Part 3: A Bitter Custody Battle

Perry March Creates New Family, Career In Mexico

Ever since Janet March disappeared one summer night in Nashville, her parents have kept up a fierce legal fight against her husband.

For his part, Perry March was starting over. He and his two children moved to Mexico and he remarried. Now, he says, he and the kids are all living in fear.
After a year in Mexico, Sammy, 9, and his sister, Tzipi, 6, were happy and comfortable with their father, Perry March, and their new mother, Carmen.

But 1,500 miles away, their maternal grandparents were fighting to get visitation rights.

Since the Levines' action against him for the wrongful death of their daughter, Perry March has refused to let them have contact with his children.

In May 2000, the Levines showed up at his door with legal papers from the U.S. granting them visitation. But Perry refused to let them see the children.

A month later, just after 9 a.m., Sammy and Tzipi were starting their school day. Perry was in his office when four Mexicans, one with a badge and a uniform, walked in and told him his immigration papers were not in order.

"They grabbed me under the arms and put me in a headlock," recalls Perry, "[They] lifted me by my ears, lifted me off my feet and shoved me through my conference room doors." Then, he says, they threw him into an unmarked van and sped off.

At the same time, Larry and Carolyn Levine, accompanied by a local lawyer, a Mexican judge and several Mexican policemen, arrived at school for Sammy and Tzipi March. The Levines had gotten Mexican authorities to help them execute their court-ordered visitation.

When word about what was happening got to Arthur March, Perry's father raced to the school. The Levines said Arthur pulled a gun on them and told them they would never get out of Mexico alive.

Asked about this later, Arthur said, "I wasn't thinking rationally, but those are my grandkids!"

After a chaotic hour of arguments and threats, school administrators handed Sammy and Tzipi over to the Mexican judge, who in turn handed them over to Carolyn and Larry Levine. They headed for the airport with Arthur in pursuit, but managed to elude him and fly to Nashville.

Meanwhile, Perry realized that his armed captors were taking him to the airport. He took a gamble: He dropped the name of the immigration official he suspected his captors were working for.

"The chief of the van got out and got on a cell phone," Perry recalls. "Three minutes of conversation, he gets back into the van, turns around to me and says, 'It's a terrible mistake. I'm sorry. Your paperwork is in order.' "

By the time, Perry reached the school, the Levines and his children were gone. Within 24 hours, Sammy and Tzipi March were at the Levines' home back in Nashville.

"They are kidnappers," says Perry. "It was all a big orchestration."
The Levines had gotten a warning from the FBI that Mexican immigration officials planned to question, and maybe even deport Perry March that morning. This would be a good time, they were told, to try once again to enforce their court order for visitation.

"This was a court order in which we were doing what the court said we had a right to do," says Larry Levine.

Though the visitation was limited to 39 days, the Levines were now taking steps to get permanent custody of Sammy and Tzipi March.

Back in Mexico, Perry thought he was going to lose his children for good.
But he hired two lawyers who found an international treaty that changed everything.

"The bottom line is that this treaty says that you can't steal children and try to make custody determinations in the jurisdiction where you stole them to," says Perry.

His lawyers took March's case to a U.S. federal court and won. The Levines were told to send the children back.

"We knew we might never seem them again," says Carolyn, crying.
Now, Perry March's family is back together – and now bigger than ever.

"We're now the Brady Bunch. We have 3 and 3, exactly 3 boys and 3 girls," says Perry. "I love it here. I have a wonderful wife, I have a wonderful house, I have a wonderful community around here and this is where I want to live."

Perry is thriving in his new career. He's recently been overseeing the completion of a development called Chula Vista Norte, the most exclusive address in Ajijic.

In Nashville, friends of Janet March are reluctant to make any definite accusations against Perry. But they find it strange that he has said Janet's disappearance may have had something to do with drugs or with an extramarital affair. In fact, they scoff at both suggestions and say that Janet was never involved in drugs or an extramarital affair.

But it's what Perry has said about Janet to her children - and that disturbs Larry and Carolyn Levine.

"He told the children that their mother ran away and abandoned them," says Carolyn, crying. "Her children grow up thinking that their mother abandoned them. But nobody loved them more than their mother."

Detective Miller says Perry March remains the only suspect. And if he did kill his wife, he had two weeks to rid of the body and cover up the crime.

With the investigation still going on, Miller won't share all of the evidence. But he says there are still discrepancies in Perry March's story -that Janet wrote a list of jobs for him to do around the house while she took a 12-day vacation.

"I think, if you look at the date that she disappeared, on the 15th, and you add that 12 days to it, that would have her coming back on the 27th," says Miller. "And that would make sense because Sammy's birthday was on the 27th, his 6-year birthday. What somebody didn't think about was that Janet had already sent out invitations for his party for the 25th – two days before that."

Somebody also didn't think, or know, about a playdate Janet had arranged for her son, Sammy, the very evening she disappeared. It was for the next day.

And finally, Miller says, police also have several witnesses who said that there was a new Oriental rug rolled up, basically blocking the doorway into Perry's study and Janet's art studio. It has never been found, and Perry denies its existence.

The police, however, believe that Perry put Janet's body inside the rug, and carried it out of the house.

Miller says he hopes to close the case within a year. He's looking forward to asking Perry March a lot of questions - about the rug, about the missing hard drive from his home computer, about the tires he had changed after Janet disappeared.

Did Perry March kill his wife - either accidentally or on purpose - and hide the body? "The question is highly offensive to me," says Perry. "The answer is no."

"He took our whole family from us," says Carolyn Levine, crying. "He took our daughter, he took our grandchildren and he took himself, and he meant a great deal to us. But I didn't know him. I wouldn't trust him with anything today."

Part I: Where Is Mrs. March?

Part II: The Search For Evidence
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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