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Grandmother Imprisoned in Custody Case

September 11, 1990

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) _ A 77-year-old grandmother went to jail Monday because she refuses to tell a judge where her daughter and granddaughters have been for five years in a child-custody dispute.

Mary Pigeon said nothing as she stood before Superior Court Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer for the five-minute hearing.

In previous hearings she has remained silent or has denied knowing the trio’s whereabouts, angering Pfeiffer, who has accused her of lying.

By noon, she was being processed through prison security, headed for the minimum-security section of the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, said prison spokesman Joseph DiNitto.

Pfeiffer, who had given Mrs. Pigeon until Monday to tell him where her daughter, Elaine Yates, and the girls were hiding, said she would remain in prison until she talked.

″I feel very sad about it, and I wish Elaine would come home,″ Mrs. Pigeon said later as she and her lawyer pushed through a mob of reporters outside the courthouse. ″Please come home, darling, with your children. We all love you.″

But Neil Philbin, attorney for Russell M. Yates Jr., the girls’ father, put little stock in Mrs. Pigeon’s denials of knowing where her daughter and granddaughters are.

″I believe Elaine will know within the hour what has happened this morning. She is so ruthless that she would allow her mother to stay in prison rather than return the children,″ Philbin said.

Mrs. Yates and the children, Kimberly Ann, then 3, and Kelly Ann, then 10 months, left their Warwick home in August 1985 after Mrs. Yates found her husband with another woman on the family boat.

Yates later acknowledged hitting his wife and cutting her forehead with a diamond ring when they argued about the incident. After she left, he sued for the children’s custody and won it when Mrs. Yates did not contest it. He then sued Mrs. Pigeon, seeking the girls’ return.

The couple has not divorced because Yates says he does not want to give his wife the legal opportunity to change her and the girls’ names.

Sending his mother-in-law to prison ″doesn’t faze me,″ Yates said. ″Why should it? She’s going there by her own volition.″

Pfeiffer already has ruled that Mrs. Pigeon participated in the abduction of her granddaughters and conspired with her daughter to keep them from their father.

The judge said he disliked sentencing her to prison until she talked, ″But we want compliance with the court’s order.″

When Mrs. Pigeon again refused to talk, her lawyer, Daniel Schrock, immediately requested that she be placed in the minimum-security prison and that he be allowed to drive her there instead of having her taken by state marshals. Pfeiffer granted both requests.

Yates said he remained optimistic Mrs. Pigeon would reveal the location of his daughters. Schrock said he might ask the judge to review the case in a month or two.

Mrs. Pigeon also has been ordered to pay Yates $23,000 in damages, but has yet to do so. Beginning in May, she also performed about 150 hours of community service at the Society For Young Victims in Newport.

″Enough is enough. I think she knows. I think no one thought this would happen, that she would end up in jail,″ said June Vlasaty, director of the society. ″It’s terrible. I don’t want to see anyone’s mother end up in jail.″

Pfeiffer had said he hoped working with the child-finding agency would make Mrs. Pigeon sympathetic to Yates’ plight, but later conceded it wasn’t working.

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