Body of 11-Year-Old Texas Girl Who Vanished on Way to School Found in River

Polk County Sheriff’s Office; Facebook
Polk County Sheriff’s Office; Facebook

The body of an 11-year-old Texas girl who went missing last week on her way to school was found Tuesday in a nearby river, the Polk County District Attorney confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

Don Steven McDougal, 42, had been named as a person of interest in Audrii Cunningham’s mysterious disappearance on Feb. 15. He lived in a trailer behind her father’s home in Livingston, a small town about an hour from Houston.

At a press conference, Polk County DA Shelly Sitton said his office plans to charge McDougal with capital murder.

Cunningham was reported missing by school officials, who said the girl never showed up last Thursday, according to Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons.

McDougal, who has a swastika tattooed on his left shoulder, was supposed to bring Cunningham to the bus stop that day, Lyons said at a news conference. He was the last person to have seen Cunningham before she dropped out of sight, according to Lyons.

McDougal’s criminal history is an extensive one, with an arrest record dating back more than two decades. It includes convictions for, among other things, theft, driving while intoxicated, unauthorized use of a vehicle, drug possession, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and enticement of a child. His most recent conviction, on a 2020 harassment charge, led to a weeklong stay in the Harris County Jail.

The victim in that case, Ted Booher, on Tuesday remembered McDougal as a problem employee with a bad attitude and a hot temper. Booher had not previously been aware of Cunningham’s disappearance, he said.

“He come at me, threatened to kill me and everything over 50 fucking dollars,” Booher, who runs a private trash-hauling company in LaPorte, told The Daily Beast. “Can you believe that shit? He’s a bad apple. He ain’t worth a damn.”

Booher, 67, said McDougal accused the carting service’s bookkeeper of shorting his pay in the Aug. 8, 2020 incident, after which McDougal “got mad as hell.”

“And then he come at me,” Booher continued, saying he picked up a crowbar to defend himself “because him and his buddies [were] about to attack me.”

“And I got the police on the line and they’re hearing every bit of what this bastard’s doing,” Booher said.

Booher’s account of the crime is corroborated by court records, which list 911 audio in filings.

Booher said he was able to hold McDougal off from physically attacking him, but had nonetheless wanted to press assault charges against him. McDougal pleaded guilty on Sept. 20, 2020 to a misdemeanor charge of verbal harassment, according to court records reviewed by The Daily Beast. He was sentenced to a week in jail, with four days credit for time served.

McDougal’s attorney in the case, Hunter Hoaglund, did not respond to a request for comment.

Another victim of McDougal’s, who worked alongside him at an auto repair shop in Crosby, said he narrowly avoided being stabbed by McDougal in 2010.

“He got drunk one night,” Elic Bryan III told Fox 26 Houston. “We threw him out of the house, and he came back with a knife, slashed tires, tried to stab me with the knife. I had to run him off with a gun and the cops finally came out with dogs and got him.”

Bryan said he wishes he “would have shot him, to be honest with you.”

“That’s my one regret,” he told the news channel. “Didn't want to do it then because it would make you feel bad. But looking back, maybe I should have. With all the allegations against him, he's not a nice guy, apparently. Something is wrong with him in the head.”

On Monday, Lyons told NewsNation that Cunningham’s parents, who are estranged, knew McDougal “had a background but did not know that there was some sort of sexual background involving children.”

McDougal was not required to register as a sex offender after the child enticement conviction in 2007, according to authorities. He was arrested Friday on an unrelated charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and remains detained in the Polk County Jail on $500,000 surety bond.

Cassie Matthews, Cunningham’s mother, did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.