A Florida woman who reported her 7-month-old daughter missing was arrested and charged today with giving the infant to her babysitter, a woman who was a suspect in the disappearance of her own son 22 years ago.
The missing baby, Shannon Lea Dedrick, was discovered Wednesday night hidden in a large box with a lid on it beneath the bed of her babysitter, Susan Elizabeth Baker, police said.
Authorities said today that Shannon's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer,25, conspired with Baker, 50 to pass over the child at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Mercer then reported the child missing 10 hours later, sending the Washington County Sheriff's office and a frantic search for the infant.
Baker and Mercer are both charged with several felonies, including desertion of a child and neglect of a child.
Baker's alleged involvement in this crime has led authorities to reopen a 20-year-old cold case stemming from her own son's disappearance in 1987.
Baker was questioned but not indicted in 2000 her 3-year-old child's disappearance in 1987, according to the sheriff's office. The child, Paul Leonard Baker, was never found.
The Associated Press reports that Baker claimed the boy disappeared from her Beaufort, S.C., home while she was napping. A massive manhunt in the swampy area around the Bakers' home failed to find the boy.
Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock reported that Shannon was found in a two foot by three foot cedar wood box underneath a bed in Baker's home late Wednesday night.
"The box was shoved at the back of the bed and there was a lot of material in front to deceive anyone who was looking for it," said Haddock. "The box had a lid on it, but air seemed to be getting in."
Haddock estimated that Shannon had been inside the box for almost 12 hours when she was found. Baking powder, to disguise the stench of her soiled diaper, as well as a blanket, were also inside the closed box.
It is believed that Baker would place the child in the box whenever she became that nervous authorities might show up at her Chipley, Fla., home, said Haddock.
"The box was a hiding mechanism," said Haddock.
Mercer's husband, James Baker, was initially questioned by police, but was released today without charges.
Haddock said he does not believe James Baker had anything to do with the crime.
Susan Baker, however, quickly became a suspect in Shannon's disappearance as soon as authorities ran her criminal history, said Haddock, and because she was one of the last people to see Shannon.
Baker is also the half-sister of the child's father.
Haddock said Baker showed authorities a letter she had written to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist over the past week begging for help in locating Shannon.
"She was demanding that something be done and was ridiculing our investigation, saying that we were 'chasing ghosts in the woods,'" said Haddock.
On Wednesday, Haddock said Baker had grown "agitated" at the idea of authorities entering her two-bedroom mobile home.
Shannon has since been taken to a hospital where she is in good condition in protective custody, said Haddock.
The sheriff said that searches for babies who aren't found within five days often have a bad ending.
"Statistics show this should not happen, but we're glad it came to the conclusion," said Haddock.
Haddock said he and the other investigators broke down in tears when they told their wives they had found the child alive.
"There were a lot of grown men crying," said Haddock.