By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
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By Kelsey McClure
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"[The witness] was walking east in the 6100 block of Page Avenue at or near the time of 6:00 a.m. [on June 11] when he noticed an adult black male subject walking west on Page Avenue from the intersection of Hodiamont Avenue," the police report reads. "This subject stopped to use the public telephone at 6104 Page Avenue. [The witness] did not see any vehicle the subject was occupying, nor did he see a red or maroon SUV in the area."
Shown a photo lineup and asked to identify the man he'd seen, the witness pointed to a photo of Dawan Ferguson.
Exiting I-70 onto Airport Road in north St. Louis County, Victor Thomas, Theda's husband, says taking this route triggers flashbacks. "Over there used to be a school," Thomas says, pointing west. "We searched that. And see that sewer system right there? We had people go right down under it."
The stretch of interstate between Dawan Ferguson's old Pine Lawn house and the site where his SUV was found in 2003 has been dug up and rebuilt since Thomas and dozens of volunteer searchers scoured the area. But little has changed on the route between where the Expedition turned up and the home of Ferguson's onetime girlfriend Lakisha Mayes.
Retracing that half-mile journey, Thomas starts to feel sick to his stomach. "I think I'm going to have to pull over at the service station," he says.
A stocky 53-year-old who carries a paunch in the midsection, Thomas has salt-and-pepper hair and the proverbial gift of gab. The retired postal worker met Theda and her sons in the middle of a rainstorm in 1998, when he pulled up to a bus stop and offered them a ride.
"We rode together and talked about how God is good," Thomas recalls. "And then we started talking on the phone. I'd go by to see her and the boys, and then one day she had problems where she was living, and I took them out of there."
Theda and Victor married in January 1999. The father of two grown daughters, Thomas was delighted to acquire two sons, courtroom dramas notwithstanding. "I used up all my savings to pay for those lawyers," he says.
"Our life consisted of fighting to protect the boys, and the next thing I know I get the call from Theda's father," Thomas recounts. "He said, did I have the TV on? No. 'Well, turn the TV on.' And there I hear this crazy story about a carjacking."
Thomas accompanied Theda to police headquarters to await news that first day. The next day he mobilized.
The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Pam and Craig Akers after their son was kidnapped in October 2002 (Shawn was rescued in early 2007, when his abductor, Michael Devlin, was captured), helped Thomas and his wife's relatives set up a search-and-rescue "command post" at a north-county church. In the first week, hundreds of people came to help, including several who brought trained search dogs.
After the dogs took Christian's scent from some clothes he'd worn, they scoured the cities of Ferguson and Berkeley, Kinloch and Wellston, crawling into drainage ditches and sifting through trash bins.
"After a while," Thomas says, "we had to switch from scent-tracking dogs to cadaver dogs."
On one hot summer day, volunteers saw a white utility van near the Chain of Rocks Bridge. On a hunch they traced the vehicle's license plates to an address in a dicey area of north St. Louis. When they arrived at the address, the dogs "went crazy," Thomas says. The team never saw the van again, but to this day he's certain its driver knew something.
Over time the Hornbeck Foundation retreated, and the search teams dwindled in number. But Victor Thomas and a close friend kept up the hunt. They poked around near the Casino Queen, a gaming riverboat in East St. Louis, and in abandoned buildings near Brooklyn and Cahokia, Illinois.
"For two and a half years my life consisted of living in the woods," Thomas says. "When there was nobody else with me, I'd go out by myself. The nights I couldn't sleep, I'd sit out on the porch and think of places to search."
A month after Christian disappeared, the St. Louis division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation assigned special agent Liza Ludovico to the case. In particular, Ludovico, a former U.S. Army nurse with a no-nonsense reputation, assisted lead detectives Howell and Dyson in reviewing Christian's medical history. (Citing FBI policy not to comment on open investigations, the agent declined to be interviewed for this story.)
The investigators scrutinized several of Christian's hospitalizations, beginning with the incident in March 2000 when Dawan Ferguson told hospital staff he'd been unable to refill his son's prescriptions. According to the police report, "An interview with Mr. Gerald Krausz of the Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital pharmacy failed to find any instance the medication was not, or could not be, refilled due to any type of shortage or outage [of the hospital's stock]."
Regarding Christian's hospitalization two months later, the police report reads, "Dawan F. was arrested for a traffic violation on the evening of Saturday, May 6, 2000 and was not released until the afternoon of Sunday, May 7, 2000. During this time, Christian F. did not receive his medications. When questioned by hospital social service personnel, Dawan F. claimed that Ruth Todd (whom Dawan F. identified as the nanny for Christian F.) had reportedly failed in her responsibility to pick up Christian F.'s medication from the pharmacy."