For profit

Three times the children of William Allen Cunningham had to be rushed to the hospital emergency room due to illness. The children are aged 18 months and 3 years of age. Each time at the emergency room, the father told personnel there that the children became ill after eating a bowl of soup.

At some point Cunningham allegedly contacted the soup company and made a claim that his children were made ill after eating the soup and he blamed them for the trips to the emergency room for the children and told them he planned to sue.

William Cunningham has now been indicted by the Grand Jury for adding a “foreign substance” to the soup, and attempting  to extort money from the company. He has been charged with 3 counts of product tampering, one count of making false statements and wire fraud for his contacts with the soup company.

The US attorney has stated that Cunningham allegedly told police that he intended to get money from the company by suing the company for his children’s illnesses.

Cunningham did not work regularly, and was often at home caring for the children. It is alleged that on Jan. 1 Cunningham prepared some soup for the 3 year old boy, added a foreign substance to it, and gave it to the child. The child became ill and was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released.

Fifteen days later, on Jan. 15 it is alleged that Cunningham prepared SpaghettiO’s and franks and fed it to both children. On that trip to the hospital, a nurse alleges that she smelled something similiar to lighter fluid. It was at that point that Cunningham called the soup company. The company checked for other complaints and did not find any. However they did send some documents to Cunningham, to get more information about the claim and requested that Cunningham send them the packaging on the products.

Two weeks later,, Jan. 29 it is alleged that Cunningham prepared a bowl of soup for the children and added the antidepressants Prozac and amitriptyline to it. Allegedly the little boy reacted badly to the soup and stopped eating it. But allegedly, Cunningham force fed the soup to the 18 month old girl. She became so ill that she had to be airlifted to the hospital. Both children were hospitalized for about a week. A toxic screen was completed and came back positive for the two antidepressants.

The wife has not been charged in the crime, and she now has custody of the children. It is said she was not aware of the crime, until after the third hospital trip, then she began to get the idea that something was wrong.

Allegedly the father had trouble keeping a job. And instead of finding a job and working to keep it, the man who is allegedly a father- decided to inflict pain and fear on children, in order to make a profit from it. Not just once. He did it again and again. Until finally at least one of the children became severely ill.

Was he in need of money? Or just tired of being the caregiver for the children? Neither is an excuse for endangering the children’s lives.


Neighbors have said that Cunningham was known in the neighborhood as a loner. His criminal history consisted mainly of misdemeanors, harrassing phone calls, terroristic threats, and drunken driving. He was married once before and the first wife claimed “cruel and inhumane treatment” as the reason for the divorce. There were no children from that marraige which was finalized in Sept. 2001, and six months later he married his current wife.

Warrants indicate the first bowl of soup may have been laced with hot pepper. The boy’s mouth and face swelled and burned, and that resulted in his being taken to the hospital.

The wife has served him papers requesting a divorce. Her attorney indicates she is now afraid of him.


Cunningham is now charged with child cruelty in the county courts. An attorney has filed for bond. But if released on bond in the county court, Cunningham will then be held on the federal charges. A federal grand jury has now indited Cunningham on charges of product tampering, mail and wire fraud, and making false statements.


Cunningham’s wife filed for divorce in May. He has been found guilty of communicating false claims for his calls to Campbell’s Soup Company threatening to sue. He has been sentenced to 5 years. The judge ordered no contact with his ex-wife and children.


Causing the death

A normal morning was interrupted Thursday by a man pushing a stroller who walked into the police station. Richard Helsinger, 27, calmly announced to the officers there that he had caused the death of his long time girlfriend. The child in the stroller was the couple’s daughter.

Police went to the couple’s mobile home and found the body of 21 year old Lindsey Tara Lakes. Police are not releasing details of the murder pending the autopsy report by the coroner.  

Helsinger has been arrested and charged with murder. Helsinger’s criminal history consists of a previous assault charge against a man. He was given probation and ordered into drug treatment on that charge in 1999.

Neighbors have reported that the couple appeared to be happy, holding hands and cutting up with each other as they walked the baby around the neighborhood.

Another baby who will grow without knowing her mother. Whose father will be unavailable to her, because he if he is convicted he will be incarcerated. You have to wonder how much she saw, how much she might understand about what happened to her mother. But one thing I feel certain of, is that she will not understand why her mother or even her father is there for her at bedtime. Yes, she will adjust. But at some point when she gets a little older she will ask questions about what happened to her mother and father. How will she feel when she learns that her father is the one who deprived her of even a memory of her mother?

Snapped during an argument? Drugs? Mental health issues? It is too early to tell yet what led up to this murder. But no matter the motive, nothing excuses murder.

Neighbors thought the couple appeared happy. But in a home with the door closed, only the family really knows what goes on.


Cause of death is thought to have been strangling. Lake’s mother talked to her daughter on Wed. about 10 pm, and there were no signs of any problems.

Police are not aware of any previous reports of domestic violence and says that the family has not indicated any tension between the two. Death is thought to have occurred after midnight, but police will not confirm that info until after the coroner’s report. They are not discussing any details of the confession, but they do say

“(Helsinger) was very calm,” he said. “He was very deliberate in his communication and once we realized what the situation was he was very cooperative.

“He seemed to be lucid and in control of his faculties, so he did not seem to be delusional or anything like that.”


The coroner has said they cause of death appears to be “asphyxiation due to manual strangulation.” It is believed that she was dead for several hours before Helsinger went to police.

Helsinger has pleaded not guilty, with the stipulation that he may later add not guilty by reason of insanity.

Why not a shelter?

There have been many tragic cases of domestic violence spotlighted here. Many times the victims may have known they were in danger, yet they returned to their homes, sheltered with a friend or family member, or returned to the abuser.

They may have been victims of previous ongoing assaults or they may have filed for a protection order for a recent episode. So why didn’t they seek out a shelter? There could be many reasons for that.

They may be reluctant to believe their abuser would go so far as murdering or attempting to murder them. And they may feel that by filing charges, getting a protection order the abuser might somehow gain some insight into the wrongs they had committed or that they might stay away long enough to “cool off”. Unfortunately it often doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes it further enrages the offender and they blame the victim, or sometimes they may see it as a challenge- they need to prove they can reach the victim despite the precautions they may have taken.

The person who has suffered from abuse may not realize that even though the accused offender has been arrested, he may get out of jail in a short time, sometimes within hours, while he is awaiting trial. Sometimes the person is not advised of the shelters availability by law enforcement..

Domestic violence is a traumatic event, physically, emotionally and even phychologically. And when faced with that kind of trauma, it is human nature to seek out a familiar place to mentally process the trauma. So they may return home or seek shelter in the familiar home of a friend or relative. Unfortunately, that very familiarity allows an offender to know to look for the victim there.

A parent may not want to uproot the family. They may work and the kids go to school, and have their own schedules. They may want to maintain their daily routine.

A fear of the unknown. And a fear of losing their ability to make decisions for their family. A shelter is staffed by social workers and maybe some volunteers.They attempt to make it as homelike as possible. Family groups are kept together. A parent is expected to care for their own children and themselves as much as possible. The shelter offers options, encouragement and support to the people who seek shelter there, but personal decisions are left in the hands of the person who has to live wtih them. Every effort is made for the persons to continue working and for the children to remain in their school. 

When arriving at a shelter, the shelter personnel will have questions. They are not idle questions, they are designed to determine the family’s needs, and what services the shelter may be able to help with. They will also be given the shelter rules. Yes they may be a bunch of strangers, but they are people who are experienced with working with traumatized children and adults.  

Shelters may differ in what services they can offer. Besides interim shelter they may be able to assist the person to find housing, legal advocacy, support groups, individual and family counseling, financial assistance and job location services, as well as other support found in the community.

A domestic violence shelter is not a final destination. It is a sheltered place to allow a victim a safe place to stay while they make decisions for themselves and their family.

How do you locate a shelter? Many times a shelters location is secret, for the protection of the residents. But domestic violence agencies can help a person locate one. So can most crisis lines, mental health agencies, social service organizations, and law enforcement agencies.