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Top 11 Crime Stories Of 2011

David Lohr   |   December 20, 2011   12:00 PM ET

There were plenty of high-profile crime cases in 2011, including the trials of Casey Anthony and Michael Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray. While resolutions were reached in both of those cases, many of top crimes remain unresolved. Read on to see HuffPost's top 11 cases of 2011:

Sky Metalwala's Father Accuses Estranged Wife Of Hiding Their Son

Michael McLaughlin   |   December 14, 2011   10:52 AM ET

The father of a missing two-year-old boy has accused his estranged wife of hiding their son and covering up the abduction with lies, according to Seattle TV station KING 5.

Sky Metalwala was reported missing on Nov. 6 by his mother, Julia Biryukova. She claims she ran out of gas, left the boy asleep in her car on the side of the road, and went for help with her other child. When Biryukova returned, Sky was allegedly gone.

Solomon Metalwala -- Sky's dad -- doesn't believe the story.

"She is lying," he told KING 5, "She is not telling the whole truth."

Metalwala and Biryukova have been locked in a testy divorce and custody battle. He told the station he believes his son is alive and that someone is helping her hide the child.

Police in Bellevue, Wash., have questioned Biryukova's story also. They examined her car and found that it still had plenty of gas and didn't show any mechanical problems.

Police found it suspicious that she refused to take a polygraph, but her lawyer said she was too devastated to undergo a lie detector test.

Metalwala last week won custody of the couple's other child, their four-year-old daughter Maile, who has been in foster care since Sky vanished,The Seattle Times reports.

However, there's one catch to reuniting father and daughter. Last year, Biryukova had obtained an order of protection against her husband. A judge said that must be cleared up.

That shouldn't be a problem, according to Metalwala's lawyer, who told The Seattle Times that Biryukova filed for it under false pretenses, claiming that his client had been abusive.

PHOTOS: THE SEARCH FOR SKY METALWALA:

  |   December 5, 2011    1:17 PM ET

Sky Metalwala's sister has been in foster care since her brother's disappearance on Nov. 6, but a national group has called for her return to their father, Solomon Metalwala. A court hearing on Monday will determine whether she stays in the state's care.

The state reports receiving "hundreds" of messages supporting the reunion of Sky Metalwala's sister, Maile, and their father, Solomon Metalwala, after a national parent's rights group started a national campaign.

David Lohr   |   November 16, 2011    9:49 AM ET

Police in Bellevue, Wash., recently served a search warrant on a "sugar daddy" dating website, seeking information on Julia Biryukova, the mother of missing two-year-old Sky Metalwala.

"They wanted all the records of her login and activity on the website as well as whom she might have spoken to through the website," Brandon Wade, owner of the seekingarrangement.com website, told NBC's "Today" show this morning.

According to a description on the site, it is "the largest dating website for those seeking mutually beneficial arrangements -- i.e., a relationship between a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mommy, and a Sugar Baby."

A profile using the initials and nine photographs of Biryukova was created on July 25. According to the profile, "JB" is a divorced mother of two. It reads, in part:

"Happy, single, Loving, FUN, PASSIONATE, kind, healthy, Beautiful, great cook, blonde hair, blue eyes, slim, very fit, CHRISTIAN, mommy of 2 beautiful babies, I speak fluent Russian, Ukrainian and English, I live in Redmond, WASHINGTON."

The profile creator wrote they are seeking a "sugar daddy" who is willing to spend $3,000 to $5,000 a month.

"I am looking for financial stability and assistance," the profile reads. "I am looking for a successful mentor. I am looking for a REAL man. YOU tell me YOUR 'ideal' arrangement!"

Wade told KTNV-13 the profile account was last accessed on November 14, by an IP address resolving back to a Seattle-area computer.

Detectives have yet to comment on what, if anything, they have learned from the account.

This latest development in the case comes exactly one week after police said Biryukova refused to take a polygraph examination.

"Mom isn't willing to come in and provide a polygraph. To be quite honest, that looks suspicious and we're puzzled by that," Bellevue police Maj. Mike Johnson said last week.

Biryukova's attorney, Veronica Freitas, has not responded to a request for comment.

Johnson said Sky's father, Biryukova's estranged husband Solomon Metalwala, has "cooperated fully."

PHOTOS (Story Continues Below)

Authorities are still trying to build a timeline in the case. Biryukova told police Sky was ill on the morning of November 6 and she was driving him from their Redmond home to a Bellevue hospital when her car ran out of gas.

"She is reporting that Sky was asleep in his car seat," Bellevue police spokeswoman Carla Lafrate told The Huffington Post. "She took her 4-year-old [daughter] and they walked to a gas station, which is about a mile walk, and called a friend to come and pick them up. When the friend picked her up and they got back to the car, the child was missing."

Biryukova's car started when it was checked by officers. A forensic exam also revealed there was a significant amount of fuel inside the gas tank.

Despite recent turns in the case, investigators said they are not ready to name any suspects or persons of interest in the case.

TOP STORIES FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:

WATCH: Police 'Hope For Best, Prepare For Worst' About Missing Boy

Michael McLaughlin   |   November 13, 2011    9:40 AM ET

Police searching for a 2-year-old boy who allegedly vanished when his mother left him in her car on the side of the road while she bought gas worry the tike has fallen "into some very unfortunate circumstances."

Major Mike Johnson of Bellevue (Wash.) police warned at a news conference that there could be a grim outcome in the search for Sky Metalwala, reported missing last Sunday.

"Given the amount of time that's passed, unfortuatnelyt the reality of this is that Sky may have fallen into some very unfortunate circumstances," Johnson told reporters on Friday. "And as much as we don't like to think about that or talk about it, it's a reality.

"We hope for the best and prepare for the worst," he added.

The child's mother Julia Biryukova and father Solomon Metalwala are divorcing and arguing over custody of their son. Johnson said police are looking to see if the custody fight played a role in Sky's disappearance. Cops are also investigating the possibility of an abduction or that the child left the car and got lost while Biryukova and his older sister allegedly went to get gas for the car's empty tank.

Biryukova has refused to take a polygraph and police say her version of events doesn't add up. For instance, cop said they didn't see a gasoline canister at her car.

Her attorney said the mother is too shaken up by her son's disappearance and is in no shape for a polygraph test.

Her estranged husband has taken a lie detector test, police said.

Sky Metalwala


Disturbing Similarity Between 'Law & Order' Episode And Sky Metalwala Case

David Lohr   |   November 10, 2011   11:11 AM ET

Washington state authorities are investigating a possible link between the disappearance of 2-year-old Sky Metalwala and the popular TV show "Law & Order: SVU."

Investigators say Sky's mother, Julia Biryukova, may have taken a page from an episode of the crime drama -- an episode that actually aired the day before Sky disappeared. In it, a woman claimed she left her young son strapped in the backseat of her car when she went in a store to buy diapers. When she came out, the car and her son were gone.

The fictional Halloween kidnapping case ends when police connect the parents to the child's disappearance and recover his remains on a remote beach.

Police in Bellevue know about the possible connection and said they are investigating.

"I've heard about the 'Law and Order: SVU' episode that has great similarity to this case. I heard that it aired Saturday, the day before the disappearance of Sky," Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson said.

"I know that there are several folks up in the operations center of the command post that have taken a look at that episode, and have commented that it is strikingly similar in nature," he added.

Biryukova has claimed that her son was ill Sunday morning and she was driving him from their Redmond home to a Bellevue hospital when her car ran out of gas. Biryukova told police Sky was asleep in his car seat, so she took her 4-year-old daughter and walked to a gas station about one mile away. There, she called a friend to come pick them up. When they got back to the car approximately an hour later, the child was missing, Biryukova said.

On Wednesday, Johnson said the story does not add up.

"[If] you're on the way to the hospital, why would you leave your kid in the car? It certainly is suspicious," he said.

Authorities also found it bizarre that Biryukova's car started when it was checked by officers. According to police, mechanics conducting a forensic exam of the car yesterday found plenty of gas inside the car's fuel tank.

"There was a sufficient amount of gas in that vehicle to run for a considerable distance," Johnson said. "What we need to consider, though, is whether or not there may have been another mechanical problem with the car that made it stop, and I don't have the answer to that yet."

PHOTOS (Story Continues Below)

Authorities have also revealed Biryukova has refused to take a polygraph examination.

"To be quite honest, that looks suspicious and we're puzzled by that," Johnson said.

Biryukova's attorney, Veronica Freitas, did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.

Johnson said Sky’s father, Biryukova's estranged husband Solomon Metalwala, has "cooperated fully" and voluntarily took a polygraph examination.

Despite their suspicions, investigators said they are not ready to name any suspects or persons of interest in the case. However, Johnson did say Biryukova's story "is falling apart day to day."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated facts about the fictional parents' relationship in the episode.

WATCH A CLIP FROM THE "LAW & ORDER: SVU" EPISODE:

DONNA BLANKINSHIP and GENE JOHNSON   |   November 10, 2011    9:34 AM ET

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The mother of a missing Washington state toddler didn't run out of gas on the day her son disappeared – a discovery that contradicts what she has previously told investigators, police said Wednesday.

Julia Biryukova has told police that her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, vanished Sunday in Bellevue when she left him sleeping alone in her unlocked car after it ran out of gas. She and her 4-year-old daughter walked to get gas, she said, and when they returned an hour later, the boy was gone.

Police Find Mother Of Missing Child's Refusal To Take Lie Detector Test 'Suspicious'

David Lohr   |   November 9, 2011    5:00 PM ET

Police in Bellevue, Wash., say Julia Biryukova, the mother of missing two-year-old Sky Metalwala, has refused to take a polygraph examination.

"Mom isn't willing to come in and provide a polygraph. To be quite honest, that looks suspicious and we're puzzled by that," Bellevue police Maj. Mike Johnson said.

According to Johnson, Biryukova's attorney, Veronica Freitas, said her client is "devastated and is in no condition to take a polygraph."

Freitas did not reply to an email seeking comment from The Huffington Post and calls to her law firm went unanswered Wednesday.

Johnson said Sky's father, Biryukova's estranged husband Solomon Metalwala, has "cooperated fully" and took a polygraph examination on Sunday. Metalwala has also consented to a follow-up examination, police said, after results proved inconclusive.

Authorities are still trying to build a timeline in the case. While he disappeared Sunday, indications are that the last time anyone saw Sky was a couple of weeks ago. Johnson said investigators have been unable to find anybody who has seen Sky since then. Johnson also said that investigators are troubled by Biryukova's story.

"When you hear this story the mom has told, you have to scratch your head and wonder why? If that's really what happened, why?" he said.

PHOTOS (Story Continues Below)

Biryukova told police Sky was ill Sunday morning and she was driving him from their Redmond home to a Bellevue hospital when her car ran out of gas.

"She is reporting that Sky was asleep in his car seat," Bellevue police spokeswoman Carla Lafrate told The Huffington Post. "She took her 4-year-old [daughter] and they walked to a gas station, which is about a mile walk, and called a friend to come and pick them up. When the friend picked her up and they got back to the car, the child was missing."

Johnson said the story does not add up.

"[If] you're on the way to the hospital, why would you leave your kid in the car? It certainly is suspicious," he said.

Authorities also found it bizarre that Biryukova's car started when it was checked by officers. According to Lafrate, mechanics are conducting a forensic exam of the car Wednesday.

"They are looking at the gas tank to see how much gas is in there," she said.

Despite their suspicions, investigators said they are not ready to name any suspects or persons of interest in the case. In addition to polygraph examinations, authorities were conducting additional searches Wednesday for clues in the case. That search has taken investigators to Biryukova's Redmond home.

"The reason we have moved out there is because that is the last place we think Sky was, so we are backtracking," Lafrate said.

Johnson said police also plan to focus on the people closest to Sky.

"The people who are closest to Sky and Julia are the people who know what happened to Sky," he said.

Neither Biryukova nor Solomon Metalwala responded requests for comment from The Huffington Post.


By DONNA BLANKINSHIP and GENE JOHNSON   |   November 9, 2011    9:52 AM ET

By DONNA BLANKINSHIP and GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Frustrated police in Washington state said Tuesday that they were working to trace the steps of a missing toddler's mother over the past two weeks because her story about the boy's disappearance makes little sense.

The woman, Julia Biryukova, told investigators that her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, vanished Sunday in Bellevue when she left him sleeping alone in her unlocked car for an hour after it ran out of gas. The 30-year-old claimed she and her 4-year-old daughter walked to a gas station, and when they returned to the car, the boy was gone.

"Given the limited amount of information we have, the fact that there's really no solid leads to follow up on in regard to where he might be - absolutely, we suspect foul play," Police Maj. Mike Johnson told reporters. "Nothing about the story adds up. Something else happened."

When investigators questioned relatives, family friends and neighbors, only Biryukova and the boy's sister reported seeing him in the past two weeks, said Bellevue police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate.

The girl told police Sunday that her brother had been in the car when they left it, Iafrate said. A detective trained in questioning children interviewed her again Monday, Iafrate said, but "nothing significant" came out of it.

Detectives were working to collect surveillance video from any place Biryukova may have been over the past two weeks, Iafrate said. She has so far declined to take a polygraph examination; neither she nor her lawyer returned calls or emails seeking comment Monday and Tuesday.

Iafrate characterized Biryukova's interactions with police as "a certain level of cooperation."

Sky's disappearance came amid a bitter divorce and custody fight between Biryukova and the boy's father, Solomon Metalwala. At a mandatory mediation session last week, the parties reached a tentative agreement that would allow Metalwala to have some visitation with Sky and his older sister, said Metalwala's lawyer, Leslie Clay Terry III.

VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE CASE: (story continues below)

Investigators have invited the boy's relatives to take polygraph tests in hopes of shaking loose any clues to his whereabouts. Metalwala took one Monday night but it was inconclusive; he offered to take another one Tuesday, but Iafrate did not immediately know whether the second test took place.

Biryukova claimed she had been driving to a Bellevue hospital because Sky wasn't feeling well when the car ran out of gas, police said. The hospital wasn't the closest one to her home in nearby Redmond, but she reportedly told detectives she liked the Bellevue hospital better. It wasn't immediately clear what might have been wrong with the boy.

If Sky was in fact left in the car, it wouldn't have been the first time.

When he was 3 months old, his parents left him in their SUV in a Target parking lot for 55 minutes on a 27-degree day, court records showed. The couple came out of the store to get Sky only after police arrived and asked for the vehicle's owner to be paged.

Redmond police cited both parents for reckless endangerment in the December 2009 incident. However, the case was dismissed early this year after the pair completed a year of probation, 40 hours of community service and a 10-week parenting class.

In court documents filed in their divorce, Biryukova said their relationship deteriorated in 2008 after they bought an expensive home in Kirkland and couldn't keep up with the payments on that property and a condominium they owned.

The divorce case has been marked by back-and-forth protection orders. She accused her husband of beating her and the children; he alleged she had severe psychiatric problems that endangered them.

Terry said state Child Protective Services later conducted an investigation that cleared Metalwala.

Meanwhile, a social worker reported this year that a doctor found Biryukova to be in good mental health and an appropriate caregiver for the kids.

___

Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Phuong Le contributed to this report.

Police Say Mom's Story About Missing Boy 'Doesn't Add Up'

Michael McLaughlin   |   November 8, 2011    3:48 PM ET

Bellevue, Wash. police suspect "foul play" in the disappearance of two-year-old Sky Metalwala, Patch reports.

Although Sky's parents are cooperating, cops say that Julia Biryukova's version of events "doesn't add up." Biryukova said she left her son in an unlocked car while she walked a mile to get gas for the stalled vehicle. When she came back, the tike was missing.

Read the gripping, full story at Patch.com.

GENE JOHNSON, PHUONG LE and MANUEL VALDES   |   November 7, 2011    7:51 PM ET

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Police searching for a 2-year-old Washington state boy focused their efforts Monday around the home of his mother, who reportedly told investigators she last saw him in her stalled car on a city street as she walked away for an hour to get gas.

It wouldn't be the first time Sky Metalwala had been left alone in a car. When he was just 3 months old, court records revealed, his parents left him in their sport utility vehicle in a Target parking lot for 55 minutes on a 27-degree day. They only came out of the store to get him after police arrived and asked for the vehicle's owner to be paged.


The toddler's disappearance Sunday in Bellevue, a city of 122,000 across Lake Washington from Seattle, came at the height of a custody fight between his parents, Julia Biryukova and Solomon Metalwala. They separated in March 2010 amid back-and-forth protective orders and allegations of abuse and psychiatric problems.

PHOTOS: (Story Continues Below)

Last December, a social worker determined that there was a "preponderance of evidence" that Metalwala had struck his daughter hard enough to cause bruising, court records show. The social worker also said Sky had troubling bruises, but because the boy could not talk, it wasn't clear where he got them. However the attorney for Metalwala, Leslie Clay Terry III, said Monday that case worker had only interviewed the mother and that Child Protective Services later conducted an investigation that cleared Metalwala.

"He was exonerated completely," Terry said.

Last week, at a mandatory mediation session, a tentative agreement was hammered out that would allow Metalwala to have some visitation with Sky and his older sister, his lawyer said.

Biryukova reported that her car ran out of gas in Bellevue on Sunday morning, police said. She said she left Sky in the unlocked vehicle and walked with her daughter, who is 4, about a mile to a gas station. When she returned to the car, Sky wasn't there, she said.

Investigators searched a 20-block area and even went door to door but found no sign of him. There was no gas can at the car, police said.

The Bellevue Police Department said both parents were cooperating, and Biryukova had consented to have her vehicle and home in nearby Redmond searched. The older child has been placed in protective custody.

"We're looking at it from all angles, at this point," said Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson. "Missing person, abduction, foul play has not been ruled out."

Biryukova did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Her younger brother, Stanley Biryukov, said Julia was crying frantically when she called him Sunday afternoon and explained what had happened.

"I'm hoping they'll find the child," he said.

Metalwala spoke with reporters at the office of his lawyer, Terry. They said his estranged wife's story was bizarre: Why didn't she call for help, knock on a nearby door, or take the child with her?

"I don't understand why she would leave a little baby in the car," Metalwala said. "The whole story is puzzling."

In December 2009, Redmond police cited both parents for reckless endangerment at the Target parking lot. A shopper who heard the baby crying in the SUV called police, and a responding officer reported that the car felt cold.

Paged inside the store, the couple said they had left the baby in the car for 15 to 20 minutes because they didn't want to wake him up. Surveillance video of the parking lot later proved it had actually been 55 minutes.

The case was dismissed early this year after the pair completed a year of probation, 40 hours of community service and a 10-week parenting class.

The couple had been together for 14 years. He was 21 and she was a high school sophomore when they began dating, according to one of her court declarations. In another declaration, her mother, Nadia Biryukova, wrote that they married in 2003 in her kitchen just before he was to be deported to Pakistan.

In court documents filed in connection with their divorce, Julia Biryukova said their relationship deteriorated in 2008 after they bought an expensive home in Kirkland and couldn't keep up with the payments on that property and a condominium they also owned.

The couple separated in March 2010, court records show. In June 2010, the same month Metalwala filed for divorce, Biryukova, 30, filed for a protection order on behalf of herself and their two children.

She said Metalwala, 36, had a severe anger problem, was verbally abusive and that he had beat her for the first time on Christmas Day, just weeks after the incident at the Target parking lot. The reason was that she had allowed Sky to sleep later than expected, she said.

"He became furious like I have never seen him before, he grabbed me by my hair (in front of our 3 1/2 year old daughter), dragged me into our hallway, threw me down on the floor and then threw me against a decorative column we have in the entrance of our home," Biryukova wrote. "He continued to assault me with his feet - by kicking me and then he took out his car keys and continued to scratch me in any area he could."

The abuse escalated after that, with Solomon telling her to go live on the street and work as a prostitute, she said.

"The most, most recent have been his threats to kill me if I say anything against him or if in any way I proceed with action of seeking custody of our two small children," Biryukova added. "I live in constant fear for my life and my children's life. Please investigate and help me!"

He responded that she had mental health problems and was involuntarily committed to a mental clinic in 2010.

"The accusations against him were totally false," his lawyer said.

Earlier this year a social worker with state Child Protective Services reported that a doctor found her to be in good mental health and an appropriate caregiver for the children.

One psychologist who evaluated Biryukova wrote in July 2010 that though she was dealing with "a severe form of obsessive compulsive disorder, I do not believe that interferes with her ability to be a compassionate, effective parent to her children."

CPS received six referrals about the family from late 2009 to late 2010, state officials reported in court documents.

___

Johnson and Le reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Donna Gordon Blankinship contributed to this report.