Indian Takers

A war for custody of 4-year-old Raven Laws includes a spurious Alabama tribe

Raven Laws is about 5 percent Indian, according to genetic testing that the Bessingers commissioned last year (at a cost of about $7,000, according to court records).

But the Cherokee River Indian Community isn't a recognized tribe. It explains on its Web site ( that it isn't "a social club or a tribe, but a community of American Indian people who desire to build a better life for themselves and their children."

That alone should have spelled the end of any legal intervention by the community in Raven's case at the Maricopa County courthouse. Also, Raven Laws' natural parents have no known connection with any Indian tribe, recognized or not.

The Bessingers’ attorney, Greg Riebesehl: "It’s very sad what happened."
Laura Segall
The Bessingers’ attorney, Greg Riebesehl: "It’s very sad what happened."
Shelly Walters begged the judge to give her a chance to be a real mom to Raven.
Shelly Walters begged the judge to give her a chance to be a real mom to Raven.

Undaunted, the Alabama group "enrolled" the little girl on November 15, 2006, the day after Judge Flores had ordered Raven's immediate return to Walters. More important, nothing stopped the two Native American women representing the group from taking Raven.

According to Steve Bison, a former Phoenix resident who is the CRIC's director of emergency services, school superintendent, court clerk, fire chief and, yes, head horse trainer, the community numbers about 60 people who live on private land in north Alabama's Lawrence County, about 1,700 miles from Arizona.

He says the Cherokee River community has its own constitution, bylaws, volunteer fire department, tribal council, and court system.

"We're legitimate," the affable Bison tells New Times by phone. "We just want what's best for Raven, and that's the honest truth. I was shocked when the ladies went in and picked up that little girl. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. It was an administrative error, and we're sorry for that."

Bison says his group got involved in the Laws case because of the Bessingers.

"We learned about the situation and did our homework," he says. "I went out to Arizona to the [Bessingers'] home and spoke with the kids there, to get a feeling of how they were being treated. It went from there."

The Native American women kept Raven at a west Phoenix home for two days, until police tracked her down on the evening of January 24 after getting a tip.

The girl was unharmed, and authorities immediately returned her to her mother in Apache Junction.

Brenda Byers and Iva Marie Badoni, both Phoenix residents, were charged with kidnapping and custodial interference.

The media soon went away.

But the profound issues raised during this quirky case decidedly did not.

If history is any indicator, the odds of Shelly Walters holding it together — staying off meth, keeping a job, and following through on CPS services — may be slim.

She is a twice-divorced 40-year-old (she and Marty Laws never married) whose drug troubles often have overwhelmed her ability to adequately parent her three children, Raven and two teens.

But Walters has fared surprisingly well since getting Raven back from the Bessingers in November, according to available child-welfare reports.

As for the Bessingers, they also have much to answer for, especially their role in Raven's kidnapping. But at heart, they seem to be guilty mostly of having exercised poor judgment about their evolving role in Raven's life.

"It is clear that Raven is well-cared for and very much loved by [the Bessingers]," an attorney appointed as a court adviser in the case told Judge Flores last year.

But, as the judge recently noted, "the Bessingers are not the parents. It is not an equal situation. They are not on equal footing with the mom."

The judge made a critical distinction.

Arizona and federal law make it difficult for judges to terminate parental rights, even when a case involves parents who seem unfit to care for anything.

The entrenched concept of "family preservation" means child-welfare officials must make "reasonable efforts" to give natural parents every opportunity to win back their children.

For example, on November 14, the same day Flores ordered Raven back into the custody of Shelly Walters, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed termination of a mother's parental rights involving her two children.

A trial judge had ruled earlier that the mother showed "poor parenting skills, poor decision-making and inadequate protection of children."

But the appellate court said "the best-interest standard does not permit termination because a child might be better off living elsewhere. Termination should not be used to merely reallocate children to better and more prosperous parents."

How to balance "family reunification" with a child's health and safety is a slippery slope for state legislatures, governors and judges. For starters, it can be political suicide to oppose anything with the word "family" attached to it (with the exception of the Manson Family).

By law, CPS must investigate when it learns of alleged wrongdoing against a child by a parent or guardian, whether it's neglect or outright abuse. But the agency doesn't just grab kids willy-nilly on the sole basis of an allegation and spirit them away into mysterious foster-care homes.

CPS files "dependency petitions" only if it finds evidence of immediate danger to a child and if the parents seem unable or unwilling to provide minimally adequate care.

But terminating the rights of parents in Arizona and elsewhere remains the exception rather than the rule, according to the Child Welfare League of America.

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Since this article ran, Marty Laws has been serving time at ASP Kingman for a class 3 felony theft charge from 2006 and is listed with another charge of danger/repetitive/enhanced due to his previous charge from 2002 of class 4 dangerous drug violation. Laws sentence expires 10/2012 or can take the flat sentence for 08/2013.

Since this article ran, Rochelle Walters served probation for a criminal shoplifting charge in 2008, has had two 2008 traffic violations, one resulting from no license plate or registration, and the other for driving without lap belts. Was she driving her children around without restraints and no plate or registration? Rochelle/Shelly's latest violation occurred in Kingman as a local traffic charge in June of 2011. She has racked up five traffic charges, one forgery charge, and eight criminal charges since 2002. I am amazed how many times she has gotten away with only probation and anyone with a track record like hers usually has records going back to when they were eighteen. She was 36 years old in 2002. This mother has not changed her spots and probably will go to great lengths to point the finger in the other direction in future predicaments. Who really fooled who in this case?


Its funny how people can pass judgement on others when they don't know anything about the people involved or the whole story, they act like they've never made mistakes, that people can't change, "once a druggie always a druggie". So when a persons life is open to the public especially in a case such as this its easy for all those "perfect" people to give all thier negative imput. These people can't see past the surface so it's a good thing they don't hold jobs in CPS or making decisions as a Judge. Charolette Driver and Judge Flores did a great job seeing things for what they really are, not being blindsided by the Bessingers. What the public didn't know was that Jack was a BAD alcoholic, Anita's own daughter Carrie was a heavy drug user, in and out of jail. People can change. I want to thank Judge Flores and Charolette Driver for everything they did.It's been almost four years, it's amazing they all got away with it. But this beautiful 8 1/2 yr old little girl doesn't remember Jack. Aneta or anything from then, she's very happy having with her mom, dad,brother and sister


Okay once again this is krystal haag three years later from my comment I made a while ago. Check this out. I am now 18 my mom has done the best she could ever do. We live in a nice house she has all three kids living with her. And the thing is she is doing this all on her own with no one to help. And also the thing with the bessingers or I should say jack and annita. They sexualy molested my sister. Why the fuck would we appreciate them doing that to her. My sister never wanted to be with them she would scream and cry when they had cuxtody n we were on a visit. She didn't want to go with them. But reading these comments none of you have room to say who a bad mother is. Cuz u all can fuck off. My mom is an excellent mother so get ur guyss story straight before you critisize!

Arizona Observer
Arizona Observer

As to the 2 women who kidnapped Raven -- they have still not been charged with kidnapping -- they are still out there.

Arizona  Mom
Arizona Mom

Yes, I too had a custody case going on with Judge Anderson, who, by the way, is the only decent and smart judge I have come across in family court, its a shame he left. Judge Flores came into my case not knowing a darned thing about what she was supposed to do but they go ahead and let these "judges" cut their teeth on complicated family law issues. What a joke! She is completely ignornant and spent most of her time saying "I've never seen this situation before", "It's never come across my desk." "I haven't really experienced this."...excuse after excuse like that's supposed to make you feel better. How about checking with the former judge and get a professional's opinion instead of blindly making WRONG decisions and ruining children's lives. I feel sorry for this child who was taken from the only "real" parents she knew. DNA is just DNA, why do you think there are adoptions, Judge Flores should know that. Take a child from a caring home and give her to drug users and former convicts? Arizona, and the family court system here is disgusting...I've experienced it first hand, but stories like this one really make me sick, but mostly sad.....sad for the kids that Arizona claims to look out for the "best interests of". That's the only blanket statement they ever make, why? Because it covers up a multitude of sins and these judges NEVER have to explain their actions...they just go home at night to their cozy homes and families. I don't care how much this mother "allegedly" (which I don't buy for a minute) cleaned up her life, it was too little, too late.

krystal haag
krystal haag

well i think what the bessingers did is fucked up not what shelly did...the two ladies who came and got raven are devils to me...this is krystal haag and i am the daughter of rochelle walters and i was the one who was there when raven got kidnaped...everyone who was invovled stinks because my mom is a great mother and she always will be...she changed her life to make ours better so stop critisizing my mom it is very rude...thank you by by

Janie Snowden
Janie Snowden

This was a good one. I heard about it from the TV and wondered what was going on here. What was going on was very complicated, but Paul Rubin, whose stories I love, put it together. The problem is, I'm still not sure where I stand on the case. Nothing is easy in life, I guess. You can print this if you want, or just forward it to Mr. Rubin.

Janie SnowdenTempe AZ

Ralph Ontiveros
Ralph Ontiveros

That was a really interesting story that I read from the start to the end. I started off thinking that the old couple was getting screwed by the system, but then they hired the Indian tribe to keep the mother from getting that little girl. In the end, I guess Raven is going to have a hell of a time making it in life. Nice job. Ralph Ontiveros


The Bessingers didn't spend their personal money caring for Raven or for any of the children they have; they obtain donated funds from a number of sources and use these funds to run the unlicensed home they have. Some genuine, good things were done -- and so were so truly horrific things like kidnapping and false accusations. They aren't exactly innocent in this whole matter.


I'm just wondering how long it will be before the Bessingers' decide that they need to be compensated for all their time spent carrying for Raven. Honestly, it doesn't sound like her mother has been too grateful of the fact that they've raised and cared for her daughter. I wouldn't hold it against the Bessingers' for wanting to be reimbursed their time and money.

And I completely agree, CPS is a joke. Anyone trying to do right by a child knows that CPS is completely incapable of doing what's in the best interest of a child and worries more about the rights of their shitty parents.


This is one fucked up saga, and while its great that everything is working out for little Raven I got to point out a few things. One the Bessingers went overboard, no matter their motivation they went about it the wrong way, lying about cops showing up at your house to harrass you? come on. And if there was indeed abuse why did they take so long to report it? Two Walters seems very ungratful for the 3 years of free child care she got. Not to mention half the damn statments shed made contradict the rest of her claims, seems neither side is a shining beacon of truth.

And THREE this story just goes to show you how fucking incompotent the morons at CPS really are, this witch Driver found it disturbing that the "drug felon" father was staying at the Bessingers' house with his daughter(Never mind the fact that moomy is a druggie too). She uses the "drug felons" presence as partial justification to remove the girl from the Bessingers' care, and then goes on to endorse him as the childs primary care giver while mom is at work? WTF?!?!?! The guy keeps skipping out on his drug tests. I hate CPS with every fiber of my being. And if this woman is such a good mom why is she letting a child(her teenage daughter) decide whether or not she will babysit her litle sister?

And what is up with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office? They can indict children as adults in child porn cases but they cant make a case againts two self admited kidnappers?

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