John couldn’t believe it when he was told that his missing kids had been located. 13 years had passed since their mother had disappeared along with them. But this wasn’t a happy reunion. The discovery had uncovered a dark family secret, which proved that there was more to this story than what was seen on the surface.
In the mid-80s, 28-year-old Eileen Van Sant was making a living as a waitress in Georgia. That’s when she met, 25-year-old John Clark, the restaurant’s manager. The two eventually dated. It was a typical boy meets girl scenario and just like that, they had gotten engaged.
In June 1986, Eileen and John said “I do” in Atlanta. Eileen had the couple’s first son, Chandler, two years later. Then, two more precious kids, Hayden and Rebekah followed. Eileen chose to quit her job after recovering from postpartum depression. Instead, she wanted to focus on being a full-time mom. But then out of nowhere, things got bad.
John lost his job in 1993. He spent four months searching for a new job, but he didn’t find one. Then, out of nowhere, he suggested that they move to New Mexico. So, the family packed up their lives and headed to Albuquerque to start all over again. Eileen landed a job and became the bread winner while John worked on his new business, which involved window blind sales. But things only got worse.
John’s business was failing and this was causing issues with his marriage to Eileen. She claimed that he had been verbally abusive and aggressive to her. But things had gotten out of hand and the abuse got even worse. He even made threats that made her afraid for her life and those of her children. Left with no other choice, Eileen made a tough decision in February 1995.
The Clark children were two, five, and seven years old and Eileen knew that taking them away from their father was the best thing she could do. So, while John was out, she left him a note that claimed she had gone to the amusement park with the kids. But soon enough, the children never returned. Eventually, John realized his kids were gone, possibly several hundred miles from home.
A friend in California had given Eileen and the kids a place to stay. But Eileen eventually realized that they weren’t out of danger. John had somehow learned where they were hiding and called her, which led to threats. Eileen feared for her kids’ lives and decided to go off the grid and vanish for good.
Eileen claimed that she told authorities where she and the kids were, but John didn’t have a clue as to their location. So, he sued her, and Eileen was charged in a court in New Mexico for custodial interference in June 1995. But this didn’t matter. It would be another thirteen years before John would hear anything about his kids.
John kept trying to track his children down. He also filed additional lawsuits against his wife, which led to the FBI listing the children as missing. But as the years went by, John started to accept the possibility that he would never be reunited with his kids again. But in 2008, John had gotten a break when authorities had reached out to him.
John’s missing family had been found and officials quickly informed him. But Eileen and the kids weren’t in California, or in the United States. They were now living in Oxford, England. As the investigation continued, it came obvious that Eileen had started a new life, and the kids also had a brand-new stepfather in their lives.
In 1997, the marriage between Eileen and John was dissolved. After that, Eileen and her kids moved to the south coast of England to the Isle of Wight. She then met Scotsman, Ron Woolsey, and by 1999, the two got married. Eileen and her kids had legal rights to stay in the UK, and moved from Scotland to Wales, before settling in Oxford. But as the kids grew, tracking them became a lot easier to do.
Eileen had allegedly kept her kids off the grid by homeschooling them, but she denied any knowledge of her ex-husband searching for her children until 2004. That was the year a friend informed her that her name had popped up on the FBI website as “wanted.” When that happened, Eileen called a lawyer, who told her that the charges of custodial interference were dropped. So, she assumed everything was fine, but it wasn’t.
Hayden told his doctor in 2007, that he’d noticed his name on the FBI’s missing children’s roster. The doctor then reached out to UK authorities, who in turn reached out to US authorities to confirm. An investigation began, which led to the family being found a year later. The kids couldn’t believe everyone back home thought their mom was a criminal.
21-year-old Chandler and 19-year-old Hayden wrote to the FBI in 2009 stating that they were living with their mom, and it was their choice and that they weren’t missing. The FBI named them endangered adults despite the children’s claims. Eileen was arrested and charged with international parental kidnapping in 2010 and extradition was bound to follow.
Eileen publicly spoke about John’s abusive behavior and why she took her kids away in order to avoid extradition. But while she had lots of support in the UK, John had chosen to share his side back in the US. He even went on Dr. Phil. That same year, Hayden and Chandler went to New Mexico to see their dad. But it wasn’t the reunion that John was expecting.
Chandler and Hayden went back to the UK after their brief visit. They had once again severed ties with their dad. But since Rebekah was still a minor, Eileen was extradited and plead guilty to a single count in 2014. Eileen got one year of unsupervised probation, which meant that she could fly back to England. But John never got to be with his kids ever again.