FBI Fugitive Leslie Delbecq Explains Why She Kidnapped Her Daughter and Fled South Florida

FBI Fugitive Leslie Delbecq Explains Why She Kidnapped Her Daughter and Fled South Florida
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Leslie Delbecq's voice crackles over the line. "I never had a criminal record," she says with a nervous lilt to her Belgian accent. "I was in the military. I did my taxes on time."

In the picture of her on the FBI's most-wanted list, she has a warm and radiant smile. Five years ago, when the photo was taken for her driver's license, she was fit and pretty, with sun-kissed cheeks and a ponytail of thin brown hair. The FBI lists her nationality as American, which is true but misleading. She's a globetrotter, or at least she was. The daughter of Belgian expats, Delbecq was born in Michigan, was raised in central Africa, attended high school in Bahrain, and then lived for a year in Mauritius, a remote wedge of paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Despite having spent only a few weeks of her life on U.S. soil, Delbecq enrolled in the U.S. Army when she was 18 and served a year as a chemical operations specialist at Fort Polk in Louisiana. After an honorable discharge, she won a grant to play tennis at the University of Tampa and wrapped up a communications degree in three years. Next stop was Fort Lauderdale, where her peripatetic streak of success exploded into chaos.

Leslie Delbecq (left); her mother, Jeanine De Riddere; and her father, Philippe Delbecq, are wanted by the FBI on charges of 
international parental kidnapping.
Courtesy of FBI
Leslie Delbecq (left); her mother, Jeanine De Riddere; and her father, Philippe Delbecq, are wanted by the FBI on charges of international parental kidnapping.
Christopher Dahm has kept his daughter Gabrielle's room just as it was when she was kidnapped by her mother almost two years ago.
Chris Sweeney
Christopher Dahm has kept his daughter Gabrielle's room just as it was when she was kidnapped by her mother almost two years ago.

Today, after a failed marriage, the birth of a daughter, and an escape to Dubai, the 31-year-old Delbecq and both of her parents are wanted on charges of international parental kidnapping. For every week she remains on the run, another $1,000 fine is added to a tab that's already topped $75,000.

This June, on a balmy Sunday night in Dubai, against the advice of her attorneys and parents, the fugitive presses a cell phone to her ear, takes a breath, and explains why she abducted her own daughter.

"I just want to make it clear that I left the U.S. for a very good reason."

Inside his Pompano Beach home, Christopher Dahm avoids introducing a lush blonde with an Eastern European vibe who's watching soccer in the living room. A waist-high German shepherd follows him down the hallway toward his daughter's room, where Dahm sinks into a small white couch. Masculine and built like a beach volleyball player, with a broad, bony brow, he looks awkward thumbing through a Tinker Bell book.

Dahm, 35, hasn't changed a thing in his daughter's room since the day she went missing two years ago. Tiny pink dresses still dangle in the closet; assorted stuffed animals line the crib. On each end of the changing table — a utility his daughter has surely outgrown — sit neatly displayed postcards featuring a picture of Dahm and his smiling, baldheaded newborn, Gabrielle. KIDNAPPED is stamped across the top in a bulky red font.

One night in March 2007, Dahm shuffled through the packed aisles of a Muvico theater. It was opening weekend of Zodiac, and the only seat open was next to an eye-catching 20-something who was accompanied by her parents. While Jake Gyllenhaal ran around San Francisco for two and a half hours trying to crack the case of the elusive serial killer, Dahm flirted his way to a first date with Leslie Delbecq. "She was quick to laugh," he recalls.

A few days later, the two hit it off over sushi. The relationship evolved quickly. Dahm wooed Delbecq with expensive meals and an impenetrable air of confidence. It didn't hurt that he was a successful business owner with money to burn. He could afford a $5,000-a-month beachfront apartment on Atlantic Boulevard and romantic jaunts to places like Vail, Colorado. But complications began surfacing four months into the relationship. "We started getting very close," Dahm recalls. "Although it became apparent that she was struggling with alcoholism and addiction, it progressively got worse."

Dahm says that after they dated for about seven months, Delbecq went to the United Arab Emirates, where her parents lived and her father was working as a pilot, and did two inpatient stays at the American Hospital Dubai, followed by an outpatient program. Dahm empathized; he had struggled with addiction and bounced through treatment facilities a few years earlier. The two talked frequently over Skype and cooked up plans for their eventual reunion.

After five months abroad, in April 2008, a sober Delbecq returned to the United States and moved in with Dahm. A month later, she was pregnant.

"She told me she was on birth control," Dahm says. "Afterward, it came out that she lied to me."

Despite his initial leeriness, the prospect of fatherhood appealed to Dahm. He attended birthing classes, read The Expectant Father, and listened astutely at every doctor's appointment. He wanted to be "superdad" to compensate for his own father's neglect. Dahm says that as a kid, he had been kidnapped by his dad and taken to Chicago for six weeks. A private investigator snatched Dahm back, and that was the last he saw of his father for more than 30 years. Having a stunning fiancée carrying his soon-to-be daughter was Dahm's path to the domestic normalcy he'd craved while growing up.

On September 28, 2008, Dahm and Delbecq married in a shotgun ceremony at Fort Lauderdale's St. Regis Hotel, a plush resort surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic Ocean. They embarked on an exotic honeymoon that took them to the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Indonesia. Life as expectant newlyweds coasted along until Delbecq's mother, Jeanine De Riddere, came to stay at the family's South Florida vacation home in December 2008, Dahm says. The idea was that she would help her daughter through the last few weeks of pregnancy, spend some time with her newborn granddaughter, and return to the UAE.

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5 comments
joslin1
joslin1

I worked for Chris in 2011.  He was using the name Henry and speaking directly with timeshare owners, getting them to send thousands of dollars for properties he (and others in the office) claimed they had buyers for.  This only stopped when I answered the phone one day and an FBI agent asked for Chris Dahm (until then I did not know his name) and stated that he was standing outside his alleged office (a PO Box) and that he knew who he was and who his probation officer was (The address we used and gave victims was in Wyoming).  I only worked for him for 3 or 4 weeks (something I am ashamed of ) and only got paid for the last week by threatening to email a "client" he stole $15,000 to $20,000 from.  He is a complete and total scumbag and theif and should be in prison, not on probation.  It's a lucky child that does not have him as a father.

valeriegeldman
valeriegeldman

I am glad to hear that Leslie and the baby are doing fine. I am Gus Geldman's wife, and yes my husband may have made some mistakes, but he did everything right in that warrenty company and chris stole all of our money, we had to let our employees go right before thanksgiving, and people were mad and showed up to chris house throwing rocks and threatening Chris. He was a smooth talking man who new how to manipulate others. He used our money to pay for that fancy wedding and take that nice honeymoon. And leslie and her mother showed up to my door and I told them how he had stole every dime from us. She had already made up her mind to divorce him. I am glad that Gaby is far from him, I do not believe he has changed and does not deserve to have her in his life.

ChrisSweeney
ChrisSweeney

Chris Dahm's lawyer has sent an email to the New Times raising concerns about some points made in this article. Below readers can find his letter, as well our response to the points made. 

 

Dear Mr Sweeney:Some corrections to your article:Leslie and Chris got married at Saint Pius X Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, NOT the St. Regis. The reception afterward was at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale.Chris  NEVER gave Leslie a gun to use for any reason. The ONLY loaded gun in the house was in their nightstand, in their bedroom. Chris NEVER said that anyone was looking for him, because they were NOT. Chris  was always very easy to find.In 1995, Chris NEVER went berserk or tore off an arm rest. Chris claims that he NEVER claimed that ANYONE’S condos were sold; he contends  that people who worked for him made those claims to the public, not him. Chris maintains he  NEVER stashed loaded guns around the house, NOR did he ever rip ANYONE off. ALL of the other guns were locked up, and NOT loaded. He further claims that he  NEVER stole ANYTHING from ANYONE. There was never a “lock down” situation at his residence.It should be noted that Leslie had the full opporuntiy to raise her concerns at the trial, which she did, and they were considered by the court in its decision. Please correct your article accordingly. Thank you for your consideration.

 

*Chris  NEVER gave Leslie a gun to use for any reason

We never wrote that Chris gave Leslie a gun. We have her quoted saying that he put one in her drawer. It’s a direct quote. This point is discussed in court documents filed during the divorce by Delbecq. And Chris told me that Leslie discharged the gun when trying to take it out of the drawer on one occasion.

 

*Chris NEVER said that anyone was looking for him, because they were NOT. Chris  was always very easy to find.

This is from a direct quote that Leslie made. Furthermore, the court documents include Delbecq discussing that someone came to their house looking for him. Saying that Chris was always easy to find is subjective.

 

*In 1995, Chris NEVER went berserk or tore off an arm rest

The arrest report that we viewed from 1995 describes how Chris was placed in hand cuffs and put in the back of the squad car. While in the back, he managed to get the cuffs in front of him and “pulled the armrest off.” In the story, this assertion is qualified with “police records show.” He was removed from the car and hit with pepper spray, according to the report. He was charged with ‘resist/obstruction w/o violence,” among other things.

 

*Chris claims that he NEVER claimed that ANYONE’S condos were sold; he contends  that people who worked for him made those claims to the public, not him. 

Chris pleaded no contest to felony fraud charges for his role in the timeshare scheme. The description of the scam in court records includes detailed description of how the scam worked, including that people were told their condos had been sold.

 

*Chris maintains he  NEVER stashed loaded guns around the house

Chris told me that his ex-wife discharged a loaded gun that he had put in the dresser drawer. Furthermore, a court document filed by Leslie states: “Additionally my husband had loaded firearms which he kept in the bedroom where we slept with my infant daughter.”

 

*NOR did he ever rip ANYONE off

Allegations that Dahm ripped people off are in direct quotes from Leslie and they appear in documents filed by Delbecq during the divorce proceedings.

 

*ALL of the other guns were locked up, and NOT loaded

Delbecq claims otherwise. And there is discussion in the second deposition about how the guns were later removed from Dahm’s house and then locked up at his grandfather’s home. Delbecq claimed that Chris had another loaded pistol at his disposal, which he once answered the door holding.

 

*He further claims that he  NEVER stole ANYTHING from ANYONE.

Delbecq claims that he did steal money from co-workers. And, again, Chris’ pleaded no contest to felony fraud charges.

 

*There was never a “lock down” situation at his residence.

In a court document filed by Leslie, she wrote: “my daughter and I, for the brief time we resided with Christopher Dahm, literally were in a lockdown situation with limited transportation.”

 

*It should be noted that Leslie had the full opporuntiy to raise her concerns at the trial, which she did, and they were considered by the court in its decision.

This is abundantly clear in the article.

 

*Leslie and Chris got married at Saint Pius X Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, NOT the St. Regis. The reception afterward was at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale.

Leslie told us twice that the reception was at the St. Regis. However, we will run a correction nothing this point. 

 

 

adrianmiceli
adrianmiceli

I love your explanation on each of these.  Leslie deserves better than Chris and should not have to be a runaway with her child.  Chris should be in jail.

 
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