Miami-Dade County

When a mom’s lies unraveled and authorities realized the awful truth

This is Angela Dufrene. It was the only photo authorities could find.
This is Angela Dufrene. It was the only photo authorities could find. Miami police

When child welfare investigators confronted Marjorie Dufrene about her missing toddler, Angela, she repeated a story spun to many people in her life: The girl was living with her birth father.

But as investigators drove her through North Miami-Dade checking phantom addresses in late July, a sickening realization descended on them. Dufrene was lying. The girl was gone.

Dufrene finally opened up, but the details shifted again and again during hours of interviews, newly released state records show. The baby died in a fall, first in March, then in November, 2015, she claimed.

Her boyfriend discarded the body, Dufrene said. No, actually, she was the one who wrapped the baby in a garbage bag and tossed her in a McDonald’s dumpster.

For the first time since Angela’s birth on April 25, 2014, someone in authority was demanding proof of life. And Marjorie Dufrene couldn’t give it.

There were a few mile markers for Angela’s short journey: a birth certificate, her enrollment in preschool, a vaccination record. But all the official paperwork that document a child’s life seemed to suddenly come to an end around Christmas of 2014.

The Miami Herald obtained nearly 2,000 pages of the Dufrene family’s child welfare records after a Miami judge ordered the Department of Children & Families to release them. The documents that pertain to Angela, together with interviews with sources close to the investigation, form the misty contours of a ghost.

Again and again, state child welfare authorities had opportunities to protect the little girl. Again and again, they squandered them:

▪ A year before Angela’s disappearance was detected, a Department of Children & Families investigator in Miami showed up at Dufrene’s Overtown apartment to investigate a claim of child abuse against one of the girl’s older siblings.

But the investigator never laid eyes on Angela and her twin brother, who would have been 15 months old. They merited not a word in her report. The investigation was closed that day.

▪ Dufrene’s ex-husband, with whom she has three older children, said he would see Angela and her twin in late 2014 during visits at a Broward County office of ChildNet, the private agency contracted to supervise kids in troubled homes. The couple had lived in Fort Lauderdale before the marriage frayed.

“At the beginning of 2015, he thought it was strange that the mother would only bring [her twin] and not Angela,” a report said.

In later months, Dufrene was allowed to spend time with the older children without state supervision, and then was given shared custody of them by a Broward County judge who was overseeing their welfare. ChildNet was supposed to see the older children in her Miami home — which would have provided a chance to see the twins, as well. But, a report said, “there were no home visits completed.”

▪  Dufrene’s sister and live-in boyfriend claimed they’d never met Angela. Dufrene’s own mother couldn’t get any straight answers out of her. Even her oldest son, now 11, told interviewers his baby sister had been gone since at least the summer of 2015 and he’d stopped asking about her.

▪  A daycare worker told police that the girl stopped attending around October or November of 2014. Dufrene still brought Angela’s twin brother to the daycare, but she claimed the girl was with grandma — a story that diverged from the one she normally told.

Angela, who would be 2 years old, remains missing. Police believe she is dead. Dufrene has not been charged with a crime. After a recent court hearing, she would not speak to a Miami Herald reporter.

Angela’s name first appeared in a DCF record shortly after her April 25, 2014 birth. Soon after, Dufrene moved into the Overtown apartment along with her boyfriend, the twins and one of her older children. Her two oldest children stayed with their father, Dufrene’s estranged husband, in Broward County, but visited their mother on weekends.

In October 2014, authorities conducted a home study on Dufrene’s apartment. A case worker took note of the living space of Angela and her twin brother and photographed the twins’ bassinets. “Marjorie’s biggest strength was acceptance, and learning to do better, and showing her children that she is a survivor of life challenges,” the study said. It described her as “thriving and progressing well.”

But DCF now acknowledges that a case worker never actually saw Angela, her brother or their older sister, all of whom were supposed to be living at the home. “Nor did [the study] include observations of her interactions with the children to further inform whether she was truly demonstrating a change in behavior,” an analysis of the case released Friday said.

A year-long Miami Herald investigation found that, in the last six years, 477 Florida children have died of abuse or neglect after their families had come to the attention of the Department of Children and Families.

December 2014 was the last verified sighting of Angela. A doctor saw her while administering vaccinations.

Within months, Dufrene’s life followed a familiar pattern of instability. In May 2015, her landlord filed a notice of eviction for not paying rent.

Then, on June 1, 2015, her ex-husband complained to DCF that Dufrene and her boyfriend were “excessively” hitting one of the children as discipline during a weekend visit. “She is happy and full of personality, but after visiting her mother she is ‘gloom,’” the abuse report noted.

Twelve days later, Dufrene’s two older children were brought to court so that they could speak directly to the judge overseeing their welfare, Broward Circuit Judge Stacey Schulman, and the review of Angela’s death says they spoke candidly about “the mother physically disciplining them while they were at her home.”

Though warnings to Dufrene had proven to be of dubious effectiveness in the past, Schulman decided to dispatch the mother with yet another one. A report of the case said she “admonished the mother to refrain from any physical discipline” in the future.

At that hearing, one of the older children mentioned the twins, but nothing else was said about them, records show.

And it was not until July 29, 2015 — 59 days after the initial complaint was lodged — that a Miami DCF investigator finally showed up at Dufrene’s home in Overtown. She saw Dufrene’s middle child, a 2-year-old girl, who “was neat and tidy” and “had no marks or bruises.”

While DCF Miami investigator Allison Skeete interviewed Dufrene and went into the home, her report makes no mention of Angela or her brother.

Dufrene and her boyfriend denied abusing the children. That very same day, the investigation was officially closed. A Broward Sheriff’s Office investigator found “no safety concerns for the children at this time,” according to a report.

Throughout the investigation, nobody indicated they knew Dufrene was facing eviction.

DCF has now concluded that the whole investigation was badly botched. Investigators in the Miami DCF office and at the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which conducts abuse probes under contract in that county, “did not appear to communicate with each other,” the report said. They did not follow up on leads, including one that, in hindsight, now appears chilling.

That June, an investigator knocked on the door of Dufrene’s mother in Homestead. Inside the home, she heard a baby crying. Nobody answered the door. “Contact was never made with anyone inside the home,” DCF’s analysis said, and the child abuse investigation was closed without anyone ever returning.

By the end of 2015, Dufrene had finally been booted from her Overtown apartment. The family did not appear on the DCF radar again until June 5, 2016, when the abuse hotline was told that one of her children had been sexually molested by her mother’s boyfriend, who denied the claim.

A DCF investigator visited Dufrene’s home to talk to her and the daughter. The case was closed that day “with the twins never being seen, assessed, or added to the investigation,” DCF later wrote.

That probe was ongoing on July 20 when someone called DCF to report that Dufrene’s kids, who were visiting their mother on the weekends, had no food where they were now living, a Little River apartment, and were being left alone in a hot hallway as punishment.

DCF investigator Latasha Legister arrived at the building, where the landlord confirmed that the refrigerator and pantry had no food. What he said next sent investigators and police officers scrambling: “He knew nothing about a fifth child.”

When Legister interviewed Dufrene, she at first insisted she had only four children. Legister confronted her with birth certificates. Dufrene relented, insisting that Angela was with her birth father, a man named Henry Mathieu.

But almost immediately, Dufrene’s behavior was suspicious, DCF reports show. She gave Legister an incorrect phone number for the man, and pretended to call him as they drove around North Miami-Dade looking for his purported address.

After they returned to a DCF office building in Opa-locka, Dufrene then claimed Angela was in the care of Mathieu’s mother, who told investigators that was a lie.

Dufrene changed her story again, claiming she dropped the baby during an argument with her boyfriend while living in Overtown. He disposed of the baby, she claimed — something he denies.

Then, Dufrene changed her story yet again: After an argument with her boyfriend, Angela wouldn’t stop crying.

“The baby fell from her arms. She put the child in a car seat,” according to one summary. “The child later started coughing up blood. She didn’t know what to do. She later put the child in a black garbage bag and dumped the child in a dumpster.”

As the hours melted away, detectives were summoned from the Miami Police Department, as the alleged death happened in Overtown. Long listed as the “alleged perpetrator” in hundreds of pages of child welfare reports, Dufrene now cast herself as a victim — she suffered from post-partum depression, she insisted, as well as bipolar disorder.

“She showed no remorse and stated that she deals with stress internally,” Legister wrote in a report.

The DCF reports also allege Dufrene admitted to “smothering” the child, although law-enforcement sources say the reports were miscast and the woman never admitted to intentionally killing Angela.

The investigation into the baby’s death did not become public until a July 21 hearing before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman. “She is dead,” Marjorie Dufrene calmly told the judge. “She is no longer with us.”

Dufrene, for now, remains free as Miami police detectives and prosecutors build a possible criminal case — a challenging task because there is no body and there are no witnesses to the death, as of yet.

Even humanizing Angela has proved difficult. For days after Angela was discovered missing, homicide detectives could not find a single photo of the girl.

None of Dufrene’s relatives had any to offer. Neither did Dufrene. A police search of a storage facility rented by Dufrene produced many photos of her other children, but none of Angela.

The child’s daycare finally found a picture of Angela as an infant. A police forensic artist had to create an age-progressed image of what Angela would look like today.

In the rendering, Angela sprouts the hint of a smile. She’s wearing a purple sleeveless shirt. Pigtails atop her head are tied with red ribbons. She is looking straight into an imaginary camera. For once, she is not a ghost.

Anyone with information on Angela’s whereabouts can call Miami’s homicide unit at 305-603-6350, or Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers at 305-471-2400.