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FBI, Police Arrest Kidnap Suspect with 8-Year-Old Victim

January 7, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Within three hours after their story was depicted on TV’s ``America’s Most Wanted,″ an 8-year-old Seattle boy and his alleged kidnapper were found by FBI agents in a Manhattan hotel early Sunday.

Jason J. Murphy, 19, who faces charges of kidnapping and child molestation in Washington’s Snohomish County, was being held on a federal fugitive warrant.

The boy was taken to an unidentified state medical facility in New York City, and a preliminary examination showed him to be in good health, FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette said. He refused to say if the exam indicated the boy had been molested.

The child’s parents, Laura Stringfellow and David Sullivan, who are divorced, headed to New York to claim their son but got only as far as a stopover in St. Louis before their flight was canceled by the blizzard in the Northeast. That kept them from their son for at least one more night.

``He just seems so far away,″ Mrs. Stringfellow said of her son. ``There’s nothing that can be done. It’s really frustrating. I’m anxious to give him a big hug.″

Sullivan said Nicholas, in a 10-minute phone conversation, seemed ``tired and kind of sad. It kind of came to an abrupt end and I don’t think he really got to say goodbye to Jason,″ he said.

The boy and Murphy had been the subjects of a nationwide search since Wednesday, when the child vanished after his mother dropped him off at a school in a Seattle suburb.

Murphy had been free on $5,000 bail on charges including a previous alleged molestation incident involving the 8-year-old.

Valiquette said the FBI-police raid on the Hotel Grand Union in midtown Manhattan was the ``direct result″ of Saturday night’s broadcast of ``America’s Most Wanted,″ a crime show that re-creates unsolved cases.

He said a clerk at the 95-room hotel saw the 9 p.m. program and immediately recognized the pair as a man and boy who had been staying at the hotel since Friday.

``The clerk called the police, the police called `America’s Most Wanted,′ `America’s Most Wanted’ called the FBI in Seattle and the FBI in Seattle called the FBI here,″ Valiquette said.

At 12:45 a.m., officers went to the $86-a-night room and found the boy and Murphy ``apparently getting ready for bed,″ he said. ``There was absolutely no problem with the arrest.″

Danny Lora, a desk clerk at the 95-room Grand Union, identified the clerk who initially called police as Ali Hassan. He had no other details, and Hassan could not be reached immediately.

Jan Jorgensen, a Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman, said Murphy had registered under his own name. ``As devious as he was, it’s something that surprises me,″ she said.

Jim Stringfellow, the boy’s stepfather, told The Associated Press that he and his wife watched the TV show and felt there was some hope of the child being found.

But when the FBI called to report that Murphy and the boy were in custody, ``we weren’t even sure they were telling the truth. We had to have them repeat it,″ he said.

Stringfellow said agents told his wife that the capture was ``a lot like you see on TV, breaking the door open and apprehending them.″ He said the boy ``wasn’t too fazed by all of that. It didn’t seem to have any effect on him.″

Murphy met the boy while working as a summer camp counselor a few years ago.

Laura Stringfellow told The Herald in Everett, Wash., that she was pleased when Murphy first took a liking to her son. ``He was just like a big brother to him,″ she said.

Later, however, she began to worry that the two were spending too much time together, she said. Sullivan said he also worried about Murphy’s preoccupation with the boy and finally told him to stop calling and visiting.

Last month, after a teacher reported seeing Murphy kiss the boy on the lips, Edmonds police arrested Murphy and charged him with molestation and unrelated burglary and forgery counts involving break-ins at two schools.

He was scheduled for a court hearing on the day he and the boy vanished.

``America’s Most Wanted″ issued a statement Sunday saying Murphy was one of three fugitives _ all accused of child molestation _ who were featured on Saturday’s program and captured within hours.

The show gives a telephone numbers for viewers to call with information about the crimes depicted. It has taken credit for more than 200 arrests in nine seasons.

The host of ``America’s Most Wanted″ is John Walsh, whose 6-year-old son, Adam, was abducted from a suburban Florida shopping mall in July 1981. The boy’s severed head was found two weeks later, but his body has never been found.

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