It was just another day for 24-year-old Michael Landers when the doorbell rang at his Minnesota home. But the visitors were the police, and they had some totally unexpected news to share with him. In fact, it was news that would change his life forever.
By all accounts, Landers seemed to have a happy and normal life. He had been brought up in Browerville, Minnesota, by Raymond and Susan Iddings, and at the time law enforcement arrived at his door he had a wife, Bobbie, and a baby on the way.
During that period Landers, his wife and his parents lived together in Long Prairie, a small city located around 100 miles to the northwest of Minnesota’s largest city, Minneapolis. Raymond Iddings, in particular, was well known in the local community.
In January 2013, meanwhile, Landers and his wife were excitedly preparing for the arrival of the latest addition to their clan. Indeed, Bobbie’s Facebook page was filled with ultrasound pictures and photographs displaying a growing bump.
“Mike had a girl’s name picked out since he was younger,” Bobbie, who already had two sons from a previous relationship, wrote on Facebook. “He wants a lil tomgirl and, having two boys, I can’t really see myself having a girly girl. Can’t wait until we find out!”
However, the couple’s excitement would soon have to take a backseat as an entirely new drama unfolded. Unbeknown to Landers, police had been working to track him down for a long time – and, by the time they reached the man’s home, they had finally succeeded in their investigation.
But what happened next would shock the tight-knit community of Long Prairie to the core. Landers, it turned out, wasn’t really named Michael at all. His real name was Richard Wayne Landers Jr., and he’d been legally missing for 19 years.
Furthermore, Raymond and Susan Iddings were really Richard and Ruth Landers, the paternal grandparents of Richard Jr. In July 1994 the couple had fled their home in Indiana, kidnapping the five-year-old boy and disappearing without a trace.
Apparently, the couple had been granted temporary custody of Richard Jr. by their son, also called Richard. Young and out of work, Richard Sr. had felt unable to care for the boy. But when Richard Jr.’s estranged mother, Lisa Harter, remarried and tried to get back custody of her son, the grandparents made plans to leave town with the boy.
Indeed, according to Richard Muntz, an attorney working for Harter, the older couple first took out $5,000 from an account. They then took Richard Jr. to a local restaurant for breakfast and promptly disappeared. In their absence, they were charged with interference with custody; in 1999, though, that charge was upgraded to a felony.
For almost a decade, however, police were unable to find any clues as to the whereabouts of Richard Jr. and his grandparents. Finally, in 2008, without any leads, the charges against the pair were thrown out. “There was no trace of them after they left the restaurant,” Muntz explained, according to a 2013 Daily Mail report.
Then in September 2012 Harter’s new partner, Richard, happened to mention the case to an Indiana State Police agent who worshipped at the same church. That conversation provoked investigators to chase up the missing boy’s Social Security number.
Consequently, this time they struck gold: in Long Prairie there was a man using the very same number. Furthermore, his birth date was a match for Richard Landers Jr. Detectives then duly contacted law enforcement in Minnesota, who launched the investigation that led to the shocking reveal.
Interestingly, however, the case is not as clear-cut as it first appears. According to John R. Russell, who investigated the case back when Richard Jr. first disappeared, Harter and her partner were jobless and living in a car at the time of the abduction. So, in fact, the boy’s grandparents kidnapped Richard Jr. out of love and protection.
Talking about the grandparents, Russell added to the Daily Mail, “These people were nice people. It was wrong for them to do it, but I can understand why. But I also didn’t think that the child would be in any danger with them.”
This sentiment was echoed by Bobbie, Richard Jr.’s wife. In a Facebook post, she spoke out defending the extreme actions that his grandparents had taken almost two decades before. “His ‘grandparents’ didn’t follow the law,” it said, “but they did what was right.”
Meanwhile, Richard Jr. himself was clearly shocked by the revelations, although it’s unclear exactly which aspects from his past the young man was aware of. Nonetheless, he was quick to take to social media to support the couple who had raised him.
In response to coverage of the story on the Facebook wall of local news station KARE 11, Richard Jr. wrote, “For you people who jump to conclusions, you should find out the whole story. I was right where I needed to be. My ‘grandparents’ were in the right and I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
But despite Richard Jr.’s unwavering support for his abductors, both Harter and Richard Sr. were delighted to discover that their son had finally been located. “We always just kept it in the back of our minds that we believed we were going to see him again,” the boy’s father told KARE 11.
At the time, Richard Sr. also said that he forgave his parents for their actions and hoped to reconnect with both them and his son. And although news outlets reported that Richard Jr.’s grandparents might face federal charges for abducting the boy, nothing more has been reported on the case since 2013. Hopefully, then, the family have been able to settle the matter out of court and move on with their lives.