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A.K.A.: "Net"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping and murder of an elderly woman for her bingo winnings
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 18, 2011
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: November 9, 1973
Victim profile: Yoko Cullen, 85
Method of murder: Forced into the trunk of her car, beaten and burned alive
Location: East St. Louis, St. Clair County, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to 60 years in prison without parole on December 11, 2013
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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 trial.


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 the killing.

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 police.

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 phones.

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 Barnes.

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 Jamie Brunnworth.

"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. 25.


Investigators: Fire killed Belleville woman, 85, after carjacking

By Terry Hillig -

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 County.

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 Road.

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 -

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 trunk.

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 simple.

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 Belleville woman

By Robert Kelly -

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 million bail.

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 St. Louis.

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 investigation continues.

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.



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