Posts Tagged ‘Keller’

Fran’s Day Care

May 21, 2009

Fran’s Day Care
Randy Noblitt, PhD

©Copyright R. Noblitt 2009. All rights reserved.

In recent days, an interest in the case of Fran and Dan Keller has reemerged and that reemergence has triggered new interest in the outcries of children that resulted in several investigations, trials, convictions, and tragedies throughout the 1990s. I can speak about Fran’s Day Care with some authority.

In 1992, the Travis County prosecutor’s office contacted me for advice as to how they should proceed with a bizarre case involving multiple child victims of sexual and ritual abuse in a day care. The accused perpetrators were the owners-operators of the nursery, Fran and Dan Keller. The day care was situated in a remote area beyond the suburbs of Austin, Texas. At this time, the legal community was reeling from the McMartin Day Care ordeal which was the costliest prosecution in California history up to that time, and had resulted in two hung juries in a seven-year prosecution. The prosecution, wishing to learn from the mistakes of McMartin, wanted advice regarding how to proceed without contaminating the children’s stories, compromising the alleged perpetrators’ rights, and getting to the truth of the children’s outcries.

Some of the parents whose children attended the preschool became suspicious when their children returned home wearing underwear not their own, or with their clothes inside out or with their hair wet. There were always reasonable explanations: the child had an accident and was changed into clothes on hand for that purpose; or the child splashed water on herself when the children were cleaning up; and so forth. However, when one of the children made an outcry, the parents more closely scrutinized the strange behaviors some of the children had started engaging in and the aforementioned episodes, and they took their concerns to the police. The police took the concerns seriously and collected statements and evidence. The grand jury found a basis for indictment. The Kellers responded to the warrant for their arrest by fleeing the state in disguise, obtaining false identifications in their new personas, and attempting to leave the country. They were apprehended in Las Vegas, Nevada and extradited back to Travis County.

It was at this point that I was introduced to the situation. I was in private practice in Dallas, two hundred miles north of Austin and had no knowledge of what was happening at Fran’s Day Care. The prosecutor, Judy Shipway, contacted me for advice on how to deal with the children, their stories, their parents’ reactions, and the impact of ritual abuse allegations on the court. I advised her to focus on the sexual abuse allegations for which there was substantial support and evidence. I expressed my opinion that introducing the topic of ritual abuse would be exploited by the defense as a means of discrediting the children. I also advised Ms. Shipway to make sure that every child had a therapist and that no therapist treat more than one child from Fran’s Day Care. Finally, I advised the prosecutor to request that the children’s parents not communicate with one another until after the trial to avoid inadvertent contamination of their children’s stories and their own interpretations. These suggestions were all implemented.

I was also invited to review the evidence which included drawings and writings produced by Danny Keller; the confession of co-defendant Doug Perry; the testimony of the children. I was able to describe for the prosecution the kinds of abuses ritually practiced by various groups and individuals and explain the psychological consequences of such abuse. I was able to interpret for the prosecutor the children’s stories in the context of what had been learned from other victims including the use of coercion, duplicity, threats, and other means of controlling survivors of such abuse.

Although several children at the day care were thought to have been sexually and ritually traumatized, some of them were so young that they did not yet speak in complete sentences. Some of them were identified by other victims. Three of the children were selected to represent the whole population. These were slightly older children, five and six years old, and they were able to convey their stories most articulately of all the child victims.

As the trial commenced, the prosecution developed an excellent case against the Kellers. I was surprised only by the defense attorneys’ rather blasé approach to their defense of the Kellers, perhaps operating under the assumption that the children would not be believed. In defense of the Kellers, their attorneys did raise the specter of ritual abuse by introducing into evidence the book Sex Abuse Hysteria: The Salem Witch Trials Revisited (Gardner, 1991), which promoted the idea that sexual and ritual abuse allegations by children were projections of their parents (and other adults’) latent pedophilia. It was at this point that I was asked to take the stand as an expert witness and address the topic of ritual abuse and Gardner’s book.

The case ended with the conviction of the Kellers and their sentencing to 48 years in prison each. They are in prison still, any efforts for appeal having failed to date. Shortly after the trial, the magazine, Texas Monthly, published a piece by Gary Cartwright in which he implied that the Kellers were the true victims in this sorry tale. He did me the courtesy of a call to “fact check” his story, particularly ideas attributed to me, except that it was only after the issue had been published.

Recently, the Fran’s Day Care case was dredged up by the Austin Chronicle, an alternative periodical produced locally in Texas. My son sent me the link in an email with the heading, “Dad, you’re in the news again.” Once more, the perspective was one of advocacy for falsely accused, persecuted, prosecuted, and convicted victims of a malicious or inept legal system that places too much trust in the stories children tell. A particular flaw in this story was the story. It was certainly not founded on anything I witnessed during my participation in the case. Evidence was not withheld from the prosecution to my knowledge. The defense was left flat-footed by their own conviction that the children would not be believed. And the advice I offered may have helped to prevent influence or contamination of the children’s testimony. The children’s stories were credible – Fran and Dan Keller’s defense was not. End of story? Probably not. I doubt that we have heard the last of Fran and Dan or of their day care or of their victims.

Interestingly enough, the Austin Chronicle article, Believing the Children, ended with a reference to one of the child victims, Veejay Staelin, a now 21-year old. Although he declined to be interviewed for the story, he re-asserted that he had been abused by Fran and Dan Keller.