It’s always tragic when a child goes missing. It’s the type of thing that spurs hundreds into action. Police search the area, people band together to help, to pass out fliers, and scour neighborhoods. It’s a wonderful thing, but many times, it’s sadly not enough.
It’s been nearly two years since Westmont police received an early-morning call about a missing three-year-old. The boy’s father had reported him missing and as soon as he did so, the entire area was out looking for him. What they would ultimately find, however, was a combination of unspeakable tragedy and deeper mystery than they ever thought possible…
It was 6 am on October 13th, 2015. David Creato Jr. awoke to find his three-year-old son, Brendan Creato, missing from his home in Westmont. He searched around his home but could find no sign of the boy. Thinking quickly, he dialed 911 and told them that his son was gone and that he was wearing red pajamas the night before.
Brendan’s mother, Samantha Denoto, did not live with Creato and her son. Instead, the two shared custody of the boy and got along as best they could. Meanwhile, Creato was involved in a rather rocky relationship with 17-year-old Julia Stensky. Still, she was there for him when Brendan disappeared; and when he was found…
Three Hours Pass
A mere three hours after the investigators began canvassing the area, officers found Brendan’s body. They discovered him eight blocks from his home in Cooper River Park. Someone had evidently strangled him to death and left him to be discovered there. More than that, it looked as though no one had injured or forced Brendan to go to the park beforehand.
Creato was heartbroken, almost inconsolable when they told him the news. “You can’t tell me this!” he cried out. “He was my best friend. I love him so much.” The police went back to examine the house and found no signs of forced entry. If someone had stolen Brendan from his bed, they had certainly been careful about covering their tracks…
Police continued to investigate the mysterious circumstances that lead to Brendan’s kidnapping and murder. The subsequent autopsy proved inconclusive and soon, police had no choice but to surrender the boy’s body to his family so that they could hold a private service to remember him. Still, it was an expense that neither of Brendan’s parents was ready to bear.
Eventually, Samantha Denoto set up a GoFundMe in order to help with funeral expenses and found that folks were very giving. Later that year, Brendan’s family post a Christmas memorial in the Courier-Post. The grieving process was finally leveling off, until January of 2016, when the police brought the family a Christmas miracle; they had figured out the killer’s identity…
Out of Nowhere
The police arrived at Creato’s home and informed him that he was being charged with the murder of his son. Strange as this seemed to some, Creato’s neighbors were somewhat unsurprised by this development. As far as they were concerned, there was something off about the 22-year-old.
A Father’s Motive
Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah was assigned to the case and had a working theory as to the father’s motive. She contended that Creato killed his son in order to fix the problems in the unstable relationship he had built with 17-year-old Julia Stensky. Paranoid and jealous, they Shah believed that Creato killed his son to get rid of a burden he didn’t feel he needed to bear…
Creato’s attorney, Richard Fuschino Jr., responded to the arrest by filing a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the grieving father hadn’t been read his rights before being interviewed the first time. Judge John Kelley, along with the prosecution, found this to be an absurd assertion and rejected the request.
Cell Phone Privacy
Creato’s lawyer fired back, saying that his client never gave authorities permission to search the contents of his cell phone either. This argument is also rejected by the judge, who rules that any evidence the officers found on his phone can be admitted at trial. What they find is most unusual, but no more unusual than what they hear from Brendan’s mother’s testimony…
Considering the strained relationship between the boy’s parents, the jury was bound to hear some pretty damning things about the alleged killer when Samantha Denoto was brought onto the stand. She testified that Creato had suggested to her that “a spirit” might have been responsible for drawing the child to the park on the morning of his disappearance.
Under the Bus
After Samantha, the prosecution brought up Creato’s ex-girlfriend Julia Stensky in order to testify, albeit begrudgingly. She pretty much threw Creato under the bus. She described him as jealous, paranoid and “kind of broke.” However, it was the last revelation about his relationship with Brendan that said the most about his mindset at the time of the disappearance…
Cruel as it seemed, Stensky admitted that Brendan was “an aspect of his (Creato’s) life that I was not very happy with.” She was essentially saying that her then-boyfriend’s need to care for his son limited what they could do together. Still, did that mean that Creato would then kill his little boy in order to make time for his immature girlfriend?
A Victim Himself
In the end, the prosecution alleged that Creato killed the boy over his obsession with Stensky. The defense, meanwhile, asserted that Creato is simply a victim who has been wrongly accused. The jury was sent to deliberate and spent days sequestered. They requested to review evidence multiple times, but could not seem to come to a consensus…
The jury was deadlocked. With no other choice, Judge Kelley had no choice but to declare a mistrial. A new trial date was set but before any preparations could be made, Creato came forward and pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in his son’s death. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, a rather small term considering the severity of what he’d confessed to.
The Department of Corrections set a July 2024 parole date, which meant that Creato could be free shortly after his 31st birthday. Some people, like his father David Creato Sr., were thrilled about this news, though not entirely. Others, like Danielle Collins, Brendan’s maternal grandmother were not so pleased…
So Many Opportunities
Danielle Collins was incensed that Creato only received ten years and wrote a victim impact statement for the prosecutor to read at sentencing. She also played a 14-minute montage of Brendan along with it.m“You had so many opportunities,” the grandmother chided. “Killing Brendan should never have been an option…”
Not Too Long
“Ten years is not very long but you have to live with yourself for the rest of your days on this earth.”
Talked Into It
Creato’s father, however, believes that his son was forced into admitting his guilt by his attorney. “He was talked into it by his attorney,” said the father. He added that the attorney had considered the prospect of a second murder trial to be “too risky.” He insists that the wrong person is sitting in jail and that his son could never have done what they accused him of.
Not the End
“To kill a baby you have to be a monster,” the grandfather said. “He respects life more than anyone I know.” The elder Creato added that he isn’t about to stop looking for the murderer and will be asking for help from private detectives in the coming year. “I believe my son is innocent.” You can see the controversial moment that the jury was dismissed in the video below…