Remembering Le-Zahn

By Richard Freedman (c) Vallejo Times-Herald staff writer, 1/23/00

Nearly every major newspaper, radio and television station in the Bay Area has camped out at Vallejo police headquarters, hoping to siphon every possible news nugget out of the Xiana Fairchild case. If the same attention were accorded to Le-Zhan Williams, the baby kidnapped in 1996 may have been found, said Lt. Ron Becker of the Vallejo Police Department.

"If you buy into the concept of the scenario that the baby's mother was killed and the baby was carried away because they didn't want to kill him, then you have to believe the baby is alive somewhere," Becker said. "And the more the media, the better the possibility the information is going to get out to someone. If the media doesn't catch on, you don't get the information out to surrounding states and other parts of the country and if that's where the child has gone, they're never going to know."

 While Xiana is still big news 46 days after her Dec. 9 disappearance, coverage of baby Le-Zhan all but vanished after only two weeks. It wasn't for lack of effort by the police department, Becker said. "We did what we could to get people interested," he said. "For some reason, it did not catch on. A few times, we had to beg the media to run something. Maybe it was as simple as there were better fish to fry in the media frying pan. Maybe there was a run of things going on."

Becker appears to be correct. While few stories have battled the Xiana case for headlines, Le-Zhan was up against the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial, and, locally, the conviction of Alex Deon Ross in the murder of 8-year-old Emily Dion, the trial in the murder of 17-year-old Aaron Goldman and his grandmother, Helen McIlhattan, and the trial of since-convicted Richard Allen Davis for the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas.

While the bizarre exploits of Xiana's mother, Antoinette Robinson, and Robinson's ex-boyfriend, Bobby Turnbough, have kept fresh stories churning out, "there was a lot of stuff (in the Le-Zhan case) that could have been played up in the press had they chose to do so," Becker said. "They just chose not to pick it up."

Becker said the Xiana media frenzy helped create a $61,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the case, greatly assisted by $50,000 authorized from the state by Gov. Gray Davis. A $5,000 reward stands in the Williams kidnapping. "I know I was rather frustrated because we weren't getting offers of rewards," recalled Becker. "It started off really low at a thousand or two. It was almost embarrassing to me. Here a mother was killed in a heinous crime and an infant was missing and we're offering $2,000." Only when the FBI tapped into some resources was the Le-Zhan reward fund upped to $5,000, Becker said. A reward comparable to Xiana's may have led to an arrest, he added. "What we like to believe and what we do believe is that there's somebody out there who knows what happened," Becker said. "Sometimes, the reward is enough for them to sacrifice whatever concerns they had as far as reasons why they didn't come forward earlier, whether it was because of fear or retaliation." Money, the lieutenant added, "sometimes motivates them (a tipster) to a higher level. A lot of times, it does help."

Unlike the Le-Zhan case, Becker said he can't go anywhere without being quizzed about Xiana. "No matter where you go, the first thing people want to talk about is Xiana. You can't escape it," Becker said. Though Le-Zhan's disappearance was reported by "America's Most Wanted" and "Hard Copy," daily coverage didn't reach out of the Bay Area, Becker said. "Again, for whatever reason, we didn't get the media coverage this (Xiana's) case has had."

There can never be too much media coverage or attention to a case involving a missing child, Becker said. He pointed to the case of Jeremy Stoner, the 6-year-old Vallejo boy kidnapped in 1987 and found murdered four days later. "That case had tons of publicity," Becker said. "And a week after it happened, we did door-to-door canvassing in a half-mile radius and people didn't know what we were talking about. And I have a feeling that's not an anomaly." From massive media attention comes community involvement.

Again, Becker said, comparing Le-Zhan and Xiana's reaction among the people is comparing a snowball to an avalanche. In Xiana's case, there have been 700 volunteers on a search and ongoing fund-raisers to support the volunteer center. Even YWCA members in San Francisco have circulated fliers of the missing 7 year old. After Le-Zhan was kidnapped, there was a vigil at the Continentals of Omega Boys and Girls Club and a peace march through Vallejo. Still, any community unity is positive, Becker said. "It certainly is good," he said. "It's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to bring groups of people together. It would be better if it was long term. It would be better if something like this would bring everyone together and they would remain together. I haven't seen that happen yet. "Maybe," said Becker, "We're working toward that."

The end.