Chicago Tribune

Girl in kidnap case gets wish

Dad agrees to let teen return to Arizona with stepfather

By Mickey Ciokajlo
Tribune staff reporter
August 14, 2001
Chicago Tribune

A family photo of Alese Reichart holding her half-brother, Hawk.
A family photo of Alese Reichart holding her half-brother, Hawk.
(Photo courtesy of Reichart family)
Alese Reichart, the teenager at the center of a bitter and highly publicized child abduction case, will return to Arizona this week after bouncing for eight months among three group and foster homes.

A settlement reached Monday in Cook County Circuit Court will allow the girl, 15, to start her freshman year of high school Friday with her friends in Tucson, where she was found in December. She will live with her stepfather, Dan Peters, in an arrangement approved by Judge Karen Shields.

"She has a lot of people there who love her," Peters said. "We're ecstatic for her that she'll be able to get back there."

Alese Reichart had made no secret of her desire to return to Arizona, where she and her mother lived for years under assumed names. She told her parents, attorneys and the judge that she did not wish to live in Chicago.

Her mother, Joli Taylor, is charged in Cook County with abducting her in 1991. Taylor cannot leave the state under terms of her bond.

In the end, the girl's father, Michael Reichart of Arlington Heights, agreed to let her return to Arizona to live with Peters. Reichart retains legal custody of the girl under a 1994 court decision, but he agreed to grant Peters "temporary possession" after the two men met Monday.

"I have seven younger sisters, helped raise five, and the idea is I understand the teenager and she wants to be with her friends," Reichart, 49, told reporters after the agreement was reached.

"She's lived in Tucson for seven years. That's where she wants to be. As long as I have a guarantee of visitation and a relationship with her, that's what I wanted from the start."

Under Monday's agreement, the girl will return to visit Reichart six times a year, including Thanksgiving, New Year's and 4th of July. Reichart must pay for his daughter's travel expenses, and his wife, Melody, must be present during visitations.

Taylor has alleged that Reichart abused their daughter and that was why she fled Midlothian in 1991 with the girl, then 5. The allegation has never been proved, and Reichart has denied it.

Mother defends flight

Through her attorneys, Taylor continues to defend her flight. She could face up to three years in prison. Her voice quivering as she spoke publicly for the first time, Taylor, 41, told reporters Monday she was "very proud of Alese for all that she's been through.

"I'm just very proud of my daughter, and I'm relieved that she's going home."

Peters, who was granted "temporary physical possession" of the girl, said he was prepared to help her resume her life in Tucson.

"She loves it there, so she'll fit right back in," said Peters, who married Taylor five years ago.

Under the judge's order, the girl was to be turned over to Peters by 11 p.m. Monday.

Reichart said he would meet privately with his daughter Monday evening and she also would see her mother before she is scheduled to leave for Arizona on Tuesday.

Jurisdiction of the case will remain in Illinois.

Peters signed the agreement, holding him at least partially responsible if it is breached. As part of the pact, he agreed to see that Alese Reichart gets therapy from a counselor chosen by her father.

The girl will live with Peters, a swimming pool cleaner, and Peters' mother, a widow who owns a five-bedroom house in Tucson.

The case captured attention in December for the manner in which Alese Reichart and her mother were discovered after so many years: A classmate recognized the girl from a missing-persons mailer with a computer-generated picture of what she might look like as a teenager.

The case remained in the news for much of the winter as attorneys for three parties--Alese Reichart, Taylor and Michael Reichart--battled at nearly every turn.

Alese Reichart's original attorney, Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, was removed from the case in April.

Saying the case had become a money-draining waste of time, Murphy had asked to be taken off it. His request was granted more quickly than he expected when he swore in front of the judge during an exchange with Michael Reichart's attorney.

In court Monday, Shields praised all of the attorneys involved, including Murphy, who found the girl a home with a Chicago social worker while the case dragged on.

Shields acknowledged that it was Murphy who in February recommended that the girl be permitted to return to Arizona.

"It was too soon at the time because there needed to be some visits between Alese and her father," Shields said.

Since that time, the girl has had regular visits with Reichart and his new family.

In April, Reichart's wife gave birth to their first child, Hawk Adam, and pictures of a smiling Alese Reichart and her new half-brother were placed Monday on the wall outside the courtroom.

Dad pushes for punishment

Despite his agreement to send the girl back to Arizona, Michael Reichart said he and Taylor have by no means reconciled. In fact, he advocated that the criminal justice system punish her on behalf of himself, his family and other parents whose ex-spouses flee with the children.

"Alese wasn't the only victim in this. I was without my daughter for almost a decade," Reichart said Monday.

"[Taylor] broke the law. I think she should be punished."

Alese Reichart's new attorney, David Pasulka, said he and the other lawyers will monitor the situation to ensure that the judge's order is followed.

"If it is not happening that way, there'll be some more commotion at the courthouse," Pasulka said.

Shields hopes the commotion is a thing of the past. Bringing a rare moment of levity to the case, she told the parties after the agreement was reached: "I wish all of you in this case the best of luck, and may I never see you again."

Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune.