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Thursday, June 8, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Unraveling Of A Monstrous Secret -- Sex-Abuse Scandal Has Wenatchee Reeling

IT BEGAN AS a case involving one man raping his two young boys. But by the time Detective Robert Perez completed his investigation, 24 people in Wenatchee had been accused in a child sex-abuse scandal. -----------------------------------------------------------------

WENATCHEE - There is right, and there is wrong.

In Cherie Town's book, it was wrong for her husband to be messing around with other women. So when he started bragging, she picked up the phone and called the Rape Crisis Center.

She told a counselor that her husband, Meredith "Gene" Town, had for years been molesting their two young sons.

But she didn't say that she, too, had been abusing their children, and that she and her husband often passed the boys on to friends.

Later, Cherie Town would reportedly admit to her own perverse and seemingly insatiable sexual appetite. But at that moment she was not making a confession; she was getting back at an unfaithful husband.

So began the painful unraveling of a monstrous secret.

That secret allegedly was shared by at least two dozen adults and some 50 children said to be members of "The Circle." A loosely organized circle of friends consisted of two extended families and a pastor, his wife and a church bus driver - their lives intersecting by chance on the walk to school, at the welfare office, at church and in local taverns.

They were families, police say, in which adults treated children as commodities, "trading them like party favors" - not for financial gain, but for sexual gratification and illusions of power and control.

This is a story of violence against innocents, the betrayal of trust, of ignorance and isolation - of a reportedly abusive subculture overlooked by mainstream Wenatchee for nearly a decade. It is about police and prosecutors and the public debate over proof beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Of the 13 women and 11 men charged with sexually exploiting children - one remains at large - one saw his case dismissed, nine have pleaded or been pronounced guilty and 13 have pleaded not guilty - their cases to be tried separately beginning next month.

The idea that the same 50 children could be routinely sodomized by the same two dozen adults year after year is so horrific it gives rise to disbelief.

Seeking out and punishing sexual abusers of children has become a national obsession, sometimes with tragic results. Adults, wrongly accused, have lost their jobs, homes, families and all hope of ever leading normal lives. Children, not knowing whether their memories are real, grow up unsure and unhappy - damaged no matter what happened.

Still, the fact remains that more than 400,000 reports of verifiable child abuse are filed nationwide with authorities each year.

Some children were abused in Wenatchee, that much is certain. There is medical evidence to support some charges of sexual molestation. Whether those children were routinely gang-raped, as police and prosecutors say, is another matter.

A kid-swapping, adult-led sex ring such as that alleged in Wenatchee would be "rare indeed," said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic in Baltimore.

But it wouldn't be impossible.

"Clearly, there is risk of embellishment," Berlin said. "But I believe there is a possibility that people who share such common, aberrant needs could be drawn together because the mainstream of their existence centers on the frequent need to be sexual.

"The difficulty in such situations is teasing out the truth."

Legal file is thick

The official version of what happened in Wenatchee is found at the Chelan County Clerk's Office, on the fifth floor of the Chelan County Courthouse Law and Justice Center.

Reams of legal papers are bound in bright red files, dog-eared and smudged now, from handling by members of the news media.

A second set of files is kept by Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen, whose office is down the hall, just past the Superior Court chambers where the fates of the accused are to be decided.

Four stories below Riesen's office is the Chelan County Jail where the accused - stripped of their shoes, street clothes and freedom - wait for a chance to tell their stories.

From there it's three blocks to the Wenatchee police station, a cramped stone building constructed in the early 1930s. There is no interrogation room, so officers question suspects at their desks, which are arranged in two short rows in a drab gray room. The room's only memorable feature is an oversized Pink Panther that lounges at the desk of Detective Robert Perez, sex-crimes investigator.

Cherie and Meredith Town's former residence, 610 Mission St., is within an easy five-minute walk. The house - a hulking, beige two stories crouched near the curb - is a wreck. Top-floor windows are busted out, the rest covered with plywood. The front walk is overgrown; there's litter where there should be lawn.

The day after Cherie Town called the Rape Crisis Center, Perez stopped by briefly. Before he arrested Meredith Town, he wanted corroborating statements from the boys, then ages 14 and 12.

Perez knew time was short. Word was out that Meredith Town was preparing to skip Wenatchee and take his boys to El Dorado, Kan.

The detective had completed 64 hours of special training in sex-crimes investigation; both he and his superiors were confident of his ability to handle just about any case.

They had no idea, of course, of the difficulties that lay ahead; no hint of conspiracy; no clue that an incestuous ring of pedophiles, the likes of which has never been proved in this country, might be operating in Wenatchee.

Boy reveals abuse

Perez found the older boy, who is mentally disabled, eager to please but very afraid of what might happen if his father found out "he told." Only after reassurances and coaxing did the teenager reveal he had repeatedly been sodomized by his father.

The younger boy, located at school, gave a similar account. Police records say the youngster was forthcoming, confirming that his father raped him and forced him to perform oral sex. The only break had come when his father, a convicted burglar, got drunk and started shooting up the house with a .22-caliber revolver - probation violations that landed him back in jail.

The youngster's teacher said he told her the same story, according to the police report. That was all Perez needed to hear; he put out a bulletin on Meredith Town.

At 37, unemployed, with a felony record, Meredith Town didn't have a lot - just enough to fill a trailer. Attempting to leave Wenatchee quietly, he stopped by the Douglas County sheriff's office to purchase a trip permit for his rig. There was no point risking getting pulled over on a traffic violation. He wasn't halfway through the forms when a sheriff's deputy announced he was under arrest.

That was April Fool's Day, 1994.

Towns both arrested

Waiving his right to have an attorney present during questioning, Meredith Town admitted to 62 counts of child rape and four counts of indecent liberties. By the time he stopped talking, police were pretty sure Cherie Town knew more than she had let on.

Accompanied by two Child Protective Service workers, Perez returned to 610 Mission St. According to police records, Cherie Town was advised of her rights but chose to "cooperate."

Standing on the front porch, the 36-year-old mother of two was asked if she'd ever abused her boys. She responded, "I only did it twice.. . ." Perez placed her under arrest.

Down at the station, seated alongside the detective's desk, Cherie Town answered questions for a long time. She reportedly began to have sex with her younger son when he was 9. Some time later, she began "having fun" with her older, mentally disabled child.

Their marriage on the rocks, Cherie and her husband were rarely intimate - although, on occasion they would have sex together with the boys. Along with drinking, sex was the family's primary diversion. But never once, Cherie Town said, did she "keep the boys home from school to have sex."

Defense attorneys for Cherie Town asked the court to quash the confession, arguing that she is of "substantially low IQ" and "believed that if she told Perez what he wanted to hear, she would not get in serious trouble." (According to court documents, Cherie Town has an IQ of 77; 90 to 110 is considered normal.)

The court rejected that request.

Eventually, both Cherie and Meredith Town bowed to punishment. They entered Alford pleas, the process by which defendants maintain innocence but acknowledge they would be found guilty at trial. Meredith Town was sentenced to 18 years and 4 months in prison; Cherie was ordered to serve 10 years.

But she had more to say.

And then there were the statements of the Holt children.

Scandal widens

The Holts - Selid, Laura and their three kids - lived just a few doors down, at 512 Mission St. They had moved from Oklahoma to Wenatchee in 1985, settling into a squat, rust-colored rental house with a narrow porch overlooking a tidy patch of grass, four lanes of traffic and a sprawling junk store with a 10-foot bull's-eye painted on an outside wall and the boast "2,000 GUNS."

There were neighborly exchanges between families. The adults got to know each other playing darts at a nearby tavern; the kids, on the walk to school. Sometimes they would all meet at the Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer in East Wenatchee, where Pastor Roby Roberson and his wife, Sister Connie, ministered to the poor and downtrodden.

On a sticky-hot July afternoon, about three months after the Towns were arrested, Perez knocked on Laura Holt's door.

Selid Holt, 35, was already in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla for raping his daughter - turned in by his wife a year earlier. He had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years.

The Holt children were in foster homes, removed by Child Protective Services following their father's arrest. Initially placed together, state caseworkers separated the children to prevent them from "sexually acting out amongst themselves."

Experts say children who have been sexually abused for years accept it as "normal," and often will repeat the behavior in situations other than the home.

It was the Holt children's aggressive sexual behavior that made authorities wonder if there hadn't been more wrong in the Holt household than father-daughter incest and motherly neglect. That suspicion was heightened by medical evidence suggesting that at least one and possibly both of the boys had been abused.

Talking with the children made Perez believe Laura Holt - also known as Becky - had molested not only her children but countless others. The allegations strained credulity but not then, nor later, did Perez or his superiors consider the children might be embroidering the truth.

A half-hour after she was arrested, Laura Holt stopped arguing her innocence and began to confess.

Some things she said made Perez suspect there was a conspiracy, that kids were being passed among neighbors. It was appalling. He was determined to ferret out the rest of the abusers, to save the kids.

Laura Holt later recanted her confession, claiming she had been "browbeat" by Perez.

"He wore me down and made me mad . . ." she said during an interview at the Washington Correctional Facility for Women near Purdy, where she is to spend the next 40 years.

"Finally, I just told him to write whatever . . . he wanted to. I didn't know he'd have such a sick mind."

Others abused boys

In early August 1994, Perez paid another visit to Cherie Town, who was in the Chelan County Jail awaiting sentencing.

Even in plain clothes, Perez looks formidable. Striding down the hallway of the county courthouse - tall, fair, well-built, with a sidearm and handcuffs visible under his leather jacket - he is the image of righteous justice.

People who know and like Perez say he is a dedicated officer, that he is often stern but can be a "teddy bear" of a man. Those who know but do not like him say he is a "manipulative monster."

Perez spent about an hour talking with Cherie Town. She reportedly confirmed that Michael Rose and Randall Reed, drinking buddies of her husband who bunked with the family for a time, had also sexually abused the boys. The first time it happened, Rose and Reed were supposed to be keeping the boys out of harm's way while she was downtown talking to her husband about a divorce. The second time, she climbed into bed with them.

"To start with, Randy and Mike kind of pressured me to let them do those things with the boys since they found out I was doing it for a long time," she reportedly said. "I couldn't very well say no."

Perez went back to the kids, accompanied by a Child Protective Services investigator. The interviews took place at the children's schools or foster homes. None of the interviews, or the adults' confessions, was taped. National experts are split on whether the benefit of recording such statements outweighs potential problems. Kenneth Lanning, the FBI's child-abuse specialist, has advised against taping, saying it creates a "highly subjective piece of evidence."

Reed, 43 at the time, pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation. In a signed statement to the court, he wrote: "Because of liver damage that has affected my brain and memory, I have no recollection (of the crime). I want to make sure it doesn't happen again, and I believe the state could convict me at trial." He was sentenced to 80 months.

Rose, then 26, maintained his innocence. Defense attorneys questioned the foundation of the charges, citing physician diagnoses that revealed "the alleged victims suffered from various forms of psychological problems including attention-deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotic disorders and other impairments."

A jury deliberated only 3 hours and 15 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty on five counts of child rape and molestation. Rose was sentenced to 23 years.

Another man implicated

That month, in what seemed at first a wholly unrelated incident, Robert Devereaux lost his license to operate a foster home after he became the subject of sexual-abuse allegations.

Then 54 and divorced, Devereaux had five adolescent girls in his care.

When the Department of Social and Health Services initially granted the license in 1987, Devereaux was married. On the application form, he and his wife, Maxine, said they would happily share their home with up to six school-age children, preferably girls ages 6 to 12.

Most of the girls sent to the Devereauxs were victims of sexual abuse - some were withdrawn and frightened, others aggressive and angry. A few had histories of telling terrible lies. The Devereauxs were warned there could be problems.

But it wasn't until the couple divorced and Maxine left the house that allegations surfaced.

One of Devereaux's foster daughters said he raped her. Devereaux's remaining foster daughters were moved to new foster homes and an investigation began.

As the matter dragged on, Devereaux became frantic, according to one caseworker's notes, in part because his only income was the state payments he received for care of his foster daughters. The caseworker advised him to be patient. A few days later, Child Protective Services concluded that the allegations of sexual abuse were "unsubstantiated," adding that police investigators had found "nothing prosecutable." Three teenage girls were returned to Devereaux's care.

The trouble did not end there. CPS records indicate allegations of sexual abuse were leveled at Devereaux at least seven times over four years. Most were investigated, some were not - the information lost in a shuffle of supervisors.

At least one caseworker said change was needed in the Devereaux household - perhaps only boys should be placed there. That suggestion was ultimately rejected in Olympia as "discriminatory."

Then a 15-year-old girl, in juvenile detention for allegedly trying to poison Devereaux and a foster sister, accused him of rape. The 15-year-old said Devereaux had forced her and a 12-year-old foster sister to have sex with him. The 12-year-old backed up the charge.

In police custody, Devereaux repeatedly denied abusing the girls, saying they would often come on to him but he always ignored the behavior or took steps to stop it.

Perez didn't believe Devereaux and told him so.

Devereaux asked, "What do I have to do to stay out of jail?" Perez said it was too late, that he was under arrest for suspicion of child rape.

Distraught, Devereaux responded, "My life is ruined, okay, I did it. . . ." But then, asked to describe the incidents, Devereaux shook his head and said, "I can't tell you. . . . I'm lying."

The next day Devereaux was notified that his foster care license had been suspended. He was also told that his 15-year-old accuser had recanted during a conversation with her caseworker, Paul Glassen.

Girl recants

Devereaux's 15-year-old accuser was Glassen's responsibility, one of dozens of kids on his case list. Stopping by juvenile hall to talk with her about a new placement, assuming she was released, Glassen found the teen agitated. They talked for a while, and then, Glassen said, the girl "blurted out that she had told a whole bunch of lies about having sex" with Devereaux. She told him she had been angry with her foster father for spying on her, for putting her on restriction after catching her having sex with a boyfriend.

"She said she was mad, that she lied, that Perez encouraged her . . . that the police officer was `out to get her dad.' I thought to myself, `Oh God, what a mess,' and went straight to my supervisor," Glassen said.

Glassen's supervisor reportedly passed the information on to her husband, a deputy prosecuting attorney, who passed it on to Perez.

Glassen was arrested for witness tampering, police suspecting he had pressured the girl to change her statement on behalf of Devereaux. However, prosecutors never charged Glassen with a crime.

Police later accused him of failing to report abuse and obstructing justice, prompting an internal Department of Social and Health Services investigation.

Again, prosecutors never brought charges, but Glassen was fired from his job for failure to report child abuse and neglect.

Then rumors surfaced that police were investigating him for child sexual abuse.

That was enough. Glassen's wife is Canadian, so they packed and moved to British Columbia. "I was willing to stand and fight," he said. "But I was not willing to have my wife and 5-year-old son picked up, interrogated and God knows what . . . at the very least, I wanted an extradition process between them and Perez."

Tip widens case

In September, police, prosecutors and child-protection workers believed they were just about to wrap up two very ugly cases of child sexual abuse - the Town-Holt and Devereaux cases.

Then a tip came from the Holts' former landlady. The woman owned a second rental house and believed the tenant, Dorris Green, had left her children with the Holts, knowing there was abuse going on. Perez looked for Green; when the two finally connected by phone, Green's first question was "Is this about Laura Holt?" Perez said he wouldn't, couldn't, discuss it over the phone. Would she please stop by the station?

She arrived shortly after noon, 34, single, with five children. She was wearing a white dress. Four hours later, she was changing into coveralls with the words "Property of Chelan County Jail" stenciled on the back, and social workers met her children at the school bus.

Sgt. Terry Pippin, present when Perez questioned Green, recalled in court that "she cried occasionally, real softly." Other than that, he said, it was a quiet interview.

Green began by saying she had "only caught Becky Holt having sex with (the youngest boy) once." Asked if she had had sex with the Holt children, Green shifted uncomfortably on the hard chair before answering, "Only once."

Perez asked for details. Between tears, Green explained the abuse happened one Easter weekend when Laura and Selid Holt dropped their three kids - a 12-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy - off for a two-week stay at her home. Sex, she said, was the kids' idea.

The apparent circle of abuse was widening.

During a hearing before trial, Green's defense attorney argued that Perez improperly questioned and arrested his client and, thus, her confession should not be allowed into evidence. A judge rejected that argument. Green later recanted and pleaded innocent of all charges. She was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Perez's daughter talks

Late one afternoon that September, Luci Perez sat down with her foster daughter. The 9-year-old had asked if they could talk.

Luci Perez, wife of Det. Perez, looks a lot like Annette Funicello and exudes wholesome determination.

Court documents said the girl had come from a wretched home; the house, on Cashmere Street, was crowded and filthy and desperately unhappy. The family lived from welfare check to welfare check. After a family acquaintance was convicted of molesting the girl, Child Protective Services stepped in.

When the child was placed in the foster care of Luci and Bob Perez, she was withdrawn and frightened. After months of patient care, Luci Perez felt she was finally gaining the girl's trust.

They sat down together and, as Luci Perez listened, the child described unconscionable acts of sexual abuse by her parents. Luci Perez called her husband, who, together with a Child Protective Services investigator, asked the child to repeat her story:

Her father, Harold Everett, was manipulative and cruel; and her mother, Idella, was weak and abusive. Harold Everett had raped her and at least one sister and brother. And Idella, threatened with a beating from her husband, had held the children down, then molested them herself. Other siblings confirmed the story.

In court documents, psychiatrists and social workers describe Idella Everett as having an IQ of 68; as sexually abused, first by her stepfather, and then by her husband, Harold; as "incapable of protecting herself, much less her children."

It did not take long for Perez to get a confession from Idella Everett, who said her husband had threatened her if she did not go along with the abuse of the children. With her statement, police and prosecutors were able to convince Harold that he, too, should enter a plea of guilty.

She was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison; he received 23 years.

The circle grows

In March, with her parents in prison, the Everett child began making new allegations: Dozens of adults had regularly forced her and countless other children to have sex.

Bundling the girl up, Perez and two Child Protective Services caseworkers drove the child, now 10, around town so she could point out where these orgies were supposed to have taken place.

She identified 19 locations: Some were familiar, such as Devereaux's house and the former rental homes of the Holts and Towns; but others, such as the Pentecostal Church of God House of Prayer in East Wenatchee, presented shocking new leads.

Rattling off names, the girl referred to the group as "The Circle." She described gatherings on weekends (and those evenings when the children had no homework) where the group would eat pizza, watch "Star Trek" movies and indulge in a frenzy of perversion.

Offering lurid recollections of the abuse, she described how, at one home, grown-ups would take children, six at a time, to a room with six single beds. "We had to undress and lay down on the bed, a kid on each bed," she said. "The adults undressed and got in line and took turns with everybody. It was the touching thing, the `wild thing.' "

The Douglas County Sheriff's office was notified. They began a separate investigation into alleged abuse at the church run by Pastor Roberson, a 50-year-old former mechanic who found Jesus 12 years ago, and his wife.

A friend of Perez's foster daughter claimed that on one occasion, "Pastor Roby" asked the girl into his shag-carpeted office off the sanctuary. There, the pastor and three other adults allegedly raped her.

Aware of growing unease in the community - and knowing this case could be huge - Douglas County officials proceeded with caution. The sheriff's office obtained search warrants and sought physical evidence, including samples of the carpet and sections of the rectory wall.

The Robersons were arrested on 22 counts of child rape and molestation. They deny any of it ever happened. Supportive parishioners, many of them poor and dependent on the food the Robersons' gave out weekly, decry the arrests as police "payback." Roberson had been looking into whether Perez was railroading poor, uneducated people into jail and had publicly spoken against the arrest of people like Harold and Idella Everett, who sometimes attended the church.

City in shock

Wenatchee was in shock. Many people were horrified, almost grief-stricken by the sex scandal; others were beginning to think police, and Perez in particular, were manufacturing charges.

Kinder critics said police, immersed in wretched detail, had failed to consider the children might be telling tales, exaggerating or even fabricating accounts of sexual abuse. Nearly all the children interviewed by police came from impoverished, troubled homes. Wasn't it possible, some asked, that the children, desperate for attention and approval, hadn't simply said what they thought police wanted to hear?

Others compared the investigation to the Spanish Inquisition. "It's a witch hunt, pure and simple," said Bob Kinkade, self-appointed leader of the local chapter of Victims of Child Abuse Laws. VOCAL, as the group is more commonly known, is a national organization established to "protect the falsely accused."

Kinkade knows what it feels like to be charged with sexual abuse. He has twice been tried on charges of molesting his stepdaughter. He was found not guilty on two charges; the jury was hung on three others.

A former East Wenatchee cop, Kinkade does not shy from a brawl. In newspapers and on television, he accused Perez of being on a power trip, of leading child witnesses into making false accusations, of trampling on suspects' constitutional rights and bullying adults into signing confessions.

He even suggested the detective is a bit shady. He alleged Perez was arrested for petty larceny in 1975, and cited for receiving unemployment benefits while enrolled in the Police Academy in 1983.

Neither Perez nor his superiors will comment on the specific charges. "What I will say is that I have confidence Officer Perez, Bob, has done an outstanding job under very difficult circumstances," said Wenatchee Police Chief Ken Bagdley. "Fact is, people find this kind of thing very difficult to believe. They don't want to believe it. Some will never believe it. I understand. I don't want to believe it either, but based on the evidence, I must."

The children had said there were pornographic photographs and videotapes, including some "home movies" of the alleged orgies. The Holts' daughter even told officers where the videos were kept, but Bagdley said his officers did not find any tapes. Bagdley said the tapes were probably taken by a suspect, Leo Catcheway, who fled Wenatchee and remains at large.

By this time, some children had recanted their accusations. Still, the foundation of the increasingly complicated and bizarre case was the children's testimony.

Are children reliable?

Debate rages in Wenatchee and across the country over whether children are reliable witnesses.

Elizabeth Loftus, a University of Washington professor and nationally noted authority on memory, argues strongly that children, and even some adults, are "highly suggestible" and therefore unreliable. "There are countless suggestive forces," she said. "It is extremely easy for a child, especially when traumatized, to create false memories . . . in an attempt to cope with or explain the experience."

Others argue children do not lie about something as physically and emotionally painful as sexual abuse.

"Children's disclosures may be confusing and inconsistent. A child may misattribute a specific abusive act . . . but, in my 20 years of experience I've found it extremely unusual for a child to fabricate such accusations from whole cloth," said psychiatrist Roland Summit, who has been a consultant on several high-profile sex abuse trials, including the McMartin day-care case in Los Angeles. "The fact is terrible things, unimaginable things, happen to children."

New allegations every day

There was, it seemed, horrific new allegations being made every day.

A 35-year-old mother of four, Linda Miller, was picked up by police in March on suspicion of child abuse as she tried to cross into Canada. Authorities alleged that Miller and her former husband, Larry Steinborn, were members of "The Circle."

Miller was brought back to Wenatchee. Shortly after midnight, Perez began questioning her; at 3:23 a.m., she signed a typed confession admitting to molesting numerous children. Her statement implicated a slate of other adults, some of whom she now says she does not know.

Her confession, together with statements by Perez' foster daughter and a 13-year-old friend, bound together the various abuse cases. Supported by interviews with other children, it appeared a hellish pact had been made among neighbors.

A conspiracy such as that alleged in Wenatchee has never been substantiated in this country, according to federal authorities.

Interviewed in jail, where she is being held in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail, Miller now claims her confession was coerced.

"I have never been so terrified in my life. . . . Perez kept asking if I hadn't seen this person and that person abuse the children. . . . I didn't know what I was saying, what I was signing. . . . My god, I could never do those things. . . . I know what it is like to be a victim, to be sexually molested as a child," she said, wiping away tears. "My own father sexually abused me, the humiliation, the hell. . . . I would never subject my children to that."

Miller's confession was corroborated by her ex-husband, Larry Steinborn. It is important to note that their marriage ended after one of Miller's daughters (by a previous husband) accused Steinborn of sexual molestation. After seeking refuge for her children in a "safe house," Miller saw to it that Steinborn went to jail.

There were other arrests, including that, in March, of Donna Hidalgo, adult step-sister of Perez's foster child. Her husband, Manuel Hidalgo, was also charged.

Interviewed in jail where she is awaiting trial, Donna Hidalgo claimed innocence. "Let me tell you, I was abused by two uncles and a cousin, and I know the dirt you feel. . . . No child deserves to feel that, there's no way I would do those things," she said. "Nothing has gone on, could have gone on. Somebody would have told."

Wenatchee deeply divided

Wenatchee is generally regarded as a pleasant town with a solid, upright middle class. But until 1952, when Alcoa built a huge aluminum-manufacturing plant here, there wasn't much middle. The town was divided into two classes: those who owned the apple orchards and those who worked in them. The distinction blurred with the availability of family-wage, factory jobs.

Elegant new homes, perched on the brown ridges above town, attest to the community's expanding wealth. But not everyone is prospering.

Per capita income remains lower, and unemployment and felony rates higher, compared to much of the rest of the state.

A subculture of down-at-the-heels subsistence workers and unemployable welfare dependents remains. Some were born poor in Wenatchee, others arrived that way.

The division between the two Wenatchees is deep. Even as the middle-class widens, the divide remains. As it is elsewhere, the haves and have-nots don't often mingle.

Every person alleged to have been part of "The Circle" is poor, some desperately so. Several are illiterate. A few are of below normal intelligence.

Of course, poverty is not synonymous with crime and perversion. National statistics suggest a fairly even incidence of child sexual abuse across social and economic classes.

Individually and as a group, the accused were isolated from society's mainstream.

Whether that contributed to actions that make them guilty or simply makes it more difficult for them to establish their innocence is an unanswered question.

Seattle Times staff reporter Dee Norton contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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