LINCOLN, Mo. – On February 11, 2004, a parent’s worst nightmare became a reality. Nancy and Jake Peaster realized that their one-month-old son was gone. They called 911 and police could not find Jesse during a search of the property.
The only witness to the abduction was Jesse’s 4-year-old brother. His description was key to bringing Jesse home.
“He was sleeping, the doorbell rang, and he two people,” said Jake. “A man and a woman running away from the house.”
The child described two kidnappers, a white man, and a white woman. The man had white hair, a ponytail, and was wearing a camouflage hat, a bright blue shirt, and blue jeans. The child also described a woman with brown hair and some type of tag on her shirt.
The four-year-old’s description is what investigators say brought in a tip from someone in Kansas City who spotted the couple with a baby at St. Luke’s hospital.
“We found out that her boss saw she had a one-month-old baby and she was never pregnant,” said Sheriff Gary Friar.
Friar was the Sheriff of Benton County at the time Jesse was taken from his home.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Office says, Tammy Roberson, of Kansas City, posed as a nurse at a Sedalia hospital. She visited the Peaster’s residence in January. However, Roberson would come back a month later to take the baby while Nancy was downstairs exercising.
Roberson took the baby back to Kansas City and acted like the baby was hers.
She would be charged with first-degree burglary and felonious restraint. No kidnapping charges were filed which shocked not only Jesse’s parents but law enforcement.
“Believe it or not this does not fall under kidnapping,” said Friar.
“I thought for sure she would be charged with kidnapping, I mean there was no doubt in my mind,” said Nancy Peaster.
“If you take a baby from it’s home and it’s not kidnapping what is?” said Jake.
Under Missouri law, kidnapping charges apply only if the abductor took the person without consent and holds them for ransom, or inflicts injury or terrorizes the individual.
Police would also arrest a Benton County man who was supposedly Robberson’s husband. However, he would be released due to a lack of evidence.
In 2006 Roberson was sentenced to fifteen years at the Department of Corrections and one year at the Benton County Jail. Later Nancy Peaster would say she believed Roberson was targeting her.
Nancy says she showed up on January 14th at the home in Benton County. It was February eleventh when baby Peaster was taken.
Marilyn Stockman a registered nurse who serves on the Missing and Exploited Children Advisory board says abductors posing as a healthcare workers isn’t unusual
“It’s a classic case,” said Stockman. “What I would suggest to parents who are unsure whether this person is legit is call in a nurse and have them check that person.”
The kidnapping of Jesse brought awareness and concern of how easy it was for someone to pose as a healthcare worker so, hospitals started ramping up their security.
“Although people perceive us to be unfriendly when it comes to peds and obstetrics visits, we have to be for safety,” said Stockman. “We also go the extra step and if we know we are going to have someone go out to the home we introduce them to the family.”
Not long after Jesse was kidnapped, lawmakers would work towards amending the laws involving kidnapping. The legislation created the crime of “child kidnapping,” which would apply in cases where a child under 14 is taken without a parent’s consent. The charge could not be filed if the abductor and child were related within the third degree — as a noncustodial parent, for example. First introduced in the House, the legislation was amended and approved by the Senate in 2004.
The Senate amended the bill to create the crime of human trafficking and establish penalties for such offenses as slave labor or importing a child to participate in pornography. International matchmaking organizations also would be regulated under the amendment.
The Amber Alert system would be under scrutiny at this time despite the fact it helped bring little Jesse home.
Among the critics of the way, police use the Amber Alert system is Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from her mother’s California home and slain in 1993.
Klaas said most police agencies are too slow to issue Amber Alerts, for one thing, because states must have each other’s permission to broadcast cross-border Amber Alerts.
“Little girls are dying out there, and somebody better be there speaking up for them,” said Mr. Klaas.
The alert system is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and killed in Texas.
By 2005, all 50 states had operational programs. Today the program operates across state and jurisdictional boundaries. As of 2013 Amber Alerts are automatically sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts program.