On December 20, 1999, two-year-old Kamelia was abducted by her non-custodial father, Derek Spencer and her non-custodial paternal grandmother, Helen Gruning from Palmdale, California. They might also be accompanied by Helen's mother, Gertrude Schoenberg, but she is not wanted by the authorities. On October 27, 2000, FBI warrants for unlawful flight to avoid persecution was issued for Derek and Helen.
Kamelia's mother, Sonia Coppulecchia dated Derek for only four months before becoming pregnant with Kamelia. Six months after her was born, Sonia and Derek ended their relationship. Four months later while Sonia was hospitalized for a seizure, Helen accused her of child abuse & filed criminal complaints against Sonia, saying that she made terroristic threats over the phone & attempted to kill her, Derek and Kamelia.
Sonia was charged with attempted murder of Kamelia, terroristic threats against Derek & Helen, and child endangerment. She was later acquitted of most of the charges, but convicted of making terroristic threats and sentenced to a year in jail, and was released early.
In February of 1998, Sonia lost custody of Kamelia to Derek & Helen. After Helen and Derek regained custody of Kamelia, Helen constantly brought her to various doctors and hospital emergency rooms, claiming that Kamelia suffered from shaken baby syndrome and needed medical attention, but the staff couldn't find anything wrong with her. They eventually reported Helen to the California Department of Social Services (or CDSS) as possibly having Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, which causes a person to fabricate or cause illness in another person.
When Kamelia was old enough to talk, she told a therapist that her grandma instructed her to behave as if she were sick. CDSS caseworkers discovered that she was prescribed medication that she didn't need. A doctor discovered a drug called Depakote in Kamelia's bloodstream. The drug is used to control epilepsy and bipolar disorder, but it wasn't prescribed for Kamelia.
In February of 1999, CDSS placed Kamelia in foster care after ruling that her father and grandmother had subjected her to "invasive & unnecessary medical procedures." After Kamelia was placed in foster care, her parents & grandmother were allowed supervised visitations with her. Derek and Helen continued to accuse Sonia of intending to harm Kamelia; as a result, a social worker and an armed guard were present at every visit. Sonia stated that during a visit with Kamelia a few days before her abduction, Kamelia told her: "Mommy, they're going to steal me."
On December 20, 1999, Derek convinced the CDSS staff to allow him to meet Kamelia at the Funland amusement center instead of a four-hour visit at the CDSS offices. An hour into the visit at approximately 12:15pm, Derek abducted Kamelia during a brief period when they were both out of the supervisor's sight. When police checked Derek and Helen's residence, it was completely cleaned out with no furniture, food, clothing, or anything else inside other than empty boxes.
In the months prior to Kamelia's abduction, Derek, Helen and Gertrude obtained passports, stopped their mail, mortgaged their house and sold their belongings, raising about $120,000. Investigators believe that they abducted Kamelia because they realized that Sonia was going to regain custody of her.
If Derek, Helen and Gertrude are still in the United States, they might be in South Florida where they have relatives or in Las Vegas, Nevada. The adults don't speak any other languages besides English, but they had spoken about traveling to Europe and have some connections in Canada. They are considered to be armed & dangerous, so caution is advised when approaching them. As of 2020, Kamelia's case remains unsolved.
Kamelia is biracial (Hispanic and Caucasian) descent. She has black\brown hair & brown eyes. Her nickname is Sweet Pea.
Derek Spencer has sandy brown hair & green eyes; he has his first name tattooed on his forearm or left shoulder. He might use the last name "Gruning" and has several different Social Security numbers. He might wear blue or brown-tinted contact lenses, might dye his hair a darker color & wear it short or longer in a ponytail. He enjoys gambling, including betting on football & baseball and playing blackjack.
Helen Gruning has red hair and green eyes. She often wears wigs and might dye her hair a darker color. She may also use several alias names and Social Security numbers. She is a doll collector and frequents antique doll conventions. She also suffers from migraine headaches and might need medication as a result.
Gertrude Schoenberg has gray hair and hazel eyes. She might use the last name "Glanz" or "Gottleib." She might be in need of medical or dental attention.
- Kamelia Spencer on Charlie Project.