Sunday 21 January 2018

Mother who hid her son for two years in bitter custody dispute pleads guilty, escapes jail

Richard Chekevdia
Richard Chekevdia
Shannon Wilfong, mother of Richard Chekevdia, exits the Franklin County Courthouse. Photo: AP
Shannon Wilfong (right), mother of Richard Chekevdia, exits the Franklin County Courthouse with her mother, Diane Dobbs, and Dobbs' boyfriend, Robert Sandefur. Photo: AP


A SIX-year-old American boy who went missing in 2007 was found hidden behind a wall in his grandmother’s house in a bitter custody battle.

Richard Chekevdia was hidden in a crawl space for up to two years whenever visitors arrived at the rural Illinois house.

His mother Shannon Wilfong, 32, pleaded guilty to five misdemeanors, including obstructing a peace officer.

She was ordered to spend two years on probation and pay $1,500 in fines when she appeared at Franklin County Courthouse in Benton Illinois this week.

Her mother, Diane Dobbs, also pleaded guilty to obstruction and escaped additional jail time when the judge credited her with the 12 days she'd already been behind bars. Dobbs, 53, was fined $US1000.

The boy, who is now nine, now lives with his father Michael Chekevdia, Wilfong's one-time boyfriend who has been granted custody.

His mother began hiding him in late 2007, n a crawl space - roughly 1.5 metres by 3.5 metres, about the height of a washing machine so that his father would not gain access to him.

The child was not allowed to attend school, make friends or even attend medical appointments and the windows of the house were blocked off with shades.

He was only allowed out at night or in a private fenced in area at the rear of the house

Police raided the rural home in September 2009 and found the boy. His mother and grandmother were arrested.

His grandmother claimed that they had taken the action to protect him from abuse by Chekevdia, a former police officer and an Illinois National Guard lieutenant-colonel.

However, both Chekevdia and child welfare officials have rejected these allegations.

During months of custody hearings after the boy was found, his mother was prone to outbursts and once briefly walked out of one hearing, clutching a wad of tissues.

Dobbs' boyfriend, 53-year-old Robert Sandefur, was originally accused of having a role in hiding the boy, though those charges have been dropped.

Wilfong pleaded guilty to the charges in order to be able to see her son whom she had not had contact with in four months, her mother said after the hearing.

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