Woman accused of abducting girl, 9, through forgery is being sought

Police say fraud was used to persuade court to grant her custody

April 13, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Harford County Sheriff's Office and the FBI are searching for a woman who is accused of abducting a 9-year-old girl and devising an elaborate forgery scheme that convinced the girl's biological mother she had lost custody of the child.

A warrant on charges of child stealing and theft was issued March 27 for Maria L. Baughman, 49, who is suspected of using fraud and deception to persuade a Baltimore County court in 1997 to grant her custody of the child.

"I do not ever recall a custodial abduction case ever being this complex," said Lt. Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office. "She created all kinds of paperwork and had it flow through the system ... and ultimately [used it to gain] custody of someone's child."

Hopkins said Baughman, whose last known address was in the 4000 block of Sharilyn Drive in Abingdon, is also the focus of a grand jury investigation into whether she stole thousands of dollars from her former neighbors by stealing their mail.

"She is on the run with my child, fleeing from the law and fleeing from me," said Donna L. Snyder, the woman whose child has been abducted.

The case involving Caitlyn Crowther began in 1995 when Snyder - then a single mother working two jobs - agreed to let her daughter stay with Baughman on Lannerton Road in Middle River because she was working so much. Snyder would visit Caitlyn every weekend.

At the end of 1996, Baughman went to Baltimore County Circuit Court and began proceedings to win custody of Caitlyn, Snyder and police said.

Baughman forged documents and signatures that she used to convince a judge that Snyder was giving up her custodial rights, police said.

The judge granted Baughman custody in 1997, Hopkins said. Baughman then informed Snyder, who was allowed visits with her daughter, that the court had granted her custody of Caitlyn.

Snyder called Baltimore County police in an attempt to get her daughter back from Baughman. Police dismissed the call when Baughman showed them custodial documents from the court, Snyder said.

"Back then, I didn't have a leg to stand on to fight because I could not afford it," said Snyder. "I didn't have a home, I didn't have an attorney, I didn't have nothing." Snyder continued visiting her daughter until Baughman moved in June without telling anyone. Hopkins said Baughman and the girl had moved to Abingdon.

Snyder, who will not disclose her address, hired an attorney when she lost contact with her daughter and discovered that Baughman had apparently used deception to win custody of Caitlyn.

She won custody back in February but has not been able to find her child.

While Snyder was regaining custody, Harford sheriff's deputies and the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office were investigating Baughman in the defrauding of her Abingdon neighbors, Hopkins said.

"Hopkins said Harford sheriff's deputies learned of Snyder's plight after she contacted the Postal Inspector's Office in January.

But Baughman and Caitlyn moved from Abingdon late last year, Hopkins said.

Snyder said her daughter called her three weeks ago - the first time they had talked since June - and said she was in West Virginia, but police believe Baughman and Caitlyn are in the area.

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