Following a bizarre and mysterious vigilante rescue in the rain forests of Costa Rica in the spring of 2003, a fair-skinned blonde-haired little girl was reunited with her mom after 22 months on the FBI’s missing persons list.

It’s one of the most fascinating stories I’ve researched or written.

During the winter of 2004, while awaiting sentencing in Fifth District Court in Hailey, Idaho, the kidnappers hunkered down in a jail cell to tell me the story about why and how they took a 4-year-old girl from her mother and fled the country for Mexico and, later, Costa Rica. Wearing blaze-orange jumpsuits and surrounded by cinder-block walls and iron bars, they explained that their abduction of Lily June Snyder was motivated by how much they cared for her.

This is more than a story about kidnapping. It’s a tale of misguided love, of family failures, of a botched federal agency investigation and, really, one of hope. Hope for the bright future of a bright-eyed little girl.

But it’s also a story made all the more intriguing by a man whose work to recover missing children has largely lurked in the shadows. A former U.S. Marine and CIA operative, Bazzel Baz is the founding director of a mostly under-the-radar organization called the Association for the Recovery of Children. On a quiet morning near the resort city of Playa Chiquita, Costa Rica, the kidnappers slept while Baz and three others wearing army fatigues and ski masks slipped into an open-air house armed with duct tape and knives–and perhaps guns–to rescue Lily Snyder and return her to her mom.