A Vidalia couple is in year number eight of a wait that feels like forever. Their children- now 35 and 36-years-old- have refused to meet them face to face since they were discovered after living 20 years in hiding.
-A Look Back-
The two fled with their maternal grandparents from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to San Jose, California in 1989 and took on new names. The children, Bobby, 7, and Christi Baskin, 8, changed to Jon and Jennifer Bunting. The grandparents, Marvin and Sandra Maple, became John and Francis Bunting.
They fled after the Maples accused their daughter Debbie and her husband Mark of abusing the kids.
An investigation into the claims showed no evidence of abuse– but the Maples weren’t convinced.
After his wife’s death Marvin Maple confided in a few close friends but someone called police. Maple was arrested for kidnapping and spent just a few months behind bars. The charges were reduced and he was released for time served.
Once Marvin Maple was caught in 2009, the Baskins thought that was the ticket to reunite with their children.
They flew to California only to learn the grown kids had no interest in meeting them.
Perhaps it was the shock and all the media attention- maybe they just needed time, the parents thought.
But now eight years later– they still wonder if that day will ever come.
In a way- 2009 was just a transition from one nightmare to another for the Baskins.
“I’ve never seen the kids, never talked to the kids,” Debbie Baskin said.
Debbie Baskin blames that on her parents–who she believes planted false stories that the kids grew to trust.
“I think brainwash,” Debbie Baskin said. “I think they really did a number on them. They had told law enforcement and stuff that we were members of a satanic cult, that we offered human sacrifice- it was crazy stuff,’ she added.
The only development since ’09 came just before Marvin Maple’s death last year.
Debbie drove to his nursing home in Tennessee to face her father for the first time in more than two decades.
In another hard-to-believe twist of this story—Mark Baskin claims the man arrested for kidnapping their children asked the couple to take him home.
“The sad thing is we’re the only ones who would take you in, and yes we would but we’d probably be arrested for getting you out of this place they probably wouldn’t let you do it. But because of what y’all did- you’ve made that impossible,” Mark Baskin recounts telling his father-in-law.
Fighting back tears–Debbie embraced her father in the nursing home – the man who had robbed her of raising her oldest children.
Knowing it would likely be the only chance to see him before he died- Debbie said she begged him to come clean.
“When I talked to my father who was in the beginning stages of dementia, I asked him would you tell Christi and Bobby the truth now? And he said he couldn’t because he would make people mad. But I still hoped and prayed before he died, he might. But he didn’t,” Debbie Baskin said.
After eight years of waiting, the couple has started to realize they may never see their children again.
“Days turned into weeks and those weeks turned into months and months to years and years to decades. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t,” Mark Baskin said.
After News 3 Reporter Holly Bounds met with Mark and Debbie Baskin, she wrote their son -now Jon Bunting- a letter with hopes of reconnecting the family.
A short time later, Jon responded, saying he was ready to tell his side of the story. He made it clear, though; he had no interest in a reunion. Holly Bounds flew across the country to California to give him an opportunity to break his silence.
-Son Speaks Out-
The big blue eyes and bright smiles in all the photos help paint the picture-perfect family.
From the looks of it- the Baskin kids had it all.
It appears to be the kind of life that would make for the fondest childhood memories.
But in his first-ever interview, Jon Bunting, who is done with the name Bobby Baskin, said the snapshots are just frames captured between moments of horror.
“I just remember there was always a level of fear. I remember just never knowing when something horrible was going to happen to me or to my sister or to my brother,” Bunting said.
With the agreement we wouldn’t talk specifics, he gave a broad idea of what he remembers happening behind closed doors.
“Sexual, physical, emotional,” Bunting listed, when asked about the forms of abuse.
He claims it came from both his parents— though—he had a feeling it wasn’t something his mother was keen on.
Bunting said he mustered the courage and confided in his maternal grandparents Marvin and Sandra Maple, who were already keeping his sister and him at the time.
“They went in the middle of the night to a judge and got immediate temporary custody of Jennifer and I granted. But Michael was in a different county,” Bunting said.
With Mark and Debbie Baskin now separated from their oldest children but caring for their youngest, the allegations —turned into a full investigation.
There were interviews and supervised visitations–all which the oldest son says he recalls.
“I never felt believed when I was talking to the child psychiatrist. When I was showing stuff with dolls and everything I didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t know these people. I didn’t really want to talk to them. It didn’t feel right to me,” Bunting described.
The investigation concluded there was no evidence of neglect or abuse but the grandparents weren’t convinced.
They made a choice that would change the family forever.
“They asked us when we were packing up. They gave us a choice. We can stay, but you’re probably going back to your mom and dad. Or we can go. Leave everything behind. Leave all of our family behind, all of your friends and be different people but try our best to keep you away from them. And we both didn’t hesitate. So, we left. And it was one of the best days of my life. Best days of my life. It was like I could breathe,” Bunting said.
They began a whole new life in hiding.
“I picked my middle name. I remember the whole process,” Bunting said of the changes.
All four changed their names, their birth dates and often rehearsed their cover story to avoid getting caught.
“We had fear when we saw the Unsolved Mysteries segment. All of us. And they couldn’t shield us from that because we watched those programs,” Bunting remembered.
The grandparents became Mom and Dad. The reason- Bunting explains- is two-fold.
“One was the cover. These are our parents and they had us when they were a little bit older. And that’s what they were to me . I think those are titles that are earned, not just biologically granted,” Bunting said.
The new family fooled doctors, housing complexes, social security offices and more for 20 years—until a few years after his wife’s death, Marvin Maple told the truth to a few friends.
That backfired. Someone told police and Maple was arrested and charged with kidnapping.
His charges were later reduced and Maple only served a matter of a few months behind bars.
That was relief for Jon who hails the man a hero– not a criminal.
“They sacrificed everything so we could have normal lives,” he said.
But the revelation meant Jon and Jennifer, now adults, no longer had to hide who they were. As the bizarre and emotional story grabbed headlines everywhere, the world waited for after 20 years–the children to finally reunite with their mom and dad.
It never happened—and according to Jon– never will.
“There’s nothing that could come from it that would be good. It would just probably throw me back into trauma,” Bunting said. “I don’t want to put myself through that. I have nothing to gain from it.”
The Baskins firmly believe their children were brainwashed into despising their parents and the couple has a band of confident supporters.
When asked whether Bunting had ever considered the scenario that he and his sister were brainwashed he responded: “No. It hasn’t crossed my mind because it’s too vivid. It’s too clear. There are too many details. If someone is planting memories in your head that were not there, they would not be accompanied by a memory of physical pain. They would not be accompanied by those shadows. I have real memories of like, breaking my ankle. And I remember the pain associated with that. I remember physical pain. They are in glowing detail. Technicolor. 3D. So, I have never heard of a brainwashing or mind controlling that was so successful,” he said.
Others believe Marvin and Sandra Maple grew so fond of the siblings– they couldn’t stand the idea of sharing them.
“They gave up everything. Why would you do that over a lie? Why would you sacrifice everything just because oh I want to have these kids?” Bunting said.
Still today Mark and Debbie Baskin put their faces and story in front of a camera at every chance.
They plead for a reunion and often share fond memories of their oldest kids online.
“They probably get a lot of hubris being these poor victims who lost their kids,” Bunting said. “We haven’t said anything in 8 years. And we were gone for 20. They probably thought we were never going to be found and then we were found and they have to keep playing the role. And then we don’t say anything for eight years, and also it seems like we don’t have any interest in it, why would they stop?”
“It’s like when you’re bluffing. You go all in at some point. So many of your chips are already on the table that you’re going to lose the game if you don’t go all in. It’s just like a game of poker,” Bunting said.
Jon did not mention his sister Jennifer much – he said- out of respect for her.
He knows she wouldn’t approve of him talking to the media about the ordeal.
While Jon answered almost every question matter-of-factually, there’s one time he teared up when he talked about his brother who was left behind.
He said his grandparents always felt guilty about leaving him and he often thinks about Michael.