THE "FELLS ACRE" RITUAL ABUSE CASE
Topics covered in this essay:
|The source of the charges|
|Proceeds from insurance|
|Requests for parole|
|Comments on their guilt/innocents|
|The first appeal|
|Public appeal for commutation|
The source of the charges:
In early September, 1984, a child who was attending the day care disclosed to his uncle
that a man named "Tooky" had pulled his pants down. (This was an accurate
statement; both the boy's teacher and Gerald Amirault remember that Gerald had changed the
boy after he wet himself during nap time). Unfortunately, Gerald was never questioned by
the police; he was unable to give this explanation until the trial). After a great deal of
questioning by the boy's mother, the boy disclosed that "Tooky" had taken him to a
secret room and molested him. He described the room as having a shelf with golden
trophies, no windows, and one or two beds. When interviewed by a social worker, he
originally denied most of the allegations and said that Mr. Amirault had only touched and
kissed him. After intensive questioning, he later said that abuse had happened when Mr.
Amirault took over he class when the regular teachers were ill, The teachers stated that he
had never taught the class. The boy named a fellow student as also having been molested;
the other boy denied this.
On SEP-12, over 100 parents were invited to a meeting at the police station where
social workers gave them a list of symptoms which might indicate sexual abuse: (appetite
problems, bedwetting, crying when being taken to school, nightmares, etc.). The police
suggested that parents question their children repeatedly and persistently about abuse at
the school, and about a clown, and magic room. If the children denied abuse, they should
not be believed. One police officer said "Keep at them [the children]. Don't do
anything that favors the day school. Don't say anything that favors Mrs. Amirault or the
young Amiraults." Michael Spenser, a parent at the meeting, recalled being told: "God
forbid, any of you should show support for the accused. Your children may never forgive
you." It was many years after this event that child psychology
researchers determined that repeated, direct questioning of very young children
will often trigger disclosures of events that never happened.
40 potential cases quickly emerged. Of the 19 children who were interviewed, most
initially said that they liked school and wanted to go back. They repeated their story
that nothing bad happened: nobody took their clothes off; they had never seen a bad clown
or a magic room. But the interviewers did not believe the children. They decided that the
students were simply "not ready to disclose." John Rivers, a Malden
Police Inspector, later said that interviewing the children was "like getting blood
from a stone."
After lengthy questioning they eventually accused a variety of adults of bizarre abuse.
In addition to the three adults who were charged, they also accused most of the other
teachers, and an imaginary Mr. Gatt who could never be located. The 10 most credible
children were selected to testify. [Some sources say 13, but this is apparently an error].
During the grand jury, one parent said that Mr. Amirault forced her son to drink his own
urine in front of his teachers; none of the teachers could remember any such
incident. They were also not able to recall any "magic room" or remember Mr. Amirault taking the child out
of the classroom, or remember seeing Tooky (or anyone else) ever dressed in a clown suit.
Unfortunately, the police investigation was made at a time when
psychologists did not realize that direct and repeated
questioning of young children often leads to false accusations. When
this became general knowledge, the continuing stream
of ritual abuse cases involving pre-schools and nursery schools
A former Fells Acre teacher said, with reference to the police investigation: "They
scared the hell out of me...The whole thing was geared toward convicting them [the
Amiraults]. No one was asking, 'Do you think this really happened?' No one wanted to hear
anything that was common sense."
Perhaps the best indicator of Gerald Amirault's innocence were the two
polygraph tests that he passed. However, "lie detector" tests are only
considered about 85% reliable, and so are not normally admissible as evidence
during court trials. They were not in this case.
The prosecution based its case largely on the theory that the alleged sexual abuse was
organized by the Amiraults in order to create photos of child pornography. They had a
postal inspector give graphic descriptions of "kiddie-porn". The newspapers had
a field day when they learned that a camera and 29 photographs were seized at the school.
However, the photos turned out to be normal school photographs of birthday parties,
children around the pool, etc. A nationwide search for child porn produced at the school
turned up nothing.
During the trial, when the prosecuting attorney asked the children whether they had
been abused, many replied that they had not been. But after sufficiently pointed
questions, they testified that they were:
|forced to engage in fellatio.|
by a green, yellow and silver robot with flashing lights like R2D2 from "Star
Wars" who would bite them on the arm if they didn't submit to sexual
|Molested by a clown who "threw fire around the room."|
|Abused by lobsters.|
|Tied to a tree naked and upside down in full sight of the teachers and other children
while "Miss Cheryl" cut the leg off a squirrel|
|Watched a baby murdered and a dog killed|
|Forced to eat a dead frog|
|Forced to lick ice cream off of the trunk of an elephant|
|Chased around the school yard naked in the presence of others.|
testified that he saw Mr. Amirault plunge a 12 inch butcher knife into the anus of a 4
year old child, and later have a great deal of trouble removing the blade. The child heard
him tell another teacher what he was doing with the knife; she only warned him to not do
it again. If this had happened in reality, then tremendous injury would have been done to
the child. No trace of any trauma was ever found. Many of the children said that they had told their teachers that they were going to
the secret room. None of the teachers could recall any of these events. One child told of
Violet and Cheryl Amirault sodomizing a child with a sharp stick while the whole school
watched. Yet none of the teachers were able to recall any of these criminal acts.
According to James M. Shannon, former Attorney General of Massachusetts: "...more
than 20 witnesses testified that their open access to the facility
precluded the secret activities described by the children..."
D.V. Finneran has prepared an extensive analysis of the "denials,
inconsistencies and absurdities" of the children's disclosures. For
example: of the ten children who said that pictures were taken of the
class while they were naked or engaged in sexual activities, the
statements of five were contradictory. Seven said that pictures were
taken; three said that they never saw this activity. 2
On cross-examination, children explained how they had extensively rehearsed their
testimony. The children testified that the defendants had threatened them with punishment
if they revealed the abuse to anyone. (Most experts believe that such threats will often
cause a child to disclose abuse without prompting; but none did).
The children testified to having been taken from their room each weekday over a period
of many months and taken to the "secret" room. Each would have walked the route
from their classroom to the room over 100 times. Yet they were never able to retrace their
steps for the police, and find the room. In spite of diligent searching by the police, no
"magic room" was ever found. The children could not even agree what floor of the
school the room was on, or even whether the room was in the school or in a nearby home.
One rare feature of this case is that the prosecution claimed that hard evidence of
abuse existed. Expert witnesses testified that they had found vaginal and anal
irregularities on some of the children. Two girls had microscopic irregularities in their
vaginal tissue. Now, over a decade after the trial, this testimony has been shown to be
worthless. Recent research has revealed that these same irregularities are also found on
young people who have never been abused. Such irregularities are often present since birth. (One special
case was a girl witness who has a small scar on her hymen of unknown origin. But she
testified to having been anally sodomized with a knife, not vaginally raped.) One expert
witness claimed that all three girls at the second trial had been found to have
(inflammation of the vulva), a common medical problem that can be caused by poor hygiene
or by sexual activity. If due to sexual abuse, the inflammation normally heals within
weeks. But two of the three children were examined at least four weeks after the school was closed;
the third more than a year later. So, assuming that they were all abused on or before the
last day of school, their inflammation would have totally disappeared by the time they
were medically examined. Their vulvitis must have been caused either by hygiene problems, or by
sexual abuse after the school was closed.
Although the children testified that other adults at the school witnessed the abuse,
none of the other teachers were ever able to recall any such incidents. The children
accused three other teachers (Miss Anne Marie, Miss Joanne and Miss Carol) of abuse, but
no charges were laid.
The jury deliberated for over 64 hours - by far the longest in the history of the state
Superior Court. The three Amiraults were found guilty. Gerald (Tooky) was sentenced to
30 to 40 years; Violet and Cheryl each received 8 to 20 years.
Proceeds from insurance:
Independent civil litigators negotiated settlements out of court totaling $20 million
for a total of 16 families involved in the Fells Acre case. 3 The agreements were
completed in 1991. Eight of the 10 children who testified at the Amiraults' trails
received financial settlement; two did not.
Requests for parole:
All three appealed their sentences. Violet Amirault, and Cheryl applied for parole, but
were turned down on the basis that they had not admitted guilt. They would probably be
free today, except that they refused to confess to crimes that they did not commit - in
fact, crimes that seem never to have happened.
After their first parole refusal, the trial judge decided that they had served enough
time. He issued an order to revise their sentence. This was overturned in the courts - a
unique occurrence in Massachusetts legal history. They were later refused parole many
Comments on their guilt/innocence:
The state assigned two therapists, Miriam Holmes and Joel Skolnick, to treat Cheryl and
Violet Amirault. They made public statements attesting to their belief that both are
innocent of any crime.
State Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, former Middlesex DA, stated: "I am
fully confident that the Amiraults are right where serious child abusers ought to be...The
folks who think this is a conspiracy running amok around the country, that this is just
like McMartin [Preschool] and Kelly
Michaels [Day Nursery], are not seeing major differences in these cases. Certainly not
the least of which is that in the Amirault case, not one, but two juries convicted these
people. And the best judges in this state upheld the court's decision on all
The mother of one boy who testified at both trials, said: "We went through
these stages already: You are furious at first, you want to kill the bastards. Then you
wonder if it really happened. Then you look at everything the kids say, and you have to
face it, and it makes you sick. But we have been through it all, so why 10 years later
should we have to put up with someone else going through these stages? These people the
Amiraults are scum of the earth; they ruined children's lives, they ruined our
Prior to an article in the Boston Globe, newspaper personnel reviewed videos and
transcripts of child interviews. 4 They found many instances in which the children denied
that any abuse happened. But they changed their minds after the interviewer would "plead
and cajole, at times offering gifts, such as toy police badges and other toys, for the
Dr. Maggie Bruck, a McGill University Psychologist and researcher into child interview
techniques, said "It is beyond me to tell you whether these children in the
Amirault case were telling the truth or not. But I can tell you the questioning was a
highly suggestive interrogation process and in that context, our research shows, children
fabricate stories...The process becomes so tainted that we will never really know the
A local psychiatrist and father of two students at Fells Acre questioned his sons and
another boy who claimed that one of this sons was abused. The police also questioned them.
Both concluded that nothing happened; they did not observe any behavioral signs of abuse.
The father said: "I never saw anything there at Fells Acres myself that made me
suspicious, and I was there quite frequently... Children are very smart, they know when
something troubling is going on. I believe this was an hysteria that convicted these
The first appeal:
In early 1995, Superior Court Judge Robert A. Barton reversed the convictions of the
Amirault women on appeal after having served an 8 years of an 8 to 20 year sentence. But
the state appealed. On 1997-MAR-25, the Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the lower
court decision. The court ruled on a narrow legal matter: whether the children's seating
arrangements violated the state constitutional requirement that defendants face their
accusers. During the trial, the children faced the jury; the defendants only viewed them
from the side. The court found that the seating arrangements were unconstitutional, but
that the defendants' lawyers agreed to the plan at the time. Thus they could not expect a
new trial. The court did criticize the interview techniques used on the children, and
said: "some of the children's statements included charges that were quite
improbable". They stated that a "communicated hysteria" had
affected the original investigation, that children had been given leading and suggestive
questioning that led "to charges that might otherwise never have occurred to the
children." A major factor in the court's decision was that they needed to end the
appeal process and satisfy "the community's interest in finality." Actual
justice appears to have been a low priority to the court.
Within hours of the decision, the Middlesex County District Attorney filed
papers to revoke bail for Violet Amirault and her daughter. The DA, Thomas Reilly said "The
public relations campaign orchestrated by the Amiraults didn't work. I am happy for the 13
brave young children who testified at two trials about the terrible things [that happened
at Fells Acres]...What is important is that the children have been validated, their
testimony has been validated...This brings closure to a terrible tragedy." A
mother of one of the children who testified (now 17 years of age) commented: "I
feel good, naturally, because I know what happened. I lived through it, and my son still
lives through it today." Dorothy Rabinowitz, a writer for the Wall Street
Journal has supported the Amiraults. She criticized the ruling as the "face of
fanaticism and zealotry in our time...Law enforcement can go to sleep tonight and think
they won the case...But what they have in fact won is the knowledge that three entirely
innocent lives have been shattered."
On 1997-APR-29, The Supreme Judicial Court refused to review its earlier decision
reinstated the Amiraults' convictions. Violet and Cheryl Amirault were told by their
attorneys to prepare themselves to return to prison shortly. Violet Amirault was over 70
years of age and weighed less than 100 pounds; she probably would have not survived long in that
environment. Their attorney, James Sultan started the process of requesting the Superior
Court to order a new trial. The Amiraults "should not suffer on the basis of their
attorneys' mistakes," Sultan said.
Public appeal for commutation:
The National Justice Committee established an arrangement with Western Union on
1997-APR-30. For $7.99 in US funds, individuals could call a toll free number
and send the following
telegram to Governor Weld of Massachusetts:
Dear Governor Weld:
Time is of the essence. "The hottest spot in hell is reserved for those who maintain
neutrality in times of crisis." Violation of Constitutional Rights and the
imprisonment of innocent men and women has placed Massachusetts in a time of judicial and
moral crisis. You, Governor Weld, are the only one who can commute the Amirault sentences.
Even after the many recent reversals of 80's day care cases in which children were
pressured to "disclose" often incredible accusations against innocent employees,
Massachusetts seems still in the thrall of the 1692 witchcraft trials.
Contrast the current attitudes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to those of the
Puritans who despite rigid intolerance, still had the habit of self-scrutiny, and came to
the results of "falling out of charity with their neighbors." Indeed, the 300th
anniversary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Day of Contrition was recently observed in
Salem. On January 14, 1997 a Day of Contrition honored the colonists who fasted and prayed
for forgiveness, particularly the prosecutors and judges who prostrated themselves before
the people they had wronged.
Those who constructed the modern versions of witchcraft accusations have yet to
acknowledge their errors or to apologize for the horror they have caused, but it is not
too late for your office to join with the many voices who came together in Salem a few
months ago to shout, "Enough!"
It is not only your reputation as a statesman, but the image of Massachusetts as a land
of justice and honor that hangs in the balance. We urge you.
Commute the sentences of Violet, Cheryl, and Gerald Amirault.
- James M. Shannon, "Why Swift should free Amirault," The Boston
- D.V. Finneran, "Denials, Inconsistencies and Absurdities: The
allegations of the ten children in the Amirault Trials," at:
- Debbie Nathan & Michael Snendeker, "Satan's Silence",
BasicBooks, New York NY (1995).
- Charles M. Sennott, "Questions Prompt Reexamination of Fells Acres Sexual Abuse
Case", Boston Globe, 1995-MAR-19, Metro section, Page 1
Copyright 1997 to 2001 incl., by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2001-DEC-27
Author: B.A. Robinson