To find the mystery worker, detectives printed out ID-badge photos of DCF employees to show Graham. Many searches for the girl also fizzled.
As detectives got varying versions of Rilyas whereabouts from people who had talked to Graham, the case morphed from a missing persons case to a homicide investigation.
Jurors are also likely to hear from two key witnesses, one of them Pamela Graham, no relation.
Pamela Graham told police that Geralyn hit Rilya with switches, confined her to the laundry room and tied her hands to the railing of the childs bed with plastic flex cuffs. A friend of the pair also told investigators that Graham borrowed a dog cage in which she locked Rilya when she misbehaved.
As for the social worker tale, Pamela Graham said Geralyn concocted the story and advised her whenever anyone inquired about Rilya to just say that DCF took her, the cases lead detective said in a deposition.
But Pamela Graham told officials she never knew what happened to Rilya, who would be 16 today. She agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child neglect and serve as a state witness against Geralyn. She has not yet been sentenced.
The other chief witness would be jailhouse informant Robin Lunceford, who claimed Geralyn Graham confessed to her that she smothered the child and dumped the body in a South Miami-Dade canal.
Testimony by jailhouse informants is often of questionable value, but Luncefords credibility may be particularly shaky she also gave information to Miami-Dade prosecutors about fellow inmates in two other high-profile murder cases, but was dropped as a state witness in both cases after she stopped cooperating.
For several years, both Frederica Wilson and Rilyas younger sister the congresswoman befriended her after the girl was adopted by a local family believed Rilya was still alive, somewhere. For Rilyas sister, Rodericka, it was a childhood act of faith.
For the lawmaker, it was a mixture of both faith and hope: Perhaps Graham, who moved from her modest home into a larger one around the time Rilya vanished, sold the cute little girl for a large sum of money?
But as Graham languished in jail year after year, initially on credit card fraud charges and then on the murder rap, Wilson lost hope. Had the child actually been sold, Graham surely would have said so by now, Wilson reasoned, if only to clear herself of murder charges.
Still, Wilson says, she kept her awful conclusions to herself. I didnt have the heart to tell [Rodericka]; no, I didnt think Rilya was alive.
A turning point
To this day, Wilson keeps pictures of the lost little girl in her office. Visitors ask if the child is hers. I never had anything affect me the way the disappearance of Rilya affected my life, the lawmaker said. It just torments me.
The childs disappearance affected many that way, and some say, led to significant changes in the way Florida protects children.
Social workers across the nation still study the case as a cautionary tale for what not to do in child protection.
Rilya Wilson was a turning point in child welfare, former DCF Secretary George Sheldon, now an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Herald two years ago.
In the wake of Rilyas disappearance, child welfare administrators developed a real-time system for tracking and reporting on missing children, created a specialized missing-kids unit at DCF headquarters in Tallahassee, beefed up requirements for case workers (including mandatory foster home visits every 30 days), and implemented fingerprinting and photographs for all children entering foster care. While in the Legislature, Frederica Wilson passed a law requiring youngsters in foster care to be in daycare to increase their community visibility, and lawmakers made it a crime to falsify child welfare records.
The statewide advocacy group Floridas Children First which included a large group of lawyers and childrens advocates also formed in the scandals aftermath, and Coral Springs attorney Andrea Moore became the groups second director.
Child advocates from all over the state felt we needed to do something. We could not have any more Bradleys or Kaylas or Rilyas. It had to stop, said Moore, referring to Bradley McGee, who was fatally plunged head-first into a toilet for soiling himself after being returned by the state to abusive parents, and Kayla McKean, whose father beat her to death following multiple reports from teachers that her dad was horribly abusing her.
In the succeeding years, the state has been racked by new tragedies: Gabriel Myers, who hanged himself in 2007 at a Broward foster home, and Nubia Barahona, whose adopted parents are charged with torturing and killing her following multiple reports to the state that her life was in danger both of which also sparked statewide hearings and hand-wringing reports.
Advocates get tired, said Moore, who retired from the group after five years. Its such an uphill battle.