Alicia Comes Home (Part I)

How a determined father found his abducted daughter

In retaliation, Pete stopped paying child support, but quickly found out the system doesn't work that way. In January 1988, Judge Koons held Pete in contempt for failing to pay child support and Pat in contempt for denying Pete visitation. Both spent a weekend in jail. Pete resumed paying support.

By April 1988, things seemed to have calmed down a bit. Pat had married her third husband, a man she had met at the Prestonwood Baptist Church. Pete became engaged to Kathy Flatt, a woman he had met through his divorce lawyer.

Just days after Alicia's first week-long visitation with Pete, Pat renewed hostilities--with a decidedly dramatic twist. She filed an affidavit in court, swearing that Pete had performed "sexual acts" in front of Alicia. Pat knew this to be true, she alleged, because Alicia was humping and panting and "pulling at her private parts and saying that she hurts. Someone is teaching her terrible things."

During the 1980s, sexual abuse became the allegation du jour in custody cases. A wife who wanted to vent her rage at her husband could holler "child molester," and all visitation would cease. Child Protective Services would step in. A lengthy investigation would ensue. If the child could relate graphic details of abuse well beyond her age and natural experience, she was most often believed. No one wanted to conclude that a mother would put her daughter through the ordeal of videotapes and vaginal exams simply to get even.

The day after Pat filed the affidavit, she took Alicia to the local Child Protective Services office on Maple Avenue, making the same allegations there about her ex-lover. Pat appeared distraught, interested only in protecting her child. Since Alicia was barely verbal, intake workers believed she was too young to interview. Pat would later accuse them of negligence.

Two months later, Pat returned to CPS, telling caseworkers that Alicia had placed Pat's hand between Alicia's legs and said, "rub it." Although the caseworker noted that the referral had "obvious overtones of a custody dispute," Alicia was nonetheless videotaped. When she told the interviewer that "a little person, a boy," had touched her, the case was closed.

Six months later, Pat returned to CPS, again insisting that caseworkers videotape her daughter. At 3 years old, Alicia was chatty and playful. Using anatomically correct dolls, she pointed to the female doll's genitalia and proudly said, almost as if by rote, that someone named Pete had "hurt me right here." Rather than continuing with these dolls, she switched to her own Ken and Barbie dolls, oddly named Pete and Kathy. After she undressed them, she bounced them up and down, and said, "They go like that." At the end of the interview, Alicia asked the caseworker if she had done OK.

Based on this videotape, the caseworker found there was reason to believe that sexual abuse had occurred, and that Pete Connell had been the perpetrator. Pat Hope had her smoking gun. No judge would allow Pete Connell within miles of her daughter.

What Pat hadn't counted on was the testimony of Dr. Clifford Kary, the court-appointed psychologist in the case. He concluded that Pat was suffering from a "Delusional Paranoid Disorder of the persecutory type"--with the theme of her delusional system being the unshakable belief that Pete had sexually abused Alicia. People with her kind of paranoia, said Kary, find conspiracies lurking behind every corner and never cease in their crusade for justice. Apart from these paranoid delusions, however, Pat could seem perfectly normal. Yet if frustrated by the courts, Kary predicted, Pat might try to kidnap Alicia.

As far as the videotape was concerned, Dr. Kary was convinced that Pat had coached Alicia, rehearsing her by using the Barbie dolls. Why else would the child seek the approval of the caseworker after she was interviewed? How else could the child so expertly demonstrate what only months before she had no words for? The psychologist urged the court to strip Pat of primary custody.

For a time, it seemed as though Pat was actively trying to corroborate Dr. Kary's diagnosis. She filed a grievance against Randall Reed, Pete's lawyer, claiming he too might have sexually molested Alicia. She filed a complaint against the Dallas police officer who had investigated the case and had concluded that no abuse occurred. She filed a complaint against Dr. Kary with the state agency regulating psychologists. All would later be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Worried that she might lose Alicia in court, Pat agreed to settle. She withdrew her allegations of sexual abuse, agreed to let Pete have unsupervised visitation, and said she was satisfied Alicia was no longer in danger.

Yet six weeks later, Pat again presented her daughter to CPS for videotaping, claiming that Alicia had told her, "Pete hurt me down there." Although the caseworker refused to videotape Alicia, she chose to err on the side of protecting the child. While submitting "reason to believe findings" that Pete had sexually abused Alicia, she also cited Pat for emotionally abusing her daughter. CPS reviewer Carol Bowdry eventually overturned all findings against Pete. Wrote Bowdry later, "My major concern is that [the mother] is so obsessed with finding something that can bring attention to herself as martyr and victim, this is having a profoundly negative effect on the child's psychological well-being."

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