In the fall of 1983, the mother of a four-year-old boy who attended the Georgian Hills Day Center in Memphis, Tennessee, noticed that her son was often drowsy after coming home from the center, even though the children there had a lengthy nap time.
The mother’s concern grew when, in January 1984, the boy began exhibiting apprehension about going to the center, which was operated by the Georgian Hills Baptist Church.
In June 1984, when the boy began showing an extreme fear of water, his mother took him to the Memphis Police Department, where he was interviewed by a sex abuse investigator.
The investigator said the boy, who was then five years old, told her that 54-year-old Frances Ballard, a $3.35-an-hour aide at the center, had pulled his pants down and touched and kissed his penis. The boy said that Ballard had done the same thing to other children in the center.
The boy said that some of this sexual activity also involved the pastor of the church, Paul Shell, as well as Betty Stimpson, the day care director, and her son, Jeff Stimpson, who was a part-time aide there while going to law school.
Like many of the accusations of child sex abuse at day care centers that swept the nation in the 1980’s and were later determined to be false, the number of victims grew as more and more children were interviewed by social workers whose questioning techniques were improperly suggestive.
One child said that Shell had kissed him on his “dingdong…bootie, and touched his dingdong.” The child said that Shell put red and orange substances in his “bootie” and made him drink wine and beer. The boy also related that he was photographed with girls in the nude, and was forced to perform oral sex on Jeff Stimpson. He said that Jeff Stimpson urinated in his mouth and took pictures of the episode.
In October 1984, Ballard was indicted on charges of molesting 19 different children. In May 1985, Shell and Betty and Jeff Stimpson were indicted on multiple charges of child molestation.
In April 1987, Betty Stimpson went on trial on three of the charges against her. The prosecution dismissed the case after five days of trial due to inconsistent testimony. Stimpson, however, still faced other charges under a separate indictment.
Ballard went on trial in October 1987. At the trial, a number of the children testified via videotape about being sexually molested at the center.
The boy who had made the initial outcry testified Ballard had told him that her husband was sick and that she could no longer love him and as a result, she wanted the boy to love her.
In addition to testifying about sexual molestation by Ballard, the boy also told the jury that Ballard took him to the church chapel where the baptistery was located. The boy said Shell and Jeff Stimpson would accompany them to the baptistery and some of the other children were forced to go along as well. There, they were immersed in the water to be “baptized to the devil,” the boy testified.
In other testimony, Ballard, Shell and the Stimpsons were accused of taking children to a house and photographing them kissing each other. Jeff Stimpson was accused of putting his penis in children’s mouths and Ballard was accused of stripping naked and forcing children to kiss her breasts and vagina.
A clinical psychologist who treated the boy and three other victims testified that they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and that all had described the sexual abuse to him.
A pediatric surgeon testified that he examined 11 of the children and that while he found no evidence of vaginal penetration in the girls, he found evidence that could suggest rectal penetration in some of the boys and girls.
Ballard testified in her own defense, denying that she had molested any of the children at the center or that any sexual molestation had occurred among any of the staff.
A psychiatrist testified for the defense that he had viewed four of the video tapes of the children’s testimony and that he believed that they were victims of “hysterical contagion” that arose through the questioning of state social service workers and was heightened by their parents.
Numerous witnesses testified that they knew Ballard to be a woman of good character and other witnesses who had contact with the center said they never saw anything unusual or inappropriate there.
On December 4, 1987, Ballard was convicted of one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery relating to just one child—the boy who had made the initial outcry. She was taken into custody. On January 20, 1988, she was sentenced to five years in prison. Three weeks later, she was freed on $10,000 bond pending resolution of her appeal.
Jeff Stimpson went on trial in the fall of 1988 and was acquitted on October 20, 1988. A week later, Shelby County prosecutors dismissed the charges against Betty Stimpson and Paul Shell.
In 1991, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Ballard’s conviction, ruling that the prosecution had improperly withheld evidence from the defense.
In May 1993, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the decision to set aside the conviction. The Supreme Court noted that investigators had destroyed tape-recorded interviews with children at the center. One investigator testified that in initial interviews, some of the children said nothing had happened to them, but later changed their statements. The investigator said that she and other investigators were instructed by a prosecutor to write reports from the tapes and then erase the tapes so the defense would not have access to the taped interviews that contained denials of sexual molestation.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the prosecution should not have been permitted to present testimony that the children had post-traumatic stress syndrome as a way of proving they had been molested.
On September 10, 1993, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Ballard.
– Maurice Possley