Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Missing Baby Kate’s Mom Plans to Marry the Father Suspected of Killing Their Child

Sean Phillips and Ariel Courtland (right)

Sean Phillips and Ariel Courtland (right), Baby Kate (inset)

In a move that has the public as well as investigators scratching their heads, Ariel Courtland, mother of missing child Katherine Shelbie Elizabeth Phillips, has filed the paperwork necessary to marry Sean Michael Phillips, the father suspected of killing their infant child in 2011. She stated in an affidavit that she is not marrying for love, but rather to get access to Phillips, who is in is in Michigan Reformatory prison in Ionia County, and has refused to talk. According to Courtland, the prison has denied her any contact with Phillips because she is not immediate family. She hopes that she can find out what happened to their child, “I need to have answers,” Courtland reportedly said. “I’ve taken all the steps to try to avoid this.”

As weird as this may sound, she isn’t the first person to have thought of marrying for this reason. Ronald Cummings, the father of missing child Haleigh Cummings married Misty Croslin four weeks after Haleigh’s February 9, 2009, disappearance. Croslin was the last person to see his daughter alive, and was unable to give anyone a coherent account of what had happened that night. When asked by William “Cobra” Staubs why he married her, Cummings reportedly said that he married her because you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. According to Staubs, Cummings was afraid that if he didn’t marry Misty, he would never find out the truth about what happened to Haleigh. Unfortunately the case is still no closer to being solved, and Cummings filed for divorce in October 2009.

Courtland’s plan may not fare any better. Being married to Phillips does not guarantee Courtland access to him. According to John Cordell of the Michigan Department of Corrections, the prison’s warden “maintains the authority to deny the visit even if the person is married to the prisoner.”

Baby Kate Phillips, as she has come to be called in the press, disappeared on June 29, 2011, when she was only 4-and-a-half months old. She was last seen travelling with a man police believe to have been her estranged father, Sean Michael Phillips, then 21. Police found the car with an infant car seat in the trunk and found baby Kate’s clothing in Phillips’ pocket.

Phillips has insisted from the start that Courtland was the last person to see Baby Kate alive. According to a statement issued by police, “Previous speculation as to the involvement of the mother, Ariel Courtland, in the disappearance of Katherine Phillips is also not supported by the evidence. Extensive investigation into Ms. Courtland has been conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies. It has been concluded by investigators, and through judicial proceedings, that she did not have the time, means, or motive necessary, or that she has any knowledge of Baby Kate’s whereabouts.”

Philips was sentenced in June 2012 to 10 to 15 years for unlawful imprisonment of his daughter. That day police announced that the case of Baby Kate Phillips is now a homicide and he is a suspect.

Slideshow: Missing Endangered in 20011


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