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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet The source of the charges
bullet The trials
bullet Proceeds from insurance
bullet Requests for parole
bullet Comments on their guilt/innocents
bullet The first appeal
bullet Public appeal for commutation

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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 ceased.

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."

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The trials:

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:

bullet sodomized.
bullet forced to engage in fellatio.
bullet Attacked 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 attacks.
bullet Molested by a clown who "threw fire around the room."
bullet Abused by lobsters.
bullet 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
bullet Watched a baby murdered and a dog killed
bullet Forced to eat a dead frog
bullet Forced to lick ice cream off of the trunk of an elephant
bullet Chased around the school yard naked in the presence of others.
bullet Etc. 

One child 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..." 1

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 vulvitis, (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 three 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.

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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.

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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 times.

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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 appeals."

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 families."

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 'correct' answer."

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 truth."

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 people."

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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 which 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.

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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.

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Continued in Part 2

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  1. James M. Shannon, "Why Swift should free Amirault," The Boston Globe, 2001-AUG-17.
  2. D.V. Finneran, "Denials, Inconsistencies and Absurdities: The allegations of the ten children in the Amirault Trials," at:
  3. Debbie Nathan & Michael Snendeker, "Satan's Silence", BasicBooks, New York NY (1995).
  4. 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 Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-DEC-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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