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Records: Joshua Hakken beat wife to 'bring her back to reality'

Sharyn and Joshua Hakken stand as their lawyers speak before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe during a hearing Monday in Tampa.
Sharyn and Joshua Hakken stand as their lawyers speak before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe during a hearing Monday in Tampa.
Published Aug. 13, 2013

TAMPA — Beatings and strangulation, poison and possession, sword-and-sorcery fantasy and Cold War-era mind control.

These were the real and imagined ingredients of an unsettling saga illuminated Monday when a judge ordered the disclosure of police records on Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, the Tampa engineers charged with kidnapping their sons and fleeing to Cuba.

The previously confidential documents — including an FBI psychological assessment of the Hakkens, police reports detailing a fateful episode at a hotel outside New Orleans and a letter seeking asylum the couple sent to Cuban lawyers — offer the most complete picture to date of the motives for their alleged abduction of Cole, now 5, and Chase, now 3, in April.

The records portray the full range of the Hakkens' suspicions of the government, including Joshua Hakken's belief that he was subjected to mind-control experiments while a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the couple's suspicion that they were covertly "attacked" with "microwave radiation weapons" in their home in South Tampa. FBI agents dubbed their ideas "paranoid and delusional."

The documents — opened to the public by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe — also offer startling evidence of a potential rift between Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, who have so far had a united front in their joint defense strategy.

According to a Slidell Police Department report, Joshua Hakken, 35, told officers who arrested him on drug charges in 2012 in Louisiana that he "beat his wife to 'bring her back to reality' because spirits would take over her body and talk through her." He also "stated he has choked Sharyn to the point of unconsciousness before to relieve her of the spirits."

FBI records state that while Cole and Chase said they had not been abused, "they did report that their father had hit their mother in their presence."

A forensic psychiatrist "opined that it is possible that Joshua and Sharyn have a 'shared delusional system' with Joshua being the dominant personality," according to the FBI's behavioral assessment of the couple.

A letter the Hakkens wrote to a legal services agency in Cuba focuses on the Cold War program MK Ultra, a CIA mind-control initiative. The letter, which requests political asylum, asserts Joshua Hakken "had been subjected to mind control experimentation . . . throughout his lifetime from childhood through his adult life."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he was the impetus behind all of this," Bryant Camareno, Sharyn Hakken's attorney, said in an interview.

"His views were not necessarily her views. Whatever views she did share with her husband, I would submit, are protected under our Constitution."

The Hakkens are charged with felonies including kidnapping and child abuse. According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Joshua Hakken abducted the boys from Sharyn Hakken's mother's house, and the couple and the boys boarded a sailboat in Madeira Beach.

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After reaching Cuba, they were apprehended near Havana and flown back to the United States. The boys were reunited with their grandparents. The Hakkens are awaiting trial at the Falkenburg Road Jail.

Authorities say the Hakkens' acts were provoked by a Louisiana court's decision to terminate their parental rights. The court ruling stemmed from the arrest in Slidell and another episode two weeks later, when Joshua Hakken was accused of showing up at his sons' foster home with a gun.

In the first incident, Slidell police were called to the Holiday Inn where the Hakkens were staying on the afternoon of June 17, 2012, after receiving calls about a woman running down a hallway and knocking on doors. They found Sharyn Hakken, 34, with "multiple bruises on her body and bumps on her head, where it looked like she was beaten." She was taken to a hospital for mental evaluation.

Officers said they heard a child crying through the door of the family's hotel room. Entering, they found Joshua Hakken sprawled on a bed with his children next to him. A heavy odor of marijuana smoke hung in the air.

Joshua Hakken told officers the family was going "to the Temple of the Winds in the Valley of Rhaan," the report states. Temple of the Winds is a book by bestselling fantasy author Terry Goodkind, whose name Joshua Hakken mentioned to police.

The report says Joshua Hakken became "visibly uneasy" when an officer inspected a large knife in the hotel room. "Please don't take that," Hakken said, according to the report. "I need it." Asked why, Hakken replied, "I need it to complete the ultimate objective of my journey." He was arrested for marijuana possession and related charges.

Jorge Chalela, Joshua Hakken's Tampa-based attorney, said his client's statements to police that he beat and strangled his wife are not necessarily true. He noted that both Hakken parents made statements to police with little apparent connection to reality. For instance, Sharyn Hakken was "yelling about how she was a ninja, in the witness protection program, and how her friend reprogrammed her brain," according to the police report.

Detective Daniel Seuzeneau of the Slidell Police Department said Joshua Hakken was not charged with domestic abuse because of the puzzling circumstances officers found at the scene.

"We knew we were dealing with mentally deranged individuals," Seuzeneau said. "Our primary concern at the time was to get them the help they needed."

Peter Jamison can be reached at or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.


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