Phillips said Pickerell had been out celebrating with friends in the early morning hours of September 7 but never returned home. She said that behavior was uncommon for her step-nephew.
"Someone asked him for a ride," explained Phillips. "He gave them a ride and this is what happened."
Three days after Pickerell disappeared, his van was found in an alley in the Highlands of Louisville. Pickerell's decomposing body was discovered inside.
Police reports obtained by WAVE 3 News show police cited Jessica Whann, 31, and arrested Thomas Bronnenburg, 46, of Louisville in connection with the case, but not for murder.
According to the police reports, Whann told police she'd been "shooting up heroin with [Pickerell]" on September 7 when Pickerell allegedly stopped breathing. Via the reports, police said Thomas Bronnenburg dragged Pickerell's body from a home near the intersections of South Shelby and Ziegler streets before loading the corpse into Pickerell's van. Whann is then reported as having driven the van to an alley near the intersection of Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue where she admitted to ditching both the vehicle and Pickerell's body.
Bronnenburg and Whann now face charges of abuse of a corpse, tampering with physical evidence and theft by unlawful taking valued under $500 after Pickerell's wallet, cell phone and keys were determined to be missing.
"Why would anybody tamper with a body that you find in an alley somewhere behind the store and tamper with the evidence?" posed Phillips. "I think whoever that [the police] have, that's the ones who did it."
Phillips said Pickerell's family desperately seeks answers, hoping to piece together exactly what led to the death of a husband, father, nephew and son.