Note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of this family. It has taken nearly a decade for one of the parents to come forward and finally talk about one of the strangest divorce kidnapping cases in Tucson history.
My marriage started the same as most – happy, hopeful, and full of excitement. There had been problems later in the relationship, but we also had a young, amazing daughter together. And more than anything, we wanted to be a happy family. Besides, every relationship has its ups and downs. You don’t want to quit because you hit a small bump in the road. But into the marriage, the small bumps became an unending roller coaster ride. And that ride did eventually end, but unfortunately in chaos, despair, and a national kidnapping case.
Early on the marriage the disputes began. There were paranoid accusations of cheating. This was only kept at bay by sending photos every few minutes of my whereabouts when I left the house. There was also a list of “unapproved” persons that I couldn’t have contact with. This list seemed to grow exponentially from week to week. Pretty soon there were TV shows and movies added to the list as well. Suffice to say, the level of paranoia and control reached new heights and the relationship fell apart.
I decided to file for divorce and what I believed would be an uneventful process turned out to be anything but. My spouse, Bailey, had no intention of granting a civil separation.
It started as usual, we both had attorneys and made our first visit to court. And the accusations began. I was quickly accused of being physically and emotionally abusive. A complaint I was hearing for the first time in my life. It was obvious that my attorney and I had our work cut out for us. So, after the first court appearance, my attorney consulted with a private investigator he regularly worked with. That’s where I got a big surprise.
I went in to meet with my attorney, he had a strange look on his face. He asked me if Bailey had any problems with the law. I told him there was nothing I was aware of. He then asked me if I knew about the four arrest warrants that were currently issued for Bailey. I was in absolute disbelief. But as he read the details, issues like failure to appear in court over a traffic ticket, I then remembered Bailey complaining about getting pulled over but said they had talked their way out of it. Apparently, that wasn’t the case.
The information was sent to the court and on our second visit the warrants were brought to light. In response, Bailey’s attorney asked me on the stand about my legal transgressions. There was a taillight that had gone out in my car in the last year. He asked me if this was true, I said it was. He asked me how I dealt with it. I told him that I got it fixed and sent in the traffic paperwork to note that I had fixed it, along with copies of my receipt of service on my vehicle. He shook his head and said something to the effect that I wasn’t the perfect parent either.
It seemed the attempt to draw attention away from spouse’s legal issues hadn’t worked. So Bailey now brought a new series of accusations against me but instead of speaking directly to them, my spouse had the attorney write them down in his own handwriting and submit them to the court. They were very troubling, including an accusation that I was mentally ill and had been treated at a Tucson hospital. Furthermore, that I had withheld this information from the court. The focus now shifted to me again. The judge ordered psychiatric evaluations for both of us.
I spent the next week getting psychiatrically evaluated and then took it upon myself to drive to this Tucson hospital that I apparently had been a patient of. It was a strange conversation to have, but I had to ask the hospital to provide legal documentation stating that I had never been a patient within their psychiatric facility. After talking with several hospital administrators, they finally wrote the letter, stating they checked their patient history and verified that not only had I never been a psych patient, but that I had never been admitted to the hospital in any capacity.
So now Bailey was in some trouble, not only was I collecting the documentation to disprove my spouse’s accusations on several counts, my attorney had dug up a police report that revealed I had been the victim of domestic violence at my spouse’s hands. The reporting officer wrote that I was suffering all the classic symptoms of a person in an abusive relationship. I’ll have to stop to take a moment here to note something. I had not mentioned the physical abuse previously when I said earlier in this article that ‘every relationship has its ups and downs’. Because I’m writing this in the frame of my mind I had along each step of this experience. It wasn’t until I was in court and hearing the police report that I realized how very not normal this was.
With everything falling apart for my spouse, a new tactic was employed. The judge asked Bailey on the stand about the inconsistencies, in light of my documentation, over the accusations that were brought against me. My spouse simply replied that it was the attorney that wrote all the accusations and Bailey calming stated to simply not know why the attorney wrote all those things. I think every single person in the court room immediately looked to that attorney. I’ll never forget his response, his hands shaking as he grabbed his glasses and threw them off his face and onto the table. There is an expected level of animosity to be felt toward the attorney of your spouse when you are going through a divorce, but in that moment I felt only the deepest empathy for him. He was now suffering what I had been suffering for more than a year and it might even cost him his license.
Consequently, that attorney withdrew as my spouse’s representation. And another attorney was hired. But the second attorney, she seemed to likewise lose interest in the case quickly. Before I knew it, the judge had made the order that Bailey was no longer a credible witness in court and that any remaining comments should be made through the attorney. While it seemed like order was returning in the court, I knew my spouse too well. And I knew this was just adding fuel to the fire.
Everything really boiled over when a former landlord testified of child neglect by my spouse. A testimony that was hard to hear. And then I noticed some discrepancies with my daughter’s healthcare records. We had made an agreement that I would pay for all the healthcare but my spouse insisted to be the one to take our daughter to check-ups with the pediatrician. I soon discovered that these check-ups were not occurring and my daughter was behind in her immunizations. I asked Bailey about it but received conflicting information. I said I could help, I could get her in for a check-up. My spouse became enraged and insisted that no one medically inspect our daughter. This was very odd. I made the appointment anyway and told Bailey to come. Instead, my spouse called the pediatrician’s office and threatened them, that they should not treat our daughter. The call was so bizarre that they thought it was someone who was mentally imbalanced, that might not even have a child.
When I dropped my daughter off later with my spouse, Bailey acted as if nothing had happened. I showed my spouse where our daughter got her shots. Everything seemed okay. But when I got home, I discovered a police officer was waiting for me. After I had left, Bailey called 911 and claimed that I was on drugs and I had shot drugs into our daughter’s arm. As according to my spouse, there were tiny punctures in her arm where it looked like a needle went in but couldn’t think of what else it could be but drugs. I explained to the officer that our daughter had some immunization shots and that my spouse knew this and had even called the pediatrician’s office that day regarding the check-up. The officer was able to get a hold of the pediatrician at his home to verify this. At the end of the conversation the officer noted it was good the doctor was available, otherwise he would have arrested me.
It seemed this got little attention in court the next time we met but by this point the judge was ready to assign a best interest attorney to our case. In case you don’t know about best interest attorneys, this is one of the best things that can happen for a child or children in any custody case. A best interest attorney only represents the child, or children, and delivers a final report to the court after investigating both parents. Their only interest is children. The report came and it wasn’t good for my spouse. Around this same time, it was being discovered that Bailey was back in a relationship with an old ex. And when the two of them received the report via email, their reaction would be a turning point in our entire hearing.
We were all scheduled to meet in court to review the report from the best interest attorney. The clock hit the top of the hour but my spouse was not present. Maybe running late. There was an effort to contact Bailey via phone. This proved fruitless. After a time, the judge then reviewed the report and made a ruling that I would have full custody of our daughter. This was not a happy moment. For anyone who thinks that getting full custody is something desirable, please remember that your child, or children, have just received a ruling that essentially removes a parent from their life. Maybe there are visits, maybe not. But if parents are to divorce, it’s always in the best interest that their kids have contact with both the mother and the father. Unless of course, one parent creates more risk and harm than good for their children. Unfortunately, my spouse was presenting that exact scenario to the court.
Also, unfortunately, this report was sent out when my daughter was with my spouse. After the no show in court, this was followed up with a no show during the pickup time for my daughter. It was apparent what had happened as Bailey had said several times to our mediator in the conciliation court that they would take our daughter and run if things didn’t go Bailey’s way. I had to make the hard call to 911 to officially report it. I then had to wait more than 24 hours to get it escalated to custodial interference. Yet, prior to the pickup, the court took all custody away from Bailey. So technically it couldn’t be custodial interference. It was just kidnapping. But the custodial interference label would stick for another 3 months.
Yes, 3 long months that stretched through an uncelebrated Thanksgiving, an uncelebrated holiday season, and an uncelebrated New Year’s. Despite my searching, talking to family and friends of Bailey, I couldn’t find my daughter. But we soon found out that there was one person that had seen them. This person had given them a ride when they were hitchhiking. And this caught the attention of the authorities, but it still wasn’t enough to get the help we needed. I finally decided I would have to try a new approach. I had to get more help from the local authorities but calls to news stations were a dead end. Too many custodial interference stories out there. But I saw an opportunity. Super Bowl weekend was coming up, and being the biggest weekend for pizza deliveries, I had an idea.
With the help of dozens of friends and hundreds of pizza shops, we had it all ready – on Super Bowl weekend, thousands of flyers would go out with my daughter’s picture and a plea for help. With my friends dropping off the flyers, I made my way to a local news station. I didn’t have the time to call, I had to go in person and try to get this story into someone’s hands. That didn’t go so well, a producer came out to meet me in the lobby, but not to help. It was more of a stern lecture on the breach in etiquette of just showing up without an appointment. I quickly interrupted to get my story into their head. Their mood suddenly changed as they realized there was a story – not that of a child who had been taken, but of a parent who had organized flyers of their child to be sent out on thousands of pizzas all across the city, in one day. The story would run. An hour later I received a call from the detective working on my daughter’s case. The detective was ecstatic that they were running a story and told me the Chief of Police would be talking about my daughter’s case on the news, following the pizza story. Suddenly, everything changed.
With an analyst now assigned to my daughter’s case, I began getting better information about where Bailey and the old ex were hiding. I eventually made my way to Northern California where in a quiet college town I met up with a private investigator. Disguised as pizza delivery people, we checked on a few different addresses. The routine was simple, go to the door and pretend a pizza had been ordered to that address. When they open, survey the home. ask yourself, do you see or hear any children? Are there kid’s toys out on the floor? After visiting a few places, we turned up nothing. So I thanked the PI for their help and went back to my car. That’s when I got a call from the detective. There was one more address to check.
With the sun going down, it was a little difficult to find my way through the dark, winding streets near a university campus. I was about to give up when I finally found a somewhat hidden and tucked away apartment complex. It seemed like a place to lay low. I parked my rental in the lot and walked the grounds. It was a two-story complex. I eyed the apartment number the detective gave me on the second floor. Keeping a low profile on the first floor, I picked the first door and knocked. Three young adults answered. They looked like they probably attended the nearby university. They were all relaxed, just curious who I was. I explained that I had a daughter who had been missing. There was a general concern. But when I held a picture of my daughter up for them to see. Well, first one of the girls immediately put her hand over her mouth and began crying. Right then I knew – my daugther was there. I asked if I could go into their apartment, to get completely out of sight.
It turned out that not only had they seen her but they had often heard her crying in the apartment. I collected as much information as I could, but then I noticed something out the window. Bailey’s brother was in the parking lot and he was staring at the back of my rental. I suddenly realized – he sees the Arizona license plate. Being so far north in California, he was probably guessing that I had found them. I could see he had a panicked look on his face. I didn’t have a choice, I had to let him know I was there. I approached him in the parking lot. After conversing for a little bit, he finally admitted that Bailey and our daughter had been there but they were on their way to Tennessee. I thanked him for the information but explained that of course I would have to call police and they would need to come in and talk with him. He instantly became enraged at the idea of police coming into his apartment and stormed off. Now I really knew for sure. My daughter was in there.
I called police, gave the address and explained the situation. I looked back to the apartment of students I had been talking to previously, I motioned for them to come out. But they didn’t come. Even though it was a second story apartment, I didn’t know what was on the other side in the back. Was there a window they were escaping out of this very minute? I couldn’t risk walking away from the parking lot. I had to keep facing the front door. Luckily a young man came walking by. While still on the phone with the 911 operator, I explained the situation to him. He seemed instantly amused by it all. But I just needed his help. I asked if he could go to the back of the apartments and look to see if anyone was coming out the back. He was thrilled and headed off. But just then I noticed the beer bottle in his hand and realized he was pretty far along. I wouldn’t be seeing that guy again.
Still on the phone with the 911 operator, it had been about 20 minutes. She was reporting that police were still on their way. I knew they would have trouble finding this place, I had trouble finding it. I then asked the operator if she could contact the detective on the case back in Tucson. She said she was getting someone to do that. I kept waiting, standing in the middle of the parking lot so that they could see me. Now it had been more than 30 minutes since I called 911 and they were still lost. This was not looking good and I had a terrible feeling about how this might turn out.
Finally, after more than 45 minutes, the first police vehicle arrived on the scene. I quickly explained the situation, one officer headed off toward the back of the apartment while the other talked with me. He waited for more officers to arrive and then a group of them approached the door. They kept knocking and announcing their presence, but there was no answer. I explained that the brother was there, I hadn’t seen him come out the front. Of course the back of the apartment was another problem. They could have left that way. I must have been an idiot to come thousands of miles and then just sit here while they ran out the back. I was feeling more sick to my stomach. But then the officers scurried around the door, it seemed something was going on.
Bailey’s brother opened the door. He stood tall, blocking the entry way. It was apparent that he was not keen on letting officers in. It seemed like they talked for half an hour. During the long conversation his manner and mood appeared to change drastically. He went from defiantly standing his ground to now slouching, his head down, his hands in his pockets. They were getting to him. Having a previous arrest record was probably not helping his situation. He finally stepped aside and several officers carefully moved in.
My eyes had been glued to that apartment door for so long I hadn’t noticed that several more police cars were now on scene, as well as a large, growing crowd of students from the university. The whole area was turning chaotic. And it was only making me freak out. I was scared for my daughter, somewhere in that apartment. I had no idea what she was experiencing, how this was affecting her that moment. Was she scared? Was she hungry? Maybe she was trying to get to sleep. And why was it taking so long? The police had been inside for more than an hour.
Finally an officer appeared, coming through the door and holding my daughter. Her hair had been cut and dyed. She looked confused but when she saw my face she lit up. I thought in a moment like this I would cry but my instincts took over. I wanted to get her out of there and somewhere more safe. But the officer wouldn’t hand her over to me. Another officer was on the phone with the Tucson detective. The look on his face, it sounded like she was giving him an earful. There was paperwork that had to be quickly sent over or something. Finally, they placed my daughter into my arms. We hugged each other tightly. And I wanted to collapse and just hold her but I had to get her out of there. Students were cheering and now pushing their way through the scene. I moved quickly to get her in the car, thank police, let them know that I’ll follow up with them later. And I got my daughter into her car seat, her little hand reached out and grabbed my face. I was about to leave when what appeared to be an intoxicated student walked right up to me. It was dark but I suddenly could tell who it was. It was the guy I first talked to when I got there. All these hours, he stayed backed there and watched. I gave him a hug and thanked him. And told him that he should probably throw the beer bottle in the trash since there were cops running around everywhere. I never knew his name.
My daughter made her famous happy shrieks in the back of the car as we drove away. I took her to a McDonald’s to get her food and then headed to a friend’s house so that we could sleep. We had a long drive ahead of us. It wasn’t until that night that I finally broke down and cried, lying in the bed next to her, watching her little chest go up and down. I still check on her at night, always look to see that she’s breathing. After months of trying to find her, trying to find answers, a lead, a tip, a hunch. Finally, the thousands of miles were now just inches apart.
It took us another day to get back to Tucson. And her recovery wasn’t an easy road. She was diagnosed at Casa de los Ninos with post-traumatic stress, just approaching age 3. But through counseling and a lot of love from family and friends she turned the corner. This year at age 10 I watched her give recitals for piano, cello, and singing. I took her to Phoenix where she competed at the State Science Fair, after coming in first place at her school and later in the city for her physics science fair project. I saw her laugh and grow with friends. I saw her taking care of herself and others. In my heart, the best scenario would have been if she had both her parents in her life. Sadly, Bailey has not been allowed to contact her this entire time. But we still talk about Bailey all the time, fondly. Things that my daughter does that reminds me of Bailey. Ways in which they are the same, or different. And that one of her parents loved her so much, that they couldn’t stand being away from her. And my daughter waits to see Bailey again. But I don’t know what the future holds. I can only take things one day at a time. And make the best of it as it comes.