Category:Child Abduction

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Since the early 1970s, there have been increasing reports of children of former members of the Children of God (now known as The Family or The Family International) being abducted and moved to other countries to prevent their parents, law enforcement authorities and child welfare agencies from finding them. In many cases, parents whose children remained in the unlawful custody of the Family have found it difficult or impossible to find their children and get them back. Even in cases where Interpol arrest warrants have been issued and law enforcement agencies around the world have visited Family Homes looking for missing children, The Family has usually refused to cooperate in the investigation and return the missing children to their parents who have lawful custody.

Cases

There have been many cases of alleged child abduction in the Family. Only a few are listed here. The definition of abduction we use for including cases here is a broad one which includes any instance in which a parent or another person takes a child in violation of a parent's right to custody or access. Thus, it includes cases where a custodial parent abducts a child in violation of another parent's right to custody or access. However, almost all the cases listed here involve abduction by a non-custodial parent or another person with no rights to custody or access.

Nathan Berg

One of the earliest reports of child abduction by members of the organization was noted in a September 1974 report by the New York Attorney General's Charity Frauds Bureau:

Just two weeks prior to the birth of her second child (her third pregnancy) some COG members wanted to know how to have intercourse with pregnant girls. David Berg ruled that someone would have to demonstrate. Paul Berg volunteered but Sarah refused to cooperate. Her husband then beat her across the stomach with a "two by four". She sought medical assistance and gave birth in a "systems doctor's" office over the objections of the family who follow Berg's admonition that the cult is to have nothing to do with "system doctors".

As punishment her son [Nathan] was taken away from her and she and the new child were kept prisoner in a trailer. On the second night she slipped past the guard who had walked away without permission. She walked six miles carrying her new-born daughter and escaped. She later returned, with others to the COG Thurber commune to get her infant son, she was refused by Paul Berg and John Treadwell to obtain the child.

She obtained a final decree of divorce in 1973. After her husband's death, she wrote the attorneys for the COG asking their help in locating her missing son, (then age 2 1/2). She was advised that they "had determined through appropriate inquiry that at the time she and her husband separated, her son was left in the custody of her husband;" and that COG was unaware of her son's whereabouts. Testimony elicted from other witnesses established that her son is under the care and custody of a COG member known as "David Z" or "David Zebulon". Information in our files leads us to believe that he and the child may be in British Columbia. Sarah Berg has been unable to locate her infant son from the time she escaped from the COG commune to the present.

Source: Final Report on the Activities of the Children of God to Hon. Louis J. Lefkowitz Attorney General of the State of New York — 1974-09-30.

Merry Berg

After his first wife, Sarah, managed to escape from the Children of God, Paul Berg fathered a child with Judy "Shulamite" Helmstetler. The child, Merry Berg, was later kidnapped by her grandmother, Jane Miller Berg. She was separated from her mother for many years and later sent to live with her grandfather, David Berg. According to Family publications, numerous witnesses and legal records, during the years she was abducted, she suffered extraordinary physical, psychological and sexual abuse. She was not reunited with her mother until 1992.

The McManus children

Una McManus joined the Children of God in 1972 at age 15. She left the organization in 1976. Her husband and the Children of God subsequently abducted and refused to return her two minor children. In 1979, she was awarded $1 million in damages in a civil suit she filed against David Berg, the Children of God and others. In a January 1985 Mo Letter, Berg described his views on the case:

113 ... She had joined the Family & claimed that it had harmed her irreparably, psychologically & blah blah, & she went to a System court & that stupid idiotic damn Satanic diabolical System judge awarded her the million dollars damages. Do you think I paid?--Of course not! They can't find me!--But I'd better never go to Ohio! ...
114 ... But just because I didn't show up in court to face this judge & this silly little girl who was suing me for a million dollars, the judge awarded her the decision & granted her the damages!--Which they'll never colect unless they can catch me, & then they won't collect it because I don't have it!--Ha!

The Frouman children

An investigation into the whereabouts of four missing children, whose mother, Ruth Frouman, was expelled from the group in July 1987, eight months after being diganosed with breast cancer, and not allowed to leave with her children, resulted in police raids on 10 Family Homes in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 1993. Mrs. Frouman alleged that when she tried to leave the group in 1987 with her three younger children, she was held in a warehouse in Corrientes, Argentina where she was starved and physically and psychologically tormented for several weeks until she had a complete mental and physical breakdown and was then expelled from the group without her children. She and her children also alleged that the Family member who abducted her children, Stuart Harris Baylin, violently abused her and her children for many years and that his "domestic dispute and child discipline methods resulted in bleeding, black eyes, broken bones, bruises, and severe pain."

In December 1990, Arturo Odilo Godoy, acting on behalf of two U.S. citizens who alleged that four of their five children had been retained in the by The Family/Children of God cult and Stuart Harris Baylin, presented a complaint to Judge Julio Manuel Cámpora at the Minor's Court of Mercedes seeking the return of the children. After the mother of the children, Ruth Frouman, died on March 12, 1991, the case continued on behalf of the children's father. On May 21, 1991, Cámpora issued an order that the four children be returned and presented to the court. On April 13, 1993, Stuart Baylin and Susan Claire Borowik partially complied with Cámpora's 1991 order by presenting only the two older children to the court. On April 21, 1993, Cámpora issued orders to the National Guard, the Federal Police, the Directorate of Immigration and the Navy Prefecture, to search for the two younger missing Frouman children and Stuart Baylin, prevent them from leaving the country and if found, present them to the court. In May 1993, the two older children were returned to their father and other relatives in the United States, while the search for the younger two children continued. When Stuart Baylin failed to appear before the court as ordered and police officials attempting to serve a summons on him discovered that he was no longer at the two addresses he had given the court, Judge Cámpora referred his case to a criminal court judge who opened a criminal case against Stuart Baylin.

During the proceedings, Cámpora's office, with the assistance of other investigators including police intelligence officer Hugo Gabutti, lawyer and cult expert Héctor Walter Navarro, psychologist and cult expert José María Baamonde, lawyer Marcelo Giacoia and lawyer Horacio Chiminelli, began an intensive investigation of the cult and its activities in Argentina. During the proceedings, four witnesses, including Edward Priebe and Rick Dupuy, travelled from abroad to give testimonial declarations. On June 28, 1993, Cámpora issued a ruling in which he declared that the human rights of the Frouman children had been violated by Stuart Baylin and The Family, inferred the existence of many offenses (including kidnapping, hiding children, falsification of documents, rape, sexual abuse, illegal deprivation of libery and reduction to a state of servitude) beyond the jurisdiction of his court and requested the intervention of Federal Judge Roberto José Marquevich of San Isidro. Marquevich then reopened a 1989 case against members of the Family, and in August 1993 ordered raids on 10 Family Homes in Argentina. One of the primary objectives of the raids was to find the two missing Frouman children. As Stuart Baylin had by then fled with the abducted children to Montevideo, Uruguay, in violation of the court's orders and the laws of Argentina, the United States and Uruguay, the children were not found. Cámpora's office continued the investigation and search for the Frouman children for several years. In 1994, he travelled to Paraguay with Hugo Gabutti and others to investigate a report that the Frouman children were there. In July 1997, the youngest of the missing children ran away from a Family Home in Mexico and was reunited with his surviving relatives.

More information about the case, including court filings and press reports, can be found at:

The McLean children

Daniel McLean was married to a Family member with whom he had two children. While he was in the hospital recovering from back surgery, his wife fled and abducted their children, then aged 3 and 4. He eventually managed to locate and recover his children and was granted full custody by courts in Venezuela. [1] [2]

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The Richert children

Another case is that of the children of April Richert, whose children were abducted by a member of the group and later found in 1987 by a private detective, Michael Intravia of Allied Intelligence, in Peru and Mexico.

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The Pickus children

There was also the case of the children of Candy Ann Pickus. Mrs. Pickus alleged, in civil suit filings and police reports, that after she left the Children of God in Spain with her children, returned to Hawaii, filed for divorce and obtained full custody of all her children, that, in Sepetmber 1980, Brian Edward Pickus, four hired thugs and an undertermined number of members of the Children of God broke into her house, beat her up and kidnapped two of her children. Shortly thereafter, an Interpol arrest warrant was issued for Brian Edward Pickus for the crimes of burglary, kidnapping and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. In 1989, Brian Pickus was arrested in Bahia Blanca, Argentina and held pending extradition to the United States. The Family promptly posted $70,000 USD in cash to bail him out of jail and provided lawyers to appeal his extradition. After a lengthy appeals process, in July 1998, the Supreme Court of Argentina affirmed the decision of a lower court and ordered him captured and extradited to the United States. However, he eventually fled to Brazil where he is currently living as a fugitive and a full-time member of the Family International.

The Eckhardt children

Yet another kidnapping case involved the children of Pamela Eckhardt, who, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constititution, disappeared in 1979 and were later found by police detectives in a Family Home in Thailand in 1988.

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Steven Riddell

Main article: Steven Riddell Abduction Case

On October 17, 1983, Peter Bevan Riddell abducted his 17-month-old son Steven Riddell from his mother and fled with the child from Sydney, Australia to the Philippines and then to Tokyo, Japan. In order to leave the country without permission from the child's mother, he allgedly forged the mother's signature and the signature of a non-existent witness on a passport application. On October 18, 1983, a court in Australia granted the child's mother, Julie Riddell sole custody of her son Steven and ordered that he be immediately returned to her. On the same day, Julie Riddell also filed a police complaint and federal police authorities subsequently began an investigation to find her abducted son. Julie Riddell later travelled to Japan with her attorney to find her son. In December 1983, she found her son in a Family home in Tokyo and was able to exercise her parental rights and return with the child to Australia. The Australian government cancelled Peter Riddell's passport and he was deported to Australia. In 1984, Riddell was found guilty of committing forgery and making false statements to facilitate the unlawful abduction of Steven Riddell. He later returned to Japan, where he lived at The Family's Heavenly City School in Tateyama.

The LaMattery children

In June 1980, Jim LaMattery filed for divorce from Donna Jean Hathaway and requested custody of their two minor children, then aged 6 and 4. In May 1981, the parties reached a settlement agreement. The stipulated court order granted both parties joint legal custody of the children and granted the mother physical custody of the children "so long as she and the children maintain a permenent residence in San Diego County." The father was granted visitation rights as specified in the order. Furthermore, both parties were "restrained and enjoined from removing the children from San Diego county for a period in excess of two consecutive weeks except by order of this court or written agreement of the parties." However, Donna Jean Hathaway subsequently violated the court's order by taking the children to other countries, including Mexico and Thailand, where they remained separated from their father for more than a decade. In doing so, she violated the law, including subsection 278.5 of Title 8 of the California Penal Code. During their abduction, the children were allegedly physically and sexually abused by members of The Family, including Philip Slown.

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The Lynch children

According to Dalva Lynch, on December 19, 1985, her three children were kidnapped by Robert Dennis Lynch. According to her account, in July 1997, the two eldest of the abducted children ran away from The Family and were reunited with their mother.[3] According to Lynch, she was finally reunited with her youngest daughter in September 2010.

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The Family's Position

The Family has argued that investigations into the whereabouts of missing children in the Family are part of a conspiracy by the Jews, the Anti-Christ, disgruntled defectors and the anti-cult movement against them. In response to a question about cases where Interpol and other law enforcement agencies are seeking the return of the children of former members, David Berg wrote:

18. QUESTION: SOMETIMES A WIFE HAS LEFT THE FAMILY, VOLUNTARILY DESERTING HER HUSBAND & BABY, WHO REMAIN. However, later on she decides that she wants the baby with her & starts trying to get it back, even calling in the Police, INTERPOL & detectives who harass the local Homes, watch the mail boxes, open the mail, etc., even if the husband & baby are no longer there. This usually causes a lot of problems for the Family, especially local Homes. Wouldn't it be best to sacrifice the baby or child for the sake of the entire Work in such a case, give it back to the backslidden parent?--WS Staff Member.

ANSWER: When the mate has actually deserted the Family & his or her own Family mate & children & later wants them back to take them into the System, we're certainly opposed to that! I think we should do everything we can to keep'm from letting the backslidden mate steal the children! In most of those cases the best is for the Family mate & his child or children to flee, usually to some other country somewhere else & get lost far away! If they keep hassling the Home where he was, all you can do is say, "Well, he's not here any more & we don't know where he is." It's not your fault he left. We've had plenty of cases like that, & that's the only way we've been able to help the Family mates keep the child, because the System is against us & its laws are against our Members, very unjust & unfair & anti-Christ & often of the Devil!

There is some evidence, however, that Family policies regarding child custody began to change in the mid-1990s. In February 1995, several months after the death of founder David Berg, the Family introduced its governing Charter. Section 60, Permanent Marital Separation Rules, states that couples must come to a mutual written agreement regarding the separation and the custody of children and that obtaining a legal divorce and child custody order is optional. This policy specifically states that it only applies to marital separations after February 1995. However, prior to the introduction of the Charter there were a number of Family publications which also required a mutual agreement. The June 2003 Charter amendments state that if the parties involved cannot reach a mutual agreement and "opt to use the court system to settle the matter," they must "relinquish Charter membership until the matter is settled." However, it is not clear if these policies were intended to apply to cases where one parent decides to leave the organization. Since both February 1995 and June 2003, there have been a number of child custody disputes between Family members and ex-members which were resolved in the judicial system and not by a "mutual written agreement." In these cases, the members involved were not required to "relinquish Charter membership" until the matter was settled. It is also not clear if those who come to a mutual written agreement regarding child custody as required by the Charter are allowed to use the court system to ratify their agreement and obtain a legal child custody order to protect their rights and those of their children without relinquishing Charter membership. Furthermore, the Charter does not prohibit child abduction, does not include it in its list of offenses warranting excommunication or other disciplinary action and the Family publications which recommended child abduction as a method of resolving custody disputes have not been retracted.

Multimedia

Press

General References

The following references, while not specifically about child abduction in the Children of God, have useful information about the subject of parental kidnapping.

  • Abrahams, Sally, Children in the Crossfire: The Tragedy of Parental Kidnapping, (New York: Atheneum, 1983). Booksource
  • Gill, John Edward, Stolen Children: How and Why Parents Kidnap Their Kids and What to Do About It, (New York: Seaview Books, 1981). Booksource
  • Greif, Gregory L and Rebecca L. Hegar, When Parents Kidnap: The Families Behind the Headlines, (New York: The Free Press, 1993). Booksource
  • Lawrence, Bobbi and Olivia Taylor-Young, The Child Snatchers: A Shocking Examination of Parental Kidnapping, (Boston: Charles River Books, Inc., 1983). Booksource
  • Livingstone, Neil C., Rescue My Child: The Story of Ex-Delta Commandos Who Bring Home Children Abducted Overseas, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). Booksource
  • Meyer, Catherine, They Are My Children, Too: A Mother's Struggle For Her Sons, (New York: Public Affairs, 1999). Booksource
  • Webster, Janie, Fingernail Moon: The True Story of a Mother's Flight to Protect her Daughter, New York: Doubleday, 1998). Booksource
  • Icon pdf.gifU.S. Department of Justice: The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction — Juvenile Justice Bulletin – 2001-12
See also: Category:Child custody, Category:Divorce, Category:Marriage

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