1992 to 2017: Frances & Dan Keller;
allegations of ritual abuse at their
in Austin, Texas:
Accusations of ritual abuse of children and Satanic Ritual Abuse emerged during the 1980's and early 1990's throughout North America. They eventually spread to other English speaking countries. New accusations have since died out. The general belief now is that these charges of ritual caused a Satanic Panic, and that most or all of the dozens of adults who were imprisoned for ritual abuse were innocent of abusing children. In fact, it is likely that little or no ritual abuse ever happened.
The National Center for Reason and Justice specializes in having wrongfully imprisoned persons released from jail. Their spokesperson, Debbie Nathan, said that between 1984 and 1989, about 100 American adults were charged with ritual sex abuse, 50 of whom were placed on trial. 1
1995-MAR/APR: Article published in Skeptical Inquirer magazine about the panic:
The article was by Elizabeth Loftus, and was titled: "Remembering Dangerously." In the first paragraph, she said:
"Like the witch-hunt trials of old, people today are being accused and even imprisoned on ‘evidence’ provided by memories from dreams and flashbacks -- memories that didn’t exist before therapy. What is going on here?" 7
Later in the article, she recommends that people exhibit "responsible skepticism ... [toward] some claims of recovered memory." She wrote:
"Each case must be examined on its merits to explore the credibility, the timing, the motives, the potential for suggestion, the corroboration, and other features to make an intelligent assessment of what any mental product means." 7
1992: Fran and Dan Keller's case:
One of the last of the major cases involving accusations of ritual abuse in North America occurred in Oak Hill, a suburb of Austin, TX, where Frances and Dan Keller operated a preschool. On the claims of a young child, the couple was arrested. They were convicted that year of child sexual abuse. Each was given a 48 year sentence. During the trial, a series of very disturbing claims similar to those made in previous U.S. ritual abuse cases surfaced, involving strange activities involving the children at the preschool. Three children claimed that this included:
Killing and dismembering of dogs, cats, and a crying human baby.
Forcing children to have videotaped sex with adults and other children.
Shooting a man and chopping up his body with a chainsaw.
Burying the bodies of dead children.
Adding blood to drinks and serving them to the children.
Flying children to Mexico, Las Vegas, California, or Japan so that they could be sexually abused, and then returned the same day.
Having dinosaurs and sharks in their swimming pool. 2
Defense Attorney Keith Hampton, who represented the Kellers, said:
"The case was a true witch hunt because the investigators actually believed that this was part of a wide Satanic conspiracy."
One would expect that the investigators would wonder how multiple children could have been taken from the preschool, be flown to another country, sexually abused, returned to Texas, and not have been so severely traumatized that their parents would have suspected abuse. One would expect investigators to wonder why parents, who occasionally visited the preschool during the day, didn't notice that their missing child or children. One would expect that neighbors would notice the presence of sharks -- and particularly of dinosaurs -- in the Keeler's swimming pool.
There was a "Satanic Panic" throughout North America at the time that was particularly widespread among religious conservatives because of their belief in the existence of Satan with supernatural powers.
After the conviction, indicators emerged that raised suspicion that abuse might not have happened at the Austin preschool:
The girl who claimed to have been sexually assaulted later said that no abuse happened, and that she had been instructed at the time to say that it had.
Dr Michael Mouw had testified about medical evidence of the abuse. He later recanted his testimony, and issued an affidavit stating:
"While my testimony was based on a good faith belief at that time, I now realize my conclusion is not scientifically or medically valid, and that I was mistaken." 3
He had testified that what he thought were two lacerations on the hymen of one of the girls were an indication of sexual abuse during the previous 24 hours. He now believes that what he observed was normal physiology. His testimony at trial was the only physical evidence that abuse might have occurred.
2009-MAR-29: Jordan Smith, a reporter for the Austin Chronicle wrote a remarkable article about the case:
It was a lengthy article, titled:
"Believing the Children," and was subtitled:
"It's likely Fran and Danny Keller were innocent of charges of child sexual abuse, but they're still in prison after 17 years." 4
She mentioned that Doug Perry, who worked at the center, had told investigators that he and two friends had participated in sexual activities. He later recanted his story, claiming he’d been coerced by the police.
She convinced an Austin attorney Kieth Hampton to also study the case. He took it on pro bono in 2010. He said:
"The more I dug into it and checked out some of the witnesses, I just couldn’t believe it." 12
2013-NOV: The Kellers were released:
Over time, Smith and Hampton were able to show that no meaningful evidence of abuse existed. Frances Keller, 63, was released from prison on 2013-NOV-26. She had served about 20 years of her 48 year sentence. Her husband, Dan Keller, 71, was released a few days later. Both had maintained their innocence during their incarceration. In an act of particular cruelty by the Texas government, the married couple had not been allowed to see each other for almost two decades.
Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney for Travis County, TX, issued a statement saying:
"There is a reasonable likelihood that (the medical expert's) false testimony affected the judgment of the jury and violated Frances Keller's right to a fair trial." 3
Keith Hampton, said:
"You are soon going to see a flood of exoneration on these sexual abuse cases." 5
Also in 2013, in an unrelated case, four women from San Antonio, TX, were released from jail. This followed a ruling by a judge that their 1998 convictions for sexual assault of children were invalid. A physician had testified that one of the girls suffered internal injuries which indicated that she had been sexually assaulted. It turns out that the girl was anatomically normal.
2014-FEB: An interview on KXAN-TV of Fran and Dan Keller, a few months after their release from jail:
Chuck Lindell, writing for The Statesman, said that:
"... the Kellers were the victims of "satanic panic. ... [They] also were harmed ... by the combined efforts of inept therapists, gullible police and an investigation that spiraled out of control, producing a suspect list of 26 ritual abusers, including many of the Kellers’ neighbors and a respected Austin police captain.
Children who reported no problems at the day care were ignored, and leading psychologists and criminology professors provided affidavits saying improper interview techniques and subtle encouragement by therapists produced believable-but-false memories in the children who accused the Kellers of abuse.
Taped interviews of a Keller accuser, a 3-year-old girl, made at the Travis County sheriff’s office have since been used in lectures by a top specialist in assessing and treating crime victims to illustrate common interviewing mistakes." 13
2017-JUN-20: The case was dismissed:
District Attorney Margaret Moore for Travis County, TX filed a motion to dismiss the case against the Kellers and declare them "actually innocent." In a statement released to reporters, She said:
"In making this very difficult decision, I personally read the trial and post-conviction transcripts and viewed the evidence introduced at trial. I take seriously my responsibility under Texas law to see that justice is done. Given the current state of law on actual innocence and the evidence remaining in this case, I believe this to be a just outcome. 12
Her decision was opposed by several of children -- now adults -- who had accused the Kellers of abuse at the trial. Presumably, they have remained fully convinced that their memories are of real events.
With the Kellers finally declared innocent of any abuse, they were eligible to receive compensation from the state for wrongful imprisonment. The normal amount is $80,000 for each year in prison, plus a matching annuity that provides annual payments of 5 percent interest as long as the recipient is alive and isn’t convicted of a felony. They each received a $1.72 million dollar check from a state fund for those wrongly convicted of crimes. 13 After receiving notification of the compensation, Fran Keller said that they will no longer have to live on the brink of destitution. They had been unable to find employment because of the convictions for child abuse had destroyed their reputation. She said:
"This means we don’t have to worry about pinching pennies on Social Security, and late bills. It means we will actually be free. We can start living -- and [have] no more nightmares."
Webmaster's opinion: [Bias alert]
In our opinion,
neither Frances nor Dan Keller were guilty of the crimes of which they were convicted. We suspect that no
ritual molestation actually occurred.
The human cost of this and similar cases during the 1980's and early 1990's was enormous:
who were incarcerated;
to the children who were convinced during therapy to believe -- and to testify in court -- that they had
to those who still -- even as adults -- believe that they were abused while young; and
to the public who believed that
they lived in a society with enormous levels of child ritual sexual abuse.
The Satanic Panic started to peter out in the early 1990s, partly because many therapists realized how easy it was to implant false memories in children.
Few therapists today dig for repressed memories. IMHO, this is why the Satanic Panic did not last into the present century.
Jon Herskovitz, "Texas frees daycare operator accused of 'satanic' sexual abuse," Reuters, 2013-NOV-27, at: https://www.reuters.com/
Avi Selk, "Falsely accused Fran and Dan Keller spent years in prison for 'satanic' crimes against children," New Zealand Media and Entertainment, 2017-AUG-25, at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/
Crimesider Staff, "Day care operator convicted of Satanic child abuse released," CBS/Reuters, 2013-NOV-29, at: https://www.cbsnews.com/