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October 19, 2001

Woman testifies against own daughter

Triplets', 8, allegedly abducted by mother

Francine Dubé
National Post

STRATFORD, Ont. - With difficulty and tears, Toni Vandenelsen, mother of eight and a grandmother, was forced to testify in court yesterday against her own daughter.

Carline Vandenelsen, 38, is charged with three counts of child abduction after allegedly spiriting her triplets from Stratford, Ont. to Acapulco, Mexico in October. Peter, Gray and Olivia, 8, were found in January and reunited with their father, who had been awarded custody in March, 2000.

In court yesterday, Mrs. Vandenelsen described how her daughter pulled her aside after a visit with the triplets, one week before they disappeared.

"Can you keep a secret?" Carline asked her mother.

Mrs. Vandenelsen promised. Carline confessed she planned to pick up the children for a regular custody visit the next week and not return them. She said she felt it was her only recourse, because her former husband, Craig Merkley, 45, was trying through the courts to gain sole access to the children and forbid her from all contact with them.

"I gave her my blessing, I gave her my rosary," said Mrs. Vandenelsen, who is Dutch. "I never liked anybody upset. If somebody is not happy, I am not happy either."

But the secret weighed heavily on her, and she later confessed the plan to a social worker.

"I can keep secrets for presents, but I knew there were lives involved and so I couldn't keep it to myself. I needed to stop this," she said.

Authorities had been alerted to Carline's intentions. The following week, her visit with the triplets was supposed to be supervised.

Mrs. Vandenelsen agreed to supervise. She picked up the children from Mr. Merkley's house for a visit on Oct. 14, 2000. She was so excited to be going to see her grandchildren that she forgot her wallet and driver's licence. She didn't forget to bring them candy.

The ride from Stratford to the farm was cheerful, she said, and at the farm the children played happily, Peter on his bicycle in the yard, waiting for their mother.

Their mother did not arrive until noon or so and she was angry her secret had been revealed, said Mrs. Vandenelsen. It was only with reluctance that she was able to croak out what it was her daughter said to her then: "Mom, I could kill you," were her words, according to Mrs. Vandenelsen.

Later, Carline rounded up the children and told her mother she was taking them to visit her sister Maureen in Kitchener. Mrs. Vandenelsen, gripped by guilt, injured by her daughter's outburst, felt she could not stop her. She watched as Carline drove away with the children. "They said 'Bye, Oma' and waved. I said, 'see you in a bit.' "

Mrs. Vandenelsen called Maureen so many times to ask if the children had arrived that her daughter became aggravated. Later, when she called Mr. Merkley to see if they had been dropped off, they weren't with him.

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