The Central Washington communities of Wenatchee, in Chelan County, and East Wenatchee, across the Columbia River in Douglas County, got world attention in 1994 and 1995, when they found themselves in the midst of what was characterized as history's most extensive child-sex-abuse investigation. Three years later, the investigations had fallen apart amid accusations of abuses by police and state social workers, and alleged false confessions, badgered child witnesses, and evidence based on the generally discredited "recovered memory" theory. The cases eventually came to be known as the Wenatchee Witch Hunt.
Sensational Allegations, Questionable Confessions
Sensational allegations included the existence of a group called "The Circle" made up of mothers and fathers trading their children for ritual sex abuse, and black-clad adults in sunglasses holding large scale orgies around Wenatchee.
Forty-three adults were arrested and accused of 29,726 counts of sexually abusing 60 children. Some were released. Eighteen pleaded guilty, mostly on the basis of signed confessions. Ten were convicted at trial. Three were acquitted. Eighteen went to prison.
Many witnesses and defendants later said they were pressured into making false confessions and accusations by caseworkers from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and by Wenatchee Police Department Lieutenant Bob Perez.
All who confessed later recanted. Some defendants said that when threatened with life imprisonment, they pled guilty to lesser charges. Some said they were told that if they confessed they wouldn't go to jail but would be treated in the community. Many were told they would never see their children again unless they signed a confession. Those questioned also said they were told that their children wouldn't be placed in foster care or put up for adoption if they signed confessions.
Children Grilled, Called Liars
Child witnesses, mostly from 9 to 13 years old, were often taken from their families and placed in foster care. Many said later that they were subjected to hours of frightening grilling and if they didn't believe they had been sexually abused, they were told they were "in denial" or had suppressed the memory of the abuse. They were also told that siblings and other children had witnessed their abuse, or that that their parents had already confessed.
Interrogators called some children who denied abuse liars. Children were told that if they agreed to accusations they wouldn't be separated from parents or siblings. Many of them later recanted. Lieutenant Perez neither recorded nor kept notes of his interrogations.
Recantations were ignored. "It's well known that children are telling the truth when they say they've been abused," Wenatchee Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor Tim Abbey later told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But (they) are usually lying when they deny it." Abbey also told an investigator that CPS interviews in the Wenatchee cases were not taped because tapes of the interviews in the California's notorious McMartin pre-school case, in which no one was convicted, had been thrown out on "technicalities." In fact, the McMartin tapes showed investigators browbeating and prompting children, and successfully getting them to weave fantastic stories.
Some children and adolescents were involuntarily committed by DSHS to Pine Crest Hospital across the Washington state line, in Idaho where laws allowing involuntarily commitment of juveniles are more lax. One teenaged girl was taken to Pine Crest strapped to a gurney. There, they say they were drugged and pressured to testify against parents and other adults before they could be released.
Many of the accused were poor, and some were developmentally disabled, and illiterate. These defendants mostly relied on public defenders. The few with private attorneys fared better.
How It All Began
It began in February of 1992, when school authorities questioned Donna Everett, the seven-year-old daughter of Harold and Idella Everett. The Everetts were a large, poor family. Harold was illiterate and Idella was developmentally disabled with an IQ of 58.
When questioned, Donna said two six-year-old boys had touched her genitals, a statement corroborated by her brother. Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and police investigated. Suspicious of sex abuse in the Everett home, the authorities convinced the Everetts to voluntarily put Donna in foster care.
A month later, after repeated questioning, Donna said she had been molested by a family acquaintance. This man initially denied molesting Donna, but then signed a confession, which he may not have understood, as he spoke little English. He was later convicted.
Nevertheless the Everett family continued to be questioned and investigated. A year later, Donna's twin brothers told authorities their father had hit them with a belt. Everett was then ordered out of the home, leaving Idella to manage the family alone.
The twins were placed in separate foster homes. At one point, three of the children were sent to the mental hospital in Idaho, and CPS placed another child in therapy. Donna was placed in foster care with Robert Devereux, the divorced foster-father of several girls. Eventually, Devereux said he couldn't handle Donna. She was then placed as a foster child in the home of Lieutenant Bob Perez.
Perez had recently been put in charge of sex abuse cases by the Wenatchee Police Department as part of a routine rotation system.
In August 1994, one of the girls at the Devereux home tried to poison the foster-father with iodine after he grounded her. She was taken to juvenile hall. While there, Bob Perez interviewed her, and she accused Devereux of molesting her. The other girls in the Devereux home didn't back up her story, and the accuser later recanted to her DSHS caseworker, Paul Glassen, saying Perez had pressured and intimidated her.
Devereux was arrested, however, and another foster daughter in his home was re-interviewed by Perez. After several hours of questioning, she changed her story and said she too had been molested.
Devereux hired a lawyer and the charges against him were eventually dismissed after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for spanking a child and for warning two people that they were about to be arrested. He later received a settlement of $290,000 from the city of Wenatchee in exchange for his dropping a malicious prosecution and negligent investigation lawsuit.
Dissenters Fired and Arrested
Also arrested was caseworker Paul Glassen. After he had reported the recantation of the child witness who first accused Devereux, Glassen was handcuffed at work and arrested for witness tampering.
Those charges were eventually dropped, but Glassen was fired and was later investigated for being a participant in the alleged orgies run by "The Circle." After Glassen moved with his family to Vancouver, Canada, Perez and a CPS worker told the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he was being investigated for 50 counts of child abuse, and he lost his job there. Glassen later received a $295,000 settlement from the city of Wenatchee, and a letter clearing him of any charges.
Glassen's supervisor, Juana Vasquez, who questioned the investigation and the placement of children in foster care to facilitate criminal investigations, was also fired. A jury later awarded her a judgment of $1.57 million in her suit against the state for wrongful termination and retaliation.
In September 1994, Donna Everett, now living as a foster-daughter with Bob Perez and his wife Luci, accused her parents, Idella and Harold Everett, of molesting her. The next day Perez got a similar accusation from her sister Melinda. Idella and Everett were arrested and duly signed confessions. Their conviction was overturned in 1998, and they got back parental rights to four of their five children. The oldest had been adopted by a family in Wisconsin, and had become a legal adult. Melinda and Donna have now both recanted and say they were pressured by Perez to lie. The Everetts received an undisclosed settlement from the city of Wenatchee.
After the Everetts were arrested, their pastor, unordained Pentecostal minister, Robert "Roby" Roberson, tried to get custody of the oldest Everett child. Roberson had originally become involved when DSHS personnel asked them to keep an eye on the family look for signs of abuse. He believed the Everetts were innocent. A CPS caseworker told Roberson that Perez would arrest him if he attempted to contact his parishioners, the Everett children. At Idella Everett's sentencing, Roberson spoke up in her defense. Roberson later reported that Perez said, "We warned you, Roberson, we warned you," at the sentencing hearing.
Some of the Everett children were at the Children's Home Society, but Perez urged that they be moved since the counselors there wouldn't make good prosecution witnesses. State authorities went along with his request.
Perez continued to interview two Everett girls -- his foster daughter Donna and her sister Melinda, who was also a foster child in the Perez home for a time. Eventually, Donna accused almost every adult she knew in Douglas and Chelan counties. She named many children she knew as victims. Some of these children were then interviewed, and later said they were pressured to accuse their parents.
The sisters described adults standing in line to have sex with children. They named foster parent Robert Devereux and Paul Glassen -- the social worker who had been arrested earlier when he reported a child's recantation. Eventually, the girls named over a hundred abusers.
At one point, Perez drove Donna around Wenatchee and East Wenatchee in his police car and she pointed at 22 homes where she said had been abused in orgies. She also pointed at a taxi driver and a deliveryman. In the back seat, CPS caseworkers took down all the names and addresses.
Arrests were made, and although some of the 43 arrested had charges dismissed, others confessed, were sentenced, and went to prison or were tried and found guilty. In 1995, when the investigations were at their height, Douglas County commissioners and Douglas and Chelan county prosecutors asked for a grant of state funds to pay for the burgeoning costs of foster care, counselors, expert witnesses, and more prosecutors and police. They received $141,098. Public defenders, however received no extra funds.
But some Wenatchee area citizens began questioning the investigation. Pastor Roberson attended a city council meeting and afterward gave a television interview about the cases. The day after the interview aired, Douglas County police and the State Patrol searched the church and Roberson's home, removing carpet samples to look for semen. About a week later, the Roberson's four-year old daughter Becky was taken from them and held as a material witness.
Eventually, Roberson and his wife Connie were accused of running organized ritual sex abuse from the East Wenatchee Pentecostal Church and House of God and food bank. At their December 1995 trial, which featured little Becky as a defense witness, the jury acquitted them in three hours. The jury foreman characterized the prosecutions as "a witch hunt." A Sunday school teacher, Honnah Sims, was also acquitted, and charges were dropped against the driver of the church van. The Robersons and their codefendant settled a lawsuit with the state for $850,000 in December 1999.
Innocence Project Northwest
In 1998, law students and faculty at the University of Washington formed Innocence Project Northwest and took up the cases of the convicted and incarcerated. Eventually, all 18 had verdicts overturned, or made plea bargains to reduced, often unrelated charges. Some, however, had served their full terms while appeals were underway. The last of the 18 defendants was released in December 2000.
More than a dozen civil lawsuits filed by those arrested and by child witnesses against the city of Wenatchee, DSHS, Bob Perez, and other individuals involved in the investigations and prosecutions continued working their way through the courts for years.