For the Kellers, wrongly imprisoned for "ritual satanic abuse," freedom finally at hand

Fran Keller after 21 years in prison for imaginary crimes that speak volumes about the twisted minds that invented them

In a 2009 postscript to “The Innocent and the Damned,” Gary Cartwright’s chilling 1994 Texas Monthly story on Fran and Dan Keller, owners of an Oak Hill daycare center who were falsely convicted of child abuse amidst a wave of paranoia about ritual satanic abuse in the late 80s/early 90s, journalist Cartwright rues that, “the Kellers are now mostly forgotten, a man and a woman locked away out of sight and out of mind.”

But I had never forgotten the Kellers. After reading Cartwright’s story, I don’t know how anyone could. And now, finally, after 21 years in prison, Fran Keller has been released, with Dan Keller soon to follow. According to this story in the American-Statesman by the excellent Chuck Lindell, the Kellers are unlikely to be tried again. Thank God. 

It’s always been a fact that the vast number of child abuse cases are perpetrated by family members. Yet during the heyday of ritual satanic abuse paranoia, childcare workers in a number of high profile cases were accused of a mind-boggling array of twisted crimes, virtually all of which were invented by adults coaxing testimony from impressionable children. According to the estimable Michael Hall, in an update on the Keller case posted this morning on texasmonthly.com, the well-coached children alleged that, “the Kellers defecated and urinated in their hair, put spells on them, baptized them in blood in a backyard pool, made them sacrifice babies—one of whom they cut open so they could drink its blood and hold its beating heart in their hands. The kids claimed the Kellers flew them to Mexico and made them dig up graves in Oak Hill. Much of it was allegedly filmed, and all of it happened while they were enrolled in a busy day care center.”

And, of course, none of it happened! It has always struck me that the insane and horrific nature of these crimes—blood orgies, cannibalized babies, and on and on—reveal more about the twisted mentalities of the accusers than the accused. And a number of these cases first came to light through the “accusations” of children who just so happened to be in the middle of highly emotional, highly charged divorce custody battles. If memory serves, the Keller case was one. 

Initially, I was going to title this post, “For the Kellers, wrongly imprisoned for ‘ritual satanic abuse,’ justice finally at hand.” But thinking again, I realized that spending 21 years in prison falsely convicted of some of the most aberrant, abhorrent crimes ever conceived in the minds of men hardly seems like justice. 

For an excellent read about the paranoia and pseudoscience that fueled the ritual satanic abuse mania, check out “Remembering Satan,” from Austin’s own Lawrence Wright. 

Oh, and it’s not exactly like the problem has gone away in Texas either. As Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall reveals here and here, incredibly, people are still fighting to free themselves from scurrilous and twisted abuse accusations in cases that happened much more recently.  

Statesman on Keller: Fran Keller freed in daycare sexual abuse case

Texas Monthly on Keller: The Innocent and The Damned, Wrongfully Convicted Grandma Freed

Michael Hall’s other recent, related stories in Texas Monthly: The San Antonio 4 Are Finally Free, Across the Line