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Authorities Say Mother Fled With Girl, 5 : Crime: Child was to be returned to her legal father, who is unrelated, after visit. Friend says Catherine Thomas feared losing visitation rights.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Thousand Oaks woman who, in a highly unusual case, recently lost custody of her 5-year-old daughter to a man with no biological ties to the girl, has fled with the child and lost her visitation rights as a result, authorities said Friday.

Catherine Fay Thomas walked out the door of her home Thursday evening with her daughter, Courtney, and did not return, according to the child’s legal father, Douglas Kevin Thomas, and the mother’s roommate, Deborah Dickson.

Their disappearance occurred about 7:45 p.m., toward the end of a monitored visit when Courtney was supposed to return to the Van Nuys home of Kevin Thomas, as he is known. Catherine Thomas phoned Dickson about 15 minutes later to say she was with a friend in Thousand Oaks, adding: “ ‘They cannot have my daughter.’ ”

Catherine Thomas fled apparently because she feared that Kevin Thomas was trying to end her visitation rights, an unspeakable prospect for the single mother who also has two sons, said Dickson.

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“She panicked . . . she thought she was never going to see her daughter again,” Dickson said.

Kevin Thomas said that he and the child’s mother were scheduled to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday morning but only to discuss the location of visits and to choose a new monitor, required because Catherine Thomas fled once before with the girl.

“We were not asking for her visitation to end, that was not what we were going in for,” Kevin Thomas said.

As a result of Catherine Thomas’ disappearance, however, Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin revoked her visitation rights and issued a warrant for her arrest.

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Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas and his attorney, Glen H. Schwartz of Encino, said they have notified police and plan to contact the child-abduction unit of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Schwartz said prosecutors will have to determine whether Catherine Thomas--who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child stealing as a result of her flight last year--violated the terms of her three-year probation.

Kevin Thomas and his lawyer also alerted the media Friday, releasing photos of the girl and saying they were concerned about her medical needs. Born with a rare condition known as Dandy-Walker syndrome, Courtney is mildly retarded, blind in one eye and has heart defects.

Catherine Thomas was not present during Friday’s hearing.

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Her attorney, Arnold Freedland, said the revocation of visitation rights was not necessarily a permanent measure. Once the child is returned, he said, the judge could review the matter and reinstate Catherine Thomas’ visits.

The dramatic events cap a convoluted and bitter custody battle between Catherine Thomas and Kevin Thomas, two former friends who were never married, never lived together and never had sexual relations.

Kevin Thomas, who is openly gay, persuaded Goldin last month that he had played a significant enough role in young Courtney’s life to deserve paternity rights and primary custody. Catherine Thomas was granted monitored visits with the child three weekends a month and on selected weeknights and holidays.

The monitor has been Kevin Thomas’ longtime lover, Robert Thomas Johnson. One of the issues that was originally going to be discussed in court Friday was alleged harassment of Johnson by Catherine Thomas’ 16-year-old son, according to Kevin Thomas and Catherine Thomas’ friend, Dickson. Freedland and Dickson denied the allegation.

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Kevin Thomas claims that he and Catherine were very close friends who had discussed raising a child together. When she became pregnant by a boyfriend, there was no question that he would assume the role of father, he says.

After Courtney Thomas was born on Feb. 8, 1988, Kevin Thomas--whose original name was Douglas Kevin McCain--was listed as father on her birth certificate. About three months later, he legally changed his name to Douglas Kevin Thomas to match that of the girl and her mother.

Kevin Thomas claims he took such an active role in the girl’s daily care and education that Courtney believed he was her father.

He says he filed suit seeking formal paternity rights to Courtney after Catherine Thomas fled to her native Vancouver with the child following a financial dispute.

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But in a series of recent interviews with The Times, Catherine Thomas described Kevin Thomas as an extremely aggressive, manipulative man who insinuated himself into her life and became obsessed with her daughter. He managed to gradually wrest away the child because he is a more persuasive person than she is and had more money to spend on attorneys, she says.

“I feel like I’m living in upside-down world,” Catherine Thomas said recently of her predicament.

She denied ever agreeing to raise Courtney together with Kevin Thomas. Instead, she said she was a single mother who appreciated his friendship and generosity toward Courtney and her sons. And, at the same time, she said she included Kevin Thomas in holiday and family celebrations because he was gay, didn’t have children of his own, and she felt sorry for him.

Catherine Thomas also denied taking Courtney to Canada because of a dispute over money.

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She said she moved from North Hills to Thousand Oaks last summer because of growing concern over what she described as Kevin Thomas’ obsession with the child. As examples, she cited a one-carat diamond ring he gave Courtney on her first birthday and later, diamond-stud earrings.

Kevin Thomas said Friday he bought the diamonds for Courtney to have when she turns 18, and has put them away for her until then. He also accused Catherine Thomas of getting angry when he refused to let her borrow the earrings, of being “envious” of the gifts and of having manipulated Courtney for money.

Catherine Thomas said she went to Canada last September only after Kevin Thomas filed for paternity rights and she panicked.

Her attorney, Freedland, said in a recent interview he thought that had been the fatal mistake that cost her primary custody of the child. He also said he believed an injustice had been done, and that he planned to appeal Goldin’s decision awarding Kevin Thomas paternity rights.

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Another serious mistake, said Freedland, was listing Kevin Thomas as father on Courtney’s birth certificate.

Catherine Thomas said she was never comfortable with the idea but that Kevin Thomas insisted relentlessly and got her to acquiesce when she was in an emotionally vulnerable state.

Catherine Thomas also accused Kevin Thomas of lying to Canadian authorities after he flew there last January to retrieve Courtney.

According to a Jan. 18 Ministry of Social Services report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Kevin Thomas “insists he is the biological father of Courtney.”

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“Furthermore,” the report states, “he says that he was the primary care giver since the child was born and Courtney lived with him and not mom until abducted by mom 5-6 months ago.”

Catherine Thomas insisted that Courtney, though she visited Kevin on weekends, lived with her until Kevin won interim custody last February, following her return from Vancouver. As proof that Courtney came home with her from the hospital, Catherine Thomas provided copies of records showing that she saw a lactation consultant when she had trouble breast feeding the baby.

The Canadian report also says, “Mr. Thomas further stated that mom ‘will make up anything’ to get what she wants. He says she frequently alleges that he’s gay and a child abuser and not the child’s father. He says none of this is true. He is the father and had total custody of his daughter until she was abducted and taken out of the country by mom. . . .”

Kevin Thomas said Friday that the officer writing the report had asked him if he was the girl’s “natural” father and he had responded that he was. “If they interpreted that as ‘biological’ that’s a mistake or their ignorance,” he said.

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“The case has already been tried,” he said. ". . . I stand by the evidence in court.”


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