CHILLICOTHE — A 60-year-old woman and her young grandson moved around Missouri for years while she took jobs at residential care facilities until a suspicious school official called authorities, putting an end to their itinerant life.
Sandy Hatte is now charged with felony child abduction, accused of taking the boy from his Florida home in 2000. The boy, now a teenager, has been reunited with his father, who lives in Alabama.
Hatte appeared, disheveled, in Livingston County court Wednesday morning, shackled at the waist, wrist and ankles. Judge Paul Valbracht set a preliminary hearing for Oct. 23 for Hatte, who's being held on $25,000 bond. Her public defender, Melinda Troeger, declined comment after the hearing.
Livingston County sheriff's detective Eric Menconi would not release the names of the boy or the father, nor did he give details about the alleged abduction, such as where in Florida the family had been living.
Menconi speaks daily with the father, who he said is "ecstatic." In the probable cause statement, Menconi wrote that the father reported his son missing or abducted in Florida "on or about February 2001."
"He's just like any other parent. He works for a living and has other family he has to take care of, and he's been running into a lot of roadblocks trying to find his son," Menconi said.
Larry Jones, a Kansas City-area private investigator hired by the family earlier this year to find the boy, said the father recalled his mother parking a moving truck outside their Florida home in December 2000.
"The dad said there had been a moving truck sitting outside the house for a couple days, and when he asked his mom about it and she said, 'Well, I bought some new furniture and I need to move the furniture.'
"And when he came home, the truck and everything else in the house were gone," Jones said.
Menconi said the father was "using as many resources as possible to track his son, but hit a dead end until Sept. 5."
On that day, the Livingston County sheriff's department started investigating after a school official notified authorities that "something was unusual about the custody of a juvenile recently enrolled in that school," the probable cause statement said.
It's largely unclear how and why Hatte made a life in Missouri with her grandson. Menconi said investigators have an idea what brought Hatte to Missouri, but he couldn't divulge that.
"Our investigation showed they had been in Missouri since as early as 2002, in pretty much several cities. ... around seven," Menconi said. He said he could not detail which cities because of the investigation.
Public documents show Hatte and the boy may have lived in Washington, Mo., where she had an address from 2003 to 2006, and in Columbia, where she had a small-claims civil court case in 2003.
Jones said he also traced Hatte and the child to Putnam County in February, but the woman fled when she was contacted there by law enforcement.
Hatte spent at least a few years working for Bristol Manor, a Sedalia-based residential care company with several facilities around Missouri, said Joyce Furnell, senior vice president for operations for Bristol Manor.
They did background checks on Hatte and found nothing that raised alarms, she said Wednesday. Furnell would not detail what role Hatte played with the company, but said she was a "very good employee."
Furnell also said she met Hatte's grandson, who appeared healthy and well cared for. She said they also appeared to have a normal, loving relationship.
"At no time whenever I met him was he ever not cared for," Furnell said.