The Houston mom accused of abandoning her three young boys after her boyfriend allegedly beat her fourth child to death, leaving the kids in a squalid apartment for nearly a year with the decomposing corpse, underwent a drastic change after linking up with the man now accused of killing her 8-year-old son, according to the grandmother of one of the survivors.
When Gloria Williams, 35, disappeared from Linda Smith’s life about three years ago, Smith said she also lost all contact with her grandson, Ja’Veon Kirklin. The 7-year-old’s father and Smith’s son, Jonathan Kirklin, had never been part of the child’s life. But Smith took in Gloria, Ja’Veon, and his siblings for a few months in 2014 while Kirklin was incarcerated. And although Smith eventually asked Williams to leave over what she claims was promiscuous behavior, Smith said Williams was, at that time, a kind and decent person.
“I know she didn’t drink or do drugs [when she was living with me],” Smith, 71, told The Daily Beast, saying she barely recognizes the Williams she is now seeing in the media. “All of this happened after she met him,” she said, referring to Williams’ current boyfriend and murder suspect Brian Coulter. “When I saw her picture [on the news], she was like somebody else. I couldn’t imagine her ever being like that. I never saw her like that. She wasn't like that when she was around me.”
Coulter and Williams started dating a few years ago, police said. Last November, Coulter, 31, killed Williams’ son, 8-year-old Kendrick Lee, by beating and kicking him to death, according to a criminal complaint filed in Harris County District Court. A few weeks before Kendrick’s life ended, a photo posted to Williams’ Instagram showed her enjoying frozen cocktails with her “husband”—presumably Coulter. Ja’veon has told investigators that Coulter’s drinking often brought on violence, prosecutors said.
A few months after Kendrick’s death, Williams showed off the jewelry Coulter bought her for Valentine’s Day as Ja’Veon and his brothers were abandoned with Kendrick’s remains in a bare, roach-infested apartment.
“i love him very much,” Williams captioned a photo of a watch, three necklaces, a bracelet, two rings, two pairs of earrings, and a bag from Zales. “everything is real”
For his part, Coulter’s Instagram page is littered with videos of himself enjoying big plates of food, photos of himself dripping in diamond jewelry, and spouting aphorisms about his love for his girlfriend and family.
Kendrick was autistic, according to relatives, and at least one of the three other children in the home is believed to be on the spectrum, authorities said. Ja’Veon is not, although Smith told The Daily Beast the once-happy child was very quiet and seemed “isolated” when she saw him last.
“There was neglect, I could see it,” Smith recalled. “Something happened.”
Investigators said they don’t think Coulter—who did not father any of the abandoned children—had been abusive toward Williams, who 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.
Smith struggles to understand what could have led Williams down such a path, and insists it is still too early to dismiss the possibility that Coulter was controlling her.
“I’m just wondering if there was more going on with Gloria than we might have realized,” Smith said, adding that she “thought [Coulter] was trouble” from the moment she saw his picture on Williams’ Facebook page. “Victims behave strangely when there’s abuse… All of this constant hitting—yes, that’s true. But that’s not something that you’re born with. It could be that she didn't have a choice.”
Ja’Veon and his siblings, aged 10 and 15, were finally rescued from the home last Sunday, when the 15-year-old texted Williams to say he couldn’t take living there anymore, then dialed 911. When cops arrived, they discovered the three “very thin” boys surviving in “deplorable” conditions, with Kendrick’s “dry… skeletal remains” out in the open, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Coulter often abused Williams’ boys, according to Harris County Sgt. Dennis Wolfford. Several months after Kendrick died, Williams and Coulter moved to another apartment about 25 minutes away so they “didn’t have to be around” the child’s dead body, Wolfford said.
The rent for the apartment where the children lived was paid for by Williams’ government assistance checks, cops believe. Gonzalez said Williams stopped by once in a while to drop off junk food and soft drinks, and also sent some via delivery. At one point a few weeks ago, Coulter attacked the middle child and broke his jaw, said Wolfford, who explained that the boy was never taken to a doctor and will now need surgery to fix his shattered bones.
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 declined to provide additional details, and told The Daily Beast that the autopsy report would be available only after the criminal case has been adjudicated.
Ja’Veon and his two brothers are now in the custody of child welfare authorities, and Smith said she doesn't know exactly where her grandson is at the moment. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Smith said she would have gladly adopted all four of the kids had she known what was going on. Members of Coulter’s family were unable to be reached on Thursday.
During a Wednesday court hearing for Williams, Ja’Veon and one of his brothers said Coulter kicked and punched Kendrick until his eyes were blackened and he was no longer moving. Williams allegedly told cops she witnessed the deadly assault and claimed she attempted to stop Coulter, without success. The next day, Coulter reportedly apologized for having beaten Kendrick “until he went to sleep,” according to local ABC affiliate KTRK.
Ja’Veon’s teenage brother was terrified of Coulter, and held out hope that Williams would eventually advise law enforcement that there was a dead child in their home, police said. Williams said in court that she didn’t report Kendrick’s death for fear her other kids would be taken away and that she might face jail time.
“I think after a year’s time, the 15-year-old finally said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Wolfford told reporters.
Hours after finding Ja’Veon and the others alone in their filthy apartment, police located Williams and Coulter at a public library, looking online for news about their case, and detained them for questioning. The pair were initially released, as investigators still needed to collect more evidence, Wolfford said. Coulter was ordered by a judge to undergo a psychiatric evaluation; his bail was set at $1 million. Williams’ combined bail was set at $900,000. Police said more charges could be filed.