A Little Girl Is Reunited with a Hostage—her Doll

updated 04/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/28/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Little Stephanie Dressin of San Diego is very careful these days whenever she washes the hair of her favorite doll, Sandy. "If I get her batteries wet, it will be all that trouble over a broken doll," she explains. All that trouble indeed. In a bizarre parody of the Iranian crisis, Sandy was held hostage for nine months recently by Stephanie's former babysitter, Sharon Russell. It wasn't an abduction exactly; Stephanie, 8, had left the doll in Russell's home. When the little girl's mother disputed the sitter's claim to $52 for a week's sitting, Russell, 30, made Sandy her captive. "I thought we'd get Stephanie another doll, but she didn't want another doll," explains Michele Dressin, 34, who is separated. Unable to settle the dispute, Dressin went to court, suing Russell for $750—though Sandy cost only $11.87. Russell retaliated with a countersuit for $52. Arriving in court with the doll hidden in a brown paper bag to avoid upsetting Stephanie, Russell expected the conflict to be resolved quickly. But even after the judge ruled in the sitter's favor, Dressin refused to pay. Sandy remained in the bag and the case dragged on.

Enter a softhearted daddy—Harvey Massey, 53, a Ripley, Ohio trucker, who read about Stephanie's plight in the newspaper. "This picture is what did it," he explains, pointing to a photo of a forlorn-looking Stephanie. "That and this quote—'I love you, Mommy, but I love my doll too.' " Himself the father of a 9-year-old daughter, Harvey fretted for three days, then mailed a check for $52 to San Diego Municipal Judge Ronald Mayo, asking that the money be used to buy the doll's freedom. Anxious to get the case off his hands, Mayo paid $8.50 in court fees himself, cashed Massey's check, and sent a bailiff with the money to Russell. Within a matter of hours, Sandy was back in the arms of her owner. "She feels real good," Stephanie sighed happily. "We're going to have a party with all my other dolls, and then we're going to sleep."

Unfortunately, the legal tangle is not yet unsnarled. Dressin, while acknowledging that the case "probably has gotten out of proportion at this point," is pressing on with an appeal. Win or lose, she says, she will reimburse Massey for his $52. Russell worries that the publicity will damage her professional reputation as a licensed day-care provider. "This is too minor to put in the paper," she complains. Judge Mayo agrees, but likes to look on the bright side. "I think it's nice," he says, "that even though we are on the brink of war and we're closer than we've ever been since 1929 to an enormous depression, people still care about a child and her doll."

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