Former Aurora resident sentenced to 72 years for encasing 7-year-old son’s body in concrete

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AURORA | A man who admitted to submerging the remains of his young son in concrete inside of a plastic animal cage has been sentenced to more than seven decades in prison. 

A Denver District Court Judge on Friday sentenced Leland Pankey, 40, to 72 years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed by statute, for a pair of charges: child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body, according to the Denver District Attorney’s Office.

Pankey, a former resident of the Extended Stay America hotel in Aurora, reached a plea deal with prosecutors in January. As a result, the Denver DA withdrew the originally levied charge of first-degree murder.

Aurora police began investigating the saga that led to the discovery of the body of Pankey’s son, 7-year-old Caden McWilliams, on Dec. 17, 2018 after receiving a call of reported domestic violence. 

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Denver Police shows Elisha Pankey. The Colorado woman has pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in the death of her 7-year-old son, whose body was discovered in a Denver storage unit. The plea agreement approved by a Denver judge on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, also requires Elisha Pankey to cooperate with prosecutors who have charged her husband, Leland Pankey, with murder in the child’s death. (Denver Police via AP,File)

Officers spoke with Pankey’s wife, 44-year-old Elisha Pankey, who alleged her husband choked her at knifepoint in front of their young daughter in a room at the Extended Stay America. The family was living at the Aurora complex near the intersection of East Evans Avenue and Interstate 225.

Elisha told investigators that Leland had taken their son and daughter in late November, and she had not seen the children since. She said her husband had repeatedly sent her menacing text messages in the ensuing weeks. 

“Elisha you are a human stain,” Leland texted her in December, according to an arrest affidavit. “ … Your (sic) not smart and your (sic) a parasite with no purpose. Kill you self.”

Denver police arrested Leland at the Extended Stay on several outstanding warrants on Dec. 21, 2018. When asked where his children were, he told police his daughter was at an Aurora daycare facility, but dodged questions related to his son’s whereabouts. 

Pictured: Leland Pankey. Photo provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

When police later contacted Leland’s daughter at the Parker Learning Center in Aurora, she told them her brother was “lost,” according to the affidavit. 

After speaking with Aurora police following Leland’s arrest, victim advocates arranged for Elisha to stay at a hotel. While there, she requested officers to retrieve prescription medication in her room at the Extended Stay.

When police looked for the medication in Elisha’s nightstand, they ultimately discovered heroin. She was arrested on a narcotics charge and briefly incarcerated at the Arapahoe County jail on Dec. 22, 2018. 

Shortly thereafter police spoke with a friend of Leland’s who said Leland told her his son had died about nine months before. The friend then told police that Leland had tried to grant her access to his storage unit as Leland wanted to distance himself from any memories related to his son. 

When searching the Pankey’s room at the Aurora hotel on Dec. 22, police found a business card with access information to a Public Storage unit on East Evans Avenue in Denver. Police obtained and executed a search warrant on the unit at about 9 a.m. the next day.

Inside, investigators found a plastic animal cage that had been wrapped in several layers of plastic. After cadaver dogs signaled in front of the vessel, it was taken to the Denver Medical Examiner’s Office, where McWilliams’ decomposed body was confirmed to be inside, encased in concrete. 

McWilliams died of unknown causes, though he was likely malnourished when he died, according to court documents. Several of his bones were broken.

Several days later, police spoke with a woman who was incarcerated in the same pod as Elisha Pankey when she was detained at the Arapahoe County Jail on a drug charge. The woman told police Elisha told her that her son had died in July, and that Elisha and her husband later encased an animal carrier containing her son’s body in concrete and covered it in trash bags before leaving it in a storage container. 

The woman told police that Elisha admitted to often leaving the boy in the carrier. In the summer, “Elisha … heard the boy cry out that he was hot and thirsty … she got up the next morning and found the boy dead in the animal carrier,” according to the affidavit.

Prosecutors filed child abuse charges against both Pankeys in January of last year. 

 “This is one of the most horrific cases ever handled by the Denver DA’s Office,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, who prosecuted the husband and wife, said in a statement last month. 

McCann’s office lauded the sentence handed down to Leland Pankey Feb. 28. 

“The sentence reflects that Pankey’s offenses were intentional, deliberate, calculated, callous, self-serving and depraved of any sense of humanity or human kindness,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “The seriousness of his offenses – child abuse resulting in death and tampering with a deceased human body – shock the conscience and are incomprehensible to the people of Denver.” 

Leland is currently incarcerated at the Fremont Correctional Facility, according to state Department of Corrections records. He was sentenced to two years in prison for a larceny charge out of Jefferson County last March, and one year in prison for an assault charge out of Denver last May. 

Elisha Pankey pleaded guilty to the felony charge of child abuse resulting in death on Aug. 1, 2019, according to court records. 

She is currently in custody and faces between 16 and 32 years in prison for her crime. She is scheduled to be sentenced in Denver District Court on April 1, according to a spokesperson for the Denver DA’s Office.