Woman sentenced to 60 years
without parole for murder of bingo player
December 11, 2013
BELLEVILLE, Ill., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A
40-year-old Illinois woman has been sentenced to 60 years in
prison for the kidnapping and murder of an elderly woman for her
bingo winnings, officials say.
In issuing the sentence, Circuit Judge Robert
Haida said LaTosha Cunningham, of Belleville, would not be
eligible for parole, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.
Cunningham is the last of three people to be
sentenced in the murder of Yoko Cullen, 85, in May 2011. Cullen's
charred remains were found in the trunk of her car two days after
she was kidnapped while leaving a bingo hall.
Police believe she was forced into the trunk,
beaten and burned alive for her bingo winnings and a credit card.
Investigators said Cullen was targeted because
the suspects, who also regularly attended the bingo hall, believed
she was wealthy.
DaQuan D. Barnes, 21, was sentenced last month
to 60 years without parole for his part in the murder. Barnes'
cousin, Demarcus Barnes, 30, was found mentally unfit to stand
Woman found guilty of killing Belleville
grandmother for her bingo winnings
October 7, 2013
A judge on Monday found a 39-year-old woman
guilty of the murder of a Belleville grandmother who was burned
alive in her car's trunk after being robbed of her bingo winnings.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Bob Haida found
LaTosha "Net" Cunningham, of Belleville, guilty after a stipulated
bench trial of killing Yoko Cullen, 85, on May 18, 2011.
Police interviewed Cunningham three days after
She told them that she was not involved in the
murder and did not try to use Cullen's ATM card. Cunningham
continued to deny her involvement during a second interview with
But during a third interview, Cunningham was
told Demarcus and DaQuan Barnes confessed to Cullen's murder, then
Cunningham started to talk, according to St. Clair County State's
Attorney Brendan Kelly.
In statements introduced during the bench
trial, Cunningham told police:
* She was driving with the Barneses to the
Collinsville WalMart parking lot to pick up money, but the person
did not show so Cunningham headed back to East St. Louis.
* On the way, Cunningham told police that she
saw a car with mechanical difficulties driving on Collinsville
Road near the Collinsville Fireman's Hall. The car, with the
driver later identified as Cullen, pulled to the side of the road
and put on hazard lights, so Cunningham stopped to render aid.
* DaQuan and Demarcus Barnes asked Cunningham
for tire jacks so she opened her trunk and they took two tire
irons from her trunk and told her to leave. Cunningham said none
of Cullen's tires appeared to be flat. Cunningham then got on
Interstate 55/70, but was passed by Cullen's Mazda.
* Cunningham called Demarcus Barnes and he told
her that they were in the car. Cunningham followed the car to the
100 block of Falling Springs Drive in East St. Louis, then she
approached the car and saw DaQuan Barnes lean into the trunk and
strike Cullen with the tire iron. She ran back to her car.
* Cunningham then drove the Barneses to the BP
Gas Station across the street from East St. Louis City Hall where
DaQuan Barnes put gas into a container, then Cunningham drove them
back to where Cullen's car was parked.
* Damarcus Barnes told Cunningham they were
going to burn the car to destroy the evidence.
Police later showed Cunningham surveillance
photos from an ATM showing Cunningham and Demarcus Barnes trying
to use Cullen's credit card. Investigators called Cullen's bank
and found her credit cards were used on May 19 and 20, 2011.
Police also learned that the bank received calls concerning
Cullen's credit card from Demarcus Barnes' and Cunningham's cell
Police discovered tire irons from Cunningham's
car with Cullen's blood on them, Kelly said. There was also a
fingerprint found on one of the tire irons that matched DaQuan
Kelly told Haida during the hearing that in
Cunningham's statements she tried to minimize her involvement in
the crime, but she did nothing to help Cullen after she was
abducted and shared in the proceeds of the murder.
"No innocent person would have anything to do
with the proceeds of such a diabolical crime," Kelly said.
Search warrants filed in St. Clair County Court
during the investigation revealed that Cunningham knew Cullen from
frequenting Collinsville bingo and knew Cullen would be at the
Collinsville Fireman's Hall for Wednesday night bingo -- so
Cunningham, DaQuan D. "Rug" Barnes and Demarcus Barnes waited in
the parking lot, stopped Cullen from leaving by flashing their
lights and robbed her.
Police said the three forced Cullen into her
own trunk and drove it to a remote location near Russell Avenue
and Falling Springs Road in East St. Louis -- a place known for
dumping stolen cars. Cunningham noticed that Cullen had seen her
license plate number, according to Illinois State Police Agent
"Latosha wanted to kill Yoko because she had
seen her license plate," Brunnworth swore in an affidavit filed
with the search warrant application.
DaQuan Barnes, 21, who pleaded guilty to
Cullen's murder last month, told police the three then split the
money they got from Cullen's purse. They each got $130. During his
plea, he had to swear the statement he gave police was truthful.
In that statement, DaQuan Barnes said he, Cunningham and his
uncle, Demarcus Barnes, planned Cullen's murder, each striking
Cullen with tire irons in an attempt to get Cullen to reveal the
PIN for her ATM card.
DeMarcus Barnes, 30, was found mentally unfit
to stand trial. The next hearing on his mental fitness is Dec. 12.
In 1993, a jury convicted Cunningham of
shooting a 61-year-old woman in the chest after robbing her of
$205. The victim, a retired Landshire employee, was giving
Cunningham a ride when she testified Cunningham demanded her purse
then shot her. Cunningham claimed that it was a case of mistaken
identity. The victim picked her out of a lineup twice.
During her first court appearance in this case,
Cunningham collapsed and vomited into a trash can before the
judge's bench. She left the courthouse in a wheelchair.
Cunningham could face 20 to 60 years in prison.
Under Illinois law, Cunningham would have to serve 100 percent of
her prison sentence because she was convicted of murder.
Cunningham's sentencing is scheduled for Nov.
Investigators: Fire killed
Belleville woman, 85, after carjacking
By Terry Hillig - Stltoday.com
August 17, 2011
An 85-year-old Belleville woman was alive in
the trunk of her car when it was destroyed by fire in East St.
Louis in May, a coroner's jury was told on Wednesday.
Three people have been charged with
first-degree murder in the death of Yoko Cullen, who apparently
was the victim of a carjacking as she left a bingo hall in
Collinsville. The car was found burned near the intersection of
11th Street and Falling Springs Road in East St. Louis.
Cullen's remains were found in the trunk after
the car had been towed to Andy's Auto Body and Towing in the city
of Madison. That's why the inquest was held in Madison County even
though the criminal charges are being prosecuted in St. Clair
Shane Liley, a Madison County coroner's
investigator, testified that Cullen's body was almost entirely
consumed by the fire but said part of her trachea was found and
the inside of it was coated with soot.
"It indicated to us that she was breathing when
the fire started," Liley said.
Pathologist Raj Nanduri found no evidence of
other injuries, Roger Smith, the chief deputy coroner, told the
jury, which later ruled the death a homicide.
Charged with Cullen's murder are Daquan D.
Barnes, 18, of Granite City; his cousin Demarcus D. Barnes, 28, of
Belleville; and Latosha A. Cunningham, 37, of Belleville.
East St. Louis police Detective Orlando Ward
told a reporter after the inquest that investigators believe
Cunningham and Cullen were acquainted as neighbors and that both
frequently played bingo at the Firemen's Hall on Collinsville
Ward said the suspects apparently thought
Cullen had a substantial amount of money with her but were
mistaken as she had only a small amount of money.
Elder robbery, murder is beyond savagery
By James Ingram - Stlamerican.com
June 1, 2011
Whatever happened to a healthy respect for the
elderly, if not for religious reasons, out of a conviction that
the most vulnerable in our community deserve to be treated with
love and compassion?
That's the question that many are asking
following the senseless beating and murder of an 85-year-old lady
who was guilty of nothing more than attempting to enjoy an evening
of relaxation at a local bingo game, only to be kidnapped and
later killed in savage fashion.
The victim, Yoko Cullen, was apprehended on the
evening of May 18, following a Bingo session at a Collinsville,
Ill. bingo hall, allegedly by a neighbor.
According to details from a search warrant
application, three individuals - LaTosha Cunningham (who lived
less than a mile from Cullen and was also a regular at the bingo
hall), DaQuan Barnes and Demarcus Barnes (both associates of
Cunningham) - waited for Cullen in the parking of the bingo hall,
detained Cullen, forced her into the trunk of her own car, then
drove her to a remote area in East St. Louis with a reputation as
a dumping area for stolen cars.
DaQuan Barnes went on to state that Cunningham,
after noticing that Cullen had seen her license plate number,
decided to kill Cullen. So the three suspects, purportedly, beat
Cullen with a tire iron, robbed her (pocketing about $130 each),
bought gasoline and torched Cullen's car, with her still in the
The Metro East Auto Theft Task Force discovered
the car after Cullen's relatives reported her missing, identified
the car and discovered the body of Cullen in the trunk.
Cunningham, and Demarcus and DaQuan Barnes (all
three originally from East St. Louis) were arraigned on first
degree murder charges the following Monday, with Cunningham
fainting, then attempting unsuccessfully to vomit into a trash can
as her charges were read.
East St. Louis Police Detective Michael Floore
confirmed that it was his belief that the motive was robbery. It
is my personal belief that the impetus is savagery, pure and
What type of individual willingly preys on the
most vulnerable in our society? Who would concoct a premeditated
plan to beat, rob and then murder an 85-year-old women over $390?
Only a savage.
This could have been any of our mothers or
grandmothers who frequent the local casinos for "entertainment,"
only to have their lives snuffed out by individuals who are either
too lazy to work, too hardened to have compassion or too savage to
care about the consequences and the impact of their actions on the
families of their innocent victims.
What's even more disheartening is that a woman,
LaTosha Cunningham, by all accounts was the ring leader and had
previously done a nine-year stint for robbing and shooting an
elderly woman back in 1993.
And for Cunningham to have the audacity to
engage in the courtroom theatrics of "fainting" and dramatically
attempting to "vomit" during her arraignment is even more
disgusting, given her alleged indifference and viciousness in the
alleged beating and murder of her elderly victim.
Three charged with murder of 85-year-old
By Robert Kelly - Stltoday.com
May 23, 2011
Three people were charged with first-degree
murder on Sunday in the killing of an 85-year-old woman whose body
was found in the trunk of her burned car.
Charged were Daquan D. Barnes, 20, of the 2400
block of Logan Avenue in Granite City; his cousin Demarcus D.
Barnes, 29, of the 500 block of North Douglas Avenue in
Belleville; and Latosha A. Cunningham, 38, of the 1400 block of
Radiance Drive in Belleville. Each was being held in lieu of $3
Police say the three apparently acted on the
spur of the moment, grabbing Yoko Cullen of Belleville as she left
a bingo game Wednesday night in Collinsville.
"It was a crime of opportunity. She was
carjacked and taken to East St. Louis, where she was murdered,"
O'Fallon, Ill., police Capt. Jeff Wild said.
Wild commanded the Major Case Squad team that
made the arrests and obtained charges against the three suspects.
The remains of Cullen were found Friday in East
A vehicle and suspect descriptions were
distributed to police, and an officer spotted the 2006 white Dodge
Charger near Cunningham's house.
Detectives said they arrested the three based
on unspecified information received during intensive interviews
with the three and other witnesses.
Wild said evidence indicated that the crime had
not been planned.
Wild said Cullen was carjacked from the parking
lot as she was leaving the Firemen's Hall on Collinsville Road.
Her car was found burned two days later near
the intersection of 11th Street and Falling Springs Road in East
St. Louis. Her body was in the trunk.
"This one was tough for us — as they all are,"
Wild said. "But an 85-year-old victim makes it tougher."
Wild declined to say whether anything had been
stolen from Cullen or whether any weapons had been found. He also
declined to say what evidence led to the arrests.
No previous connection has been found between
Cullen or any of the suspects, Wild said. He said she may have
been chosen just as an easy target for abduction.
He would not discuss the exact cause or manner
of Cullen's death.
Police investigation links
burned car to missing elderly woman
May 21, 2011
The Major Case Squad said Saturday it had
questioned several "persons of interest" in the case of a missing
elderly Belleville woman whose burned out car was found in East
St. Louis with a body inside its trunk.
Police on Saturday were awaiting autopsy
results to identify the body.
Yoko Cullen, 85, was reported missing to
Belleville police Friday morning. Her gray 2008 Mazda3 was found
burned in an area where vehicles are frequently dumped, near the
intersection of 11th Street and Falling Springs Road.
On Saturday afternoon, Cullen's family gathered
tearfully at her home in the Green Mount Station neighborhood.
They said the past 24 hours have been extremely difficult and
police have asked them not to comment further while the
A neighbor in the small community of
manufactured homes said that Cullen "was a very lovely woman who
kept to herself." The neighbor declined to comment further, citing
the family's wishes.
Capt. Jeff Wild, who is commanding a Major Case
Squad team of about 20 detectives, has said detectives had several
leads and were optimistic about solving the case.
The team resumed its work Saturday, using the
East St. Louis police station as a home base. Detectives were
interviewing Cullen's family members and neighbors.