Details of Disappearance Paul's parents, James Arthur Baker and Lynda Solorzano, separated in the mid-1980s. James's affair with Susan, who was employed as their children's babysitter, caused the breakup of the marriage. Solorzano said that she moved out of their home with Paul and his six-year-old sister Nina shortly thereafter. She claimed that James never paid child support afterwards.
Solorzano had limited financial means after their separation and applied for public assistance. She was pregnant with her new boyfriend's child by the time her divorce from James was finalized. Solorzano said that the judge sided with James and agreed that she did not have the means to support Paul and Nina. James was awarded full custody of both children and married Susan afterwards.
The Bakers purchased a home in Beaufort, South Carolina by 1987. James was a sergeant at the Marine Corps Air Station there. Susan told authorities that she put Paul down for a nap inside their residence at 11:00 a.m. on March 5 of that year. Susan claimed she fell asleep herself after that, under the influence of alcohol and muscle relaxants, and woke up at 12:30 or 1:30 p.m. to a call from James. James called her after the station's family services notified him that a woman had called them claiming she had Paul and he was okay. Paul had vanished from the Bakers' residence. He has never been seen again.
An extensive search of the property produced little evidence as to Paul's whereabouts. James initially accused Solorzano of making the phone call and abducting her son, but law enforcement determined she had nothing to do with the child's disappearance and wasn't even in the state at the time he went missing.
Susan took a polygraph eight days after Paul's disappearance. The results were ruled inconclusive. Four days after that, James took a polygraph and failed it. Susan admitted she was stressed from taking care of the children and did not want the task, and had wanted to send them back to their mother.
James told investigators Susan usually disciplined the children and he thought she was too harsh with them. James suggested Susan had killed Paul and thrown his body in the Battery Creek. He said Nina might be in danger from her stepmother. The next day, however, James said he no longer believed his wife had killed his son. A search of the Baker home on March 24 revealed blood spatters which were sent away for analysis, but it's unclear what happened to them.
State authorities removed Nina from the family's home eighteen days after Paul's disappearance, in response to James's statements about Susan. Investigators learned that she suffered untreated broken bones and had ulcerated sores on her back. Nina said Susan beat her with a stick and locked her in a closet for long periods, and she stated Susan abused Paul as well, whipping him when he wet his bed and forcing him to stand in a corner for hours at a time.
James recalled that Paul had been sick in the days prior to his disappearance and had soiled his pants and his bed. Nina said she didn't remembering seeing Paul or hearing his voice at all the day he disappeared. She came home from school at 11:00 a.m., and Susan told her Paul was feeling better and was playing in the backyard. A short time later, she heard Susan screaming for Paul to go take a nap. Nina fell asleep and when she woke up, Susan told her her brother was missing. Authorities believe she was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of Paul's disappearance.
Susan was charged with assault and battery on Nina with intent to kill, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. She was sentenced to ten years in prison, but the sentence was suspended after she had served eighty days. She completed a five-year term of probation.
Solorzano was involved in a legal battle in an attempt to win custody of her daughter. Nina spent some time in foster care was eventually placed with her maternal grandmother while Solorzano was given the opportunity to improve her life. Nina went to go live with her mother in 1992. She didn't see her father again until 2000, thirteen years after she was taken from his home, and she remains estranged from him. She is now married, works as a nurse and has three children of her own.
A former cellmate of Susan's later stated Susan had told her James had killed Paul. Susan said the child died after his father severely beat him, and she and James had buried Paul's body in a neighbor's yard. This statement has never been verified. Susan and James were extradited back to South Carolina from their Florida residence in 2000 in connection with Paul's disappearance.
James had been discharged from military service in 1999 when South Carolina authorities reopened Paul's case and charged both Bakers with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. A grand jury refused to indict either of them, however, although they did indict Susan for child neglect. Authorities elected not to pursue the neglect charge because it was a misdemeanor and even if Susan were to be convicted, she would not be severely punished. The case went cold again.
In a bizarre twist, Susan was linked to another missing child case in Florida in November 2009. Shannon Lea Dedrick, a seven-month-old baby, disappeared from her Chipley, Florida home. Susan was her babysitter and half-sister to Shannon's father, James Russell "Rusty" Dedrick Jr. Five days later, Shannon was found alive and in good health, hidden in a cedar chest under a bed in Susan's home in the 3300 block of Orange Hill Road in Chipley. She'd been in the chest for about a day and a half.
Authorities charged Susan and Shannon's mother, Chrystina Lynn Mercer, with several felonies and misdemeanors, including child neglect, custodial interference, child desertion, filing a false report and contributing to the delinquency of a child. Susan claimed Mercer had voluntarily given the baby to her to keep permanently, but then reported her missing ten hours afterward. Authorities don't believe Rusty was aware of the situation. James was detained by police after Dedrick was found, but has since been released without charge. He said he never knew the baby was being hidden in his house.
A photo of Susan is posted with this case summary. Two months before Shannon's disappearance, she had written to the Florida governor saying Shannon's parents were drug users and she was concerned for the baby's safety. Child Protective Services investigated and Shannon's parents both received assistance and entered treatment programs, but the baby was not removed from their custody.
At Susan's trial in the fall of 2010, she claimed she had only taken Shannon to protect her from her parents. (Shannon was removed from her parents' care and put in a foster home after the kidnapping incident. She now lives with a relative out of state. Rusty has surrendered his rights to her, and Mercer isn't allowed to have contact with her.) Susan was convicted of three felony charges in October 2010. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison. She and James got divorced in the aftermath of Shannon's kidnapping.
Mercer was called to testify at Susan's trial but refused to answer any questions, citing her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. In late October 2010, she pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of providing false information to the police and was sentenced to 364 days in jail. She got credit for time served and was released immediately. The other charges against her were dropped.
The only evidence that Mercer gave Shannon to Susan was Susan's own statement, and Susan wasn't considered a credible witness, so the charges against Mercer for making a false 911 call and custodial interference could not be proved.
Paul's disappearance received additional publicity after the Dedrick story broke, but no additional evidence was uncovered in his case. Foul play is suspected in Paul's case. His whereabouts remain unknown.
- Naval Criminal Investigative Service
- Washington, D. C.
Updated 9 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated October 7, 2015; details of disappearance updated.