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10 People Who Discovered They Were Kidnapped
One of the most disturbing premises in the young adult genre is the one at the heart of The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. In the book, 15-year-old Janie Johnson believes she is living a normal life until she sees her own picture on a milk carton as a missing child.
It’s an unsettling idea because it shakes the very foundation of who you are and who your parents are. It must be a shattering experience to try and grasp that your life may be a lie, and that for years, you had a family who was looking and fighting for you.
10 David Amaya
In 1978, when David Amaya was two years old, his father took him away from his mother in Chicago to live with his paternal grandparents in Mexico. David was raised by his grandparents, and his father visited once in a while but never stayed long. When David asked about his mother, his dad said she abandoned him as a baby. But that wasn’t true. David’s mother, Kathy Amaya, had been looking for her son and tried to report him missing. However, she always ran into roadblocks because David was outside the country.
Thirty-four years went by, and on October 20, 2013, David tried to illegally cross the Mexican border into California. When he was arrested, he said he was an American citizen, and that he was born in Chicago. The authorities looked into it, and they found he did have a birth certificate. They also discovered his mother was living in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Border officials called Kathy, and she confirmed that David was her son. A short time later, the two talked on the phone, even though David only spoke Spanish and Kathy only spoke English. In November 2013, Kathy traveled to San Diego where she met her son. Then they spent Thanksgiving together in Chippewa Falls, where David met his four half-siblings.
9 Richard Wayne Landers Jr.
After Richard Wayne Landers Jr. was born, he lived in his grandparents’ home in Wolcottville, Indiana. In July 1994, Richard’s grandparents had an argument with his mother about custody of the five-year-old. After the argument, the grandparents simply picked up and moved hundreds of miles away to Long Prairie, Minnesota, and took a new name. Richard was now Michael Jeff Landers.
The grandparents were charged with the kidnapping, but in 2008, the charges were dismissed because authorities couldn’t find them. Then in September 2012, Richard’s stepfather gave the Indiana State Police Richard’s social security number. They ran it through the system and found a man named Michael Landers. Not only was he using Richard’s social security number, he also had Richard’s birthday . . . and that’s when authorities put two and two together.
When asked about his grandparents’ actions, Richard said that his grandparents may not have followed the law, but they were in the right. Richard also apparently knew that his parents might be looking for him, but he still chose to live with his grandmother and grandfather. His grandparents say that Richard’s parents were homeless at the time of the abduction, but they deny that. Richard’s biological dad also said that he forgave his parents for kidnapping his son.
8 Julian Hernandez
In the spring of 2015, 18-year-old Jonathan Mangina of Cleveland, Ohio, was applying for college when he realized his name did not match his social security number. A guidance counselor with the school talked with Jonathan, and then he checked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database. As it turned out, Jonathan was really Julian Hernandez from Birmingham, Alabama.
In 2002, Julian’s father, Bobby Hernandez, told his wife that he would take five-year-old Julian to school. Instead, Bobby drained his bank account and fled with Julian. The police searched for him, missing posters were made, but Julian and Bobby couldn’t be found. They eventually ended up in Cleveland where they assumed their new identities.
Julian grew up never knowing that he had been kidnapped. After the revelation, his father was arrested, and Julian flew back to Birmingham to see his mother for the first time in 13 years. The two spent Thanksgiving together in 2015. However, after Bobby was arrested, Julian asked the media to leave his father alone and to respect his privacy. Julian just wanted to go back to a normal life.
7 Savanna Todd
Samantha Geldenhuys always thought she had a normal life. She lived with her mother, father, and little brother in South Africa and New Zealand before settling down in Australia in 2007. But her reality was shattered in late 2013 when her mother, Alexandra Geldenhuys, was arrested for kidnapping Samantha. It turns out Alexandra’s real name was Dorothy Lee Barnett, and Samantha was really Savanna Todd from South Carolina. The man she believed to be her father was actually her step-father, and her brother was her half-brother.
In 1994, after Barnett went through a terrible divorce and lost custody of Savanna, she was only given weekend visitations. On her first weekend with her two-year-old daughter, Barnett and Savanna fled to South Africa, changed their names, and then Barnett married Jan Geldenhuys.
The truth was only discovered after Barnett accidentally called her daughter by her real birth name. A friend looked into the name and found it on a database for missing children. The friend then contacted Savanna’s father, who in turn reached out to the authorities. Barnett was convicted of international parental kidnapping and for making a false statement on an application for an American passport. She was given 21 months in prison.
6 Christi And Bobby Baskin
The troubles for the Baskin family started in October 1986. Bobby Baskin, who was almost five years old at the time, supposedly told his grandmother about sexual abuse at the hands of his paternal grandfather. Bobby then later told the story to his mother, Debbie. Debbie and her husband, Mark, then asked Debbie’s parents, Marvin and Sandra Maple, what they should do about it.
The Maples encouraged them to press charges, and that’s what they did. The grandfather denied the abuse, and Bobby was unable to tell his story on the stand. Instead, he just cried. As a result, the charges were dismissed in January 1987. During the ordeal, Debbie and Mark decided to move their family from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Louisville, Kentucky. However, Mark and Debbie were worried it might be too stressful for Bobby. So the Maples offered to look after Bobby and his six-year-old sister, Christi.
In June 1987, the Baskins made the difficult decision to move and leave Bobby and Christi with the Maples. For a few months, things went well. When Debbie asked for the children back twice, the Maples convinced her to postpone the move. But by spring 1989, the Baskins were demanding the return of their children. That’s when the Maples got temporary custody of the children. They told the police that the Baskins had abandoned the children and sexually abused them during a visit. The Maples also told the police that the Baskins were involved with a satanic cult.
Investigators looked into the claims, and they found the charges to be baseless. They ordered the Maples to hand over Christi and Bobby on March 1, 1989, almost two years after offering to keep them for a short time. But instead of handing over the children, the Maples sold their house and fled. The police and FBI launched a search, but the Maples couldn’t be found.
Over the years, their disappearance was featured on both Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted. There were a few sightings, but there were no confirmations. After fleeing Tennessee, the Maples moved to San Jose, California, with new names. Christi and Bobby were now Jennifer and Jonathan Bunting.
Twenty years after the disappearance, a Kentucky newspaper ran a story about the kidnapping, which Marvin Maple read online. He was unhappy with how he was depicted in the story and expressed this displeasure at the bar where he socialized. At least one of the people listening to Marvin went to the authorities, and Marvin (who was going by the name John Bunting) was arrested for the kidnapping on February 2, 2009. Sandra Maple had already passed away in 2005.
When Marvin was arrested, Christi was in shock and couldn’t understand that the man she called “Daddy” could be facing kidnapping charges. Bobby and Christi were also hesitant to meet their parents and didn’t immediately contact them after the arrest. The parents believe that the children may have been brainwashed after so many years.
Marvin pleaded guilty to custodial interference and was given four months of probation.
5 Sun Bin
Sun Bin was raised in a home in Jiangsu province in China, and he always thought he was adopted. However, he didn’t really question how he came to live with his adopted family. But as he got older, he became more interested in his roots and his biological family.
In 2014, when Sun was 27, he decided to give some of his DNA to the local police station to see if they could give him any information on his biological family. A short time later, he received a phone call. It turns out that in 1991, when Sun was just four, he was kidnapped from a vegetable market in the Sichuan province, thousands of miles from Jiangsu. The perpetrators were human traffickers who sold Sun to his adopted family.
Sun’s biological parents had looked for him for years, but they couldn’t find him. Sadly, his mother passed away from cancer in 2011, but Sun learned that his father was alive and that he had a younger sister. On January 13, 2015, Sun and his father met after 24 years apart at a police station in central China.
4 Sarah-Cecilie Finkelstein
In 1974, Cecilie Finkelstein was just four years old when her father took her on what she thought was an adventure. Cecilie’s mother, Tone Vik Nerby, thought they were just going to the park. But instead, Cecilie and her father, Herbert Finkelstein, were leaving Oslo, Norway, and flying to New York City via London. At first, Herbert told his daughter that her mother was coming, but he later said that her mother had abandoned her.
Tone was eventually able to track down her daughter, and she flew to New York City. After she arrived, Herbert agreed to two visits a week. When Cecilie met her mother, she was terrified of her. She ended up only going to two meetings, and then Cecilie and Herbert vanished again. Tone stayed in New York, looking for her daughter, but was forced to fly home when she knew that Cecilie was no longer in the city.
Over the next few years, Herbert and Cecilie traveled through 34 states and lived in Canada and Mexico. They would live on the charity and kindness of synagogues and Jewish communities. In 1983, Cecilie (who’d changed her name to Sarah) was 13, and she was staying with a family in the Midwest when she made a shocking discovery. While having breakfast, she was looking at the back of a milk carton, and there was a picture of her that was taken when she was six.
Cecilie was stunned. She’d always thought the pictures on the backs of milk cartons were so sad, but she never thought that she would find a photo of herself on one. Yet despite finding the picture, Cecilie still couldn’t flee her father.
But that changed when Cecilie turned 16. Her father was planning to marry her off to an Israeli man who was twice her age. That is when Cecilie finally fled, going to live with a family in New Jersey. When she was 17, she called her mother, who was still living in Oslo. Within hours, Tone was on a flight to New York. The mother and daughter were finally reunited, and they’ve been close ever since.
3 Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer was born in 1960s Germany. According to her father, Angela’s mother abandoned her at an orphanage. He then supposedly picked her up and raised Angela on his own. He was an abusive alcoholic, and he moved Angela around Europe throughout her childhood. By the time she was 18, she’d moved 12 times. Her father said he was a traveling salesman and needed to move for work.
There was one time when Angela heard from her mother, and that was a phone call on her 16th birthday. The woman tried to explain why she wasn’t in Angela’s life, but Angela hung up because she was angry that her mother abandoned her. When Angela was 18, she moved to North Carolina to attend university. Once she was in the United States, she lost contact with her father and never moved back to Europe.
In 2013, Angela was 44 and living in Oceanside, California. A week before Thanksgiving, Angela got a Facebook friend request from a woman named Helga Simeckie who lived in Croatia. At first, Angela didn’t think much about it. She would often get random Facebook requests. Then Helga sent Angela a message, written in German, asking about her childhood. When she replied, Helga told Angela that she was her mother. She even produced a copy of Angela’s birth certificate and old family photos as evidence.
Helga also said that she didn’t abandon Angela. Instead, Angela was kidnapped by her father, and even though Helga was able to track where they moved, she was unable to rescue her child. Whenever Angela’s father got a summons, he would pack up and move. In fact, her father was still wanted in Germany for kidnapping and domestic violence.
A short time later, the mother and daughter spoke together over Skype. Angela even launched a donations page to buy two round-trip tickets so that Helga and her husband could fly to Oceanside and meet her for the first time in 44 years. In total, they raised $4,000, but it’s unclear if they ever met.
2 Orey Steinmann
In February 2004, 17-year-old Orey Steinmann and some friends were using a computer at their school in Los Angeles, California, and they decided to do a Google search using Orey’s name. Since his name was so unusual, they didn’t expect to find many results. However, the first result that came up was a website for missing children.
That’s when Orey found out that he was actually kidnapped and taken away from his father in Alberta, Canada. In May 1989, Orey’s mother, Gisele Marie Goudreault, lost custody of Orey to her former boyfriend. Instead of handing him over, she fled. First, she went to Mexico, and then she settled in southern California.
Goudreault was arrested in February 2004 after a teacher Orey had confided in went to the police. Four months later, she was extradited back to Canada where she was convicted of child abduction and given two months in prison.
1 Oscar Alfredo Ramirez Castaneda
The Guatemalan Civil War started in 1960, and it would ravage the country for the next 36 years. In total, it is believed that 250,000 people lost their lives, and there were 600 massacres throughout the country. One such massacre happened in 1982, in the village of Dos Erres. Government troops descended on the village and killed 250 men, women, and children.
Only two young boys survived, and one of them was three-year-old Oscar Alfredo Ramirez Castaneda. He was abducted by one of the lieutenants who led the raid. The lieutenant took him home to raise as his own. The lieutenant would end up dying in a traffic accident, so Oscar was raised by the man’s mother. Oscar described his home as a loving household, and he was raised to revere the man he thought was his father. Of course, he was actually a kidnapper that helped slaughter Oscar’s family, including his eight brothers and sisters, as well as his mother.
In 1998, Oscar left Guatemala and illegally entered the United States. He eventually settled in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he married, had three kids, and bought a house. His life was going well, but of course, his immigration status made him a little uneasy. So when he got a phone call from a prosecutor in Guatemala, he was a bit nervous. However, he decided to call her back.
During their conversation, the prosecutor explained she had some sensitive news and that she was going to email it to him. In the email, she explained that the man who he thought was his father was actually his kidnapper. The prosecutor explained that his village had been massacred, and he was one of two survivors who were in the village at the time. She also said that there was another survivor who was away from the village when the massacre happened. That man was Oscar’s father, and he was still alive!
Oscar was stunned. While he grew up in the country during the civil war, he just thought it involved guerrillas and government troops killing each other. He didn’t know that they killed civilians as well. But the news wasn’t a complete surprise to him. After all, he’d seen a newspaper article about a decade before discussing the massacre. In the article, it said that Oscar had been kidnapped, but his “family” convinced him that it was leftist propaganda to smear the good name of his “father.”
A year after the revelation, Oscar’s real father, Tranquilino Castaneda, flew to the US. The father and son reunited after 30 years apart. Then in 2012, Oscar won political asylum in the United States.