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Friday, January 11, 2013

Indiana boy abducted in 1994 found married in Minnesota

A huge part of a nearly two decades-old Indiana mystery has been solved with the confirmation that a 24-year-old man in Minnesota was the 5-year-old boy abducted in 1994 from LaGrange County.
But questions remain about Richard Wayne Landers Jr., who was taken July 29, 1994, by his paternal grandparents, Richard E. and Ruth A. Landers.
Richard Wayne Landers Jr. now lives in the small northern Minnesota town of Long Prairie under the name Michael Jeff Landers, the Todd County (Minn.) Sheriff's Office said today.
John Russell, was the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department deputy who caught the case when the Landers trio vanished, said Thursday he is mostly happy the young man has been found and that part of the case is resolved.
But Russell, who retired in 2006, wants to know how they did it.
“I never really feared for the boy,” said Russell, who turns 71 next week. But, he said, there was no question the grandparents had no right to take the child — and the parents wanted him back — so he pursued all leads he had.
Eventually, he had no more leads and no more places to look, but he kept that file until he retired.
“It was always a nagging thing: Where in the heck did they go?”
Young Richard had been raised by his grandparents since right after he was born, Russell recalled. When he was an infant, his parents had some serious problems Russell would not detail, but after some time, they divorced.
His mother, who was not identified, remarried. She and her new husband were working with the child services system to gradually regain custody of the little boy.
The Landers were not happy about that, he said. The mother and stepfather were scheduled to have the child for a one-week visit.
“Just prior to that, (the grandparents) up and disappeared,” Russell said.
They left behind their mobile home in Walcottville, all the furnishings, an antique car, and appeared to have taken only the clothes they needed, Russell said.
He tracked their bank accounts, worked with law enforcement in northern Michigan where the family had a cabin, talked with relatives in Washington state — but found no leads.
Thursday, the Indiana State Police announced that young Richard had been found in Long Prairie, Minn., a small town half way between Minneapolis and Fargo, N.D.
Initially, misdemeanor warrants for interference with custody were issued for the Landers. Later, the charges were upgraded to felonies, but in 2008, the LaGrange County prosecutor’s office dropped the charges.
The case is closed in Indiana, said LaGrange County Sheriff Terry Martin, but federal investigators in Minnesota are looking into potential violations related to the use of Social Security numbers.
No charges have been filed against anyone named Landers, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis. She said federal rules prohibit the office from confirming or denying any investigations that might be active.
The mystery began to unravel in September, according to the ISP, when young Richard’s stepfather, Richard Harter, gave the missing boy’s Social Security number to a detective.
The investigator learned that a man with a different name had a driver’s license in Minnesota, but was using the missing boy’s social security number, according to ISP.
There also could have been a traffic stop or violation that caused local Minnesota authorities to discover a discrepancy between the name on the driver’s license and the Social Security number, Russell said. The man’s birth date also was the same as Landers’.
Russell said the young man eventually gave Minnesota police the name Landers, indicating he knew who he was.
He and his grandparents had been living under aliases, he in Long Prairie and they in Browerville, eight miles to the north.
State Police did not indicate how long the three had been living in that area.
Jason Brown, editor and publisher of the weekly Long Prairie Leaders, said the story wasn’t yet know in the community. And he was still trying to figure out who the people involved are — that is, under what names they had been living and how long they had been there.
A tidbit that might be coincidental or might be a clue: Of the 38,000 to 39,000 residents in LaGrange County, about 40 percent are Amish, Sheriff Martin said. The Landerses are not Amish, but Brown said his Minnesota community also has a significant community of Amish and Mennonite residents.
Russell said he wasn’t sure what the elder Landers did for a living, but before they disappeared, they were popular locally for their Christian music performances and appeared at festivals and churches.
“I’m just very happy that it all came to a pretty good conclusion,” he said, alluding to the tragic ends of some missing child cases. “I’m happy they just found out where they are at.”
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