Father still searching for kidnapped son 2 years later
How to help:
Anyone with additional information or questions regarding this case should contact:
Texas Department of Public Safety, Missing Persons Clearinghouse by phone at 512-424-5074 or 1-800-346-3243.
SAN ANGELO - John Stanley Earl Sr. last saw his son two years ago - two days before Father's Day.
The father and son, of Mason, were playing I Spy in the car, waiting for Earl's ex-wife to pick up the boy for a weekend visit.
When she didn't bring then-7-year-old John Earl Jr. back to Mason at the end of the weekend, it turned his family's life upside down.
"When I first met her we both agreed our kids would come first, and I believe she lost perspective on that," Earl said. "I would hope she would gain that perspective back and John would come first over our own needs, wants and desires."
After the mother, Maria Teresa Earl, failed to return John Jr., Earl went to her apartment in Temple and found it empty. He called 911 in Temple and was told there was nothing they could do.
Although he is hopeful he'll see his son again, Earl said he's also disillusioned with a system he feels can't help him.
"Why spend all this time and money for something that means nothing to the law enforcement agency?" he said.
Earl and his mother, Judy Uherek, each hired a private investigator - Charlie Parker, of San Antonio, and Logan Clarke, of Clarke International Investigations, of California - when they felt they were getting nowhere with law enforcement agencies.
The Mason County Sheriff's Office, Victoria County Sheriff's Office, Texas Ranger Joel Timms and federal investigators all are involved in the case.
Although the case has no roots in Victoria County, Uherek used to live there and has connections with the sheriff's office, which is assisting in the investigation.
Since the investigation began, Uherek has done extensive Internet research in an attempt to find her grandson.
"It's frustrating when you trust, and you let all this time go by because you think someone is working trying to find them," Uherek said. "What if this was their child or their grandchild? They'd figure out a way to find them."
In August 2013, she reached out to Royger Harris and Logan Clarke, investigators who helped return two kidnapped boys to their father in Williamson County. The two cases, Clarke said, were similar.
In the Williamson County case, the mother fled with her sons to Mexico, but they were later returned to their father.
Law enforcement efforts
Mason County Sheriff Buster Nixon is one of five officers responsible for Mason County, population about 3,400.
"We're still hunting him, but we haven't found him yet," Nixon said of John Jr.
Nixon, who has been with the department six years, said the kidnapping was the first he's seen.
When the abduction took place, the parents were in a custody battle, he said, and the office considered it partially a civil issue.
Law enforcement agencies follow guidelines when they issue an Amber Alert, including confirming an abduction has taken place with stranger abductions being the most dangerous type - determining that the child is at risk of serious bodily injury or death and ensuring there's sufficient descriptive information on the child and suspect.
Nixon said he is aware the Uhereks and Earl are not impressed with his department's work in the investigation, but law officers' hands were tied to some extent.
"That's the hardest thing in the world when you don't know where your kid's at," Nixon said.
Victoria County Sheriff Investigator Charles Williamson joined the search for John Earl Jr. on Oct. 18, 2012, at the request of Uherek.
Williamson said he interviewed Nicole Teresa Paredez, Maria Teresa Earl's daughter, when she was pulled over on a traffic violation. When he asked about where her mother was, Paredez said she didn't know.
"I don't believe she was completely truthful with me," Williamson said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't hold her on anything."
Paredez declined to comment for this story.
No missing person report has been filed for the boy's mother, authorities said.
Although he can't issue subpoenas, Williamson has kept up with Clarke's findings and is assisting in ways he can, such as getting the missing person information on electronic billboards in Victoria County.
He also ran checks on a car that was used by the mother and found parked at a friend's home in Temple. The car had been there for more than a year and had not crossed the border into Mexico, it was revealed.
The mother's family is from Mexico, and law enforcement officers believe she has family there.
Williamson is waiting to hear from a Mexican consultant in San Antonio who he wants to speak to about extraditing the mother if she is found in Mexico. Victoria County investigators and private investigators believe Maria Teresa Earl is with her mother, who they also cannot locate.
"This lady kinda dropped off the grid," Williamson said about Maria Teresa Earl. "She's not using her information or credit cards."
Waiting for answers
Abuse allegations were voiced against John Earl Sr., Williamson said, but nothing was found to support those claims.
Clarke said cries of abuse are common in cases he's worked, but most of the time, the abductor is more likely to be abusive or neglectful.
He'd like to see more pressure placed on Maria Teresa Earl's family - a tactic he used in the Williamson County boys' case.
If Maria Teresa's family members were arrested and high bonds were set, they would be more likely to call her and petition her to return the child, Clarke said.
"They lose all their support," he said. "You find the minute you start locking up daughter, mom will come out of hiding."
Earl's case is the second he has worked in Texas. Clarke hasn't returned to the state in connection to the case because of the expense involved.
When he did visit, he requested to see Mason authorities' file on the case and, when he was denied access, began visiting places the mother was last seen.
In November, Clarke and another investigator found that the boy's mother had rented a U-Haul in Temple a day before she disappeared.
Earl, who spoke with a neighbor at Maria Teresa's apartment when she failed to return John Jr., said he was told Maria Teresa and Nicole Paredez had been moving things out of the apartment the night before.
Clarke doesn't know whether law enforcement has subpoenaed phone records or followed up on other records.
"They'll do it if it's a murder or bank robbery," Clarke said, "but it's not important that this child is kidnapped by their parent?"
According to his missing person poster, John Jr. has a small scar on the back of his neck. He was last seen wearing a green T-shirt, khaki shorts and gray shoes.
Earl said his son enjoyed reading and watching musicals and plays, such as "The Sound of Music," "Into the Woods" and "Oliver!"
Even though he's not with him now, Earl is grateful for the time he did spend with his son - cheering on the Mason Punchers football team at state, playing computer games and reading storybooks together.