Minnesota Mom Abducts Son, Vanishes

A Minnesota mother abducted her son and is thought to be hiding out in a domestic violence shelter.  Read about it here (Pioneer Press, 7/24/11).

The facts of the case are depressingly familiar.  Mom and Dad divorce; she gets custody; he tries to increase his parenting time; she claims child abuse; police investigate and find no abuse; judge grants increased parenting time for Dad; Mom abducts child.  We’ve seen it countless times, but this one’s got a couple of twists.

In this case the players are the father, Danny Dimm, the mother, Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm and their five-year-old son Timber.  The family lived mostly in British Columbia and the couple divorced there.  During the proceedings, Bartell-Dimm accused Danny of child abuse.  The court ordered an investigation which was performed by both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the local child welfare agency.  Both determined that the allegations were false – not ‘unfounded’ or ‘unsubstantiated,’ but ‘false.’ 

The judge at the time questioned Bartell-Dimm’s mental stability because of the false allegations, but Bartell-Dimm still got primary custody.  Into the bargain, when she decided she wanted to move to Minnesota, the court allowed her to do so, leaving Danny to pursue visitation long-distance.

But even that proved too much for Bartell-Dimm.  She refused to share the costs of his travel to see his son as the court had ordered, meaning that Danny saw the boy a total of twice in two years.

So he went to court to get more time and the court agreed, ordering that he be allowed to have custody of the boy for three consecutive months beginning in September, 2010. 

“He desperately wants the opportunity to bond with Timber and fears that it will soon be too late if he is not given the chance to spend a substantial period of time with his son,” a judge wrote.

That was the first time Bartell-Dimm absconded with the child.

When Dimm attempted to pick up Timber in Hastings on Sept. 1, the boy and his mother were gone. Police issued a statewide alert, and a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy found Bartell Dimm with her son in Alexandria, Minn., two days later during a traffic stop.

She told the deputy she fled knowing the court order was in effect, according to a police report, and that they had been living out of her car.

Bartell Dimm was not arrested or charged in that incident, said Theresa Gerlach, Dimm’s U.S. attorney.

Let me stop here to make a point.  It’s one of the ones I made in my last post about the government agency in Australia that opposes criminal penalties for parents who abduct children.  One of the points I made was the obvious one – that leniency only encourages future abductions.  So now I offer Bartell-Dimm as Exhibit A.

No one punished her first abduction in any way, so, when the judge next  ordered Danny to have four months of access to Timber, what do you think Bartell-Dimm did.  That’s right, she abducted the boy. 

Danny Dimm last saw his boy via Skype on June 5th.  He was anticipating his first long-term access to him in years and, three days later, flew to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to get started.  Mom and child were gone, and this time without a trace.

It’s been seven weeks and police don’t have a clue.  There are no credit card charges to follow and no one admits to having seen the two.  And that means, according to police, that she’s getting help from someone.

“There are no credit cards, no trace of them at all,” Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell said. And as the days pass, those looking for Timber are becoming increasingly concerned about him.

“I worry about his safety,” Schnell said…

“I’m confident that she knows we’re looking for her,” Schnell said, adding that investigators suspect Bartell Dimm might be getting help.

“She has no resources. So she is either roughing it – like camping – or being supported or assisted by someone.”

It’s been seven weeks, so I think we can safely conclude that the two aren’t camping.  That means she’s getting help, and one person thinks he knows who that might be.

Ed Wunsch is a private investigator who runs a non-profit specializing in the return of children abducted by parents.  He’s seen cases before in which mothers hid out in domestic violence shelters which typically don’t ask too many questions about who the women are who come to them, or why.

And given the fact that there’s literally no trace of Bartell-Dimm and Timber, Wunsch’s hunch comes to seem more and more likely.

Wunsch also gets something that the Australian agency Community Services doesn’t.

Ed Wunsch, a Hopkins-based private investigator who specializes in abductions by parents, said the cases are often not taken seriously enough by the public and law enforcement.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well, it’s just a parent, so how bad can it be?’ ” he said.

Since 2003, Wunsch and his nonprofit agency have found more than 30 children, one as far away as Bermuda.

“No matter what the situation is, there’s always psychological problems with the kids when they return,” he said.

Often the motive for parents who abscond is to get revenge on either the left-behind parent or the legal system, Wunsch said.

“They think they are hurting the other parent, when in fact they are hurting the child,” he said.

He puts in a nutshell what Dr. Nancy Faulkner and others have written extensively about – that parental child abduction is child abuse.  Children don’t come out of it unscathed.  That’s particularly true of Timber who has been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate autism.

Even before her abduction of him, Bartell-Dimm likely exacerbated Timber’s condition by rarely letting him play outside or associate with other children.  By contrast, when Danny had the boy, his condition seemed to be improving.

For the next three months, Timber stayed with Dimm and his sister, a registered nurse and a holistic dietary consultant. They cut sugar from his diet – Timber had 12 caps on his teeth by age 4 – and enrolled him in a preschool. He was encouraged to play outdoors and have social interaction with kids his age, Dimm said.

“It was great. …You could see the lights coming on in his eyes,” he said. “Every day there were huge differences. The highlight of his day was riding the school bus; he just loved it.”

Maybe Australia’s Community Services should read the case of Timber and his parents, and explain again how criminal penalties aren’t appropriate for Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm.

Anyone with information as to the whereabouts of Timber Dimm and/or his mother, Wendi Bartell Dimm, is asked to call Hastings police at 651-480-2300, 911, or 1-800-THE-LOST.

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