The End of an Injustice

Folks of a certain age may remember the case of Frances and Dan Keller, a couple that operated a day care center in Texas until they ran afoul of the Satanic Panic. From Slate:

Among the atrocities that Frances and Dan Keller were supposed to have committed while running a day care center out of their Texas home: drowning and dismembering babies in front of the children; killing dogs and cats in front of the children; transporting the children to Mexico to be sexually abused by soldiers in the Mexican army; dressing as pumpkins and shooting children in the arms and legs; putting the children into a pool with sharks that ate babies; putting blood in the children’s Kool-Aid; cutting the arm or a finger off a gorilla at a local park; and exhuming bodies at a cemetery, forcing children to carry the bones.

It was frankly unbelievable—except that people, most importantly, a Texas jury, did believe the Kellers had committed at least some of these acts. In 1992, the Kellers were convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child and each sentenced to 48 years in prison. The investigation into their supposed crimes took slightly more than a year, the trial only six days.

And now, even the Travis County district attorney agrees that the trial was unfair.

I remember the trial quite well. Folks in my NC hometown would discuss the various accusations in hushed whispers. Each one was dwelled upon in salacious detail. The idea that any of these stories might be false was never discussed.

Which is odd. We all know that children make up stories, and some of the stories are beyond belief. As Fred Clark like to point out, we ought to WANT those stories to be false. They’re horrible. But we told them anyway. I suspect we even expanded on them, trying to shock one another, turning them into little ghost stories for adults.

We took the whole panic seriously, and everyone had seen the Geraldo Rivera special on the satanic cults that supposedly prowled American suburbs at night. Every time someone’s dog wandered off it was blamed on a cult.

Sweet FSM, we were taking Geraldo Rivera seriously. That should have been a dead giveaway.

Now the whole thing has fallen apart, and we all look like rubes with a vicious streak. Frances Keller was released in November and Dan in December. They’ve lost 21 years of their lives to America’s need to frighten itself.

There are days I wish I could go back in time just to smack my younger self.