The book of Sean Felton’s mission to save then three-year-old Jobe, entitled Scared of the Dark, is to be released on both sides of the Atlantic next month.
But already Hollywood moguls are now vying to turn the tale into a cinema success.
Sean wants the financial rewards of a best-seller, not for himself but for the anonymous businessman who ploughed a small fortune into the £80,000 cost of getting Jobe back into Britain.
“I won’t reveal his name,” said the 40-year-old, “but he has been like a father to me. I can never repay him, but, hopefully, this will go some way towards it.”
Sean’s world fell apart on March 26, 2010, when he returned to his neat Norton Canes home in Staffordshire to discover wife Kim – married after a whirlwind romance in Thailand – and Jobe had vanished. A laughing Kim called three days later to inform him she’d spirited their child to Thailand.
The painter and decorator succeeded, where CID, his own MP, Interpol and even the Foreign Office had failed, in tracking them down by posing as an American playboy.
Kim, 31, was wooed on Facebook by the fictitious ‘Matt Young’, pictures of his Ferrari and promises of cash.
Sean had to grease palms and brave bandits before confronting the pair in the squalid village of Chiang Rai, close to the Vietnamese border and at the heart of the narcotics freeway known as the Golden Triangle, where poppy crops, not English pounds, are the currency that counts.
Kim handed back the traumatised child for £1,000, ownership of a parcel of land in Thailand that Sean has purchased for more than £6,000, a laptop and agreement by the British Embassy she wouldn’t face prosecution in this country.
Watching the child yesterday playing boisterously with his Christmas presents – doting Dad beaming in the background – it’s hard to comprehend the ordeal he endured during six months hidden in the depths of a Thai jungle.
When Sean located Jobe, he was cowering in the corner of a hut on stilts, gnawing hungrily on an apple.
“I will never forget it,” recalled Sean, clearly shaken by the painful memory. “He had no eyes – they were, like, soulless. He was undernourished. His thumbnails had been ripped off and his teeth were chipped. I picked him up. He couldn’t speak. He was scared to death.
“He didn’t speak English – he had been that traumatised, it was just gibberish. You’ve got to remember, this is a child who had been spoilt to death. For him to be picked up and taken to Thailand – a totally different culture, totally different food – must have been devastating.
“For the first three months when I brought him back we slept together on the settee. He was scared of the monsters, he was scared of everything.
“He does still remember and we talk about his mother. We’ve got to the stage where we can talk about the difficult questions.”
Sean’s story is a salutary lesson to Englishmen of a certain age whose heads are turned by the fluttering lashes and pouts of beautiful Thai women half their age. Some of those bar girls are looking for something – and, more often than not, it isn’t love. Sean admits: “I was a fool – my own MP called me a fool. She conned me from the beginning. I think I was a customer in her eyes. She looked on the whole situation as a business. I thought I was being smart. The courtship was brilliant, it was one-in-a-million and I will probably never experience anything like it again.
“She copped me at the bar, next thing we were married, which was my doing. It was just a means of getting full British citizenship.”
He is adamant, however, that he didn’t travel to Thailand for the first time in 2004 looking for love.
Unlike mates who wanted to down lager at the bar, Sean wanted to visit tourist hotspots – and Kim, a stunning bar-worker at the Pattaya hotel, was more than willing to help. “It was the best holiday I ever had and, obviously, I had feelings for her.”
Sean was so smitten he returned three weeks later. “We went to Samui Island. That was paradise and as cheap as chips. I was living a life of luxury for next to nothing. At the end of the three weeks I proposed.
“People may say it happened too quickly, but it happens every day all over the world. If you meet someone you want to be with you do pop the question.”
The couple married on New Year’s Day, 2006, in Kim’s ramshackle village of Udon Thani.
Romance was painfully short. The doting Thai bride became moody and detached soon after arriving in Britain four months later. “She changed so much from the holiday romance to reality.”
And the scattered jigsaw pieces of her past slowly came together. Sean said: “Kim was crying in the bathroom, I thought she was homesick. She said she had something to show me. A finger on her right hand had been cut off from the knuckle. She said it was an accident while operating a rice machine, but the injury wasn’t new – she must’ve kept it from me. I found that frightening and found out later that can be the Thai punishment for stealing.”
He claims she later confessed to links with the burgeoning sex industry in her own country.
Sean tried to win back his wife with cash. Kim, now pregnant, protested their apartment was too small, so they rented a property while Sean purchased and renovated a Norton Canes home.
She wanted him to buy three-and-a-half acres in Thailand. He did. She spent nights out with fellow Thai brides. “No matter what you did for Kim, she was not happy,” he shrugged. “I would come, in there would be a houseful of Thai girls all eating. I always got the impression it was them and me. I was kidding myself, trying to still be the happy family. I had gone through a divorce before, when I was a kid, and didn’t want that.
“2009 was a hell of a year. She kept going out and was coming back at all hours. It was an unreal situation. She could be nice one minute and turn on you with the flip of a coin. She wouldn’t speak but, really, the only time she showed her temper was when I told her I wanted a divorce.
“She wanted me to pay for British citizenship and I said, ‘no way’. I was wiped out.”
It was then, Sean believes, his wife hatched the plot to take their child.
And he almost lost the lad forever.
With weeks gone and assorted agencies plus a private detective drawing a blank, Sean tripped by chance on to Kim’s Facebook account.
He posed as a rich American and became cyber friends with two Frenchmen she was pictured embracing. They gave away her location.
Thai police, bolstered by promises of booze and food, helped Sean find his family in Chiang Rai.
Sean has heard nothing from Kim since returning with their son – and that’s they way he wants it. “Yes, I am bitter. We’re still not divorced – I can’t afford it. I’m a full-time dad which is very, very hard financially.”
The holiday dream that turned into hell on earth cost Sean a successful business, his wealth and almost his sanity. But he has his precious son back.
He’s working on a second book, chronicling Jobe’s rehabilitation, and setting up a charity helping parents enduring the same plight – Abducted Angels.
Sean is also a lot wiser after learning a painful and costly lesson. To borrow from a well worn Trading Standards motto: if a tourist’s whirlwind romance in Thailand seems too good to be true… it probably is.