Revisiting Country Walk

Debbie Nathan*

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 (Out of Print)(Out of Print), 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, 1991).

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 Fuster's.

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 results.

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, leading questioning.

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.

Problematic Evidence

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.

Problematic Narrative

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--vis the case, one wonders whether she would have included such data even if given the chance.

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 Fusters.

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) said, 'No."'

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 family inheritance.

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 July.

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 snowball.

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 problems."

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 distraught.

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 child batterer.

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.

He did.

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 things."

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 children's genitals.

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 suits.

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 coercion.

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; Watters, 1991).

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 (Memphis, Tennessee).

Doris, L (Ed.). (1991). The Suggestibility of Children's Recollections: Implications for Eyewitness Testimony (Paperback). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Driver, E. D. (1968). Confessions and social psychology of coercion. Harvard Law Review, 82, 42-61.

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 (Paperback). 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, 37-38.

Hicks, R. (1991). In Pursuit of Satan (Hardcover). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

Hollingsworth, 3. (1986). Unspeakable Acts (Out of Print)(Out of Print). New York: Congdon and Weed.

Lanning, K. (1992, January). Investigator's guide to allegations of "ritual" child abuse. Quantico VA: Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Academy.

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 (Hardcover)(Paperback) (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 (Hardcover)(Paperback) (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 (Hardcover) (pp. 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 (Hardcover)(Paperback). 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, 16(4).


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:

Braga:    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.
J. L.: What did he say?
Braga: 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.
J. L.: What happened?
Braga: 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?
J. L.: They did nothing bad to me.  Never.  But Ileana painted my nails.  Pink ...
Braga: So did Ileana and Frank do anything bad with the other children?
J. L.: No.
(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.")
J. L.: (Picking up a doll) 'That would be me!"
Braga: And so then (D.) would show us some games that they would play.
(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")
J. L.: My mom told me.
Braga: Did she tell you what he did that was bad?
J. L.: (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.

J. L.: Why?
Braga: He said that the children played a game, like Ring around the Rosey —
J. L.: With no clothes on.
Braga: With no clothes on.
J. L.: That's one of the things that's bad.
Braga: Do you think D. was telling the truth?
J. L.: (Shakes head negative)
Braga: You don't? Does D. tell stories?
J. L.: (Nods head affirmatively) ...
Braga: So you don't think D. was saying the truth?
J. L.: (Shakes head negatively). But can we play that game?
Braga: Sure.
J. L.: Because they're only fake dolls.
Braga: They're not real, they're just pretend.
J. L.: Let's take off the clothes.
Braga: And maybe you could tell me if they were just pretend what they might do.
(J. L. undresses the dolls).
Braga: Now what kind of a game do you think they would play? Just make believe.
J. L.: Duck Duck —
Braga: 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.
J. L.: Then why are they in jail?
Braga: ... 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. ..."
J. L.: '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 ...
Braga: 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.
J. L.: Is that true? Do you know?
Braga: 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. Do you?
J. L.: Which children?
Braga: Well, D. And some of the other children.
J. L.: That were bigger than me? ... did they tell that they were naked? ... What did they say?
Braga: They said that then played games with Frank and Ileana — some of the littler children. That everybody took off their clothes and that they played some games and that people touched each other's private parts.
J. L.: That's true.
Braga: Is it true?
J. L.: 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 children said.
Braga: ... maybe you could tell us something ...
J. L.: (Shakes head negative)
Braga: ... They (J. L.'s parents) would be very proud ...

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 Rosy naked.

" ... you didn't tell for a long time," Laurie Braga says.  "How come?  Were you scared?"  "I think I was too young," J. L. answers.

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 before that 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 behavior.

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.


For example, Lisa Manshel, author of Naptime (Out of Print)(Out of Print) (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.


* Debbie  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., and Playboy.  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.  [Back]


[Back to Volume 5, Number 1]  [Other Articles by this Author]

Copyright 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.