On November 3, 1998, Josh Phillips murdered Maddie Clifton and shoved her corpse under his bed, sleeping on top of her body for a week before police discovered her.
When Maddie Clifton went missing, a whole town got busy while the whole country watched. On November 3, 1998, Maddie, who was eight years old, disappeared from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. No one knew where she went. Hundreds of volunteers joined search parties, camera crews flocked to the suburbs, and two parents tried not to lose hope.
Then, after a week of hard work, Clifton’s body was found under the bed of her 14-year-old neighbour, Josh Phillips. She had been hit over the head and stabbed.
When the police found her body, Phillips told them that he had hit Clifton in the face while they were playing baseball, and then killed her by accident when he hit her with a bat to stop her from crying. But Phillips only told half of the story about Maddie Clifton. The real story was much darker.
Even though Clifton had been hit, that wasn’t what killed her. Josh Phillips killed her with a utility knife after beating her up. Worst of all, he slept on top of Maddie Clifton’s rotting body for a whole week while he and his family helped look for her.
The Brutal Murder Of Maddie Clifton
Maddie Clifton was born on June 17, 1990, in Jacksonville, Florida. She grew up at a time when parents let their kids go where they pleased. The Columbine High School shooting hadn’t yet changed that, and fear of terrorism hadn’t yet spread across the country. On November 3, 1998, Maddie Clifton went outside to play when she was told to.
Joshua Phillips was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1984. In the early 1990s, his family moved to Florida, right across the street from the Clifftons. His father, a computer expert named Steve Phillips, was very strict and violent with his wife, Melissa, and with Josh.
Steve would also get mad if other kids were in his house without him. Even more so if he’d been drinking, which he often had been.
As fate would have it, the fears of a teen who had been abused and the freedom of a young girl would clash in a way that would kill both of them. Phillips says that Clifton asked to play with him when he was just playing baseball.
Since he knew his parents were out of town, he reluctantly agreed. But then, he told her, he hit her in the face with his ball by accident. She screamed, and Josh was afraid of what would happen if they came home and found another child in the house. To keep her quiet, he took her inside, strangled her, and hit her with a baseball bat.
Then, before his parents got home, he pushed her body, which was already dead, under his waterbed. Sheila Clifton told the police around 5 p.m. that her daughter was missing. Before nighttime, Phillips took off his bed and cut the girl’s throat.
He stabbed Maddie Clifton seven times in the chest with his Leatherman multi-tool knife and then put his water-filled mattress back on the bed frame. For the next week, tabloids and news stories about Clifton’s disappearance were all about the Lakewood neighborhood. Even the Phillips family helped her look for him.
On November 10, Steve and Sheila Clifton were putting the finishing touches on a TV interview that they hoped would help them find their missing daughter. Melissa Phillips was cleaning her son’s room at the time, and she thought she saw that his waterbed was leaking. When she looked more closely, she saw Clifton’s dead body and ran outside to call for help.
Inside The Trial Of Josh Phillips
Police were shocked because they had searched the Phillips’ home three times and thought the smell of Maddie Clifton’s dead body was just the smell of the birds they kept as pets. The local police had not been able to solve the case, so the FBI was called in. There was a reward of $100,000 for anyone who could help bring Clifton back to safety.
Before November 10, Phillips was in the ninth grade at the A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology, where he had a C average. As soon as the body was found, he was arrested at school and charged with first-degree murder. Soon, he became the main story on national news shows. People who knew him were very surprised.
“The students can’t fathom him doing something like this,” said Randolph principal Gerome Wheeler. “They say ‘Josh? Josh? Josh?’ Like they say his name two or three times. They cannot believe this.”
In fact, so many people in Maddie Clifton’s close-knit neighbourhood were shocked when they heard about her killer that a judge sent the trial to a county halfway across the state to try to avoid jury bias.
Richard D. Nichols, Phillips’ lawyer, didn’t call any witnesses to the stand because he wanted his closing argument, in which he said Phillips was a scared child acting out of desperation, to be the main part of his defense.
The trial, which got a lot of attention, started on July 6, 1999, and went on for only two days. Josh Phillips was found guilty of first-degree murder after the jury talked for just over two hours. On August 26, the judge gave him a life sentence with no chance of getting out.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that juveniles shouldn’t be given mandatory life sentences, Phillips was able to get a new hearing. The thought that he would get away scared Maddie Clifton’s sister.
“She won’t be able to walk on this earth again, so why should he?” she told me.
But when his resentencing date came up in 2017, the judge kept the original sentence, which meant Josh Phillips would spend the rest of his life in prison.