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Published January 11 2013

Abducted boy’s mother lived in car

CLARISSA, Minn. – In 2006, an 18-year-old Minnesota man legally changed his name to Michael Jeff Landers. Six years later, authorities determined Landers was really the Indiana child who had been abducted by his paternal grandparents in 1994.

Richard Wayne Landers Jr. was reportedly abducted when he was 5 years old. The 24-year-old Michael Landers now lives in the small central Minnesota town of Browerville, the Todd County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.

Sheriff Peter Mikkelson said the investigation is ongoing and the case will be forwarded to federal authorities for possible charges.

It’s unclear what Landers knew about his history, but authorities said he had lived with his grandparents since birth.

In July 1994, after a custody dispute between Landers’ mother and the grandparents, the grandparents fled from Wolcottville, Ind., about 50 miles southeast of South Bend.

“I’m not sure that they (the grandparents) ever had legal custody,” said John R. Russell, who spent several months investigating the disappearance with the LaGrange County (Ind.) Sheriff’s Department.

The mother and stepfather were unemployed and lived in a car, Russell recalled.

“These people (the grandparents) were nice people. It was wrong for them to do it, but I can understand why,” he said. “But I also didn’t think the child would be in any danger at all with them.”

Indiana attorney Richard Muntz has worked with Lisa Harter in her 19-year search and told the Star Tribune that child welfare services stepped in because she has some developmental disabilities and the grandparents had temporary custody.

Muntz said after a judge granted Harter custody for a trial period, the grandparents took $5,000 out of a home equity line and left town.

The grandparents were charged with misdemeanor interference with custody, which was bumped up to a felony in 1999. But the charge was dismissed in 2008 after the case went cold.

Investigators reopened the case in September when Richard Harter turned over Landers’ Social Security card to an Indiana State Police detective. That turned up a man with the same Social Security number and birthday with an address in Long Prairie, about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Indiana State Police then contacted Minnesota law enforcement agencies, which began investigating along with the FBI and the Social Security Administration.

Minnesota officials say the grandparents – now living in Browerville under the assumed names Raymond Michael Iddings and Susan Kay Iddings – verified Landers’ identity. They were known as Richard E. and Ruth A. Landers at the time of the abduction.

Michael Landers and his wife, who police say are expecting a child, share a plot of land with his grandparents a few miles outside of Browerville. There are two houses and two deteriorating barns on the property, and a few toys were scattered in front of one of the houses Friday.


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