EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. -- By all accounts, Tiffany Hall and Jimella Tunstall were like sisters, survivors in this place rife with crime, poverty, and crumbling buildings.
The two were loners who gravitated toward each other at school. They both became teenage mothers, as do many women in this impoverished city across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
Years later, with two children of her own, according to media reports, Hall baby-sat for Tunstall's three children.
Both families are now trying to fathom how things went wrong.
Hall, 24 years old, is jailed on $5 million bond. She was accused on Saturday of killing the pregnant Tunstall, 23, and the fetus that authorities say was cut from her womb, perhaps with scissors.
Hall is to be arraigned today on charges of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child. The murder count could carry the death penalty.
A two-day search for Tunstall's missing children, ages 7, 2, and 1, ended Saturday with another discovery: Authorities found the children's decomposing bodies in a washer and dryer at the apartment building that they shared with their mother.
``At least they're at peace with their mom," LaDonna Tunstall, the slain woman's stepmother, was quoted as saying in the Belleville News-Democrat.
As for Hall, she reportedly added, ``God is going to have to deal with her."
Hall has not been charged in the children's deaths.
Autopsies conducted yesterday determined that the children drowned before they were put in the machines. Toxicology results were pending.
Refusing to discuss a motive, prosecutors say Hall killed Tunstall, who was seven months pregnant, on or about Sept. 15. That night, said the St. Clair County deputy coroner, Ace Hart, Hall summoned authorities to the Frank Holten State Park, where police found her with a dead baby, which, she said, she had delivered stillborn.
Hall and the baby were taken to a hospital, where she refused to let doctors examine her, and where she gave conflicting accounts of why she had gone into labor, alternately saying that she had consensual sex and that she had been raped, Hart says.
An autopsy did not find a cause of death. ``We didn't even figure it was a homicide," Hart said.
When the funeral for the baby, who was buried as Taylor Horn, took place six days later, the mortuary's director, Levi King, found Hall acting strangely. Minutes before the service, King said, Hall called to ask if she could reschedule so more family could attend.
Hall turned up two hours late.
Then during the service, Police Chief James Mister said, the woman confided to her boyfriend that the child belonged to a pregnant woman she said she had killed. The boyfriend told police, who arrested Hall hours later.
By that time, authorities had found Tunstall's body in a weedy lot blocks from the sprawling state park where Hall had summoned police six days earlier. Near the body were scissors that Hart suspects were used to remove the fetus.