Fran’s Day Care

August 22, 2017 case update:
Dan and Fran Keller…will receive $3.4 million from a state fund for those wrongly convicted of crimes.
The couple’s circumstances changed in June, when Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed court documents that dropped all charges and declared the Kellers “actually innocent” under the law. After an extensive review, it was clear that the Kellers’ innocence claim should be supported in the interest of justice, Moore said at the time.
Now adults, several of the children who accused the Kellers opposed the move, according to Moore and family members.   (Quotes from Austin-American Statesman article)

June 20, 2017 case update:
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said a judge has granted a motion to dismiss charges against Dan and Fran Keller in one of Austin’s most infamous court cases.
Moore, who took office in January, said she has reviewed information, including a trial transcript, in making her decision. In a statement, Moore said in part, “Given the current state of the law on actual innocence and the evidence remaining in this case, I believe this to be a just outcome.”
(Quotes from KVUE news staff article)

June 24, 2015 case update:
The state’s highest criminal court declined Wednesday to review last month’s ruling in the case of Dan and Fran Keller.  The Kellers asked the court to reconsider but the nine judges declined, without comment, in a Wednesday order. (Quotes above from Austin-American Statesman news article.)

May 20, 2015 case update:
State’s highest criminal court throws out 1992 convictions of sexual assault at Austin day care.
Court declines, however, to find Dan and Fran Keller innocent in case involving claims of satanic abuse.

A unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals instead overturned their convictions based on false testimony by an emergency room doctor whose hospital examination had provided the only physical evidence of sexual assault during the Kellers’ joint trial. Dr. Michael Mouw later admitted that inexperience led him to misidentify normally occurring conditions as evidence of sexual abuse in a 3-year-old girl.

The nine judges did not provide an explanation for why they rejected the Kellers’ innocence claim except to say their decision was based on the findings of the trial judge “and this court’s independent review of the record.”  However, in a concurring opinion, Judge Cheryl Johnson said she would have found both Kellers innocent.

Hampton (Keller attorney) said he also may turn to the federal courts to try to establish the Kellers’ innocence.  Travis County Assistant District Attorney Scott Taliaferro said his office will review Wednesday’s ruling, and await additional filings by Hampton, before deciding how to proceed. Prosecutors could dismiss the charges against the Kellers or press for a new trial. However, without Mouw’s testimony showing evidence of abuse, and with allegations almost 25 years old, a retrial would be a difficult proposition.
(Quotes above from Austin-American Statesman news article.)

November 27, 2013 case update:

Fran Keller, a former Austin day care owner was freed on bond Tuesday November 26, 2013 after 21 years in prison for sexual abuse of children in her care. Dan Keller her husband, who was also convicted of sexual abuse, was released from prison on December 5.

The Travis County district attorney’s office agreed to not oppose the Kellers’ release on bond. They  acknowledged that a key prosecution witness (a doctor who provided the only physical evidence of abuse in this case) had recanted his testimony as a mistake based on inexperience in pediatric exams.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stated that “Given the crucial nature of (that) testimony in a child sexual abuse case, I agreed that there is a reasonable likelihood that his false testimony affected the judgment of the jury and violated Frances Keller’s right to a fair trial.” (Radio KLBJ news article)

Lehmberg also stated: “The Court of Criminal Appeals will review both cases. No further action or decisions on the case will be made until that review is finalized.” (Daily Mail news article)

Fran’s Day Care case – Dan and Fran Keller – News Article Excerpts from 1991 – 1993
What this information shows is that there was no panic or witch hunt and that there was evidence backing the original charges, including one defendant’s confession and the children’s testimony. Media coverage in this Austin newspaper was balanced and did cover both sides of the story, unlike the coverage in the news today.

Information from the news articles:
Fran Keller’s brother Johnson in a separate case was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a 4-year-old and received an eight-year sentence in a plea bargain.

One child in the case was treated in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks after the allegations of abuse surfaced. “His prognosis is he will probably need therapy off and on the rest of his life.” Parents described how their preschoolers’ behavior changed in odd ways.

Perry (a defendant who later recanted his confession): His confession contained graphic details of a variety of sexual acts performed on two children, and it substantiated claims made by the children that they had been threatened and terrorized into not speaking out.

Here are a few facts about the Fran’s Day Care case:

1. Children’s parents were alerted when children returned home from daycare wearing their under clothing inside out or wearing other children’s underwear and sometimes having wet hair.

2. The children who were old enough to speak reported sexual assaults by Dan Keller and other visitors to the school. The older children also reported assaults on younger, pre-verbal children at the school.

3. The Kellers attempted to evade arrest by fleeing to Las Vegas. They were captured there wearing disguises. Fran has bleached her hair blond.

4. A co-defendant, Doug Perry, a sheriff’s deputy, pled guilty, turned state’s evidence, testified against the Kellers, and received a 10-year probated sentence. Perry is a registered sex offender in Texas.

5. The defense did not retain an expert witness in defense of the Kellers. They only produced a copy of Richard Gardner’s book, Sex Abuse Hysteria, in response to the allegations against the Kellers.

6. The prosecution did not discuss ritual abuse until the subject was raised by the defense at which point the prosecution’s expert witness, Randy Noblitt, explained what ritual abuse is and how it works. He also provided testimony in response to the production of the Richard Gardner book intended by the defense to demonstrate in unreliability of sex abuse claims by children. (The book’s theme is that all people are latent pedophiles and that parents receive vicarious sexual gratification from their children’s sexual experiences).

Fran’s Day Care
Randy Noblitt, PhD

(Please note: This article and page is strictly the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of SMART newsletter or the webmaster.)

©Copyright R. Noblitt 2009. All rights reserved.

In recent days, an interest in the case of Fran and Dan Keller has reemerged and that reemergence has triggered new interest in the outcries of children that resulted in several investigations, trials, convictions, and tragedies throughout the 1990s. I can speak about Fran’s Day Care with some authority.

In 1992, the Travis County prosecutor’s office contacted me for advice as to how they should proceed with a bizarre case involving multiple child victims of sexual and ritual abuse in a day care. The accused perpetrators were the owners-operators of the nursery, Fran and Dan Keller. The day care was situated in a remote area beyond the suburbs of Austin, Texas. At this time, the legal community was reeling from the McMartin Day Care ordeal which was the costliest prosecution in California history up to that time, and had resulted in two hung juries in a seven-year prosecution. The prosecution, wishing to learn from the mistakes of McMartin, wanted advice regarding how to proceed without contaminating the children’s stories, compromising the alleged perpetrators’ rights, and getting to the truth of the children’s outcries.

Some of the parents whose children attended the preschool became suspicious when their children returned home wearing underwear not their own, or with their clothes inside out or with their hair wet. There were always reasonable explanations: the child had an accident and was changed into clothes on hand for that purpose; or the child splashed water on herself when the children were cleaning up; and so forth. However, when one of the children made an outcry, the parents more closely scrutinized the strange behaviors some of the children had started engaging in and the aforementioned episodes, and they took their concerns to the police. The police took the concerns seriously and collected statements and evidence. The grand jury found a basis for indictment. The Kellers responded to the warrant for their arrest by fleeing the state in disguise, obtaining false identifications in their new personas, and attempting to leave the country. They were apprehended in Las Vegas, Nevada and extradited back to Travis County.

It was at this point that I was introduced to the situation. I was in private practice in Dallas, two hundred miles north of Austin and had no knowledge of what was happening at Fran’s Day Care. The prosecutor, Judy Shipway, contacted me for advice on how to deal with the children, their stories, their parents’ reactions, and the impact of ritual abuse allegations on the court. I advised her to focus on the sexual abuse allegations for which there was substantial support and evidence. I expressed my opinion that introducing the topic of ritual abuse would be exploited by the defense as a means of discrediting the children. I also advised Ms. Shipway to make sure that every child had a therapist and that no therapist treat more than one child from Fran’s Day Care. Finally, I advised the prosecutor to request that the children’s parents not communicate with one another until after the trial to avoid inadvertent contamination of their children’s stories and their own interpretations. These suggestions were all implemented.

I was also invited to review the evidence which included drawings and writings produced by Danny Keller; the confession of co-defendant Doug Perry; the testimony of the children. I was able to describe for the prosecution the kinds of abuses ritually practiced by various groups and individuals and explain the psychological consequences of such abuse. I was able to interpret for the prosecutor the children’s stories in the context of what had been learned from other victims including the use of coercion, duplicity, threats, and other means of controlling survivors of such abuse.

Although several children at the day care were thought to have been sexually and ritually traumatized, some of them were so young that they did not yet speak in complete sentences. Some of them were identified by other victims. Three of the children were selected to represent the whole population. These were slightly older children, five and six years old, and they were able to convey their stories most articulately of all the child victims.

As the trial commenced, the prosecution developed an excellent case against the Kellers. I was surprised only by the defense attorneys’ rather blasé approach to their defense of the Kellers, perhaps operating under the assumption that the children would not be believed. In defense of the Kellers, their attorneys did raise the specter of ritual abuse by introducing into evidence the book Sex Abuse Hysteria: The Salem Witch Trials Revisited (Gardner, 1991), which promoted the idea that sexual and ritual abuse allegations by children were projections of their parents (and other adults’) latent pedophilia. It was at this point that I was asked to take the stand as an expert witness and address the topic of ritual abuse and Gardner’s book.

The case ended with the conviction of the Kellers and their sentencing to 48 years in prison each.  Shortly after the trial, the magazine, Texas Monthly, published a piece by Gary Cartwright in which he implied that the Kellers were the true victims in this sorry tale. He did me the courtesy of a call to “fact check” his story, particularly ideas attributed to me, except that it was only after the issue had been published.

Recently, the Fran’s Day Care case was dredged up by the Austin Chronicle, an alternative periodical produced locally in Texas. My son sent me the link in an email with the heading, “Dad, you’re in the news again.” Once more, the perspective was one of advocacy for falsely accused, persecuted, prosecuted, and convicted victims of a malicious or inept legal system that places too much trust in the stories children tell. A particular flaw in this story was the story. It was certainly not founded on anything I witnessed during my participation in the case. Evidence was not withheld from the prosecution to my knowledge. The defense was left flat-footed by their own conviction that the children would not be believed. And the advice I offered may have helped to prevent influence or contamination of the children’s testimony. The children’s stories were credible – Fran and Dan Keller’s defense was not. End of story? Probably not. I doubt that we have heard the last of Fran and Dan or of their day care or of their victims.

Interestingly enough, the Austin Chronicle article, Believing the Children, ended with a reference to one of the child victims, Veejay Staelin, a now 21-year old. Although he declined to be interviewed for the story, he re-asserted that he had been abused by Fran and Dan Keller.