Mother is charged with neglect after children are found in crate inside cave

While investigating a stolen car operation in a cave, Jackson County sheriff’s deputies found two siblings who appeared to be living in a crate.
While investigating a stolen car operation in a cave, Jackson County sheriff’s deputies found two siblings who appeared to be living in a crate. Special to the Star

In the far recesses of one of Kansas City’s underground caves, two small children sat inside a wooden crate where authorities say their mother left them.

The children, ages 4 and 6, had no shoes and no water to drink. Their bodies were covered in filth. The younger child ate dry ramen noodles out of a dirty cup. The older one told police that he should be in first grade but that he did not go to school.

Authorities may not have found the siblings Thursday if Jackson County deputies hadn’t been serving a search warrant on a possible “chop shop” stolen car operation inside the underground complex at 8201 E. 23rd St., near Interstate 435.

As deputies searched for car parts, they found the two in the 8-by-10-foot crate that had one side missing. Inside the crate were two vehicle bench seats, two small blankets, scattered trash and thin wires.

Deputies arrested the children’s mother, 24-year-old Brittany Mugrauer, on Friday.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Saturday that Mugrauer had been charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Mugrauer was in the Jackson County jail Saturday, with bond set at $75,000.

After the children were discovered, authorities took them to the Jackson County sheriff’s headquarters and later to the emergency room at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The children were evaluated and then bathed and given clean clothing, court documents said. No further information on the children was available.

Mugrauer told a detective that her children had been living in the caves for “several days,” according to court records.

She also told authorities she had left the children alone in the caves. The children said that they didn’t know where their mother was but that she had taken her boyfriend to the hospital after he “smashed his finger.”

The discovery inside the crate, way back inside the caves, is the sixth time in five years that authorities have found children in the Kansas City area in severe conditions of neglect or abuse.

It started in August 2010, when Johnson County deputies found a young boy with Down syndrome malnourished and emaciated in his mother’s De Soto attic. Nearly two years later, a 10-year-old girl was found locked in a Kansas City closet. Then a teenage boy was found handcuffed to a steel pole in his family’s basement, and a 9-year-old girl said she was locked in her family’s basement and wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom inside the house.

Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy ran away from home and told police he was forced to stay in the basement. A younger sibling said the boy was punished for “stealing” food.

As for the two small children found Thursday, they were dressed in light clothing despite the cool temperature inside the cave.

The older child was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of nylon pants that were too long, leaving the ends to fold up under his feet. The younger one wore shorts and a T-shirt. They told deputies that they lived “in the cave” with their mother.

The siblings “stated that they had no toys at the cave, no other clothing, no shoes, and that there was no water or place to cook,” the documents said.

A second crate full of junk and trash was next to the one the children were in.

Deputies found numerous car parts inside the cave, with several vehicles in various states of repair. Spots on the floor appeared to be soaked with fluids from vehicles.

These caves are operated by Interstate Underground Warehouse & Distribution.

In past decades, former limestone mines left millions of square feet of space underground on the east end of the city. The spaces are now used by many businesses for storage, office space and light manufacturing.

A security guard working at Interstate Underground on Saturday afternoon said she could not comment. No one from the company returned a voice mail message or an email.

Mugrauer is from northern Florida. It isn’t known how long she and her children have been in Kansas City. Florida court records show Mugrauer lived in Ocala, Fla., where she had been evicted from a mobile home park.