In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, a young boy is hard at work in the yard of a comfortable home. That boy is Gregory Jean Jr., and as his neighbors look on, they have no idea that he has been missing for four long years. Ultimately, however, he manages to leave a trail of clues pointing to his whereabouts, and his extraordinary story is unraveled at last.
Back in 2010, Gregory was living with his mother, Lisa Smith, in Orlando, Florida. His father, Gregory Jean Sr., was not married to Lisa, and the pair were living apart. Nevertheless, they had established an informal agreement that saw Gregory Sr. send funds to help Lisa care for Gregory Jr. and his brother, Samuel.
Although his parents were no longer together, Gregory Jr. made every effort to stay in contact with his father. Each day, when he came home from school, he would speak to Gregory Sr. on the telephone. And despite the family troubles, he admitted that he loved his dad.
Then, that year, everything changed. By that time, Gregory Sr. was living in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. He had married a woman named Samantha Joy Davis and started another family. However, he seemed to still want to be a part of Gregory Jr. and Samuel’s lives, and so the dad suggested that they make a trip to see him in Georgia.
Together, Gregory Jr. and Samuel traveled more than 400 miles to see their father and meet his new family. However, something went wrong. By the time that the visit was over, Samuel had returned home to Lisa – but Gregory Jr. was nowhere to be seen.
When Gregory Jr. failed to appear, Lisa informed the Orlando court services; but for reasons unknown, she did not notify the police. Consequently, for the next four years, Gregory Jr. remained missing. And although Lisa spoke to her son on one or two occasions during that period, she had no idea where he was living.
Finally, on November 28, 2014, Gregory Jr. contacted Lisa out of the blue. Apparently, he had been able to get hold of a cellphone and send a message to his family – who had never stopped looking for the boy. So, armed with the address of where her son was located, Lisa got in touch with the police.
Soon, then, police arrived at the address – a comfortable, single-story property with a garage, on the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. However, there was no sign of Gregory Jr. To avoid detection, it seems that Davis had ordered the boy into the garage, where he had apparently been made to hide behind a false wall.
Luckily, though, Gregory Jr. would not be kept down. When police failed to find him on their first visit, the boy contacted his family again. This time, moreover, Lisa was able to tell them exactly where to look. So as her son texted updates, Lisa guided the authorities directly to his hiding place.
At last, then, officers discovered a grateful Gregory Jr. and took him away from his father’s house. That same night, Lisa got in her car and drove all the way to Atlanta to collect her long-lost son. Hence, accompanied by her daughter Tracy Guervil, she had an emotional reunion with Gregory Jr., then 13.
But as television cameras captured the outwardly happy scenes, the awful details about Gregory Jr.’s alleged ordeal began to emerge. According to him, things had seemed normal at first. Apparently, Davis told him that the arrangement was better for his father financially and that his real mom did not want him to return home.
During that first year, Gregory Jr. was even enrolled at middle school in Atlanta. But events at his father’s house soon took a turn for the worse. In contrast to the comforts that his step-siblings enjoyed, Gregory Jr. was made to sleep on a makeshift bed in the garage with only a flimsy cover for warmth.
Moreover, that was only the beginning. It appears that Gregory Jr. was also refused food and subjected to physical abuse. And in a truly humiliating move, the boy was apparently not even allowed to use a proper toilet. “She made me go to the bathroom in a bucket,” he told MailOnline in 2014. “And they would all watch me. It was embarrassing.”
Instead of enjoying his childhood, then, Gregory Jr. was compelled to live as little more than the family’s domestic help. “I felt like a maid,” he said. “I had to clean the house and yard, and if there was even a leaf out of place my step-mom would beat me with a stick.”
According to Gregory Jr., he wasn’t even allowed to watch television with the other children; instead, he was punished for imagined infractions and made to read the dictionary and copy out lists of words. Heartbroken at his situation, the boy apparently spent his nights crying, determined nevertheless to one day make his way home.
In an attempt to escape, Gregory Jr. confided in a counselor at school. However, when authorities arrived at the family’s home, Davis seemingly hid the evidence of the abuse. And despite her prior conviction for child cruelty, by all accounts, she was believed.
Furthermore, as retribution for talking to the authorities, Gregory Jr. was withdrawn from school. Apparently, Davis even prevented him from enjoying Christmas with the rest of the family. Although he still received presents, they were given to the other children to enjoy.
Strangely, too, although Davis’ neighbors sometimes saw Gregory Jr. working outside the house, they never cottoned on to what was allegedly happening behind closed doors. “He kept that yard immaculate,” one of them told CBS Evening News in 2014. “There was no evidence of distress, [and] it didn’t seem like he was reaching out, like, ‘Oh please help me.’”
Still, thanks to his quick thinking, Gregory Jr. is now back in Orlando with Lisa and their family, all of whom are delighted to have the boy home. And happily, it seems that the feeling is mutual. “Whatever anyone else gets for Christmas I don’t care,” Gregory Jr. told MailOnline. “This is my Christmas present, to be back with my family.”
Meanwhile, Gregory Jr.’s father and stepmother are, according to most recent reports, awaiting trial for their alleged role in the boy’s ordeal. Yet, incredibly, he harbors no bad feelings towards the pair and insists that he doesn’t want either of them to end up in jail. Instead, the teenager is focused on living his own life and plans to help others by becoming a lawyer.
While Gregory Jr. seems to have put his ordeal behind him, it’s hard to ignore the fact that his story is eerily similar to another missing child case from 2009. The little boy in question is called Ricky Chekevdia, who disappeared with his mother. For two years, no one knew where to look. But then police received a strange tip-off about his grandmother’s house.
It’s September in rural Illinois, and police officers are searching a family home for little Ricky. At this point, the young boy hasn’t been seen for almost two years – meaning, sadly, he could well have met a terrible fate. There seems to be no sign of Ricky in the property, either, as the cops initially come up empty-handed. But before the officers write the tip-off as a dud, they notice something very strange about a dresser against one of the walls. And what they ultimately discover sends shivers down their spines.
Ricky was the child of Michael Chekevdia and Shannon Wilfong, who had always had a troubled on-and-off relationship. The arguments apparently didn’t even stop when the couple’s son was born in 2002. But amid all the turmoil, the parents still managed to work out an agreement to share custody of their boy.
And Michael was seemingly close to his son, even if he wasn’t always at home. Back in 1982, you see, he had joined the Illinois Army National Guard in West Frankfort – close to his hometown of Royalton, IL. Then, soon after Ricky arrived, Michael had found himself deployed to Iraq. But the serviceman hardly forgot about the child he had waiting for him back in the States. He even had a portrait of himself and Ricky commissioned while he was overseas.
Then, in 2004, Michael returned to Illinois, where his problems with Shannon continued. Allegedly, she regularly refused to let Ricky spend time with his father, thereby violating the terms of their joint custody agreement. And in 2007 the situation took a shocking turn for the worse.
That fall, a court date had been set to discuss Michael’s visitation rights to his son. But Shannon failed to show. Faced with a difficult decision, the judge decided to therefore grant Michael temporary custody of the boy. Before the ruling could take effect, however, Shannon and Ricky suddenly disappeared.
In November 2007 Shannon and Ricky were officially listed as missing people. Then in December that same year, a warrant was issued for Shannon’s arrest. It soon became apparent, however, that things weren’t quite so clear-cut as they may have seemed. In fact, it emerged that Shannon and her mother, Diane Dobbs, had both accused Michael of abusing Ricky in the past.
Had Shannon run away with her son to protect him from the alleged abuse? Diane certainly seemed to believe so. And while police searched for Ricky, she focused her attention on a smear campaign against Michael, her daughter’s former partner.
Just three miles away from Michael’s home, Diane stuck placards in front of her own house. On them, moreover, she hand-wrote accusations that Michael was a child abuser. Apparently, she also distributed fliers in the local community, even going so far as to hand them out at Michael’s church.
Naturally, perhaps, Michael began to suspect that Diane knew something about Ricky’s disappearance. She nevertheless permitted the police to conduct a search of her property, though, and yet they found no sign of the missing boy. For two years, then, Ricky’s location remained a mystery – although Michael continued to suspect that Diane knew more than she was letting on.
Then in 2009 police received a tip-off that led them back to Diane’s house once more. So, on September 4, they arrived at the two-story property in a rural area of Franklin County, IL. And while Ricky was initially nowhere to be seen, their search eventually led them to take a look behind a dresser that was pushed up against a wall.
When officers moved the dresser aside, moreover, they discovered a hidden hole cut into the wall. Yes, now that the piece of furniture had been removed, the opening was revealed. And when the investigators peered into the darkness within, they witnessed a truly terrible sight.
Officers spied Ricky and his mother hiding in the tiny space. Apparently, they could not even stand up inside the secret room, which was just four feet tall. Had Ricky really been kept hidden in this environment for two whole years? Alarmingly, the chamber was just 12 feet long and only five feet wide.
As the boy, now six, was taken into custody, those present experienced a heartbreaking view. “We let him out of the [patrol] car, and he ran around like he’d never seen outdoors,” Master Sergeant Stan Diggs from the Illinois State Police Department was reported as saying. “It was actually very sad. He was very happy to be outside. He said he never goes outside.”
In light of the discovery, police arrested Shannon on charges of felony child abduction, while Diane faced charges of aiding and abetting. However, while out on bail, Diane invited the television show Good Morning America to hear her side of the story.
According to Diane, the secret room had already been there when she originally purchased the house some 14 years previously. Furthermore, she claimed that it was used for storage and that she had only thought to hide Ricky there once she saw that police were closing in.
When asked by an interviewer in 2009 about how long Ricky had spent in the secret room, Diane replied, “In two years’ time, maybe five minutes.” In fact, she claimed that her grandson had enjoyed total freedom during the years that he had spent in her home.
“My grandson had the run of the house,” Diane continued. “When we were outside, we would go fishing. We would do weenie roasts. We’ve done fireworks on the 4th of July. He’s helped me plant my flower garden in the back. He’s got his own garden in the back.”
However, when reporters spoke to Diane’s neighbors, they discovered that Ricky had seemingly never been spotted outside the home. Sadly, the police who rescued Ricky echoed this sentiment, too; apparently, it was obvious to them that the boy had had little contact with the outside world.
Just hours after appearing on Good Morning America, then, Diane was rearrested. Meanwhile, Ricky was placed with one of Michael’s relatives while the case was investigated. “Surprisingly, Ricky is in good spirits,” reported Diggs. “For someone who’s been isolated in that house with no other outside beings, he is a very social, very polite, very talkative little boy.”
On September 19, 2011, Shannon pleaded guilty to the charges against her and was fined $1,500 and given two years’ probation for her role in Ricky’s abduction. Michael, meanwhile, was granted permanent custody of his son. And the next year, he retired from the military to focus on being a single father to Ricky – hopefully finally finding the peace that his family have long sought.