Hide-and-seek existence tore family

By Greg Barnes
Staff writer
February 9, 2006

Despite enormous publicity, Joyce Steyne managed to keep her secret for
more than six years.

In 1999, Steyne abducted her children from her former husband. In the
years since, she had bounced from one home and one state to another to
avoid detection.

The end came last week, when a careless mistake finally tripped Steyne up.

State Highway Patrol Trooper David Hawkins clocked Steyne going 15 mph
over the speed limit on N.C. 87 in Harnett County. Steyne told Hawkins
that she didn’t have a driver’s license, and she gave him a fake name,
Highway Patrol spokesman Everett Clendenin said.

It didn’t take Hawkins long to learn Steyne’s real identity or that she
was wanted on charges of kidnapping her two children, Christy, 14, and
Abby, 12 – who sat calmly in the car with her.

The next day, Joyce Steyne was taken to the Hertford County Jail in
Ahoskie, where she is being held on charges of abducting her children all
those years ago.

In a telephone interview from the jail, Joyce Steyne said she was able to
avoid detection because she never used her real name or Social Security
number, nor those of her children.

“But I told the truth to people and they recognized the kind of person I
was,” said Steyne, who is 45. “I have a lot of people out there who want
to protect me.”

The girl’s father, Danny Steyne, a preacher from Columbia, S.C., drove to
Lillington the day his children were found and took them home.

Danny Steyne could not be reached for comment, but his Mountain of
Worship Web site shows pictures of a tearful reunion with his children.

Danny Steyne has remarried and now has nine children. A family portrait
taken after the reunion includes Christy and Abby smiling for the camera.
Christy is holding onto Elijah, her 5-year-old half brother, whom she had
never met before now.
Routine visit
On the evening of Dec. 17, 1999, Danny Steyne dropped his three children
off at the Ahoskie Police Department for what was supposed to have been a
routine visit with their mother, Joyce Linda Murray Steyne.

On one of his Web sites, Danny Steyne says his former wife was to take
the children to visit their grandparents, John and Barbara Murray, in
Medford, N.J. Danny Steyne had custody of the children.

The next morning, the Web site says, the Steynes’ son, Peter, awoke in a
hotel in Roanoke Rapids, where the family had spent the night along with
Joyce Steyne’s brother, Stephen Kirk Murray.

“Peter realized that they left with my daughters, Christy (age 8) and
Abby (age 6) while he was sleeping without indicating anything to him of
where they would be headed,” Danny Steyne says on the Web site.

Danny Steyne went to Roanoke Rapids to pick up Peter, and North Carolina
and the FBI issued arrest warrants against Joyce Steyne and her brother.
He has not been arrested.

In the Hertford County Jail, Joyce Steyne cried Tuesday as she remembered
leaving her son behind at the motel.

“I will go to my grave regretting that I left my son because my son
needed me, too,” Steyne said. “He was 16. He wanted to believe his daddy,
and he would have turned us in. My brother, at this point, was afraid of
his life, afraid of my life.”

She said she took the children because her former husband had been
neglecting them. She said she has filed complaints with law enforcement
against her husband, but he has never been charged.

On one of his Web sites, Danny Steyne says his former wife is mentally
unstable.

“In my case, not only were two of my children abducted, but two others
were also rejected … and one of those was actually abandoned during the
night without concern for their welfare, food, transportation, or
emotional health,” Steyne wrote.

Avenues of publicity
In the six years that his children were missing, Danny Steyne took
extraordinary measures to try to find them.

Besides his Web sites, Steyne posted his children’s disappearance with
missing-children services. He appeared on television, including The Dr.
Joy Browne Show in 2000. His daughters’ pictures appeared on the federal
940-EZ tax forms that year. The Philadelphia Inquirer and other
newspapers picked up the story.

On a Web site, Danny Steyne wrote a letter dated May 2003 to his former
wife:

“I wanted to communicate clearly to you that I have truly forgiven you
and Kirk for abducting Christy and Abby and leaving Peter. I know that
you did what you felt you needed to do, and I won’t question or try to
understand that. I do not hold anything against you or Kirk, my only hope
is that you will respond with great gratitude to the God who had mercy on
us and continues to woo you and your family to Himself.

“I want you to know that I will not be pressing any charges against you.
On the contrary, I will appeal to the court in your behalf. Those little
girls need their mommy and your absence from their lives would add insult
to injury.”

Custody battle
Joyce and Danny Steyne went through a contentious divorce in 1997. The
next month, Danny Steyne remarried, said Joyce Steyne’s lawyer, Grady
Hart Jr. of Columbia, S.C.

Hart represented Joyce Steyne in a second custody battle over the
children that began in 1998.

In motions to the court, Hart said, he alleged that Danny Steyne
neglected his children. He said pictures and other evidence showed that
the children had chronic pinworms and other medical problems.

Hart said a school nurse had agreed to testify about the children’s
hygiene. He said Danny Steyne continually tried to keep the children from
visiting their mother.

He said Danny Steyne was undergoing psychological testing as part of the
custody case when he became an ordained minister through the Southern
Baptist Convention and left South Carolina with the children for a job at
Union Baptist Church near Ahoskie.

In September, a judge agreed to let the children move to Ahoskie while
the case was being handled in South Carolina. Joyce Steyne was given
visitation rights.

Hart said she became so frustrated by the system and so concerned about
her children’s safety that she abducted them.

A week after the abduction, a judge suspended her visitation rights, the
custody case was dropped and Joyce Steyne’s whereabouts remained a
mystery.

Hart and others still defend her actions.

“I’m telling you, that girl is not crazy,” Hart said. “I’d let her keep
my children right now.”

On the run again
The law almost caught up with Joyce Steyne in 2001, while she and the
children were living in Joseph, Ore.

A teacher tipped her off that lawmen had learned her identity and were
poised to arrest her. Joyce Steyne said she was forced to flee again.

She wouldn’t say where she went because she wanted to protect the people
who sheltered her. She said she spent a couple of years at a beach and
some time in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before returning to North
Carolina.

The day of her arrest, Steyne finally gave Trooper Hawkins her real name
and address –1253 Hillmon Grove Road near Cameron.

She had lived there since October, said Steve Davis, pastor of a new
contemporary church in Spout Springs.

The Davis and Steyne families attended Hillmon Grove Baptist Church
together and soon became friends.

“She seemed like a really, really nice person,” Davis said.

He said Steyne was always upbeat and smiling. She was religious, and
Davis said he trusted her enough to let her baby-sit his children.

But Davis said he could tell she was hiding something. She kept her
thoughts to herself, he said. She wouldn’t let his children visit her
home. Her children were well-kempt but serious, he said.

“They are really sweet, but there was always a tension,” he said.

He said Steyne went by the name Lydia Dalton, the children by Beth and
Rachel Lord. She home-schooled the girls.

Davis said he didn’t learn of Steyne’s arrest until Sunday, during a
Super Bowl gathering at his church, when he saw the backs of the girls on
a TV news program.

“I was shocked,” he said.

Barbara Murray said her daughter only did what she thought was best for
her children.

“She’s really a good kid, and she will fight from now until doomsday for
her kids,” Murray said. “She’s not crazy.”

Copyright 2006 The Fayetteville (NC) Observer

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