you're reading...

Cornelius News

Stepfather says Madalina’s mother has hidden her somewhere

Palmiter outside court

By Mark Washburn. May 29. Two portraits began to emerge in detail Wednesday of the parents in the household of missing teen Madalina Cojocari.

That of the mother, Diana Cojocari: An imported Moldovan bride spiraling ever deeper into religious zealotry, smashing dishes in a rage, making ever more bizarre demands on her husband.

And whispering of a plot against her by Russian president Vladimir Putin and rock star Michael Jackson.

That of the stepfather on trial, Christopher Palmiter: A man who acceded to her demands obediently, who sought to appease her even to the point of crushing disappointment.

And strangely accepting the fact he didn’t see his stepdaughter for weeks.

“I think Diana took her somewhere,” Palmiter said in an even, almost casual tone. “I think she’s tucked her away somewhere with her Moldovan family.”

Diana Cojocari returned

Missing Madalina: Last independent sighting Nov. 21, 2022 on CMS bus

Despite this, Palmiter admitted, Cojocari stayed at his home after she was released from jail last week.

Palmiter is on trial, accused of failing to report the disappearance of his 11-year-old stepdaughter after she vanished around Thanksgiving 2022 from their Cornelius home. No trace of her has been found in 18 months.

On his second day testifying in his own defense, Palmiter told stories about his wife’s increasingly erratic behavior in the months leading up to Madalina’s disappearance.

Palmiter, whose ignorance of the girl’s whereabouts from Thanksgiving to Dec. 14 – when he was confronted by police at Bailey Middle School – has brought recriminations and disbelief, both from investigators and the general public in the widely publicized case.

Palmiter, a skilled design draftsman who followed in his father’s footsteps into the profession, exuded on the witness stand this week an almost child-like countenance at times, an extreme naivete susceptible to grand manipulations.

He choked up several times, particularly when describing the frigid relationship with his immigrant wife. He said he had memory problems and often used his phone to take pictures of things like shopping lists or events to keep track of everyday events.

And again and again, he described trying to avoid conflict by following the commands of an imperious wife.

When people asked what the unemployed Cojocari did for a living, Palmiter said, she would reply “she saved souls.”

D Cojocari

A disciple of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the American spiritual leader and author, Cojocari would stay up late into the night screaming chants and prayers, Palmiter said.

When she instructed him in spiritual matters, he said, he would have to sit rigidly, both feet on the floor, his palms on his knees facing up.

“If I itched my nose, she’d have a big problem with that,” he said, “because she’d think I was sending signals to someone. I would get scolded.”

Whenever he raised questions or tried to assert himself, Palmiter said, his wife would be dismissive or say, “It doesn’t matter.”

Plot by the Kremlin

In the summer of 2022, Cojocari told him to leave his cell phone in the house and beckoned him out to the yard to share a secret.

She was being pursued by Putin and Jackson because she had certain Russian nobility titles. They wanted her because these titles meant they could gain certain lands. Putin wanted to marry her to achieve his ends, she declared.

Asked by defense attorney Brandon Roseman whether he found all this strange, Palmiter said it did. Michael Jackson, he noted, had been dead for years.

But she told him to find a place for her and Madalina to hide, where they couldn’t be traced. Eventually, he arranged a temporary home with his relatives in his native Michigan.

Cojocari and Madalina went there for a while, but it unraveled when one of their hosts left a cell phone on the table during a meal. She was being recorded, Cojocari told Palmiter, and returned to Cornelius.

Thereafter, he said, she criticized him relentlessly about the safehouse failure.

Roseman asked whether Palmiter was able to have a rational discussion with Cojocari about the nobility issue.

“I don’t know how to dispute it,” Roseman answered. “Michael Jackson or Vladimir Putin. It’s so far out.”

Financial documents

When Palmiter invested $66,000 in silver, naming Cojocari as the beneficiary, she became explosive. She didn’t want her name on the documents. A part of the document mentioning a $250,000 penalty particularly irritated her.

To appease her, he said, he got out of the investment, taking a loss of about $15,000. Still, it was the catalyst for many arguments to come, he said.

“It came up quite a bit,” he said. “Sometimes these arguments would come out of the blue – ‘You sold my soul to the devil!’”

Life in the household

Testimony during the week revealed new details about life in the home in the Victoria Bay neighborhood.

Photographs were shown by the prosecution of the interior of the four-bedroom house on the day detectives first searched it, looking for traces of Madalina. Few pictures adorned the walls. Many rooms were sparsely furnished.

In the master bedroom, the closet contained only men’s clothes. Another bedroom had women’s garments and a small bed.

Madalina’s room had strings of fairy lights, Christmas-type bulbs of small white lights on the walls.

Toy horses were placed around the room. A Disney-princess bedspread was carefully tucked in on her bed.

Palmiter said Diana did most of the cooking. Madalina would usually take her dinner plate to her room. Palmiter would usually eat at his desk. They rarely sat together and ate, only on holidays or birthdays, he said.

There were 10 to 15 cats in the home at any given time, Palmiter said.

Palmiter’s long work days

Palmiter said he was commuting 90-minutes each way in 2022 to a design draftsman job near Greensboro with defense contractor General Dynamics. He held a security clearance, he said, and worked in a part of the facility that was walled off and tended to block cell phone reception.

They slept together early in the marriage, he said, but later used different bedrooms. For a time, when Madalina was young, Cojocari would sleep in a trundle bed pulled from under Madalina’s bed.

Throughout the marriage, Palmiter said, they never had sex. Affection was little demonstrated – a peck on the cheek at bedtime, a kiss on the lips at birthdays or Christmas.

Cojocari once had an idea to turn Madalina into a social media influencer, posting videos of herself reacting happily to various products the way other young women have done. It never came to fruition, he said.

Cojocari’s role in the household was cooking, acting as primary caregiver for Madalina and making household decisions, Palmiter said. Cojocari was 100 percent responsible for decisions about Madalina’s schooling.

Days before disappearance

Roseman led Palmiter through the days leading up to the last time Madalina vanished.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, just days before Thanksgiving, Palmiter said he quarreled with Cojocari. She accused him of leaving a coffee cup – white with a snowflake design – beside the coffee maker. He said he didn’t.

She seized the mug and hurled it down, smashing it and leaving a dent in their new bamboo floor, he said.

Then she began throwing dishes and cups out of the cabinets, filling a trash can with shattered bits.

After working and returning from Greensboro the next day, Cojocari told Palmiter to replace the snowflake mug. He drove to the Walmart in Mooresville and, after a lengthy search, found one that matched and bought it.

Tuesday afternoon was the last time Madalina was seen in public, getting off the school bus.

On Wednesday of that week, Palmiter was off from work for the Thanksgiving holiday. He planned to do home projects over the long weekend.

But late in the morning, Cojocari told Palmiter that she wanted him to drive up to Michigan to fetch clothes left up there the previous trip. He obliged, packing in about 45 minutes and then departing on the 12-hour trip.

He said he never saw Madalina that day. Cojocari told him she was asleep upstairs

He stayed with his family in Michigan, then returned that Saturday, arriving in Cornelius at night. While unloading the plastic bins of clothes, Cojocari told him to go out to get soft cat food.

You just drove 13 hours back from Michigan, you get home and she asks you to get cat food? asked Roseman. “What did you do?”

“I went and got cat food,” Palmiter said.

Noticed some changes

After returning home, Palmiter said he noticed some things had changed. For one thing, a heavy set of bureau drawers was pushed up against the front door.

Some other furniture, including Madalina’s work table, had been moved as well.

On cross-examination by Austin Butler, assistant district attorney, Palmiter said that he found the trundle bed from Madalina’s room was on the back porch when he returned from Michigan. All the fabric on it appeared to be burned off, he said, and he sawed up the metal in the garage and disposed of it.

Throughout the next week, Palmiter said he worked every day, returning late. On one night, they had pizza, Madalina’s favorite food. Her put some pieces on a plate, intending to take it up to Madalina’s room to give it to her for dinner.

He said Cojocari took the plate away from him and said she would take it up to Madalina. He said he didn’t see her that night.

Problems with Internet

Palmiter could work at home three days a week, usually Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. But that week Internet connections to their house were sketchy, so he made the trip to Greensboro every day, returning late and never seeing Madalina before her bedtime.

He later found that the wires bringing fast Internet into the house had been severed inside. He made appointments for an AT&T technician to come to the house to make the repairs.

But the technician said no one answered the door when he came. Palmiter said he had to make repeated appointments to get the connection restored. Meanwhile, he kept commuting to Greensboro to work.

On the first weekend in December, Palmiter said he got a note from Cojocari saying she and Madalina were hiking in the Mountains. On Dec. 6 he found a note in the kitchen that said “Gone for 2 days,” which he took to mean that Cojocari and Madalina went somewhere together.

He slowly developed suspicions about his wife by Dec. 9 when he found a stack of plastic bins packed with kitchen items. He thought she might be getting ready to leave him.

In looking around the house, he notice that the carpet had been removed from Cojocari’s room and only floor padding remained. He said he didn’t know what to make of it.

Then on Dec. 11, he asked her where Madalina was. “She treated it like ‘This is not your family, you need to go make your own,’” Palmiter said. “You need to go create it with someone else.”

On Dec. 14, he was summoned to Bailey Middle School by Cojocari. There he was questioned by detectives, telling them he didn’t know Madalina’s whereabouts and hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving.

He and Cojocari were arrested the following day.

His hobby challenged

Palmiter ran a small side business making military and Boy Scout plaques with a laser engraver in his garage. In the late fall of 2022, she demanded he quit doing it and sell the manufacturing device.

He said he was crestfallen. It was a joy to work with his hands and the hours in the garage provided him solace.

“That’s one thing I enjoy doing.”

Testimony from Christopher Palmiter is to resume Thursday at 9:30 am.