IT was one of the first crimes of its kind and introduced the nation to the shocking world of online grooming.
Former US marine Toby Studabaker sparked a Europe-wide manhunt and appeals in The Sun after meeting Manchester schoolgirl Shevaun Pennington in an internet chatroom and persuading her to join him on a sex tour of the Continent in 2003.
He flew the 12-year-old to Paris, and got her drunk on vodka before abusing her.
He was later so lacking in remorse he even sent his victim presents, letters and online messages AFTER being jailed.
Studabaker, now 46, has been locked up for a total of 14 years here and then in America but is now free and back in his home town.
The Sun tracked the child abuser to his bolthole in Three Rivers, Michigan, where most of the 8,000 locals are unaware of his perverted past and believe he is a war hero.
We found the former soldier eager to brag about his time in the military but less happy to discuss how he indulged his sick lust for an innocent child.
When The Sun asked him if he was sorry for what he had done, he just held up his hands and scurried indoors, mumbling: “No, no, no.”
Loner’s lived in grubby trailer home since release
Shevaun, now 26, told us: “I don’t remember him ever expressing remorse and I’m really not sure he understands the seriousness of the situation and what he did.
“If he doesn’t understand the severity of his actions and the fact that he was an adult and I was a child, then it is extremely worrying. What is to stop it happening again?”
Studabaker’s dark blue Chevrolet is plastered in “Marine Veteran” stickers and the number plate reads “Afghanistan”, where he saw active service.He even had “semper fidelis” tattooed on his arms while in jail — Latin for “always loyal”, the US marines’ motto.
When we photographed him visiting a DIY store, he was clutching a lanyard with “Afghanistan veteran” on it.The loner, who weighs more than 15st, has lived with brother Leo and sister-in-law Sherry in a grubby trailer home since his release from prison. They both stood by him during his trial.
He fills his days running errands to the shops and occasionally clocks on for shifts at a caravan manufacturer.He met Shevaun in a chatroom on a children’s virtual reality website, in July 2002. She was 11.
Studabaker confided that he was a widower, that his wife Jenny died from leukaemia the year before, and that he had no children. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he rushed to join the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, an anti-terrorism unit, but he told his young new friend how he hated it, and felt sad and lonely — just like her.
Shevaun originally told him she was 17 but later confessed her real age. She told police: “He was a bit shocked at first but got over it in a day.”
Over the next year the pair swapped intimate messages about their lives and chatted on a webcam.Studabaker, then 31, showered her with emails, which gradually became more explicit, and eventually persuaded her to elope with him.
He met her at Manchester Airport on July 12, 2003, after flying in from Detroit. The pair went on the run for five days, first fleeing to London and then Paris.
Once in the French capital, where British authorities could not pursue underage sex charges, Studabaker got her drunk and abused her, eventually having sex with her in their hotel.
As detectives and FBI agents closed in following frantic calls from Shevaun’s worried parents, Studabaker dyed his hair and fled to Strasbourg with the child.The pair moved on briefly to Stuttgart, Germany, using false names to check into a hotel. Shevaun rang her mum that night to tell her she was safe.
Studabaker was finally arrested in Frankfurt after special agents pinpointed his location by a mobile phone call he made. By this time he had already packed a confused Shevaun off on a flight alone back to the UK. Studabaker denied knowing she was only 12.
Detectives found child porn on his laptop and learnt he was accused of groping another 12-year-old American girl in 1998, but that the charge had been dropped.
He was jailed for four-and-a-half years at Manchester Crown Court in 2004 after admitting abduction and incitement to gross indecency.
After being released in the UK, he was extradited to the US and jailed for more than 11 years for transporting a child across international boundaries for sexual exploitation, and possessing obscene images of children.
Shevaun claims he sent her online messages via another inmate’s “correspondence service” — an electronic prison program.She says he then began calling her and writing her letters, telling her he loved her and filling her in on his life behind bars.
Shevaun said: “He said he still cared for me and was telling me about his life inside.It was extremely confusing. I had a lot of issues from it. He told me he was writing fiction and reading a lot. At one point he was asking me for music recommendations because he had access to an MP3 player.
“He said he was struggling with his weight. He was sending me cards for my birthday and he used to ring me a lot as well from prison.
“He would just make conversation, ask me what I had been doing and tell me what he had been doing.
“For a good six months, around three years ago, this would happen regularly. It was out of the blue. I had no idea how he had made contact. I was in a very different mindset back then. I felt guilt. I felt a lot of the fault was mine.
“I was responding in kind and telling him what he wanted to hear. It didn’t bother me at the time because I hadn’t fully dealt with everything. But it bothers me now, knowing that interrupted my recovery.”
Shevaun showed The Sun a card with a bear on the front, which read: “I can’t bear it any more.”
She claimed Studabaker sent it to her around four years ago. The unsigned greeting read: “It wasn’t or not meant to be a Valintine’s (sic) Day card but just a regular I miss you card.
“I feel useless to you right now, they never understand what we mean to each other. They never will, I need you. I need you, I want you and I love you so much. I will always want you in my life.”
Shevaun says she has not heard from Studabaker for three years, even since his release from jail in the US last year. But The Sun found several social media profiles in his name, suggesting he may be active online. An Instagram profile in his name follows 17 people, including a Russian child gymnast who posts pictures of herself contorted in different poses.
We found no direct evidence that the profile, “TobyStudabaker9”, was his. Shevaun, who is a student, is now attempting to rebuild her life and is in a new relationship.
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She said: “What he did still has a huge impact on my life today. I’ve got PTSD and a lot of traumatic memories.I find it very difficult to trust. Acceptance that the incident happened was a turning point for me.
“I wouldn’t say I have recovered to this day, but I am on the right path.
“But the questions are never ending for me. Until I have the answers I am happy with, I’m not sure I’ll ever have closure.”
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