FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Sgt. Todd Battershell, child sex crimes investigator with the Fort Wayne Police Department, thought the case against a confessed serial pedophile was “dead in the water,” after none of the three child victims disclosed child sex abuse.
“It wasn’t until he actually confessed some of the details to the DCS case worker, which allowed me to get a search warrant for his devices,” Battershell said in an interview Thursday at Rousseau Centre downtown, FWPD headquarters.
On his cell phones were videos he took and was a participant with three underage children involved in the case that included sexual activities, sex toys and drugs, Battershell said.
By the time Donald Dustin Cornett, 43, of the 700 block of West Creighton St. was charged Monday with Felony 1 child molesting, Felony 4 child molesting, child pornography possession, child exploitation and performing sex acts in the presence of a minor, he’d attempted to backtrack on the confessions he made in a letter written in October to the Allen County prosecutor.
In it, he claimed to be a serial pedophile who’d molested five other children in three other states.
“He never told me the names or the other states,” Battershell said. “Somebody has to be the voice for these kids. DCS can only do so much. Parents and family members can only do so much. It’s up to law enforcement to take up the banner and put together a case.”
During his investigation, however, Battershell found that Cornett was a registered sex offender in Kentucky and had lived in Illinois and Michigan, besides Indiana.
The information Battershell gleaned during his investigation has been turned over to the FBI besides issuing a bulletin to other law agencies alerting them to his charges here.
Jennifer K. Knowles, 36, at the same address, was charged Tuesday with performing sex acts in the presence of a minor, neglect of a dependent and methamphetamine possession.
Battershell said Cornett, also known as Dusty, was Knowles’ uncle. They are now blaming each other, Battershell said.
Cornett is saying the two starting using meth together and then “developed a plan” to get one of the female victims “involved in their sex life. The two were high on meth during any of the sexual activities, he said.
Both of them would watch “Daddy-Daughter” porn together and around Christmas 2020, they “invited” one of the girls into their bed after watching such pornography, court documents.
He admitted to molesting the girl numerous times over a 1.5 year period, and they left the bedroom door open. Knowles said she objected to this.
In one of the sex tapes, Cornett is seen smoking narcotics using a glass pipe with a child crying nearby. At least one of the victims was a boy, who during the investigation tested positive for Fentanyl, court documents said..
Battershell, with 26 years at FWPD and two years prior as a police officer in North Manchester, has worked in homicide, robbery and crimes again persons. He was promoted to sergeant in 2015 and joined crimes against persons in that capacity in June 2018.
His probable cause affidavits are extensive and thorough.
“I’ve always believed in producing quality work. That the only way a prosecutor is going to make an informed decision on a case,” said Battershell, who also served in the military.
Cornett and Knowles lived in a home that was isolated. The Department of Child Services had investigated their situation, but the children hadn’t offered any damning evidence they were being abused, Battershell said.
Cornett claimed that Knowles was giving the boy meth, hoping to have him diagnosed with autism, so she could receive funding from the state, court documents said.
Cornett was sitting in jail after he was charged with strangling Knowles during an incident in July. Battershell said one of the children called police and there was a standoff.
His next court hearing is March 21, court documents indicate. Knowles is scheduled for court Friday.