- Family and Parenting
My son was kidnapped by his father; How I got him back, and how to prevent this from happening to you.
I was a young mother.
When I met Jimmy, I was seventeen.
I was inexperienced, and he was my first boyfriend. Possibly because I still hadn't outgrown my awkward phase, and I was excited to have any boy interested in me. He was twenty-one, and he had so many stories of things he's done, businesses he's owned. He had a car, and he could buy alcohol. Of course, at seventeen these were important factors.
He had told me he owned a chop shop out in pahrump. At twenty-eight that would set off a red alarm for me now, but at the time I thought it was cool and assumed that meant he must make good money as well. Soon after we became serious, he of course sold the chop shop. He had ellaborate stories of the people that worked with him, and even had friends of his backup the story that they'd seen him in stolen vehicles, driving to his shop. He showed me a scar on his foot where he claimed he once got shot while trying to steal a car.
Coming from an upper-middle class family, and with a rebellious streak I possess even to this day, I found it thrilling to date a self proclaimed "bad boy."
He was good to me. He never cheated, he was simple, and we fell in love quickly. He had turned over a new leaf, so to say, and had started working with his father as a "manager" for his granite company.
It wasn't until months into the relationship I became close to his mother. She was a heavy drinker, and at one point I had moved into their house with them and we would enjoy a box of classy franzia wine together from time to time. Their house wasn't in the best of neighborhoods, really the kind you wouldn't want to be walking through after the sun set. They had apparently trashed the carpet to the extent where they had pulled it up completely and were comfortable living on cement, with patches of rolled carpet here and there for comfort. Looking back I would never live in such an environment now, but at the time I was in love and not in the position to judge his families lifestyle, I wanted them to like me.
One evening, his mother and I sat outside drinking our boxed wine, and she started talking to me about Jimmy. I learned that almost everything he had told me about himself in the beginning was untrue. He had never owned a chopshop. He worked with his dad and brother doing under the table granite jobs. No contractors license, no business license. Just freelance and sporadic jobs here and there to make ends meet.The scar he had claimed was a bullet hole was actually a scar from when he had a mole removed two years previous. With tears in her eyes, she had even confessed that Jimmy had neither attended high school or middle school. His parents pulled him and his brother out of school in the fifth grade to go to work for his dad, who had put them up living in a holiday inn for an extended period of time.
Rather than be upset about the lies, my heart went out to him and I understood why he would make up such an extravagant lifestyle to impress a girl. I never confronted him about it. I would also learn that neither he nor his father possessed a drivers license, because his father had withdrawn a large amount of money from a bank that was deposited by accident years ago, and feared he would be caught. They lived completely under the radar. All car titles and bills were put under his mothers name. They were relatively untraceable.
Within a year, I discovered I was pregnant. His parents were overjoyed, and mine were in agony. We relocated to Oregon for the duration of the pregnancy, renting houses from private home owners so they wouldn't run a credit check. After my son was born, I demanded we move back by my parents, in Las Vegas. I wasn't accustomed to their lifestyle, and missed my family.
Married now, we rented our own home.
Jimmy had bartered with the owner of a nice two story that I had fallen in love with. In leau of a deposit, he had told the owner he would install granite counter tops in the kitchen.
I worked full time at a jewelry store. I made decent money, and had great benefits. Jimmy would bring home sporadic paychecks, and he still worked for his father who did none of the work, but took the bulk of the profit from their tile and granite jobs to support his gambling addiction. I had warned Jimmy on several occasions that he needed to get a real job. I didn't care if it was at a gas station, he needed steady income. Our family needed steady income. He had said he couldn't do that to his father, who needed him.
I soon started getting phone calls from angry customers who claimed Jimmy had gone to their homes, gotten a draw from a granite job, ripped out their counter tops and never returned or answered their phone calls. He was wanting to move out of town with his parents, as they had been pulling these scams frequently at this point. They were like gypsy's. I didn't know people like this existed, but they do, and I had married one without even knowing it.
I had had enough. I told him I was moving in with my parents, and I wanted a separation. He was not happy, and got quite violent. Punching holes in the walls and trashing the house. (for the record, according the Las Vegas police department, it is not illegal to do so in your own house. Even if it's threatening your wife or a one year old child is there.)
He continued with his plan to move to Sacramento, and I moved in with my mom and dad for the time being. Our Son, Hunter, was a little over a year and we had agreed that one month on and one month off would make sense until he reached the age where it was time for him to go to school. He remained civil, overly nice even. He had hopes that we'd get back together. He had even claimed to be going to counseling, through my insurance, to deal with his compulsive lying. The joke was on him when I told him I had switched jobs, and there was no way he could be going to therapy as he no longer had insurance.
Our one month on, one month off arrangement with our son worked out smoothly for about six months. Then, he discovered I had a boyfriend that I had moved in with.
You never know what somebody is capable of.
Jimmy was to return Hunter to me in February of 2007. His phone conversations had started to become mean, and every one of them turned into an argument you might have with a twelve year old child. He had made excuses as to why he couldn't make the drive back to Las Vegas. He was finishing up a job, or he didn't have enough money. Three weeks went by, and he still hadn't returned him. Every time I called, he would put my son on the phone, who was almost two, and it broke my heart every time because he would ask me to come and get him, but Jimmy had refused to tell me the address of where he was living.
I knew that they were in Yuba City, CA, but had only been there once. Jimmy had an uncle that passed that had left them a condemned fishing house. I had seen it when we were still together, but had no idea the address or where to even start finding it.
By the end of March, I was desperate to have Hunter home for his birthday in April. His excuses were coming fast and hard, until one phone call. He had simply stated, "I'm not returning him until you come up here and want to be a family again."
He hung up on me and refused to answer his phone. My mind was racing, and I was desperate. My mother and I went immediately to the police station to file a report of kidnapping. Much to our dismay, we were informed that if you are still married, and there was no custody agreement, a parent can disappear with a child wherever they want and have done nothing illegal. They advised me to get an attorney.
A hitman is cheaper than an attorney
This was the first time in my life I was prescribed xanax.
Though I knew Jimmy was neither abusive, or a horrible father, not knowing where your child is has to be the worst feeling in the world. By Hunters birthday on April 14th, we had retained an attorney specializing in family law. Our first order of business was to get me divorced. He advised me to get Jimmy in the state of Nevada, by any means necessary, so that we could get a process server to deliver the papers to him so there would be no discrepancies in the state of jurisdiction.
I had told Jimmy I was going to the cops, but since nothing had transpired I assumed he thought I was bluffing. I called him, and he answered (which was a rare occurrence at this point.) I then gave him the best academy award performance anyone ever had. I told him I couldn't stand living with my parents, that I missed him, and that I was ready to give it another shot. However, I didn't want to make the drive to Sacramento alone and offered to fly him down here if he would drive back with me. Elated, he agreed. On the stipulation that he would still not bring Hunter, just in case in was a trick.
I was disappointed that this would not be the end of my misery, and I would not have my son back. I was sure though, that he wasn't in any direct danger and my attorney assured me that as soon as he was served we could start custody and divorce proceedings. Of course, he wasn't aware that Jimmy and his family felt they were above the law.
Jimmy got off the plane, and walked to the starbucks where I had told him I would meet him. My dad had later joked that he looked so excited, like he thought he was getting lucky that night. My dad had gone with the process server there, but I was advised to stay home just in case he had had the foresight to serve me first. The process server walked up to him, simply said, "James?" Jimmy answered him looking skeptical and said yes. He was handed divorce paperwork and said he had been served.
My dad stayed behind, and found Jimmy pathetically sitting on the ground at the airport staring at the stack of legal jargin, that I'm sure his fifth grade education hadn't prepared him for. My dad explained to him that he had thirty days to respond, or I would get full custody. Also that a "pick up order" was included, and that Jimmy (by law) had to return Hunter to me immediately.
Jimmy didn't even had a dollar in his wallet, and my dad paid for his flight to return home.
thirty days went by. No answered phone calls. No Hunter.
We returned to court, where I was granted sole legal and physical custody. While I cried with joy, I still had no idea where my son was or how to find him. I could, however, now file a parental abduction report with the police and FBI. My son was entered into the center for missing and exploited children, and a warrant was in the process of being issued for Jimmy's arrest. With Jimmy being untraceable, and the police of little to no help, my family and I drove the eight hours to Yuba City, Ca to attempt footwork ourselves.
The last known address we had from him was an empty lot with a small auto shop garage in the center. It now looked abandoned, and we spoke to some of the neighbors who noted that the people who were running it always had a little boy there, usually running around in just diapers. They had stopped paying rent and were evicted three months or so prior. Also, the neighbor informed us that she had seen Jimmy picking up his girlfriend at Wal-mart the night before, and had thought she possibly worked there.
It was ten o'clock at night. Neither my parents nor myself had slept. I desperately stood in front of Walmart, examining any beat up pick up truck pulling up, hoping that just maybe I could get a license plate number. By now, I was a basket case. Grasping for straws and leads. My father had gone back to the hotel room to get some sleep. My mother and I, however, were both unable to sleep and jumped in the car. I pulled up our GPS, and picked a random street and we drove. Suddenly we were in front of a shopping mall. This mall looked familiar, and I remembered Jimmy telling me that if we moved here, I could find a job at a jewelry store here. Just before turning left, and heading in the direction of the dilapidated house they had inherited. I told my mom to turn left, and ironically, so did the GPS.
Miraculously, though I hadn't seen the house in over four years, we managed to find it. There was an air conditioning unit supported by cinder blocks on the roof, and a door on the second story with no balcony. The paint was pitiful, and I had remembered from the first time Jimmy had shown me the house that you couldn't even walk up to the stairs on the second story because the walls were caving in.The door on the inside was boarded up. Two windows were broken, as if someone had thrown rocks at it. The steps on the front porch to the entrance of the door sagged, and you couldn't enter through it as it appeared that any sort of weight would make them collapse. The lawn was overgrown with weeds, and I could see a collection of vehicles in the backyard. None of them were in working condition, but I could easily spot Jimmy's '65 fastback mustang that had never run, but was his pride and joy.
My excitement was overwhelming and I started to tear up with joy. Children's toys were littered all over the front yard. By this time, it was the end of June. I hadn't seen my baby boy in five months. I felt as if my journey was over. I ran to the door and knocked, but there was no answer. I could hear dogs barking from the inside. I peaked in the window, and saw a bed where the living room should be, with two couches were covered in blankets. I assumed Jimmy or Hunter slept there. His parents, of course, slept in the bed.
With no one home, my mother suggested we contact the police station so they could handle this, now that we've found their residence. In my distraught condition, I was told to stay there while they did a civil standby later that night. The officer saw my rage and said that he couldn't risk this turning into a domestic violence case as well.
It was midnight. My parents and I sat in the parking lot of the police station, staring at our phone, waiting for the news that my Hunter-boy had been found and I could take him home.
Unfortunately that was not the case. Jimmy's parents were there, but claimed they had no idea where Jimmy or Hunter were. They claimed he was in Washington state, transporting vehicles.
My heart dropped and I had never felt the disappointment that I did at that particular moment, and don't think I ever will. With Jimmy no longer answering his phone, and nowhere else for us to turn, we returned home with heavy hearts. I wrapped my brain trying to find another lead to locating my son.
I had remembered that mother of Jimmy's Brother's daughter had worked in a local grocery store. I stopped by to confirm that she still worked there. She did, but was off that day. I left her a note stating that it was an emergency, and to please call me.
When she did, I explained the situation. She said that as far as she knew, Jimmy and his brother had rented a house not far from their parents, but she didn't know the address. She would later tell her daughter to ask Stephen (Jimmy's brother) for his address so she could mail him some school pictures.
Once again, I had a lead. This time, I hired a private detective to investigate the property before we drove back. He obtained pictures of Jimmy mowing the lawn, and attached a GPS to the bottom of his truck so that we would know where he was if he fled.
I will never again take the drive to Sacramento. I don't care how great the wine country is up there, the scenery will forever remind me of the tormenting hours I spent staring out of the window in the back of my parents car, not knowing whether or not I would see my son again.
The police met us a block from their residence. Four squad cars were there to assist with the civil standby. Jimmy's warrant still hadn't cleared, and they had asked if I wanted to wait to get my son until it did, so they could arrest him on the spot. Nothing was going to take any more of my time away from my child, and I told them no.
It was like a scene from a lifetime movie. Jimmy stood at the front steps of his driveway, shooting me daggers as if I had been the one to do something wrong. My son, who had grown so much bigger, ran into my arms. "Mommy! I missed you! Let's go home!" I sobbed like a child, as did a few of the police officers. They asked Hunter if he wanted to hear the sirens, they'd turn them on for him if he did. "No. I wanna go home with my mommy."
He didn't even look back to say goodbye to Jimmy.
As I loaded my son and got into my parents car, all of us were overwhelmed with joy. We thought, we had won. This was the end. Hunter was back where he belonged. Little did we know that this was not the end of our journey.
How the legal system can fail you
A year would go by before we were to hear from Jimmy again. Hunter had started preschool at the daycare next to my work, and was happy to be home and rarely, if ever, asked to see his father. We had all put it behind us, and I worked hard to provide a life for my son and had accepted the fact that I would be a single mom.
One day, my parents received a packet of papers certified mail at their house. It was from an attorney. Jimmy had retained an attorney to serve me with papers asking for joint custody. I was bewildered that an attorney would even take such a case. Seeing the conditions in which my son had been found, and the fact that at two years old I now had to re-potty train him because Jimmy had allowed him to stay in diapers.
It was as if I'd been punched in the gut. I called my attorney immediately, who set up a meeting for us to discuss our future court case. In retrospect, I feel if I had to do it all over again I would retain a female attorney, as the one I had was more concerned with father's rights than for the well being of my child.
He explained to me that there was a fair chance that Jimmy could get custody. The facts of parental abduction, no income or child support, or the fact that he lived in another state were not valid arguments, according to my attorney. The warrant that was supposed to be issued for Jimmy had somehow disappeared, and was not showing up anywhere in the system. It was as if it had never happened.
Jimmy had ways of lying beyond the normal person. He could convince anyone that he was a law abiding citizen, that he was a productive member of society. I knew otherwise. He was a con artist, and the amount of balls it took to pull what he did the following few months left me feeling powerless.
In my response to Jimmy's papers, I pleaded with the courts. I knew that if Jimmy had disappeared once, He would do it again and this time be smart enough to not leave me that shred of evidence I had before. I would never see my son again.
I once again hired the same private investigator that I had used previously. Jimmy had since left the home he had rented, and was living with his parents in the dilapidated house the first civil standby had occurred. I requested a full background check, and pictures of the conditions of the home where he intended my son to reside during his visits.
The report was not finished by out first court case. Our judge, who was apparently up for election that year, decided to outsource his evaluation to a social worker by the name of Ingrid Sanchez. The evaluation was intended to figure out what contact would be best for Hunter and his father, in the meantime allowing him only supervised visitation at the courthouse pending the results of our evaluation.
My side, His side, and the truth. (which is also my side.)
Ingrid Sanchez was the least expensive social worker, and with Jimmy claiming to have no job, she was the one picked for our evaluation (which was to be at Jimmy's cost.)
At our first appointment, I was livid to see Jimmy show up at the office. Hunter was there, but showed little interest in seeing the father that hadn't even called him in a year. Ingrid asked to interview both Jimmy and I separately.
Jimmy had told her he was working as a fireman. That he had a job, and that the house where his parents lived had since been renovated. He said that he had never kidnapped Hunter, that I had willingly given him up and that I didn't want my son.
I had told Ingrid my story. She didn't believe me. "If Hunter had been kidnapped, shouldn't Jimmy have had a warrant for his arrest? I've pulled up his background, there is no record of it."
I couldn't understand why a warrant hadn't been issued, I was told it was being processed at the civil standby the year prior. Regardless, there were other inconsistencies in his story.I told her there was no way Jimmy was a fireman. I had a case open with the district attorney, and if he did have a legitimate job, they would be garnishing his wages. She asked him to see paycheck stubs.
Jimmy produced paycheck stubs. Not as a fireman, but as an airplane mechanic. He claimed now that he was a volunteer firefighter, but a mechanic by trade. I remembered him at some point mentioning his friend owned a crop dusting business, and assumed that was where he had gotten them. Ingrid, however believed him. Anything on paper was better than my word, after all. I told Ingrid that he was a compulsive liar. He did not even have a valid drivers license. Jimmy produced one that he had gotten in Oregon. (Oregon is very lapse of their laws for obtaining a license, and they are good for a long period of time. Though he had since had it revoked, he still physically had the I.D.) I knew it was not valid, as our P.I. had told us that he didn't have one in his previous investigation, Ingrid accepted this as me making false accusations yet again.
In her eyes, she saw Jimmy as being a father desperately wanting visitation with his child. While he may have wanted contact, I knew his intentions were to run with Hunter once given the chance. She treated me like some idiot young mother, just because of the way I looked. Like I had falsified this story to be spiteful and hold my child as leverage. She even had us both take standardized psychological evaluations. I knew that it was not the place to lose my temper. This woman was in charge of deciding my son's fate, and if Jimmy were given the opportunity he would take off again. I hated being treated like my parenting was the one up for question, and not his. She even went as far as to interview Hunter by himself, asking him if I ever spanked him, or yelled at him.
At one point, she almost called child protective services. "Hunter has told me that his aunt hits him repeatedly and pulls his hair." She said, with the mock concern these bleeding hearts get when they feel like they're about to catch a child abuser. I was irritated at this point. "His aunt is six. Yes, they fight. They're like brother and sister. What exactly are you supposed you be evaluating?"
The day we were to return to court, My private investigator had fed-ex'd us a 300 page evaluation on Jimmy. He had no vehicles registered under his name, and no place of employment. He did not have a valid drivers license, and in fact, had two tickets for driving without one.
The icing on the cake was some information that my private investigator had obtained from the neighbors that lived behind the house where Jimmy's parents lived. They confirmed that Jimmy and his brother now both resided back with their parents, and were upset that they were growing large amounts of marijuana in the backyard. Detailed pictures of the house (which had not been renovated at all, negating Jimmy's claims) depicted the five plus rusted vehicles, and approximately fifteen marijuana plants growing in the backyard.
I rushed this information to the office of Ingrid Sanchez. She was not there, but I told her secretary it was pertinent that she get this information. We photocopied the pictures and the details that proved Jimmy had falsified this information, and I awaited her phone call.
Ingrid called me, sounding slightly apologetic that she had doubted me. Unfortunately, she told me her recommendation had already been sent to the courts and there was nothing they could do about it.
My attorney had given a copy of my private investigators report to the judge. In court, the judge has reprimanded my attorney for turning it in so late and said that it could not be admitted under such short notice.
Jimmy was granted supervised visitation at the courthouse for a period of three months, and then a new court hearing would be set to see how he utilized such visits. We would then proceed to having unsupervised visits after another evaluation.
a kidnapping, gypsy, drug dealing criminal was going to run off with my child again and I would never see him again.
that was all my mind could absorb. My life was over. A child I carried in my body for nine months, who'd I'd fed and cared for, who I strove every day to give a good life, would be kidnapped yet again because some idiot at the police station dropped the ball and didn't issue a warrant for kidnapping. I even had a statement from my P.I. sent to my social worker, and he had volunteered to come to Las Vegas to testify as a witness. All for naught.
Three months went by.
Jimmy utilized his visitation, making it as inconvienient for me as possible. Always on weekends, midday, or with twenty four hours notice.
Then, I had my stroke of luck.
My mothers side of the family are spanish. I had spent many of my summers growing up in Barcelona visiting my grandparents. Though we were advised from Ingrid that it was not a good idea to remove Hunter from the country with a custody battle pending, two weeks seemed harmless and my parents took him with them. I had to work, but intended to meet them at their house with take out upon their return.
I was at Famous Dave's waiting for food, and I got a call from my dad. "You have to come down here right away. They're holding mom and Hunter in the back of customs, because Hunter is reported as a missing child."
It still blows my mind that my parents were able to remove Hunter from the country, but got caught coming back. When I showed up with my drivers license, the airport police released them both. Hunter had never been removed from the list of missing children, and his passport had a red flag when they went through customs.
Not only did they have a read flag, but they had the warrant number for his alleged kidnapper, Jimmy. The FBI had issued the warrant, but someone had not entered it into NCIC, the federal database. This is why they warrant wasn't showing up on any background checks, and he had never been arrested.
My parents and I almost gloated walking into our next court hearing. My attorney had handed jimmy a copy of the private investigators report, which could now be used as evidence. I had handed the bailiff a copy of Jimmy's warrant number, which the airport police had been glad to give to me.
During our court hearing, the judge had shown irritation at all of Jimmy's mistruths. He had asked for a copy of his tax return, which Jimmy had claimed to have at the previous trial, and Jimmy admitted he hadn't made enough money to file taxes. The judge held up the copy of the private investigators report and remarked, "Well from the looks of the amount of marijuana in your backyard, you mean you haven't made enough legal money to file taxes." Jimmy stammered, "Thats... thats my mom's marijuana... I mean medication..." He looked nervous.
Finally. Finally, he would get what was coming to him. "Oh, so you're going to throw your own mother under the bus?" the judge laughed. "Miss. Sanchez has reevaluated your case. Until you can prove permanent ties to the community, a long history of legal employment, a suitable environment for a child, and are not a flight risk you will be on supervised visitation indefinitely. Also on recommendation from Miss. Sanchez is a full psychological evaluation and counseling at your cost. You are lucky that I've decided to waive perjury charges." the judge stated. Jimmy raised his shoulders, as if he had any pride left or rights at all left for his son. "Well, then I'd like to see my son today." The judge smirked, as the bailiff proceeded toward him with handcuffs. "I'm afraid that's not going to happen. You are under the arrest for parental abduction and concealment of a minor child."
Jimmy was arrested. I almost felt sorry for him. Then I recalled Ingrid Sanchez calling me a liar. I recalled running all over a strange city in search for my baby boy. I recalled his lies, and the poor excuse for a house he wanted to bring my son to.
Had it not been for the private investigator, and my parents going on Vacation, who knows where my son would be today? He's eight. His father had utilized his supervised visitation maybe a total of ten times since this incident and that's fine with me. I do not get child support (as he still has no legal means of income.) and am currently in the process of revoking parental rights so that I will never be dragged to a family court again.
Hunter and I have put this all behind us. As we say to each other every now and again, "It's just you and me." and we like it that way.