EDITOR'S NOTE: The details of this case are graphic and may be upsetting for some readers.
A mother's boyfriend tortured a 3-year-old boy to death, hanging him upside down by his feet, striking him with a whip, taping him to a chair and beating him so badly that when he finally wound up in the emergency room nurses “wept,” Chester County prosecutors say.
“Let me tell you about an American horror story,” said Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan while announcing charges in the case. “Little Scotty McMillan is dead.”
Scotty’s own mother, Jillian Tait, and her boyfriend Gary Fellenbaum stand accused in Scotty’s murder inside the West Caln Township trailer home the couple shared with Fellenbaum’s estranged wife, Amber Fellenbaum.
“Over a three-day period… he was systematically tortured and beaten to death,” said Hogan. “He was punched in the face and in the stomach, he was scourged with a homemade whip, he was lashed with a metal rod, he was tied to a chair and beaten, he was tied upside down by his feet and beaten, his head was smashed through a wall and at the end of that he had bruises on top of bruises all over his body.”
Police only learned of the beatings after Amber Fellenbaum called 911 on Tuesday night to report an unresponsive child in the Hope Lane home, according to investigators.
It was too late for Scotty and he died before arriving at the hospital, according to investigators.
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“When his body went into the emergency room our ER nurses — who see a lot of terrible things — when they saw his body, they wept,” said Hogan.
Hogan and investigators showed off photos of some of the weapons they allege Fellenbaum, 23, used on Scotty while Tait, 31, admittedly sometimes watched and laughed. Included in the items were a makeshift whip, a curtain rod, an aluminum strip and photos of holes in the wall where Fellenbaum slammed Scotty and his 6-year-old brother’s heads into the wall.
Police alleged that Fellenbaum met Tait at a local Wal-Mart where they worked together. Tait and her two sons — Scotty and a 6-year-old — moved in with Fellenbaum in mid-October and the abuse began shortly thereafter, said investigators.
On the night that Scotty died, Tait told police that she and Fellenbaum left Scotty on the mattress so he could sleep after they put the unresponsive child in a shower for more than 30 minutes. They then went out to pick up pizza for dinner. When they returned, Tait said Scotty remained unresponsive, according to a police criminal complaint.
At that time, Tait told police that she and Fellenbaum engaged in sexual activity then she took a nap, according to investigators.
After waking up around 7:30 p.m., Tait said she found Scotty not breathing so she screamed for someone to call 911. Amber Fellenbaum then called 911 and medics arrived.
On Thursday, Hogan announced a total of 16 charges against Gary Fellenbaum including first- and third-degree murder charges, homicide, endangering the welfare of a child, assault and reckless endangerment. Tait faces 15 charges, including the most serious murder charges, according to court records.
A judge denied bail to both Fellenbaum and Tait at a Wednesday arraignment.
Fellenbaum expressed remorse that "his physical assaults caused another's death," according to the criminal complaint.
Attorneys for both murder suspects didn't immediately comment on the case.
Amber Fellenbaum was charged with child endangerment and sent to county jail unable to post $500,000 bail. She told investigators that she first became aware of the alleged abuse about two weeks ago when she saw Fellenbaum spank Scotty after the boy didn’t respond to Fellenbaum. She also said she saw Fellenbaum and Tait beat the boy with a green frying pan on another occasion and on Sunday saw Fellenbaum tape Scotty to a chair and severely pummel the boy’s face and stomach.
Tait’s 6-year-old as well as the Fellenbaums' 11-month-old daughters were cared for by county services.
The couple allowed Scotty's brother to hit him as well, according to the affidavit. But the older boy also showed signs of abuse, authorities said.
"It is going to take us years to put him back together again physically and mentally," Hogan said.
Hogan said that the older boy was enrolled in school and investigators would look into how schoolteachers and officials missed alleged abuse against that boy. The school district claimed the boy was absent for two weeks before Scotty's death.