Just four months before her 5-year-old son mysteriously disappeared and his body was recovered in the woods, a New Hampshire mother told a friend that she could no longer control the boy, compared him to serial killers, and said she wanted him “gone.”
Danielle Dauphinais, 35, complained to a childhood friend over text messages that Elijah Lewis, the fourth of her six children, had become unruly and untenable, according to screenshots of the conversation reviewed by the Globe.
“I call him the next Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer,” Dauphinais wrote. “It’s so sad but I have no connection with this child.”
“He’s been getting worse and worse,” Dauphinais added of her son, whose remains were found last month in Abington following a frantic, 10-day search by law enforcement across at least five states.
“I want him gone.”
Dauphinais and her boyfriend, Joseph Stapf, 30, are currently jailed in New Hampshire, facing charges of child endangerment and witness tampering for their alleged attempts to mislead officials as investigators tried to determine the boy’s whereabouts. Both have pleaded not guilty, and there have been no charges filed related to the boy’s death. Authorities have remained mum about the cause of death, and a judge has sealed court files related to the case.
New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella’s office, which is investigating the matter, declined to comment Monday on the messages or the case.
The frank messages offer a disturbing glimpse into the final months of Elijah’s short and turbulent life, in which he was passed between parents in Arizona and New Hampshire and cared for by adults with a host of criminal and personal struggles.
The messages, sent through the Snapchat app between Dauphinais and Erika Wolfe, were shared with the Globe by Wolfe, who has known Dauphinais since both were teenagers in New Hampshire. Another friend of Dauphinais’s, Michelle O’Brien, confirmed that Wolfe had previously shared the messages.
Though Wolfe and Dauphinais hadn’t seen each other in years, Wolfe said, Dauphinais responded out of the blue last June to a Snapchat post in which Wolfe, who lives in New Hampshire, discussed the behavioral issues of her own teenage son.
In response, Dauphinais outlined the problems she was having with her 5-year-old, Elijah, who she said had been living with her since May 2020.
“I have to keep him in his room,” Dauphinais told Wolfe. “I can’t trust him at all.”
Dauphinais said the boy would play in his own excrement. She also accused him of urinating on clothing and beds. ”This child is (expletive),’' she wrote.
In the exchange, Dauphinais said that the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families was involved, but she suggested she was hamstrung to act without the consent of the boy’s father, who lives in Arizona. Repeated attempts to reach the father, Timothy Lewis, have been unsuccessful.
Wolfe told the Globe she was surprised by the callousness of Dauphinais’s comments but she assumed it was just the venting of a frustrated parent.
“In my mind, I’m thinking DCYF is probably checking in,” Wolfe said. “I thought, ‘Oh, you’re having a rough time, and probably not the best comment choices, and we all have our days.”
The state’s child welfare agency has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter or say whether it was involved with the family.
Below is an excerpt of a text message exchange between Erika Wolfe and Danielle Dauphinais, the mother of Elijah Lewis. In the exchange, Wolfe talks about having troubles with her teenage son, while Dauphinais replies by texting about Lewis, who had recently come to live with her.
Omg I’m so sorry. Unfortunately it will probably get worse because I have had issues with him being violent & nasty since a toddler
- June 22nd
Oh I figured. I call him the next Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer. It’s so sad but I have no connection with this child. His father took him at the age of one and never returned him until last may 2020. He’s been getting worse and worse. I want him gone. I can’t handle it anymore.
- June 22nd
I have to keep him in his room. I can’t trust him at all. This child is [expletive] Erica straight [expletive]
Even dcyf was involved and they told me I can’t do [expletive] without his father’s concent. It’s been a [expletive] nightmare that I can’t wake up from. It’s so damn sad and I’m so sorry you’re going through this too. Ugh why us??? Is it because we were assholes as kids and it’s payback? Like I don’t get it.
Wolfe forgot about the correspondence, she said, until last month, when Elijah’s disappearance sparked a search that included investigative agencies from across New England.
Seeing the news reports, she said, she instantly got a knot in her stomach.
“I remembered those messages,” Wolfe said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, no.’”
Wolfe said she forwarded the messages to one of Dauphinais’s relatives on Oct. 16, while authorities worked to locate the boy. That relative, Wolfe said, later indicated she’d provided the messages to police.
As of Monday, authorities hadn’t contacted Wolfe about the messages, she said.
In a brief phone conversation Monday, Dauphinais’s attorney, Jaye Rancourt, declined to comment on the messages.
“I have no information that these text messages are from my client,” Rancourt said. “Unless I had documentation verifying from a phone company their authenticity, until that happens, I would contest their validity.”
In recent months, Elijah lived with Dauphinais and Stapf on a quiet, lakefront street in Merrimack, N.H., in the basement of a home owned by Stapf’s mother. Neighbors recall rarely, if ever, seeing the young child outdoors, and a Merrimack public schools official said last week that the boy was never enrolled in the district.
It remains unclear how authorities learned Elijah had gone missing, though prosecutors have said they believe the child was last seen at his home within about a month of his disappearance.
Dauphinais and Stapf were arrested Oct. 17 in New York City. Officers found three packets of suspected cocaine in Dauphinais’s backpack, according to a police report.
Dauphinais has two children with Stapf, including one, Stapf’s attorney said, that was born earlier in October. It is unclear how long Dauphinais and Stapf had been in New York before their arrest — and where the couple’s two children were at the time.
As the investigation into the boy’s death continues, questions remain about how Elijah ended up in the care of Dauphinais — a woman Elijah’s father had previously described in court records as being “violent and impulsive” and having a “history of domestic violence and substance abuse.”
The two divorced shortly after Elijah’s first birthday, and a court-approved decree in Arizona in 2017 blocked Dauphinais from spending time with her son; an accompanying parenting plan called for Elijah to remain solely in Lewis’s care.
But for reasons that are unclear, Lewis sent Elijah to live with Dauphinais in May 2020, according to two friends, O’Brien and MJ Morrison, as well as Dauphinais’s former stepmother, Gail Dauphinais.
A judge has ordered details of the case sealed, and it will likely be months, prosecutors said, until the boy’s cause of death can be determined. The New Hampshire attorney general’s office also refused last week to release records detailing any previous police visits to the boy’s home.
Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.