Steven Riddell Abduction Case

From XFamily - Children of God


Julie Riddell first met Peter Bevan Riddell in February 1981 and joined The Family shortly thereafter. They were married in September 1981 and their son, Steven, was born in May 1982. In early 1983, they moved to Sydney, Australia. By this time, Julie had become disillusioned with life in the cult and began to have doubts about raising her son in it. However, her husband remained committed to the organization and wanted to go overseas to be a missionary. The Riddells soon came to an informal agreement to live together in a home separate from The Family even though Mr. Riddell remained a committed member. However, local Family leaders began to pressure Mr. Riddell to leave Australia and his "backslidden" wife and, according to Mrs. Riddell, offered him assistance, including financial support, to abduct Steven and flee Australia. In July 1983, Mrs. Riddell found a letter in Mr. Riddell's wallet from Family leader Louris May Yamaguchi (Keda) in Hong Kong offering him money and other assistance to take Steven to Japan. However, according to her own account, Mrs. Riddell still had faith in her husband and didn't believe he would betray her by kidnapping her son. According to her account, when she confronted Mr. Riddell, he strongly denied that he intended to leave the country with Steven, stated that he didn't want to be separated from her and threatened to commit suicide if she left him or left with her son. Mr. Riddell's threat to kill himself if she left him was especially persuasive and emotionally harmful to Mrs. Riddell because not long before both her father and her brother Phillip had committed suicide.

However, Mrs. Riddell later discovered that while Mr. Riddell was threatening suicide and denying any intent to leave the country with Steven, he had in fact, with the assistance of Family leaders in Australia and elsewhere, already begun making careful plans and preprations to abduct Steven and flee the country. Mrs. Riddell later discovered that her husband and Family leaders had been plotting the abduction for months and had gone to great lengths to deceive her. On October 17, 1983, Mrs. Riddell returned home at 11am and found a note from Mr. Riddell stating that he taken Steven for a "ferry ride" and would "be back after lunch." However, Mrs. Riddell waited several hours and her husband failed to return with her child. It was then that she noticed some things were missing from the their home, including her passport, Family publications, correspondence, address books and other items. Later that afternoon, a courier delivered a large envelope sent from the Sydney airport with a small note inside from Peter Riddell stating that he left the country with Steven. In a desperate panic, Mrs. Riddell called the police and her solicitor, Graeme Glarke from the law firm of Clarke & Patrick to report the abduction and to obtain assistance in finding her son. Mrs. Riddell soon discovered that her husband and her son had left Sydney that afternoon on a flight to Manila, Philippine Islands and had also booked a flight from Manila to Tokyo, Japan. However, Mr. Riddell had also booked a flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong and his final destination was unknown. On the following day, October 18, 1983, the Family Court of Australia at Paramatta, in an unprecedented order, granted Mrs. Riddell "sole custody and guardianship" of her son Steven. The order further specified that Mr. Riddell was to "have no access to the said child of the marriage" and ordered that Steven be immediately returned to his mother. Upon further investigation, it was determined that Mr. Riddell had filed a fraudulent application to permit Steven to travel on his passport and that the application contained the forged signatures of Mrs. Riddell and two non-existent witnesses in what appeared to be Mr. Riddell's handwriting. The Family Court also ordered that the fraudulent endorsement of Steven on Mr. Riddell's passport be cancelled. On October 20th, 1983, the Sydney Passport Office cancelled the endorsement of Steven on Mr. Riddell's passport and in lieu thereof endorsed Steven on the passport of Mrs. Riddell.

Desparate to get her son back, Mrs. Riddell made plans to immediately travel to Japan to find him. However, this seemed an almost impossible task as she had no idea where to even begin. Her attorney tried to dissuade her from travelling to Japan and advised her to just be patient and wait for the authorities to find her son. However, Mrs. Riddell was relentlessly persistent and her attorney eventually agreed to accompany her there. Also determined to help her daughter and find her grandson, her mother took out a loan on her house to obtain the money to pay for the high legal fees and travel expenses. After arriving in Japan in November 1983, Mrs. Riddell hired a private investigator and with the assistance of her attorney and a sympathetic journalist began searching for her son. Eventually, some information that might lead her to discover her son's whereabouts began to trickle in but she soon became frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation and the bureaucratic delays of the various agencies involved. Finally, Mrs. Riddell obtained the address of a house near Tokyo where she believed her son might be. Upon further investigation and surveillance, it was determined that the house was in fact a Family Home and that her son might be there. Late one evening in December 1983, Mrs. Riddell entered the house, found her son and took him with her. After a confrontation with Mr. Riddell and intervention by the police, Mrs. Riddell was finally able to return with her son to Australia. The full story of these events, in Mrs. Riddell's own words from a recorded interview with Dorothy Collins from Reader's Digest in April 1984, can be found in the Multimedia section below.

Mr. Riddell was later arrested in Japan and deported to Australia where he was found guilty of committing forgery and making false statements to facilitate the unlawful abduction of Steven Riddell.



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  • Julie Riddell Interview Part I (46:48, 21.4MB) — Part I of an audio recording of Julie Riddell's interview with Dorothy Collins from Reader's Digest in April 1984.
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