In the early 1990s, 3-year-old Megan Lee Ann Pratt was beaten to death, authorities say. Her parents were arrested this week.
By DUANE BOURNE
Published August 21, 2003
Megan Pratt is shown in this 1989 photo provided by the Hernando Sheriff's Office.
Jesse Schober was arrested Monday in Elgin, S.C. He and his ex-wife are charged with first-degree murder.
Megan's mom, Vicki Schober, was taken into custody Wednesday in Nekoosa, Wis.
BROOKSVILLE - Around 1990 or 1991, investigators say, Jesse Schober beat his stepdaughter to death. Then he burned and buried the body. For 10 years, the disappearance of 3-year-old Megan Lee Ann Pratt went unnoticed.
But a woman who thought she was Megan's paternal grandmother grew suspicious. She had been told the girl had died in a car accident in Hernando County, but there were no records of her death. Another woman came forward and said Jesse Schober had admitted killing the girl.
Investigators heard conflicting statements from Schober and his wife, Vicki Anne Schober, about how and when Megan died. But no body was found, and no charges were filed.
The couple remained free. Until now.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday it has arrested Schober and his now ex-wife, Vicki Schober, both 35, on first-degree murder charges.
Jesse Schober was arrested Monday in Elgin, S.C., and his ex-wife was taken into custody Wednesday in Nekoosa, Wis., Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent said at a news conference.
Both are being held without bail in South Carolina and Wisconsin pending extradition hearings, State Attorney Brad King said. Authorities said the two were arrested after detectives re-interviewed them.
The two had given contradictory statements about what happened to Megan, King said. Both had alternately taken responsibility for her death, then blamed each other.
"They took responsibility for it and at the same time, put that responsibility on the other party. So those things had to be straightened out," King said.
This week, the Schobers gave investigators a "fuller, more detailed account" of what happened to Megan before her death - namely the abuse she suffered - and how she died, King said. He declined to discuss their statements in detail.
Sheriff Nugent said the case was complicated by a lack of physical evidence. "We never were able to recover a body," he said.
The case was brought to light in 2002 when Sarah Mowery began looking into Megan's death. She found no death certificate, no cemetery plot, nothing about Megan being killed in a traffic accident.
Then Mowery received information that changed curiosity to fear: Jesse Schober's then girlfriend, Patricia Russell, told her that Schober had admitted beating Megan to death and burying her.
Mowery contacted sheriff's officials and, in January 2002, nearly 11 years after Megan had mysteriously disappeared, they began a search for Megan's remains.
According to sheriff's reports, in early 2002 Jesse Schober told detectives that Vicki had caused Megan's death by shoving her head into the bathtub. Vicki, on the other hand, said that on that same night she had gone into the bedroom to find Jesse slapping Megan.
A day later, investigators say, Jesse placed Megan's body into a garbage bag and then into a sleeping bag. Several days later, the body was set afire and buried in woods.
During the investigation, Jesse Schober led police to thick woods near his home west of Brooksville, but Megan's body was never found.
In 1991, the same year Megan was believed to have died, the Schobers were evicted from their Hernando County mobile home. They began a transient lifestyle, moving into several homes before settling in South Carolina in 1995.
The couple eventually divorced.
Nugent said he recently received e-mail correspondence from a woman in Wisconsin saying that she feared for the safety of Vicki's children - that she should not have children.
"When you see Megan and see a child that had no power to defend herself, that's unfortunate," said Nugent, glancing at a portrait of the girl. "It's tragic that someone would throw away something like that."