ROCHESTER, N.H. — As private investigator Monty Curtis sat at an outdoor cafe in downtown Portsmouth on Wednesday, he was only a few communities away from the place where two small children were abducted by their father 25 years ago.
It was an abduction that sparked a nationwide search and investigation that Curtis and others have followed for 25 years.
The case began on Oct. 9, 1986, when Charles Martin Vosseler, 44 at the time, told his wife, Ruth Parker, with whom he was separated, that he was taking their two young sons, Charles Jason (C.J.) Vosseler, then 4, and William Vosseler, then 2, to visit family. The trio never returned.
While there have been sightings of Vosseler since, his whereabouts are still unknown. Vosseler is wanted by the FBI for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and for parental kidnapping.
And while the case may be decades old, there are still several agencies and organizations investigating it today.
Curtis has been involved in the case twice throughout its 25 years, beginning in 1988 and then again in 2006, after having drifted away from the case years before.
Now, he and several other investigators are continuing to search for the man who Curtis describes as “meticulous” and “narcissistic” — a man whom Curtis said he believes is likely living in plain sight.
When Charlie met Ruth
Ruth Parker met Charles Vosseler in 1981, when she answered a personal ad he placed in Mother Earth News. They began communicating through letters and by telephone, and a few months later met in person for the first time at Niagara Falls — his pick, Parker said.
Parker was living in Madison, Wis. at the time, but it was not long before she moved to Newton, N.H., where Vosseler was living at the time.
Parker said it was his openness and honesty that drew her to him initially.
“Given the circumstances, some might find that amusing,” she said Thursday from North Carolina, where she currently resides. “It turned out to be an illusion.”
Parker said Vosseler also seemed to embrace the notion of living a simple life and living with little government intrusion, something that she, too, was committed to.
Still, it was his desire to have children that was particularly attractive, Parker said.
“By that time I was in my 30s, and he was a proponent of having children, which was certainly a draw,” she said.
About a year after meeting, Vosseler and Parker were married, and began moving around the country buying foreclosed and distressed houses, fixing them up, and selling them for profit.
When the couple had their first child, C.J., about a year later, the family moved back to New Hampshire, where they stayed with Vosseler’s parents in East Kingston when they weren’t flipping houses.
Vosseler dabbled in real estate, in the stock market, holding yard sales and even horse racing, Parker said, before the family settled in Rochester and he opened his own real estate business in the city.
Parker described Vosseler as a typical family man, saying he was always kind to her and their sons.
“In the beginning he was around home a lot,” she said. “As a caregiver of the children, he was supportive of my efforts but he didn’t do the child care. He always told me that when the kids were 2 or older, he would help.”
And while Parker said she never would have thought her husband was capable of taking their children from her, Curtis said that in his talks with Vosseler’s ex-wives, he’s determined that he was likely planning on abducting any children that he had.
Curtis said that Vosseler’s first wife told him that when the couple separated, Vosseler told her they were lucky that they did not have children and that if they did, they wouldn’t be staying with her.
“She thinks she would have been a victim of the same circumstances,” Curtis said.
Because of this information, and other information collected as part of Curtis’ investigation into Vosseler, Curtis said he believes Parker was a victim from the start of their marriage.
“I think his ultimate goal was to find someone with a decent background and with a high intelligence who could bear his children,” Curtis said. “I think it was by design that he married Ruth for the simple reason of giving him children and that he was probably planning this all along.”
Parker, too, said that while she never thought of herself as a victim during their marriage, she realized on the day of the abduction that her husband had been planning the crime for a long time.
‘He took them because they’re his’
It was a Friday evening in October 1986 when Parker said she got a call from Vosseler saying he had taken the kids to visit some of this family and that he wanted to keep them there until Saturday. By this time, the couple had separated and were living in different homes, sharing custody of C.J. and William.
“I was unhappy about it because Saturday was my day off and I was looking forward to seeing my children,” Parker said.
Still, she relented and said she wanted the kids back by Saturday. On Saturday, however, Vosseler called again and said the kids were having fun and that they wanted to stay until Monday.
When Parker didn’t hear from Vosseler by Monday morning, she said she decided to go down to his realty business and give him a piece of her mind, assuming he would be back at work and that the kids were likely with a baby sitter.
When she arrived, however, the door was locked, and as she pounded on the door for someone to let her in, an employee of the company walked out with a box of office supplies and told her Vosseler had unexpectedly closed the company down Friday and told all employees that they no longer had a job.
“That’s the moment I knew for sure that something was wrong,” Parker said.
Parker then went to the family’s home, where Vosseler was still living, and found that all of her possessions were gone. Pictures of the boys and Charlie were also taken, Parker said. In fact, the missing posters later created used stills from a video taken by a neighbor due to the lack of photos of the children.
Parker discovered her name had been removed from their joint checking accounts and credit cards, and Vosseler had withdrawn thousands of dollars from accounts Parker didn’t even know existed.
Vosseler had even shut down Parker’s automatic payments from their checking account to her car loan, so that by the time of the abduction she was months behind on payments and her car was about to repossessed.
“I guess he thought if I was busy holding my own life together I couldn’t do much to find them,” Parker said. “He meticulously thought this out.”
Parker said she was panicked as she learned of the things her husband had done before leaving, realizing that he must have taken the kids without planning on bringing them back.
“Do I think he took them because he loves them? No,” she said. “He took them because they’re his, just like he took all of our other possessions; just like every nickel he ever made he knows where it went and he got the majority of it.”
Police and missing children organizations were involved in the abduction of the boys right away, but the initial investigations yielded no results.
“The reality of the times was that folks weren’t very sympathetic,” Parker said. “It took me five months and a New Hampshire state senator to get the FBI involved.”
By 1987, the FBI had a federal warrant out for Vosseler’s arrest.
And while the FBI, local investigators, private investigators and missing children organizations have been working to find Vosseler and the boys ever since, there has been no known contact with them by law enforcement.
The last 25 years
Despite this lack of contact with Vosseler since disappearing, there have been numerous sightings of the man, some more promising than others, Curtis said.
Curtis first became involved with the case in 1988, when his wife, who worked with Parker at the time, suggested he work on the investigation.
He spent much of the next few years speaking with Vosseler’s family and friends, sometimes traveling across the country to track down anyone who might know Vosseler’s whereabouts.
He also started conducting surveillance on members of his family, but said the interviews and surveillance were not successful.
A break in the case came in 1989, however, when Curtis said he got a call from an organization called Child Find, who received a tip that Vosseler was living in Stillwell, Okla. The organization said they got a tip from a woman claiming to be Vosseler’s girlfriend who had seen a missing poster of the children and Vosseler and was certain that her boyfriend was the man they were looking for.
The FBI was contacted, and agents went to the house nine days later — a delay that Curtis and Parker said they believe may have cost them finding the children.
When authorities arrived at Vosseler’s reported home in Stillwell, they found the house and car burned to the ground and no one in sight.
Curtis said investigators still don’t know how Vosseler was tipped off, but said that soon after the incident a note was found in a P.O. box rented to him that read, “The feds are coming.”
“This case has been riddled with weird things like that,” Curtis said. “How would he know that, unless he used eavesdropping or has connections?”
As the years went by, there were a number of other possible leads, Curtis said, but none of them proved to be Vosseler. The attention paid to the case, both by the FBI, local authorities, and Curtis himself also dwindled until very recently, Curtis said.
It was in 2006 when Curtis began thinking about the case again and Googled it to see if it had ever been resolved. After learning that Vosseler and the children, who would now be in their late 20s, were still missing, Curtis tracked down Parker and told her he wanted to start working on the case again.
“A lot more has happened because of [Curtis’] involvement,” Parker said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s top drawer.”
Never stop looking
Around the same time Curtis became involved in the case again, Rochester police and the FBI were also increasing their attention to the case.
Rochester police Sgt. Anthony Deluca has been working with the FBI on the Vosseler case since about four years ago.
Deluca said Thursday it was a call from a missing children organization checking to see if C.J. and William Vosseler had ever been found that got him involved in the case.
After that call, Deluca said he began to look into the case, and ended up converting all of the files involved into the department’s new computer system, scanned in all the reports, and began to work with the FBI on the investigation again.
Deluca said his current role in the case is to simply look at it with new eyes, doing research and following up on old leads.
While he said this task is difficult, he has been trying to gain the case more publicity, even trying to get it featured on America’s Most Wanted.
“The more people revisit these cases, the easier it is to solve,” Deluca said.
Curtis is also working with the police and FBI, reacquainting himself with previous leads and, like Deluca, following up on any promising ones.
With more technology this time around, Curtis said he has been able to find some promising leads, saying that through the utilization of databases, he has found more family and other connections of Vosseler’s he didn’t know about when first investigating the abduction.
According to the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent for New Hampshire Kieran Ramsey, the agency is also still actively investigating the case.
Agents have been pursuing new leads in the abduction as recently as this year, Ramsey said. And while he could not give many details on the investigation, he said recent leads have come out of the western and southeastern U.S.
Ramsey said the agency, like others involved, is focusing much of its time getting information about the crime and those involved out to the public, and said that solving abduction cases this old is not unheard of.
“Recently we’ve had some successful reunifications of children who were taken by an unlawful parent, and it’s largely because of continued publicity,” Ramsey said.
Curtis agreed, and said he believes there’s someone out there who knows where Vosseler is.
“I hope that if there are people who know anything, they’ll realize that this is a huge injustice and that they would share the information with the authorities,” Curtis said, saying that he’s confident Vosseler, and hopefully the boys, will be found.
For Parker, holding out hope is the only option, saying it’s the only thing that has kept her going the past 25 years.
Parker said she made a choice to hold herself together throughout this ordeal, a choice that was first made only days after her sons went missing and she was on the verge of losing her job due to absence.
“I went back to work and pasted a smile on my face by looking in the mirror and telling myself that I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “I couldn’t flip out, or go crazy and not come back … that was the first of many conversations I’ve had with myself about how you cannot give in to what you really want to feel.”
Parker said her biggest hope is that her sons are found. While she said she’d love to have a relationship with them one day, knowing that they are alive and well would be enough.
“I hope that they know I didn’t leave them and I hope that they know that I’m alive,” she said. “Do I believe there are happy endings in life? I sure do. Do I believe there’s justice? Yep. You can’t survive if you don’t have some hope.”
The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the location of Vosseler or his two sons.
Vosseler has an eye condition in his left eye that causes him to often turn his head to the right side, Parker said.
The FBI asks that anyone with relevant information call the Rochester Police Department at 603-330-7127 or the New Hampshire FBI office in Portsmouth at 603-431-4585.
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