A Texas man charged with felony murder for allegedly beating his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son to death—then abandoning the victim’s three young brothers to fend for themselves in a filthy home alongside the decaying corpse—had subjected the children to regular physical abuse, breaking the middle child’s jaw in recent weeks, police said Wednesday.
Brian Ward Coulter, 31, killed the boy, Kendrick Lee, with his fists and feet around Thanksgiving 2020, according to a criminal complaint filed in Harris County District Court. Initial reports listed Kendrick’s age as 9, but authorities later said he was 8.
Coulter and the kids’ mom, Gloria Yvette Williams, 35, left the “dry… skeletal remains” behind in the Houston-area apartment they shared with the four kids, two of whom are believed to be on the autism spectrum, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a press conference.
The surviving brothers, aged 7, 10, and 15, were only rescued from the “deplorable” home on Sunday after the 15-year-old reportedly texted his mom to say he couldn’t take it anymore, then called 911.
Investigators said that Williams and Coulter had been together for a few years and abuse was commonplace for Williams’ boys, who had two different fathers, one of whom has since died.
“I think that the beatings were consistent...mainly involving the younger children,” Harris County Sgt. Dennis Wolfford said.
After Kendrick died, the couple stuck around in the Houston apartment for a while, Wolfford said, but then ditched the boys in the bare, roach-infested space for no reason other than their own convenience.
“Common sense would tell you that they [were] distancing themselves from a dead child,” Wolfford said. “By the time they moved out, you’re talking about probably five to six months after death. They know the entire time that there’s a dead body in this apartment…. So they go live in another apartment so that they don’t have to be around it.”
Coulter and Williams moved into a new place about 25 minutes away, according to police. The rent for the Houston apartment continued to be paid for by government assistance, they said.
Williams occasionally stopped by to provide some food and also sent some food via delivery, Gonzalez said. At one point a few weeks ago, Coulter allegedly attacked the middle child, leaving him with a broken jaw.
The kid never saw a doctor but will now undergo surgery to fix his shattered face, Wolfford said. The three surviving brothers were all “very thin,” he added.
Gonzalez described the apartment as having been in “deplorable condition,” with no furniture, no bedding or blankets, soiled carpet, and an infestation of insects.
The boys were not allowed to leave the apartment, and there was some evidence that they had been locked up in different parts of the home.
“This is a textbook case of a person that abuses children,” said Wolfford.
Investigators don’t believe Williams, who has six children in total, was abused by Coulter, who reportedly didn’t father any of the four abandoned kids. Williams is charged with two counts of injury to a child by omission and one count of tampering with evidence—specifically, a human corpse. She is also facing charges of failure to provide medical care and failure to provide adequate supervision.
In testimony provided by the two youngest boys during a Wednesday court hearing for Williams, both recounted the moment they said Coulter killed their brother, saying he kicked and punched the 8-year-old until he had black eyes and stopped moving.
Williams allegedly told police she saw the attack happen, as well. She claimed she tried unsuccessfully to stop Coulter, who she said apologized the next day, saying he had snapped and beat the boy “until he went to sleep,” reported local ABC affiliate KTRK.
Williams said in court that she knew her son was dead last November but that Coulter told her not to report it to police, and that she feared the kids would be taken away and she would be jailed.
Wolfford told reporters the eldest child was “just absolutely afraid and basically hoping or relying on his mother to, at some point, contact law enforcement and advise of his deceased brother in the house. And that didn’t happen, and I think after a year’s time, the 15-year-old finally said, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Last Sunday, the teen called 911. When officers arrived, they found Kendrick’s decomposing body out in the open.
“It appears they were basically fending for each other,” Gonzalez said at the time. “The older sibling was doing the best he could to take care of the others.”
When police rescued the boys, they asked them if they were hungry. They asked for donuts, which the cops duly provided.
While Williams had occasionally been providing food, Gonzalez said cops “didn’t see anything that was healthy,” describing it “more like junk food, noodles and chips and soft drinks and things like that.”
The kids hadn’t attended school since May 2020, according to KTRK. The local school district twice filed truancy papers against Williams, but charges were dismissed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The children had been getting additional sustenance from a neighbor who supplied food and charged their cellphone after the apartment’s electricity was shut off, a spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Residents of the CityParc II development, which is about 20 miles from downtown Houston, couldn’t understand how things got so bad for so long without anyone spotting a problem.
Isaac Ford, 54, told The Daily Beast he had seen Williams around the complex now and again, but never saw her kids.
“It’s just so strange how a whole body could be in a house for a whole year with nobody coming in or out and seeing it,” Ford said.
One neighbor told The Daily Beast that maintenance staff had recently been “coming around to all the apartments to see if they needed to be repaired.” She wondered how none of the workers noticed a dead body in the unit.
“I’m concerned nobody smelt nothing,” the neighbor said, declining to be identified out of concern for her own safety. “Something’s not adding right. Something ain’t right.”
Another neighbor, who also requested anonymity, told KTRK that the odor emanating from the apartment was so foul, she couldn’t run her air conditioner because it brought the stench inside her home. The neighbor said she asked building management to look into it, but nothing happened.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston, the entity responsible for all autopsies in Harris, listed Kendrick’s cause of death as “homicidal violence with multiple blunt force injuries.” Officials there declined to provide additional information, and told The Daily Beast that the autopsy report would not be available until after the criminal case has been adjudicated.
Coulter and Williams were detained for questioning last Sunday by police, who found the duo at a public library, looking online for news about their case. They were initially released because investigators needed more time to gather evidence, Wolfford said.
“I will say those children will be very vital, and key witnesses, in the prosecution of Mr. Coulter,” he said Wednesday.
The three surviving boys are now under the care of state child welfare authorities. In an interview with the Daily Mail, the grandmother of the 7-year-old child said she would have gladly adopted all four of the kids had she known what was going on.
Coulter’s mom, Debbie Vasconcellos, immediately hung up without comment when contacted on her cellphone by The Daily Beast. Coulter’s father did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment. Relatives of Williams were unable to be reached on Wednesday. Attorney information for Coulter and Williams has not yet been made available.
Coulter is now undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. A judge set his bail at $1 million. Williams’ combined bail for all three charges added up to $900,000. Police said more charges are expected to be filed.
Said Wolfford on Wednesday, “This one affected us.”
—with additional reporting by William Bredderman