Florida arrest brings no new leads in 1987 case of missing Beaufort child

After months of investigation, it appears that a 23-year-old missing-child case will remain unsolved.

Local law enforcement and family members hoped that the high-profile disappearance of 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick from her Chipley, Fla., home on Halloween would shed some light on what happened to Paul Baker, a three-year-old boy who vanished from his family's Shell Point home on March 5, 1987, and was never seen again.

A five-day search for Dedrick ended when the girl was found in a 2-by-3 cedar box that had been shoved under her baby sitter's bed. Her baby sitter was Susan Baker, Paul Baker's stepmother and the same woman some believed was behind the boy's disappearance more than two decades earlier.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office sent one of its investigators to Florida to interview the woman in the hopes of cracking the case, but Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said police didn't get the break they had hoped for.

"We had high hopes that something in that investigation would lead to additional information in the Paul Baker case, but unfortunately that hasn't happened," said Tanner, who helped search for the missing toddler as a deputy in 1987.

Linda Lambert, Paul's maternal grandmother, said she hopes the case will be solved and those responsible brought to justice. She includes Susan Baker on that list.

"I feel like eventually she'll break," Lambert said from her home in Mebane, N.C.. "She's not going to have fun in jail so maybe while she's sitting in there, she'll tell someone something."

According to a Gazette article published two days after Paul's disappearance, Susan Baker said she put her stepson down for a nap at about 11 a.m., and then nodded off herself. She told the newspaper that she was awakened by a phone call from husband James Baker, at the time a sergeant stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Susan Baker, then 27, said that's when she went to check on Paul and discovered him missing.

The Bakers moved to Chipley shortly after she was released from jail after serving 80 days of a 10-year-sentence for beating Paul's older sister, Nina.

Susan Baker has been jailed since being arrested in Florida last year and is set to stand trial this summer for her role in Shannon Dedrick's disappearance. Florida authorities say Baker, the infant's step-aunt, took Shannon from her mother, Tina Mercer, early Halloween morning in a secret exchange at the end of the dirt path to Mercer's trailer. Baker was charged with neglect of a child with aggravated circumstances and interference of child custody.