Not all relationships have a happy ending and when love comes to an end, children often pay the biggest price. When parents decide to go their separate ways, children are usually left in the middle. While this can be hard on any kid, if the parents don’t work their differences out in a civil way, we can witness a shocking and tragic story.
This is exactly what happened when a 5-year old, Richard “Ricky” Chekevdia, disappeared for more than two years after being kidnapped by his own mother. Believing this was for the benefit of her son she committed a crime and rightfully paid for it in the end.
A Child Is Born
The protagonist of our story, Richard Chekevdia, was born in 2002. His parents Shannon Wilfong and Michael Chekevdia were dating for a while when they had Ricky. Unfortunately, the couple decided to separate before he was even born.
This was the beginning of the long fight over custody of the child, which at the start seemed most likely to be resolved in a civil manner.
Shannon and Michael decided to share the custody of their child despite ending their relationship with many serious differences. But for the sake of Ricky, they ended things amicably and agreed to a joint custody.
The decision was a sound one. For a while, the parents managed to put their differences aside in order to ensure Ricky’s wellbeing. But this was not meant to last long.
Living the Soldier’s Life
Michael was a part of the National Guard of the Illinois Army and he was sent to Iraq soon after Ricky was born. The duty he performed to his country was admirable but it would affect his ability to spend time with his son.
The Iraq duty meant that he would not be able to see his son as frequently as he liked but he never missed the chance to visit Ricky whenever he came back home.
Keeping Ricky Away
Despite their initial agreement, Shannon started to keep Ricky away from Michael and neglect the fact that they had joint custody over their son. Michael was not able to see his son as often as he wanted.
After some time, Michael decided to seek help from the authorities and did what he thought was the only thing that would allow him to be a part of his son’s life.
Going to Court
The decision that Michael made was to engage Shannon in a legal battle and take her to court over the custody of their son. But Shannon never showed up at the court and Michael received temporary custody of the child.
Despite the court’s decision his victory in court would never translate to actual custody over his son, at least not after another legal battle that awaited him in the future.
The Kid Disappears
Michael did not expect that the failure of Shannon to appear at the court was a signal of something much more frightening – the disappearance of Ricky. It was back in November of 2007 when Michael realized that both Shannon and Ricky were nowhere to be found.
At first, Michael was not sure what happened and believed, or rather hoped, that Ricky and Shannon will turn up soon. But he was, unfortunately, very wrong about this.
Shortly after Michael realized that Ricky is gone, both he and Shannon were put on a “Missing Persons” list. Michael suspected from the start that Shannon was responsible for Ricky’s disappearance, a suspicion soon confirmed by the authorities.
A month later, in December of 2007, the authorities have issued an arrest warrant in Shannon’s name and she went from a missing person to being on the “Wanted Persons” list.
The Search Continues
Ricky’s father cooperated with authorities in searching all the places where Shannon could be and where she usually goes. The search was extensive but yielded no results. The boy and his mother were nowhere to be found.
Michael started to lose hope and couldn’t think of any place where they could be. But one particular place seemed like a possible lead – the home of Shannon’s mother.
Meet Diane Dobbs
Diane Dobbs, Shannon’s mother who was very close with her daughter, become a person of interest in this shocking story. She allowed the authorities to search her house but it was all in vain – Ricky and Shannon were still missing.
But that is not the end of Diane’s involvement in this peculiar case. She was about to become a major player in the disappearance of Ricky Chekevdia.
Facing Abuse Accusations
Soon after Diane was interrogated and her house searched, she started accusing Michael of sexual abusing Ricky. She claimed that this was the reason why her daughter didn’t want to let Michael see his son at all.
She even put up signs in her front yard and shared flyers in her neighborhood, accusing Michael that he won’t take a lie detector test about the alleged sexual abuse.
Denying the Accusations
After these very serious accusations, Michael immediately reacted saying that he never did or never would abuse his son. These accusations and attacks on his character prompted Michael’s suspicion about Diane’s involvement in Ricky’s disappearance.
This led him to believe that Diane was aware of his son’s whereabouts and that she was protecting Shannon. That is why he decided to pay closer attention to Diane and her house.
A Suspicious Activity
Michael believed that Ricky was hidden and being kept somewhere in Diane’s house. He had no proof of this but he was still convinced. In addition to his gut feeling, there were also some shady things about Diane’s house that he soon noticed.
He claimed that her windows “were blocked off by drawn shades or other items, presumably to prevent anyone from peeking inside.” But that was not enough for the authorities to conduct another search.
Time Slowly Passed
Time went on but Ricky and Shannon were still missing. Eventually, two years passed since Michael saw his son for the last time. It was obvious to Michael that Shannon had Ricky hidden somewhere but he couldn’t find out where.
His suspicions could not be taken as evidence and he feared that he may never see his son again. But his gut feeling was confirmed true after a surprising turn of events.
A Glimmer of Hope
After so much time without any information, authorities received an anonymous tip in September of 2007, suggesting that the police perform another search of Diane’s house. This was a surprise for the authorities but they felt that there could be some truth to it.
While the tip is anonymous and a bit vague, the police acted on the tip and again visited the grandmother’s home in Franklin County where Diane lived with her fiancé.
The Clue Was There
Unlike the previous search of Diane’s home, the police was now determined to find something that would lead them to Ricky’s whereabouts. For a while it seemed that the cops would once again end up empty-handed but that was about to change soon.
The police officers noticed a dresser that was set up against the wall in an unusual way, like it was meant to block something. Quickly, they started to move the dresser.
The Boy Behind the Wall
When the cops moved the dresser out of the way, a hole in the wall appeared in front of them. The hole was long about twelve feet and around five feet wide. The hole was also more than 3 feet tall.
When the police entered this hole in the wall, they immediately found Shannon and Ricky inside, hiding in plain sight. The end of the saga was finally at hand.
A Positive Surprise
When Michael heard the surprising news, he was shocked but obviously happy. “I was skeptical at best that something might happen. When they notified me that they had found him, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”
Michael also said that he always believed that his son was kept at Diane’s house. At the very least, he was sure that Diane was somehow involved in the case.
So Close but Still Far Away
The fact that Ricky was just three miles away from Michael’s house seemed like a cruel joke to the boy’s father. Ricky was so close all this time but he couldn’t see him or talk to him. It was frustrating, especially since he suspected this turn of events.
He explained how this ordeal affected him in many ways – “Two years? You have no idea… I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lost weight. I’ve gained weight. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
One Case Closed, Another Opened
Once the boy was safe, the police took Diane, her fiancé and Shannon into custody. Everyone was relieved that Ricky was finally found, particularly the police officers who conducted the search – everyone except for Shannon and Diane.
The missing child case ended when Ricky was found but now the authorities had to deal with child abuse charges that were about to be brought up against Shannon and her mother.
What About Ricky?
According to Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Stan Diggs, who was at the scene at the time, Ricky was happy to be outside. “We let him out of the car, and he ran around like he’d never seen the outdoors. It was actually very sad.”
Sergeant Diggs was surprised that Ricky was in high spirits. “For someone who’s been isolated in that house with no other outside beings, he’s a very social, very polite, very talkative little boy.”
Not Yet Reunited
While Ricky was feeling well and happy, it was obvious from his appearance that he was badly neglected. He was thin and looking rather pale from not being allowed in the sun at all. Still, the boy was happy to finally be outside.
Ricky was immediately placed with relatives in southern Illinois and Michael now had to wait to officially receive custody of his son. After waiting two years to see him, the end to his ordeal was not yet imminent.
The System at Work
Michael was relieved to learn that his son was alive and doing well but he was also eager to get Ricky back into his care. However, he was aware of the due process that needed to take place and he was ready to wait it out.
He said that “It’s hard to sit back and watch things happen when you’re used to making things happen. But I just bided my time and let the system work.”
The authorities continued their investigation and found out that the infamous hole in the wall was just one of a few different hiding places inside Diane’s house. Some of them included a hole in the floor and another similar hole in the wall.
All of these new discoveries proved that the kidnapping was carefully planned, despite Diane claiming later that the hole in the wall was there when she bought the house.
Defending Her Actions
Diane Dobbs insisted that her actions were meant to keep Ricky safe and that “In two years time, the boy spent maybe five minutes” hiding in the hole. She said that the boy was very smart and that Ricky was homeschooled by Shannon.
She said that she was surprised that her neighbors claimed that they have never seen Ricky since he was allowed to go outside, according to Diane.
Good Morning America
Dobbs even went further in her defense when she gave an interview on Good Morning America. She claimed that her grandson was often outside, going fishing, helping in the garden, etc. “We’ve done fireworks on the 4th of July.”
She was adamant that she has done nothing wrong and that her only goal was to protect the child. However, the authorities didn’t see it the same way.
Facing the Charges
Despite her excuses, Dobbs and her fiancé were charged with aiding and abetting a felon, while Shannon was charged for child abduction. This was not surprising and the court was now tasked with a decision on their punishment, as well as granting custody of the child.
Still, despite everything, Dobbs maintained her previous claims about Michael abusing his son as the case went on. “There’s never been a thorough investigation. That’s what this family wants.”
Court Battle Raging
Shannon was later brought up with additional charges of neglect because Ricky was not allowed to go to the doctor, to school and ultimately have a normal life like other children. The neglect charges meant that she could receive a longer sentence.
The trial lasted 4 months, during which time witnesses shared that the boy was only allowed outdoors during the night despite the claim’s of the boy’s grandmother who said that he did go out during the day.
After four months in court, both Shannon and Diane pleaded guilty to the charges. With the overwhelming evidence against them and the possibility of a serious jail time for Shannon, pleading guilty was the logical end to the trial.
In the end, Shannon received a sentence of one month in jail and $1,500 in fines, plus two years probation. Dobbs was sentenced to 12 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.
The judge awarded Michael the full custody over Ricky, while Shannon was allowed to pursue visitation rights in court. After many years, Michael was finally given the chance to take care of Ricky. He was not about to let that opportunity go to waste.
Ricky and Michael were finally reunited and they Michael wanted to make sure that they spend as much time as they can outdoors – going rock climbing, swimming, hiking, etc.
A Fine Young Man
Over a decade has passed since these events transpired and the main actor’s in this drama are doing well. Ricky is now in high-school and with the help of his father he was able to become a fully-functioning member of society.
Ricky has grown a lot under his father’s care and today he is a fine young man, participating in various sports and other social activities like a normal high-school boy.