CORNELIUS, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Newly unsealed court documents reveal what may have happened to missing Cornelius girl Madalina Cojocari, as this case enters month eight.
New court records, released to Queen City News on Tuesday, state a recorded jail call with the missing girl’s mother, Diana Cojocari, and her mother show the two discussing ‘a bag of money, withdrawing cash, and a theory that Christopher Palmiter gave the girl away for money.’
In another recorded jail call between Palmiter, his brother, and his sister-in-law, search warrants state that Palmiter mentions Diana had ‘a lot of cash with her’ and he did not know where it came from. In the recorded call, Palmiter said there is ‘financial stuff’ coming up, and his brother tells him not to worry about the financial stuff.
The newly released documents also detail that on Dec. 16, 2022, the Sugar Mountain Police Department provided surveillance photos of a man and a young girl. Documents state the girl shown in the photos was ‘physically consistent’ with the description of Madalina, and the man with her matched the description of her only blood relative known to live in the U.S.
In mid-July, authorities said a woman on Facebook claimed that she saw Madalina in California. Investigators were looking into the validity of the alleged sighting.
“Cornelius Police are aware of the tip, and detectives are following up on the information,” a spokesperson released to Queen City News.
Video from November shows Madalina’s last sighting
This comes over seven months after Madalina was seen getting off her school bus on November 21, 2022. Madalina’s mother, Diana Cojocari, 37, and step-father, Christopher Palmiter, 60, have both been charged with failing to report a child’s disappearance to law enforcement.
Police said the couple waited about three weeks before they reported Madalina missing to a School Resource Officer at Bailey Middle School, where she attended.
Officers said that Diana and Palmiter got into an argument on November 23, 2022, and that Madalina went to sleep around 10 p.m. that night. Palmiter then left their Cornelius home for Michigan, where he has some family.
Diana told detectives that the next day she noticed that Madalina and some of the girl’s belongings were gone. Diana did not know of any friends or family locally that Madalina could have been staying with, but she did not report her missing because she didn’t want to impact her relationship with her husband, she told authorities.
According to court documents, Palmiter told police he last saw Madalina before his trip to Michigan and was made aware of the girl’s disappearance three days after he left.
The couple has remained at the Mecklenburg County Jail since December 2022.
Investigators have followed multiple avenues and leads.
On November 30, 2022, officers said they were called to the couple’s home after a small fire was seen “burning between this address and the car wash.” After Madalina was reported missing a neighbor told police that Diana was burning what turned out to be furniture in the backyard.
Search takes authorities to multiple dead ends
In December, the FBI confirmed to Queen City News that investigators had searched Lake Cornelius, but law enforcement never publicly said if they found any evidence in the water.
Since Madalina’s reported disappearance, police obtained multiple search warrants including ones for the couple’s Cornelius home, their phones, and Diana’s car.
In January 2023, investigators released that Diana had made a trip to Madison County in North Carolina around the time Madalina went missing. Neighbors say law enforcement knocked on doors in the area.
According to a family member of the Cojocari’s, Diana asked for help to smuggle both her and Madalina away from Palmiter due to conflict in the couple’s relationship. Investigators said Diana also reached out to drug traffickers who may have had the means to smuggle her and Madalina.
While being held at the Mecklenburg County Jail, Diana was allegedly caught with a controlled substance, and her bond was increased to $255,000. Palmiter is held under a $200,000 bond.
On April 11, 2023, the Cornelius community gathered to celebrate Madalina’s 12th birthday.
Queen City News reached out to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday to get the recordings of the phone calls from jail, but we’re told the sheriff’s office is not releasing the records because the case remains an active investigation.
Multiple agencies are still searching for Madalina; officials ask anyone with information to call detectives at 704-892-7773.