Indian Takers

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

Certainly, though, CPS would have stepped in had it gotten wind of what was happening in the self-destructive lives of Raven Laws' parents shortly before her birth in 2002.

But Raven would slip under the radar of CPS and its foster-care system when Shelly Walters went the private route for her new daughter, after happening onto Jack and Aneta Bessinger.


Greg Riebesehl questions his client, Jack Bessinger, during the custody battle.
Greg Riebesehl questions his client, Jack Bessinger, during the custody battle.
The Bessingers tried almost everything to keep Raven from her mother, including a claim that the little girl was of Native American heritage.
The Bessingers tried almost everything to keep Raven from her mother, including a claim that the little girl was of Native American heritage.

Shelly Walters and Marty Laws were in dire straits when Raven was born on November 28, 2002.

Laws was an unemployed 42-year-old tweaker with serious physical problems. He apparently didn't even know he was Raven's father until after the little girl's birth.

Walters told a probation officer in 2002 that she'd started tweaking at the age of 21, which would have been in 1987, before meth became an evil drug of choice for many. She said she tweaked daily starting in the mid-1990s.

A county grand jury indicted Walters in early 2002 on forgery and identity theft charges. Later that year, police re-arrested her on additional charges of possessing meth.

By then, she was pregnant with Raven.

A question arose of who would take care of the newborn if Walters was sentenced to prison, which appeared likely after she pleaded guilty in October 2002 to two counts of forgery.

For various reasons, her family members were unavailable.

Another female inmate at the county jail offered Walters a possible solution. The woman mentioned that her mother ran an unofficial group home for at-risk children in the desert north of Phoenix.

Called Embrace, the 4,500-square-foot residence isn't part of the state Department of Economic Security's foster-care system. As such, it hasn't been subject to CPS oversight, which is supposed to include training, background checks and monitoring.

Embrace receives no government funding and relies on donations from churches and private individuals. The owner of a small Phoenix business, Jack Bessinger has poured thousands of dollars into the home, which his wife operates.

The home finds its children (two or three live there at a time, according to court testimony) by word of mouth. Some kids stay there short-term, while others call Embrace home for years.

By all accounts, the Bessingers have created a nurturing and safe place.

Shelly Walters and Aneta Bessinger first spoke by phone shortly before Raven's birth. They struck an unwritten agreement that the Bessingers would assume parental and financial responsibilities for the baby while Walters was incarcerated.

Raven's birth was without complications, but the intense mother-daughter relationship lasted only until authorities soon returned Shelly Walters to jail.

The Bessingers took Raven into Embrace, where she would live for about the first year and a half of her life.

Shortly before Walters was sentenced on January 22, 2003, she wrote to county Judge John Gaylord that "sending me to the DOC will only keep a family separated longer and deny a newborn baby that chance to bond to her mother. She's in a foster home now only because her father has cancer and can hardly take care of himself much less a newborn baby. But I will get her back when I'm released to go home."

The judge didn't bite and sentenced her to 18 months in prison, with credit for time already served.

Walters was released on probation in January 2004. Aneta Bessinger later testified that she learned of Walters' release only after prison officials returned unopened letters the Bessingers had mailed to her.

That March, Aneta informed CPS that Walters had "abandoned" Raven, a possible first step toward termination of the mother's parental rights.

But a subsequent CPS investigation sided with Walters.

Caseworkers apparently believed Walters when she claimed she hadn't immediately visited Raven because she first wanted to get her feet on the ground — drug rehab, a place to live, community-service hours and employment.

Embrace was the only home that Raven had ever known. She had bonded with everyone there, including her surrogate parents and siblings (the other at-risk kids), and with a horse named Miracle.

She was healthy and safe.

But in late June 2004, the Bessingers — with no legal hold on the child — unhappily turned over Raven to Shelly Walters.

Within a month, however, the couple filed a dependency petition against Walters in county court, saying she was incapable of adequately parenting Raven, then nearing her second birthday.

The Bessingers alleged in part that Walters wrongly had reported Raven as kidnapped when she was trying to get her child back, and that 10 sheriff's deputies had come to Embrace after authorities issued an Amber Alert.

Aneta Bessinger also claimed she had seen Shelly Walters pull Raven's hair and fling the little girl against the furniture at Embrace.

CPS again investigated and learned that Walters had called the sheriff's office but that no patrol cars had been dispatched to Embrace and no Amber Alert issued.

CPS recommended dismissal of the Bessingers' petition, and a judge agreed.

Shelly Walters was allowed to keep her daughter.

But she couldn't hold herself together.

In January 2005, Walters and her teenage son were charged with shoplifting at a Mesa store and later pleaded guilty. That April, court officials sought to revoke Walters' probation, alleging that she had used meth at least six times since the previous September, among other misdeeds.

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11 comments
Shocked
Shocked

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?

Shsalways
Shsalways

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

Krystal_haag
Krystal_haag

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

Sharon
Sharon

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.

Bonnie
Bonnie

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.

John
John

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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