Finders Member Says Group Doesn’t Perform satanic Rituals, Abuse Children
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Finders cult, two members of which were found traveling in Florida with six disheveled children, does not perform satanic rituals or abuse kids, one of the group says.
Robert Gardner Terrell, who said he owns a District of Columbia house that police said was used by members of the group, claimed, ″We are rational people″ and ″not devil worshipers or child molesters.″
The 1960s-style group is described in a court document as a ″cult″ that allegedly conducted ″brainwashing″ and used children ″in rituals.″
But Terrell, 50, said in an interview published in today’s editions of The Washington Post that ″anything we’ve done is based on the desire for the children to have the richest life they could have.″
The children - four boys and two girls aged 2 to 7 - were found in Tallahassee, Fla., late Wednesday and two men were arrested, Florida law enforcement officials said.
The search for Finders members stretched from Washington to Kentucky and San Francisco, with the FBI working with local police to find the children’s parents.
″We’re working to identity who the children are and who they belong to,″ FBI spokeswoman Sue Schnitzer said Sunday. She would not comment on details of the investigation.
Scott Hunt, a Tallahassee police spokesman, said hundreds of people had called from around the country claiming to be the children’s parents, but investigators had not verified any claims.
Hunt said two Washington police investigators were traveling to Florida on Sunday to help identify the children, who were put in a new, undisclosed location after threatening telephone calls were made to the first shelter.
The children, who apparently lived in a blue van during their trip, were ragged and insect-bitten and more than one showed signs of sexual abuse, said Tallahassee police investigator Cheryl Weigand.
The two men arrested, Douglas Edward Ammerman, 27, and Michael Houlihan, 28, are being held in the Leon County, Fla., jail in lieu of $100,000 bond each. They were charged with child abuse.
One law enforcement source said photographs of the children removed from a Washington warehouse included shots of them naked and watching animals such as goats being slaughtered.
U.S. Customs spokesman David Hoover told the Post, ″We’re not saying that it’s pornographic, but it has all the earmarks.″
Virginia state police raided a remote farm at the base of Old Rag Mountain over the weekend after Virginia tags and evidence inside the van seized in Tallahassee led police to two farms owned by George Marion Pettie, 66.
Pettie, a retired Air Force master sergeant whose location is not known, was identified by associates and in published reports as the Finders group leader.
Neighbors said children were brought to the Pettie farm in vans and usually were crying.
″They’d be hollering and crying all the time, like they wanted something or something was hurting them,″ said Wilma Richards, who lives adjacent to the Pettie farm.
In a memorandum Terrell sent authorities over the weekend, he said the children spent a week at a planned ″New Hope″ retirement community in Berea, Ky., and then were taken south for a ″vacation-camping trip.″
The memo said the children’s mothers ″had fully authorized these men, in writing, to care for their children and expressed full confidence in them. Letters giving the authorization were placed in the glove compartment of the blue van currently being held by the Tallahassee authorities.″
He later added, ″All of the mothers are now in San Francisco working in business offices, earning money to help pay for ’New Hope.‴
Authorities said they had been unable to locate any women they believe are the mothers of the children.
The memo said the two men and six children were going to Berea at the invitation of the Rev. Jim Wyker to complete plans for and begin construction on New Hope.
Wyker, reached in Berea on Sunday night, said he did not know Terrell, but recalled that he spoke to the Finders in November about plans for New Hope, which he described as a self-supporting community for the young and old. He said six children and two men visited the second week of January and stayed in a farmhouse.
Wyker said his group has purchased a 72-acre farm near Berea. He said the community would have no religious ties and would work to abolish poverty.
Carl Shapley, named in Terrell’s letter as the financial developer for ″New Hope,″ said Sunday he was trying to correct what he calls, ″this wild, imaginative thing along the lines of a cult.″ He described members of the group as ″gentle people″ searching for ″new dimensions in lifestyles.″
Shapley said he had heard about the slaughter of animals on the Virginia properties, but denied the acts were connected to any rituals.
″It’s simply like any farm, they slaughter animals. Tne fact that they made a game out of it, I thought was in poor taste. That’s been picked up by the police that that’s something ‘satanic.’ That’s not the case. Rather, it’s in poor taste, but it’s not cultish.″
Priscilla Coates of San Jose, Calif., former national director of the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network and now president of the Bay Area chapter, said Finders ″is not a satanic group. It’s not a religious, therapy or political cult. It’s just a weird situation where Pettie controlled others and made everything a game.″
But Culpeper, Va., lawyer John J. Davies, who represented a former Finders member in a divorce case, has a different view of the group.
Finders members sent him letters ″very profane in terms of sexual connotation,″ Davies said Sunday. ″They were extremely creative parodies of literature, designed to intimidate me.″
″They were fighting my client’s pulling out of the group,″ he said, ″and they didn’t want his wife to leave, too.″
Gertrude Marks Ritchie of York, Pa., said in a telephone interview Sunday that the memo was correct in saying she and her husband helped care for the children on the trip from Washington to Kentucky. Mrs. Ritchie said she had met the childrens’ parents in Florida.