Mom pleads not guilty to abducting kids from dad in 1985, free to return home

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Mom pleads not guilty to abducting kids from dad in 1985, free to return home. (KTRK)

A woman charged with abducting her two daughters from their father in 1985 pleaded not guilty Wednesday, and a judge allowed her to be released and return to her home in Houston.

Elaine Yates said little during the brief arraignment in Kent County Superior Court in Rhode Island on an abduction charge, but she referred to herself as Liana Waldberg, her legal name since 2009.

The girls' father, Russell Yates, did not attend the hearing, but friends and relatives were there to support Waldberg. One of her cousins, Richard Patenaude, said he was relieved everybody is OK.

Magistrate Judge John McBurney set bail at $50,000 personal recognizance and allowed her to return to Houston to live and work with a requirement that she sign a waiver of extradition and surrender her passport. He set hearings for Feb. 1 to determine her attorney and Feb. 15 for a pretrial conference.

ORIGINAL STORY: Daughters taken 3 decades ago found, mom arrested

An anonymous tip two days before Christmas led authorities to Kimberly and Kelly Yates and their 69-year-old mother, according to Rhode Island State Police. Waldberg was arrested Monday.

Kelly Yates was 10 months old and Kimberly was 3 years old when they disappeared. They are now in their 30s.

They are not living with their mother but are in the Houston area and are in good health, said state police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin.

Police gave the girls contact information for their father, and it was their choice whether to reach out to him.

"I've always been trying to find my children," the father told reporters on Tuesday. "Now at least, it's up to them to get in touch with me."

Russell Yates said after their disappearance that his wife had discovered he was unfaithful to her and that she had threatened to move out in the middle of the night with the children. He acknowledged punching her while they argued. A few weeks later, on Aug. 27, 1985, he came home after work around 2 a.m. and they were gone.

After that, Yates kept up the search for his family. He was convinced that his mother-in-law, Mary Pigeon, knew their whereabouts, which she denied.

In 1990, a judge ordered Pigeon, 77, put behind bars for contempt of court because she would not tell him where her daughter and grandchildren were. She was ordered released a week later and has since died.

Over the years, the case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," and police received tips from all over the country. But it wasn't until investigators received the tip late last year that they cracked the case.

Authorities said they used court databases, Facebook and driver's license photos to identify the mother and daughters.

Court records show Elaine Yates legally changed her name to Liana Lynn Waldberg in Texas in 2009.

Philbin would not comment Tuesday when asked where police think the family had been since 1985, whether the daughters knew they had been taken or whether they knew their father was alive.

As for the mother, Philbin described her as being very cooperative with investigators since police knocked on her door Monday.

When asked if Waldberg should be prosecuted, Russell Yates said on Tuesday: "That isn't going to help me, her or anybody else at this point. I just want to see my kids."
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