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California and the West

Mother Held in Son's 1981 Abduction

Courts: Father says he is looking forward to reunion. Woman is accused of taking boy from family's home 17 years ago.

July 16, 1998|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — High school teacher Robert Decker doesn't know when he will see his son again. It could be a few days. Or maybe weeks or months.

But after 17 years of trying to find the youngster, allegedly abducted by his mother from the family's Camarillo home, Decker figures he is just going to let the reunion take its course.

Ending the longest-running abduction case in Ventura County history, authorities last week found Decker's 17-year-old son living under an assumed name in Twin Lakes, Wis.

That discovery came after Georgia authorities received an anonymous tip and arrested Decker's ex-wife, 37-year-old Linda Sue Decker, while she was visiting relatives in a resort area south of Savannah. She was arrested on suspicion of child abduction and is in a Georgia jail awaiting extradition to Ventura County.

"It's a godsend," said Robert Decker, 51, choking back tears Wednesday during a news conference at Oxnard High School, where he teaches English and drama.

"I dropped to my knees and thanked God," he said of learning that his son had been found. "I understand he's an amazing, wonderful kid. I can't wait to meet him."

Decker has not yet talked to his son, who was allegedly abducted when he was 9 months old. His given name was Morgan George Decker, although that was changed somewhere along the way to Michael. He is a 17-year-old honors student in Twin Lakes and will be a high school senior next year.

His mother had remarried, authorities said, and the teenager believed that her new husband was his biological father.

"I missed [17] important years of his life," Decker said Wednesday. "I never got to teach him how to hit a ball or hammer a nail or work on a car. I don't want to disrupt his life, I just want to be part of his life from here on out."

Investigators with the Ventura County district attorney's office flew to Wisconsin on Tuesday to interview the teenager and start piecing together their case.

Another team of investigators was expected to travel to Brunswick, Ga., later this week to return Linda Decker to Ventura County. She has waived extradition and is being held on $250,000 bail, authorities said.

In cases of parental abduction, authorities said, they would ordinarily move to immediately reunite the abducted child with the other parent. But because the youngster in this case is nearly an adult, authorities said he will continue to live in Wisconsin, and any reunion with his father will be left up to him.

Robert Decker said his nightmare began in 1981 when his wife took their son to visit relatives in San Jose and said she wasn't coming back.

What ensued, Decker said, was a series of court battles over visitation. He said he won a two-week visit in mid-July, when Morgan was about 9 months old. That was the last time he saw his son.

Over the next 17 years, Decker turned to investigators with the Ventura County Dist. Atty.'s Parental Abduction Unit. He even hired a private investigator to follow leads through Alaska, Missouri and Illinois, but the trail always grew cold, he said.

"The most I ever hoped for and prayed for was an anonymous note saying he is all right, he is doing well in school, he is safe," Decker said.

What he got instead, some 17 years later, was an anonymous tip.

Detectives with the Brunswick Police Department were told Friday that a California fugitive was vacationing at nearby St. Simons Island resort, according to Sgt. Chuck Herlihy.

After confirming with Ventura County authorities that Linda Decker was wanted on a felony warrant, detectives conducted a stakeout that led to the arrest.

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