WARWICK, Rhode Island (CBS/AP) — A mother accused of abducting her children more than 30 years ago pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Wednesday in Rhode Island.
Elaine Yates, 69, who had been living under the name Liana Lynn Waldberg in Houston, said little during the brief arraignment in Kent County Superior Court in Warwick on an abduction charge, but she referred to herself as Liana Waldberg.READ MORE: Amazon Driver Charged With Child Porn After Allegedly Wearing Wig, Taking Pictures In Wrentham Outlets Bathroom
Yates and her two daughters, Kelly and Kimberly, had been missing since 1985, when authorities say she took off with them despite not having custody.
On Tuesday, Rhode Island State Police announced that, following a tip they’d received last month, Elaine and her daughters had been found safe, living in Houston under assumed names.
She pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a 1988 charge of abduction of a child prior to a court order, and was released on $50,000 personal recognizance, meaning she won’t have to pay anything as long as she appears for her next court date.
She’ll be allowed to return to Texas “for purposes of living and working only,” and has to surrender her passport to Texas Rangers.
Yates’ friends and long-lost family members showed up at court Wednesday.
“I’m her cousin, I’m here to support her,” Francine Doyle told WBZ-TV’s Anna Meiler. “She should have people that love her and support her.”
Police say they believe Elaine abducted the children after a domestic dispute with her husband, Russell.
Russell Yates said after their disappearance that his wife had found out he had been unfaithful to her and she had threatened to move out in the middle of the night with the children. He acknowledged punching her while they argued. A few weeks later, on Aug. 27, 1985, he came home after work around 2 a.m. and they were gone.
A childhood friend leaving court said Yates left all those years ago because her husband was abusive.
“He hit her,” she told reporters. “I think they should leave her alone and let her live her life … because she’s a sweet girl, and she deserves some peace and quiet.”
The case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted,” and police received tips from all over the country. But it wasn’t until investigators received the anonymous tip late last year that they cracked the case.
Rhode Island State Police worked with the Texas Department of Public Safety to find Elaine Yates living in Houston under the name Leina Waldberg. Her daughters were found living nearby, also under assumed names.READ MORE: 5-Month Old 'Fenway Baby' Becomes Crowd Favorite At Red Sox Game
“Over the past 31 years, numerous leads had been investigated with negative results,” said Rhode Island State Police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin at a press conference Tuesday. “Days before Christmas this past year, members of our Major Crimes unit received information that Elaine Yates was living in Houston Texas under an alias name with her daughters.”
After she confirmed to investigators that she was Elaine Yates, she was arrested without incident and charged with child snatching.
Philbin would not comment on where Yates and her daughters had been since 1985 and said he did not know when they got to Houston. He said he could not comment on whether the daughters knew they had been taken or whether they knew their father was alive.
As for the mother, Philbin described her as being very cooperative with investigators since police knocked on her door Monday.
Authorities said they used court databases, Facebook and driver’s license photos to identify the mother and daughters.
Court records show Elaine Yates legally changed her name in Texas in 2009. The judge’s order includes her correct birth date and maiden and married names.
The news stunned Russell Yates, who initially filed the missing persons complaint for his wife and daughters on August 26, 1985.
“It’s all about my children,” Yates told the Providence Journal Tuesday. “Hopefully they’ll want to get in touch with me. They’re adults now, so that’s up to them.”
When asked if Elaine Yates should be prosecuted, Russell Yates said on Tuesday, “That isn’t going to help me, her or anybody else at this point. I just want to see my kids.”
Kimberly and Kelly were just 3 1/2 years and 10 months old, respectively, when they went missing.
A spokesperson for the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office said Elaine Yates was formally charged with one count of abduction of a child prior to a court order in October 1988, and faces a maximum sentence of two years for that charge.
She was given until Feb. 1 to hire private counsel, and she is due back in court Feb. 15 for a pretrial conference.MORE NEWS: Suspect Arrested After 7-Hour Standoff In Boston
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