STUART, Fla. — More than two decades after she reported her 5-year-old son missing from a carnival in New Jersey, a woman investigators say they long considered a suspect was arrested on the day that Timothy Wiltsey would have turned 29.
Michelle Lodzinski, 47, was held without bail by a Florida judge after a brief court appearance Thursday. She was arrested Wednesday in Jensen Beach.
It wasn’t known whether she would agree to return to New Jersey, where a judge set her bail at $2 million. She appeared on camera from jail wearing an orange jumpsuit and did not yet have an attorney.
Lodzinski told authorities her son had disappeared at a carnival in Sayreville, New Jersey, in May 1991. Investigators at the time said her story changed as police questioned her. The boy’s skeletal remains were found in April 1992 in a marshy area in nearby Edison.
Alan Rockoff, the Middlesex County prosecutor when Timothy disappeared, said prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to charge her previously.
“We didn’t have sufficient evidence at the time to pull the trigger,” said Rockoff, 81. “There was no direct smoking gun here. … Hopefully now, there’s a possibility of closure. Justice works slowly, but works surely.”
A man who identified himself as Lodzinski’s father said Thursday that the family believes she is innocent.
“We went through the same thing 20 years ago,” Edward Lodzinski said at his home in Port St. Lucie. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s innocent.”
Lodzinski lives with two sons, ages 12 and 16, Port St. Lucie police spokesman Master Sgt. Frank Sabol said.
Dave Hisey, who identified himself as her brother-in-law, told The Stuart News newspaper that the two boys are devastated.
“Michelle’s a normal woman,” Hisey said. “She’s a hard-working single mother trying to take care of two boys.”
Middlesex County prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a statement that the case was presented to the grand jury after a “routine, cold case review of the evidence and facts surrounding the disappearance and murder” of Timothy.
The one-page indictment unsealed Thursday doesn’t mention the cause of death or specify what evidence led authorities to charge Lodzinski. The grand jury said she “did purposely or knowingly kill” Timothy or did “purposely or knowingly inflict serious bodily injury” resulting in his death.
Lodzinski went into seclusion when the remains of her son were discovered, and neighbors said at the time that she didn’t appear distraught.
“It’s the way she reacted. That’s why people say she had something to do with it. You should show some emotion — crying, showing something,” Penny Rivers, who lived a block from Lodzinski, told The Associated Press in 1992. “But all the times I saw her on television she didn’t.”
After the discovery, Lodzinski said she couldn’t make people believe her.
“What can I say to people? I don’t know anymore,” Lodzinski said at the time. “How am I supposed to act normally? I don’t think anyone after losing a child should have to go outside and explain to the public how they feel.”
Lodzinski ran into other legal troubles after her son’s death.
She surfaced in Michigan in January 1994 and said two men claiming to be FBI agents had abducted her at gunpoint outside her apartment building, forced her into a black SUV and drove her to Detroit, where they let her out.
She pleaded guilty in 1995 to making false statements to the FBI and fraudulently using the agency’s seal. She was sentenced to probation.
In 1997, Lodzinski was charged with stealing a computer from her former employer. She pleaded guilty to a theft charge and was pregnant in 1998 when a federal judge sentenced her to house arrest after she admitted she committed a crime while on probation.
Edward Szkodny, who retired in 2010 as chief of the Sayreville Police Department, said the unsolved killing became extremely frustrating as time went on.
“It was satisfying an arrest was made,” said Szkodny, 69. “Hopefully, justice will be served.”