The father of an autistic woman who secretly got a new passport and followed her boyfriend to northern India is demanding to know how she managed to sneak out of New Zealand. Christchurch broker Craig Doody wants a police investigation into how Jessica Doody, a 24-year-old with the mental capacity of a young teen, managed to change her name and leave the country without him knowing. He chased her to the Punjab region, and amid allegations of police corruption and bribery, managed to get her safely home. But he says, it was no thanks to the New Zealand Government, and now he wants answers. Kurt Bayer reports.
After travelling for days, Craig Doody still couldn't sleep. Even on the bumpy seven-hour bus journey to the northern Indian city where he hoped his daughter was still alive he gazed out the window, wide awake. Jessica Doody had turned her phone off after landing in India a fortnight earlier. Her Facebook account was disabled. Her family feared the worst. Was she trafficked for the sex trade? Imprisoned in a dungeon? Murdered, dumped, and forgotten?
Western travellers to India always talk about the initial experience being a blast to the senses. Sights, sounds, smells. As Doody stepped from the bus on the dusty, rubbish-strewn southeastern Punjabi city streets of Patiala, his heart sank further. Beat-up motor scooters and grimy street urchins whizzed by, horns blared, cattle nosed splayed litter.
While he tried to get his bearings, a large mob of men gathered. A worldly explorer, who had visited India before, Doody felt them pressing closer. Fearing their intentions, he collared a passing police officer who escorted Doody into a nearby bakery shop. The local cop indicated it was dangerous outside. Doody passed him a piece of paper with a handwritten phone number scrawled on it.
"I need to find my daughter," he said.
How it started
Jessica Doody met Gurdeep Singh, aka Garry Anttal, in her hometown of Christchurch two years ago. He had been flatting with her boyfriend. But they got close, hooked up, and within a fortnight had moved in together.
Jessica, 24, was proud of her independence. Although diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and suffering from dyspraxia and developmental delays, she worked as a hotel cleaner and liked driving her wee Mazda Demio. She enjoyed cash in her pocket, even if she went to her parents when it needed topping up.
Singh variously worked in a fast-food pizza outlet, as a courier and delivery driver.
"At the start of the relationship, Garry told her he was a billionaire and that Maroon 5 would play at their wedding," says Jessica's elder sister Sarah.
"Jessica believed in this amazing fantasy life they would have and became very isolated from us and was soon racking up debt."
Jessica soon fell more than $50,000 into debt after buying two new cars and covering the couple's rent, her family say.
When Singh asked Jessica to travel to India with him for a holiday, her family rejected the idea. At the least, they wanted a family member to accompany Jessica, who has a mental age of 14 and takes anti-depressants, seizure medication and mood stabilisers, while also suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
Eventually, they got a court-imposed travel ban to block Jessica from leaving the country.
They also started the legal process to gain power of attorney and property rights over Jessica, worried that she was falling deeper into financial strife.
When Singh left New Zealand last December, Jessica was distraught.
She cut ties with her family before father Craig found her at an ex-boyfriend's house in Christchurch where she had suitcases packed and "ready to go".
"We couldn't do anything as she is an adult," Sarah, 26, said.
And then, she just disappeared.
Jessica's family reported her missing to Canterbury Police on March 19.
Nine days later, officers shocked the distraught family with news that she had left the country and was now in India.
They were further floored when it was revealed that Jessica had legally changed her name to Kathleen Gray-Anttal through Births, Deaths and Marriages, part of the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). She then successfully applied for a new passport, also through DIA.
Immediately, the family thought she had to have been coached through the complex process.
"There's no way she could've done all that on her own. She had help," Sarah Doody said.
They phoned Jessica's cellphone. It was switched off. They tried her Facebook account but that too had been disabled.
It appeared that Jessica had travelled as Kathleen Gray-Anttal to northern India via Guangzhou on March 16.
Within hours, Craig Doody was on a plane. The family shared grave fears for Jessica's safety. How could the naive, innocent woman, who has the mental capacity of a 14-year-old, cope without them in a foreign land?
While Doody made his way to India – via a frustrating four-day layover in Thailand while his visa application to enter India was processed - he contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat). He says he was advised to register with SafeTravel.
"When I got on that plane [to India], I didn't know if she was alive, if she had been trafficked? And where do I start in India to find her? I got no help from anyone," he said.
New Zealand Police said it understood the "significant concerns that Jessica's family has for her welfare" and also referred them to Mfat to see what help could be given on the ground in India.
While Doody jetted into the unknown, Sarah was hitting the phones back in Christchurch.
The lounge of her Mairehau home would soon resemble a detectives' operations centre, with the wall covered in mugshots, phone numbers, notes, snippets of information and leads.
A friend of Jessica's told Sarah that Garry Singh had once mentioned that he came from a place near Jalandhar, a city with a population of 800,000 in the Doaba region of Punjab. It was enough to go on for now, sending her dad to New Delhi. He would contact the New Zealand Embassy there once he landed on Easter Sunday. Both Sarah and Craig Doody impressed on authorities that Jessica has mental deficiencies and needed to be reunited with her family.
"When I got to New Delhi, the embassy told me to ring them the next day. I said I hadn't flown halfway around the world to ring them, I was going to see them," he said.
The next day, Doody visited consular staff. They asked him if he knew where Garry Singh lived.
"I said they should have known this situation since Wednesday but they were putting the privacy of an Indian guy over the safety of a vulnerable New Zealand citizen," Doody said.
"They then asked me if I had filed a missing person's report with New Zealand Police. It was clear that the New Zealand Embassy and New Zealand Police had not communicated with each other. It was incredibly frustrating."
Thanks to some dogged sleuth work by Sarah Doody – "Don't ask how" - she sourced an address for Garry Singh's parents in a city called Patiala. Craig Doody passed the details over to the embassy which contacted the Non Resident Indian (NRI) Affairs Division of Punjab Police in Patiala.
"I told them I was going up there," Doody said. "The embassy advised me not to as it was pretty dangerous. But I was going to get my daughter, no matter the cost."
After the gruelling seven-hour bus trip, and his terrifying experience on arriving in the city, he was contacted by NRI police. They told him they had his daughter. He could see her tomorrow.
It was a major breakthrough. She was alive. Doody checked into a hotel.
But the following day at the police station, he was told that Singh had disappeared. Jessica too. When they'd phoned him, Singh had said he was in a cinema and would phone them back. His cellphone was then switched off and police were now trying to track its location.
That day, news of Jessica's disappearance made the front page of the New Zealand Herald. The story was then being picked up by other major media outlets, both in New Zealand and overseas.
The next night, police officers visited Doody at his Patiala hotel room. They had Jessica at the police station.
Doody's joy was soon diluted when he was told he was not allowed to see her alone and that he was only allowed to ask her five questions. And only after he signed a document vowing not to physically harm her.
"I spent five minutes with her and she just said she was staying in India and that she totally hated the family," Doody said.
"I was blown away. I said, 'Jess, why are you saying this? I've flown halfway around the world for you'.
"It was pretty horrendous. She had been brainwashed and totally groomed with what she was saying."
After the brief encounter, police told him to leave town. Doody took it as a threat.
With serious safety concerns both for himself and his daughter, police officers escorted him to the bus station.
On the long trip back to New Delhi, Doody racked his brains, trying to figure out how to get his daughter home.
Frustrated at what he saw as a lack of action by authorities, and a growing belief that corruption or bribery could be involved, all sorts of options were running through his head, including a vigilante snatch-and-flee operation.
"I just wanted my daughter back. I was getting desperate."
Back in New Delhi, a New Zealander staying in India contacted him. She feared Jessica was in "serious danger", worried she'd been groomed.
By now, Jessica's story was appearing in Indian media too. Doody was reluctant to return to Patiala because he felt his life was at risk.
But with the help of the New Zealand woman, they managed to make contact with members of the powerful traffic police division.
"They looked at the medical records and the court process we had been through and said, 'No. Jessica should not be here. She needs to get out of India'," Doody says.
Doody was told he needed to get a New Zealand Embassy letter asking police to release Jessica to their care.
Meanwhile, Doody returned to Patiala. He had a plan.
Under Indian law, the father has full rights over the children until his death.
When he arrived in Patiala, he demanded to talk his daughter alone – as a father. Police agreed. But when they contacted the Singh family, Doody was told they'd put Jessica on a plane home to New Zealand just hours earlier.
"They [the Singh family] said they had been disgraced through the media and their status had collapsed. It had brought great shame to the family so they had sent Jessica home. I couldn't believe it. It was over."
At 9.30am last Tuesday, April 10 Jessica touched down back in Christchurch. Her sister Sarah, mother Bridget Gray, and cousin Danielle Holt were there to meet her.
But she wasn't happy.
"She wants to go back and live there," Sarah said.
"We haven't really found out yet what's gone on but we're so relieved to have her home. For a while there, I didn't think we were going to get her back."
While the Doody family is grateful to have her back safely, they now want to know how Jessica was able to leave New Zealand in the first place.
Since his return, Doody has been busy digging for answers.
This week he visited Canterbury Police asking for an inquiry into the legality of Jessica's name change and new passport.
He also raised concerns with the Department of Internal Affairs which says it is investigating. A spokesman told the Herald: "We are taking these concerns seriously and looking into them as a priority but we would note that every New Zealand citizen is entitled to hold a New Zealand passport, and that their ability to travel on it is only able to be restricted by agencies other than the department."
Doody is adamant somebody has helped her.
"She would've had no idea how to change her name," he said.
"What was actually filled out on her applications? Are the details correct? Did someone do it for her? I want an investigation into that and have a total travel ban put on Jessica in the meantime and for us to get power of attorney.
"With facial recognition at the airports, that should've alerted them to her having changed her name and that she'd been subject to travel bans and that there was a court process in place for power of attorney. She should never have been able to leave the country."
Throughout the agony of her disappearance, Mfat told media it was "providing consular assistance" to Doody's family, which they say is laughable.
They say Mfat "did nothing" to assist and say that the Government, consular officials, Police, and Interpol all failed to help get Jessica home.
It was only through his efforts on the ground, amidst increasing media spotlight, that resulted in her return, the Doodys say.
"I'm actually disgusted to be a New Zealand citizen," Doody said.
"Here was a most vulnerable person conned into getting taken to India, with a total loss of contact, and the New Zealand Government didn't do anything to get her back. None of the New Zealand agencies talked to each other on this. It's a total failure of the Government and the various agencies. Everyone has let Jessica down and need to be held accountable. It's absolutely horrific."
Doody has also filed a complaint with Punjab state police against her boyfriend, Singh, alleging that he is still harassing and threatening her by text and social media messages.
In his official complaint, seen by the Herald, Doody claims that Singh has asked his daughter to return NZ$10,000 that the Singh family allegedly paid to Punjab police to stop her from being arrested and sent back to New Zealand.
Patiala police confirmed to Times of India that it has received the complaint and that state police is investigating.
Singh's father Bhagwant Singh denied the claims when contacted by Times of India, saying his son has changed his mobile number and is no longer in touch with Jessica.
Meanwhile, the Doodys back in Christchurch are keeping a close watch on Jessica. They are terrified she'll try and sneak out of the country again.
"She is madly in love with this guy and still cannot see the danger that she was in," Doody said.
"The whole situation has been a parent's worst nightmare."