INDIANAPOLIS -- 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.
questions remain about Richard Wayne Landers Jr., who was taken July
29, 1994, by his paternal grandparents, Richard E. and Ruth A. Landers.
mother, Lisa Harter, screamed and was "jumping up and down for joy"
when she learned a few days ago that her son had been found, her husband
Richard Harter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview
Thursday. He said his wife is "the happiest woman on earth."
said he and his wife were working with an attorney and hoped to reunite
with his stepson soon. Police said Landers is married and expecting his
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.
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?"
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
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.
left behind their mobile home in Walcottville, Ind., 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.
the Indiana State Police announced that young Richard had been found in
Long Prairie, Minn., a small town half way between Minneapolis and
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 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
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 Indiana state police, 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, Indiana state police said.
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.
Brown, editor and publisher of the weekly Long Prairie Leaders, said
the story wasn't yet known in the community. And he was still trying to
figure out who the people involved are.
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.
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.
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."
Diana Penner, The Indianapolis Star