Real Names: Constance Jean Helton and Donald Hanes
Aliases: Connie Jean (Constance)
Wanted For: Abduction
Missing Since: October 17, 1995
Details: Connie Jean Helton is the estranged mother of Kelly Helton and grandmother of
Zenith Helton. In 1977, Connie Jean was divorced from Kelly's father and living with Kelly in Tempe, Arizona. One afternoon in April, Kelly, then fourteen, arrived home from school. Her mother told her that she had found a new job 200 miles away and that she was moving there the next day. Shockingly, she told Kelly to stay in Tempe by herself. Kelly dropped out of school, lied about her age, and was able to find a job.
Three years later, Connie Jean returned and moved back in with her daughter. Kelly was twenty-six and living in Arizona when she gave birth to her first daughter, Tabitha. Around the same time, Connie Jean married her sixth husband, Donald Hanes, a paroled felon. According to Kelly, Connie Jean was longing for another child, so when Zenith was born, she was more than willing to help Kelly out. Kelly had ended her relationship with Zenith's father prior to her birth. She eagerly accepted Connie Jean and Donald's invitation to bring the girls into their home in Provo, Utah.
Soon after Kelly and her daughters moved in, Connie Jean told Kelly that she could put Zenith on her and Donald's insurance plans. She said that all Kelly had to do was sign a paper. The paper, however, was actually a legal document that allowed Connie Jean and Donald to adopt Zenith. Connie Jean explained it as a temporary arrangement, so that Kelly would have time to "get back on her feet". After Kelly signed the paper, Connie Jean became obsessed with Zenith and acted as if she was her mother, not Kelly.
In February of 1993, Kelly took her daughters and returned to Arizona. In July, Kelly allowed Connie Jean to see her and the girls at a layover at Salt Lake City Airport. Donald and Kelly's half-brother Michael also came along. As the group walked through the airport, Connie Jean held Zenith. When they arrived at the check-in desk, Kelly realized that Connie Jean and Zenith were gone.
Kelly soon located Connie Jean and Zenith and demanded that she return her baby. Connie Jean, however, claimed that the child belonged to her. She waved around the paper that Kelly had signed earlier. Airport security intervened and Kelly soon returned to Arizona with her daughters. Two days later, however, Connie Jean filed legal papers in Utah to enforce the adoption agreement. Based on the court order, Arizona police seized Zenith and delivered her to Connie Jean.
A two-year legal battle began between Connie Jean and Kelly over custody of Zenith. The court appointed impartial experts to determine if Connie Jean or Kelly should have custody of Zenith. One expert felt that Connie Jean was insensitive and intolerant to others. The experts felt that Kelly would be a more suitable mother and the courts agreed; Zenith was returned to Kelly. Connie Jean, however, was given nine-hour unsupervised visits once a week. She soon moved to Arizona to be closer to Zenith.
Kelly feared that Connie Jean would abduct her daughter. She told her attorney about her fears. On October 17, 1995, Connie Jean, Donald, and Connie Jean's son Michael came to pick up Zenith for their nine-hour visit. However, they never returned and Kelly has not seen them since.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 3, 1997 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Captured. A viewer who had recently been in Iceland recognized Connie Jean, Donald, and Zenith from the broadcast. All three were found in a town near Reykjavik, Iceland; they had been living there for more than a year. Zenith was taken into protective custody and later reunited with Kelly. Donald and Connie Jean were arrested and charged with custodial interference.
In 1999, Donald and Connie Jean returned to the United States and pleaded guilty to custodial interference. He was sentenced to four years probation. It it not known what sentence she received.
- Arizonan thinks mom stole her child
- Mom still afraid, even after tot's return
- TV talk show to feature reunion of Valley woman, abducted child
- Fugitives from terror
- Grandfather who took child gets probation in Iceland