'Baby Gabriel' update: Details of possible adoption emerge
04/19/2016 11:49 am PDT
An update to the mysterious disappearance of "Baby Gabriel," a little boy kidnapped by his own mother and who has never been found: The mother is under arrest and Crime Watch Daily has a new interview with Gabriel's father.
Spirited away in the night by his own mother, no one has seen the precious infant since he vanished six years ago.
Elizabeth Johnson and Logan McQueary were a golden couple. But underneath that pretty exterior were cracks.
A few months later, Elizabeth became pregnant. The couple looked excited to welcome their bundle of joy. But Logan says Elizabeth wanted an abortion but then changed her mind and decided to keep the baby.
But according to Logan, Elizabeth was unable to tolerate the challenges of caring for a newborn.
"Whenever he would cry, she would go in another room and leave him in a different room so she didn't have to hear it," said Logan.
The young dad says he walked on eggshells in fear of setting Elizabeth off.
During a separation, Elizabeth announced she wanted to give Gabriel up for adoption. Logan refused, and the case went to court. The judge granted both parents shared custody.
One December morning in 2009, Logan went to pick up Gabriel at Elizabeth's house. He couldn't wait to see his son, but the young dad's excitement quickly turned to panic. Elizabeth and Baby Gabriel were missing. It appeared mother and son vanished into the night.
Logan McQueary, determined to find his son, goes to police, who say their hands are tied until Logan locates Elizabeth. The days tick by. Logan was scheduled to have Gabriel for what would be the baby's first Christmas. Then, eight excruciating days after Gabriel vanished, a mysterious text from a strange number:
"U will never find me im already bording a plane. Out of the country. When im safe ill email u the exact location of dead gabriels little blue body. If the garbage don't come first."
A frantic Logan dials the number. Elizabeth picks up the phone.
Elizabeth: "Yes I did. I suffocated him and he turned blue. That's when I put him in his diaper bag and I put him in the trash can."
Logan: "Where are you and where's Gabriel?"
Mother: "I told you that I killed him this morning."
"I didn't know if I believe it or not, it scared the crap out of me," said Logan. "I didn't know what to do."
It appears Elizabeth Johnson traveled to San Antonio, Texas. But why she went to a place where she had no connection was a mystery.
San Antonio affiliate Fox29's Yami Virgin reported that Elizabeth's first priority was to find work.
"She did go to a strip joint and try to find employment," said Virgin. "We did talk to two women who remembered her coming in for one night to try out."
Police search for Elizabeth and Gabriel, but the trail goes cold.
Meanwhile, the mom on the run boards a bus without her son, headed to Florida, where just days later she is arrested in Miami and charged with kidnapping.
Elizabeth changes her story to police, telling them Baby Gabriel is not dead: He's alive and well and in the care of a San Antonio couple, who she claims to have met through an underground adoption agency.
Elizabeth told police she arranged to meet the mystery couple in a public park at 10 a.m. two days after Christmas. And with that, she got in her car and drove off.
Adoption expert Elizabeth Jurenovich says for some reason, San Antonio has become the "dirty adoption capital" of the United States, with babies changing hands in the back rooms of sleazy hotels under murky conditions that are hard to track.
When it comes to whether this adoption could have happened, why San Antonio?
"It's been a community in which there have been a proliferation of adoption agencies, many of them attorney-owned," said Jurenovich. "In fact there was a very notorious agency very close to the hotel where Elizabeth Johnson stayed in San Antonio that raises a lot of questions as to what happened to that little boy.
"They were known as being a 'feeder agency' for New York baby-brokers," said Jurenovich. "So given the fact that Elizabeth Johnson had stayed at the very hotel property that was often used by that particular adoption agency, it led to a lot of questions as to how she found that property and what actually happened when she was staying there."
Jurenovich says that hotel was a well-known headquarters for baby-brokering, with pregnant mothers checking in and out of the hotel in a day or two, just enough time to birth the baby and hand it off for payment.
"Traditionally, adoption was considered to be the domain of social service agencies," said Jurenovich. "The alternative was of course black market adoption. Children were being placed for sale. The medium between those two alternatives is the gray market adoptions. Gray market adoptions are typically facilitated by an attorney."
Could Baby Gabriel have been sold to the mysterious Texas couple in a gray market adoption, a potentially lucrative deal for a young, broke and desperate mom?
If Elizabeth Johnson did broker a deal, she's not saying. After her arrest, Elizabeth was extradited to Arizona, where she was put on trial, facing multiple charges including kidnapping and custodial interference.
Is it feasible Elizabeth Johnson could have come to San Antonio and simply lost her mind?
"I really don't [think so], and I base that on the fact she was very methodical, that somebody who has a psychiatric breakdown doesn't go to the lengths she went to to execute her plans, to document them right down to the map to the park," said Jurenovich.
Logan and his cousins take matters into their own hands, heading to San Antonio in hopes of locating Gabriel.
"We were at a gas station and went inside and the girl that was working there remembered Elizabeth," said Lisa Peters, Logan's cousin. "People were saying to us, 'Oh yeah, I remember when she was in here, she came to buy crackers, or she came to pay for some gas and had her son with her.'"
Meanwhile, San Antonio investigators feverishly search for a body, even digging up a Texas landfill.
Elizabeth Johnson is charged with kidnapping and custodial interference. The young mom is not charged with murder because no body was ever found. And the jury could never reach a verdict on the kidnapping charge, and it was subsequently dropped.
As Elizabeth Johnson sits in jail awaiting trial, an explosive development that could alter the outcome of the case: Tempe police detectives claim that before heading to Texas, Elizabeth tried to give the baby to Tammi and Jack Smith, an Arizona couple who wanted to adopt Gabriel.
Tammi is accused of lying on a court document in what prosecutors call an elaborate plan to try to adopt Gabriel without his dad's permission.
Prosecutors say Tammi forged her cousin's name on court records, suggesting he could be Gabriel's father, even though she knew it was not true. Tammi testified she was simply helping Elizabeth fill out the adoption paperwork.
"I was just basically writing the stuff that I knew: her name, the baby's name, Logan's name, things like that, but I was also off and on taking care of the baby and he was crying," said Tammi Smith.
The couple never did adopt Gabriel, although Tammi admits she tried. A jury found Tammi guilty of conspiracy to commit custodial interference and forgery. She served only 30 days in jail, a sentence which infuriated Elizabeth, who was herself facing a possible 27-year sentence for kidnapping and other charges.
In what appeared to be a self-defensive reaction, Elizabeth wrote a scathing letter to the judge criticizing that 30-day sentence. "I can't accept how lightly you sentenced Tammi Smith ... 30 days in jail? 3 years probation? How could you? Are you mad?? Blind? Deaf? Dense?"
After being released, Tammi says she still doesn't know the fate of little Gabriel.
Finally Elizabeth got her day in court. In opening statements, Elizabeth Johnson's attorney asks the jury to ignore the fact that Baby Gabriel has been missing for years, his client refusing to reveal where he is.
"I'm going to ask you not to speculate about the current whereabouts of Gabriel Johnson," said Elizabeth's attorney, Marc Victor. "I'm going to ask you to remember this is not a case about whether or not you like Elizabeth Johnson."
Elizabeth interrupts the testimony with an emotional outburst.
"She's young. She's in a high-profile trial," said Victor. "The issues are issues that are sort of near and dear to her, these involve her son, issues that very much affected her life."
Gabriel's grandfather Frank McQueary testified that he missed out on the joys of being a grandfather.
After two days of deliberation the jury finds Elizabeth guilty.
"You are talking about a very manipulative woman who has worked the system to her advantage now," said prosecuting attorney Thomas Maloney. "If she in fact killed this baby I will be the first one in Huntsville watching her die."
She was sentenced to five years. Gabriel's grandfather is furious.
"They made her a smoking deal," said Frank McQueary. "Just tell us what you did with Gabriel."
"I think the main thing I'd probably say is, just flat out, tell me the truth, that's all I want to hear is the truth come out of your mouth," said Logan McQueary.
Elizabeth got credit for time served, so she's been released. But Gabriel is still missing, and she still won't say a word about where he is.
Elizabeth has seemingly started her new life as a saucy brunette with a new name, "Joanna," aka "JoJo," and a new husband. JoJo reportedly is a car saleswoman and loves posting pics on Facebook, taking bubble baths and romantic getaways.
"I think it's unbelievable that she can just go off and hand her baby to anyone she wants and then go on and live her daily life like nothing ever happened," said Logan.
But Internet sleuths were onto her and tipped off cops. Elizabeth Johnson was arrested because she took a trip out of state and failed to notify authorities that she got married. She was sentenced to 20 days in jail for those probation violations.
Meanwhile the search for Baby Gabriel continues. A composite sketch was released of what he could look like now, at six years old.
Friends posted on Facebook a picture of that age progression of Gabriel, and found what could be a lead, another little boy who was an uncanny match.
"It's a lead that we have passed onto law enforcement over a year ago and it still has not been pursued," said Sandy Peters, Logan's aunt. "It's my hope that Crime Watch Daily gets an opportunity to talk to them because they won't talk to us."
Despite all of the pain Logan McQueary has endured, he now has a happy life with his fiancee and two sons.
"Both my sons would love to meet him and start a life with him," said Logan.
"I look forward to Gabriel coming home. Who wouldn't want another kid in their life?" said Rebecca Garrette, Logan's fiancée.
Apparently Elizabeth didn't. Baby Gabriel has never been found, and only Elizabeth knows the truth.