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January 27, 2001

Abduction charges await mother of triplets

Won't fight extradition from Mexico to Canada

Anne Marie Owens and Marina Jiménez
National Post

STRATFORD, ONT. A mother who allegedly abducted her eight-year-old triplets will not oppose her extradition from Mexico and will be returning to Canada as early as next week.

Carline Vandenelsen has decided to voluntarily return home to face abduction charges after her children disappeared during a supervised visit more than three months ago, said Inspector Dennis Jackson, of the Stratford police.

Relatives who have been visiting the 38-year-old woman in one of Mexico City's prisons for women say she is returning to tell her side of the story in court and fight for more access to her children.

"As a family we don't condone what Carline did, but we understand why she did it: Her love for her children," her sister Theresa Vandenelsen said yesterday after returning home from Mexico.

"This has been going on for five years and Carline felt very cornered. To Carline, this was her only option."

She said her sister is keen to find a good family court lawyer "to dissect five years' court proceedings and try and get some justice back and figure out what went wrong."

Ms. Vandenelsen lost custody of the triplets when she and Craig Merkley separated five years ago and she moved away. She returned to Stratford in 1997 and fought for custody.

Last March, she had her access to the children further reduced by the courts to every other Saturday.

Peter, Gray and Olivia Merkley were the focus of an international search that began on Oct. 14 and followed sporadic sightings in Halifax, Corpus Christi, the Panamanian border and, finally, Acapulco.

The children were recovered in a row house in the hills of Acapulco last week after a lengthy surveillance by Mexican federal police acting on an international warrant for the arrest of Ms. Vandenelsen.

Since returning home to Stratford in the custody of their father this week, the children have begun to divulge stories of their time on the run.

Mr. Merkley said his children told him they were forced to ride in the trunk of a car to avoid detection, were often left alone in the house so they would not be spotted, and were made to watch an episode of America's Most Wanted profiling the abduction.

Ms. Vandenelsen's family tells a different version of how the children spent their time in their mother's custody.

Her sister says the children kept journals during the trip and have drawn artwork that adorned the walls of the place where they stayed in Acapulco.

"They had a lovely home and I believe they were safe," Theresa Vandenelsen said.

The sisters, who travelled to Mexico to offer their support and collect their sister's belongings, watched as she signed the waiver in court that will allow for a speedy return to Canada.

Irene Arseneau, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said although some paperwork needs to be completed, it is always a much faster process of returning someone from a foreign jail when they waive their right to an extradition hearing.

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  • Rdm Technologies Inc.
    Craig Merkley's missing three triplets have been found. The numerous photographs on a Web site set up by Bob Montgomery, Mr. Merkley's neighbour, show the understandable urgency of the plight.
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