Former marine admits abducting girl, 12, he met in Net chatroom

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The Independent Online

A former US Marine has admitted abducting a 12-year-old girl he met in an internet chatroom.

Toby Studabaker, 32, of Three Rivers, Michigan, established e-mail contact with the child when she was 11 and communicated with her via her school computer and a PC on her family's kitchen table during an one-year period in which he groomed her for sex, Manchester Crown Court was told.

He secured the documents needed to escort a child by claiming she was his niece, then flew with her from Manchester to Paris where they had sex in a hotel room. The girl's disappearance last July triggered an international manhunt.

Studabaker, who pleaded guilty to abduction and enticing a child to gross indecency, faces up to 10 years imprisonment when he is sentenced on 2 April but he escaped a charge of having sex with child because the incident took place abroad.

He may also face extradition to the US to answer a four-count indictment against him on charges related to the sexual exploitation of the child. Studabaker, a former bible scholar decorated for his military service in Afghanistan, has already faced two criminal investigations in the US for sexually assaulting young girls. Charges were not brought in either case.

Manchester Crown Court was told that the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was 11 years and eight months old when she began her internet relationship with Studabaker, who became known to her as "Taz". Amid hundreds of pornographic images later found on his home computer, detectives found details that she had posted in the chatroom: "5ft 6ins, blonde hair, slim, green and yellow eyes" and a true date of birth.

Her parents limited her time online to five hours a day after discovering that she was spending up to 11 hours a day on the internet. She seemed to be interested in little but punk rock. Her chatroom identity was "casualtyofpunk".

At first, she and Studabaker shared their problems, the court heard. His wife died from bone cancer in 2001 and he had been depressed. She was being teased at school for her musical taste, the fact that she didn't wear Nike clothes and her sexuality. But, by June, Studabaker's messages had become sexually graphic and on Saturday 12 July last year he made his move.

The girl managed to get her passport from her mother by saying she needed proof of identity for a young person's bus pass. She filled a holdall with clothes and, at 7.30am, she slipped out of her home in Wigan and took a taxi to Manchester airport to meet Studabaker. They went shopping before returning to check in for the flight to Paris. She was nervous but he reassured her.

Studabaker had been methodical in his preparations for their trip, the court heard. Five days earlier, he told a travel firm that he wanted to take his brother's 12-year-old daughter from Manchester to Paris. He provided all the girl's details for a permissory note he needed to travel with her, telephoning the girl from the travel bureau to check them.

The girl's parents reported her missing at 11.23am on the Saturday and provided a letter which had been returned to their address a year earlier as having insufficient postage. It had been sent to Studabaker by their daughter.

Examination of their daughter's diary revealed further references to him. "Maybe if Taz comes over it'll be better, easier ya know?" she wrote. "Well I needs somebody who understands me. Taz loves me, he's coming over the end of June."

As the police search began, the pair were leaving the country. From Manchester, they flew to London, then to Paris, where they booked into a hotel recommended by a taxi driver. Studabaker booked them in to one room that had twin beds.

The court heard that the girl claimed they pulled the beds "a little way apart" on the first nights and talked before going to bed. On the Sunday, they woke early, shopped and went back to bed. They got up again, went for another walk, bought some vodka and took it back to the hotel. During the evening, they were "French kissing" and later had sex. "We were kissing and we were like on the bed and it just happened," she told police later.

From Paris, they travelled by train to Strasbourg, where they saw a news bulletin reporting her disappearance. The following day, they took a train to Stuttgart, where the girl decided to return home.

Beverley Lunt, for the prosecution, said the case demonstrated the dangers of the internet. "It was clear that, even after all that has happened, she has no concept that she was groomed by the defendant," Ms Lunt said.


13 February 2003: "I love you more than I ever loved anyone... i don't want no one else in my life as much as i want you"

20 February: "I want to take you out when I get over there ...I know you love me just difficult at times not being able to hold you close ... I really do need you in my life, ... and I couldn't live without you in it. I look forward to the day when we're together"

4 March: "I hate sounding like i am obsessed, i cant stop thinking about you ... i do love you more than you can understand and just the thought of you saying you dont want to be with me any more drives me insane"

7 June: "You wouldnt be cold here not in my room that is way too hot ... well besides that way, before we get that hot and heavy ... i got a really small bed so dont have to worry about moving to get close to me."

9 June: "... if you really gave it a chance for me to be over there and get the relationship a more personal level to it we would of really worked. I want noone else ... just give us a chance to really find out without a screen between us"

30 June: Webcam is set up. She e-mails him saying she is getting changed. He replies, "put up your cam ... me want to see." Later he writes: "me happy i got to see my baby ... nay not baby you my love."

1 July: "I will be over i promise, ... it wont be this week like we have been planning but ... not long from now i will be with you, holding you, kissing you and being able to wake up next to you."