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Methodist Pastor Disappears With Wife And Stepchildren

October 2, 1988

LADYSMITH, Wis. (AP) _ A court has issued a felony warrant for a Methodist pastor who disappeared in August with his wife and stepchildren after his wife lost custody of the children.

When the Rev. Norman Luecke left Faith United Methodist Church, he left a handwritten letter to church members admitting his action was illegal but saying it was necessary if his wife was to keep her children.

Luecke and his wife, Sharon Weathers, are now wanted on felony warrants for interfering with a custody order issued for her two children from her previous marriage. They could face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

Authorities said Zachary Weathers, 7, and his sister, Bethany, 4, were not returned to Ms. Weathers’ ex-husband, Lindell Weathers, after their summer visitation with the Lueckes ended Aug. 14. Two weeks earlier, an appeals court had upheld the awarding of custody to Lindell Weathers.

In his letter to church members, Luecke pleaded for understanding.

″What we are doing is illegal. That bothers me, and I’m sure many would disapprove on that basis alone,″ he wrote. ″But what the courts have done to Sharon and her children is immoral and wrong, and so we had to choose and take a stand: accept what is immoral and wrong or do something that is illegal ourselves.″

Luecke was married with three children of his own and was pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Shell Lake when he and his wife became friends with the Weathers couple.

According to court records, Lindell Weathers concluded in 1985 that his wife had begun a romantic relationship with Luecke. Both couples subsequently divorced, and Luecke eventually resigned from the Lutheran Church, married Sharon and became a Methodist minister.

In 1987, he was named pastor for three Methodist churches in Rusk County.

After a lengthy legal battle, Circuit Judge Alvin L. Kelsey awarded Lindell custody of the two Weathers children, saying that either he or his ex-wife would be good parents but described Sharon’s new husband, the pastor, as ″a liar, a cheat (and) a shirker of his own family responsibilities.″

Two weeks before the couple and the children disappeared, the State Court of Appeals upheld Kelsey’s custody decision.

Washburn County Sheriff Don Fuller said he sympathizes with Weathers but is unable to undertake a nationwide search until there is evidence the fleeing couple has left Wisconsin.

″It almost obsesses you,″ said Weathers, a nursing home administrator in Shell Lake. ″It’s an unbelievable thing to go through, from this end, so I can’t imagine what its like for the kids.″

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