SAN DIEGO — Brian Batey, the boy at the center of an extraordinary custody fight between his fundamentalist mother and his homosexual father, left his late father's Palm Springs home Wednesday evening with his mother "for a hamburger" and has not returned.
Batey, 16, left the house in shorts and without shoes, telling his father's long-time companion, Craig Corbett, that he would be back in about an hour. The teen-ager's mother successfully fought child-stealing charges after disappearing with the boy for more than a year in 1982.
Corbett said Thursday that he believes the boy was "abducted." But a Palm Springs police officer, who had accompanied Betty Lou Batey to the house that Brian shared with his father and Corbett, reported that "no crime . . . occurred."
"It would seem to me that the kid's with his mom," added police spokesman Fred Donnell. "Certainly this guy Corbett, though he may have known the kid for a long time, has no legal standing (in the matter)."
Brian's father, Frank Batey, won custody in 1982 after Mrs. Batey refused to respect his visitation rights. Ten days later, Mrs. Batey, now living in San Diego, picked up the boy for a weekend visit and disappeared with him.
They resurfaced in 1984, and the boy went to live with his father while his mother was charged with child-stealing. This May, a judge in San Diego threw out the charges. Frank Batey, who was stricken with AIDS, died last Friday during surgery.
According to Corbett, Mrs. Batey and her father appeared at the house shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday. They were accompanied, at their own request, by a Palm Springs police officer "to keep the peace," police spokesman Donnell said.
Corbett and the officer said the boy went outside to speak with his mother, then went inside and put on a shirt. Corbett said Brian told him he was going out for a hamburger and would be back in an hour.
Brian Batey's custody remains unclear in light of his father's death. Although lawyers have said that judges tend to transfer custody in such cases to the surviving parent, they also note that a judge would take into account the wishes of a child as old as Brian.
United Press International quoted the boy last week as saying he hoped to remain with Corbett.
The Bateys were married in 1969 when both were members of the United Pentecostal Church in San Diego. Brian was born in 1971. The couple divorced in 1975. The ensuing custody case first attracted national attention when Mrs. Batey fled with her son seven years later.