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Format: 04/23/2014
Format: 04/23/2014

News

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Many back Missouri incest suspect

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

By Judy L. Thomas, Donald Bradley and Brian Burnes
MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
11/23/2009

KANSAS CITY — In June, Burrell E. Mohler Sr., 76, seemed a perfectly reasonable choice to give the Father's Day sermon at his tiny Bates City Community of Christ Church.

After all, he was a family man. Proud of his four sons. Loved all those grandchildren.

But months later, Mohler's reputation as the strict but good patriarch would come crashing down.

He's in jail now, after allegations from at least three grandchildren that "sleepovers" on his farm often meant incestuous rape, and that when granddaddy sang "Itsy-Bitsy Spider," his hands ended up in wrong places. After allegations that their uncles wedded and bedded first-graders in a chicken coop and that their father did unspeakable things to them less than a mile from that little white church.

Once the charges — 42 so far — were filed, it seemed the Mohler family was shattered as irreparably as the bad-memory jars the little girls purportedly buried and authorities earlier this month hoped to dig up.

It's a dark and ugly family portrait, causing dismay and disbelief among relatives and friends.

Time in court will tell which is the correct one.

Many stand fiercely by Mohler and his four sons, Ed, David, Roland and Jared, as well as his brother, Darrel — all in jail.

Gina Fauth, a good friend who sang church duets with Burrell Mohler Sr.'s wife, doesn't buy any of the allegations.

"He's a very respectable man," Fauth said. "I have no reason to not trust him. It's mind-boggling. I'm just sick over it."

What about the prosecutor's relentlessly recounted atrocities against girls as young as 5?

"I don't believe it, and we go back to 1951," said Ron Gamble, a brother-in-law of the senior Mohler.

Yet all or nearly all six children of Burrell "Ed" Mohler Jr. gave credence to the tales of twisted family relationships, according to court documents.

Nor did it help the senior Mohler's legal defense or public image as a grandfather when police hauled incest pornography out of his home in Independence, Mo.

While some question the validity of the accusations, others may ask why authorities did not investigate earlier.

In the 1980s or early '90s, at least some of the grandchildren reportedly went to their mother about the abuse, according to police documents. Instead of going to law enforcement, she told the head of her Mormon church. And nothing happened.

An Overland Park, Kan., man, who once shared custody of his 7-year-old son with an ex-wife who married into the Mohler family, said he tried to alert the Lafayette County sheriff, the Missouri Division of Family Services and a court-appointed guardian to what he feared was happening at the Mohler place.

"I notified everybody I could notify in February 2000 about this." Then, three months ago, an Independence police detective told the man there were multiple victims, "and my son was on the list."

"I said: 'You mean it took them nine years to figure this out?'"

Many of the allegations directed at the Mohlers defy what experts encounter in sex abuse situations — group encounters involving children within the same family are rare, primarily because they are less apt to be kept secret.

Still, there are cases of incest being so ingrained in a household that, for some families, "the act becomes normalized ... a family value, as common as Sunday dinners or watching football on TV," said Joseph Beck, a therapy director at Spofford Home, a Kansas City nonprofit that treats children with severe emotional problems.

"Although it's abnormal, it becomes, 'This is how we do things,'" Beck said, adding that victims can be trained early in life not to trust the outside world.

Clinicians widely believe that child molestation, especially within a household, is driven more by urges to be violent and exert power than act out instilled sexual practices.

"It's not about sex. It's about power and control," said Judith Ann Cohen, who specializes in child-rape cases at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. "A man who feels he is king of his castle gets to abuse his children because, well, you can if you're king of your castle."
 

To read more, visit the Post-Dispatch web site.

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