Children kidnapped in Warwick in 1985 found in Texas; Mother arrested

Kelly, Kimberly and Elaine Yates shown in age-progressed photos. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Rhode Island State Police announced Tuesday that a woman and the two daughters she abducted in Warwick more than 30 years ago were found in Texas, where all three were living under aliases.

State police said they arrested the girls' mother, Elaine Yates, on Monday, at her home in Houston without incident, and said Yates admitted her true identity. She had been living under the name Leina Waldberg, according to authorities.

Investigators said they received an anonymous tip on Dec. 23 that led them to Houston, where they found the family.

Yates, 69, was returned to Rhode Island to face two counts of child snatching.

The daughters -- now women in their 30s -- were not living with their mother, but were in Houston.

Their father, Russell Yates, told NBC 10 News on Tuesday that it's up to his daughters to decide if they want to get in touch.

"They have a dad that loves them, wants to see them, talk to them," Russell Yates said. “I’ve always been trying to find my children.”

At the time the girls were abducted, both parents had custody of them -- the parents were still married then. But several months after the girls disappeared, Russell Yates obtained a court order and got custody of his missing kids.

For the past 31 years, investigators said they’ve received sightings from all over the world, but last month they received their first tip that led them to Texas.

“Licensed photographs and social media accounts were located and confirmed all of their identities,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin, of the Rhode Island State Police.

The missing children, Kimberly and Kelly, were 3 and 10-months-old, respectively, when they disappeared. Authorities said they were abducted on Aug. 26, 1985. Kelly Yates is now 32, and Kimberly Yates is 35.

During a news conference Tuesday, Philbin wouldn’t say if the daughters knew they had been abducted, but added that the women were surprised to hear their mother had been arrested. Philbin said the daughters “were in good health.”

Both women have families of their own in Houston and were given their father’s contact information if they want to reach him, Philbin said.

“Now, at least, it’s up to them to get in touch with me,” Russell Yates said. “What happens with my ex-wife, I really feel bad about but we gotta find out what’s going on.”

As for whether Russell Yates wants his ex-wife to face charges, he told reporters outside his Warwick home, “That ain’t gonna help her, me or anybody at this point. I just want to see my kids.”

A felony warrant for child snatching was issued for Elaine Yates on Nov. 16, 1988.

NBC 10 talked to the spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children from the group's headquarters in Virginia, which created the composite images.

“We've been on this case since the beginning.This is a big day,” Angeline Hartmann, the spokeswoman, said. “This case proves to us, yet again, that we can never stop searching for children. We can never give up hope.”

Elaine Yates is being held at Rhode Island State Police headquarters. She will be arraigned at Kent County Superior Court on Wednesday

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off