London Free Press

Friday, October 19, 2001

Dad wanted ex-wife's access cut

Accused's mother tells of Vandenelsen's plan to take off with kids.

By JANE SIMS, Free Press Justice Reporter
London Free Press

STRATFORD -- The father of triplets who disappeared a year ago admitted yesterday at his ex-wife's abduction trial that he planned to cut her out of the children's lives.

Craig Merkley, testifying at Carline Vandenelsen's trial, said he first discussed having her access cut off at a pre-trial hearing in November 1999.

Vandenelsen is charged with three counts of abduction in contravention of a custody order after she and the triplets disappeared and were found in Acapulco, Mexico in January 2001. They had been missing since Oct. 14, 2000.

Merkley said it was "a long, slow process" to reach the point where he wanted Vandenelsen's access denied. The case had been in and out of court since December 1995 when he was given interim custody of Gray, Peter and Olivia, now 8.

A four-week trial to set custody and access was held the next month. In March 2000, Superior Court Justice Robert Abbey awarded custody to Merkley and ordered Vandenelsen pay $568 a month in child support. Vandenelsen was temporarily granted access to the children every other Saturday and a week in the summer.

But Abbey postponed a final decision on Vandenelsen's access until Oct. 23, 2000. The triplets disappeared nine days before that date.

Vanden-elsen was in tears as Merkley told defence lawyer Clay Powell he had "very, very serious concerns" about his ex-wife's parenting skills. Merkley said he thought it was right to deny Vandenelsen access at least until the children were older.

Powell suggested in seeking sole custody, Merkley would have put Vandenelsen in the same position he was put in when the children disappeared.

But Merkley said there was a "big difference" because she would have known the children were looked after.

"Do you agree that sometimes desperate people do desperate things?" Powell asked.

"I suppose," Merkley said.

Powell said Merkley never discussed his interim custody application with Vandenelsen, who found the legal papers in his car in 1995.

The jury also heard from Vandenelsen's mother, Antonia Vandenelsen, who testified her daughter told her "a terrible secret" two weeks before the children disappeared, that she planned to take the children.

She said her daughter told her Merkley was going to take the children and she would never see them again.

The secret "was getting heavy on me," so she told a social worker, the Children's Aid Society and Stratford police.

Later, Carline Vandenelsen told her mother her plan was off.

Antonia Vandenelsen said she picked up the children for their regular visit with their mother on Oct. 14, 2000. They went to the family farm near Brantford and she planned to have them back to Stratford that evening.

Carline Vandenelsen showed up in the afternoon angry and threatening and said, "Mom, I could kill you," her mother testified.

She told her mother she was taking the children to her sister's home near Kitchener.

"I said 'You bring them back because I have to bring them back' " to Merkley, Antonia Vandenelsen testified.

Later she called the sister, who told her Carline Vandenelsen wasn't there. That evening, she called Merkley who said the children hadn't arrived.

The trial continues today.

Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,