Longform

"I WAS JUNE CLEAVER"

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When she returned, she was ready for battle. She sued Dan in superior court for child-support payments. In March 1987, a judge ordered Dan and Elan to share custody of Justin.

Later that year, in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, Elan married a man named Bobby DeLuna. Strangely enough, she never introduced her new husband to her mother.

Shortly after marrying DeLuna, Elan and Justin disappeared for four months. At this point, Elan called herself "Mrs. Robert (Jodie) DeLuna."

During this time, Elan wrote Dan postcards that are now on file in superior court. They are full of poison and misspelled words.

"The boy will be told that his natural father, a poor unfortunate orphon was killed in an automobile accident instead of the truth about his father the loser who died from AIDS because he was a pig who wallowed with pigs. May you rot in hell loser." This postcard was mailed from Guam.

Some postcards were supposedly from Justin. One read: "Dad. Thanks for ruining the first year of my life. Justin." Another said: "Good Bye Dad from Great Barrier Reef. Mom does not have much money since you took all of hers. We won't have any money for postage or stationary too bad. Hope your `personal life' will console you for replacing me."

Elan also wrote Dan's family. "We are happy to be away from all the trash in Dan's life. Hope you can understand we love you. God bless you."

Reading these cards, it's not hard to see why Dan thought Elan was going to have him killed when he was kidnaped. "They were going to pay lots of money to have me transported by airplane to Guadalajara from Sonora," he says. "They were going to sit in that plane and watch while I was pushed out at a nice 20,000 feet or something."

The postcards may have been mailed from different parts of the world, but Dan suspects Elan was in Hawaii the entire time, arranging to have the cards sent from foreign lands to put Dan off the track.

To fund the Hawaii trip, police found out later, Elan borrowed the credit card of a Scottsdale man named Victor La Tempa. Later, she took his wife's driver's license and used it to build a phony identification when she was on the lam. She had yet another name now: Debra La Tempa.

When Elan and Justin disappeared in 1987, Dan hired a private detective and in four months tracked them down to Hawaii. He grabbed Justin from his mother's arms and fled with him to Scottsdale. Elan was arrested in Hawaii and extradited to Phoenix, where she pleaded guilty to custodial interference.

The postcards were introduced as evidence. After reading them, Superior Court Judge Morris Rozar decided Justin would be better off living with Dan.

Court officials didn't trust Elan. Rozar reminded her not to leave town with Justin. The parole officer said Elan "was probably deliberately sabotaging Mr. Rivera's right to have access to his son."

Dan and Elan were also ordered to undergo psychological tests. Neither Dan nor Elan could have been terribly surprised when the psychologist said their relationship was "highly dysfunctional" and that the two "do whatever they can to get back at each other."

The psychologist said Dan was "impulsive, irresponsible, pleasure seeking and frequently lacking ability to postpone gratification or profit from past experiences."

Elan, the doctor concluded, snatched Justin for reasons "based on self-centered drives rather than the best interest of her child."

A few months later, Elan proved the court officials right. She split again with Justin. This time, she went to Mexico, since she would have been arrested if she stayed in the United States. Dan was furious. In March, three months after Elan ran off, he found the two in a condo in a Mexican village.

When he and his compadres broke into the living room, they did not hurt her, Dan insists. Elan claims Dan entered the house with machine gun-toting thugs, beat her and tried to kill her.

"That is nonsense," says Dan. "I could never kill my son's mother, even if she is a snake from hell. I could never kill her because some day my son would find out. I could not live if my son said, `Daddy, you killed my mother.'"

Elan had warrants issued for Dan's arrest. Within days, posters of him were up all over Mexico. By then Dan and Justin were safe in Scottsdale. This time, Judge Rozar gave Dan full legal custody of his son. Dan was thrilled, and would take Justin with him on wedding gigs where Dan crooned his Hispanic love songs. "I was Donna Reed," says Dan. "I was June Cleaver. I have always been a wonderful mother."

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Terry Greene