When things get ugly between couples, it can quickly tear their families apart, often leaving their children scarred forever. In these tough situations, it’s not unusual for one or both parents to go to extreme measures to protect their kids.
However, what happened to one family in a small Rhode Island town has left investigators baffled for three decades ago — until now…
The year was 1985, and life was good for the Warwick, Rhode Island-based Yates family. At least, that’s what they wanted people in the neighborhood to think.
Inside the Yates’ home was a once happy family falling apart. Russell Yates’ marriage to his wife Elaine was crumbling and it was their two little girls who were suffering most. Little Kimberly was just three years old and her baby sister, Kelly, wasn’t even one year yet…
The poor children couldn’t understand that their parents’ marriage was in trouble. Tensions had been high ever since Elaine Yates caught her husband, Russell, cheating with another woman on the family boat. It was a night no one wanted to remember.
When Elaine confronted Russell, she was hostile and then he became violent. According to an agency report, Yates “acknowledged hitting his wife and cutting her forehead with a diamond ring when they argued about the boat incident.” And sadly, this wasn’t the only time. Russell later admitted to hitting but only after Elaine attacked first…
Finally, after a particularly bad squabble, Elaine Yates decided she wanted out of her marriage — and her life — for good. She came up with a plan to escape out of their home while her husband was out.
When Russell returned home, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Elaine was gone and so were the couple’s two young daughters, Kimberly and Kelly. He knew she would leave him, but how could Elaine take the girls too? She knew that she could get in very serious trouble…
Fearful of what his wife might be capable of, Russell Yates immediately went to the police and on August 26, 1985, three-year-old Kimberly and 10-month-old baby Kelly were officially declared missing. Russell might have been a lousy husband, but he was a good father and would do anything to get his daughters home safe and sound.
Russell was absolutely devastated that his daughters were missing and police didn’t have any leads. His wife was clearly disturbed and the tiny girls needed to be found as soon as possible, but remember, the year was 1985 and priority wasn’t put on cases considered to stem from custody issues…
Gone For Good?
Law enforcement helped Russell search throughout Rhode Island for Kimberly and Kelly, but came up with nothing. A few weeks turned into months and in no time the Yates sisters had been missing for years. It seemed unlikely that they would ever be found now.
Russell Yates’ daughters were older now but he didn’t stop searching for them. He was fighting as hard as ever and it would finally pay off in 1988. Over three years after their kidnapping, Yates was finally granted official sole custody of his missing daughters…
That November, detectives finally put a felony warrant out for the arrest of Elaine Yates. Police were now able to start up a real search for the missing mother, hoping that would lead them to the little girls she was hiding.
Milk Carton Kids
She faced two counts of child snatching but they had no clue where she could be. The trio was last seen in Warwick but they could be anywhere on earth after a few years. The Charley Project, a missing children’s charity, speculated that the Yates family could be living in either Florida or Massachusetts…
But they would prove to be like finding a needle in a haystack. Kelly, Kimberley and their mother had completely vanished into thin air. Tips came in over the years, but authorities couldn’t take them seriously. Not until December 2016, at least, when the Rhode Island State Police received a tip about the Yates’ whereabouts.
It had been 31 years since they disappeared from his living room in Rhode Island and Russell Yates was thankful for a Christmas miracle. A woman found living in Houston, TX under the name Leina Waldberg was a perfect match for Elaine Yates…
Leina Waldberg was 69 years old, the same age Elaine would be in 2016, and she was connected to two young women named Melissa and Sarah Waldberg who fit the age ranges of the missing Yates girls. However, when it came time to confess her identity and crimes, she completely denied knowing where her daughters were.
Call Your Dad
She would rather go to jail than give up her daughters’ whereabouts, but shortly after Elaine Yates was arrested, the women were located. According to Rhode Island State Police, they interviewed Kimberly and Kelly and gave them their father’s phone number. “’I’ve always been trying to find my children,” Russell told WCVB. “And now at least it’s up to them to get in touch with me.”
Keep The Peace
Kelly and Kimberly were now 32 and 35 years old. They had created families of their own under their new identities and Texas was all they had ever known. Their father was a complete stranger to them. However, even after all he had been through in the past three decades, Russell Yates didn’t believe his ex-wife (their divorce became official in the 90s) should be charged.
He knew that her getting in trouble would only keep him further from his daughters. “That ain’t going to help her, me or anybody else at this point,” he said. “I just want to see my kids.” As for whether Kimberly and Kelly knew about their true identity when they were growing up, authorities refused to say…
Eventually, Elaine Yates waived her extradition back to Rhode Island from Texas and was very cooperative with authorities. However, according to laws in the state of Rhode Island, Elaine Yates was facing up to 20 years in prison for her crime. With help from her ex-husband’s wishes, however, she received a much more lenient sentence than anyone expected.
Finally, in 2017, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s office said in a statement his decision to dismiss the kidnapping charge was due to “evidence that was not available or unknown to investigators prior to the discovery and apprehension of Ms. Yates and the laws in effect in 1988.” It was actually the Yates’ girls’ disappearance that helped changed the Rhode Island child snatching law. Today, Russell Yates hopes his daughters will make the call and give him the relationships that were stolen from him so long ago…