By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
Two weeks earlier, the Kirkwood Police Department and FBI had completed what many called the miraculous recovery of two kidnapped white boys, William "Ben" Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck. Their captor, Michael Devlin, had kept Ownby for four days, Hornbeck for four years.
Hearing the news, Thomas felt joy for the boys' parents but regret that her child, likely a skeleton by this point, had not been brought home.
The investigation was technically still open and continued to be handled by the city police department. But it would fall to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch to decide whether anyone would be charged. In early July 2003, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce had transferred the case to McCulloch because Dawan Ferguson had worked as a bounty hunter for her office. His duties: searching for parents wanted by the court in child-support cases.
Thomas had persistently lobbied on several fronts for Ferguson's arrest. She requested inquiries into the state social-services agency's dismissal of her many claims of abuse and reached out to television personalities including John Walsh of America's Most Wanted pleading for a spotlight on Christian's case. She made little headway.
This time, though, Thomas got a positive response. The St. Louis police department and the FBI in April 2007 formed a five-person task force that included detectives Howell and Dyson and FBI agent Ludovico to review Christian's case full-time for 30 days.
"I don't want to say, 'One last push,' because cases like these always remain open and new leads can be investigated, but the idea was to take another look and then go to the St. Louis County prosecutor's office and really put the pressure on for an arrest," says a police officer with knowledge of the investigation.
Investigators re-interviewed a handful of witnesses and went back out with cadaver dogs. Acting on tips, they combed several cemeteries and had the dogs sniff out the ground around a house built by Pyramid Construction Inc., the company Dawan Ferguson's stepfather owned, near the time of Christian's disappearance.
The task force also reviewed records from 2003 that detailed garbage pickups and deliveries from various sites. The team went so far as to request permission to go digging in a landfill. (The request was denied, owing to a lack of evidence.)
They found nothing.
Victor Thomas, who spoke often with investigators, believes police were off base in at least one area. "The police had a theory that Dawan did this on his own," Thomas says. "We had a theory that he had help."
Responds one officer knowledgeable about the case: "Victor and his guys forwarded us tons of [tips] they thought were significant. All I can say is we did look into all of them, but nothing turned up."
When the investigators learned of the March 12, 2007, interview John Rogers had conducted with Connor, they wondered: What had the boy told the attorney?
The county prosecutor's office subpoenaed Rogers for a transcript of the sworn interview. The defense attorney challenged the request; though he lost in St. Louis County Circuit Court and on appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court in August of last year overruled the lower jurisdictions and declared that Rogers did not have to release the transcript.
Connor Ferguson tells Riverfront Times, "I told Mr. Rogers exactly what Dawana told me to tell him: that [my dad and I] had a great relationship, that he didn't beat us. I didn't even tell [Rogers] Christian's 'G-tube' was missing [the day before he was allegedly abducted]."
Connor now says he left out a lot of the details that he'd supplied to police.
"I know I was just messing up myself in the future, because it will be hard," the boy adds, without finishing his thought.
"I heard that all the time about Theda," offers one police officer with knowledge of the investigation. "But you can't call a mother crazy if her child is missing and nobody will help her. She wants information, and you all are not doing anything but sitting back and name-calling her. That woman isn't crazy at all. She's a mother who lost her child. She's grieving."
"Look, she was probably the better-suited parent for those kids," says another officer familiar with Theda and Dawan's long custody battle. "But when she lost them, she went about trying to get them back in all the wrong ways."
The police investigative report mentions Theda Thomas' persistence, noting that her "well documented" complaints to various agencies between 1998 and 2003 were ignored. "On several occassions [sic] investigators failed to seek other sources to refute or substantiate the claims made by Thomas," the report reads. "To complicate matters, Thomas often made repeated complaints on the same incident to several agencies. Thomas was considered as an antagonist by most...."
Victor Thomas says he kept the copy of the report from his wife for six months. "I knew once she read it, it would put more resentment in her," he says.
Theda Thomas says to this day she has only read excerpts of the document. "I want to know, I don't want to know," she wavers. "I know enough to know the father needs to be on death row."