Takes tot into the woods

Vegan dad says he'll kill son if cops come

Daily News - The Front Page/September 7, 2004
By Veronika Belenkaya, Fernanda Santos and Laura Williams

A distraught Zoya Watterson describes the kidnapping of her grandson by her son-in-law.

A fanatic vegan who kidnapped his 14-month-old son in Brooklyn is hiding in the woods - and vowing to kill the boy if cops come after him, his mother-in-law said yesterday.

Screaming that the toddler was not eating healthy food, Raphael Spindell, 34, snatched little Andre from his maternal grandmother in Coney Island Saturday and has been missing with the boy and the child's mother since.

Spindell, who calls himself Archangel and lists his occupation as "radical environmentalist" in an Internet profile, called the grandmother, Zoya Watterson, 54, later Saturday.

"He said they were in the forest and he told me that if police tried to arrest him, he'd kill himself and the baby," Watterson said in her native Russian, breaking down in tears. In a subsequent call, Spindell claimed the baby and his mother no longer were with him, said Watterson.

Spindell lists "primitivism," "green anarchy" and animal rights among his hobbies.

Police said yesterday they were searching for the boy, though Spindell gave his mother-in-law no further hint about his whereabouts.

Spindell and his wife, Alexandra, 21, follow a strict vegan diet that excludes not only meat but any animal product, such as eggs and milk, Watterson said.

The grandmother was granted custody of Andre in July, after the Administration for Children's Services found he was suffering from malnutrition, according to ACS spokeswoman Lisi deBourbon.

"We confirmed reports of malnourishment and what we call failure to thrive" - meaning the boy was not being cared for properly, said deBourbon.

Spindell has a hair-trigger temper, according to his mother-in-law, who believes he needs psychiatric help.

"He goes ballistic over little things," Watterson said. "He gets enraged when he sees ads for cigarettes or alcohol."

His rage was on display Saturday morning. Shortly after Alexandra arrived at her mother's W. Eighth St. apartment to deliver diapers and nurse Andre, Raphael began pounding on the door, Watterson said.

"He started yelling and screaming that I'm a bad grandmother, that I don't do anything the way he wants it," she said.

Watterson said she was concerned about the toddler's diet. "It's laughable what they wanted to feed him," she said. "I slipped the baby some bread once in a while."

The couple, who live in a motor home and are often on the road, met at either a bar or a party for vegans six years ago, when Alexandra was a 15-year-old Lincoln High School student, said her mom.

"She's been brainwashed, and I told her that," said Watterson, who emigrated with her daughter from Moscow in 1995. "And she told me, 'Yes, my brain is clean and yours and everyone else's isn't.'"

But Watterson said the boy was better off with his parents than he was at the foster home he was placed in before she got custody.

"He came back from foster care pale, traumatized, crying and shaking at night," she said. "Before that, he never cried. He was the happiest baby ever."

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