Family of missing girl travel to L.A. to be on talk show; her mom's fumbled answers garner harsh treatment from audience
By Kristi Belcamino (c) TIMES STAFF WRITER Published Sunday, January 30, 2000, Contra Costa Times
LOS ANGELES -- Antoinette Robinson and other family members of missing 7-year-old Xiana Fairchild were flown to Los Angeles to appear on a syndicated talk show Friday in the hopes that it would bring national attention to the search for her child.
Although Robinson was given the star treatment, including a limousine, a room at the Beverly Plaza Hotel and a make-over, she took a drubbing from the hostile studio audience of the "Leeza" show.
The tension between Robinson and her grandmother, aunt and uncle was palpable.
Unlike Robinson, the other family members were picked up at the airport Friday by a van and did not stay overnight in Los Angeles. Friday was the first time in weeks the family members have all been in the same room, and they ignored one another.
They have become estranged since Xiana's disappearance Dec. 9 and the subsequent string of inconsistent statements made by Robinson and her former boyfriend Robert Turnbough.
Turnbough and his attorney, Jim McEntee, both declined to appear on the show, "Justice for Xiana," which is scheduled to air the second week of February on KRON Channel 4.
Also appearing on the show was missing child advocate Marc Klaas, who has been highly critical of Xiana's mother and her now-estranged boyfriend, but has been supportive of other family members.
In his dressing room before the show, Klaas talked about why the Vallejo case has drawn national attention.
"It's a metaphor for many of the things wrong in our society," he said. "This little girl with this infectious smile grows up on the pristine beaches of Hawaii and under the big skies of Colorado in this loving and nurturing environment, and then one morning she wakes up under a 40-watt light bulb in a walk-in closet in a dingy little tenement in downtown Vallejo."
The show's host, Leeza Gibbons, told audience members that the investigation into Xiana's disappearance has "played out like a soap opera with sex, lies and drugs."
Her hourlong show is slated to include footage of a previous interview of Robinson and Turnbough, who spoke while lying in bed, smoking, with the covers pulled halfway up their chests. The show also will include interviews with Klaas, Xiana's great-grandmother Lita Domingo, 67, and Domingo's 35-year-old daughter Stephanie Kahalekulu, who both raised Xiana until last June. Kim Swartz, whose own 7-year-old daughter, Amber, disappeared from the driveway of their Pinole house in 1988, flew with Domingo to Los Angeles and sat in the audience.
Before the show, Robinson arrived in a bright yellow leather skirt and matching jacket over a low-cut tank top that reveals a heart tattoo on her breast -- a change from the sweat suits and pajamas she has worn during interviews at home.
The show's makeup artist helped her get ready for the stage. She sat still in front of a mirror with movie-star lights as the artist expertly combed her hair into a chignon and carefully applied deep red lipstick.
Both her nose and tongue are pierced. "I tried to find a smaller ball for the show," she said, sticking out her tongue, which had a silver stud poking through it. She and a friend who came along for moral support cried and quivered with nervousness inside the dressing room with a star on the door, unaware of the audience's mood.
During Friday's taping, it only took a few minutes for the audience to become hostile toward Robinson.
They quickly became frustrated with her vague, rambling answers to questions.
At one point, a man stood up and told Robinson, "I don't believe you one bit."
Vallejo resident Sandra Babbs was surrounded by angry, hissing people in the studio audience.
"It's a good thing the audience didn't get to ask too many questions because they would have hung Antoinette," said Babbs, who spends her days at the Xiana Fairchild Volunteer Center. "They were ready to attack her. They really were angry."
Later, Xiana's great-aunt Kahalekulu breathed a sigh of relief that the audience didn't erupt.
"I was certainly nervous at a couple of points that it was going to get Jerry Springer-ish because the audience was so angry," she said.
Gibbons asked Robinson tough questions, including why the 30-year-old trusted Xiana with Turnbough, who was convicted for scalding another girlfriend's child.
"You allowed your need to be loved to get in the way of what was best for your daughter?" she asked Robinson, who did not answer.
When Robinson described physical fights between her and Turnbough, Gibbons remarked, "These are all the ingredients for a really bad scene for a little girl."
The show -- broken up into short segments and interspersed with previous television footage of Robinson, Turnbough and Xiana -- was over quickly and brought only one bit of new information about the days leading up to Xiana's disappearance.
That piece of information was vague, but disturbing to relatives.
Swartz asked Robinson why, the week before Xiana's disappearance, neighbors heard Robinson yelling, "No, not my baby!"
Robinson did not have a coherent answer and said she believed it had to do with a time when she scratched her boyfriend.
Later, Domingo and Kahalekulu said they were baffled by this new detail.
"That shocked me," Domingo said. "What was that about?"
Kahalekulu said she didn't want to speculate.
"Of all the scenarios it could mean, none of them are good," she said.
During the show, Domingo and Kahalekulu said that they deeply regret giving Xiana back to Robinson last June, but that they had no choice.
Robinson gave birth to Xiana on July 8, 1992, in a Nevada prison where she was serving a two-year sentence for auto theft. Domingo and Kahalekulu agreed to raise the girl until Robinson could take her back.
Last spring, Robinson decided she wanted Xiana back. The grandmother and aunt said they had no choice but to put the little girl on a plane to California.
When they found out Xiana was missing, they both rushed to California from their homes in Colorado Springs. That was seven weeks ago.
Vallejo police say there are no suspects, but that Robinson and Turnbough are under a cloud of suspicion because they have given police inconsistent statements about when they last saw the girl and what she was wearing.
A federal grand jury is investigating the girl's disappearance and 13 people have been subpoenaed to testify, including ex-girlfriends of Turnbough, neighbors of the pair and Robinson's mother, who lived with the family for two months in the studio apartment on the 500 block of Georgia Street. The subpoenas ask witnesses to bring photos, letters and other documents pertaining to Xiana, Robinson and Turnbough.
A reward for information on her disappearance has risen to $75,000.
TV audience to Robinson: "Tell the Truth"
By Mary M. Leahy (c), Vallejo Times-Herald staff writer 1/30/00
LOS ANGELES - Xiana Fairchild's mother felt the wrath Friday of outraged Leeza Gibbons Show audience members, who at one point during a taping demanded she "tell the truth, tell the truth" about her daughter's disappearance. Wearing a yellow leather outfit, a leopard print shirt and her hair tied back neatly, Antoinette Robinson was brought to tears several times during the afternoon taping of a Leeza Show episode about the Xiana case. As they poured out of Paramount Studios, audience members said they were disgusted by Robinson's attempts to protect her former live-in boyfriend Robert Turnbough. And many were convinced she was involved somehow in her 7-year-old's disappearance. "I totally believe (Robinson) has something to do with it," said Adrianna Oliveira, a Brazilian visiting Hollywood. "Two times they asked her why she was down here on national television. She said, "To tell people I didn't do it.' Please! I'm a mother and any mother would say, "To beg people, if they know who has Xiana, to come out with it.'" For many show-goers, it was the first time they had heard the sordid tale of Xiana's home life, which includes history of violence, drugs and child abuse. Due to reported heavy news media interest in the taping, show producers barred all reporters except Mark Jones of NBC, who was one of the guests. Show producers have said the show will air in the first two weeks of February. Joe Klingensmith of Vallejo, a volunteer at the Xiana Fairchild Center, has followed every detail of the case. He flew down for the taping, hoping to see missing child advocate Mark Klaas "put Antoinette on her ear." Klingensmith said he was disappointed. Klaas, saying later he tried to maintain civility, did, however, confront Robinson throughout the show. Kim Swartz, who sat in the audience, also confronted Robinson. Swartz asked Robinson why a neighbor reported hearing Robinson say "No, not my baby" shortly before Xiana vanished. Robinson, tears streaming down her face, just shook her head. Swartz also grilled Robinson about her loyalty to Turnbough despite his child abuse conviction for scalding a 9-month-old in the shower. When Robinson insisted that it was accidental, Swartz said she replied, "Did you look at the photos? More than 95 percent of the baby's body had third degree burns. It was not an accident." Turnbough has been scrutinized by the police and the media after lying to police about what Xiana was wearing and at what time she disappeared on Dec. 9. He said he lied to avoid being questioned about his criminal past, which included the scalding incident. Turnbough was not at the taping. "Every time the audience got up they were like, "Come on! Just tell us," said Steve Doherty of Walnut Creek. "The crowd was really confronting her. One girl got up and said, "Why did you let that man live with you?' Leeza asked, "You understand he was a convicted drug abuser, child abuser?' and she listed all his crimes. Leeza said, "Why would you leave him alone with Xiana?' And Antoinette said, "they were friends.'" Robinson continuously denied that she was still seeing Turnbough, saying she kicked him out weeks after Xiana disappeared, after police searched the Georgia Street apartment they shared. But, in an interview with the Times-Herald, audience members say they believe otherwise. "She is definitely covering up for him," said audience member Kate Smith of Hollywood. "She didn't say I want my baby back. She looked like she was high. She seemed so bored. And she's on welfare, but she's wearing leather with her boobs hanging out! It was me, me, me, me," Robinson cried intermittently during the show, and broke down at the end. "I love you," she said to Xiana. Also on the show were Xiana's great aunt Stephanie Kahalekulu, Xiana's great grandmother Lita Domingo, Domingo's son Sisto and several volunteers. Kahalekulu spoke minimally during the show. At one point while Robinson was speaking, Gibbons asked Stephanie what she was thinking. "I said, "I'm thinking that I wish Antoinette would start telling the truth. She said, "I am and I have been from the very beginning.' That answer alone is why I don't talk to her. If the police interviewed her for 12 hours and can't get anything that makes sense out of her, I'm not going to." Sitting on the talk show stage, Kahalekulu said the reality of the ordeal hit her square in the face, one more time. "It makes you realize how desperate you are for everyone's help to find her. I was really in a daze the whole show. The fact that this is so serious that they spent an hour on it and that we have to reach out nationally to find her. It slaps you in the face." Despite the theatrics, Kahalekulu said the show accomplished a lot. "We're sitting in the volunteer center sending out (fliers) one by one, in different businesses, in different cities, maybe one place in a whole state. This reaches nationally. How many homes living rooms around the United States will see it? All those mothers who stay home during the day will see it." The show closed with an appeal from Kahalekulu's child. Five-year-old Aubri told Xiana, "I miss you and I love and I can't wait 'til you come so I can play with you and so I can give you a hug," Kahalekulu said.
Feb. 2: Investigation slow, but hopes still high
By MATTHIAS GAFNI, Times-Herald staff writer
Developments in the Xiana Fairchild disappearance case are at a standstill, but the investigation still has wind in its sails, Vallejo police said Tuesday. And there are no signs of scaling back. "We still have information gained midway through the investigation that was never disclosed. I can't give you too much detail, but (the case is) not stagnating, that's for sure," said Vallejo Police Department spokesperson Lt. JoAnn West. "We're making progress with it but there's no way of telling the outcome of it ÉÉ There's still no indication of how to classify it. Kidnapping? Foul play? Or anything else that could have happened." More than 30 detectives and FBI agents combined still work on the case, which began Dec. 9, when 7-year-old Xiana was reported missing. West said those resources will stay at the same level "as long as we have leads to work on." The mood surrounding the investigation remains positive, West said, despite its slow movement. "It has its ups and downs. It's a roller coaster ride particularly when misinformation comes in, but we're staying focused on it," West said. "We all see Xiana's face when we wake up in the morning." A reward of $75,000 is being offered in the case. Here's the status of the investigation, West said: n There are no new developments. n The police have maintained contact with various witnesses in the case. Investigators recently spoke with Xiana's mother, Antoinette Robinson, but not with her former boyfriend, Robert Turnbough. Police know where both are located. n Police still get leads coming in from their tip line (648-4525) and "actively follow up on them." n The several weekend searches organized by the Xiana Fairchild Volunteer Center have helped police. They "rule out places and confirm searches that we have done and ensures that we have not missed anything," West said. After nearly eight weeks, the volunteer center is scheduled to move to a larger location today. n No results have been returned from the FBI lab in Quantico, Va. Police sent items possibly involved in the case to the lab to be analyzed. The lengthy procedure has "taken longer than we had hoped it would take," but the holidays and Y2K scare could be to blame, West said. The FBI has given no estimate as to when the items might be returned. n The purple jacket shown to Xiana's great grandmother, Lita Domingo, on Jan. 21, has not been positively identified as the child's jacket. Domingo, shown the jacket by a police assistant, said she bought it for Xiana last year in Colorado, shortly before the girl was sent to Vallejo. "We're still trying to determine if the jacket was purchased at the stores. We don't want to send it to Quantico if we're not sure, because we don't want to slow them down finding the other information we need," West said. n Police are still rechecking facts and sorting through old areas of the case after they deemed the information Robinson and Turnbough gave them to be unreliable. Turnbough gave police two inconsistent statements since the investigation began. First, telling police he dropped Xiana off at the bus stop, then saying he lied about that to cover up his criminal past, which included a prison term for scalding an infant in his care. On Jan. 2, police searched the couple's apartment and Robinson told police she found the sweatpants Xiana was reportedly wearing the day of her disappearance that morning after emptying the dryer. Two other people reported that Robinson found the sweatpants at two different times, causing investigators to become wary of Robinson's statements.