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"He tore up the place," the nurse says. "They had to put up TV antennas because he'd chew them up, and the wicker furniture, he chewed that up. He was so restless. I'm surprised he had the beautiful complexion he had and didn't have bags down to his knees, because they said at night he didn't sleep. They said it'd be three in the morning and he'd be standing over them clapping."
Ferguson and Linwood moved to a squat brick house on Sylvan Place in Pine Lawn in the summer of 2002 and married a short time later. Thomas says that period coincided with a thaw in relations with her ex. She and Victor Thomas, a retired mail carrier whom she'd married in 1999, got to see a lot more of her sons.
"I knew it was a lot caring for Christian, so I'd call Dawan and tell him, you know, if he and Monica were tired on the weekend, or they wanted to go catch a show, just call me, and I would watch the kids," Thomas recalls. "And he did."
In early 2003 the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reviewed Christian's Medicaid case. A police investigation would later reveal that the agency canceled the family's nursing benefits because Ferguson had not complied with its instruction to enroll Christian in school. Investigative records indicate that the last day a nurse came to the Pine Lawn house to care for Christian was March 13, 2003.
Nine days later, on March 22, Thomas arrived at Heritage House to retrieve Christian and Connor for a scheduled weekend visit. When she gave the boys a once-over back at her house, she thought they looked dirty. Christian, she says, reeked of urine, and when she bathed him, she found he had a diaper rash and seemed unusually skinny. "He started bumping into things," she recalls.
It was a telltale sign that Christian might be falling ill.
Thomas drove the boys to St. Louis Children's Hospital. While they were in the emergency room, her court-sanctioned visitation period with the children ended. A hospital worker called Ferguson to retrieve the boys.
"I kissed Christian on the cheek," recalls Thomas, "without knowing I'd never, ever, ever, ever see him again."
Ferguson failed to bring Christian and Connor to Heritage House for Thomas' next two scheduled visits, according to court papers. On April 7, 2003, her 31st birthday, Thomas went back to St. Louis Circuit Court and filed a motion to regain custody of the boys.
The exes' first court appearance before Judge Frawley in the new matter came on June 9. Though there is no transcript of the proceeding on file in family court, a subsequent police report contains a summary of the day's events gleaned from questioning a court employee.
"Dawan F. was ordered by the court to 'immediately resume visitations' of both Christian and Connor with their mother," the report reads. "Dawan F. expressed his displeasure with Frawley's ruling, at which time Frawley informed Mr. Jack Hauser, Dawan F.'s attorney, that he did not 'appreciate self help' from Dawan F. and warned Dawan F. he would be held in contempt if the visitations were not to take place immediately. [The court employee interviewed] interpreted that visitations would resume the coming weekend of June 14, 2003."
Thomas remembers the June 9 court proceeding distinctly. "It was the first time I went to court and was not afraid," she says. "When I heard Judge Frawley say that if Dawan didn't have good grounds for keeping me from seeing my kids he's going to suffer the consequences, I thought: Oh, my God, finally."
Thomas recalls the dress she wore that day, a frock decked with sunflowers, and the fact that it matched her merry mood. From court she went straight to Connor's school and found him on the playground. Says Thomas: "I told him he was going to be coming home soon."
The 911 call came in half an hour after sunrise, at 6:09 a.m. on Wednesday, June 11, 2003. From a pay phone at the southeast corner of Page Boulevard and Skinker Parkway, just inside the St. Louis city limits, Dawan Ferguson informed the dispatcher that his SUV had been stolen and his handicapped son kidnapped.
When St. Louis police officers arrived at the scene, a nondescript strip mall at a major intersection, Ferguson "began crying while stating, 'My son is gone, my son is gone' repeatedly," the officers would note in an incident report.
Ferguson said that Christian had been vomiting throughout the night and that he was rushing the boy to Children's Hospital. According to the incident report, he told police he decided to stop at the pay phone and call ahead to the ER. "While talking on the phone he noticed his vehicle drive away east on Page and out of sight," reads the incident report. "Ferguson advised he never saw who entered his vehicle and could offer no information on the suspect."
Police combed the area but found nothing: no vehicle, no witnesses and no Christian.
News of the kidnapping was quick to reach the local media — so much so that Theda Thomas' family learned of Christian's disappearance on the morning news. Thomas was at work, doing data entry for Midwest Library Service in Bridgeton, when her husband rushed in with the grim news.
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