Toronto Star

Oct. 20, 2001, 02:00 EDT

Child tells trial how he hid in car trunk

Dianne Wood
The Toronto Star

STRATFORD — Hiding places and strange languages were part of life on the run for Stratford triplets taken to Mexico last fall, jurors at Carline Vandenelsen's abduction trial heard yesterday.

Peter Merkley, one of the triplets carried off during a visit to their maternal grandmother's house just outside Brantford Oct. 14, provided a child's-eye view of a long, and sometimes frightening journey.

His evidence was introduced in the form of a statement to spare the 8-year-old boy from having to testify in person at his mother's trial in Superior Court in Stratford.

Vandenelsen, 38, has pleaded not guilty to abducting her two boys and one girl in contravention of a court order giving custody to their father, Craig Merkley.

Vandenelsen's mother testified that she knew of her daughter's plans to take the children away and had told police and the Children's Aid Society.

In his statement, Peter Merkley said Vandenelsen took him, his brother Gray, and sister Olivia "to Mexico and the United States because it was far away. Mom took us because she didn't get to see us enough."

Jurors heard earlier this week that under an interim court order, Vandenelsen was seeing her children every second Saturday.

But a judge had warned he might deny all access to her children when she returned to court for a final decision on Oct. 23.

The children's trip across international borders required great secrecy.

"We had to hide in the trunk of the car when we went over the border because they would know we were THE kids," Peter Merkley said.

"Once we got across the border, we celebrated and had ice cream."

In other testimony yesterday, a financial planner described how Vandenelsen contacted him on Sept. 7 to redeem her RRSP savings of $26,000.

The money was transferred into her Bank of Montreal account in Thorndale by Oct. 2.

Beth Knowles, manager of customer service at the Thorndale bank, testified Vandenelsen came in on Oct. 10, wanting to withdraw all $56,000 from her account.

Knowles told her the bank didn't have that much cash on hand because they'd had no prior notice, and Vandenelsen was annoyed, she said.

The trial continues in Stratford on Monday.

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