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California and the West

Adoption Case Pleases No One but Tabloids

Custody: Transatlantic battle for twins continues, despite Southland couple's exit from the dispute. The British press has had a field day.

March 11, 2001|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four sets of parents, two sets of names, screaming headlines in the British tabloids and on "Geraldo." Life has been eventful for twins Kiara and Keyara--and they're not even a year old.

Where, and with whom, the infant girls will wind up has occupied several judges and even more talk-show hosts. The field of parental claimants thinned a bit last week when a California couple withdrew, but the transatlantic battle over the babies continues.

Will they be returned to their birth mother, who twice placed them with adoptive families but now wants them back? To their birth father? To the British couple who paid an adoption facilitator more than $12,000 and renamed the girls Kimberley and Belinda? To none of the above?

The twins' tale is something of a tragicomedy:

Four families have given them homes, yet they have no real home.

The most fundamental of human bonds--that of child and parent--is at issue, yet the British tabloid press is discussing which of the twins' parental suitors has body odor.

The girls are named--with contrasting spellings--after a character in the "Lion King" sequel.

And one of their would-be parents was even recently arrested on suspicion of molesting two other girls.

Richard and Vickie Allen, the San Bernardino County couple who first pursued the twins' adoption, dropped their legal claim for the twins last week after Richard pleaded not guilty to three counts of lewd acts on a minor and one count of indecent exposure.

He is accused of molesting two sisters, 14 and 12 at the time of the alleged incidents, at his Highland home. One of the girls baby-sat the twins. Her sister had looked after a 2-year-old boy the Allens were adopting.

The boy was removed from the Allens' home by authorities after the arrest, and Richard Allen said he and his wife were throwing in the towel in the fight over the twins.

"Our priority is the return of our son Andrew to our home," he said.

Kiara and Keyara came into the Allens' life last year after the couple paid $6,000 to a San Diego County adoption facilitator they contacted over the Internet. The twins' 28-year-old mother, Tranda Wecker of St. Louis, says she found the facilitator, Tina Johnson, in the local yellow pages.

Jobless, divorcing the twins' father and with three other young children, Wecker decided to place the 4-month-old girls through Johnson.

But a couple of months after the twins moved in with the Allens, Wecker took them away for a brief visit and never brought them back.

Wecker's attorney, Gloria Allred of Los Angeles, says her client retrieved the infants because she had developed concerns about the Allens, based on time she had spent with the couple when they met the twins.

A less flattering interpretation has been that Johnson turned up another couple, Alan and Judith Kilshaw of Wales, willing to pay more, $12,200, to arrange an adoption.

Allred says that the money went to Johnson and that her client never received a penny.

Regardless of why Wecker took the twins back, under California law she had three months to change her mind about placing them up for adoption.

The outpouring of public sympathy for the Allens when the case first hit the headlines was misguided, Allred insists.

"It's nonsense," she said in an interview last week. "A birth mother in California has 90 days to change her mind, and within the 90 days she did change her mind."

Wecker handed the babies to the Kilshaws, who took them to Arkansas, which requires only a 30-day residency for adoption. Then the British couple flew home with the girls to their farmhouse and several other children.

The Allens were not happy. The case became news and the British tabloids went into full throttle, where they have stayed.

"Surely the twins deserve better than this hapless bunch," blared a March 4 headline in the Sunday Express. The 1,800-word article went on to say that "no Hollywood film could re-create the squalid intrigue and heartbreak which began last October."

The piece also quoted adoption facilitator Johnson as saying that Mrs. Kilshaw smelled. In reply Kilshaw told the paper that she and her husband bathed daily while in America.

In the meantime, British social service officials removed the twins from the Kilshaws' home and placed them in a foster home, where they remain.

The Kilshaws, the Allens and Wecker have appeared on American talk shows, arguing over who should have the girls.

The San Diego office of the FBI launched a probe of possible wire fraud in the case, but the agency will not say precisely whom it is investigating.

The Allens and Kilshaws went to court. The infants' father petitioned for custody.

Last week the Arkansas judge who approved the Kilshaws' adoption overturned it, saying that neither the Kilshaws nor Wecker had met the state's residency requirement.

According to Allred, the Arkansas judge also found that the Allens had no legal standing in the case, because they never completed the twins' adoption and Wecker had the legal right to take her infants back.

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