The case of two-and-a-half-year-old Bella Bond's tragic death makes for a glimpse into a dark world of addiction, madness, demonology, and neglect.
Defendants Michael McCarthy and Rachelle Bond. Photos courtesy Suffolk District Attorney's Office
Deer Island, a barren strip of land in Boston Harbor, is so named for the animals that once swam there to escape wolves. Human inhabitants have been chased to its shores too, though few would call it refuge. It's where some of the first Massachusetts colonists sent Native Americans to freeze and starve, where sick Irish immigrants were quarantined, and the site of a prison where doctors once conducted medical experiments on inmates.
The most recent chapter of the island's heartbreaking history began last June, when a dead toddler washed up on the beach. The big-eyed, brown-haired girl was found in a plastic garbage bag, wearing only her leggings. For three months, the mystery of the dead child haunted police. Despite a widespread media campaign, no one seemed to know who she was, so they called her "Baby Doe."
Now we know the child was Bella Bond, two and a half years old at the time of her death. Her mother's boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, is being charged with her murder, pleading not guilty to the first-degree charge last week at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. The case makes for a glimpse into a dark world of addiction, madness, demonology, and neglect.
Unfortunately, the case largely rests on the word of Bella's allegedly drug-addled mother, Rachelle Bond. Given the information we have to work with, it's hard to say if we'll ever know for certain why the child wound up dead on Deer Island.
The story Bond initially told police was that McCarthy was supposed to put the child to bed, but instead she found him standing over and hitting the toddler in the abdomen. Bella apparently stopped breathing, her head gray and swollen. When he noticed the child was dead, McCarthy allegedly announced she was "possessed by demons" and "it was her time to die."
McCarthy then stored the child in a refrigerator, according to Bond.
Bond, meanwhile, is charged with collecting public assistance money after Bella's death and being an accessory to murder after the fact. She told police officers she went with McCarthy to South Boston to help dump the child in the sea, but only because he threatened to kill her if she went to the cops, according to court documents. She also claims McCarthy shot heroin in her neck to keep her sedated. This is not the first time Bond has been in trouble with the law—she has a lengthy police record dating back to the late 90s that includes drug charges and alleged prostitution.
According to her biological father, Joseph Amoroso, Bella was conceived in a tent at Occupy Boston. Upon learning about Bond's history as a prostitute, Amoroso reportedly left her and moved to Florida, never meeting the child in person.
But Amoroso was with Bond at the time of her arrest, according to court documents. He'd returned to Boston and in recent weeks had been asking to see the child. At first, after the body was identified, Amoroso seemed to be an advocate for the mother of his child, blaming McCarthy squarely for the incident. But as reports surfaced of the abuse Bella allegedly endured when she was alive, his sentiment appears to have changed, with Amoroso recently calling them both "monsters." Then, last month, the case took a bizarre turn when Amoroso was arrested for allegedly shoplifting at Home Depot while carrying hypodermic needles.
Before Bella was identified, computer-generated images of "Baby Doe" hung over highways, fliers, newspapers in the Boston area, and went viral online. Police officers taped her image to their dashboards, and law enforcement searched all over the country for clues, not knowing if the killers might have traveled to dispose of her body. When people asked about Bella, according to court documents, Bond replied that she had been seized by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). It made sense—she'd had two children taken by DCF before, and in fact concern for Bella's well-being had been brought to the DCF's attention twice before her death. The social worker assigned to her case, it turned out, cut and pasted information on Bond from 2006 into a September 2013 report, failing to call attention to factors that may have impacted Bella's safety. As a result, the case didn't receive the attention it deserved.
It wasn't until a friend named Michael Sprinsky began to inquire about Bella's whereabouts that Bond broke down, according to court documents. "He killed my daughter," she apparently told Sprinsky. Sprinsky had seen both Bond and McCarthy abuse the child before, and told police they called her a "demon," frequently locking her in the closet. McCarthy's interest in demonology was covered extensively in a profile by the Boston Globe. "He never shut up about demons," said his old roommate Robert McMahon.
When McCarthy showed up in court shortly after his arrest last September, it seemed as if he barely knew where he was. But it appears he's cleaned up behind bars, where he's also receiving treatment for drug addiction. In court last week, his long, greasy blond hair was cut short and his expression less vacant than in the past. His lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, maintains his client is innocent, and that he believed his girlfriend's story that Bella had been taken by the Department of Children and Families.
The case against McCarthy is "extraordinarily weak," Shapiro told the court. The state's case, he argued, is "based entirely upon Ms. Bond's self-serving statement that she clearly concocted to escape her own guilt in the matter. She lied about it for months to everybody that she talked to and when she finally realized that she could no longer lie about it she came up with a story that pointed the finger at Mr. McCarthy. He believed that she was in DCF custody, period."
The state, represented by Assistant District Attorney David Deakin, introduced a text McCarthy apparently sent when Bond was facing eviction. "Whatever you do, don't tell them you have a daughter ... We don't want DSS getting involved," he wrote, referring to the Department of Social Services, another name for the Department of Children and Families. But Shapiro said the text does not indicate guilt or knowledge of Bella's death. McCarthy was only afraid of losing housing—he wasn't trying to cover up a murder, the lawyer argued, because he thought Bella was still alive. That McCarthy appeared to be afraid of DCF interfering with Bond's housing rather than the police coming to arrest him for murder might ultimately work in his favor.
Aside from Bond's word, there does not seem to be other evidence linking him to Bella's death. Autopsy reports have not indicated a cause of death, according to Shapiro. And veteran Boston defense attorney Martin Weinberg says without any evidence other than Bond, the state may have a tough time securing a guilty verdict.
"Any time a case is based on the uncorroborated allegations with a person with a substantial motive to shift blame and accuse another is a case that's fraught with peril," he told VICE.
The problem for the defense, according to Weinberg, is that the jurors—and certainly the public—may hate McCarthy anyway. "It's the ultimate challenge for the defense lawyer to take a case on with this kind of toxic atmosphere," he added.
With a weak case against McCarthy, and no one else facing murder charges, there's a real worry Bella won't ever get the justice she deserves.
Follow Susan Zalkind on Twitter.