Derion Vence, who had lived with Maleah and her mother, was arrested Saturday without incident at his brother's home in Sugar Land, Texas, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Houston, a statement from Houston police said. A court document said he was charged with tampering with a human corpse.
Asked if police believe Vence killed Maleah, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said: "At this point in time those are the charges we have filed and I can't say any more than that." After his arrest, bond was set at $999,999 for Vence, according to Harris County Jail records.
Vence, 26, told police last Saturday that men in a pickup truck abducted him, Maleah and his 2-year-old son before freeing him and the boy. But Sugar Land police, who initially interviewed him, said his story kept changing and didn't add up.
Houston police said Saturday that some of his claims were false. Vence reported that his silver Nissan Altima was taken in the abduction but surveillance video showed that vehicle was used to drop Vence off later at a hospital, where he first reported the abduction, police said.
"His story turned out not to be the case, including the fact that there was that blood evidence in the apartment linked to Maleah," Smith said. He said authorities have not found the girl and the investigation is continuing.
The police statement said Vence was observed carrying a full laundry basket from the apartment. That basket was later found in the trunk of the Nissan along with a gas can. Maleah's mother Brittany Bowens, said through a spokesman that Vence is her former fiance. Bowens appeared outside her apartment Friday as Quanell X, a local civil rights activist, addressed reporters on her behalf.
Quanell X said that Vence had abused Maleah and that Bowens believes Vence harmed the girl. Police have described Vence as Maleah's stepfather. But Quanell X said that Vence and Bowens were recently in a fight and she broke off their engagement.
Child Protective Services removed Maleah and her brothers from the home Vence and Bowens shared in August after the girl suffered a head wound, but the children were returned in February, according to an agency spokeswoman.
This version of the story corrects the spelling of the suspect's first name to Derion. Houston police initially spelled it Darion but now say it is Derion.