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Saturday, October 20, 2001

Mother hid us in trunk, boy says

Triplet abduction trial

Francine Dubé
National Post

Stratford Beacon Herald
A year ago, Carline Vandenelsen spirited her three children away from their father into hiding in Mexico. She now is on trial for abduction.


STRATFORD, ONT. - The jury trying a woman on charges of child abduction yesterday heard her eight-year-old son's description of how he and his siblings were spirited from Ontario to Acapulco last year.

"Mom took us because she didn't get to see us enough," read the statement, entered into court by Crown attorney Henry Van Drunen. "She took us to Mexico and United States because it was far away."

Peter, Gray and Olivia, triplets born to Carline Vandenelsen and Craig Merkley on New Year's Day, 1993, went missing on Oct. 14, 2000. They were recovered in January in Acapulco. Ms. Vandenelsen, Mr. Merkley's former wife, is charged in their abduction.

Both the Crown attorney and defence lawyer Clay Powell agreed that rather than bring the triplets into court to testify, Peter's written testimony would be read into the record.

"We drove all the way," Peter wrote. "We had to stop in a whole bunch of hotels. My favourite place was Halifax because the people talked English. We rented a place by the water and stayed there a week.

"We had to throw away our bikes because we couldn't go over the border with them. We had to hide in the trunk of the car when we went over the border because they would know we were the kids. We practised hiding in the trunk. When Mom turned up the radio three times, that was the signal to be really quiet."

He said they crossed the border into the United States, then drove to Mexico. Once they crossed the border they celebrated with ice cream, Peter wrote.

He said they flew from Mexico to Panama -- because it was cheaper there and farther away -- but were refused entry because they did not have the proper documents.

"We stayed in the airport on a beat-up couch in Panama. We had to fly all the way back and once we got to Mexico we got an apartment. We had to shop for groceries every day because there wasn't a lot of food. Mom had no job, she didn't have a lot of money.

"We left the car abandoned in Mexico because people know the licence plate. Mom threw out the licence plate into the bottom of a garbage can. I think she locked the key in the car. Then we walked and walked and walked everywhere.

"Sometimes I was scared. I thought I would never see my Dad again."

Earlier in the day, two witnesses testified that Ms. Vandenelsen made plans to withdraw large sums of money in September and October, 2000.

A London financial planner said she called him early in September, 2000, to redeem $26,000 in RRSPs as soon as possible. By Oct. 2, the funds had been transferred to her Bank of Montreal account in Thorndale. On Oct. 10, she tried to withdraw the entire balance -- $56,000.

The case for Ms. Vandenelsen's defence is expected to begin Monday.

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