The Orange Leader
When a person is placed in a desperate situation, they often do desperate things. In 1994, Frances Collins found herself in a desperate situation. Her actions led to her being convicted and sent to prison as an international kidnapper.
It all started with a set of horseshoes.
Collins was a successful business woman in Mauriceville; she was an attractive divorcee with two daughters and a son. Her oldest daughter and son were involved in rodeo; her youngest daughter also rode, so they had horses. Horses need shoes, so she hired a ferrier to shoe the horses. The ferrier was a young man in his early 30s. He was interested in pursuing a relationship with Collins. Collins however was not interested in him. Her daughters wanted to see their mother get involved with the cowboy and tried to get their mother to date the young man.
“I had no interest in him whatsoever. In the first place he was too young and in the second place, I just did not like him,” said Collins. The man that Collins calls “Trevor” in the book she wrote about her ordeal, wanted to date Collins and when he was repulsed, he became cruel.
“He began to do mean things, like telling me that mother had sold my horse that I loved dearly. He told me that as he was leaving one day. He drove off laughing about it,” said Collins’ daughter Anna.
Trevor decided that if he could not have the mother, he would conquer her daughter, Jo Ney. He enticed Jo Ney into a relationship with him and began to possess and abuse her. As abused persons often do, Jo Ney would not leave him, not listen to her family and friends as they tried to talk to her about being in a destructive relationship. In 1991when Trevor was 34 years old and Jo Ney was 17, they became the parents of a baby girl they named Nocona.
In addition to abusing the mother, Trevor began to abuse the baby. Collins would see signs of abuse on both her daughter and her granddaughter as time went by. When Collins noticed bruises on her granddaughter, she took the baby girl to a doctor. Over a two year period there were several visits to a doctor to have Nocona checked for physical abuse.
Trevor was continuing to abuse Jo Ney as well. The nightmarish situation continued until Collins decided that it was time to take action. She sought legal assistance. She hired a lawyer, consulted with Child Protective Services, saw a child psychiatrist, and took Trevor to court to try to gain custody of Nocona.
That was when the second stage of her ordeal began. She took Trevor to court and sued for parental rights. In June, 1993, Trevor, not Collins, was awarded full parental rights. Collins was devastated to find the legal system had worked against her and worse, against Nocona.
The doctor presented no records in court: the testimony of the CPS worker was discounted. The child psychiatrist, who had never seen Nocona, did nothing to help with his testimony. Collins later found out that the once respected psychiatrist had turned into a person more concerned with keeping his position testifying in court as an expert witness and earning lucrative fees from that than being the doctor he had sworn to be.
Collins lawyer had been a former law partner of the judge, Trevor’s lawyer was a close friend of both Collins’ lawyer and the judge, and Trevor’s mother worked in the county clerk’s office, there was an allegation that she had “picked the judge”.
For the thousands of dollars that Collins spent in legal fees, she got nothing in return. Trevor would have as much control as he wanted; Collins had no legal rights after the ruling by the court.
In April, 1994, after continuing to see the abusive situation continue and not feeling there was anything else she could do, Collins took Nocona and left Orange County. She left a letter stating she was fleeing with her granddaughter to protect her from physical abuse. Orange County officials issued an arrest warrant charging Collins with a third degree felony; interfering with a child custody order.
The legal system that worked against Collins now went full-steam to prosecute her. Collins lived the next eight years out of the United States on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. She had been a productive citizen of Orange County and she became a productive citizen of Roatan. She built and operated a small resort and tried to live a quiet life.
Collins became a wanted fugitive. She was listed on “America’s Most Wanted”. Wanted posters of her were distributed nationwide.
Once the legal system in the U.S. knew where she was, they began surveillance. At one point there was a “commando raid” at the elementary school Nocona attended. Nocona was taken from the school by persons hired by Trevor. It was a highly disruptive, emotional experience for Nocona, her school mates and the teachers. The group was blocked at the airport by Honduran authorities. Nocona was returned to her grandmother.
After a change in relations between the U.S. and Honduras, Collins was finally extradited to the U.S. She was taken to court and convicted as an international kidnapper.
Between her return and her sentencing, there were over 100 letters of reference sent to the courts on her behalf. There was support for the stance she had taken to protect her granddaughter and pleas for clemency. The amount of public support was overwhelming. It was as if everyone who knew Collins was trying to help her by writing letters. Supportive letters came from Honduran officials, church pastors, her friends from both Texas and Honduras. They were testimonies to her character.
The case was to have been tried in Orange County, but after some legal wrangling in Orange County, the case was passed to a Federal court in Beaumont. It seemed as though Orange County did not want to try the case. The Federal court seemed to think that Orange County should have tried the case. There were delays.
Collins’ lawyer was a respected criminal attorney from Beaumont. He told Collins to “prepare for the worst.” For some reason there was pressure from some high level, possibly as high as Washington, to convict Collins.
After her case was tried she was sentenced to seven months in federal prison and seven months probation. The court stated that she was to be in minimum security in the federal prison in Fort Worth. When Collins reported to prison, they treated her as an international kidnapper, a dangerous person, and kept her in a maximum security prison for several months before finally moving her to the minimum security camp she should have been in from the start of her sentence.
After she got out of prison, Collins began to write a book about her ordeal. After nine years of work, she decided that she was ready to publish the story. Her book is a true story, but she states that it is “based on a true story”. She prefers to let the readers discern the truth on their own. She does not use many actual names. From the dates it is not hard to figure out who the elected officials were. In addition there are court proceedings that are public records and several years of newspaper archives, if one wishes to dig out the true names.
Remarkably, Nocona, who was only three when she was taken away by Collins and the ordeal started, is a very well-adjusted person. She is in her third year as Sociology major at Lamar University. She states that she had some problems when she was younger, but now everything is fine. Meeting her and talking with her that is easy to believe.
Collins does not have any desire to be vindictive. “One reason I wrote the book is to try to let people know that things can work against them in a very unexpected way. It seemed to me that there was always someone willing to take my money, and give me nothing in return. I also want people to know that if they take a child or anyone to the doctor in a situation similar to mine, they need to get copies of those records as they go along. When the doctor I used did not take records to court I had no proof of the things we went to the doctor for. People need to have the proof themselves and not depend on their doctors or whoever else,” said Collins.
This did not happen in Houston, Dallas, or Boston. This happened in Orange County, Texas. It was as though a “Good Ole Boy” network formed and worked against Collins.
From the outside looking in, it seems that Collins was a victim of an extremely cruel person, Trevor, who when he could not get the mother, went after the child and the grandchild. Once Collins started legal proceedings against him it seems that Trevor’s mother used whatever influence she had in the Orange County Courthouse to try to protect her son against Collins’ charges against him.
Trevor’s sister married a lawyer in Houston that allegedly had influential friends. Is that where the “pressure from above” came from? Did they use their influence to try to protect Trevor as his mother possibly had?
Orange County law enforcement officials stated “we will have her in custody in a week”, but it took eight years to return her to Orange County.
Collins only wanted to save her granddaughter from an abusive situation. She trusted the legal system to help her. Her story is about how that system instead, worked against her.
Collins’ book: “Seashell Prisoners” is available locally at Asher Luis Boutique in Orange; Mack’s Video in Mauriceville; through a link on the Seashell Prisoners Facebook page; or from SeashellPrisoners.com. It is also available from Amazon.com and will soon be on Kindle books.