Turning Personal Loss into Public Law
by John Edward Gill
Always we discussed ways to find those absconding parents, never looking for the children. We knew such children would be with those ex-husbands or ex-wives, or their relatives. But everyone had the same story I had: none of their ex-in-laws, or friends of their ex-in-laws, would talk.
We spoke of business, financial, and personal records, of credit cards, phone bills, bank statements, school records, medical and dental records, insurance notices, car registrations, magazine subscriptions, forwarding addresses. In short, we discussed paper trails. We discussed whether their ex-spouses left with girlfriends or boyfriends; we discussed relatives who might telephone those hiding parents, and how to get their phone bills, credit card statements, etc.
But we agreed on one main point. Since parental abduction, or custodial interference, was only a misdemeanor in New York, warrants for that crime couldn't be served out of state.
Which is why police, district attorneys, and courts wouldn't react to such abductions.
But the stories. Parents came from as far way as Albany and Binghampton, even from out of state, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some hadn't seen their children in years. But we helped and shared tips.
One Albany woman had two young boys, taken by their father during weekend visitation. As usual, his parents said nothing. But she remembered he had a gasoline credit card and knew its number. She called the oil company that issued the card, said her husband traveled a lot and often didn't pay his bills on time. Could they send her receipts so she could make payments?
They did... receipts for gasoline at stations all across America. She took out a map and marked every town or city where he'd stopped to gas up. Those receipts even had the gas stations' names and addresses. Finally, she kept getting receipts from one station in Reno, Nevada. Calling the chamber of commerce there, she got maps of the city and lists of second- and third-class motels, with their addresses.
Soon she figured an area where he must be staying. Then she got lucky. One of her boys had a handicap and needed medicine. Under New York State law then, a felony warrant could be issued for custodial interference only if a child's life or health was in danger. The District Attorney's office gave her such a warrant and police sent it to Reno's police.
Her ex-husband somehow heard about that warrant and went to police and asked if they were looking for him.
He was arrested then, and the boys taken in custody. After several days of tension and discussion, the mother sent her custody papers to Reno and social workers put her boys on a plane for JFK Airport in New York City, where they met their mother.
Another man, from Long Island, had custody of his grade school age daughter, but lost her, again on weekend visitation with his ex-wife. She'd left the New York area, but the man learned from her friends that she had a boyfriend who had moved to a small town in Illinois. He called the school district in that town, saying he was in the assistant superintendent's office of his daughter's school district on Long Island. Did the new school district in Illinois receive the child's school records?
They had, but he needed to find which school she attended. He asked for lists of elementary schools and then called each one, repeating his story about Long Island checking on those records. Once he learned where she was in school, he drove out there with pictures of his daughter and himself together. It was in June, and he waited one morning for outside recess.
"It was scary then," he said. "I showed my daughter's teacher the pictures, saying I wanted to take her home for lunch and then bring her back. The teacher was suspicious, but I showed her my custody papers and said we'd just moved from New York State."
That teacher then let him have his daughter back. Father and daughter drove off and left town and didn't stop until they crossed into Indiana.
As months passed, we accumulated more success stories. A New Jersey woman came home from work one day to find her house empty and her three children gone. A sign on the kitchen door read, "Pam, we've all gone on a long vacation".
He worked for an airline, but no one there would tell where he now lived, since leaving the New York area and being re-assigned to another city. Yet one of his friends felt sorry for her and said he lived in Florida, in a suburb of Orlando. She drove down with a male friend and went to the post office, pretending to be her husband's sister, just visiting.
So, they told her where he lived and she drove by the house. One of her children played outside and she noticed an elderly woman inside watching television. Pam didn't want to give more details, although everyone wanted to hear. The elderly woman was a housekeeper, the pilot wasn't home, and Pam convinced her one child to have the others come out. She waited until all three were together and put them in her car and drove away.
So Pam "back-snatched" her kids, as we called it.
A young mother in her twenties, Bobbie, had just moved back to Long Island with her husband and one-year-old son. They left her mother's house one night to stay for a week in a local motel. Bobbie went inside the office, but when she came out, she saw her husband, baby, and their pick-up truck gone. She waited, but he didn't come back. After crying for hours at her mother's house, she called me the next day.
"Where could he go?" I asked.
"He has friends in Los Angeles."
"How long would it take for him to drive there?"
"Three or four days if he didn't stop long each night."
"Have you called those friends?"
"He wouldn't be in California yet, John."
"While we're waiting," I said. "Make a list of his closest friends. Who would put him up, especially with a small child?"
She made lists and called people, but no one had heard from him.
"Who could go by their houses at night and see if his truck is there?" I asked after four days.
"My friend, Tommy. He has a motorcycle."
"Does he know where your friends live? And would he help you?"
"Yes, to both questions, John."
She called a day later and said Tommy hadn't found her husband's truck.
"Are you sure he checked everyone?"
"Yes, again. I even called my best friend, Priscilla, and she spoke with Tommy."
"Would your husband stay with Priscilla?"
"No, we're friends since high school."
"But did Tommy check her house?"
"John, I trust my best friend."
"I'm sorry, Bobbie. But could Tommy drive by Priscilla's house? Some time between midnight and eight in the morning?
"I don't think...."
"Just to be sure."
She called two days later. "John, I'm devastated. My husband just phoned from California. Tommy went by Priscilla's house at noon yesterday and saw the truck. My husband's furious."
"At least you know where your baby is."
"With my best friend, John. I can't imagine...."
"See if they'll let you visit. Say you have presents for your son. Get into their confidence. Don't threaten."
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