Police still are searching for Maleah Davis, who was reported missing on May 4

By Jeff Truesdell
May 13, 2019 02:57 PM
Credit: Houston Police Department

Traces of blood found in the apartment home of a missing Texas 4-year-old have led to a criminal charge against the girl’s stepdad for tampering with evidence of a human corpse, PEOPLE confirms.

Police won’t say if they believe the girl, Maleah Davis, is dead as they continue to search for her. But the charges filed Saturday against 26-year-old Derion Vence come amid his allegedly shifting accounts claiming he’d been knocked unconscious in a carjacking and that she had been abducted by three Hispanic men.

Police on Thursday recovered the silver Nissan Altima that Vence claimed had been stolen from him, and dogs trained to find cadavers responded “to the scent of human decomposition in the vehicle,” Harris County prosecutor Pat Stayton said at a court hearing Saturday, reports USA Today.

Also, security footage from a neighboring apartment allegedly shows Vence carrying multiple bottles of bleach in and out of the residence he shared with Davis and the girl’s mother, and then toting a full blue laundry basket containing a garbage bag, according to a spokesperson for Maleah’s mom, Brittany Bowens, reports Fox26 Houston.

Police say they recovered the laundry basket in the trunk of the Nissan, along with a gas can.

Vence had told police that he, Maleah, and his 2-year-old son were riding in the Nissan to a Houston airport about 6 p.m. May 3 to meet Maleah’s mom when he heard “a popping noise, like he has a flat tire,” Houston police Sgt. Mark Holbrook earlier told reporters.

When he pulled over to check, Vence told police a blue pickup pulled off behind him and two Hispanic men got out. As they approached, “one of them makes a comment saying that Maleah looks very nice, looks very sweet,” Holbrook said, quoting Vence’s claims to police.

Derion Vence
| Credit: Houston Police Department

Vence alleged one of the men then hit him in the head and he was knocked out. When he later awoke briefly, he claimed he and the two children were in the back of the pickup, which now carried three Hispanic men.

Vence claimed he slipped in and out of consciousness for the next 24 hours, eventually finding himself and his son dropped off on a roadside around 6 p.m May 4 in the Sugar Land area — and with Maleah gone.

At a nearby hospital where he sought help and initially reported the abduction, “his story changed several times, and much of what he told us simply didn’t add up,” Sugar Land police spokesman Doug Adolph previously told PEOPLE.

Police said Vence initially told them he walked to the hospital. In a different account, he said he hitched a ride with “an unknown female,” according to a probable cause affidavit, reports the Houston Chronicle. Hospital security footage later showed Vence arriving at the hospital in the silver Nissan Altima that belonged to Bowens, who was flying home to Texas from Massachusetts.

The car also was spotted on surveillance footage the following afternoon driving through a Sugar Land intersection, police said. Police eventually located the vehicle in a parking lot in Missouri City, about 10 miles from Sugar Land.

Maleah Was Previously Removed From Home After Abuse Allegations

Among concerns raised early by Maleah’s disappearance were that she was recovering from recent brain surgery, according to police.

Police did not identify the reason for the surgery. But speaking alongside Maleah’s mom at a news conference on Friday, Bowen’s spokesman and neighborhood activist Quanell X alleged that Vence had a history of spanking and beating the child, with Bowens as a witness, reports Fox26.

“He confronted her and threatened her, that ‘She better not do it.’ So she helped him shield the truth of that abuse of Maleah from doctors,” Quanell told reporters.

Maleah and her two brothers earlier were removed from the girl’s home after allegations of abuse, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told CNN. In February they were returned, but a judge called for child protective services to check on the family at least once a month.

In an interview with CNN, Bowens denied abusing Maleah, saying, “We’re not those kinds of people.”

Quanell X also said Bowens recently had broken off her engagement with Vence, after allegedly discovering that Vence had sent sexually explicit images of himself to another man.

“She told him that she was giving back his ring, and that she was not going to marry him,” Quanell said at the press conference, where Bowens deferred questions to him. “I believe that caused him to snap in anger against young Maleah.”

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It’s unknown when Maleah may have disappeared or been killed. The probable cause affidavit says that while Bowens was away in Massachusetts to attend her father’s funeral, Maleah’s biological father stopped by the apartment to pick up his 5-year-old son, who along with the girl had been left in Vence’s care while the mother was away, according to the Chronicle.

Vence refused to let the other man, Craig Davis, see the girl, the affidavit states.

The blood evidence tied to Maleah was found in a bathroom of the apartment and a hallway that leads to it, according to the document. Police said that chemical spraying revealed locations in the apartment where blood had allegedly been cleaned up.

When asked, Vence told investigators “there should be no blood in the home and that no one was recently bleeding,” according to the document.

The surveillance video at the apartment complex allegedly “captures the stepdad coming out of the apartment with a bottle of Clorox, a laundry basket and inside the laundry basket a garbage bag,” Quanell said. “When he spoke to the mother, he told her he was cleaning up the apartment. And she didn’t understand why he would be cleaning up the apartment, but he went and bought an extra bottle of Clorox and came back.”

Vence currently is jailed on a $1 million bond. An attorney who might speak on his behalf was not immediately identified.