Left and Center: Kamelia circa, 1999
Right: Age Progressed to age 18
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: December 20, 1999
Missing From: Palmdale, Los Angeles County, California
Classification: Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: January 7, 1997
Age: 2 years old
Height and Weight: 3’0″ and 36 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Biracial Female; Kamelia is Hispanic and White, Brown hair, Brown eyes, Kamelia’s hair was long at the time of her disappearance and her nickname is “Sweet Pea”
NCMEC Number: 882726
Details of Disappearance
Kamelia was abducted by her non-custodial father, Derek Spencer, and her paternal grandmother, Helen Barbara Gruning, from Palmdale, California on December 20th 1999. Investigators believe they may also be in the company of Gertrude Schoenberg, Helen’s mother.
The case begins with Derek meeting Kamelia’s mother, Sonia Coppolecchia, about a year before the birth of Kamelia. This was a dark time in Sonia’s life as she has just lost her best friend. He listened to her about the death and she said no other guy she met did this. The pair began to date.
It was soon afterwards that Sonia met Helen. Derek was still living with his mother by the time he started dating Sonia. She described Helen as a kind and sweet woman at first. She said that when she and Helen first met, Helen said “I always wanted a little girl baby”. With that, Kamelia was born 9 months afterwards.
Sonia said Helen was absolutely thrilled at the fact that she had a little granddaughter. Derek was not very enthused about the birth of his daughter. When Kameila was 6 months old, Derek walked out on both of them. His belongings were gone form their bedroom. Derek moves back in with Helen.
After this, Helen became bitter and ruthless towards Sonia. She wanted custody of her granddaughter and concocted a plan which would involve Sonia losing custody of her daughter. Helen began by making Sonia seem like a disturbed and bad mother to her daughter. She began to try and set up visits with her granddaughter but Sonia would always push her off.
Helen then began filing criminal complaints against Sonia. She claimed that Sonia made terroristic threats towards her. Helen also claimed that Sonia threatened to kill her, Derek, and Kamelia. She also accused her of child abuse. During this time, Sonia was being hospitalized for a seizure.
The complaints worked and Sonia was arrested. This was actually the first time Sonia had ever been arrested. She was shocked at the charges she received, especially the charge for the attempted murder of her baby. She faced 5 felony charges in total and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Since none of Helens allegations had any evidence to back them up, Sonia was acquitted of most of the charges brought against her. She was still convicted of making threats towards Helen. She was sentenced to two months in prison.
During the time Sonia was incarcerated, Derek and Helen were granted temporary custody of Kamelia. When Sonia was released, doctors started to become very suspicious of Helen. She frequently brought Kamelia into the hospital and claimed she suffered from Shaken Baby Syndrome.
She did this so frequently that the staff eventually contacted the California Department of Social Services and said Helen might have Muchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. This syndrome causes a person to fake or cause another person to be sick.
When Kamelia was able to speak, she told a therapist that Helen would always tell her to act sick. CDSS discovered that Kamelia had been prescribed medicine she did not need in any way. Additionally, a doctor discovered that Kamelia had the drug Depakote in her bloodstream. This medicine is normally used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder. The drug was emend prescribed to the child.
Kamelia likely would’ve died from kidney failure if this hadn’t been discovered. Sonia testified that whenever she visited Kamelia, the child could not even hold her head up and Sonia was unable to help her. Derek and Helen lost custody of Kamelia who was then placed in the foster system.
The only way any of them could see her is when they had supervised visits. Helen continued to claim Sonia would hurt the child so an armed guard was present during her supervised visit. Sonia was going to regain custody of her daughter with Derek having simple visitation rights. Helen did not like this and devised a plan to abduct her granddaughter and flee.
It’s possible Helen had been planning to take Kamelia for a few months to a year before it even happened. Derek, Helen, and Gertrude all went to the post office and stopped their mail. They also mortgaged the house and sold all their belongings. Helen got approximately $180,000. This was the money which funded the getaway.
Helen went through great lengths so she couldn’t be tracked by the bank or anyone else. 5 days before Kamelia’s abduction, the three of them also got passports in the mail. Workers from the post office remember Gertrude saying something about going to Europe. Investigators believe the passports might have been a ploy to get people to think they left the country.
Just a few days before her kidnapping, Kamelia was with Sonia on a visit. She told Sonia “Mommy, they’re going to steal me.” On the day she was taken, Derek had a supervised visit with his daughter. The visit is usually supposed to happen at the CDSS office but Derek managed to convince them to let him meet her at the arcade just a few miles away from his home.
Derek apparently asked one of the monitors if he could take Kamelia to one of the games to play and she agreed. She apparently dropped her pencil but picked it back up. When she looked up, Derek and Kamelia were gone. The police were immediately called but they found no trace of them. It’s presumed Helen waited outside the park in a getaway car.
When their house was searched, it was completely empty besides a few boxes. This was due to the fact that they sold their things for the money.
Derek is described as a Caucasian male with sandy brown hair and green eyes. He stood between 5’8″ and 6’1″ and weighed between 160 and 180 pounds. He was born on July 16th 1972, making him 27 years old at the time of his daughters abduction. He has his first name tattooed on his forearm or left shoulder. He may use the following names: Derek Gruning, Derek Spencer Gruning, Derek Grunning, and Derek Grunning Glantz. He might use several different social security numbers.
Derek might wear blue or brown tinted contact lenses and might dye his hair a darker color. He might wear his hair cut short or long with a ponytail. He was known to enjoy gambling which included blackjack. He also liked betting on football and baseball. He was originally born in Pennsylvania.
Helen is described as a Caucasian female with red/auburn hair and green eyes. She was born on April 24th 1947, making her 52 years old at the time of her granddaughter’s abduction. She stood at approximately 5’5″ and weighed 105 pounds. She was known to wear wigs at the time and might have dyed her natural hair a darker color. She might use the following names: Helen Glantz, Helen Gottlieb, Helen Spencer, Helen Spencer Glantz, Helen Gruning, and Helen B. Gruning.
Helen might use several different social security numbers. She is a doll collector and is known to frequent antique conventions. She is known to suffer from migraines and may need medical attention as a result of these. She was originally born in New York.
Gertrude is described as a Caucasian female with gray hair and hazel eyes. She stood at approximately 5’6″ and 120 pounds. She was born on October 22nd 1917, making her 82 years old at the time of her great granddaughters abduction. She might use the last names of Glanz and Gottleib. She was originally born in Europe.
Derek and Helen were both charged with child abduction and state warrants for their arrests were issued on January 12th 2000. The warrant was issued by the Los Angeles Superior Court. On October 27th 2000, Federal warrants were issued against them for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. They’ve never been found. There are no warrants for Gertrude’s arrest.
Gertrude might be in need of medical and or dental attention. They may have traveled to Southern Florida after the kidnapping. They had relatives living there. They might also travel to Las Vegas, Nevada. They do have some connections to Canada as well. It’s been considered that they may have traveled to Europe. They don’t speak any other language besides English.
Sonia hopes to find her daughter and bring her back home. Caution is advised as the abductors are considered armed and dangerous. Be careful when approaching them. Kamelia’s disappearance remains unsolved and her current whereabouts are unknown.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Los Angeles Police Department 323-890-5500