Famed sleuth hunts for missing baby - East Valley Tribune: News

Famed sleuth hunts for missing baby

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Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010 10:25 pm | Updated: 3:45 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A renowned private investigator who is conducting a nationwide search of missing 9-month-old Gabriel Johnson believe the boy is still alive.

E.V. woman indicted in missing baby case  |  TIMELINE

A renowned private investigator and four of his associates who are conducting a nationwide search of missing 9-month-old Gabriel Johnson believe the boy is still alive and they are close to finding him.

Jay J. Armes, whose office is based in El Paso, Texas, told the Tribune he believes Gabriel Johnson has fallen victim to an underground adoption, and he and his investigators are following up on more than 350 leads nationwide that include sightings of the boy.

Jay J. Armes

Gabriel’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, 23, of Tempe, drove Gabriel in her grandfather’s 1995 white Delta-88 Oldsmobile to San Antonio on Dec. 18 in the midst of a custody battle with her estranged boyfriend and the baby’s father, Logan McQueary.

The child was last seen on Dec. 26 at a Quality Inn and Suites motel, where Johnson was staying. The next day, Johnson told McQueary via text message that she killed Gabriel. The mother has since said she gave the baby away, but she remains uncooperative with police.

Armes, who has 40 years of investigative experience, has a claim to fame of finding actor Marlon Brando’s son, Christian Brando, who was kidnapped in 1972 and held in Mexico for ransom.

Armes, who did not reveal his whereabouts or his strategy to find the Gabriel, said his office has been receiving 70 tips a day for the last week on the “Baby Gabriel” case that has received national attention.

“My feelings about the child, my gut feeling, is that he’s still alive,” Armes said. “I have no thought otherwise. There have been no clues that the baby is dead. I’m very optimistic that we’re close to finding him. If we do this investigation right, it’ll come out right.”

Johnson was arrested without the child on Dec. 30 in Miami Beach, Fla., where she told an FBI agent that she was approached Dec. 25 in a San Antonio park by an unknown couple who wanted to adopt a child. She told the agent she gave Gabriel to the couple the next day in the parking lot of the motel and signed an adoption form, according to a Maricopa County Superior Court document.

Armes said he has recovered 150 children from underground adoption cases of the 300 such cases he’s been involved in. He said he is familiar with underground adoption rings, including those south of the border in Mexico, where he believes Gabriel might have wound up. People will pay as much as $50,000 for a child in an underground adoption after a child is sometimes kidnapped and taken south of the border, according to Armes.

Armes said he was retained to direct a national search for Gabriel, but offered his services pro bono to McQueary’s family last week. Armes said a woman working for a missing children’s group in California brought the case to his attention, and he said he knew McQueary did not have the financial means to hire private investigators.

McQueary has told the Tribune he has taken leave of absence from his job stocking shelves at a retail store in Tempe while he searches for clues in the case. He currently is in San Antonio with relatives. He also is passing out flyers featuring pictures of Gabriel.

Up to a $5,000 reward is being offered through Crime Stoppers in San Antonio for information that could lead to the safe return of the boy.

San Antonio police currently are conducting parallel homicide and missing person investigations into the disappearance of Gabriel. Authorities began excavating a section of a landfill in San Antonio this week in searching for evidence or possible remains of the boy. Two tips led police to that section of the landfill, and it was closed on Jan. 9 at their request.

Johnson is being held in the Maricopa County Estrella Jail on a $1.1 million cash bond on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.

Tammi Smith of Scottsdale has been charged with conspiracy to commit custodial interference and forgery. Tammi Smith and her husband, Jack Smith, were persons of interest in the case and were interested in adopting Gabriel, but McQueary objected to the adoption.

If anyone has any information about Gabriel’s whereabouts, they can call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or Armes’ office at (915) 532-5739.

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