Kamelia Maria Spencer

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4 5 AP
Top Row and Bottom Left and Center: Kamelia, circa 1999;
Bottom Right: Age-progression to age 18 (circa 2015)

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: December 20, 1999 from Palmdale, California
  • Classification: Family Abduction
  • Date Of Birth: January 7, 1997
  • Age: 2 years old
  • Height and Weight: 3'0, 36 - 45 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Biracial (Caucasian/Hispanic) female. Black/brown hair, brown eyes. Kamelia's nickname is Sweet Pea.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Kamelia was last seen in Palmdale, California on December 20, 1999. She was in foster care at the time of her disappearance. She was abducted by her non-custodial father, Derek Spencer, and her non-custodial paternal grandmother, Helen Barbara Gruning, during a supervised visit. Photographs and vital statistics for the abductors are posted below this case summary. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warrants for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution were issued for both of them on October 27, 2000. They may be accompanied by Gertrude Schoenberg, Gruning's mother. Her photo and vital statistics are listed below this case summary; she is not, however, wanted by the police.

    Kamelia's mother, Sonia Coppulecchia, had dated Derek for only four months before she became pregnant with Kamelia, their only child. Six months after Kamelia was born, her parents ended their relationship. Four months later, while Coppulecchia was hospitalized for a seizure, Gruning accused her of child abuse and filed criminal complaints against her, saying she had made terroristic threats over the phone. Gruning also said Coppulecchia had tried to kill her, Derek and Kamelia. Coppulecchia was charged with multiple felony counts, including attempted murder of Kamelia, terroristic threats against Derek and Gruning, and child endangerment. She was acquitted of most of the charges, but convicted of making terroristic threats against Gruning. She was sentenced to a year in jail, but released early. In February 1998, Coppulecchia lost custody of her daughter to Derek and Gruning.

    After Gruning and her son got custody of Kamelia, Gruning repeatedly brought Kamelia to various doctors and hospital emergency rooms, claiming she suffered from shaken baby syndrome and needed medical attention. The staff could find nothing wrong with the child and eventually reported Gruning to the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) as possibly having Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, which causes a person to fabricate or cause sickness in someone else.

    When Kamelia got old enough to talk, she told a therapist that her grandmother had instructed her to behave as if she was sick. CDSS caseworkers found that Kamelia had been prescribed medication she didn't need. A doctor discovered the drug Depakote in her bloodstream; the medication, which is commonly used to control epilepsy and bipolar disorder, had not been prescribed for her. CDSS placed Kamelia in foster care in February 1999, after ruling that her father and grandmother had subjected her to "invasive and unnecessary medical procedures."

    After Kamelia was put in foster care, her father and grandmother, and her mother, who had been released from jail by this time, were allowed supervised visitations with her. Derek and Gruning continued to accuse Coppulecchia of intending to harm the child; as a result, a social worker and an armed guard were present at every visit. Coppulecchia stated that, during a visit with her daughter only a few days before Kamelia's abduction, Kamelia said, "Mommy, they're going to steal me."

    Derek was only supposed to visit Kamelia at the CDSS offices, but he convinced the staff to allow him to meet her at the Funland amusement center instead for a four-hour visit. At approximately 12:15 p.m., an hour into the visit and during a brief period while he and Kamelia were out of the supervisor's sight, he abducted her. When the police checked Derek and Gruning's residence, it had been completely cleaned out, with no furniture, food, clothing or anything else inside other than some empty boxes. In the months prior to Kamelia's abduction, Derek, Schoenberg, and Gruning had obtained passports, stopped their mail, mortgaged their home and sold their belongings, raising about $122,000. Investigators believe they took her because they realized Coppulecchia was going to regain custody.

    If they are still in the United States, the family may be in south Florida, where they have relatives, or in Las Vegas, Nevada. The adults don't speak any languages besides English, but they had spoken about traveling to Europe and they have some connections in Canada. The abductors are considered to be armed and dangerous. Caution is advised when approaching them. Kamelia's case remains unsolved.

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    Derek Spencer
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    4 5 AP
    Top Row and Bottom Left and Center: Derek Spencer;
    Bottom Right: Age-progresson to age 43 (circa 2015)

    Date of Birth: July 16, 1972
    Age: 27 years old
    Height and Weight: 5'8 - 6'1, 160 - 180 pounds
    Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian male. Sandy brown hair, green eyes. Derek has his first name tattooed on his forearm or left shoulder. He may use the last name Gruning and several different Social Security numbers. He may wear blue- or brown-tinted contact lenses, may dye his hair a darker color and may wear it cut short, or longer and in a ponytail. Derek enjoys gambling, including betting on football and baseball and the game blackjack.

    Helen Barbara Gruning
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    Left and Center: Helen Barbara Gruning;
    Right: Age-progression to age 68 (circa 2015)

    Date of Birth: April 24, 1947
    Age: 52 years old
    Height and Weight: 5'5, 105 pounds
    Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Red hair, green eyes. Gruning often wears wigs and may dye her hair a darker color. She may also use several alias names and Social Security numbers. Gruning is a doll collector and frequents antique doll conventions.
    Medical Conditions: Gruning suffers from migraine headaches and may need medication as a result.

    Gertrude Schoenberg
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    Above Images: Gertrude Schoenberg

    Date of Birth: October 22, 1917
    Age: 82 years old
    Height and Weight: 5'6, 120 pounds
    Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Gray hair, hazel eyes. Schoenberg may use the last names Glanz and/or Gottleib.
    Medical Conditions: Schoenberg may need medical or dental attention.

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Los Angeles Police Department
    323-890-5500

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    Source Information
    The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
    Child Search Ministries
    Los Angeles County Missing Children
    Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office
    California District Attorney's Office
    The "Sweet Pea" Project
    Please Help Missing Children
    KTTV Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers
    The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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    Updated 8 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated October 7, 2015; abductors' age-progressions added, Kamelia's age-progression updated.

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