CORSICANA, TX -- A mystery surfaced during the first day of testimony in former Ellis County Observer blog publisher Joseph G. Dauben's trial on sexual assault of a child charges in Navarro County.
The mother of the child -- who was three months shy of his 15th birthday when an adult male allegedly engaged in sex with him in a park shower at Navarro Mills Lake during a church camping trip in 2007 -- testified in Judge James Lagomarsino's 13th District Court on Jan. 8 that her ex-husband vanished a year later after learning about the teenager's claims of being molested during the outing.
"He disappeared," said the mother, whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of the alleged victim. "He hasn't been heard from since."
Investigators preparing for the Navarro County trial reportedly were unable to locate the man who has now been missing for four and one-half years.
The mother said the last time she heard from her ex-husband, whom she divorced in 2001 after 15 years of marriage, was in August of 2008 soon after he told her that he had filed a complaint with the FBI in Tennessee where he was living about his son's claim.
"He told me not to do anything about it because he had taken care of it," said the mother, who noted she had fought a long bitter battle with her husband for her two adolescent sons and had just gained primary custody of them when she learned about the alleged assault.
The mother said that although she had just gained primary custody in March 2008 and had managed to limit her ex-husband to supervised visits with her two sons, she allowed them to travel to Tennessee in the summer of 2008 to go on a church mission to Mexico. The older son, who is now 20, told a female friend of his during the bus trip to Mexico about his alleged secret, and she in turn told the youth pastor leading the group about it.
James Buerlein, the youth pastor who is now a chiropractic student in Georgia, testified to the jury of six men and six women hearing Dauben's case that he asked the alleged victim about the friend's concern. The teenager reluctantly confirmed it happened, he said.
"He was very hesitant," the former pastor said. "He seemed ashamed. He avoided eye contact."
The youth's mother said she waited for several months before she decided to check on what she thought was an ongoing investigation into the alleged sexual assault of her son by calling the FBI. The investigator she reached told her a complaint had never been filed, she said.
Her ex-husband was missing so she began calling law enforcement agencies in Texas in about January of 2009 to file her own complaint, the mother said. Despite her numerous calls to different agencies over several months nothing happened until she made contact in the summer of 2009 with Texas Ranger Jason Bobo, who worked in the Northeast Texas office in Waxahachie in Ellis County, she said.
Bobo testified that he took a statement from the mother in December 2010, and that he met with the mother and her son months later in July 2011 to launch an investigation. The Texas Ranger said he also referred the mother to the Navarro County Sheriff's Department to file an initial complaint and called the sheriff's office to tell them he could help.
The youth identified Dauben during an interview at the Gingerbread House child advocacy center in Waxahachie as the adult who assaulted him, Bobo said. He also picked Dauben out in a photo line-up, the Texas Ranger said.
Bobo testified that when he interviewed Dauben about the youth's claims of sexual assault that the former blogger admitted drinking alcohol with the teenager, but he denied any other inappropriate activity occurred.
Bobo said a My Space message he found on the youth's computer from Dauben concerned him because it mentioned the two of them getting together later and that there was a reference to a shower waiting for Dauben. The Texas Ranger said he viewed it as inappropriate for Dauben to be using social media to contact a teenager.
Prosecutors for Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson also called the alleged victim's younger brother, who is now 16, to the stand to testify about the activities at the church camping trip attended by his father, his stepmother and his older brother. The younger brother said he spied on his older brother and saw him spending time with Dauben and two other teenagers.
The next day the older brother acted odd, his younger brother said. "He was disrespectful and off-putting," the youth said. "It seemed more like he wanted to be alone."
The mother testified she also had noticed her older son acting peculiar about that time."He didn't talk," the mother said. "He was very withdrawn. Nothing made him happy."
She testified that from 2001 until 2008 when she gained full custody of her sons that they only stayed with her a few nights each year because her husband would not allow them to spend longer amounts of time. She described her ex-husband as irresponsible but successful in keeping her away from her sons "because he had more money."
She noted that when her sons lived with her husband they moved frequently, and that they alternated between home schooling and attending public schools.
Both of her sons now live with her in Dallas, the mother said. Her older son is expected to testify about the alleged sexual assault on him when the trial resumes Jan. 9.