By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
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, 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 St. Louis 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 quick 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.
"I started laughing," Thomas recalls. "I said, What do you mean, Christian is missing? What are you talking about? I didn't really get it. And then the tears just came jumping out of my eyes."
The boy, age nine and a half, was profoundly disabled and had a rare genetic disorder, citrullinemia, which can cause toxic levels of ammonia to accumulate in the bloodstream, potentially leading to coma, brain damage and death. If he wasn't found — and medicated — within two or three days, he would almost certainly die.
According to a police investigative report obtained by Riverfront Times, "Dawan F. told responding officers he was taking his ill son, Christian F., age 9, to the hospital and stopped to call ahead to the emergency room when an unknown person entered his vehicle and drove away with Christian...."
Law enforcement officials knowledgeable about the case confirm that the document, authored by detectives Harry Howell and Jerome Dyson, is authentic. They say the report, which is undated, was filed in 2004. An update was filed in 2007 but did not change substantially, the sources say. The report is available for download in PDF format along with this story at www.dailyrft.com/christianferguson.
According to the report, police brought Dawan from the pay phone to a precinct office on Union Boulevard to await any developments. The first one came shortly before 8 a.m.: A resident of Ronbar Lane, located in a working-class residential neighborhood off Airport Road in Ferguson, alerted police to an abandoned SUV on the cul-de-sac.
On inspection, the maroon Ford Expedition contained "numerous valuables," including a computer, a camera and personal papers, according to the police report. The car was unlocked. Keys dangled in the ignition.
Police with search dogs scoured the neighborhood and an adjacent wooded area but found no trace of the missing child.
At the suggestion of guardian ad litem Nathan Cohen, Christian's younger brother, Connor Ferguson, was placed in the temporary custody of his grandparents, Dawana and John Steffen, who were living in a three-story home in the Shaw neighborhood on Flad Avenue. John Steffen's Pyramid Construction Inc. was emerging as a major player in the burgeoning renaissance of downtown St. Louis. The company's ambitious plans to transform numerous dilapidated buildings into spiffy new housing stock were earning Steffen and his associates an ear at city hall and earning their projects various tax breaks. Steffen's growing fortune would eventually allow him to move his family to an imposing mansion on the private street Kingsbury Place, west of Union Boulevard.
A permanent custody hearing for Connor was set for December. In the meantime St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley, who had overseen the Fergusons' lengthy divorce and custody battle, denied Theda Thomas' request to have Cohen removed from the case and a new guardian appointed, and he sealed the court file to the public.
Once again, Thomas mobilized friends and family for protests at the courthouse.
The demonstrations irked her attorney, Kimberly Hutson. "I didn't necessarily want her to contact all the newspapers and have them come to a court hearing, especially if the judge said, 'No media,'" Hutson says today. "I think her opinion was, the more people who had sympathy, and the more attention she could get against all the people she blamed for her child being missing, it would help her in court. But I think it did just the opposite."
Thomas and Hutson parted ways, and Thomas hired lawyer number five. To this day she complains of a legal "conspiracy" that was mounting against her. "There were so many lawyers who showed us right to the door when they heard we were up against the Steffens," Thomas says.