A missing Hastings woman accused of absconding with her autistic son and illegally keeping him from his father is being sought by authorities across Dakota County and elsewhere in Minnesota.
Wendi Lee Bartell-Dimm, 44, was supposed to turn over her 5-year-old son, Timber, to his father this month for a court-ordered three-month visit. The child’s father, Danny Dimm, who lives in Lillooet, British Columbia, traveled to Hastings in early June to collect the boy.
But when Dimm arrived, neither his ex-wife nor his son were anywhere to be found – and at this point, nobody knows where they are, including members of her family, from whom she is estranged.
“I don’t know where she is,” Dimm said last week. “But I know where she isn’t.”
Bartell-Dimm is officially charged in Minnesota with depriving another of parental rights, a felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine. According to Dimm, it’s not the first time she’s defied court orders and refused to allow her son to spend time with his father.
But the bigger issue, according to Dimm and his attorney, Theresa Gerlach of Hastings, is the safety of the child, whom his father describes as a slightly autistic boy who requires regular therapy.
“The last contact I had with him was on a webcam on June 5,” Dimm said last week. “He was at a different location, not his mother’s house – I was told it was his grandmother’s house. And to the best of my knowledge, she disappeared shortly after that.”
Dimm describes his ex-wife as a recluse, and says his son is being raised the same way. He says Bartell-Dimm neglects the child’s diet, and that she has neglected his dental care to the point where he had 12 caps on his teeth by the time he was 4.
Adding to the complexity of the case is the fact that court proceedings have been held in two different countries. Even though Dimm has the law on his side on both sides of the border, it doesn’t help authorities track down his son.
“It’s incredibly complicated; I’ve had to hire two lawyers, one in the states and one in Canada,” Dimm said. “She’s been getting pro bono lawyers from the get-go, so I feel like I’m fighting the resources of both the state of Minnesota and the province of British Columbia.
“I’ve been fighting this from day one, but I don’t have a choice. When he’s with me, every day I can see the lights coming on in his eyes more and more, but he won’t be able to reach any kind of potential under the care he’s being given by his mother.”
Dimm’s attorney agrees that until he is returned to his father, Timber’s safety is at risk.
“Everyone involved in this case has serious concerns that this woman is so desperate that she will hurt this child in order to prevent him from being taken away from her,” she said this week.
Indeed, Dakota County District Judge Jerome Abrams voiced his own concerns in a June 15 hearing in Hastings, attended by Dimm, Gerlach and an attorney for Bartell-Dimm – but not Bartell-Dimm herself.
The judge pointed out that Bartell-Dimm continues to defy orders issued by courts in both the United States and Canada, and that he is at a loss to know what is motivating her.
“I just want their child returned, and frankly, I’m very concerned at this point,” Abrams said. “ … I’m just very concerned that she might take extreme measures, [and] those extreme measures may include matters that would cause harm to their child.”
Abrams noted that the last time Bartell-Dimm refused to turn her son over to his father – in 2010 – she was living in a car and was picked up “almost inadvertently” by authorities in Douglas County.
Bartell-Dimm’s latest attorney, Lori Michael of Apple Valley, told the judge in mid-June that she’s also lost contact with her client, whom she believes feels that “everything has failed her, so she’s doing what she thinks is right.”
Michael told the judge she is confident that Bartell-Dimm’s family has no idea where she and Timber are. Bartell-Dimm’s mother told Michael via e-mail that the family has “made it perfectly clear to her … that they were not going to support any illegal activity should she do this again.”
Gerlach said Bartell-Dimm is essentially indigent, with no job and no means to take care of Timber.
“Wendi has limited financial resources,” Gerlach said. “Thus, although she is unlikely to be in Hastings, she is most likely in one of the surrounding towns in Dakota County or elsewhere in the state.
“With gas prices as high as they are, and no family support, I would be surprised if she could get too far.”
Gerlach said Bartell-Dimm is a frequent customer at garage sales and dollar stores, and often tries to get money from family service organizations.
Anyone who sees Bartell-Dimm or Timber is asked to contact the Dakota County sheriff’s office or their local police.