Revisiting Country Walk
ABSTRACT: The Country Walk day care case in Miami is often cited
as support for the reality of ritual abuse. This case is said to
have been corroborated with "hard" evidence: one child had a
positive test for gonorrhea of the throat and there was a confession
from one of the defendants. A book, Unspeakable Acts ()(),
and a television docudrama with the same title popularized Country Walk
nationally. However, there are serious problems with the
confession, which appears to have been coerced, and the test used for
gonorrhea was later found to be unreliable. The videotaped
interviews of the children were extremely leading and suggestive
most children initially denied abuse and affirmed it only after pressure
from the interviewers and their own families. In addition, the
relationship of Unspeakable Acts author Jan Hollingsworth to the
prosecution of the case calls into question the objectivity of what has
long been considered the authoritative history of the case.
During the past decade, child protection, mental health, law
enforcement and legal professionals have been trying to assess the
credibility of novel claims that groups of adults throughout the
industrialized world are sexually molesting children while acting out
religious, or "ritual" scenarios.
Such allegations began cropping up during the early 1980s, first from
adults purporting to remember their victimization as children, and later
from children themselves (particularly those in out-of-home care
situations such as preschools and daycare centers and more recently
in divorce custody disputes). The claims continue to evoke
controversy, because although increasingly widespread, they are
virtually never accompanied by the trauma, material evidence and adult
witnesses one would expect to characterize such crimes (Charlier &
Downing, 1988; Finkelhor, 1988; Hicks, 1991; Lanning, 1922; Nathan,
Many child protection professionals and activists nonetheless believe
in the existence of institutionalized ritual abuse. In efforts to
advance their beliefs, many have become well-informed about the details
of various investigations and prosecutions worldwide. There is a
constant search for "strong" cases, i.e., those in which
perpetrators leave traditional evidence.
For this reason, a scandal popularly known as "Country
Walk" has become legendary. In the case, dating from 1984,
36-year-old Cuban immigrant Francisco Fuster and his Honduran wife, Ileana,
age 17, were accused of molesting at least eight children in the
home-based babysitting service that Ileana operated in Country Walk, an
affluent Miami suburb. As a ritual child sex abuse case, Country
Walk was prototypical, with numerous bizarre charges: that the adult
perpetrators had committed oral copulation and sodomy or forced the
children to do so; that they gave children mind-altering drugs and
alcohol; that they had practiced systematic terrorism (including
threatening the children with monster masks and killing birds); that
they produced child pornography.
Country Walk contained a fair amount of circumstantial evidence as
well as accusations from several children. The case seems to have
its roots in an incident in Spring, 1984, when a three-year-old boy who
attended the babysitting service told his mother, as she was bathing
him, to "kiss my body. Ileana kisses all the babies'
bodies." The mother expressed concern to neighbors, and a few
months later, in August, another mother became worried when her toddler
appeared "drugged" after spending his first day at Ileana
Authorities were called, and five days later, a five-year-old boy was
interviewed. This first interview was unrecorded, but the next day, two
more sessions with him were videotaped. Though the child's first
recorded interview was hesitant, a few hours later, the second one was
filled with graphic descriptions of adult sexual material not directly
elicited by the interviewers. He and other children who were
subsequently questioned said that the Fusters had scared them with
Halloween-style masks, and a business associate of Francisco Fuster
later testified that he once witnessed Francisco wearing such a mask.
Investigation into Francisco's background indicated that several
years earlier, he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in New York, and
served prison time for the offense. In 1981, he also was convicted
for lewd assault, for fondling a nine-year-old girl. Fuster had
also suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 1980; relatives noted that
subsequently, he seemed more irritable and emotionally volatile.
Finally, Francisco's six-year-old son, who lived with the couple, was
tested for gonorrhea of the throat, and the laboratory reported positive
On the other hand, much of the investigation tended to be
exculpatory. Francisco Fuster's family members described him as
appearing normally affectionate, nonviolent and non-sexual in his
relations with children and his ex-wife denied that he exhibited any
paraphilias. Investigators found no pornography in the Fuster
house. No children had genital or anal tissue injuries. And
except for the five-year-old boy, no children described graphic sexual
acts or ritual and sadistic behavior until being exposed to repeated,
In fact, videotaped records of interviews show investigators
subjecting children to the types of methods that cognitive psychologists
and other experts have since condemned as being far too leading and
suggestive to develop forensically valid evidence (Ceci & Bruck, in
press; Doris, 1991; Raskin & Yuille, 1989; Robin, 1991). In
early interviews, most children who were verbal denied having been
abused. Only later (in some cases, months later) did they give
affirmative statements and the videos make it clear that these were
produced only after the children were pressured by both investigators
and their own families.1
Francisco Fuster pleaded innocent, was convicted by a jury in late
1985, and sentenced to six life terms and 165 years in prison.
Ileana Fuster did not stand trial. Instead, she confessed to 12
counts involving child molestation and also testified for the state at
her husband's trial, accusing him of initiating many sexual assaults
against the children in her care. Subsequent to her confession and
testimony, she received a 10-year prison sentence. In 1989 she was
released after serving three years, and deported to her native Honduras.
Country Walk is remembered largely because for several years, it was
the only case in which the children's stories were backed by the
seemingly "hard" evidence of the Fuster child's positive
gonorrhea test, and more importantly, by Ileana Fuster's
confession. The case is thus frequently cited as "proof that
ritual abuse really happens." The book Unspeakable Acts,
published in 1986, and a television docudrama with the same title that
aired on ABC in 1990 have since popularized Country Walk
nationally. Child protection workers often recommend both versions
as resources for those studying ritual abuse, offender behavioral
psychology, and proper ways to investigate and prosecute such cases.
This paper takes a more skeptical view of Country Walk. It does
not, however, try to sort out whether the Fusters are guilty of all,
some or none of the charges against them. Instead, it aims to
amend the record regarding how the case has been understood since its
inception, and particularly since it gained national attention.
The major point to be addressed is evidence suggesting that Ileana
Fuster's confession was coerced, and therefore possibly false.
Another issue is the relationship of Unspeakable Acts author Jan
Hollingsworth to the prosecution of the case a relationship that
calls into question the objectivity of what has long been considered the
authoritative history of Country Walk. An additional issue is the
fact that, since Hollingsworth publicized the case, new scientific
findings have emerged that weaken evidence once considered unassailable.
The Fuster boy's positive gonorrhea finding is an example.
Along with many children who attended the babysitting service, his mouth
and throat were cultured for gonorrhea by a Dade County-area hospital,
Jackson Memorial. The laboratory there used a technique that was
new in 1984, and favored because it took only four hours to
process. According to a technician there, the Fuster child's
sample tested positive.
Subsequently, the boy was questioned by Dr. Joseph Braga, whom the
state retained to do investigative interviewing of the children.
When the child denied that his father had molested him, Braga insisted
that since he had gonorrhea, he must not be telling the truth.
Braga became notably coercive, and subsequently the child said that he
had fellated Francisco Fuster.
But in a deposition taken a few months later, the boy repeatedly told
prosecutors he had no memory of his father molesting him, and that the
reason he told Braga otherwise was because Braga refused to end the
interview unless the child made such claims. The text of the
deposition contains no evidence that there was any family pressure on
him to recant. Rather, its tone suggests a child "thinking
out loud" to the prosecutors, trying earnestly to figure out if he
could have been molested without knowing it (at one point, for instance,
he speculates about whether his father could have gotten on his bed at
night, while he was asleep, just like his pet cat sometimes lies down
with him without his knowing).
The child did not testify at Francisco Fuster's trial. But his
positive gonorrhea culture was introduced as evidence. Fuster's
defense attorney did not challenge the veracity of the test, and the
state suggested (without presenting material evidence or physician's
testimony) that Fuster was the source of the infection.
Three years after Fuster's conviction, however, researchers at the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (Whittington, Rice, Biddle, &
Knaff, 1988) warned that the test on his son's culture is highly
unreliable as an indicator for gonorrhea since, used alone, it
cannot distinguish that organism from others that occur normally in both
children's and adults' throats (irrespective of whether or not they are
sexually active). During 1983 and 1984, more than a third of
samples from children that clinical laboratories around the United
States identified as containing gonorrhea were later confirmed by the
CDC to actually be other organisms.
To prevent false positive findings, CDC researchers recommend
subjecting samples to more than one type of test. They also
recommend freezing and storing isolates to preserve them for future
testing particularly if they are of medicolegal
significance. But the Fuster child's sample was subjected to only
one test. It was subsequently discarded.
Updated data about the reliability of the gonorrhea testing was
unavailable to Jan Hollingsworth when she was writing Unspeakable
Acts. But given her lack of objectivity vis-à-vis the case,
one wonders whether she would have included such data even if given the
When they can be checked against the discovery and trial record, the
facts Hollingsworth chooses to include in her account of Country Walk
are reliable and can be cited with confidence. The problem is what
she leaves out, as well as the impressionistic material she makes
up. Taken as a whole, the author's omissions and inventions
constitute egregious partisanship for the state's case against the
Take, for example, Hollingsworth's narratives of the videotaped
interviews with the five-year-old boy (whom she assigns the pseudonym
"Jason"). In them, she deletes most of the
contradictions in his statements, and adds extravagant interior
monologues to buttress her impression that "Jason's" every
hesitation and inconsistency are due not to the possibility that his
stories aren't true, but rather, to his fear and shame at having been
victimized. Typical of Hollingsworth's style is the following
narrative of this child's interview (p. 60-6l):
"And what did you say when they talked about it?" asked
Joe (Braga, a state-appointed interviewer).
"I said I would tell my mom and dad, and they (the Fusters)
Jason had saved face. They mustn't know that he hadn't the
courage to refuse the advances. His fear and shame welled so
deep that he wasn't quite sure where he had found the courage to tell
as much as he had already. All he knew was that he was beginning
to feel better having done so...
... Jason was grateful that they weren't pushing the issue.
He really wished he could tell them, but ... Laurie (Braga, another
interviewer) prodded gently. "What did they try to do?"
"Um, I don't know." He didn't even know where to begin.
... "And what did they do?" Joe asked gently.
"Um, I don't know." He was getting cold feet again.
Miami Herald writer Fred Tasker, reviewing Unspeakable Acts on
August 4, 1986, called it a "nonfiction novel." His
characterization is no more curious than Hollingsworth's description of
herself as a "freelance journalist." In fact, according
to a 1983 deposition she gave in the Country Walk case, her year at CBS-affiliate
WCIX-TV in Miami involved not reporting, but work as a news assignments
editor. Previously, she worked at the Miami Herald again,
as a marketing specialist, not a reporter.
In the spring of 1984, while at WCIX, Hollingsworth became very
interested in ritual day care sex abuse, a subject that had exploded
into the national media after California's McMartin Preschool case
surfaced in late 1983. WCIX, Hollingsworth writes in Unspeakable
Acts, frequently took calls from Drs. Joseph and Laurie Braga, who
offered tips for stories concerning child welfare issues.
The media has often described the Bragas as psychologists or
psychiatrists, but this is an error. According to information
provided by Boston University as well as in depositions they gave in the
Country Walk case, Laurie Braga has a doctorate in child development,
her husband one in education. Their experience revolved primarily
around designing early childhood education programs for publicly funded,
inner-city-style day cares and preschools. In 1984, both were
directors of the Coconut Grove-based National Foundation for Children,
an agency the couple founded, ran, and financed with Laurie Braga's
In May, according to Hollingsworth, the Bragas phoned WCIX and
suggested the station do a "tie-in" story to McMartin.
WCIX then began researching an investigative series on day care
regulation, and Hollingsworth spent almost three months helping to
produce it. The finished piece was sharply critical of Florida's
failure to check criminal records of people applying for positions in
day care centers, and of prosecutors' inability to bring accused
perpetrators to justice because of children's perceived incompetency to
testify in court.
The focus of the muckraking was a recent case at a Miami synagogue
child care center, where a small boy had apparently been sexually
assaulted by a janitor. Hollingsworth notes that her research for
the series put considerable pressure on Chris Rundle, head of the sexual
battery unit at the Dade County State Attorney's
Office, to prosecute
the case. Yet the suspect was not tried because the child was
deemed too young to deliver credible testimony.
The television series, with its damning view of the child protection
prosecutorial system, ran in mid-July. A follow-up ran in which
the Bragas appeared and stressed the need for reforms. The couple
then approached Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno.
Hollingsworth writes that Reno was concerned about the competition to
her incumbency posed by challenger Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, who was
considering making child protection one of his campaign issues.
Reno had already evinced an interest in the topic, having lobbied for a
change in the criminal law allowing children's personal appearance in
court to be replaced with videotaped testimony. The law had gone
into effect in June.
The Bragas scheduled a meeting with Reno and suggested that she
organize a special section of the State Attorney's office in which child
sexual assault cases could be processed, and their testimony
recorded. Reno was excited by the idea. It was now late
Two weeks later, in early August, Hollingsworth got a call from a
longtime friend and close neighbor in Country Walk, where Hollingsworth
herself lived. The neighbor, an attorney and former prosecutor,
had heard rumors circulating through the community about the Fusters
being child molesters, based on fears about the three-year-old child's
earlier statement that "Ileana kisses all the babies' bodies."2
Now Hollingsworth's friend feared that her toddler, too, was a
victim. Hollingsworth immediately called Chris Rundle, at the
State Attorney's Office, and reported the allegations. Rundle lost
no time opening an investigation. One of the first facts noted was
Francisco's previous conviction for fondling the nine-year-old
girl. Reno quickly furnished a room with juvenile furniture, toys
and with videotaping equipment. She also retained the Bragas as
volunteer interviewers of the children. The case started to
According to a deposition she provided on July l6, 1985, within a
month after the investigation started Hollingsworth quit her job at WCIX
and began doing paid "consulting" work for the Bragas.
She also became what the Miami Herald (April 14, 1985) described
as a "full time child advocate," volunteering with Justice for
Sexually Abused Children (JSAC), a group of Country Walk parents who
lobbied the state for reforms in child' protection law.
It is thus clear that from the outset of the Country Walk case,
Hollingsworth was no disinterested journalist. Rather, she was an
advocate employed and paid by important members of the prosecution
effort. She probably even deserves credit for starting the case.
Problems With The Confession
Authorities formally began investigating of the Fusters on August
3. By August 8 and 9, interviews and medical exams of neighborhood
children were in full swing, and on August 10, Francisco Fuster was
arrested. Two weeks later Ileana was also taken into
custody. She was still 17 years old and legally a child. She
and he husband had been married only 11 months.
Francisco retained lawyers Michael Von Zamft and Jeffrey Samek to
represent him and Ileana. Soon after, the Fusters were declared indigent
and Samek and Von Zamft were court appointed to continue the
defense. Meanwhile seven families of children who had attended
Ileana' babysitting service filed lawsuits against Arvida Corporation
and other Country Walk homeowner associations, alleging that an
employee, the father of the index child, knew abuse was occurring at the
Fusters' but did not inform other parents.
According to private investigator Stephen Dinerstein, attorneys Samek
and Von Zamft both were convinced at the outset that Francisco Fuster
was a pedophile. Their main interest, Dinerstein says, was that
their clients plead guilty. But the Fusters' insistence on their
innocence was unwavering.
Hollingsworth notes that this became increasingly touchy for the
prosecution. As part of her reelection[ campaign for Dade County
State Attorney, Janet Reno promised to achieve "justice" in
the Country Walk case i.e., convictions. As the
investigation progressed however, most of the children had little or
nothing spontaneous to say about their experiences at the Fusters
house. There was relatively little other evidence either.
The state concluded that the best strategy would be to develop an
adult witness: Ileana. In October, according to Hollingsworth,
Deputy Chief State Attorney Abe Laeser offered to drastically reduce her
sentence if she would turn state's evidence. Assistant State
Attorney Dan Casey formalized the offer in March, 1985, and the
following month, Reno repeated it. Ileana refused.
Her intransigence was becoming as tricky for the defense attorneys as
it was for the state. According to Hollingsworth, the case was so
notorious and the Fusters so vilified in the media that Von Zamft was
losing clients and being ostracized in the community simply for
defending them. In addition, state senator Roberta Fox, a child
protection advocate closely tied to parents in the Country Walk case,
began protesting the fact that Von Zamft was chair of a state bar
committee. She said she saw a conflict of interest because of his
defense of Ileana. During the spring of, 1985, Von Zamft was also
at the top of a governor's list of candidates to head a new,
multi-million-dollar state program to provide death row inmates
appellate attorneys. It was a job he coveted. But Fox
attacked his qualifications for that position, too, citing his
connection to the Fuster case.
Pressures on Von Zamft apparently were becoming unbearable. How
could he simultaneously fulfill his job as a Fuster attorney, yet
relinquish his role as defender of child sex offender pariahs?
He resolved the dilemma by, in effect, becoming one of Francisco
Fuster's prosecutors. In April, 1985, according to Hollingsworth,
he and Samek decided a conflict existed in their joint representation of
the defendants. In early May, the couple's defense was legally
separated. Von Zamft chose Ileana as his client. Samek was
left with Francisco.
Von Zamft began developing his strategy: to admit that Ileana was
indeed a perpetrator, but only because she herself was a child victim
of her husband. To portray Ileana in this light, she would have to
testify that even though she and Francisco both abused the children, she
did it only because she was under "duress." To plead
duress, one must show a high degree of imminent danger: successfully
claiming, for instance, that a gun was held to the head.
Logically, the way to elicit such testimony from Ileana would be to cast
her in the role of a battered wife.
In fact, evidence did emerge that Francisco Fuster hit his wife on
occasion. Shirley Blando was a chaplain in the women's jail where Ileana
was detained during 1984 and 1985. In a deposition given August 1,
1985, Blando stated that she frequently talked with Ileana.
Sometime after Ileana and Francisco's defenses were separated, she was
confronted with the statements of some Country Walk parents that they
had seen her with a black eye. She then admitted to Blando that
Francisco had hit her.
But she denied that he did so more than once; and the denials were
consistent, according to Blando. In fact, Ileana wrote Francisco
love letters almost every day and regularly told Blando that he was
"a loving husband; that he was good, and that there were no
On the other hand, according to Blando, she often said that "she
did not trust her lawyer ... she was afraid of her lawyer... She would
say, "They want me to say something that is not true" ... She
thought that about the District Attorney. She thought that about
the lawyers for both (her and Francisco). She thought that
everybody wanted her to say, 'I saw my husband do these things
..."' But Blando said Ileana insisted that she could not
"say things that are not true."
Subsequent to these protestations, two things happened. First,
as noted above, Ileana's case was separated from Francisco's.
Second, she was put into isolation, which, according to Blando, was an
extremely traumatic experience for her. She had already been
locked up by herself for the first seven months of her incarceration,
and according to private investigator Dinerstein, who saw her in jail,
"She couldn't take that. She was often kept under suicide
watch kept naked. When I would visit her, the fact that she
was in isolation would be half the conversation. She really had it
tough. She was just a kid." According to Blando's
deposition, when Ileana was returned to isolation in May she was
By summer, she was back in isolation and separated from her husband
for almost the same length of time she had been married to him.
Soon Ileana changed her story about her one-time black eye, and began
claiming that Francisco had hit her often. By early July, she was
refusing his mail and no longer calling him. Later that month,
according to Hollingsworth, she began saying that before they were
married, Francisco "forced" her to have sex (without assault
or battery). She also said that Francisco hit and slapped his
son. Now, according to Ileana, Francisco Fuster was a wife and
Yet she continued to insist that no sexual abuse had occurred at the
babysitting service, even though a lie detector test administered in
late June had found "deception" when she answered she had
neither seen or ever been aware of Francisco molesting children.
In further attempts to elicit information for plea bargaining
negotiations, Miami psychiatrist Charles Mutter interviewed her.
He concluded that if Francisco really had molested children, Ileana was
denying it either because she truly was unaware of it or because she was
afraid of her husband. Mutter apparently believed the
latter. Hollingsworth (p.332) cites a memo in which the State
Attorney's Office summed up Mutter's conclusion that Ileana fit the
profile of a battering victim rather than a sex offender. Notably,
Mutter was also said to have concluded that Ileana "clearly does
not have any sort of amnesia or memory disturbance."
July turned to August, and Ileana still insisted on Francisco's
innocence. "I would tend to believe her," said prison
chaplain Blando during her August 1 deposition. Assistant State's
Attorney Hogan then asked Blando what the chances were that Ileana
"would ever take the stand and say, 'Frank abused the children, and
I did not say anything because I was afraid of him' (?)."
"There is nothing to indicate to me that she would o that
..." Blando answered, "because her feeling and belief is that
she did not see him do those things ... she will only testify to what
she sees as being true ..."
But the push to successfully prosecute Francisco Fuster by having his
wife testify against him was in high gear. Psychologist Norman
Reichenberg, who had examined Ileana in late July, had concluded, in a
deposition dated the 31st of that month, that her basic functioning was
that of "an extremely needy child" who "would have come
under the domination of Francisco Fuster while living with him" and
"done things that she would normally not done (sic) if he demanded
it of her."
Her husband was not the only person thought capable of molding Ileana's
behavior. According to Reichenberg, he himself could "get her
to respond in any way that I pushed her ... and she would be interested
in pleasing me, so I wouldn't be mad at her."
Von Zamft quickly capitalized on the idea of Ileana's
malleability. In an August 2 competency hearing, he told the court
that she was so immature and dependent upon Francisco that if she had to
stand trial with him, she could not be expected to defend herself.
"The only valid defense that counsel perceives in this case
requires that this defendant be prepared to give testimony against the
codefendant," he said. Hollingsworth cites a memo that the
state wrote three days later, indicating that Von Zamft would proffer
that Ileana confessed even if she hadn't
Von Zamft was thus basing his defense on a confession that did not
exist. A trial was scheduled in less than a month, and if he
wanted to avoid it, he would have to produce a guilty plea fast.
In a 1991 personal interview, Von Zamft told this writer that after
calling in Dr. Mutter to examine Ileana, and after determining that she
still was "unable to say anything clearly," he contacted Miami
psychologists Michael Rappaport and his partner, Merry Sue Haber, who
ran a business called Behavior Changers.
In August, Rappaport and Haber began visiting Ileana in her isolation
cell. In a 1991 telephone interview, Rappaport told this writer
that, "If Frank had been able to hire a good criminal attorney he
could have walked. The prosecutors say the only reason they could
convict Frank was because of Ileana." Rappaport later told
the Miami Herald that he saw Ileana at least 34 times; he told
this writer he billed the state for 35 to 40 hours. He also noted
that during this period, State Attorney Reno did something highly
irregular; she visited Ileana in her cell at least 30 times.
What went on during these visits?
Rappaport described doing "relaxation" and
"visualization" exercises with Ileana, as well as constantly
suggesting to her that she would be sentenced lightly if she
confessed. (In fact, the state had made Ileana an offer: plead
guilty and get only 17 years or half that much time with good
behavior. Further, since she was a minor at the time of the
alleged crimes, the judge could sentence her as a juvenile, in which
case she might get only probation.)
Rappaport would repeat these promises, then he would contrast them
with the fate awaiting Ileana if she pleaded innocent and got convicted
life in prison.
"It's a lot like reverse brainwashing," Rappaport told this
writer. "... we just spent hours and hours talking to her ...
It's kind of a manipulation. It was very much like dealing with a
child. You make them feel very happy, then segue into the hard
Rappaport and Haber constantly stressed to Ileana that confessing
"was in her best interest. We said, 'There's a deal being
made ... if you don't talk, Frank could be released and you could go to
prison for a long time."'
Rappaport said Ileana's "confession" finally "started
flowing out and she would say little bits of things and we'd stop
..." He described the process as "almost like a hypnotic thing
On August 21, according to Hollingsworth, Ileana stated during a
polygraph test that she and Francisco had molested children. The
next day, she pleaded guilty to 12 of 14 counts of sexual abuse.
Her speech to the court, though, was equivocal.
"Judge," she said, "I would like you to know that I am
pleading guilty not because I feel guilty, but because I think-I think
it's the best interest ... for my own interest and for the children and
for the court and all the people that are working on the case. But
I am not pleading guilty because I feel guilty ... I am innocent of all
those charges. I wouldn't have done anything to harm any
children. I have never done anything in my life ... I am
innocent. I am just doing it I am pleading guilty to get
all of this over ... for my own good ..."
When viewed chronologically, Ileana's "confession"
depositions also suggest that many of her statements were confabulations
or fabrications cued by her jailhouse visitors.
In a deposition of September 11, for instance, she talked mostly
about violence Francisco committed against her person. She
described him assaulting her in the shower and urinating on her, giving
her drugs, sodomizing her with a cross, threatening to hurt her with a drill
and other tools, and burning and cutting her on the groin and
legs. Some of her claims also involved children: she said
Francisco once ripped her shirt off in front of them, put suppositories
up children's rectums, fondled and kissed a small boy and made Ileana
fellate the child's penis, put his hands into a little girl's shorts,
and made his own son orally copulate him.
But a September 18 deposition introduced more sadomasochistic
or "ritual" acts against the children as well as
against Ileana. Now she said Francisco hung her in the garage by
both hands and hung his son by the ankles. Ileana also said that
Francisco rubbed feces on her legs and put snakes on both her and
Many of these statements were produced as Ileana sat next to
psychologist Rappaport and State's Attorney Reno; the former often
hugged her and the latter held her hand. Frequently, when Ileana
said she could not answer a question because she did not remember,
Rappaport would intervene. For example, in one exchange, when
asked to describe an incident of abuse, Ileana answered, "... I
couldn't do it. I don't recall." Rappaport then
interrupted: "lliana (sic), it's not that you can't recall; it's
that you don't want to recall." "Oh," Ileana
answered. "They don't understand. I understand you
better than they do," Rappaport continued.
In another exchange, Ileana was asked, "What did (Francisco) do
to you that night?" "I can't remember now," she
answered, "just remember he did afterwards (sic), but I was hurt
..." "You can't remember," pressed Rappaport,
"or you don't want to?" "I don't want to
remember," agreed Ileana. "If you can remember you have
to tell them," said Rappaport. "I don't want to.
It's not there," insisted Ileana. "You don't
remember?" said Rappaport. "Uh-uh." said Ileana.
Often, when she answered this way, Rappaport would request and
receive "breaks" in which he and Ileana would retire for
several minutes, in private. They would then return to the
proceedings and Ileana would supply an answer.
For example, Ileana was once asked to describe Francisco assaulting
her. She could not. Rappaport asked for a break so she could
"put her thoughts together." On returning from the
break, Ileana remembered a "tool thing," or
"crowbar," that Francisco put "around" her vagina.
When she returned from other breaks she claimed to have just
recovered memories of Francisco wanting to be diapered, forcing his son
to perform fellatio, kissing a five-year-old boy, and making Ileana kiss
the child's penis.
Ileana also continuously generated new testimony alleging
extraordinary events. For example, "He took me from my hands
and my feet and he threw me in the shower in our bedroom and he turned
the water on. I just remember today." There is also
evidence that her memories were based on or influenced by fantasy.
One of her charges against Francisco was that he had put snakes inside
her and the children's genitals. The testimony was developed as
she was asked to elaborate about Francisco's abuse. "Well, I
remember a snake," she answered. "What about a
snake?" asked a lawyer. "Having bad dreams about
it," she replied.
Even after her guilty plea and her testimony at Francisco's trial in
late September, 1985, Ileana developed new stories. Interestingly,
Charles Mutter, the psychiatrist who examined her earlier, had
previously concluded that she had no memory impairment or amnesia.
But after reinterviewing Ileana during her presentencing evaluation, he
apparently changed his mind. In a November 7, 1985 letter to the
court, he wrote: "Ileana claims that, at this point, her memory has
been refreshed by repeated sessions with Drs. Rappaport and Haber.
Ileana touched and put her mouth on three boys' penises (but only
because Frank (Francisco) pushed her shoulder). Frank took a gun
and placed it on Ileana's vagina and fired it. Frank poured acid
on her blouse in the shower it made smoke."
Ileana was sentenced to ten years' prison. While incarcerated,
she divorced Francisco and became a self-professed "born again
Christian." In 1989, after serving three and one-half years,
she was released and deported to Honduras. She was accompanied by
members of a Florida church who befriended her in prison; evangelical
associates in Honduras then assumed sponsorship and have since financed
her education. She refuses to speak publicly about the Country
Walk case. Church members both in Florida and Honduras have
refused to let the media talk to Ileana directly. This writer's
efforts in 1991 to make direct contact with her were unsuccessful.
In 1986, four of the seven families who filed lawsuits against the
Arvida Corporation, homeowner associations and Francisco Fuster
collected a total of $5 million cash in out-of-court settlements.
Other families, including the mother of Fuster's son, filed additional
Currently, Francisco Fuster remains in prison in Florida. He
continues to insist on his innocence, and his case is being appealed.
Was Ileana Fuster's confession a false one? Was it
coerced? A generation ago, the Supreme Court, in its
"Miranda" decision, noted that police interrogation tactics
have shifted from physical coercion (the "third degree") to
methods of psychological coercion and relatively sophisticated tactics
of influence. In pursuit of confessions, interrogators try to
manipulate suspects' self-perception, evaluations of their situation and
hopes of ameliorating punishment (Driver, 1968). The subjection of
Ileana Fuster, a teenager, to isolation from all but people bent on
extracting a confession from her may have constituted this type of
Another technique, hypnosis, has been used in recent years to produce
testimony. It is considered highly problematic, though, because of
its potential, when used by unskilled investigators, to create
pseudomemories and even false confessions (Diamond, 1980).
Further, the formal induction procedures that most people envision when
thinking of hypnosis are not the only way to evoke dissociation.
Techniques involving "relaxation" or "guided
imagery" are becoming more popular, even though it is not widely
recognized that they can produce dissociation and trance
(Gudjonsson,1985; Perry & Nogrady, 1985).
For persons dissociated with relaxation or guided imagery procedures
as Ileana Fuster may have been there is no scientific basis to
suggest that their memories are any more reliable or less subject to
distortion than memories elicited via formal hypnosis. There is
perhaps nothing more dangerous than an investigator who is unaware that
trance has been accomplished, and who also uses exceedingly leading and
suggestive questioning methods. Such malpractice has already
produced at least one apparent false confession in a ritual sex abuse
case with some elements in common with Country Walk (Ofshe, 1992;
Further, in a case like Country Walk, there may be nothing more
harmful than an investigator who uses bad techniques when interviewing
small children; particularly when ignoring factors in the children's
families and communities that may be influencing or pressuring them to
make untrue statements. Finally, there is nothing more unfortunate
than the media's willingness to publish superficial or grossly biased
coverage of sexual abuse cases.3
By the end of this decade, the children who initiated the case
against Francisco and Ileana Fuster will be young adults. Ileana will be
entering middle age. Perhaps by then, some of these accusers will
be able to independently remember and recount the events
that led to Country Walk. Perhaps, too, the case will be clarified
more satisfactorily than through the narratives that currently exist.
(Secondary sources for this article were, mainly, The Miami Herald,
and Unspeakable Acts, by Jan Hollingsworth. The writer also
spent five days in Miami during August, 1991 and reviewed numerous boxes
of records in State of Florida v. Francisco Fuster Escalona, No.
84-19728 (Appeal No. 85-2531), stored at a Dade County records
storehouse at 9350 N.W. 12th Street, Miami. The materials included
depositions from prosecution as well as defense witnesses. A
personal interview was conducted with Ileana Fuster's former defense
attorney, Michael Von Zamft (Francisco Fuster's trial attorney, Jeffrey
Samek, died in the late 1980s). A phone interview was held with
psychologist Michael Rappaport, and later, with private investigator
Stephen Dinerstein. Several hours of videotaped interviews with
complaining child witnesses, conducted mainly by Drs. Joseph and Laura
Braga, were also reviewed.
Ceci, S. J., & Bruck. M. (in press). The suggestibility of the
child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin.
Charlier, T., & Downing, S. (1988, January). Justice abused
(five-part series). Memphis Commercial Appeal
Doris, L (Ed.). (1991). The Suggestibility of Children's
Recollections: Implications for Eyewitness Testimony (). Washington, DC:
Driver, E. D. (1968). Confessions and social psychology of coercion. Harvard Law Review,
Diamond. B. L. (1980). Inherent problems in the use of pretrial
hypnosis on a perspective witness. California Law
Review, 68, 313-349.
Finkelhor, D. (1988). Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care ().
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Gudjonsson, G. H. (1985). Discussion, commentary, the use of hypnosis
by the police in the investigation of crime: Is guided imagery a safe
substitute? British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 3,
Hicks, R. (1991). In Pursuit of Satan (). Buffalo, NY:
Hollingsworth, 3. (1986). Unspeakable Acts ()().
New York: Congdon and Weed.
Lanning, K. (1992, January). Investigator's guide to allegations of
"ritual" child abuse. Quantico VA: Federal Bureau of
Mulhern, S. (1991). Satanism and psychotherapy: A rumor in search of
an inquisition. In J. T. Richardson, J. Best, & D. G. Bromley
(Eds.), The Satanism Scare ()()
(pp. 145-172). New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Nathan, D. (1991). Satanism and child molestation: Constructing the
ritual abuse scare. In J. T. Richardson, J. Best, & D. G. Bromley
(Eds.), The Satanism Scare ()()
(pp. 75-94). New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Ofshe, R. J. (1992). Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: False
confession due to dissociative state; misidentified multiple personality
and the satanic cult hypothesis. The
International Journal of Clinical and Experimental
Hypnosis. 40(3), 125-156.
Perry, C., & Nogrady, H. (1985). Use of hypnosis by the police in
the investigation of crime: Is guided imagery a safe substitute?" British
Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 3, 25-31.
Raskin, D. C., & Yuille, J. C. (1989). Problems in evaluating
interviews of children in sexual abuse cases. In S. J. Ceci, D. F. Ross,
& M. P. Toglia (Eds.), Perspectives on Children's Testimony ()
184-207). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Robin, M. (1991). Beyond validation interviews: An assessment
approach to evaluating sexual abuse allegations, In M. Robin (Ed.),
Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations
New York: The Haworth Press.
UPI (United Press International) (1987, November 18). Juzgaran a
matrimonio por enviar fotos eroticas con su hijo (Couple to be tried for
sending erotic photos of their son), from El Fronterizo (Cd. Juarez,
Mexico), p. B-7.
Whittington, W. L, Rice, P. J., Biddle, J. W., & Knaff, J. S.
(1988). Incorrect identification of Neisseria gonorrhoeae from infants
and children. Pediatric Infectious Disease
Journal, 7(1), 3-10.
Watters, B. (1991 July/August). The devil in Mr. Ingram. Mother Jones,
Telling examples are surviving videotaped sessions conducted by
state-appointed interviewer Laurie Braga with J. L. (pseudonymed
"Missy Herschel" in Hollingsworth's book, Unspeakable Acts).
J. L.'s parents, who were deeply involved in the case from the
beginning, hosted the first Country Walk parents' meeting in their home,
one week before J. L.'s first videotaped interview on August 16. A
week earlier, J. L.'s two-year-old brother, D. (pseudonymed
"Chad" by Hollingsworth) had been questioned extensively by
state-appointed interviewer Laurie Braga. D. spent the better part
of the interview saying nothing about abuse. After Braga's
unremitting attempts, via suggestive doll play and leading questions, to
elicit accusations against the Fusters, D. pulled down his shorts and
stated that Ileana had "hurt" him.
In her first videotaped interview, J. L. is four years and eleven
months old. She appears cheerful, loquacious, matter-of-fact, and
offers no direct knowledge of wrongdoing at the Fuster's. At
various times on the tape, she says she knows the Fusters are in jail
because "my mom told me" and because she "saw the
commercials" (i.e., news) on TV. But, she says, she and her
brother liked going to the Fusters. Now she knows they are bad
because her mother told her "they're strangers."
Braga repeatedly stresses to J. L. that she is one of the
"bigger" children and thus is obligated to "help"
the younger ones accuse the Fusters. This line of reasoning
apparently impresses J. L.
Following are excerpts from her August 16 interview:
||See, the thing is, you're real grown up compared to some of
the other kids ... I thought maybe you might be able to help a little bit
because some of the other children are so small that it's hard for them
to talk ... But D. talked to us. And he told us about some stuff that
happened when he was at Frank (Francisco) and Ileana's.
||What did he say?
||Well, uh, he ... mainly he showed us some things with the dolls
over there. He took the dolls and he showed us some things that
happened, with the dolls.
||Well, maybe before I tell you what he said you could tell me
if you remember anything. OK? Is there anything you could tell me?
||They did nothing bad to me. Never. But Ileana
painted my nails. Pink ...
||So did Ileana and Frank do anything bad with the other
||(Braga then tells J. L. that, "Some of the children said that
they were scared because there were masks. Your brother said
that" Braga then shows L L. anatomically-detailed dolls and
tells her that her brother played with them. "We would make
believe with D. and some of the other children that this one was Ileana
and this one was Frank.")
||(Picking up a doll) 'That would be me!"
||And so then (D.) would show us some games that they would
||(Braga and J. L. then spend several minutes playing "Duck Duck
Goose" with dolls Braga has named "Ileana" and
"Frank," as well as others. Braga then asks J. L. how
she knows that Francisco Fuster is "bad")
||My mom told me.
||Did she tell you what he did that was bad?
||(Shakes head negative) Do you know what he did?
... would you like me to tell you what ......... OK. D. said ... he took the
dolls ... and one of the things is that he took all the
clothes off the dolls.
||He said that the children played a game, like Ring around the
||With no clothes on.
||With no clothes on.
||That's one of the things that's bad.
||Do you think D. was telling the truth?
||(Shakes head negative)
||You don't? Does D. tell stories?
||(Nods head affirmatively) ...
||So you don't think D. was saying the truth?
||(Shakes head negatively). But can we play that game?
||Because they're only fake dolls.
||They're not real, they're just pretend.
||Let's take off the clothes.
||And maybe you could tell me if they were just pretend what
they might do.
||(J. L. undresses the dolls).
||Now what kind of a game do you think they would play? Just
||Really? Without any clothes? ... I'm going to tell you
something just in case you talk to any of the other children now or next
year in school or something and some of the other children talk about
Frank and Ileana? OK ... because ... you're older you can explain it to
... some of the children feel like they were bad and they did something?
But they didn't ... because when grownups like ... let's just pretend that
maybe D. wasn't telling a story. OK? May it was true that Frank and
Ileana were taking off their clothes and the children taking off their
clothes and ... Frank and Ileana were touching the children in private
places? Let's just pretend that maybe it was true ... And some of the
children think that they were bad ... Do you know what this is (picks up
unclothed anatomically detailed male doll)? Penis? Like, let's suppose
that Frank touched D's penis ... The children didn't do anything wrong. They
are not bad.
||Then why are they in jail?
||... if Frank did touch the
children their private places, then that
was something he shouldn't do ... and that's why if that happened, then
that's why they put him in jail. ..."
||'Cause they didn't do anything bad to me
... I would tell my mom but if they
said, "it's a secret"' I would say, "I wouldn't do
it," but I would trick them ... I would say, "m not going to
do it," but l would trick them ...
||You're very grown up ... If you remember something that maybe
you say ... everybody would be very proud of you ... some of the children
are afraid ... because some of the children said that they were acting like
they were monsters and they wore these masks and they scared them.
||Is that true? Do you know?
||I'm not sure, but some of the children said so, and I believe
the children because I don't think children make up stories like that.
||Well, D. And some of the other children.
||That were bigger than me? ... did they tell that they were
naked? ... What did they say?
||They said that then played games with Frank and
of the littler children. That everybody took off their clothes and that
they played some games and that people touched each other's private
||Is it true?
||Yeah but if D. said it and the other big
children said it so D. might be right ... because the bigger children
said that ... it's true because the other
||... maybe you could tell us something
||(Shakes head negative)
||... They (J. L.'s parents) would be very
Five months later, on January 17, 1985, J. L. was reinterviewed by Laurie Braga.
On the surviving videotape she tells
Braga that she has come back "because the last time I was too
little. And I said nothing."
J. L. has apparently been under pressure at home to generate
accusations. For example, when Braga asks her i she ever has "bad
dreams about what happened" at the Fusters, the little girl
answers, "No, but my mom has dream about my grandma, and my grandma tells
what happened in my mom's dream ..."
Now, largely in response to Braga's leading questions, J. L
accuses Ileana and Francisco of taking off their clothes in front of
children, terrorizing them with a knife, filming them, and of "pull(ing)
on my peepee," and relates tales of monsters, the "cut your
head off" game, and playing Duck Duck Goose and Ring Around the
" ... you didn't tell for a long time," Laurie Braga says.
"How come? Were you scared?" "I think I was too young,"
J. L., who went on to make more bizarre allegations, was eventually the only child deemed capable of testifying
in open court at Francisco Fuster's trial.
Even the most graphically detailed accusations, elicited during
interviews with five-year-old "Jason," (the only one's
sessions quoted by Hollingsworth), are problematic. Videotapes of his
second and subsequent interviews show Jason readily describing explicit
sexual behavior. But unrecorded is an interview previously conducted by
a State Attorney's office official. Furthermore, just hours
unrecorded interview, many Country Walk parents had met at J. L. and
D.'s house and discussed in great detail the possibility that the Fusters
had molested their children; they also shared possible abuse scenarios.
The extent to which Jason was exposed to these discussions, or to
the leading use of anatomically correct dolls or other modeling techniques,
is unrecorded. In subsequent, recorded sessions, the Bragas never query
Jason about whether he learned of such behavior from sources besides the
Fuster interactions with children.
A possibility for how the Country Walk case
started that has not
been previously discussed is supplied by Stephen Dinerstein, a private
detective for the Fusters' defense lawyers. Dinerstein says that on many
occasions, Ileana told him that she did allow the children at the
babysitting service to play naked while she washed their clothes; and
when changing diapers, she "admitted she would kiss the bodies of a
couple of the little boys. She admitted she'd done that to one boy's
genitals. But she said, 'I kissed his fingers too." She
consistently denied any sexual intent.
It must be remembered that Ileana, against whom the index child's
original spontaneous statements were directed, was raised in a Honduran
village. In traditional Latin American cultures, according to Miami-based
anthropologist Rafael Martinez, a consultant to the Dade County Medical
Examiner's Office, "mothers are perceived as the nurturers. Kissing and hugging is common with children up to three or four years
old. It is common for females to kiss children all over the place
including on the genitals."
It is possible that the index child in the Country Walk case was
reporting this type of behavior, and that his parents' ignorance of
rural Latin American childrearing practices led them to misinterpret Ileana's
For additional information, see UPI, November 18, 1987, about a
Puerto Rican couple in San Juan criminally charged with producing
pornographic photographs of their infant son and sending them through
the mail. According to the news item, anthropologists and other experts
were scheduled to testify that in Puerto Rican culture, it is
commonplace and acceptable for parents to masturbate a male infant, photograph the erection, and send
pictures to relatives:
"the child's erection is an occasion for joy and celebration,"
according to University of Puerto Rico sociologist Luis Nieves Falcon.
A similar point of view is expressed by Ann Maldonado, director of a
local rape crisis center.
Lisa Manshel, author of Naptime ()()
(Morrow, 1991) is not a
professional journalist. She became involved in the ritual abuse case
against New Jersey day care teacher Kelly Michaels because Manshel's
family was close friends with a state-appointed social worker who helped
develop the prosecution against Michaels. After Naptime was published,
the social worker even appeared in the media, promoting the book for Manshel.
Despite Manshel's personal
connections to the case and her lack of journalism experience, the Washington
Journalism Review published her article defending Michaels'
conviction, without informing readers of her background.
This is not the only instance of the media's failure to provide
caveats. In 1991, a national Spanish-language news program, Ocurrio Asi
(produced by Telemundo, in Miami), aired a segment about Country Walk
in which Ileana Fuster appeared on videotape and denounced her
ex-husband in general terms for "hurting" her. If viewers
thought they were getting independent news, they were wrong. According
to Nora Ocasio, a production director at Telemundo, Ileana's church
group in Honduras refused to let Occurio Asi reporters talk to her;
instead' they offered to do the interview themselves and provide the
station with a tape. Occurio Asi agreed and aired the material. The
program never informed viewers of the biased nature of the interview.
Nathan is a freelance writer based in El Paso, Texas who has
written extensively about controversial child sexual abuse
allegations for publications such as The The
Village Voice, Ms.,
Her work on the subject has won national awards for
investigative and public service journalism. Currently she
is writing a book about ritual child sex abuse. Research
for this article was conducted in conjunction with that work.