The tragedy of the family of accused spy John Anthony Walker Jr., arrested on a tip from his wife and daughter Laura, deepened over the weekend when that daughter apparently took her 5-year-old son from the Laurel apartment complex where he had been living with her estranged husband.
Police officials said no charges would be filed since neither parent has legal custody of the boy.
"Laura Snyder did nothing illegal," said Robert Law, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department. "They are married, and both have the right to see the boy."
Phillip Mark Snyder, 26, said yesterday that his son, Christopher Mark Snyder, went outside Saturday morning to wait for an aunt to pick them up to go to a picnic. But before the aunt arrived, Snyder said, the boy was taken by his wife, Laura Walker Snyder, who lives in Canton, N.Y.
Laura Snyder, 25, has been identified by government officials as one of two confidential informants who tipped the FBI to the alleged spy ring, in which John Walker; his brother Arthur; John Walker's son Michael, and a friend of John Walker's have been charged with espionage. Walker's former wife, Barbara Walker, has said she was the other informant.
According to an FBI affidavit, John Walker attempted to recruit Laura as a spy when she was a communications specialist in the Army in 1978-79.
She couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. But in a television interview to be aired today on the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club program, Laura Snyder said she came very close to succumbing to her father's urging to join him in his alleged spying, the Associated Press reported.
"I came that close to agreeing . . . to please my father," Laura Snyder said.
She said John Walker had suggested that "everybody's doing it" as the reason why she should, too. "First he'd break you down and make you feel like the lowest form of life," she said. "He'd say, 'You know you're never going to be successful. Why don't you let me help you make a lot of money.' "
Laura and Mark Snyder have been living apart for the past three years, he said yesterday.
They met again a few weeks ago in federal court in Baltimore when they were called to answer questions in connection with the Walker spy case, Snyder said. He said that she asked to see their son but he turned her down.
"She hasn't seen him in three years," he said. "She hasn't sent him a birthday card or a Christmas card."
Snyder said he and Christopher have been living in the Washington area since 1982. Laura Walker Snyder has lived in California, Maine and New York since the couple separated, Snyder said.
On Saturday, the day before Father's Day, Snyder said he glanced out the window of his apartment to check on his son. He said he saw another boy, about 8 years old, take Chris by the hand and walk him across the street.
"I ran downstairs, but when I got there, Chris was gone," Snyder said. "I felt really helpless."
Snyder said he scoured the neighborhood but found no sign of his son. "There was nothing I could do, so I called the police and gave them all the information I had," he said. "I told them I was remotely connected to the Walker thing, thinking that might make them push a little more."
Police spokesman Law said investigators interviewed witnesses at the apartment complex. The witnesses said Chris had gotten into a red car with a woman who was later identified as his mother, according to Law. Snyder said that the 8-year-old he saw from the window identified the woman from Snyder's picture of his estranged wife.
"I guess I knew it was her all along ," Snyder said.
He said that Laura Snyder called him late Saturday night, told him that she had taken Chris and put the boy on the telephone briefly. "He said he was okay," Snyder said.
He also said he was relieved to learn Laura Snyder had taken the boy: "I was hoping it was Laura . . . not some nut."
Snyder said his estranged wife told him she was taking Chris to upstate New York where she has been living with friends. "She said she didn't mean to hurt me by taking Chris," he said. "She said her lawyer would be in contact with me."
He said that he had registered his son to start school here in the fall and had already taken the boy for his shots.
Snyder said he met Laura when they were stationed at Fort Polk, La., in 1979. Army records show that Snyder worked in the supply section while Laura was in communications.
"I was living with another guy in a trailer off base," Snyder said. "She started living with me, and we went from there."
The couple was married Sept. 17, 1979, in Simpson, La., a small community near Fort Polk, in a simple ceremony conducted by a justice of the peace. No members of either family were present, Snyder said.
He said that the first time he met his father-in-law John Walker was when Walker came for a brief visit to Louisiana in 1979 or 1980. "He kind of tried to induct us into the Ku Klux Klan; I thought it was strange," Snyder said. Around this time Walker sent a note to Klan Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson discussing his difficulty in recruiting sailors to join the Klan.
After completing their military service, the couple in 1980 moved to Skowhegan, Maine, where they lived for about a year with her mother, her sister Cynthia and her brother Michael. In 1981, Laura Snyder moved to California, Snyder said, and three months later he and Christopher joined her there. The Snyders lived in the San Francisco Bay area for about a year.
"Then we started having arguments," Snyder said, "and I left with Christopher."