfare check on the 5-year-old, Nelson told police she had given the child up for adoption and she did not want the grandmother to know where the child was. However, police could not connect Nelson or Maha to the agency that she claimed to have used for the adoption.

When she consented to allowing investigators to look through her phone, they did not find any emails to an adoption agency and did not have any photos of the missing child, the affidavit reads. It reads that Nelson said she worked with a woman named "Janet Dunn" to facilitate the adoption to an unknown couple, but Nelson couldn't provide the name of the agency and said she had either deleted or thrown away all the paperwork, according to the affidavit.

No Colorado courts — or the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services — had any record on file of an adoption involving Maha, according to the document.

Authorities also learned from a maintenance worker for Nelson's apartment complex that he had entered her apartment in early May for some inspection work. He noticed the unit's second bedroom was locked and a piece of rope connected the door to the bathroom door directly across the hall, as if to keep someone locked in the bedroom, the affidavit reads. When he cut the string, he found the door was locked and he then heard Nelson yelling at him through a baby monitor to leave, according to an affidavit.

While talking with officers on May 30, Nelson consented for them to search her apartment for evidence. They found an empty child's room with a dirty carpet, according to the affidavit.

With a search warrant, they looked through Nelson's cell phone and found two Google searches in her history — one for "Can you overdose from melatonin?" and "Can you overdose from Xanax?" according to a supplementary affidavit for her three newer charges. Both Google searches were from May 2. They also found a video that appeared to be the missing child saying goodbye to family.

Because Nelson had allegedly made misleading and false statements to the officers, she was arrested on a charge of attempting to influence a public servant around 9 p.m. May 30, according to the arrest affidavit.

Meanwhile, the police department's investigation into the missing girl continued.

Between May 30 and 31, investigators spoke with several members of Nelson's family.

The child's father said the last time he saw his daughter was about two and a half years ago. He had only seen her over FaceTime in the six months afterward, and said Nelson had cut off all contact with him two years ago, according to the affidavit.

When talking with two of Nelson's family members, investigators learned they would go long stretches without speaking with Nelson and they both initiated almost all the conversations with her. They told authorities that Nelson had FaceTimed them with Maha on May 3, but both calls were brief, according to the affidavit. These calls happened one day after the Google searches about overdosing on melatonin and Xanax.

One of the family members said during the call, Nelson seemed to be telling the child to "tell him you love him... tell him bye," according to the affidavit. The other family member said she recalled growing concerned when Nelson began talking about "rehoming" the child. When she asked Nelson about this, Nelson said she had done a "closed adoption," according to the affidavit.

During an interview with Nelson's mother, who had requested the welfare checks, investigators learned that she seemed to have the most contact with Nelson, and texted her a few times each week. She also said that Nelson rarely answered her FaceTime calls, which was a change from last year, when they spoke more frequently, according to the affidavit. Like other family members, the woman told investigators she last saw the child in a video message sent on May 3. In it, Nelson told her daughter to say "hi and goodbye," the document reads.

On May 25, Nelson sent her mother a text saying "My rent has gone up again so rehoming and I’ve been looking at fostering," and when her mother asked for clarification if that referred to her daughter or a pet — the latter of which she did not have — Nelson did not reply, the affidavit reads.

Nelson's mother also provided some background on the day Maha was born. She recalled receiving a text that day from Nelson, who she didn't know was pregnant, with a photo of the baby. In the text, Nelson said, "You would have known about her grand entrance sooner but my original plan was to have her adopted by a family more suitable to provide for her without struggling," according to the affidavit.

Around 1:30 p.m. May 31, detectives obtained a search warrant for Nelson's apartment in hopes of gathering evidence that would lead to the missing child and they began to look in the unit around 6 p.m. Detectives with APD's Crimes Against Children Unit also responded to help in this search.

Shortly after they entered the apartment, a detective opened a utility closet on the patio of the apartment and recognized the odor as decomposing flesh, according to the affidavit. The closet was filled with children's items and a plastic bag inside a large shopping bag.

Detectives found charred human remains inside the bags. They notified the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office, and investigators from that office arrived around 7 p.m. Those investigators found bones in the bag and what appeared to be a rib cage. The remains appeared consistent with a child, the affidavit reads.

The apartment had a fireplace that seemed to have been used recently and detectives found bone fragments, including from a rib or shoulder blade, in the ashes, according to the document.

On the morning of June 1, the coroner's office conducted an autopsy. Information from that initial examination has not been released.

In the wake of May 31's discovery, new charges were added against Nelson on June 1, including child abuse resulting in death, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence, police said. A supplementary affidavit was filed in connection with these new charges. Nelson's bond was set at $100,000 cash or surety during her court appearance June 1 morning.

While the deceased child has not yet been identified by the coroner's office and the cause and manner of death remain under investigation, the affidavit says that the alleged crimes occurred between May 3 and 31. It also reads: "On 05/31/23, during a search warrant service of Alexus’ residence, the charred remains of her daughter were found hidden in a closet next to (redacted) toys. Based on the state of the remains, as well as fragments found in the fireplace, it is apparent that Alexus attempted to destroy (redacted) remains by burning them. It is clear that Alexus placed (redacted) in a situation that resulted in her death. She then attempted to hinder the resulting investigation by lying about an adoption and burning the remains."

Nelson's return filing of charges is scheduled for Tuesday morning. She will appear in court to hear the formal charges against her.