The Dead Tree Edition

Spend some time with Nadya Labi's fascinating account of a mother and a step-father to take child kidnapping:

Todd Hopson does not come across as the sort of person who would hire a kidnapper. His idea of excitement is watching Seinfeld reruns. He is quick with a one-liner if conversation flags. He clears his throat repeatedly, a nervous tic that may be related to his fondness for cigars. During most of our time in Costa Rica, he wore the same outfit--a khaki shirt with lots of pockets, jeans, and bright-white sneakers. But while Hopson may seem like a softie, his resolve is strong: he would rather break the laws of Costa Rica than his word to Andres.

In late August, even before Todd filed a Hague application, he contacted Gus Zamora, who was feeling the pinch of the recession. It had been nine months since his last recovery. "If somebody asked me to find his dog or cat on a roof, I'd do it," he joked. Gus offered to do the job for $25,000, including expenses--about a third of his usual rate. Still, Todd had to borrow money against his house to pay the fee. Gus planned to take two trips to do the recovery, and Todd agreed to pay him $10,000 before the first and $15,000 before the second.

In September, Gus flew from Tampa to Costa Rica to rendezvous with Helen and do reconnaissance in Siquirres. From the start, Helen resisted doing a recovery; she didn't want to break any laws and possibly jeopardize her ability to return to Costa Rica. Todd felt he needed her cooperation, however, because she had access to Andres--and Andres's passport had her last name on it. (A child traveling with adults without the same last name might raise suspicion.) At Todd's insistence, Helen agreed to meet with Gus.

One day, while doing surveillance with Helen, Gus saw an opportunity to grab Andres. But Helen called him off, deciding instead to rely on the local lawyer she'd hired to regain custody. By February, however, Helen was fed up. She had just returned from a visit with Andres, and she was furious that she could not take him anywhere--not even an ice-cream shop--on her own.

"After I go through all the pain and drama of childbirth, they come and take my son away," she told me. "Hell, no. I decided, 'Gus, come here. I'm not waiting for the law, for Jason, for nothing.'"

It's a really good piece, and it's important to recognize that a lot of the cases apparently come about when mothers flee abusive husbands. In the other cases, the story strikes at something elemental in all parents. A child kidnapping is a violent act perpetrated against the parental bonds. I never understand people who get it in their head that thier child doesn't "need" the other parent. I understand when their issues of, say, abuse. But I've seen this a lot in my life, where parents use custody as a weapon. It's an incredibly selfish act, and in the cause of raising children, it's sabotage.