On Tuesday the 5th of November, 2014, paramedics in West Caln Township, Pennsylvania, were called to a home under reports of an unresponsive child. When they arrived, it quickly dawned on them that what they were responding to was far more horrific than just an “unresponsive child.”1
They found the lifeless body of 3-year-old Scott McMillan. He was covered in bruises, lacerations, and puncture wounds. He was rushed to hospital, and the very appearance of Scott made the nurses sob. Unfortunately, nothing could be done for Scott and he was pronounced dead on arrival.2
Scott’s mother, Jillian Tait, and her boyfriend, Gary Fellenbaum, were immediately questioned and they made no qualms about confessing to the horrors they had inflicted on the young boy.
Leading up to Scott’s death, he had been beaten with blunt and sharp objects, whipped, and taped to a chair with electrical tape. Scott’s head was smashed through a wall. He had also been beaten and hung up by his feet and beaten, which had ultimately led to his death. Scott was beaten with homemade weapons such as a homemade whip, a curtain rod, a frying pan and an aluminum strip.
At one point during the attack, Scott was punched off his chair and then taped to the chair to keep him upright for more beatings to take place. Fellenbaum had also thrown him so hard against a wall that it “caused a hole in the wall.”3
When questioned why the beating had occurred, Tait explained to investigators that Scott refused to eat his breakfast. The beating had taken place over the course of three days, and both Tait and Fellenbaum had partaken. In addition to the vicious beating, Scott had also been systematically starved over the court of weeks.
According to Tait, she frequently beat Scott as well as his 6-year-old brother. She described how she often strung them up by their feet and beat them while Fellenbaum watched, often laughing as the boys cried out in fear and pain. Oftentimes, Fellenbaum did the same while Tait watched on, laughing. While the three day session of systematic abuse and torture had killed Scott, he had been the victim of abuse for much longer.
Scott’s brother knew that if he struggled while the abuse was taking place, it would only result in even more abuse being inflicted. Scott, however, was only 3-years-old, and he squirmed and struggled, which made the abuse even worse.
When Scott was found unresponsive, he was placed on an uninflated air mattress while Tait and Fellenbaum went out shopping, leaving him to suffer alone. They returned home with pizza, took a nap and then engaged in sexual activity. Later on, they realised that Scott was still unresponsive, so they put him in a shower for 30 minutes before finally deciding to call for help.
A press conference would be held to inform the public of the gruesome murder. Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan referred to the case as “An American Horror Story.”4 He stated:
“Little Scotty McMillan is dead. Over a three day period… he was systematically tortured and beaten to death. He was punched in the face and in the stomach. He was scourged with a homemade whip. He was lashed with a metal rod. He was tied to a chair and beaten. He was tied upside down by his feet and beaten. His head was smashed through a wall.”Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan
Both Tait and Fellenbaum were arrested and charged with the murder of Scott. They were additionally charged with aggravated assault in the beating of Scott’s brother. It was announced that the prosecution’s office were going to be seeking the death penalty against the couple.
Tait and Fellenbaum had met just the month beforehand, while working together at Wal-Mart. Almost immediately, they moved in together. It wasn’t just Tait, her children, and Fellenbaum, but also Fellenbaum’s estranged wife, Amber Fellenbaum, and their 11-month-old daughter. They six lived in a mobile home just outside Coatesville, around 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. At the time, Fellenbaum and Amber were going through a divorce, but the relationship between the three was said to be friendly.
In the wake of Scott’s murder, Amber was charged with child endangerment after she failed to assist Scott. She was the one who ultimately called 911, but by this point, Scott had already been unresponsive for hours. When Amber was questioned, she admitted to witnessing the abuse but doing nothing about it.
The night after the arrests, a candlelight vigil was held at Gateway Church in Parkesburg. The service was led by Pastor E. Scott Feather, who said: “Our church is going to be open, just for a place for people to go, to be quiet, and to honor him.”5 During the service, some who knew Fellenbaum commented that they had suspected he was capable of violence. Tracy Nagle stated: “There were signs. He was very threatening. He seemed like a scary, angry, threatening man.”6
It was also announced that the school district of Scott’s brother was launching an internal investigation into his two-week absence from class. Scott’s brother had been enrolled in a local school, but for the past two weeks, he had not attended. The Coatesville Area School District employs a home-school visitor who checks in on students who are repeatedly absent.7
Their internal investigation would be complete in just a few days, and Superintendent Cathy Taschner said that they were confident that staff at the school were not aware of the abuse. She stated: “Whenever a child is absent, our staff tries to make contact with the parents to determine the reason for the absence, through phone calls, written communication, and eventually a home visit to the residence we have on record. All of those procedures were followed. Employees of the district are trained to recognize signs of abuse.”8
Based on a federal regulation, the Family Education Rights Privacy Act, the school district said that they were withholding specific information. They did disclose, however, that they had attempted to make contact with the family by phone, in writing, and during a home visit. They did not reveal whether those attempts were successful.
Prosecutors would reveal that the school had in fact visited an outdated address, and not the address where the family had recently been living. The school’s files had not been updated after the family moved into the mobile home with the Fellenbaum family. The revelation led to a review of the district’s handling of Scott’s brother’s absence.9
Later that same month, a trust fund was set up to benefit Scott’s brother. The community were really moved by the tragic case, and wanted to do whatever possible to help Scott’s brother. Moreover, James J. Terry Funeral Home in Downingtown announced that they would cover all the costs for Scott’s funeral.10
Both Tait and Fellenbaum were ordered to stand trial for the murder of Scott, and they attempted to get the trial moved out of Chester County. They cited pre-trial publicity as the reason for this, and argued that they would not be able to get a fair trial. The judge would then order Fellenbaum to have a psychiatric evaluation before he could proceed to trial. Judge William P. Mahon was motivated to do so after Fellenbaum wrote him a latter, requesting that he represent himself during trial.11
Shortly thereafter, Tait appeared in court where she pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. The guilty plea had come as a plea agreement in which she would testify against Fellenbaum in his upcoming trial.12 During the hearing, District Attorney Michael Noone read out a letter that Scott’s brother had written him in the wake of his murder.
In November 2014, you, Gary and Amber were trapped in a house of torture. The torture was you guys. The victims were me and Scotty. Scotty got killed. I got beaten. You are the worst mother I’ve ever known. You just watched us get hurt. I wish you never met Gary. He is really evil. He nearly killed me. You are the reason Scotty got killed. I thought parents were supposed to protect us. Now you are in jail for your time out.”13Scott’s brother
Tait was sentenced to 42 years to 94 years in prison.
Fellenbaum would be determined to be competent to stand trial and he declined the request to have the trial moved out of the county. During a pre-trial hearing that was held shortly thereafter, Fellenbaum spoke publicly about the case for the first time. He claimed that he had “spanked” Scott, but said it was “a very limited amount.”14
In September, Fellenbaum pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Scott. The reason he pleaded guilty as opposed to go to trial was to avoid the death penalty. The guilty plea came with a sentence of life in prison without parole.
It was revealed during the court hearing that the beating of Scott had escalated to the point where he could not hold down food. This only angered Tait and Fellenbaum even further. At breakfast, Fellenbaum punched Scott so hard he fell off his chair, and then punched him in the stomach. Scott began to vomit. He then passed out and never regained consciousness.15
Before the hearing came to an end, District Attorney Michael Noone read out a note which Scott’s brother had written to him after his death.
I am so sorry that you got killed by Gary. I was trying to protect you,” the note read. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is Gary is in jail. The bad news is you are in heaven and not with me.”16Scott’s brother
- ABC – 8 WQAD, 6 November, 2014 – “3-Year-Old Hung Up By Feet”
- CBS – 5 KENS, 6 November, 2014 – “Mom, Boyfriend Beat 3-Year-Old to Death at Home”
- Associated Press, 6 November, 2014 – “2 Charged in Death of Boy Hung by Feet, Beaten”
- Berks-Mont Newspapers, 6 November, 2017 – “2 Charged with 3-Year-Old’s Murder”
- Delaware County Daily Times, 7 November, 2014 – “Candlelight Vigil Planned Tonight”
- Daily Local News, 31 December, 2014 – “Scotty McMillian’s Short Life Was Nightmare”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 November, 2014 – “School to Investigate Abused Student’s Absence”
- Delaware County Daily Times, 11 November, 2014 – “We Followed Protocol in Absences of Slain Child’s Older Brother”
- Associated Press, 13 November, 2014 – “School Address on Abused Kids Outdated”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 November, 2014 – “Trust Fund Established for Young Chesco Abuse Victim”
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 January, 2017 – “Judge Orders Psych Evaluation for Man in Slaying of 3-Year-Old”
- Associated Press, 12 April, 2017 – “Mother Pleads Guilty in Death of Son, 3”
- Daily Local News, 11 December, 2017 – “Jillian Tait Sentenced to 42 – 94 Years in State Prison”
- Philadelphia Daily News, 18 April, 2017 – “Chesco Man Accused in 3-Year-Old’s Death Says He Only Spanked Boy”
- Daily Local News, 8 September, 2017 – “Fellenbaum Pleads Guilty to Torture and Murder of Scotty McMillan”
- Associated Press, 9 September, 2017 – “Man Gets Life Plus 10 to 20 Years in Boy’s Beating Death”