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Adopted daughter sues Michael Dorris estate, alleging sex abuse

May 30, 1997 GMT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Michael Dorris’ adopted daughter claimed he sexually abused her as a child in a lawsuit filed Thursday, two weeks after records of a police investigation into similar allegations against the late writer were sealed.

Madeline Hannah Dorris, 21, also accused her adoptive mother, poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, of negligence, saying she knew or should have known of the abuse.

Madeline Dorris, one of three children adopted by Dorris and Erdrich, is seeking an unspecified amount in excess of $50,000, plus costs. She is suing Dorris’ estate.


Dorris, who committed suicide in a Concord, N.H., motel on April 11, left a will providing for his three biological daughters with Erdrich. But the will excluded his two living adopted children and Erdrich, who was divorcing him.

Earlier this month, a judge ordered that police records in an investigation of sexual abuse allegations against Dorris be sealed without revealing who made the allegations.

The Boston Globe, however, reported shortly after Dorris’ death that it had seen the police records and that the allegations involved one of the couple’s three young daughters.

Attorneys for Erdrich and Dorris’ estate did not immediately return phone messages Thursday.

Dorris also adopted two sons, Jeffrey and Reynold Abel. Dorris chronicled Abel’s struggle with fetal alcohol syndrome in his 1989 book ``The Broken Cord,″ which won a National Book Critics Circle award. Abel died in a car accident in 1991.

The lawsuit said Dorris began sexually abusing Madeline Dorris when she was 5 and continued until she was 12 and was sent to live at various orphanages and boarding schools. The abuse would resume when she returned home, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said that Dorris was negligent because he didn’t seek adequate treatment for his mental illness and sexual perversions. Erdrich has said that Dorris suffered bouts of depression.

Dorris adopted Madeline when she was 2 months old. In 1983, two years after Dorris and Erdrich were married, Erdrich jointly adopted the girl.

Madeline Dorris, of Colorado, first disclosed details of the abuse in March when she was interviewed by Minneapolis prosecutors looking into allegations that Dorris sexually abused his children, said her attorney, Jeffrey Anderson. The investigation was continuing at the time of Dorris’ death.


``The public persona of Michael Dorris as an icon of human values is very different from the private person,″ Anderson said.

``He was publicly the paradigm of kindness, but privately he was abusive sexually and verbally ... certainly to Madeline and his two other adopted children.″