CONCORD (CBS 5) — A Concord woman faces criminal charges after investigators say she hid a 15-year old girl as her family and sheriff’s deputies searched for more than two months.
When 15-year old Stephanie Cudd went missing just after Thanksgiving, her family and friends rallied to try and find her.
For 10 weeks, they set up web sites and posted updates on neighborhood blogs, such as Claycord.com.
Eva Nichols, the mother of Cudd’s boyfriend, set up a Facebook page and pretended to comfort the family.
“Eva was there holding our hands, praying with us, helping us hang up flyers,” said Tom Cudd, Stephanie’s father.
Cudd was found on January 29th. Authorities say she had been hiding in Nichols’ house the whole time.
A statement from Jimmy Lee, spokesman of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department, said Nichols helped Stephanie hide in a crawl space even while detectives searched her house.
“This type of behavior is unacceptable and criminal,” said Captain Steve Warne of the Office of the Sheriff Investigation Division in the statement. “Detectives spent numerous hours and resources searching for Cudd. This case diverted time and resources away from our other investigations.”
“I believed she was in danger,” Nichols told CBS 5. “I believed that I was protecting her at the time.”
Extended Interview With Eva Nichols
Nichols told CBS 5 that she believed Cudd had been abused by her father because he yelled at her and threatened her son after finding out they had skipped school together.
“There was no abuse,” said Tom Cudd, Stephanie’s father. “I did yell at Stuart and Stephanie [because] they cut school for a week.”
Carl Marino, a private detective with Butler & Associates hired by Tom Cudd, solved the case by befriending Nichols. Marino said Nichols admitted Stephanie was in her house, then allowed him to take a picture with her. He eventually convinced her to give herself up to police.
“It was a feeling of relief,” Marino said. “She’s safe. Her father had no idea if she was dead on the streets somewhere, or if she was being held against her will,” Marino said.
Marino said he convinced Stephanie to call her father to let him know she was safe.
“It was a beautiful moment when I was able to hand over the phone to her so they could speak for the first time in two months,” Marino said.
Marino and Stephanie’s father believed Nichols turned the girl against her own family so she could spend time with her boyfriend.
“There definitely was some manipulation involved,” Marino said. “I wouldn’t say she was kidnapped.”
“It seems crazy to me,” said Tom Cudd. “It seems absurd.”
Extended Interview With Tom Cudd
A spokesperson for Child Protective Services told CBS 5 the girl accused her father of abuse and neglect and that the agency conducted a full investigation, but the results of that investigation are not allowed to be made public.
Cudd and Marino said Stephanie was returned to her family, which is an unlikely outcome if abuse had been confirmed.
“If she was in any sort of danger whatsoever, she wouldn’t have been put back with her family,” said Marino, a former deputy sheriff in Monroe County, New York. “CPS obviously interviewed all the parties involved, did a thorough investigation and they determined that Stephanie was best back in her own house.”
Nichols told CBS 5 she regretted her behavior and explained she had a lot going on in her life, including caring for her sick mother.
“I was making decisions emotionally more than I was rationally and in the end I knew that it had to end … and I feel bad for the lies that I said to the police by not coming forward,” said Nichols.
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