Alese's saga : 'I matured too much'

    Alese Reichart and her mother spent years living a lie to escape the
father she says was abusive. After a terrible journey through the legal
system, Alese, now an adult, wants to tell her story about her
much-scrutinized childhood

    By Alice Hohl[0]

    Staff writer

    TUCSON, Ariz. -- Tuesday morning, Alese Reichart celebrated her 18th
birthday by walking into a Tucson courthouse and adopting her mother's
maiden name -- Taylor -- as her own.

    Now an adult, she's leaving behind her father's name, completing a
journey her mother began 13 years ago when she left Alese's father.

    Joli Taylor Peters, Michael Reichart and Alese were a South Side
family once upon a time --  before Joli fled with 5-year-old Alese and
went into hiding, before the FBI tracked them down in Arizona, before the
messy parts of their lives were made fodder for TV news.

    In a bitter divorce that began in 1988, Peters accused Reichart of
sexually abusing Alese. Chicago police and the Illinois Department of
Children and Family Services investigated but found nothing to prosecute.

    The divorce -- marked by accusations of beatings and emotional
manipulation -- became final in 1991. They were awarded joint custody of
their daughter, and Peters moved to Midlothian.

    Alese's complaints of abuse at the hands of her father became more
explicit, according to court records of the child's conversations with
doctors and counselors.

    She threw tantrums when her father came to Midlothian to pick her
up.Faced with the prospect of sharing Alese with Reichart, Peters took the
girl one day in November of 1991 and ran.

    A decade later, federal agents caught up with mother and daughter in

    Alese was 15, living as Nicole Jordan. She and her mother were hauled
back to Illinois for Peters to face kidnapping charges.

    Reichart, granted sole custody of Alese after the disappearance,
finally got to see his daughter again.

    But the 15-year-old girl returned to her father and her birthplace as
a virtual stranger.

    Now 18, Alese wants to speak for herself.

    "A lot of people ask me if I was in agreement with my mom when we
ran, and of course, yes I was," Alese said in an interview with the Daily
Southtown from her Tucson home last week. "You can't keep a kid quiet for
10 years, unless I wanted to be."

    The running and hiding didn't bother Alese.

    The days she calls the darkest were the ones she spent in the custody
of the state, in a group home and a foster home, waiting while her mother
was prosecuted and her own fate was being decided.

    "Not only did they take away nine months of my life, but they took
away my teenage-ness," Alese said. "I matured too much."

    'I was fine on the run'

    Alese recounts her childhood, stopping only for tears and questions.

    Her final day at an Oak Forest kindergarten classroom was Nov. 6,
1991. About two weeks later, she and her mother were reported missing.
Alese said she thought she was on vacation for a while because the pair
would stay in motels with cable TV.

    Alese said their time on the road grew difficult as mother and
daughter dodged federal agents and lived in shelters.

    But Alese said the painful custody exchanges in restaurant parking
lots -- neutral ground where she could be swapped from one household to
the other -- were worse.

    "I was fine on the run," Alese said. "The shelters were tough, but
she made sure I never knew there was a danger.

    "We moved from place to place, changing our identities."

    Alese said her mother never spoke of her father, even when she asked
about him, because her mother had read how damaging it is to children of
divorce to speak badly of the other parent.

    Reichart -- who could not be contacted for this story -- has
repeatedly and vehemently denied the abuse allegations.

    Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
cleared him of the initial accusations, made when Alese was a toddler.

    Later, when Alese was 5, she told counselors and doctors about
specific occasions of abuse, court records show. Doctors also found
physical evidence of abuse, according to court records.

    That evidence and Alese's statements were to be presented to Cook
County prosecutors in a meeting, but mother and daughter never showed up.
Peters and Alese had already left town without telling anyone where they

    In previous interviews, Reichart has said the evidence against him
wouldn't hold up in court.

    "If there was any validity to that, it would have been brought up
back then," Reichart said at the final court hearing in December 2001.
"She never showed up to press them."

    Some court experts contended Peters "brainwashed" Alese into thinking
she had been abused, but Alese wants people to know her memories are her

    "Anything she knows, I told her, not the other way around," Alese
said of her mother.

    Peters sat with her daughter in their Arizona home last week while
she told her story, but she declined to be interviewed.

    It's Alese's turn to talk, her mother said.

    New troubles give way to happiness

    After months of driving across the country, Alese said she and her
mother first settled down in Bullhead City, Ariz., where Alese enrolled in
kindergarten again.

    That put her a year behind for her age.

    She went by the name Nicole, and her mother found a good job as Tina

    The job meant entrusting a baby sitter with Alese's care.

    The baby sitter's husband molested the girl.

    Authorities in Chicago, after Alese was returned here, would point to
the molestation case in Bullhead City to show Alese was prone to casting
allegations of sexual abuse.

    But Alese's allegations in Arizona held up in court. The baby
sitter's husband confessed to molesting Alese and several other children,
and was convicted and sent to prison.

    Children who have been sexually abused once are more likely to be
abused again by another person, according to psychotherapist Kali Munro,
an expert in child sex abuse.

    "I felt like I had a big old 'vulnerable' sign on my forehead," Alese

    She became anxious and depressed. Alese and her mother then moved to
Tucson. Alese found a school she liked and began to flourish.

    Alese said she had a normal life living in an apartment with her
mother, playing with friends, and learning the violin.

    By eighth grade, Alese said, she "got a lot better" and overcame her

    "I had an active social life. I went to school every day. I had
written a play. I had a solo in chorus," she said. "I was eating right,
and I had all kinds of friends. For the first time since I was 3 years
old, I did not need a therapist."

    Joli Taylor met Dan Peters and married. Some friends knew of their
past; others were unaware. And so life went on, until Joli and Alese were
tripped up by the tears of a friend.

    Police close in

    In November 2000, Alese and her mother were holed up at a friend's
for two weeks, deciding what to do about police and missing-persons
experts nosing around in Tucson.

    In Alese's eighth-grade classroom, her desk was empty.

    A friend who knew a little about Alese's past feared she already had
been caught. She burst into tears. Her sobs caught the attention of an
unsuspecting school administrator, who questioned the girl until she
confessed what she knew about "Nicole."

    Alese returned to school a few days later. On her second day back,
federal agents and a hostage negotiator were waiting in the principal's

    Alese said accounts of her and her mother's "capture" were widely
misreported. She and her mother saw the "missing persons" postcard
circulating in the area before their friends did.

    "We knew they were coming. We saw the little 'Have You Seen Us?'
card. Yeah. We had seen us," she said. Alese decided she didn't want to
run anymore, and she and her mother returned to their normal routine,
expecting to be caught.

    "I thought, 'I have worked these 15 years to make my life better, and
in many ways I have succeeded, and I am not going to run away from it
anymore,' " Alese said.

    She said she does not blame her classmate, and felt terrible that
news accounts credited the classmate with turning them in.

    "Poor girl," she said. "It was not her fault."

    They returned to Chicago. Peters faced the criminal charges lodged
against her.

    Alese faced the father she hadn't seen in 10 years.

    Alese said she was prepared to live with her father -- against her
wishes. She was prepared to live in foster care for the rest of her teen
years, too. But she did not expect to be in limbo for so long in the
custody of the Cook County public guardian, while lawyers fought.

    "They treated me like a chess piece in a chess game," Alese said.

    The limbo begins

    Discussions with Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy -- who
wanted Alese to consider theories her mother had influenced her memory of
events with her father -- frustrated her, too.

    "I would say, 'No. No. No. Sorry.' And he would get really red in the

    She was sent to live in Maryville Academy. Efforts to get Alese into
high school proved problematic.

    Alese said she could barely stand to live with the troubled youths of
Maryville, much less take classes with them. Court advocates eventually
agreed Alese did not need the "therapeutic setting" of a group home. Alese
moved in with a social worker on Chicago's Northwest Side to get out of

    She contemplated the intimidating process of applying to various
Chicago magnet schools, which would be difficult to reach by public
transit. She imagined regular public school would be filled with drugs and

    Alese quickly realized, however, that she could refuse to sign up for
school. After all, Murphy and other social workers kept telling her she
would go home soon.

    "I said, 'Well if I'm just going to be going home in a few weeks, I
think it's detrimental to my mental health to enroll in a place with a
different curriculum, just to be uprooted again,'" she said. "I was just
trying to be practical."

    Despite social workers' promises, the court cases -- her custody case
and her mother's criminal case -- were far from over.

    Alese feared she would never leave her lonely "limbo" existence far
from her friends. She was allowed only occasional, supervised visits with
her mother.

    She became depressed. She wrote dark poetry, including a verse where
she describes herself as a case file on a desk instead of a person.

    "My opinion was invalid," she said.

    In August 2001, Alese was allowed to move back to Arizona to live
with her stepfather and begin her freshman year of high school.

    Visits with father cut short

    Alese said she had no desire to meet with Michael Reichart when she
first came back to Chicago.

    She did meet with him during supervised visits at the encouragement
of her lawyers and counselors, but the visits were complicated by
competing accusations.

    Alese said she wanted her father to apologize for harm he caused her
as a child, and he wanted her to believe bad things about her mother.

    After Alese was allowed to move back to Tucson, she was supposed to
spend holidays with her father until her 18th birthday.

    "I was supposed to have six visits." Alese said. "I had one."

    Alese said Reichart's new wife, Melody, had to be with her at all
times. Her father was not allowed to be alone with her.

    Alese said whenever she was alone with Melody, she told her that
Reichart had sexually abused her. Those conversations may have led to the
early termination of the visits.

    "We mutually agreed that the visits should stop," Alesesaid.

    Michael Reichart also agreed to relinquish custody, saying he was
willing to make sacrifices to benefit all parties. Taylor's lawyers said
he was backed into a legal corner by documents they had unearthed relating
to allegations of abuse.

    A plea agreement was struck with Joli Taylor Peters, who pleaded
guilty to misdemeanor charges. She was sentenced to two years of
probation, which she was allowed to serve in Tucson.

    No charges were ever filed against Michael Reichart.

    "Now I've just been living with the aftermath of all this," Alese

    Speaking out for children

    Alese is smart and pretty and well-spoken.

    But she believes her personality has regressed and her carefree teen
years were stolen.

    "I couldn't just come back and hang out at the mall. It just didn't
sound fun anymore."

    Alese said many of her friends couldn't handle what had happened and
faded away. Even her relationship with her best friend deteriorated beyond

    Alese said she doesn't want to meet new people now. She doesn't want
to make new friends until her personality is back to what it used to be,
until she's a fun person again.

    "I just know that something really needs to change in the system
because this should not be happening to children," Alese said, speaking of
other victims of abuse and children who get caught up in vicious custody
disputes. "My main motive for speaking out is for all those children.

    "They can survive, and they can have a better life if they just hold

    Alese is now trying to finish high school via correspondence courses
and wants to pursue a career in forensic anthropology. She wants to keep
writing the poetry that has been her outlet during trying times, and she
hopes to write a book.

    "I just want kids to know that there are others out there who have
been through what they're going through and that they can survive if they
keep trying," Alese said. "My prayers go out to all of them."


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