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Frances Keller

Other Child Sex Abuse Hysteria Exonerations
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On August 15, 1991, a young girl three months shy of her fourth birthday said that she had been sexually molested by Frances and Daniel Keller, the owner-operators of the Fran and Dan Day Care Center in Oak Hill, Texas.

The accusation sparked a massive investigation that ultimately resulted in Daniel, 49, and Frances, 41, being indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of the girl and two other boys. Three others, including two former sheriff’s constables, were also charged with engaging in sex with children enrolled at the day care center.

What started as the girl’s complaint to her mother that Daniel Keller had spanked her mushroomed into an astonishing array of claims. The claims multiplied and became increasingly bizarre after questioning by the girl’s mother and her counselor, who had previously been treating the girl during her parents’ tumultuous divorce.

The allegations came in the wake of more than a decade of national hysteria over claims of satanic ritual abuse of children. Dozens of men and women—many of whom worked in daycare centers—were targeted. Children, subjected to leading and suggestive questioning by police and social workers, told wild stories of being taken out on boats to watch babies being pitched into the ocean to be devoured by sharks, or being killed so adults could drink their blood.

The girl’s claims were no exception. The more she was questioned by her counselor, Donna David-Campbell, the more bizarre the claims became. Among them:

--Daniel Keller had inserted his penis and a pen in her vagina, and defecated on her head.

--Frances Keller forced the girl to touch her breasts, and performed oral sex on the girl.

--The Kellers had “everyone take off their clothes and had a parrot that pecked them in the peepee.”

--She rode with the Kellers in an airplane and talked about cemeteries, dirt, and snakes in the cemeteries. They flew to Mexico where military officers assaulted the girl.

--She was forced to smoke a cigarette and given Kool-Aid mixed with blood.

--Tigers licked the children at the day care center and then the tigers were killed.

--The Kellers came to her house and cut the girl’s dog’s vagina with a chainsaw. Another child from the center was present, so the Kellers cut her vagina with the chainsaw.

--The Kellers shot Easter bunnies.

--She saw a baby crying as it was dismembered, and the baby stopped crying when its head was cut off.

--Babies were cut up and put into a hole, and then the Kellers drove over them.

--The Kellers put a baby in a bag and stuffed it in a trashcan.

--She recounted multiple tales of abuse of cats and dogs and threats to kill a horse.

--She said she was “shot in the arm and leg with a gun, that Dan and Fran dressed up like pumpkins and would wear white robes when they hurt her.”

--A baby named Rachel was killed and Daniel Keller dug a hole and buried the baby.

--She was taken to a cemetery where a coffin, babies, and adults were dug up. A person dressed like a policeman was there. When someone walked by and saw then, the officer shoved the person into the hole, and Daniel Keller shot the person and cut him up with a chainsaw.

Karen Knox, a social worker who worked for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, videotaped three separate interviews with the girl. During the first two, the girl was distracted and unable to verbalize. In the third, Knox began by asking open-ended questions, but ultimately asked leading questions. At one point, Knox asked her what Daniel Keller did to her and the girl replied, “You tell me.”

In November 1991, an arrest warrant was issued. The Kellers, who had denied that any abuse occurred, agreed to voluntarily surrender, but then panicked and fled to Las Vegas where they were arrested in January 1992.

In March 1992, Austin police officer Larry Oliver began investigating the girl’s claims relating to cemeteries. He took her to one near the day care center, and the girl led police to the back of the cemetery. Asked what was in the ground, she said, “Bad things, really bad things and dead and scary things. Also, snakes and lions and tigers under the dirt.” She spoke of shovels being used to dig up graves.

Another Austin police officer, Sgt. James Beck arranged for a helicopter to fly over the cemetery with an infrared camera to search for heat emanating from a decomposing body located just below the surface. Officer Oliver was on the ground and was directed by radio to “hot spots.” In addition, Beck found some sunken-in graves and some with fresh dirt. At the Kellers’ trial, the officers would testify that they found graves that had soft dirt about 12 inches down when it should have been hard-packed. This evidence was presented to buttress the girl’s bizarre claims relating to burial of bodies in cemeteries, although no bodies were ever found.

In August 1992, a grand jury indicted the couple on charges of sexually assaulting the girl and two four-year-old boys who also attended the day care center.

Janise White, 32, and Raul Quintero, 47, both Travis County deputy constables, and White's ex-husband, Douglas Perry, 30, were also indicted for aggravated sexual assault.

Perry signed a confession stating that he, White, and Quintero went to the day care center one evening in August or September 1991 to drink beer with the Kellers. While they were there, the Kellers sexually assaulted a girl. Perry said that White took photos and Quintero also assaulted the girl. The girl also performed oral sex on Perry. The statement also described how the Kellers sexually assaulted a young boy while the others watched and White took photos.

The Kellers went to trial in Travis County Criminal District Court in November 1992 only on the charge of sexually assaulting the girl.

The girl, by then five years old, testified at first that she never went to the day care center, didn’t know the Kellers, and had never been touched in an improper manner. The girl was then excused from the witness stand and later recalled. This time, the prosecutor whispered the questions and the girl whispered the answers.

The girl then said that she had been at the day care center, and that things had happened that she did not like. She recanted that statement, then said Frances Keller touched her, and then immediately recanted that statement. She finally said Frances Keller did something, but refused to say what it was.

Perry testified that the statement he signed was false and that no such activity ever occurred. Perry was nevertheless then forced to read his statement.

David-Campbell, the girl’s counselor, testified that the girl’s bizarre stories were reflections of real events and that the girl’s behavior matched many of the behaviors associated with ritual child sex abuse.

Randy Noblitt, a clinical psychologist, testified that many of his patients were victims of sex abuse and ritual abuse. After his review of the police reports and David-Campbell’s records, Noblitt concluded that the girl had been sexually abused at the day care center.

Dr. Michael Mouw physically examined the girl on August 15, 1991—the day she made her first accusation of sexual assault. Mouw said he found three separate injuries to the girl’s vagina that were less than 24 hours old. He concluded the girl had suffered trauma consistent with sexual abuse. Pediatrician Beth Nauert testified that she examined the girl two weeks after Mouw’s examination and the injuries had healed. Nauert said that based on Mouw’s report, the girl’s injury most definitely was consistent with sexual abuse.

A clinical psychologist testified for the defense that children were susceptible to suggestion and the creation of false memories through improper or suggestive questioning by therapists and law enforcement officials.

Several parents testified for the Kellers that they never noticed any signs of sexual abuse and their children never said any such thing occurred.

Frances Keller testified and denied all of the allegations. She told the jury that she and her husband fled to Las Vegas because they were scared, humiliated, and hurt.

In rebuttal, the prosecution presented the testimony of one of the boys—now age six—who had attended the day care center. The boy said that both of the Kellers had touched the girl’s vagina and anus with their fingers, tongues, mouths, and with sticks. The abuse occurred, the boy said, outside and in numerous rooms inside the day center, as well as at a cemetery. The boy said that the Kellers took him to a cemetery, and dug up a body with a very large drilling machine, which sucked up the dirt into an eight-foot tall bag.

On November 25. 1992, the jury convicted the Kellers of aggravated sexual abuse. They were sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Perry later pled guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 10 years of probation. The charges against Quintero and White were dismissed prior to their trial.

In 2009, Jordan Smith, a journalist for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, reinvestigated the case. Dr. Mouw read the article, which strongly suggested the Kellers were innocent. Mouw contacted Smith and recanted his trial testimony. He said that years after the trial, he had attended a medical seminar and learned that what he had identified as tears and lacerations to the girl’s vagina were in fact normal variations, not the result of sexual abuse. He said he realized that his testimony was not scientifically valid and was a mistake.

In 2013, Mouw signed a sworn statement recanting his trial testimony for attorney Keith Hampton, who began representing the Kellers following the publication of the newspaper article.

Hampton—with the support of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office—filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In addition to Mouw’s recantation, the petition presented evidence that cemetery employees told the police before the trial that the evidence of fresh earth on graves had nothing to do with the Kellers or any other bizarre activity. Those statements, however, had not been disclosed to the defense. Moreover, the officers’ testimony about the cemetery “hot spots” was false.

The trial judge signed a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that the Kellers’ convictions be vacated and the charges dismissed. On November 26, 2013, Frances Keller was released from prison. Daniel Keller was released on December 5, 2013.

In May 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated the Kellers’ convictions. The court, however, declined to find the couple factually innocent.

On June 19, 2017, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore moved to dismiss the charges and later stated “I believe that the defendants are actually innocent of the crime for which each was sentenced.” On June 20, the District Court granted the motion and declared the Kellers factually innocent. The finding cleared the way for the Kellers to seek $80,000 each for every year they were incarcerated. Perry had died before the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the Kellers’ writs.

In August 2017, the state of Texas agreed to pay a total of $3.4 million in compensation to the couple.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/24/2017
Last Updated: 8/23/2017
State:Texas
County:Travis
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1992
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:48 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:41
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No