1 of 2 who escaped surrenders

Woman held in Ark.

other Spring Grove fugitive still at large

Pair rode west together

Police shift search to suspect in kidnap of Cecil Co. girl, 10

September 05, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

One of the two women who escaped from a state psychiatric hospital in Catonsville on Saturday was taken into custody yesterday in Arkansas. But police warn that the second escapee, who is at the center of a child abduction case, has not been found and could be dangerous.

Police shifted their search for Maria L. Baughman, 49, after Lisa L. Gabbert, the woman who accompanied her on the escape from Spring Grove Hospital Center, surrendered to authorities in Springdale, Ark., a small city north of Fayetteville.

Gabbert, 25, told police she and Baughman, who is awaiting trial on child abduction charges, rode with truckers from Baltimore to Arkansas but separated yesterday morning, said Sgt. Rick Mayes, of the Springdale Police Department.

"They were just becoming intolerant of each other and started getting on each others' nerves," Mayes said.

The new developments came amid concerns over whether Baughman would try to contact or harm the 10-year-old girl at the center of the alleged abduction.

Baughman is accused of using deception and forgery in 1997 to persuade a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to give her custody of someone else's child. Authorities later learned of the alleged deception and issued a warrant for Baughman's arrest in April.

The child, Caitlyn "Katie" Crowther, was reunited with her mother, Donna L. Snyder of Cecil County, on May 24 after police found Baughman and Caitlyn in Norfolk, Va.

Baughman's biological daughter, Vernise Polkey, said yesterday her mother views Caitlyn as her own child and "is a threat."

"She will not stop until she gets Katie back," said Polkey, 29, of Martinsburg, W.Va. "And if Donna tries to stop her, I think she will hurt Donna, too."

Polkey said she and her two sisters were removed from Baughman's care in the 1970s because of allegations of abuse.

Polkey re-established a relationship with Baughman in 1999 and lived with her and Caitlyn from November 1999 to May 2000 in Middle River in eastern Baltimore County.

"I think there is a lot of anger because she lost her three children, and with Katie she got a chance to be a mother again. ... I think Katie has become an obsession with her," Polkey said.

Harford County Detective Cpl. Michael Crabbs, who was leading the search, echoed Polkey's sentiments and issued a similar warning yesterday about Baughman.

"Someone in her position, if they are cornered, there is no telling what they will do," Crabbs said. "In my opinion, she is not an individual who should be taken lightly."

Harford County police said Monday that Baughman had called Snyder's Cecil County home and told Snyder's boyfriend that she would never be caught.

Baughman -- who moved from Middle River to Abingdon in Harford County before disappearing with Caitlyn this spring -- also is charged with 29 counts of forgery for allegedly stealing her Harford County neighbors' mail.

Crabbs said Baughman has a long history of deception and fraud, which makes it harder for authorities to locate her.

"Maria, she could be anywhere," Crabbs said. "She is very good at using deception and very good at moving around."

Crabbs began the process yesterday of obtaining a federal warrant charging Baughman with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The warrant would allow the FBI to assist in the search.

In Cecil County yesterday, a Winnie the Pooh flag snapped in a brisk breeze outside the Snyder home, a modest, white two-story townhouse in North East. Most of the blinds were drawn.

A woman across the street, who declined to give her name, said she has been more watchful over her daughters, ages 2 and 5 months, since learning of Baughman's escape.

"I think we're a little bit cautious with the kids right now," she said. "We're keeping our eyes peeled on the news. They [her daughters] won't be playing out front without me."

The case involving Caitlyn began in 1995 when Snyder -- then a single mother who was having trouble caring for her daughter -- sent Caitlyn to stay with Baughman at her home in Middle River.

At the end of 1996, Baughman went to Baltimore Circuit Court with forged documents and signatures and convinced Judge Joseph P. McCurdy that Snyder was giving up her custodial rights, police said.

Baughman produced two forged documents claiming Caitlyn's mother and father no longer wanted their child, Snyder said. Baughman was granted custody of Caitlyn in 1997, without Snyder's knowledge.

When she learned she had lost custody, Snyder hired an attorney and regained custody of her daughter in February of this year. At about the same time, Baughman and Caitlyn disappeared. Authorities found them in Norfolk, Va., in May.

Baughman was initially held at the Harford County Detention Center. She wrote to The Sun from jail July 1 and claimed to be innocent. She said Snyder was a bad mother, and she denied forging any documents. "I feel I must do all that I can to defend myself and Caitlyn, the child," Baughman wrote in the letter.

On Aug. 9, Baughman was transferred from the Harford County jail to Spring Grove after she received a psychological exam.

Baughman and Gabbert, who was charged June 29 by Baltimore County authorities with making false statements, escaped from Spring Grove by jumping out a first-floor window. Officials are investigating why Baughman, who was considered a flight risk, was sent to a minimum-security facility.

Mayes said that Arkansas authorities were undertaking a "major search" for Baughman last night, but that she might be on her way back to Maryland.

Sun staff writers Dennis O'Brien, Lane Harvey Brown and Michael Scarcella contributed to this article.

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