Escapee back in area, Harford sheriff suspects

She fled mental hospital in Sept. before trial

November 06, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A woman who escaped from Spring Grove Hospital Center in September while awaiting trial on child-abduction charges might be back in the area and a threat to the girl she was charged with abducting, Harford County Sheriff's Department officials said yesterday.

Maria L. Baughman, 49, escaped from the Catonsville psychiatric hospital Sept. 2 and has not been seen since Sept. 5, when she was spotted at a truck stop in Arkansas.

Harford County Detective Cpl. Michael Crabbs, who is leading the search, said yesterday that he has received information that Baughman is back in the Baltimore area. Crabbs said he believes Baughman hitched a ride from a truck driver back to the area soon after she was spotted in Arkansas.

"I don't know if she is staying with relatives or is just being supported by relatives," Crabbs said. "She had contacts here [Harford County], she had contacts in Baltimore, Baltimore County, so she could be anywhere, using and living under any name."

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

The child, Caitlyn "Katie" Crowther, 10, was reunited with her mother, Donna L. Snyder of Cecil County, on May 24 after police found Baughman and Caitlyn in Norfolk, Va.

Crabbs described Baughman yesterday as a "chameleon" who can change her appearance and assume new identities easily.

The search for Baughman has slowed in recent weeks because local officials and the FBI have been distracted by other matters since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, Crabbs said.

In addition to their investigation, Harford officials have asked the television program America's Most Wanted to air a segment on Baughman and are awaiting an answer.

After her arrest in Norfolk in May, Baughman, who had lived in Abingdon, was held at the Harford County Detention Center. On Aug. 9, she was transferred from the Harford County jail to Spring Grove after she received a psychological exam.

Baughman and another woman, Lisa L. Gabbert, who was caught three days later, escaped Spring Grove by jumping out a first-floor window, authorities said.

Crabbs said yesterday that he believes Baughman is "infatuated" with Caitlyn and could try to abduct her again if she is not caught. Because of the threat, Snyder said, she and her family are taking precautions to protect Caitlyn, including having police officers stationed at her elementary school.

"Katie is kind of upset her life is turned upside down because of this," Snyder said. "She can't go outside and play like normal kids. She always has to have someone with her."

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