Indian Takers

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

Over time, the Bagwells have sold parcels of their property to their own organization.

The community has established several non-profits, including a funeral and cemetery/cremation firm, the Silverwolf Horse Sanctuary, the Black Warrior Mountain American-Indian Church, and the Alabama Minority Consumer Council.

Through its Web site, the group also offers a prepaid Visa card with a tagline on it that says, "Building a future for our children."

The sales pitch says 3 percent of the loaded card value will be "donated" to the CRIC for "economic development and housing."

A March 2005 story in an Alabama newspaper described how Bucks County, Pennsylvania, firefighters had donated about $15,000 of equipment to "Chief Bison" and the CRIC's fledgling volunteer department.

However, a curious attempt in 2004 to get bulletproof vests through a U.S. Justice Department program fell short.

Steve Bison tells New Times that he first heard about Raven Laws last year.

"Our children are the only future that Indians have," he says. "All we have left is our kids. Our concern is not the parents; it's the child. I told the Bessingers that our involvement might mean that neither they nor the mother would have contact with the child. They were okay with that. All we want is for Raven to be protected. You know, Ms. Walters is not the mother of the year."


In early January, Shelly Walters filed a handwritten request with Flores to stop the twice-monthly visitations between Raven and the Bessingers.

Among other things, she alleged that Aneta Bessinger was continually telling Raven that "I'm the bad person that took her away from them [and] that she is Raven's mom."

On the morning of January 23, the judge prepared to hear testimony on the issue of the Bessingers' continued visitation. But first, she announced from the bench that, the day before, she had gotten a missive on the CRIC's letterhead from Charles T. Brandle, who said he was a tribal Juvenile Court judge pro tem based in Arizona.

Brandle had alerted Flores that the Alabama tribe was going to intervene in the case because Raven was an "enrolled" member.

Flores didn't buy it.

"This is a Family Court proceeding, and there is no possibility of foster-care placement or of termination of parental rights," she said, which alone would have rendered the Indian Child Welfare Act inapplicable.

The judge certainly wasn't the Bessingers' ally, but she also didn't seem eager to totally sever their connection with Raven.

"It strikes me, Ms. Walters," Flores said, "that you voluntarily placed Raven with the Bessingers when you found yourself in the position of being incarcerated and being pregnant. They did help out in a difficult time."

"Yeah, they did," Walters replied.

"You were using them as your backup when you were unable to take care of [Raven] for whatever the reason was, so she developed a bond with them. I don't know if it's unfair to Raven to say, 'I'm fine, the Bessingers can go away.' "

That said, the judge disallowed any more visits between Raven and the Bessingers until after a court-appointed psychologist rendered an opinion.

Shelly Walters returned to her Apache Junction home after the hearing to check in on her older daughter and Raven.

That's when she learned about the two Native American women and the sheriff's deputy who'd knocked on the door, showed her 14-year-old daughter the Alabama Indian community's paperwork, and quickly left with Raven — all as the hearing had been going on in Mesa.

Extremely upset, Walters contacted both law enforcement and Flores' staff. The judge ordered the Bessingers and Walters to return to court at 4 p.m., before which she wrote a memorandum about the wild turn of events:

"The tribal representatives took custody of the child without legal authority and with knowledge that their actions violated the custody order of this Arizona court. The Bessingers have proven themselves again to be unwilling to abide by this Court's orders. The tragic result of this latest effort is the 4-year-old child was taken from her home by complete strangers and is being held in a 'safe house,' the location of which is unknown to all the people who love and care about her."

Flores said she would be conducting hearings every day until Raven's safe return to her mother.

News of the bizarre kidnapping (and, of all things, while using an apparently unwitting sheriff's deputy as a dupe and a prop) was the lead story on Phoenix television on the evening of January 23.

The next afternoon, attorney Kimberly Pugh appeared for the first time on behalf of Shelly Walters. Pugh said she had actually spoken by phone a few hours earlier to one of the kidnappers, Marie Badoni.

Pugh said Badoni claimed to be a court advocate for "17 tribes," and that the Bessingers had hired her and Brenda to grab Raven.

"She swears up and down that she doesn't know where the child is," Pugh told the judge. "She said, yes, the child left with Brenda . . . they have both helped kidnap the child."

During the hearing, the judge learned from the bench that Brenda Byers had been taken into custody in west Phoenix.

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My Voice Nation Help
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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