Indian Takers

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

"Their involvement made it look like the whole thing was staged by the Bessingers to keep the mother from getting Raven."

By the end of last summer, both CPS and Judge Flores' court adviser were recommending increased visits between Raven and her mother in supervised and unsupervised settings.

"[Walters] has fought hard to try and gain custody of her daughter and has agreed to do whatever it takes to have her daughter in her care," Driver wrote positively to the judge on July 31, 2006.

David Hollenbach
Superior Court Judge Lisa Daniel Flores ruled in favor of Raven’s mother.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Daniel Flores ruled in favor of Raven’s mother.

That night, state police stopped Marty Laws and another man in a pickup truck on U.S. 60, less than an hour after a break-in at a Rent-A-Center store in south Phoenix. Inside the truck, the cops found a television set, three laptop computers and ripped-up price tags from the store.

They booked the men on theft charges.

As the evidentiary hearing in Raven's custody case neared last September, the Bessingers' attorney hurled a curveball at Flores.

Greg Riebesehl asked the judge to cancel the crucial hearing because Raven had tested positively for Indian blood — all of 5 percent — and that a Native American tribe should take over the custody case in its own court system.

"Marty Laws' ancestry traces to the Cherokee people," the lawyer wrote, noting that the Cherokee Nation had assigned a caseworker to investigate the Laws case.

The only accurate piece of the account was that the Cherokees — an officially recognized, 250,000-strong tribe based in Oklahoma and North Carolina — had assigned a caseworker.

But as early as October 2004, that caseworker had written to an associate of the Bessingers, "[Raven] will not be considered an 'Indian child' in relationship to the Cherokee Nation as defined in the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. Therefore, the Cherokee Nation is not empowered to intervene in this matter."

Flores also didn't buy the Bessingers' Indian ploy and ordered the evidentiary hearing to go forward.

Attorney Stephanie Stromfors, the court adviser to Flores in the case, best summed up the knotty situation toward the end of the emotionally charged hearing.

"While Mother has a history," she said, "Mother is trying her best to overcome that history . . . While I genuinely believe [the Bessingers] care for Raven, and I genuinely believe Raven cares for the Bessingers, their judgment is clouded and they are not [allowing] Mom to have the relationship that she should have with this child."

On November 14, Flores issued an eight-page ruling in favor of Shelly Walters.

"At some point after Raven's birth, Mother was released from incarceration and sought the return of Raven," the judge wrote. "A tug of war began, with Raven caught in the middle."

That was it in a nutshell.

Flores concluded that the Bessingers "are not credible. There are examples in both the CPS reports and in testimony to this court of [the couple] greatly exaggerating the truth to support their efforts to keep Raven."

The judge scoffed at the "last-minute" efforts by the Bessingers to try to preempt her with the Indian Child Welfare Act, "notwithstanding the fact that no Indian tribe had sought to intervene."

Flores' order gave Shelly Walters permission to take immediate custody of Raven from the Bessingers.

She also ordered Walters to participate in services offered by CPS, though she wouldn't allow Marty Laws to have contact with his daughter until further notice.

Despite ruling for Walters, the judge said the Bessingers were entitled by law to visitation rights for a few hours every other weekend in a public place.

That arrangement would last for all of two months.

New Times recently asked Brenda Byers what she was thinking when she and a accomplice took Raven Laws from her mother's home.

"As an officer of the court, I cannot comment," Byers replied in a phone interview.

She was asked, in what jurisdiction does that court sit?

"The Cherokee River Indian Community. I work with the juvenile court, and so I cannot comment. Please talk to Dr. Steve Bison in Alabama, and he can answer your questions."

The 55-year-old Bison was an important figure in the events that led to Raven's kidnapping on January 23, and its aftermath.

He says he used to live on Arizona's Gila River Indian Reservation, worked as a chaplain at the state's Adobe Mountain juvenile detention facility, and is a permanently disabled veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

Bison also says he earned a doctorate at Arizona State University "in criminal law, with a specialty in Indian law."

However, an admissions official at ASU could find no record of Bison's matriculation there.

Bison's name and correct e-mail address did pop up on a Web site dedicated to creating phony degrees from a phony institution called Gesellschaft University.

A note ostensibly written by Bison on the site says, "I did my best to bullshit everyone I have met and owe my special talent to Gesellschaft University. I am a master at everything decietful [sic], lowdown, dirty and shameful."

What is true is that Steve Bison serves in many capacities for the Cherokee River Indian Community.

Public records in Lawrence County, Alabama, show that Gene and Klieta Bagwell bought 40 acres in the Bankhead National Forest in 1979. The CRIC was founded in 1998, with Gene Bagwell as its chairman.

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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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