A few years ago, Richard Wayne Landers Jr. made headlines around the world when he was located nearly 20 years after his abduction.
Landers Jr. had been living in Long Prairie, Minnesota, with his grandparents who had raised him since he was just a little boy. He was flabbergasted when police arrived at his door, telling him that his beloved grandparents had actually abducted him from his parents nineteen years ago.
“It’s a lot for me to take in,” the man told ABC News.
According to Daily Mail UK, when Landers Jr. was just a young boy, his parents had given temporary custody to his paternal grandparents.
His mother, Lisa Harter, suffered from mild developmental disabilities and, following a divorce, had moved into a group home that did not accommodate children. Later, when she got a place of her own and tried extending her custodial rights, the grandparents fled with her son.
“The judge gave [the mother] custody on a trial basis, and before she could get him, that’s when they left,” Harter’s attorney, Richard Muntz, explained.
The grandparents were initially charged with misdemeanor interference with custody, which was later increased to a felony in 1999. However, when the case officially went cold in 2008, all charges against them were dropped.
The boy’s grandparents drove him 675 miles away from Wolcottville, Indiana, to Long Prairie, Minnesota— a small city with a population of roughly 3,500.
There, they lived under aliases for the next 19 years— with no one discovering their secret.
Nearly two decades after Landers Jr. was abducted, the boy’s mother and stepfather mentioned the case to an officer who attended the same church as them. When the officer launched a new investigation, he discovered a man in Minnesota had been using Landers Jr.’s social security number (SSN). Upon further investigation, he noticed the man listed the same birthday as the boy.
When police showed up at the man’s residence, where he had been living as Michael Jeff Landers for the past 19 years, the truth finally came tumbling out.
But, as they say, there are two sides to every story…
Michael’s grandparents claim that his mother, Lisa Harter, was in no way capable of caring for a child. Interestingly, John R. Russell, an officer who spent months investigating the disappearance, seems to agree with their assessment.
He told the Daily Mail UK that the boy’s mother and stepfather were unemployed and living in a car at the time of his abduction. However, this directly goes the mother’s lawyer’s statement— so, the entire situation seems to have been a bit muddled.
“These people (the grandparents) were nice people,” Russell said.
“It was wrong for them to do it, but I can understand why.”
Since discovering his true identity, Michael has defended his grandparents’ actions, writing:
“For you people who jump to conclusions, you should find out the whole story. I was where I needed to be. My ‘grandparents’ were in the right and I don’t care what anything thinks.”
Michael’s wife Bobby also chimed in on the situation, sharing a Facebook post that read: “Sometimes, our US laws don’t help or protect the people they should. He was 5. He remembers his birth parents and what they were like. He had been living under his grandparents’ care since he was a 6-month-old baby,” she continued.
“He was where he wanted and needed to be to be safe and become the man he is today.”
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