Oops! Mistaken Evidence Landed Couple in Prison for 22 Years for “Satanic Child Abuse”

Readers tbnbzbrirf
— The belief that our kids are in constant danger from the worst of the worst of the WORST can (and did) lead to cases like this. As reported in Saturday’s Austin American-Statesman by Chuck Lindell

Austin day care owners Dan and Fran Keller spent more than 22 years in prison after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals so ghastly, their names became synonymous with evil.

It was the early 1990s, when a cottage industry of therapists, authors and investigators argued convincingly — and, in hindsight, absurdly — that a national network of secretive cults was preying upon day care children for sex and other horrors.

Despite a vigorous investigation in the Keller case, at least four law enforcement agencies found no proof of satanic activity. Even so, Travis County prosecutors presented enough other evidence to convict the Kellers of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl in their care. Both were sentenced to 48-year prison terms.

Prison, Fran Keller said, was “true hell” for two people convicted of child sex crimes.

“We were bullied and assaulted pretty much the entire time,” she told the American-Statesman. “Other inmates, they’d scream at you while assaulting you, yelling, ‘You want to do this to children? Well, we’ll do it to you.’”

Denied parole three times, the Kellers won early release last year when the criminal case against them collapsed. The only physical evidence of sexual assault was found to be a mistake…

You can read the rest here. And to understand HOW we could have possibly believed these charges (including claims that the children were taken on private planes, molested abroad, and returned in time for day care pick up) check out Satan’s Silence, by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker.

But while the “Satanic” part of this panic seems to have died down, the obsession with sex offenders has, if anything, grown.

As a result, you can find people in prison today for “crimes” including consensual sex between teens. Meantime, apps pinpointing the homes of sex offenders mean millions of terrified parents are yanking their kids inside,  even though a study by the Georgia of its 17,000 sex offenders found only “5% were clearly dangerous.”

In other words, we are ruining the lives of thousands of people who do NOT pose a threat to our kids, as well as severely compromising our own kids’ lives, merely because we are in another (or continuing) predator panic.

So even as we gnash our teeth about the Kellers, let’s agitate to dial back our Draconian sex offender laws, especially the idea of a public registry, which has not made children any safer.

DO find and deal with real dangers. Do NOT inflate or even conjure up fake ones to satisfy some deep desire to save kids.

For more on reforming the Sex Offender Laws, see this.

And for more on the Keller case, see this. – L

This did NOT go on at the Keller's day care center. (Painting by Hieronymous Bosch)

This did NOT go on at the Keller’s day care center. (Painting by Hieronymous Bosch)

, , , , , , , ,

32 Responses to Oops! Mistaken Evidence Landed Couple in Prison for 22 Years for “Satanic Child Abuse”

  1. BL December 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    But … but .. but … the children! Think of the children!

  2. J- December 1, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    You have to wonder WTF happened that so many adults, judges, prosecutors, police, couldn’t see the insanity for the trees. Had the children said that Dan and Fran flew them to the Moon in a spaceship to molest them, you get the feeling that the Texas Rangers would have started looking for a launchpad.

    Any parent knows that if you ask a kid something too many times, they will break down and say whatever they think the adult wants them to say in order to make the questioning stop – especially if the adult looks like they are getting mad. I could illicit a confession to planting explosives in the World Trade Center before 9/11 from a 3 year old in less than 4 hours.

    This is the kind of thing that really makes me say “I hate cops, and am not too terribly fond of those in government too.” Because it took 22 years for the system’s checks and balances to kick in.

    The only hope that I have is that Dan and Fran get at least $22 million in damages in a following suit (I thin $1 mil/year suffered is reasonable) and that the prosecutor, investigators, expert witness, and social worker all go to jail.

  3. Beth December 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I wish I could read the whole article without paying for it. Might have to bite the 99 cent bullet because this is a topic that really interests me.

  4. anonymous mom December 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    Beth, I would highly recommend reading Debbie Nathan’s Satan’s Silence, with Lenore mentions, if you are interested in this topic. Great book. There’s a few other good ones, as well. I find the SRA hysteria of the 80s/90s fascinating.

  5. Warren December 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Things like this are contagious and take on lives of their own. Take a look at the news these days. All these celebrities being accused of rape and sexual assault. Though horrible if true, I am right now reserving judgement, as it seems to be the in thing now, to accuse a celeb/costar years, if not decades after the fact.

    Mob mentality, or true, or people looking for their fame? Jury is still out.

  6. MR December 1, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    I can’t even imagine the damage done to the children in such an investigation. They say the interviewers used atomically correct dolls representing the daycare providers and rubbed them suggestively asking the children if the adults hurt them! That is sexual abuse right there! I would suspect the children (now adults) also have to deal with falsified “memories” and personal and mental health issues arising from being a childhood abuse survivor because of the imagined horrid abuse (satanic rituals, blood, murdered babies, orgies…) because children are so open to suggestion and too much suggestion would create a memory that didn’t even exist. (Similar to the way my oldest talks about remembering being places and doing things that I know she wasn’t there for simply from seeing pictures of it as a younger child). Not to mention the damage done to the day care providers abused in prison for 22 years. And now they have to “prove innocence”? Even though there is no evidence showing guilt, because they were unjustly found guilty they now have to prove innocence! That is so backwards. So they were innocent until proven guilty and now even though all evidence of guilt was found to be a mistake they are guilty until proven innocent? Shouldn’t their status as innocent until proven guilty now be reinstated since the guilty verdict was based on mistakes so they never REALLY were PROVEN guilty?

  7. bpaine December 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    I was a licensed family cay-care provider when all this was going down – in Massachusetts, we had our own version of this madness, the Fells Acre day care prosecution. Parents were making us all crazy and every home provider was under suspicion, no matter how transparent we tried to make our lives. It was an awful time to be a provider,and I did feel very sorry for parents who were having such a difficult time leaving their children in care, and spending each and every moment afraid for their children. I never ever understood why this was happening in my town, with no hard evidence – mirroring the same prosecutions around the country – really, our day care schedules really didn’t have much free time for the clown costumes, the tying up of small children to trees in the front yard of a busy street, the many small animals murdered/dismembered/buried in Satanic rituals, the sexual abuse by a parade of strange adults….it was all we could do to serve two snacks and a full lunch according to the Federal Food guidelines, the trips to the park, story-time at the library, nap time, diaper-changing, play time, books, art projects…..

  8. BL December 1, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    What I don’t get is this:

    For the accused, even unsupported allegations (e.g. Bill Cosby currently) can destroy careers, make a person ‘toxic’, etc.

    But false accusers? DAs continue working. ‘Expert’ witnesses such as psychiatrists continue their merry way. Judges. Ordinary witnesses. CPS workers. On they go. No stigma, let alone legal troubles.

    The few exceptions (like Mike Nifong) are almost too rare to mention.

  9. no rest for the weary December 1, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Hmmmm…. I see a lot of difference between adults, who were adults at the time of the assault, reporting “en masse” once someone breaks their silence and speaks out about their trauma at the hands of someone who had power over them (priest, celebrity, mentor, employer or potential employer)— and these “witch hunt” stories where innocent daycare providers were accused and convicted based on “retrieved memories” from young children (which was basically tantamount to brain-washing children and inserting memories into their brains).

    I don’t really agree that chillingly similar, unrelated stories of how women were assaulted by men in power positions has much to do with toddlers regurgitating false memories, but whatever. Some things are impossible to prove with physical evidence, especially after years elapse.

    And yet, priests were finally “outed” after decades of abusing with free reign. Are we really disputing that those abuses happened, simply because there wasn’t physical evidence?

  10. Warren December 1, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    @no rest,

    Take a second, a deep breath and try to follow. This was the most infamous daycare targeted, but similiar stories came up all around the country around the same time. I wasn’t comparing fake child abuse with fake rape. I was comparing how the media and society run with these things, giving them lives of their own.

  11. John December 1, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    The problem is, deep down, I really believe that Americans actually LOVE reading about horrible sexual abuse atrocities like this in the newspaper and on the internet. As much as it disgusts them to read about it, many people love being disgusted and the more bizarre the story is, the higher the euphoria is of being disgusted (i.e. herding young children on a plane to Mexico to be raped by soldiers). It’s like watching a horror movie. Nobody wants to be a victim of hunger craved zombies but we sure love seeing it in fiction! So in the interest of boosting up ratings, the media outlets just fuel these kind of bizarre stories without even questioning the integrity of them. And believe you me, nothing can be more bizarre and disgusting than shipping children off to a third world country to be raped and then holding Satanic rituals donned in red robes while children are being sexually abused by seemingly normal people.

  12. ARM December 2, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Wow – we think we’re so enlightened nowadays, but this story is such a close parallel to the Salem witch trials it’s unbelievable. As others here have said, it’s hard to understand how anybody believed these stories at the time.

  13. Anonymous_this_time December 2, 2014 at 12:36 am #

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say when certain powerful, famous men who, for decades, abused others without impediment, were enjoying a different kind of “mass hysteria,” that being the one where even though people might have noticed something was “off,” they dared not say, and the public just wanted to keep on adoring those men.

    If the culture is now “running with” the idea that maybe people who suffered at the hands of these men kept their silence initially but are now telling the truth, well, this seems a positive development. If you have never been assaulted, you may not understand the enormous pressure to “forget and move on.” It has been a pathological denial in our culture, that rape is not just men jumping out with a knife from the bushes.

    I think “stranger danger” is BS, whether you are a toddler or an adult. And clearly, the fantastic stories of daycare abusers defying the limits of time and space was BS. But a pattern of assault by a man in a powerful position, with victims coming forward often long after the events took place, is not BS, and I shudder at the comparison.

  14. Jenny Islander December 2, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    Welp, I think I’ve finally read enough of FRK to make a Bingo board. Make a 5×5 grid, put Free Space in the middle, scatter the other options randomly over the grid, and play along!

    2. SCARY MEN
    13. –free space–
    25. DIRT IS EVIL

  15. J.T. Wenting December 2, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    Reminds me of the craze against swimming teachers “sexually assaulting” children here simply by touching them as they teach them to swim (got to keep the little buggers from drowning, and hold them in the right position so they’ll learn…).

    Most such “recollections” are still produced (decades after it’s been shown to be bogus by means like hypnotic suggestion.
    And it leads to every few months another high profile case of a (now) 60ish man being arrested and thrown in prison for “sexually molesting thousands of children” decades earlier.

    Even if a few swimming teachers go too far, accidentally or deliberately touch a child in ways that would be considered “sexual” (and if you’re trying to stop a child from drowning, you’re not going to be careful as to where you place your hands, are you?), that many? and so many children? who then don’t remember anything about it for decades?

    Or the case in the UK where 2 men were arrested for supposedly having sexually abused over 10.000 children in a period of a few years.
    The numbers are so staggering, any sensible person would see instantly that they have to be bogus.
    10.000 children over a decade means 1000 a year, 3 per day, and they were supposed to have worked together doing it.
    That’s a full time job…

    As to those “apps” and “pedophile lists”, they contain hundreds if not thousands of utterly innocent people put on those lists based on rumours and hearsay only, people who never were arrested and charged with anything, or people who were questioned and released for lack of evidence.
    But because they’re on those vigilante lists, their lives are horror, with regular muggings, vandalising of property, etc. etc.

  16. Bob Davis December 2, 2014 at 2:57 am #

    I noticed that someone already mentioned the Salem witch trials. We like to think that we live in the “modern, scientific” age, but there are a lot of people, even in relatively high places in government, who seem to be living in the Middle Ages when it comes to superstition and hysteria. Remember the old saying, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before truth has its boots on.”

  17. Anna December 2, 2014 at 3:23 am #

    At least they weren’t burned at the stake…

  18. Dhewco December 2, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    I agree that people love to be titillated. It’s fun to be horrified and feel superior at the same time (At least for some people). It’s fun to think the worst. I don’t mean ‘yay’ type fun. I mean roller coaster fun. Not only is it the speed, it’s the feeling, somewhere in the back of the mind, that maybe the ride is going to be over in the most disastrous kind of way.

    This all rolls into why Americans love a good conspiracy theory. Most of us know that it’s very unlikely, but we read the books and watch the specials and love the ‘what if’ nature of the stories.

  19. marie December 2, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Jenny Islander, I love your bingo board! Especially #6: I made it up and now it scares me. I see this a lot in discussions about sex offenders. A person will be accused of one thing (downloading child porn) and people will run with that, saying that he almost certainly molested children too. They made up the molestation piece and yet that is what they fear this man will do.

    I also loved #23 BUT WE MIGHT GET SUED!
    Mostly because I misread it as ‘but we might get suede!’

  20. John December 2, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    @Dhewco……you said it much more eloquently than I did or could.

  21. Donna December 2, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    Except that all the additional allegations against Cosby came after a large amount of publicity over the first, including a description of the details of what she alleged occurred.

    That is where the situations are similar. Whether it is a celebrity, notorious case or cause du jour, so many ulterior motivations spring up and jumping on the band wagon so prevalent that it becomes impossible to tell the wheat from the shaft. Particularly when you are talking about decades old allegations that can’t be proven or disproven and require nothing more than the public telling from the accusers (no medical exams, police questioning, trials, etc).

    I don’t know if any, all or none of the allegations against Cosby are true. We absolutely cannot know. Unless you are one of the people involved, being certain either way is ridiculous. But yet, many (here and outside) are convinced based on literally nothing and a man’s life is now destroyed. He MAY deserve that destruction and he may not.

  22. Warren December 2, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Take a look at the rash of those accusing athletes for domestic violence. Now are they all true, or some true and accusers looking for exposure and reward, who knows. It is not just Cosby, there has been a wave of these sexual assault accussations against celebs, politicians and such.

    I would have more confidence in believing all of them, if they didn’t come as a result of other publicly made claims. It would not be the first or last time others got caught up in hysteria, or were looking for money. Not everyone is truthful, even victims.

  23. Warren December 2, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    False accussations will destroy people’s lives, and that is horrible. What is even worse, is that the accusers get to walk away, scott free.

  24. Angela December 2, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I was relieved to hear that the Marshawn Lynch accuser was charged after an investigation discovered 1) that she had fallen and injured herself while drunk and 2) the man who she went home with that night was not Marshawn Lynch (and he told her that multiple times).

    I was quite surprised at the number of people who thought since she made a ‘simple error’ she should get away with it. Some said she shouldn’t have been charged, others were upset that she was even named. Even if her identification of the man had been correct, she injured herself. She may have drank enough to black out, but that still means she made a false accusation.

    Not remembering =/= the guy must have done it.

  25. no rest for the weary December 2, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    I will maintain that it is a GOOD thing that women, like a lifelong friend of mine, are coming forward and naming the guys that raped them, though they didn’t report it (or weren’t supported by the legal system) at the time of the incident. Her rape was at a frat house 30 years ago. She took a tremendous social risk “coming out” with her story and will not receive any remuneration.

    The idea that making up a story about being sexually assaulted is a popular way to draw attention to one’s self is daft. Sociologically, it’s clear that nearly all victims of “familiar” sexual assault blame themselves, second-guess themselves, are afraid to be cross-examined, fear retribution, know that it will be their word against another’s with no other evidence, and basically give up, remain silent, and carry on.

    Showing solidarity by coming forward with a story of what happened to you, to back someone up that indicates there was a pattern of behaviour, is a positive function of community.

    If women were coming forward with stories that were completely implausible (i.e. women who never even were in the same room with Bill Cosby or Jian Ghomeshi), or if women were coming forward demanding huge sums of cash for their “trauma,” I’d be more reticent about believing them, but to throw out the possibility that these women may just be telling the truth because there is “no evidence” is, well, a bit sad to me, considering that there is far more sexual assault happening in this world than there are perpetrators being held accountable.

    Is this the case with CHILDREN getting assaulted by STRANGERS or even daycare workers? In satanic rituals? No. They are not analogous. This is why I object to the comparison. We are talking fully sentient people who were up against a huge wall of cultural denial about “known to the victim” sexual assault. This is different from hysterical fantasies of satanism fuelled by reactionary conservative religious backlash triggered by the sexual revolution and mommies going into the workforce.

    When you get assaulted by someone you know or don’t know, report it to the police, and their first question is, “What were you wearing?” or “Why did you go to their apartment?” you know that you’re not likely to get the accountability you’re looking for from the perp.

    When, years or even decades later, a victim comes forward and says, “This person did xyz and I never reported it,” and then several more say the same thing, it is not necessarily a witch hunt. It’s more like corroborating stories that confirm a pattern of behaviour, which, in some jurisdictions, is admissible as evidence, and might even lead to a conviction.

    Whether or not you think that’s okay is up to you. I’d rather see restorative justice programs for sexual assault rather than traditional justice system approaches, because I believe it would be more healing for victims and more meaningful in terms of supporting positive change and awareness.

    But sentient victims in “known assailant” cases, in the past, had two options: report and get blamed and taken apart by the justice system and seeing your attacker go free, or shut up and move on in privacy.

    What would you have chosen?

  26. no rest for the weary December 2, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Recommended reading for Warren, although I don’t know if any of this will resonate / register with you.

    A Canadian perspective on why 90% of sexual assault cases are never reported.


  27. Donna December 3, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    “The idea that making up a story about being sexually assaulted is a popular way to draw attention to one’s self is daft.”

    Nobody said that it was POPULAR, however it does occur. There are famous cases, such as the Duke Lacrosse players. We’ve had several in my town. Cases where the victim eventually admitted that she lied. Nor did anyone sat it was to draw attention to themselves. There are a whole host of reasons that people lie in this fashion and little of it has to do with drawing attention to herself/himself.

    As for remote allegations, there was an interesting article in Monday’s New York Times about memory and how it actually MORPHS each time you recall something. Basically, people actually write history in their own minds to conform with their beliefs in themselves and the world. When they retell these false memories, they do not believe that they are lying. They truly believe what they remember is what happened and will dig in even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.

    I see this all the time with clients. It is clear that they truly believe the version of events that they are giving me and cannot be shaken from it even when I show them videos of what really occurred. My own mother rewrites history constantly to make herself the victim. And, yes, it happens with sexual encounters. My best friend, who has been bothered by her teenage sexual history for years, is now claiming that some of them were rape. They weren’t rape 20 years ago when they occurred (yes, I knew her then and she was definitely not claiming rape), but now are in her mind. She is now 100% convinced these men raped her, although she was quite happy with herself in high school when the encounters occurred. She even instigated some of them.

    So it is not remotely different than children believing satanic child molestation. The only difference is that I am talking about the POSSIBILITY (it is also possible that the allegations are true) that the adults morphed their own memories and the children had their memories morphed for them.

  28. AmyO December 3, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    I went and read this article, and it was mind-blowing. Hindsight is always 20/20 but this was ridiculous. Four different investigations produced nothing, but there was enough evidence to convict? It’s unreal. The time frame, the other parents/children having a completely normal experience with them, the accusations.. it’s all craziness.

    Commenters are right about little ones being easily coerced. My five year old easily tells me stories about what she did during the day that are completely false. Their imaginations are crazy busy and so real at that age. I wonder what they have to say now that they are adults, looking back on this insanity. I kept waiting to read about their statements, but I’m sure they’d rather forget the whole thing.

  29. Donna December 3, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    And if you don’t believe that people make things up about celebrities, Google my all time favorite client Claire Cruise. I assure you that despite her press conferences she is not the biological mother of Michael Jackson’s children.

  30. Warren December 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    At no time did I say one way or the other that these crimes happened or did not happen. I also know that a lot of sexual assaults go unreported.

    At the same time, take a good look at how long the list is, and who is on the list of accusers. I am sorry but I find it a little difficult to put much confidence in accusations, that come from such a large number of people, so many years later. The idea that out of all those making accusations, not one spoke up at the time. This is very improbable. Had it only been one or two, I could see it, but this many?

    And you cannot speak to their motives of financial gain, as it is still early, and those lawsuits usually come after the criminal case, as it is much easier to prove their civil case with a criminal conviction.

    Just blindly believing their allegations, on the basis that sex crimes do go unreported is the exact mentality that put those daycare workers in prison.

    Recently a Nascar driver’s ex girlfriend made accusations of domestic abuse. A female politician, I believe from Calif. tried to pressure Nascar to suspend him. Rightfully so, Nascar stated, until he is proven guilty of any crime, they have no intention of acting on mere accusations. That is how things should work, not trying and convicting in the media and social networks.

  31. Papilio December 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    “We like to think that we live in the “modern, scientific” age, but there are a lot of people, even in relatively high places in government, who seem to be living in the Middle Ages when it comes to superstition and hysteria.”

    Well, yes, this. That this happened in the *19*90s, in a first world country.

    And that there were 12 morons who thought the testimonies of toddlers proved this
    “dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals”
    actually happened (what horror movies had they been watching?? I especially like the Kool-Aid detail – who came up with that?) doesn’t exactly restore my faith in jury trials…

  32. no rest for the weary December 6, 2014 at 3:11 am #

    “not one spoke up at the time.”

    Ah, but in the case of Bill Cosby, they did speak up. They spoke to their parents, to their friends, in some cases the media and to anyone who would listen.

    Did they speak to law enforcement? Well, in one case, yes, and the police told her that they wouldn’t attempt to prosecute, so she brought a civil suit, and there were 13 others who were ready to testify to the pattern of predatory sexual behaviour of this particular celebrity, but he settled the case out of court while a second woman’s story was being suppressed from publication.

    I guess I go on my gut feeling, and I’m not particularly prone to assuming guilt. In the case of daycare satanists, I was unswayed and always believed this to be pure fantasy and faulty deposition-taking from child witnesses.

    In the case of WMD in Iraq, I was also unswayed, and felt that it was a similar kind of fearful hysteria and twisting of information for a pretty transparent corporate agenda.

    But these women coming forward to accuse Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi? Before it all came out in the press, these women were not reading each other’s stories, they were not in contact with each other, they had no idea their stories were so similar.

    Now, of course, the possibility of copycats does exist. But I disagree with Donna that there is a significant percentage of false rape claims to law enforcement. I saw a graph today stating that it was between 2 – 8%, so if 8% of the women accusing Bill Cosby are liars, then perhaps the other 12 are telling the truth?