In Los Angeles, two fathers were living a nightmare. Each of their sons, who they allowed to travel on vacation to Slovakia with their mother, the woman they were both once married to, never returned home.
“We just, we couldn’t locate them or find them,” one of the dads, Larry Hummel, told ABC News’ “20/20.”
For nearly two years, Hummel and the other father, Bob Pfeifer, both wondered where their sons were and if they would ever find the mother who took them.
“She cut off, went dark on her phones, went dark on email,” Pfeifer told “20/20.”
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Hummel’s son Sasha was just 3 when he last saw him. “It's strange because I feel like I'm with him all the time and he's with me all the time, except he's not here,” Hummel said. Sasha, who was breastfeeding at the time, lived with his mother. Hummel had visitation rights every other weekend and a couple nights during the week.
The last time Pfeifer, who had shared custody, saw his son Jerry, he was 9. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” Pfeifer said. “I see his picture every day.”
Years earlier, during a visit to Prague, Pfeifer first met the boys’ mother, Maria Misejova, a native Slovakian. She told him she was training to join Slovakia’s Olympic team and planning for medical school.
“I was living in Hollywood, and the time filled with the disingenuous,” Pfeifer recalled. “And I thought I met an innocent person.”
A high-level record executive in the 1990’s and a part of the booming video game industry, Pfeifer was ready for a family. As a long-distance relationship bloomed between the two, they eventually married, and Misejova was pregnant within a couple of months.
Misejova moved to Los Angeles but her relationship with Pfeifer soured even before the baby arrived. By the time their son Jerry was born, Pfeifer had already filed for divorce. The two took to court to battling over custody of their son.
“It was contentious, but we always … I was very much involved in my son’s life,” Pfeifer said.
During the course of those legal struggles, Pfeifer also found himself facing charges and pleading to a felony in a high profile wire-tapping case. He ended up cooperating with the prosecution, and later, judges decided his past should not get in the way of custody of his son.
During their custody procedures, Maria Misejova, now Maria Pfeifer, also came under scrutiny. While friends said she loved her son and made sure he ate healthy, others saw another side -- a woman who enjoyed nightlife and the company of wealthy men. One judge said she showed “an appalling lack of credibility.”
But Pfeifer and his ex-wife eventually settled on shared custody. “At that point, we were, you know, co parenting as much as one can,” Pfeifer said.
Meanwhile, Maria Pfeifer moved on and met a new man, Larry Hummel, a Hollywood voiceover agent who proposed to her on his birthday. They married, and they were soon expecting a baby they named Sasha. But just like Maria Pfeifer’s previous marriage, this one ended quickly too.
“I realized, uh-oh this isn't the person that I thought I was with,” Hummel said. “She wanted a very expensive lifestyle, and it was hard to keep up with that.”
Maria Pfeifer left him, and Hummel said it took a toll on him psychologically. He admitted it led to a mental breakdown and he voluntarily checked himself into a hospital.
“I was in a very dark, depressed state because my marriage is falling apart,” Hummel said. “And I think, you know, my belief is, when you’re depressed, you seek help.”
Hummel also reached out to Bob Pfeifer, Maria Pfeifer’s first husband. “It was like, you know, having a mentor in the situation, that he had been through exactly what I was going through,” said Hummel.
“And I said, ‘You don’t understand. You are at war,’” Bob Pfeifer recalled.
Another bruising custody battle ensued, with acrimonious allegations on both sides. But a judge eventually ruled that Larry could have increasingly frequent unsupervised visitations with his son.