She went off the grid, he went insane.
Prosecutors in Camden, New Jersey, say a part-time father, “paranoid” of losing his girlfriend to a SnapChat suitor, murdered his 3-year-old son to quell her “hateful discontent” of the child.
David “DJ” Creato Jr. reported his son Brendan missing at 6 a.m. on Oct. 13. “I just woke up and my son was gone,” he told a 911 operator. Three hours later, a Port Authority K-9 unit found Brendan partially submerged in secluded woods less than a mile from his father’s home. Brendan’s socks were still clean. The medical examiner determined he died from “homicidal violence of undetermined etiology.”
Brendan’s father was arrested last week and indicted for first-degree murder and second-degree child endangerment in Camden County, New Jersey. At a bond hearing last Tuesday, assistant prosecutor Christine Shah laid out their case against Creato, including a motive driven by jealousy and paranoia.
Creato met Julia Spensky, 17, on Tinder last June. While prosecutors say Spenksy warned Creato on their second date that she disliked kids, the pair carried on an “intense romantic relationship” through the summer. The relationship cooled off in September when Spenksy left Pennsylvania to attend college in New York. That left only the weekends for her to spend time with Creato, who also saw his son every other weekend as part of his joint-custody agreement with Brendan’s mother.
The prosecutor told a judge last week that Creato dropped Spensky off at the train station on Oct. 12 so she could return to New York after the long weekend together at his apartment. Once home, Creato spoke to Spensky on the phone at 8:15 p.m. for about four minutes; she told him she was going to bed early because she had a test the next morning and they said goodnight.
Creato would later tell investigators he did not believe his girlfriend had gone to bed so early. While he waited for his mother and sister to drop his son off at 8:30 p.m., he texted Spensky several times, sending what Shah called “kind messages, telling her he loved her, telling her she was beautiful.”
Shah said that Spensky did not reply.
At 8:50 p.m., Brendan was dropped off at Creato’s home. After reading to Brendan and eating potato chips, Creato said he put him to bed in a loveseat at 9:30 p.m., nine feet from his own bed, and went to sleep 30 minutes later.
“That was his story,” Shah told a judge. “The forensic examination of his cellphone, however, tells a much different story.”
Prosecutors say phone records show Creato was awake and online hours later than he claimed on the morning Brendan died, obsessed with what he imagined his absent girlfriend may be doing—and who she was doing it with. From the moment he was alone with his son, according to phone records detailed by Shah, Creato was online, snooping through Spensky’s social media profiles for evidence of infidelity.
Creato told police on the day of the disappearance that “he was suspicious of his girlfriend because she was going to bed so early, he didn’t believe her,” according to Shah. “He was having a lot of anxiety about her talking to…[a] guy. He described his own state of mind that Monday night as jealous and paranoid.”
When Spensky did not reply to his texts, and with his mother and sister gone, Shah says Creato used his cellphone “to get into one of her social media accounts,” including SnapChat.
“He saw that she received a message, or snap, I believe it’s called, from a guy at school—the same guy he was already jealous of and already worried about,” Shah said.
Shah said Creato tried to call his girlfriend three more times between 9:54 and 10:07 p.m., but she never answered. “And there sleeping in the next room was the source of his girlfriend’s hateful discontent with their relationship,” Shah said.
The last time Creato checked his girlfriend’s SnapChat was a 1:47 a.m. Four hours later, he called 911 and calmly told the operator he could not find his 3-year-old son, offering at one point “he must have unlocked the doors and walked out.”
Creato’s attorney, Richard Fuschino Jr., stood and said he was “compelled to address” Shah’s repeated assertions that his client would be found guilty of murder.
“Very humbly, [for Shah to] say that this case is circumstantial but compelling, I couldn’t disagree more. What Ms. Shah would have you believe is that DJ Creato is smart enough to somehow smother, or drown, or strangle his son in a way, that is leaving the remains where they can only tell the cause of death by exclusion… and at the same time during a statement to police say things like ‘there was a huge problem between me and my girlfriend.’”
Investigators seem to have suspected Creato all along, as Spensky revealed in now-deleted Tumblr posts in the days following Brendan’s disappearance.
“I can’t talk to my parents or anyone else in my family, not that anyone knows what happened…” she wrote a few days after Brendan disappeared. “My boyfriend is in worse trouble than I am and can’t leave the state he’s in, but he has friends and family all around him to cry with and hug and vent to and lean on. I don’t have that luxury.”
Spensky posted that she already been advised by her attorney not to speak to anyone about a homicide case in which she may be a possible suspect. Joseph Sorrentino, a high-dollar litigator in New York City, represents Spensky but would not comment.
“They are still a couple,” Shah said. “In fact, she was at his parents’ house in Haddon Township today.”
Samantha Denoto, Brendan’s mother, sat stone-like through most of the hearing Tuesday as Shah related alleged details of her son’s murder, but flinched when the prosecutor told the judge Creato and Spensky were still romantically involved.
Shah told the judge the continuing relationship made Creato a flight risk, because Spensky has “significant out of state contacts,” and asked Creato’s bail remain at $1 million. Shah did not name Spensky in court, citing her status as a juvenile, but Creato’s girlfriend was previously named in the press. After her Tumblr posts gained the media’s attention, Fuschino identified her to reporters.
Fuschino disregarded Shah’s claim that Creato’s ongoing relationship with the teen would make him more likely to skip bail.
Long before authorities announced a suspect, the Denoto and Creato families closed ranks, and friends started separate online fundraisers.