Cursing macaw among clues police followed in kidnap of 5-year-old girl

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A 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from her West Philadelphia school in January by a woman dressed in a Muslim-style scarf (left) who said she was the child's mother. Christina Regusters, right, is charged in connection with the crime. (Photos: Philadelphia Police Department)

A squawking, swearing macaw, an anonymous tip based on an overheard conversation, flashes of memory from a traumatized 5-year-old girl.

Those tenuous leads led to the arrest of alleged kidnapper Christina Regusters, a Philadelphia police detective testified Friday.

"I focused on the bird," Daniel O'Malley told a Common Pleas Court jury hearing the kidnapping and sexual assault trial of the 21-year-old ex-day-care worker.

It made sense. It was a clue that was never made public, O'Malley said.

The girl was blindfolded the entire 19 hours she was held after being taken about 8:50 a.m. Jan. 14, 2013, from her kindergarten class in Bryant School, 6001 Cedar Ave.

Naked, sexually assaulted, ordered to stay under a bed in a strange house, the child said, she heard a bird's screeching speech.

If she made noise or tried to escape, the girl said her captor warned, the bird would "peck out your eyes."

O'Malley, a detective in the special investigations section of the Special Victims Unit, had been put in charge of the kidnapping probe on Jan. 30, 2013.

The first assigned detective, Miguel Gonzalez of the unit's child abuse squad, spent two weeks overseeing scores of police, recruits, detectives, and FBI agents scouring a vast swath of West Philadelphia - Spruce Street south to Christian Street, 56th Street west to Cobbs Creek Parkway - without success for witnesses or security cameras that might show what happened to the girl and her abductor, disguised in Muslim attire.

By month's end, Gonzalez said, they were basically no further than they were on Jan. 15, when the girl was found shivering under a playground slide in Upper Darby.

With child-abuse claims pouring in to police, Gonzalez testified, he and the 12 detectives in his unit could no longer be spared. The case went to O'Malley.

There had been one new clue. On Jan. 17, Gonzalez said, video was recovered from a camera outside Fanatic Mechanics, a garage on 61st Street at Larchwood Avenue, a block north of Bryant.

There, from the morning of Jan. 14, was the spectral black figure, holding aloft a black umbrella, as she did on the abduction video from Bryant. Next to her was the blurry, white-clothed figure of a little girl.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien, O'Malley said he decided to again try taking the girl and her mother out in a car to see if the trip sparked memories.

On Feb. 5, O'Malley testified, he drove the girl to 61st and Larchwood, and the child told him this was where the woman ordered her to throw her winter coat and book bag into a trash can. The girl got out and showed him the trash can, O'Malley said, but it was long emptied.

Back in the car, O'Malley said, he drove west on Larchwood to Cobbs Creek Parkway and turned south. As they neared Cedar Avenue, he said, the girl spotted a house with iron steps leading to the back door.

"They were steps like that, but that's not the house," the child said, according to O'Malley.

The next day, O'Malley continued, the girl and her mother were back cruising the same area.

O'Malley said his partner noticed the child "got a surprised look on her face and asked her, 'Do you see something?' "

"She recognized the wall," O'Malley said.

The girl had told detectives on Jan. 15 that her abductor put her inside a laundry bag and when they got to the house had to lift her over a wall.

To a 5-year-old, it seemed like a wall. It was a common drive between rowhouses fronting on the 6200 blocks of Walton and Cedar Avenues. The Walton half was two feet higher than the Cedar side.

Later, O'Malley said, he went back to the block and noted that one house - 6243 Walton - had iron steps and a barbecue grill out back; both were details the girl had recalled.

All that was left before getting a search warrant was to find out if the house's occupants owned a talking bird.

O'Malley said he canvassed local pet stores and veterinarians, without success.

Then came the anonymous phone tip. The caller said she overheard family members she did not identify talking about the kidnapping and heard references to a "talking bird." The caller said she had done her own digging and found that women named Trina and Erica, who tended bar nearby on Cobbs Creek Parkway, lived on Walton and owned birds.

The next day - Feb. 7, 2013 - O'Malley and detectives searched 6243 Walton.

Trina's and Erica's surname was Regusters. Christina Regusters, a cousin from Silver Spring, Md., had lived there about a year and worked at Heaven's Little Angels day care, across from Bryant, where the kidnapped girl attended an after-school program.

And yes, O'Malley said, there was a talking bird.

"Marty the talking bird," O'Malley said. "And he was loud."

"Did he say anything?" asked defense attorney W. Fred Harrison Jr.

"Nothing that I wanted to hear," deadpanned the detective. "He was cursing us out as we were serving the search warrant."

 


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