Crime & Public Safety

Details released about investigation 22 years ago for missing boy

The father of a boy who hasn't been seen since he was reported missing from his Shell Point home more than 22 years ago told authorities at the time that he suspected his wife -- the boy's stepmother -- killed the child, according to documents released by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

But James Baker changed his mind two days later, saying Susan Baker didn't have anything to do with Paul Baker's disappearance, according to a 1987 summary of the missing-child investigation. Paul Baker was 3 when he disappeared March 5, 1987.

Susan Baker is under arrest and James Baker, a former sergeant at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, is under investigation after authorities in Chipley, Fla., on Thursday discovered 7-month-old Shannon Dedrick hidden in a cedar box under Susan Baker's bed.

Authorities said the girl's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer, gave the infant to baby sitter Susan Baker early Oct. 31, then reported her missing about 10 hours later. Mercer was charged with interference of child custody, desertion of a child and several other charges. Charges against Susan Baker included neglect of a child with aggravated circumstances and interference of child custody.

James and Susan Baker were both suspects in Paul's disappearance. Susan Baker claimed he was taken from their home while she napped.

A massive manhunt turned up nothing. The Bakers were extradited to South Carolina in 2000 and charged with assault and battery in Paul's disappearance, but a grand jury never indicted them.

Susan Baker was convicted of abusing her stepdaughter, Nina Baker, soon after Paul's disappearance. She received a 10-year sentence, which was reduced to time served after 80 days in jail.

After the Bakers' arrest last week, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office released 72 pages of reports and other documents associated with their investigation of Paul's disappearance.

Among the details included:

* Susan Baker took a polygraph test eight days after Paul's disappearance. Results were inconclusive because she was obese, under stress and taking muscle relaxers. However, the technician who administered the test said he believed Baker was lying.

* Four days later, James Baker took a polygraph and failed.

* Carol Garvin, a former cellmate of Susan Baker, told investigators that the woman claimed James Baker severely beat Paul on the day he was reported missing and that the two of them buried the child in the yard of a friend living nearby. Baker allegedly told the cellmate she was taking the "rap" for her husband.

* Investigators asked Nina, then 6, about her brother's disappearance. "Mama told me not to talk to you about (that)." The report said Nina appeared nervous and unwilling to talk.

* James Baker told authorities his wife usually disciplined the children and that he thought she was too hard on them. She once beat Nina so hard, he had to pull her off the child, he said, and she also beat Paul after he defecated on his bedroom floor. However, during the same interview, Baker told interviewers he thought the child's biological mother -- Baker's ex-wife, Linda Mott, later known as Linda Solorzano -- was responsible for Paul's disappearance.

* Later the same day, however, James Baker said he believed Susan Baker killed Paul and threw him in Battery Creek. She had asked him to take a walk down to the river -- they had never taken a walk there before -- and he thought she was going there to make sure the body couldn't be seen.

James Baker said he thought his wife snapped because of frustration with Paul, who had been "sick, whining, messing his bed and wetting his pants" in recent days. Nina was placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services after her father said she might be in danger if she remained in the same household as Susan Baker.

* The next day, James Baker said he no longer believed his wife killed Paul.

* Susan Baker told investigators she was stressed from taking care of the children and that she wanted James Baker to send them to North Carolina, where Mott lived. She also said she wanted to move to Florida, but her husband wouldn't let her.

* Nina later told investigators Susan Baker beat her with a stick and sometimes made her stand in the corner because she is bad. She said she didn't know where Paul was.

* A letter sent to James Baker in 1987 was examined by SLED in May 2000. The letter was signed "Your friend," and indicated Paul was safe in North Carolina. The letter was believed to have come from the Beaufort County Detention Center, where Susan Baker was incarcerated. A handwriting analyst said it was "probable that the letter was authored/handwritten" by Susan Baker.