When Christine O’Dell picked up the phone Tuesday afternoon, she heard her daughter, Elizabeth Quate, ask emotionally, “Are you sitting down?”
The call came from Las Vegas, Nev., where Quate was being held by police. The call was put on speaker, and Christine and her husband, Dan O’Dell, heard what they had long feared: Little Alysha, the 6-year-old granddaughter the O’Dells had cherished, died years ago. Quate said the child died after being struck by the girl’s father, Jason Quate, and then choking on food.
“He killed Alysha. She was eating and he hit her, and she choked on food. And she was on the floor convulsing and shaking,” the O’Dells said they were told during the phone call.
They said Elizabeth Quate told them she had come home and found Alysha on the floor. Elizabeth Quate then attempted to revive the girl for more than an hour. At the time, the Quates were residing in a Belleville mobile home with Alysha and their two other small daughters.
Dan O’Dell, 70, said after hearing that, he ran outside and shouted, “Why, God? Why?”
Since that phone call, he said he has been reluctant to walk down the tree-lined lane to the end of a long driveway to get the mail because that’s where he took walks with Alysha.
“It was just beautiful innocence,” Dan O’Dell said, “She was picking dandelions and chasing butterflies. Now it’s all gone. And you can’t help but wonder if there was more you could have done to save her.”
Christine O’Dell said it was grim confirmation of what they had long suspected, that Alysha, the child they had fruitlessly tried to make contact with for more than three years, was dead after all.
“We were always told when we showed up that she was sleeping or was at a party or somewhere. She was never there. We never believed it,” she said.
We were always told when we showed up that she was sleeping or was at a party or somewhere. She was never there. We never believed it.
Christine O’Dell, grandmother of dead girl
The O’Dells had initially been reluctant to tell their story to reporters, but decided to go public after Jason Quate told a reporter in an interview from jail in Las Vegas that the child choked to death accidentally, and that he tried unsuccessfully to revive her. He said it was Elizabeth Quate’s idea to hide the body. He also said it was her idea to go to Las Vegas and engage in prostitution, a claim the O’Dells said they seriously doubt.
In another media interview, Jason Quate gave a conflicting account, saying he thought his wife had put the child up for adoption.
The child’s remains were discovered Tuesday in an abandoned garage in Centreville, and forensic investigators are working to determine her cause of death. Because of decomposition, an anthropologist has been summoned to help with finding a cause of death.
Both Elizabeth Quate, 35, and Jason Quate, 34, have been charged in St. Clair County with felony concealing of a homicide, and bail was set here at $750,000 apiece. In Las Vegas, Jason Quate has been charged with felony child abuse, sex-trafficking and receiving the earnings of a prostitute. Police there say he forced his wife into prostitution. His public defender has said he will plead not guilty.
The O’Dells say they were forced to pay money to have any chance to see any of their granddaughters, but had finally came to the end of their resources. They said Jason Quate controlled their daughter and grandchildren and used them as inducement to get the O’Dells to pay.
“He held them hostage to get us to come down and pay the electric bill or whatever he wanted. We were giving them $700 to $800 a month. We just couldn’t keep doing that,” Dan O’Dell said.
He held them hostage to get us to come down and pay the electric bill or whatever he wanted. We were giving them $700 to $800 a month. We just couldn’t keep doing that.
Dan O’Dell, grandfather of dead girl
The O’Dells said they were certain that Alysha was alive in July 2013 because it coincided with when they paid the last of more than $4,500 worth of electric bills, this one for $233.
“We came with the money, and we saw all three girls in the backyard playing with cars they rode on,” Christine O’Dell said. But when the grandparents refused to make further payments, both said they received three ominous texts from Jason Quate threatening them and making obscene comments regarding Christine O’Dell. They said the texts were turned over to police.
The last time they saw the other two grandchildren was probably in February 2015, when the O’Dells were called upon to come up with cash bond for Elizabeth, who had been arrested for allegedly stealing a can of beer. Court records in Illinois show multiple retail theft arrests for Elizabeth Quate.
Christine O’Dell recalled a tense ride in the grandparents’ van to a pawn shop, where they said Jason Quate pawned some electronic games to come up with the rest of his wife’s bond. The O’Dells said they put up $1,100 of the required $1,500.
“The two girls were with him. The girls wouldn’t look at us or even speak to us,” Christine O’Dell said. “I thought one of them was Alysha because I hadn’t seen her for so long, but when I asked her if she was Alysha, she said ‘no.’ It was terrible how he turned those children against us.”
Dan O’Dell said he and his wife regularly drove by the Belleville mobile home where they last saw Alysha but never saw any signs of the family.
“We were careful not to stop. We just drove through the alleyway beside the trailer. We didn’t know what to think. We never saw them,” Dan O’Dell said.
Dan O’Dell said he called an elementary school in Belleville — probably in 2014 — where they knew Alysha had once been enrolled. O’Dell said he asked the principal about Alysha but was told, “We haven’t seen Alysha in over a year.”