Virgina, D.C. Police Continue Search for More Clues on Finders Group With AM-Unknown Children
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Authorities have received a memorandum in which a man who says he assisted in the care of six ragged children found in Florida sought to explain the purpose of their trip south, including plans to open a retirement community in Kentucky.
The memo was written by R. Gardner Terrell, who also said he owns a District of Columbia house which police say was used by members of a 1960s style commune known as the Finders. The commune was described in a court document as a ″cult″ that allegedly conducted ″brainwashing″ and used children ″in rituals.″
The Washington house owned by Terrell was raided Friday after evidence was discovered in a van where the children were found.
A spokesman for Joseph diGenova, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, declined to comment on the Terrell memo, which was delivered to police and news organizations Saturday.
The children, four boys and two girls ranging in age from 2 to 7, were taken into custody in Tallahassee, Fla., late Wednesday and two well-dressed men with them were arrested, Florida officials said.
Although the children were dirty and insect-bitten, they were in good spirits and apparently good health. However, police investigator Cheryl Weigand told the Tallahassee Democrat Saturday night that more than one of the children had been sexually abused, but she would not say exactly how many.
The two men arrested, Douglas Edward Ammerman, 27, and Michael Houlihan, 28, were being held in the Leon County, Fla., jail in lieu of $100,000 bond each. They were each charged with child abuse.
According to the Terrell memo, Stanley Berns and Ammerman left the nation’s capital in early January for Berea, Ky., with the six children. The children’s mothers had authorized the men to take them, and letters of authorization were placed in the glove compartment of the van they were traveling in, 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,″ a retirement community. Terrell said he planned to be the comptroller for the project and described Wyker as his ″mentor.″
Wyker, contacted by telephone in Berea, said he did not know who Terrell was.
″He may know me, but I never met him,″ said Wyker, who refused to answer additional questions, saying he was in a conference.
When Berns, Ammerman and the six children arrived in Berea, they found that Wyker was not ready for the project’s groundbreaking, according to the memo. During that time, the children were cared for by Willis and Lucille Hunting, proprietors of a Montesorri school where the children would have been enrolled for the duration of the ″New Hope″ project, the memo said.
The men then took the children on a vacation-camping trip to Florida, with the approval of their mothers.
Terrell said he and four other men, Michael Holwell - also known as Michael Houlihan - Christian Herbst, Thomas R. Van Deusen, and Robert M. Meyer, drove to Florida to assist with the care of the children.
When the arrests occurred, three of the men had left for the day to look for accomodations in the Tallahassee area, leaving the children in the care of Holwell and Ammerman.
The memo said the children’s mothers are in San Francisco working in business offices and earning money to help pay for ″New Hope.″
Virginia police searched a rural farm Saturday as officials in two states and the District of Columbia tried to unravel the case in which officials say the children may have been the victims of a devil-worship cult.
Virginia state police and Madison County, Va., sheriff’s deputies searched a farm early Saturday about 100 miles southwest of Washington, near Shenandoah National Park. No arrests were made, according to state police Lt. J.P. Henries, who said he did not know the identity of the farm’s owners.
″Several items of evidentary nature were seized and they are going to be analyzed. No obvious new evidence of criminal activity was found,″ Henries said.
″There was no one on the property when we executed the warrants, and some of it had not been inhabited for some time,″ he added.
District of Columbia police said Saturday they had no new information they could release.
″We are still in the process of analyzing and evaluating the records and documents that were seized during the execution of the two warrants on Thursday night,″ police spokesman Capt. William White III said.
Tallahassee police said the men claimed to be taking the children to Mexico to start a school for brilliant children, but Hunt said the men were believed to be heading to Bradenton, Fla., where one of the pair may have relatives.
The house where the group was centered in Washington is in the District of Columbia’s Glover Park section, an area of middle-class homes near the fashionable Georgetown area.
Neighbors said a number of persons had visited the two-story, colonial- style home saying they were looking for the Chinese embassy.
″They were always Oriental,″ said Dan Mulholland, a medical student who lives two doors from the home. Mulholland and another medical student, Michael Finger, said they never saw children at the home during the three years the pair have lived in the neighborhood.
But Mulholland added, ″There were lots of pregnant women and couples.″
On one occasion, a man who was looking for the Finders told Finger that the address had been advertised in Europe as a youth hostel.
Another neighborhood resident, Nancy Wright, said a girl had come to her home and asked directions to the Finders house because she said she had seen the address on a notice at a bus station advertising a youth hostel.
Neighbors said two vans, one blue and the other white with dark shades that were always pulled down, were usually parked in front of the house. A third van with North Carolina license plates had occasionally been parked nearby, the neighbors said.
U.S. District Court records in Washington say a confidential police source had previously told authorities he had been recruited by the Finders with promises of ″financial reward and sexual gratification″ and had been invited to explore satanism, according to documents.
The source said that children were used in unspecified rituals but that he had never witnessed any abuse.
One of the children, a 6-year-old girl, told Florida police the children had never been to school. She said they had been traveling for several days or weeks and hadn’t see their parents since before Christmas, but did not know where they had been.