Longform

"I WAS JUNE CLEAVER"

On a July morning in 1989, Dan Rivera tucked a .357 Magnum into the shoulder holster beneath his black silk double-breasted Giorgio Armani suit. He remembers every detail of that morning because it was the last time he saw his child. "I've got my piece, nothing can go wrong," he remembers thinking.

It was an odd thought. Dan was merely taking his two-year-old son Justin to visit his grandmother in north Scottsdale.

But Dan Rivera had reason to worry. For most of his life, little Justin had been bouncing back and forth between parents who hated each other.

Justin's mother Elan Rivera had whisked Justin away from Dan three times, hiding out for months in places like Hawaii and Guadalajara. Dan retrieved the child twice.

Dan had an unusually bitter relationship with Elan's mother Betty Faull. He suspected she had planned and funded the child-snatchings on behalf of her daughter.

On the morning Dan drove Justin to Faull's house, Elan was hiding out in Mexico, eluding an Arizona warrant for her arrest for an earlier child-snatching. She was also making plans to get Justin back.

Each snatching and countersnatching caused Dan and Elan to hate each other more.

Dan calls Elan "the snake from hell" and "the crazy animal." Elan wrote Dan a postcard calling him "a pig who wallowed with pigs."

Faull and Elan accuse Dan, through a friend, of hanging out with gangsters armed with Uzis and teaching little Justin how to sniff through a straw. Dan, forty, denies it all, although his appearance lends credence to the charges. A professional singer who records in Spanish, he affects black outfits and flashy gold jewelry. A publicity photo shows him staring theatrically into the camera with a fur coat flung around his shoulders. Dan says the gangster packaging is necessary for his singing career.

But that doesn't explain why he wears a gun and has bodyguards lounging around his expensive house. Or why he says things like, "If I had wanted the mother dead, she would be dead, especially in Mexico."

And he's not shy about the fact he once went to prison. In fact, he practically boasts about that. In 1977, Dan Rivera was arrested and charged with murdering a Scottsdale drug dealer. The charges were dropped, but Dan served time for conspiring to import heroin. He insists over and over that he's been a law-abiding citizen since he walked out of prison.

Even with all his shortcomings, Dan Rivera still looked like the better bet as a parent. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge gave Dan custody of Justin when the choice was between Dan and Elan.

"The judge gave the child to me," Dan grins, flashing teeth as even and strong as the keys on a Steinway. "Can you imagine what kind of a dog Justin's mother is if the judge took the child away from her and gave him to me?"

BUT DAN HASN'T done much parenting lately. Justin, now four, has been missing for more than a year, ever since Dan Rivera pulled into Betty Faull's driveway on that hot July morning in 1989.

Because Faull's husband had died several days earlier, Dan had agreed to take his son to a family gathering at her house. He figured the mourning grandmother wouldn't try any monkey business.

He figured wrong. Before that day drew to a close, Justin was gone and Dan Rivera thought for sure he was going to be murdered.

After parking his black Cadillac in Faull's driveway, Dan leaned over to the passenger side and released Justin from his car seat. The boy jumped out. Faull grabbed him and took him into the house before Dan had even climbed out of the car.

Like so many events in the life of Dan Rivera, what happened next sounds like a bad made-for-TV movie.

What happened next is reported in documents obtained by New Times from the Scottsdale Police Department. It is substantiated by an indictment handed down last month by a federal grand jury in Phoenix charging Betty Faull, her daughter and two private detectives with kidnaping. What happened next, police say, is this: Two men hired by Betty Faull kidnaped Dan at gunpoint, cuffed him and drove him to Nogales, Mexico, where waiting federales threw him in a Mexican jail.

It all began when Dan heaved his six-foot-one, 225-pound, elegantly clad frame out of the Cadillac in Faull's driveway. Suddenly, a man jumped into the driveway and pointed a .45 automatic at Dan's nose. The man told Dan he had a warrant for his arrest from Mexico.

Dan reached for his holstered gun, but the lapel of his Armani jacket got in the way. As Dan fumbled, another man came up behind him and whacked him on the back with a baseball bat. When Dan didn't fall down, the man dropped the bat and shakily pointed yet another pistol at him. The first assailant, Dan later learned, was a Phoenix private detective named Beaux Marks. The second man was named Christopher Vlasic. He once sold vacuum cleaners.

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Terry Greene