On camera, Amy Elizabeth Fleming's face was twisted into a mask of anguish.
"I just hope Yo is not feeling as alone as I do sometimes," Fleming told News 3 Las Vegas in 1986, her voice thick with emotion. Makeup did little to cover the dark circles under her eyes.
Fleming was experiencing a parent's worst nightmare. Her 3-year-old son, Francillon Pierre, whom she lovingly referred to as "Yo-Yo" or "Yo," was still missing after vanishing without a trace from a swap meet in North Las Vegas on August 2, 1986. Exhaustive searches of the area had turned up no clues to the boy's whereabouts and investigators were stumped. But rather than accept the worst, Fleming and her then-boyfriend Lee Luster continued to hold on to the hope that Francillon was alive.
"If anybody knows anything about where he is, or if he is safe, I want them to just tell me that," Fleming pleaded at the time. "I will be able to go through the proper channels to get him back. I'll do anything that is necessary."
More than 30 years later, in what officials are calling "an extraordinary development in an extraordinary case," Fleming, now 60, has been arrested and charged with murder.
The swap-meet story was a "diversion," authorities said at a news conference in Las Vegas. Fleming's young son never went missing on that Saturday morning in 1986 because he was likely already dead.
"Although we are saddened that we could not bring you today good news that we found Pierre alive and well, we are fortunate that we can bring some closure to those affected by this 32-year-old cold case," North Las Vegas Police Department Chief Pamela Ojeda said at the news conference.
The case was reopened in 2017 after authorities learned that someone had attempted to commit identity theft by applying for a birth certificate using the child's name, said Detective Steven Wiese of the North Las Vegas Police Department, who is leading the current investigation.
After a year and a half of reviewing the case, new witnesses and information came to light, including jail letters between Fleming and Luster. Fleming was charged on December 13, 2018, and she was arrested on January 29 in Florida, where she and Luster moved a year after Francillon's reported disappearance. Fleming is currently en route to Las Vegas, police said. Luster has not been charged and there was no lawyer named in court records for Fleming.
"I'd like to tell you right now that we have a smoking gun," Wiese said. "We'd love to have the body of Francillon, or DNA evidence that proves something. That's not what this case is. This is a case of a lot of little things, that put together, gives us the knowledge that Amy Fleming was involved in the homicide of her child."
It began with a family trip to the local swap meet. Francillon, who was not Luster's biological son, was born in Haiti in October 1982 to Fleming and her then-husband, Jean Pierre. After about four years of marriage, the couple divorced in the summer of 1985 and Fleming was granted custody, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Washington Post.
At around 11.30 am on that day in August 1986, Fleming told police and she and Luster had stopped at a refreshment stand to buy food, the affidavit said. Francillon, she said, was less than 3m away at the time.
After paying for the food, Luster wandered to a nearby store to buy a bicycle for Francillon, leaving Fleming at the stand "putting mustard, etc, on the food" and chatting with the waitress, the affidavit said.
All the while, Fleming said she kept a watchful eye on her son, only taking her eyes off him when she made trips to carry drinks and food from the stand to a table. The last time she saw Francillon, Fleming said, he was walking toward the table. But when she returned with the last of the food moments later, her son was nowhere to be seen.
Fleming's harrowing account of her missing child instantly sparked an intense search and soon captivated the community.
"Dozens of officers and hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly in an attempt to find Pierre," Ojeda said.
But even as they searched for Francillon, sifting through "hundreds of leads and tips," investigators initially assigned to the case had their suspicions about Fleming, Ojeda said. Her story had a glaring hole - a majority of witnesses at the swap meet said they never saw the child there. Neighbours told police that before he went missing, Francillon hadn't been seen with the couple in weeks.
"We believe that they were at the swap meet as a diversion to say that he went missing," Wiese said. "He had been deceased at the time."
Shortly after the disappearance, Fleming and Luster accused Francillon's biological father of being involved, claiming that a clairvoyant had told them that the boy was safe and with "someone close in his bloodline," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Pierre was cleared by police, according to the Review-Journal.
Further digging revealed that Fleming and Luster had been arrested on child abuse charges in December 1985 after a babysitter reported seeing "25-30 welts" on Francillon's back, according to the affidavit.
In interviews with child services, who investigated the abuse allegations, Fleming continued to change her story. First, she said she whipped her son for wetting the bed at the babysitter's house, but then later accused Luster of hitting the child to punish him for "starting a small fire in the bathroom of their home," the affidavit said.
The couple was held in custody until April 1986, when they posted bail. A month later, even though the abuse case had yet to be resolved, Francillon was returned to Fleming, the affidavit said. When he reportedly vanished in August of that year, the case was still ongoing.
Fleming and Luster took polygraph tests in the days after Francillon was reported missing, and both failed when questioned about their knowledge of the boy's disappearance and current whereabouts, according to the affidavit.
"I believe that they both obviously knew something about this child and I believe that he wasn't at the swap meet," retired North Las Vegas Police Department Lieutenant Bob King said. "I knew in my heart of hearts, the child was not there."
I'd like to tell you right now that we have a smoking gun
King, who led the initial investigation, said Francillon's case was one that he "always felt uncomfortable about" because he "could not resolve it successfully."
Despite finding that Fleming and Luster had lied numerous times during the investigation, "there was not enough evidence at that time to prove or disprove their involvement," Ojeda said.
In December 1986, the pair were charged with obstructing a public officer and served several months in jail after being found guilty, Ojeda said. During that time they exchanged multiple letters, which were scrutinised by the detectives who reopened the case.
"What happened was totally unintentional, I'm sorry, you know that," Fleming wrote in one letter that was torn into bits and had to be pieced back together.
The contents of another letter from Fleming to Luster appeared to take on a more desperate tone.
"Just as you couldn't stand to send me to prison, I cannot stand to see you hate me, that hurts more than any prison, can you still love me, forgive me for falling short?" she wrote. "I live in fear of hurting you - I am afraid of you because you are truly the one person that can hurt me, you're the only one I have left to care about. My family is not there, Yo . . . is not there, I cannot face my friends for fear they will be implicated."
On March 10, 1987, witnesses visiting the Stewart and Mojave Correctional Centre, now known as the Las Vegas Detention Centre, told police that they overheard a conversation between Luster and an unknown woman in which he accused Fleming of killing her son.
"He was talking very loudly throwing his hand around a lot and banging on the table, talking to the girl visiting him," according to a witness statement included in the affidavit. "At one point he got very excited, stood up and yelled, 'Amy killed the baby.' And threw his head down on the table."
Another witness reported hearing Luster "crying" and repeatedly saying, "Amy killed him."
According to the affidavit, police later contacted the woman who visited Luster and she told them that she remembered him saying, "Amy was responsible."
Fleming and Luster also pleaded guilty to the child abuse charge in 1987 and were sentenced to probation, police said. Shortly after being released, the pair moved to Florida and the case went cold until 2017, when the identity theft attempt sparked a second look.
During yesterday's news conference, authorities declined to comment on whether Luster would be charged, citing an ongoing investigation. Police are still working to determine how Francillon died and where his body is located.
"I would hope that Ms. Fleming would tell us that," Wiese said.