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Texas Couple Appeals Sentence for 'Satanic Ritual Abuse'

Karen Bernstein for KUT News

In 1989, Fran Keller and her husband Dan wanted to find work with a purpose – something that could bring them closer to their community. They opened a day care in their rented house in Oak Hill, with a desire to take in pre-school age children and toddlers, even those who had a history of behavioral problems.

But Fran Keller says she never expected to find herself where she is now: serving her 23rd year in prison at the Crain Unit in Gatesville, Texas.

Keller and her husband are each serving 48 years on multiple sexual abuse charges. Texas had seen its share of sex abuse cases involving young children in the 1980s. But the Kellers were accused of crimes that went beyond what is commonly considered sexual abuse.

“These specialists say we were supposed to have buried children,” Keller says. “Or taken the kids to the cemetery or flown them to Vegas, California and Japan – [that] we had an airstrip in back of the house, dinosaurs and sharks in the pool. It was just so farfetched that I had no idea anyone could believe such stories.”

Credit Wikimedia Commons
A since-discredited "autobiography" purporting to describe satanic ritual abuse, "Michelle Remembers"

The Kellers were caught up in the 1980s-era hysteria surrounding satanic ritual abuse.  Not since the Salem Witch trials had people reported such titillating tales of group mind control, systematic torture, molestation, and human and animal sacrifice – popularized on daytime talk shows, lurid paperbacks, and exemplified by the six-year McMartin preschool trial.

By 1991 there were more than 10 daycare centers in this country battling charges of sexual abuse. As in the Kellers’ case, the charges involved satanic ritual abuse. Most all the day care owners went to prison – and most were based on accounts from preschool age children. Fran and Dan Keller are two of three daycare providers in the U.S. who remain in jail today.

The Kellers steadfastly maintain their innocence. An alleged child victim later denied her claim of abuse. And Doug Perry,  an associate of the Kellers, recanted his story  to investigators that he and two friends had participated in sexual activities at the Keller’s day care center – claiming he’d been coerced by the police.

Nearly two dozen years after their conviction, the Kellers have filed a Writ of Habeus Corpus that could lead to the end of their prison sentences.

A path to exoneration may require another hearing, but the Kellers’ attorney Keith Hampton hopes to have the couple released – and moved back to Travis County within the next few months. If he is successful, Fran and Dan Keller may see one another for the first time in 23 years.

Listen to the story by clicking on the player above.

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