First-degree murder: Robert Manwill's mom and her boyfriend are indicted in the 8-year-old's death

Melissa Jenkins and Daniel Ehrlick Jr. struggled with relationships, children and the law for years before they reported her son missing.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.com • kkreller@idahostatesman.comAugust 19, 2009 

missing Robert Manville

Day 3 of the search Melissa Scott Jenkins, left, and Daniel Edward Ehrlick Jr. appear together July 27 as Boise police called for public help in the search for 8-year-old Robert Manwill. Ehrlick attended only one more of the daily briefings, where family members often joined police.

KATHERINE JONES — Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

He had dreams of being a wildland firefighter but faced drug and legal problems and managed to battle the flames only as part of a prison work crew.

She was something of a rambler, drifting through relationships - having three children with three men in less than seven years - on the hunt for the unconditional love she felt as a little girl.

Daniel Ehrlick Jr. and Melissa Jenkins met at a poker game and quickly grew close, spending weeks together in her hospital room as she dealt with complications of her third pregnancy.

They rallied together to get that infant back from state protection after Jenkins was convicted of injuring him.

Now, they're together again - in the Ada County Jail, both facing murder charges after the disappearance and death of 8-year-old Robert Manwill, whose smile captured the community in a 10-day search that started with hope and ended in tragedy.

EHRLICK JR.'S STORY

For Ehrlick Jr. - Danny to his friends and family - trouble with the law started early.

His first run-in involved a stolen United Parcel Service box full of sunglasses, said his father, Daniel Ehrlick Sr. The boy was in junior high.

"That cost his mother and I quite a bit," Ehrlick Sr. said. "He was always picking up the wrong people to run around with."

Born in Mineral County, Nev., along with his older sister and two younger brothers, Ehrlick Jr. later moved with his family to Idaho, where he attended Nampa High School and played basketball. He didn't graduate, but he got his GED in prison, his father said.

"Danny was a troubled boy all his life," Ehrlick Sr. said. "He would get in trouble doing stupid things. ... Then he has had a lot of problems with drugs."

Now 36, he has spent nearly seven years, off and on, in Idaho correctional facilities and at least 10 years on probation in Idaho and Washington. He has been convicted of burglary, battery, possession of drug paraphernalia and more.

His father and niece said Ehrlick Jr. had worked fighting fires, but he has no work history with the state or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Ehrlick Jr. did work on an inmate fire crew while incarcerated, said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray.

"It's pretty good duty," Ray said. "You are outdoors and working hard, and you are making more money than you would in a typical institutional job."

Few people could be found to talk about Ehrlick Jr. He has never been married and has no records of having children with other women.

JENKINS' STORY

Melissa Jenkins spent years searching for the love and stability that had eluded her since she was "daddy's girl," the middle of three girls in her family, her family members say.

"I think, all in all, Melissa was after a quiet and tender life," said Meridian resident Margo Maxwell, Jenkins' great-aunt and one of the first family members to come to her aid when Robert was reported missing July 24.

Jenkins' Facebook page says she's a 1997 graduate of Meridian High School, but the district has no record of that. Boise School District records show she entered sixth grade at Koelsch Elementary and finished seventh grade at Fairmont Junior High. The district has no further record of her.

She has worked short stints in numerous clerical and manufacturing jobs - including at the Idaho Statesman's call center, the Boise Bingo Center, Scentsy and, most recently, Blackhawk Manufacturing.

Jenkins drifted in and out of contact with most of her family, including her parents, Dori and Jeff Jenkins, who now live in New Mexico. Of the three sisters, Jenkins was older than Daphney and a year younger than Trish Burrill, a Boise resident who has acted as the family's spokeswoman at police news conferences about Robert's disappearances.

Tammy Smith, best friends with Trish for a time in high school, recalled that at some point when they were teens, Trish either moved out or was kicked out. Jenkins wasn't far behind.

The sisters, who seemed to stand by each other during the news conferences, have not always gotten along.

Family members say that before the boy disappeared, Burrill had not seen Jenkins and Robert in about 18 months. A court affidavit filed by Robert's father indicates that Burrill would not take the boy in while Jenkins was hospitalized for a few weeks in 2008. (Burrill and her husband, Kyle, did not agree to interviews.)

When Jenkins met Robert's father, Charles Manwill, he was dating Trish. He and Jenkins' second cousin, Justin Smith, were buddies and roommates. Manwill was nine years older than Jenkins.

In 2000, when Jenkins was in her early 20s, she got pregnant with Manwill's child, and Robert was born in June 2001. Jenkins and Manwill were married in July, but they separated less than a year later.

Jenkins met her second husband, Frank Seiber, at a Nampa bingo parlor where they both worked. He was 27 years her senior, an age difference that bothered some of her family and friends. The pair married in 2003.

Seiber said he helped care for Robert while Jenkins was at work.

"He was like a son," Seiber said. "When I think about him, all I can see is that smile. This has been really hard."

The skeptics, though, were right about the marriage.

"She was dating other men, and I didn't know it for a while. ... I guess love has a blind eye," Seiber said, sitting on the porch of his Payette home.

They divorced in March 2006. Eight months later, Jenkins gave birth to a baby girl, RayLynn.

The father was Russell "Rusty" Ames, a truck driver and a high school friend of Jenkins' mother who began dating Jenkins after running into her at her folks' house one day.

"I've known Melissa her whole life," said Ames, now 49.

He said he's still a friend of Dori Jenkins' and said there's been a lot of family conflict over the years, particularly between the mother and her daughters.

"If one's not fighting with the other, then the other two are," he said. "You've got to be hating, or nobody's happy."

Ames said his relationship with Jenkins ran its course in a matter of months. Like Seiber, Ames felt she wasn't honest with him.

"Everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie," he said.

A VALENTINE'S DAY LIFE-CHANGER

Sometime around when Ehrlick Jr. and Jenkins met in 2007, she discovered she was pregnant.

She was trying to end a relationship that she told Manwill and others was abusive, friends and court documents said. In January 2008, complications with her pregnancy left her hospitalized for weeks.

Ehrlick Jr. was with her every day, Ehrlick Sr. said. He "practically lived in that hospital room" with her, Ames said.

The baby boy, who was named Aidan, was born on Feb. 14, 2008. He wasn't Ehrlick Jr.'s child - according to Ames and other family members and friends. (Idaho birth certificates aren't public records for 100 years, and neither Jenkins nor Ehrlick would agree to an interview for this story.)

It's unknown whether Ehrlick Jr. knew all along or found out later, but every one of his family, friends and neighbors interviewed said the same thing: He treated that baby boy as his own.

Aidan was given Ehrlick's name, and Ehrlick Jr. is acknowledged in court documents as the father.

"When he met (Jenkins), he did a 180-degree turn in his life - to the best," Ehrlick Sr. said. "After the baby was born, it got a lot better. He got more honest with me. ... He was more adult."

A NEW ROLE: DAD

Outwardly, to many neighbors, family and friends, Ehrlick and Jenkins seemed like good parents - even after Jenkins pleaded guilty to fracturing her infant's skull in October 2008.

In interviews days before the two were arrested Tuesday night, several of the couple's closest neighbors at the Oak Park Village apartments praised Ehrlick as an easy-going "Mr. Mom," the one who always carried the baby and diaper bag.

"He was very good with the baby," said Sean Buffington, who lives upstairs from the couple.

"He made sure that baby had clean clothes," Ehrlick Sr. said. "He made sure that baby had food. He made sure the baby had diapers. He would not leave that boy more than two or three minutes because he'd worry about him."

Ehrlick Jr. would get "worked up" over a runny nose and make his father wash his hands before holding Aidan.

The son still relied on his father for financial support; Ehrlick Sr. gave them a car and a deposit for the apartment they shared and often handed over cash for rent, food, diapers, cigarettes and utility bills.

Still, Ehrlick Sr. said Aidan's presence inspired changes in his son. Instead of hanging out with his old cronies, Sundays meant barbecues and family gatherings at Ehrlick Sr.'s home near Bannock and 30th streets.

For big get-togethers, the family would bring Ehrlick Sr.'s wife and the kids' mother, Barbara, home from the care facility where she has lived since suffering strokes.

Justin Smith, Jenkins' cousin who lived with her family for a while and was "basically their adopted kid," said he never met Ehrlick Jr., but that he was called on two occasions when Jenkins and Ehrlick Jr. were fighting.

"When I showed up, I didn't see any signs," said Smith, who said he went to the apartment with Trish's husband, Kyle Burrill.

When the men offered to call the police, Jenkins turned them away.

A STRICT MOTHER

Jenkins worked while Ehrlick Jr. stayed home with Aidan and Robert, when the boy visited from his father's home in New Plymouth.

Carol Carrillo, another upstairs neighbor who became close friends with Jenkins, said she trusted them both with her children. She said the couple worked hard to get Aidan back after Jenkins was convicted of injuring him.

She said Jenkins was very concerned for the safety of both of their kids. Carrillo remembers Jenkins getting on someone's case when they tried to pick up Carrillo's kids with a car that didn't have enough seatbelts for all the children.

Carrillo said Jenkins was strict with Robert. The boy wasn't allowed to go beyond the playground behind their apartment building - if he did, he got grounded. He wouldn't go into Carrillo's apartment without first asking his mother's permission.

"I never saw them be mean to the kids," said her 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer. "I went to their house all the time."

But others described Jenkins as moody and quick to anger when children misbehaved.

"Melissa was mean to kids - they wore on her patience," said Seiber, her second husband.

If Jenkins was in a bad mood, Seiber said, he would just take Robert outside and play with him "until she calmed down." But Seiber said he never saw Melissa Jenkins be violent or hit Robert.

"There was times she'd smack Robert in the back of the head to get his attention - a gentle slap in the head. Like, 'Hey, pay attention to me, do what you're told,' " Ames said.

When Robert acted out, several people said, Jenkins sometimes forced him to sit on his hands or stand with his nose against the wall with his hands behind his back in a military stance. Jenkins also was known to punish her children and others in her care with cold showers.

Robert always seemed to be on "restriction," Ehrlick Sr. said.

"He would ask her for a glass of water," said Robbyn Ehrlick, Ehrlick Jr.'s 23-year-old niece. "She would say 'Go away, you are annoying me.' "

Ehrlick Sr. said he saw Jenkins once pick up her toddler daughter by one arm and "whip" her across her bottom.

"When I said something about it, she said 'it didn't hurt her because she was wearing a Pamper,' " Ehrlick Sr. said.

Buffington said he saw a hint of Robert's fear about getting in trouble when his dog got loose one day. Sadie, a pit bull, wiggled out of her collar and ran down the stairs, where Buffington caught her.

He was surprised when he looked up at Robert, who began shaking and crying.

"He said, 'Mom's going to be so mad ... I can't lose the dog,' " Buffington said.

AFTER ROBERT'S DISAPPEARANCE

When Maxwell, Jenkins' great-aunt, brought Trish Burrill to the Oak Park apartment early on the Sunday after Robert was reported missing, the sisters cried and hugged.

"They were sweet and kind to each other, as you'd expect sisters to be in a crisis like this," Maxwell said. "As soon as Trish left, Melissa took the attitude that she didn't want to be around Trish. Melissa clung to me and my girls."

"That created a rift," Maxwell said.

Shirley Earls, Maxwell's daughter, rallied members at two local LDS churches to help with the search. She noticed that Robert's dad, Charles Manwill, was "focused" and "very military," while Ehrlick was "a mess," "a complete puddle."

"Melissa was in between," she said.

On Tuesday, when Maxwell returned to Oak Park to help, she said Jenkins appeared medicated and calm. She was ready to pursue every lead to find the boy.

"Danny was sobbing uncontrollably," Maxwell said. "He greeted me at the door and soaked my shirt with his tears.

"I said, 'Danny, are you getting any medical attention?' He said he didn't have any money."

Maxwell took him to a doctor's office, and he was prescribed medications. In the car, she said, he seemed "very, very sorrowful."

But by the next night, Maxwell said, it seemed, Ehrlick and Jenkins weren't comforting each other or even speaking.

"Danny was just walking the streets and didn't know where to go. He said he didn't know where to go or what to do," Maxwell said.

Ultimately, he went to stay with his father, Ehrlick Sr. said. Jenkins had been staying, off and on, with her sister, Trish, Kyle Burrill said.

An Oak Park Village neighbor said Jenkins' family came to retrieve her things from their apartment on Sunday, after Robert's funeral. Ehrlick Jr.'s belongings are still there.

Reporters Patrick Orr, Anna Webb and Cynthia Sewell contributed to this story. Katy Moeller: 377-6413. Kathleen Kreller: 377-6418.

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