January 22, 2001 Issue Partial Text

Where are the triplets?

A devastated father waits for word on his kidnapped 8-year-olds, while police look west for their abductor

by Marnie Ko
Report Newsmagazine

The Merkley triplets Peter, Olivia and Gray: Their father misses them desperately.

Photo supplied by the Merkley Family
The Merkley triplets, Peter, Olivia and Gray, turned eight on January 1. On their birthday, their father Craig, a tired-looking, thin man in his late 30s, sat quietly in Olivia's empty room in a red-brick house in a treed subdivision of Stratford, Ont. The tiny, fair-haired girl's bed, untouched since she last slept in it, lay covered with bright stuffed animals and teddy bears. In the room once shared by his exuberant boys, Mr. Merkley looked sadly at the toys and books stacked neatly in the bookcase. He was exhausted and sick with worry over the children, allegedly abducted by their mother on October 14.

Although promising leads have poured in to police, Mr. Merkeley fears his children will become just another statistic, a trio of faces on milk cartons. He knows the frightening facts: most kidnapped children are taken by a parent, and many are never found. There were 426 cases of parental abduction reported to police in Canada last year. In 1999 the Missing Children's Society handled 164 cases, involving 235 children. In 100 of those cases, the mother had abducted the children, often taking them out of the country.

The relationship between Craig Merkley and his former wife, 38-year-old Carline (pronounced Caroline) Vandenelsen, began when both worked for the nearby Upper Thames River Conservation Authority in 1987. Five years after they married, they made the front page of local newspapers as proud parents of the first three babies of 1993. On good days, Ms. Vandenelsen was energetic, driven and good-humoured. She went through school and became a drafting teacher. But she had bad days, too, and over time they become more frequent. Mr. Merkley says his wife drank, smoked marijuana and yelled at the children incessantly. She was diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder and put on antidepressants. According to her ex-husband, she quickly went through a parade of psychiatrists, becoming more unbalanced all the while.