Police: Daughters taken 3 decades ago found, mom arrested

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Two sisters who disappeared from Rhode Island with their mother in 1985 have been located in the Houston area, and their mother was charged with snatching them, police announced Tuesday.

Her run from the law ended in a  townhome off Bering  some 1500 miles and thirty plus years from where it began.  Her name at the time of her arrest was Liana Waldberg, but in her other life in Rhode island she was Elaine Yates mother to Kim and Kimberly.

An anonymous tip two days before Christmas led police to Kimberly and Kelly Yates and their mother, Elaine Yates, state police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin said. Elaine Yates, who had been living in Houston under the name Liana Lynn Waldberg, was arrested Monday and faces arraignment Wednesday in Rhode Island.

Kelly Yates was 10 months old and her sister was 3 years old when they disappeared. Kelly Yates, now 32, and Kimberly Yates, now 35, weren't living with their mother, who's 69, but are in the Houston area and are in good health, Philbin said.

The girls' father struggled to process the news his long lost daughters had been found.

“State Police came by yesterday and said they might have made contact with her and she might be getting arrested.” said Russell Yates.

Russell Yates told The Providence Journal in a 1988 magazine story his wife had discovered he had been unfaithful to her and had threatened to move out in the middle of the night with the children. He acknowledged punching her while they argued.

She filed for divorce. He got custody of the girls. She disappeared. In 1988, they charged her with child snatching. Police say she went through a series of aliases. Her own mother even did jail time rather than reveal her location.

The case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," and police received tips from all over the country. Investigators reviewed the case and spoke with Russell Yates at least once a year, Philbin said. But it wasn't until they received the anonymous tip that they cracked the case.

“Over the past thirty years numerous leads were investigated with negative results. Days before Christmas members of our major crimes unit received information that Elaine Yates was living in Houston, Texas under an alias name.” said Lt Cpool Joseph Philbin with the Rhode Island State Police.

If not an alias, a new one. According to court documents in 2009,  she legally changed her name to Liana Waldberg. She even had to submit to fingerprint and undergo a background check to do so.   Neighbors were stunned to learn the who woman who put out the complex newsletter really was.

“I mean it's crazy to think that someone living within walking distance from my home was a fugitive and we had no idea,” said a neighbor who asked not to be identified.

Neighbors Jesse and Fran Vaughan, who live in the same condominium development as Elaine Yates in affluent West Houston, said she seemed like a nice person.

The Vaughans, who have lived at the complex for 17 years, said Yates was in charge of putting together the newsletter for the homeowner's association but they weren't aware she even had daughters.

"Come to think of it, I don't know if anyone knew her that well," Fran Vaughan said.

No one answered knocks on the doors of three addresses listed in records for Yates in West Houston and her daughters in Deer Park and Baytown.

Philbin wouldn't comment on where Yates and her daughters had been since 1985 and said he didn't know when they got to Houston. He said he couldn't comment on whether the daughters knew they had been taken or whether they knew their father was alive.

As for the mother, Philbin said she had been successful in getting away with her crime for 31 years. He described her as being very cooperative with investigators since police knocked on her door Monday. She was arraigned in Houston, waived extradition and was being transported to Rhode Island.

Russell Yates, asked if Elaine Yates should be prosecuted, said: "That isn't going to help me, her or anybody else at this point. I just want to see my kids."

The girls have new names and their own families now. Police have given them their father's contact information but not vice-versa. So all Russel Yates can do now, is wait.

“It's all about my children and I just... Hopefully they will want to get in touch with me. They're adults now. It's up to them.” he said.

It's the second time in less than a week police announced they had solved an old child disappearance. On Friday, authorities in Florida charged a woman with kidnapping a newborn from a hospital 18 years ago and raising the child as her own. The 18-year-old, Kamiyah Mobley, met her biological parents Saturday in Walterboro, South Carolina, where she was raised under a false name.


This story has been corrected to show the mother used the name Liana, not Leina, and will be arraigned in Rhode Island, not Texas. An incorrect reference to age-progressed renderings looking identical to the younger women has been deleted.


Associated Press writer Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.