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Authorities Say Mother Fled With Girl, 5 : Crime: Child was to be returned to her legal father, who is unrelated, after visit. Friend says Catherine Thomas feared losing visitation rights.


A Thousand Oaks woman who, in a highly unusual case, recently lost custody of her 5-year-old daughter to a man with no biological ties to the girl, has fled with the child and lost her visitation rights as a result, authorities said Friday.

Catherine Fay Thomas walked out the door of her home Thursday evening with her daughter, Courtney, and did not return, according to the child's legal father, Douglas Kevin Thomas, and the mother's roommate, Deborah Dickson.

Their disappearance occurred about 7:45 p.m., toward the end of a monitored visit when Courtney was supposed to return to the Van Nuys home of Kevin Thomas, as he is known. Catherine Thomas phoned Dickson about 15 minutes later to say she was with a friend in Thousand Oaks, adding: " 'They cannot have my daughter.' "

Catherine Thomas fled apparently because she feared that Kevin Thomas was trying to end her visitation rights, an unspeakable prospect for the single mother who also has two sons, said Dickson.

"She panicked . . . she thought she was never going to see her daughter again," Dickson said.

Kevin Thomas said that he and the child's mother were scheduled to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday morning but only to discuss the location of visits and to choose a new monitor, required because Catherine Thomas fled once before with the girl.

"We were not asking for her visitation to end, that was not what we were going in for," Kevin Thomas said.

As a result of Catherine Thomas' disappearance, however, Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin revoked her visitation rights and issued a warrant for her arrest.

Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas and his attorney, Glen H. Schwartz of Encino, said they have notified police and plan to contact the child-abduction unit of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Schwartz said prosecutors will have to determine whether Catherine Thomas--who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child stealing as a result of her flight last year--violated the terms of her three-year probation.

Kevin Thomas and his lawyer also alerted the media Friday, releasing photos of the girl and saying they were concerned about her medical needs. Born with a rare condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome, Courtney is mildly retarded, blind in one eye and has heart defects.

Catherine Thomas was not present during Friday's hearing.

Her attorney, Arnold Freedland, said the revocation of visitation rights was not necessarily a permanent measure. Once the child is returned, he said, the judge could review the matter and reinstate Catherine Thomas' visits.

The dramatic events cap a convoluted and bitter custody battle between Catherine Thomas and Kevin Thomas, two former friends who were never married, never lived together and never had sexual relations.

Kevin Thomas, who is openly gay, persuaded Goldin last month that he had played a significant enough role in young Courtney's life to deserve paternity rights and primary custody. Catherine Thomas was granted monitored visits with the child three weekends a month and on selected weeknights and holidays.

The monitor has been Kevin Thomas' longtime lover, Robert Thomas Johnson. One of the issues that was originally going to be discussed in court Friday was alleged harassment of Johnson by Catherine Thomas' 16-year-old son, according to Kevin Thomas and Catherine Thomas' friend, Dickson. Freedland and Dickson denied the allegation.

Kevin Thomas claims that he and Catherine were very close friends who had discussed raising a child together. When she became pregnant by a boyfriend, there was no question that he would assume the role of father, he says.

After Courtney Thomas was born on Feb. 8, 1988, Kevin Thomas--whose original name was Douglas Kevin McCain--was listed as father on her birth certificate. About three months later, he legally changed his name to Douglas Kevin Thomas to match that of the girl and her mother.

Kevin Thomas claims he took such an active role in the girl's daily care and education that Courtney believed he was her father.

He says he filed suit seeking formal paternity rights to Courtney after Catherine Thomas fled to her native Vancouver with the child following a financial dispute.

But in a series of recent interviews with The Times, Catherine Thomas described Kevin Thomas as an extremely aggressive, manipulative man who insinuated himself into her life and became obsessed with her daughter. He managed to gradually wrest away the child because he is a more persuasive person than she is and had more money to spend on attorneys, she says.

"I feel like I'm living in upside-down world," Catherine Thomas said recently of her predicament.

She denied ever agreeing to raise Courtney together with Kevin Thomas. Instead, she said she was a single mother who appreciated his friendship and generosity toward Courtney and her sons. And, at the same time, she said she included Kevin Thomas in holiday and family celebrations because he was gay, didn't have children of his own, and she felt sorry for him.

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