CINCINNATI – Ten years later, his name and photo – the smiling face of a 3-year-old angel – still pull at our hearts.
That's because Marcus Fiesel became every person's child or brother in August of 2006. Hundreds of us searched for him when we believed he was lost. The whole community wept for him when we found out he had died, and everybody was horrified — disgusted, dumbfounded — when we learned the gruesome details.
A 3-year-old with autism had been killed at the hands of his foster parents.
Bound and wrapped and locked in a steaming hot closet for more than two days — without food or water — while his foster family went to a family reunion.
His body was taken to a remote area, doused with gasoline and burned in a chimney. What wouldn't burn, was tossed into the Ohio River.
"It was a horrible thing they did to this baby," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters remembers today. "They could hear him screaming in the closet when they left."
We first heard of Marcus when his foster mother, Liz Carroll, called police on Aug. 15, 2006, and reported him missing. She said he had disappeared on an afternoon outing to Juilfs Park in Anderson Township, not far from their Clermont County home. She claimed she had taken Marcus and three other kids and that she had passed out due to low blood pressure.
When she woke up, Marcus was gone, she said.
A week later, she was in tears when she held a news conference in the park and pleaded in front of TV cameras for someone to find "my son." She said she thought somebody had taken him.
Anxious volunteers searched the park and surrounding neighborhood for several days and nights.
"The whole town was turned upside down looking for this little kid," Deters recalls.
Nobody but Liz Carroll, her husband David and their live-in lover, Amy Baker, knew Marcus had been dead for two weeks.
They drove off to the reunion in Williamstown, Kentucky, on Friday, Aug. 4. The Carrolls took their own child and their dog, but they stuffed Marcus in the closet. The temperature inside reached 105 to 115 degrees, Deters says.
"Marcus was wrapped in a blanket, wrapped in tape, with his arms behind him," Deters said. "And this was not the first time that happened."
When the Carrolls came back that Sunday, they found Marcus dead.
David Carroll knew of a remote spot in Brown County where there was a chimney, so he and Baker took Marcus' body there to burn it.
They burned him over and over again.
At her news conference and in interviews with police, Liz Carroll swore that they never hurt Marcus, but Deters said he suspected otherwise. Police couldn't find anyone to corroborate her story.
"We suspected her from the very start — that she knew what happened to this kid," he said.
Even after David Carroll failed a lie detector test, Liz kept to her story.
"Like my husband said, he doesn't believe that was accurate … He knows he didn't do anything … I didn't do anything," Liz Carroll insisted at her news conference.
"I mean, we are missing our son."
However, Baker turned on the Carrolls and their story unraveled, Deters says.
Liz Carroll admitted her guilt to a grand jury.
On Aug. 28, Deters made the stunning announcement that Liz and David Carroll had killed the 3-year-old boy they were paid to care for, had sworn to care for and had called their son.
When officials went to the chimney, the coroner found barely a handful of bone fragments and hairs.
The Clermont County prosecutor charged the Carrolls with murder and offered them a plea deal: 15 years to life. Liz Carroll rolled the dice and went to trial.
She got 54 years.
It didn't take the jury long to convict her. The prosecutor had her own grand jury testimony to hold against her — and a cup.
In his closing argument, assistant prosecutor Woody Breyer held up the familiar photo of Marcus.
"That was Marcus Fiesel," Breyer said.
Then he held up the cup.
"What's left of Marcus Fiesel would fit in this cup. And who did it? She did it. And you know, they say you wouldn't treat a dog like that. You know what? She wouldn't. She took the dog with her.
"She took the dog with her."
David Carroll took the plea deal. They're both still in prison.
Marcus left a legacy in the people who took steps so no foster child would go through what he did.
In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted Rule 48, which provides a guardian ad litem for each foster kid. That person is the liaison between the court and the foster care system and is supposed to assist a court in its determination of a child’s best interest.
Ohio also revoked the license of Lifeway for Youth's license, the foster care agency that placed Marcus with the Carrolls.
And Ohio Job and Family Services says it has increased mandatory training for caseworkers and put greater emphasis on placing foster kids in permanent, adoptive homes.
Marcus would be 13 today. We so wish he were.