Podcast Episodes

The Mercedes Lain Case

Welcome back to the Family Ties Podcast! Today we will discuss the disappearance and murder of 11-month-old baby Mercedes Lain who was reported missing by her father, Kenneth Lain, and her mother, Tiffany Coburn in August of 2021. Mercedes’ dead body was found in the depths of the woods in Starke County, Indiana. This case has lots of twists and turns, with more than one victim (we’ll get into that a bit later) and more than one person that can be held responsible for the death of this precious baby.

Little Mercedes
Little Mercedes

Without any further ado, let’s dig in:

Mercedes goes missing

According to The South Bend Tribune, “The baby’s parents gave Mercedes to” Kenneth Lain’s cousin, Justin Miller to babysit “so the parents could have a break”. “On Aug. 12, Mercedes was with Miller at a motel on the northern edge of Plymouth, police said.”

“The infant’s father, Kenneth Lain, contacted Plymouth police on the afternoon of Aug. 15 to file a missing person report for his daughter. A Silver Alert was issued that night and the search for Mercedes began.”

An amber alert was not issued because the parents did not believe Mercedes to be in danger, nor had she been kidnapped. They knew she was with Justin Miller. Therefore, the criteria were not met to put out an amber alert.

Missing person poster

The South Bend Tribune reports that “The Police arrested Miller in the early morning of Aug. 16 in Starke County. Later that day, police also arrested Mercedes’ parents: Kenneth Lain and Tiffany Coburn. Miller initially told police he took Mercedes while he stayed with a friend in Starke County and that he also visited his girlfriend in Mishawaka, but was kicked out and dropped the baby off with a woman at the motel back in Plymouth.”

Now if this is true, I just want to point out how messed up it is that this poor baby is getting passed around from person-to-person, and even person-to-stranger. Who is this “woman” he would have left the baby with at the motel? This is just tragic to me.

It doesn’t appear that Mercedes had parents who were fit to be parenting for reasons we will discuss further in a bit. But, one of the hundreds of red flags that I can say indicates they are unfit parents would be: Just look at who they trusted their daughter with. I don’t care if this guy is family. Although, by taking a quick glance at the parents, it’s clear they aren’t society’s finest either. I’m sorry, but Justin is not a man any conscientious parents would choose as a caretaker for their infant.


Unfit to parent

Think I’m being harsh or unfair here? Well, I’m not the only one who believes Lain and Coburn to be unfit parents. reports that Tiffany Coburn’s own mother stated that “They are definitely not good parents” and that “they didn’t need to have a child”.

News headline
News headline

She goes on to say that “We tried everything in our power to get this baby taken away from them,” Owens continued. “We have called [child protective services] many times. There’s nothing more that we could have done than what we did.

Mercedes Aunt

We have gone beyond our power in doing what we could to help this baby.” So it looks like even the grandma knew the baby was in danger with Lain and Coburn and was trying to save the life of her grandchild only to have the system fail yet another child. My heart goes out to her and how helpless she must have felt. How tragic to know that your grandchild is in danger, but not get any help from the people who have the power to intervene.

Blunt force trauma

Next, “Miller’s friend in Starke County said Miller came on Aug. 13 with the baby and left, before returning on Aug. 15 without Mercedes, court documents say. 

On Aug. 18, Miller finally told police that he woke up to find Mercedes dead in a house in Mishawaka at some point on Aug. 14. He then led investigators to the area in Starke County, near the intersection of County Road 1025 East and 50 North, where he disposed of the infant’s body.  

An autopsy report ruled Mercedes death to be a homicide and the manner of death to be blunt force trauma to the head.”

The plot thickens

Interestingly enough, both Kenneth and Tiffany were difficult to get a hold of while the search for baby Mercedes was underway. reports that “During the search for Mercedes, police were also searching for her parents. According to court documents, before calling police about their missing baby, the two dropped a duffel bag off at a neighbor’s. The duffel bag contained a safe and court documents said it is believed the “safe contains illegal narcotics.” Either these two are straight-up addicts, or they are dealers and felt they needed to hide the narcotics in case their home was searched. This also indicates to me that they knew something had happened or else why try to get rid of drug paraphernalia or act in this shady manner?

Tiffany Coburn and Kenny Lain mugshot
Tiffany Coburn and Kenny Lain mugshot

“When officers tried to follow up with Lain and Coburn about the timeline of events involving Mercedes, they said they were unable to make contact until Aug. 16 at 8:30 a.m. Police said that Coburn said she was coming in to talk to them and was waiting on a ride from her sister. Police said Coburn never showed up and when they talked to her sister, she told them she had not seen Coburn since 3 a.m. when “she dropped them off from looking for the baby.”

In court documents, both Coburn and Lain were noted as being “uncooperative in looking for their child. Coburn was ultimately found outside of the Economy Inn the afternoon of Aug. 16. Lain was located at the Red Rock Inn in Plymouth around 6 p.m. Aug. 16.

During Coburn’s questioning with police, she allegedly admitted she had been in contact with Lain and Miller multiple times during the timeframe Mercedes was missing using Facebook Messenger. The court documents said Coburn also admitted using methamphetamine on numerous occasions. Court documents also say Lain also said he was communicating with Coburn and Miller using Facebook Messenger. While he allegedly had been in contact with Miller, he did not know Miller’s whereabouts.”

What did Kenny and Tiffany know?

This is purely conjecture, but I wonder if Kenneth and Tiffany found out from Justin what had happened which may have caused them to panic and become purposefully unhelpful to law enforcement. The timeline around the 15th and 16th and their behavior change indicate that they knew something. Also, I believe there is a lot more to this story than what is on the surface.

As the case unfolds further, I am interested to possibly find out what the messages going back and forth between the three were during that time. Poor baby Mercedes seems to have been stuck in the middle of a terrible situation where both parents and “babysitter” put their drug habits and criminal behavior ahead of the safety and care of their precious infant. 

The trial

There are some initial decisions being made about where to try Miller because there are at least three counties where the chain of events took place. Pinpointing the location of the actual murder will most likely decide which county conducts the trial. The South Bend Tribune writes, that “Mercedes was first reported missing from Marshall County, was taken to and possibly died in St. Joseph County and then buried in Starke County.”

“According to Indiana law, a murder case may be tried in the county in which the “cause of death is inflicted; death occurs, or the victim’s body is found.” “Starke County Prosecutor Leslie Baker has requested a special prosecutor for the case. And, she’d like it to be Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman.”

Baker has apparently been involved with one or more of the defendants involved here on a separate occasion for different charges. Baker wishes to avoid a conflict of interest and is requesting a special prosecutor be assigned here. “The elected prosecuting attorney believes that an appearance of impropriety may exist in this manner due to previous representation of material witnesses and the probable necessity of granting immunity to previously represented clients who have pending matters related to this case,” Baker wrote in a motion filed Monday.


Court documents do not elaborate on what involvement Baker had previously with witnesses in the case. Baker’s motion asks for Chipman to be the special prosecutor for the case.” “Miller was first charged with child neglect resulting in death in Marshall County” “though Chipman has said he will likely dismiss that charge to avoid the double jeopardy provision of the U.S. Constitution, now that Miller is charged with murder in Starke County.”

Double jeopardy in the legal definition can be found within the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution and basically just means that an individual may not be prosecuted twice for essentially the same crime. The minimum penalty for murder under Indiana law state law is 45 years in prison, though Starke County prosecutors will seek to sentence Miller as a habitual defender, due to two prior convictions for possession of methamphetamine, which would increase the length of any sentence imposed. 

The fight for justice

Miller has also been working on a plea deal of which Mercedes’ Grandma, Owens is also fighting to have the courts reject. She says “I mean, an innocent child. My innocent grandchild. How could you just do that and expect, okay, you do forty-five years and get out and you’re fine? Where’s my baby at? Where’s her time? Where’s her life?”

Both Lain and Coburn requested leave to attend the funeral service of their daughter. They were both allowed to attend under the supervision of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department on August 25th, 2021.

Further crimes of Kenny Lain

Kenny Lain
Kenny Lain

Further proof that Kenneth Lain is a terrible human, awful father, and crook:

Mercedes’ father, Kenneth Lain was charged with neglect back in 2016 after allowing a 20-year-old man to sexually abuse his 12-year-old daughter over an extended period of time, and in their own house no less. The South Bend Tribune uncovered this story and reports that Lain’s 12-year-old daughter, Paige “later gave birth to a child fathered by the man” who her father had allowed to abuse her. The Tribune goes on to state that “Lain and his then-wife, Mary Lain, knew the man was “dating” and having sex with their daughter, and even allowed him to live at their home for about two months, according to a Knox police report”.

What is even more disturbing is that “Lain’s daughter told police her parents were “well aware” Delapaz was at least 18, that they hugged and kissed in front of her parents and that both parents discussed the “relationship” with her.” “The daughter told police Kenneth Lain told her that “age should not matter.” “Mary Lain told police her husband admitted to her that Delapaz sometimes gave him marijuana in exchange for allowing the daughter to spend time with Delapaz. They basically pimped out their underage daughter in exchange for drugs. I dare you to disagree with me when I say Lain is a human piece of garbage.

After being removed from the home and giving birth to a child fathered by Delapaz, the girl and her son were eventually adopted by a staffer she met at a youth home, according to a report by radio station WKVI. In November 2019, she appeared in a Starke County courtroom marking National Adoption Day to praise her adoptive family, saying she was “as happy as could be,” WKVI reported. She went on to give an interview to ABC57 News in 2021 about life with Lain.

Mercedes half sister
Mercedes half sister

In Paige’s own words with ABC57

I’m going to read some of Paige’s harrowing story in her own words during an interview with ABC57 News. Be prepared for graphic and disturbing content. Before Paige was even a teenager, she says she was forced to drink alcohol as young as age eight. She says it was any alcohol her parents could find. She was also forced to take drugs.

They got a kick out of watching us be, you know, messed up,” Paige Hodge says of her parents and their other partners. Hodge says she was forced into sexual encounters with an adult multiple times and even subjected to violence. “I’ve been punched in the face by Kenny (Lain),” Hodge adds. 

All this happened by the time Hodge was just 12-years-old in the home she lived with her biological parents. “I just remember not ever thinking anything was going to be normal,” Hodge says during our interview in a park in Plymouth. It was just seven years ago that Paige was living with her parents Kenny and Mary Lain. She describes a nightmare that left her pregnant and in a foster home at the age of 13.  

“Adults aren’t supposed to kiss you, they aren’t supposed to touch you, they aren’t supposed to do any of that,” Paige Hodge says. On Christmas Eve in 2014, Knox Police opened an investigation into what was going on inside the Lain household. “I found out that I was pregnant in November,” Hodge says.”

ABC57 News

Pimped out by her own parents

According to the Knox Police report, DNA samples were taken and police determined 20-year-old Angel Delapaz was the father. Delapaz was the cousin of one of Mary Lain’s co-workers. Back in October of 2014, an arrangement was made between the Lain’s and Delapaz. “In exchange for letting him live there and continue the relationship with me, he had set bills that he had to pay and set things that he had to give Kenny and Mary, which were drugs,” Hodge explains. 

The Knox investigation confirms this, both in admissions from Mary Lain and from Cody Byrn, Mary’s then-boyfriend, who also lived with the family at the time. “I had voiced what happened to both Mary, Kenny, and Cody – so all three of them,” Hodge says. “Mary’s exact response was ‘you’re going to continue to do it.’”

Delapaz was even allowed by the Lains to sleep in Hodge’s bed with her. The report says Kenny was questioned about Paige’s pregnancy from a Starke County jail cell, where he was being held in February 2015 on a community corrections violation. At the time, he told investigators, while he knew Paige was pregnant, he didn’t know Delapaz, adding his daughter “wasn’t with any adults.” 

But Paige tells a different story, saying her parents even wanted her to get an abortion after it was discovered that she was pregnant. “I didn’t want to do that,” Hodge says. “I didn’t know what that was, I didn’t know what that would be. I already didn’t understand being pregnant.”

ABC57 News

Failed by CPS

Eventually, Paige had the baby, a boy named Oakley, but they were separated when he was born. Kenny and Mary were later convicted of neglect in the Delapaz situation. Kenny was sentenced to two years behind bars, while Mary got 18 months probation. 

Delapaz was given an eight-year punishment, including two years of which was behind bars in prison. Paige was adopted by a new family when she was 16, and eventually, she got her son back. At that park bench in Plymouth, Paige, now looking back, says she believes the Indiana Department of Child Services failed her and her two sisters. She says DCS should have removed them all from the home much sooner.  

“Multiple CPS cases that were opened and then they’d just get closed,” Paige recalls. “My little sister got a vacuum thrown at her. It hit her in the face. She had to go to the hospital and get it glued shut and everything, but when CPS got involved, they said they couldn’t do anything because it didn’t leave bruises.”

Paige remembers her parents lying to DCS to cover up the abuse and protect each other. After the nightmare ended for Paige, she refused to contact Kenny Lain for years, but she says she always worried his other kids might be suffering through the same situation. Then, her half-sister Mercedes went missing.

ABC57 News

A sister’s worst fears come true

It began with a Silver Alert. The moment Paige saw it, she called Tiffany Coburn, Mercedes’ mother. “This was Sunday (Aug.15),” Paige recalls. “I called at 11:36 p.m,”  Paige says Kenny Lain answered and she hung up, not wanting to talk to him. But then he called back.   

“It seems like there’s no way to avoid talking to Kenny if I want to figure out what happened,” Hodge says. On the second phone call, Paige says Kenny told her Justin Miller, who Paige knew growing up, and said of Miller, she was surprised he would be involved in Mercedes’ death, took Mercedes to babysit her on Thursday, August 12, but Mercedes was supposed to be back for a birthday party the following day. 

“She wasn’t supposed to be gone any longer than that,” Hodge says. The Marshall County Prosecutor’s Office tells a story. Investigators believe Mercedes went with Miller on Friday because Kenny and Tiffany could “have a break.”

ABC57 News

Talking with the devil

Kenny also told Paige that he and Tiffany tried to find Miller and Mercedes when they didn’t return as scheduled. But when Paige asked more questions, Kenny changed the subject and asked her how she was doing. “It seemed to me like he didn’t care,” Paige says. Paige hung up on Kenny, not wanting to talk to him.

Police and investigators say it was difficult to reach and locate Kenny and Tiffany while 11-month-old Mercedes was missing. The morning of August 19, at a news conference at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman said, “It took some effort to find them (Kenny and Tiffany).” But Paige was quickly able to get ahold of them twice.

Despite talking to Kenny while Mercedes was missing, Paige says she was never contacted by police or the FBI, who were also involved in the search for Mercedes. ABC57 Investigates sat down with Paige to conduct our interview the day Mercedes’ death was announced. “I’m so mad right now and it’s probably why I haven’t been able to cry,” Paige said.”

ABC News

A death that could have been prevented

Court documents show Justin Miller claims he woke up sometime on Saturday, August 14 at a residence in Mishawaka to find Mercedes already dead. Merecedes’ autopsy report shows she died of blunt force trauma. “This would’ve never happened if they didn’t leave their child in the care of somebody who went out of their way to hurt this child,” Paige says.

But her anger isn’t just with Kenny and Tiffany. “DCS should be held to the same account,” Paige Hodge says. And as court proceedings against Lain, Coburn, and Miller begin soon, the community, and Paige, might finally get some answers.

“I see Mercedes in my son… we all look alike,” Paige says. We reached out to DCS for more information on the Lain family’s cases and specific statistics on the number of cases across the state. DCS says it can’t comment on the Lain family due to confidentiality regulations in Indiana Child Fatality Statutes. 

We also gave the agency the chance to respond to Paige’s claims, which others in Marshall County have expressed, that DCS fails children and leaves them in dangerous situations. The agency did not answer that questions, but it did give us the statistics we asked for. Paige and her sisters all experienced abuse at the hands of their parents.”

ABC57 News

Falling through the cracks

Paige says that abuse continued because of cracks in the system. So we asked DCS and the Indiana State Personnel Department questions about children in the foster care system, open cases, and the number of caseworkers. Here’s what we found. 

Paige was adopted by a new family, the Hodges, on October 10, 2018. She says being adopted was life-changing, but getting there was a long journey. “They (DCS) didn’t even remove me when they found out I was pregnant by someone over the age,” Paige Hodge says.

She says it took her parents, Kenny and Mary Lain, to fail a drug test for DCS to remove her and her two sisters from the home. The girls lived in three foster homes together before being separated. Paige was also separated from her son, Oakley, the child fathered by the family friend Kenny and Mary Lain let live in their house with Paige when she was a child.  

“Really nobody wanted all three of us – all four of us – me, my sisters, and Oakley,” Paige says she was told. But the four of them are just one example of the thousands of cases DCS is managing all at the same time. As of July 2021, DCS says it had 18,123 open cases and, of those, 11,377 children were in foster care.”

ABC57 News

Starke County DCS

In Starke County, where Paige’s case was handled, DCS currently has 83 open cases. In Marshall County, where Mercedes died, DCS currently has 60 children in the system. According to the Indiana State Personnel Department, there are 2,292 Family Case Managers at DCS with 160 in training. The number of case managers varies by county. In Starke County, DCS says there are 15 and in Marshall County, there are 13. Below is a direct passage from DCS on how many children or families one Family Case Manager can monitor. 

Best-practice caseload standards are set by Indiana statute. SECTION 2. IC 31-25-2-5, AS AMENDED BY P.L.128-2012, SECTION 86: 

Sec. 5. (a) The department shall ensure that the department maintains staffing levels of family case managers so that each region has enough family case managers to allow caseloads to be at no more than: (1) twelve (12) active cases relating to initial assessments, including investigations of an allegation of child abuse or neglect; or (2) twelve (12) families monitored and supervised in active cases relating to ongoing in-home services; or (3) thirteen (13) children monitored and supervised in active cases relating to ongoing services who are in out-of-home placements. 

So, based on all the numbers we were given by DCS and the Personnel Department, in the state of Indiana, there’s an average of eight kids, or families, under monitoring per caseworker. But despite coming in under DCS standards, Paige still says the system failed her and her family, and that failure extends to her half-sister Mercedes Lain. “It definitely failed Mercedes and it failed her family and it failed her siblings,” Paige says.” 

ABC57 News

When family members try to intervene

Mercedes Grandma
Mercedes Grandma

Back in July, DCS sent Kenny Lain and Tiffany Coburn notices that the agency would be conducting an investigation due to a report of neglect or abuse. It had 40 days from July 21, the day the notices were issued, to complete the assessment, but 28 days later, Mercedes was dead. Mercedes’ aunt, Stacy Milton, and grandmother, Angie Owens, agree, DCS failed their family. 

“They were called several times,” Milton says. “They should’ve taken her out of that situation a long time ago.” In fact, Milton and Owens say they’ve been calling DCS about Kenny and Tiffany’s three kids since Tiffany was pregnant with the first one. Owens adds she’s called DCS multiple times about Mercedes alone. 

“I know I called at least eight times,” Owens says. I asked Owens specifically why she called DCS. “I heard there was drug use in there, she was never clean,” Owens recalls.  

Milton chimed in about the state of the room, which ABC57 Investigates saw with our own eyes during our investigation. “I knew the way they were, I knew they weren’t parent-material,” Owens says. Owens says she and others told Tiffany while she was pregnant with Mercedes that family in Indianapolis was willing to take her.

“Adopt her and give her a loving home and Tiffany wouldn’t hear of it,” Owens says. Owens even says other people at the Economy Inn in Plymouth, where Kenny and Tiffany were staying, called DCS on them too.  “It’s just aggravating that they got so many calls and they failed every time,” Milton says. “They had several chances to take her out of that environment and they chose not to.”  

ABC57 NEws

So what can CPS do?

Below is a direct quote from DCS regarding when Family Case Managers can take children out of homes:

1. A reasonable person would believe the child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian; or  

2. The child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of the child’s parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision; and  

3. The coercive intervention of the court is needed to protect the child. 

Paige says despite her past, it’s made her stronger and she wants others who have gone through the system to know they’re not alone. “DCS hasn’t just failed us, it’s failed a lot of other kids as well,” Paige says. Hodge, Milton, and Owens say they hope their tragedies inspire change to keep kids safe in the future.

You might be wondering about Paige’s sisters from Kenny and Mary Lain’s relationship. Paige says they’ve moved out of the state. Again, we reached out to DCS several times with questions about the Lain family, but DCS told us no one could talk per confidentiality statutes. We also gave the agency the opportunity to respond to claims it fails families. It didn’t answer that question.”

ABC57 News

Effects of meth on children

Both Lain and Coburn will be back in court on January 20, 2022. and I hope we learn more about the chain of events that led up to the tragic death and dumping of her little body in the woods. Let’s briefly touch on the drug abuse related to this whole situation.

Meth Use:

Miller, Lain, and Coburn all admitted to using drugs which included meth and synthetic marijuana. Most of you are probably aware of the fact that drug and alcohol abuse are linked to child abuse, depression, and violence when parents use or abuse substances while pregnant or while trying to raise the child. But, let’s dig a little deeper here.

A study conducted in 2011 called Methamphetamine-Using Parents: The Relationship Between Parental Role Strain and Depressive Symptoms* reports:

As documented in studies of heterosexual users, many of whom are parents, the highly addictive, sexually stimulating, “binge and crash” nature of methamphetamine may result in children being exposed to a set of parental behaviors that include parents staying “high” and awake for days, having multiple sex partners, exhibiting erratic and bizarre behaviors, and experiencing extreme euphoria followed by painful withdrawal symptoms (e.g., depression, paranoia, irritability, aggression, delusions, or hallucinations. The children of methamphetamine users also may experience a chaotic home life, with inadequate supervision, inconsistent parenting, chronic neglect, parental aggression, violence, and other safety risks (e.g., exposure to chemical and toxic fumes from home-based methamphetamine laboratories, to weapons, or to criminal activity.

In regard to Meth use specifically, the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Wellfare reveals that Parents who use, manufacture, and/or traffic methamphetamine in the presence of children put their children at a higher risk of child abuse and neglect. More generally, of children in out-of-home care, 61% of infants and 41% of older children had a report of active alcohol and/or drug abuse by the primary caregiver, the secondary caregiver, or both.3 In some parts of the country, methamphetamine is the primary substance of abuse.”

Methamphetamine-Using Parents: The Relationship Between Parental Role Strain and Depressive Symptoms*

I cannot say definitively whether or not it has been found that Tiffany used meth while pregnant with Mercedes, but I will admit that I believe it is highly likely. The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare reveals that

Methamphetamine use during pregnancy can affect the infant and child’s development. A 2019 study that analyzed hospital discharge data from 2004-2015 found that, by 2014-2015, amphetamine use was identified among approximately 1% of births in rural areas of the western United States. This incidence was higher than the opioid-use incidence in most regions. The amphetamine-related deliveries were associated with higher incidence of preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and severe maternal morbidity and mortality”.

National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

Final thoughts

Mercedes Lain
Mercedes Lain

One final thought I would like to end this on has to do with child protective services. I believe that anytime they are contacted about a child and that child goes on to die or be murdered, they should be held responsible in some capacity by the courts. Maybe they need an added incentive to make sure they follow up with cases fully, and with the intent to actually protect the child – not simply keep the family unit together no matter what transpired.

We need serious reform of our child protective services, our foster care system, and start putting children first. This is not how these systems or bureaucracies are functioning right now, and I believe that their lack of effectiveness is now fully functioning as criminal negligence. Children are our future, so let’s start prioritizing the future and making the world a safer and better place for them, starting at home.

About Author

Kelley grew up as the fourth of six children in small town Hodgenville, Kentucky where she and her siblings were all homeschooled until graduation when she escaped off to college. Ever since she has been on a quest for learning and enlightenment. She is deeply passionate about politics, animals (particularly dogs and horses), art, film, fashion, and global issues.

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