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It Could Happen To You

by Eleanor Goldstein and Mark Pendergrast
August 1, 1995
Copyright 1995 the authors. Posted with permission of the authors


Before the Trouble: Carol and Bruce at a class reuinion
Bruce Perkins, 50, recently discovered a new talent. Formerly a successful businessman, he is now a fine water colorist, painting Western art, sensitive still lives and portraits -- and he is a prison inmate. "It's just an exercise to pass time and find a way to put a piece of myself and the love I have for someone in a few cents' worth of paint daubed on a piece of paper," he explains.  Among his most poignant pictures are those of his grandchildren, painted from photos a few years old.

Perkins has good reason to "pass time" -- he has been in prison for two years now, sentenced to thirty years for sexually abusing those grandchildren, despite a complete lack of evidence, other than the contradictory and bizarre testimony of little children who may have been coerced by therapists, social workers, and police using pseudoscientific methods.

Bruce and Carol Perkins have an uncommon marriage in our modern era. They are more concerned about one another than themselves.  Bruce worries primarily that his incarceration is hard on Carol, while she devotes her life to gaining his freedom.

"We've been together since we were fifteen years old," Bruce says, "and being without her is the most horrible part of this nightmare."

The frightening thing about "this nightmare" is that such a nightmare could happen to anyone.  Once a sexual abuse allegation is made, and the wheels of the Child Protective Services system begin to roll, logic and presumed innocence can fly out the window, even here in America, where we pride ourselves on our concern for justice.

Fortunately, some who have been unjustly imprisoned in this sex abuse witch hunt are being released.  Kelly Michaels, accused of smearing peanut butter on children's genitals and pushing Lego blocks into their anuses and vaginas, has finally been freed after five years from a New Jersey prison, just as Robert Kelly's conviction in a similar North Carolina day care case has been overturned.

But in a courtroom in Texas, judges still believe that children can never be led into a lie, however absurd and impossible their claims might be.

Bruce Perkins remains in prison, where he paints beautiful pictures of his grandchildren.  He has served two years of a thirty year sentence.

Bruce and Carol have two sons, Larin and Lann.  Before allegations surfaced, the Perkins' family was particularly close-knit.  Then Trish, Larin's wife, entered therapy in 1991 for depression and parenting difficulties.  Soon, however, she began to uncovered supposedly "repressed memories" of abuse by her grandfather when she was a child.  She began to see signs of sexual abuse everywhere.  After observing her children "playing doctor" with friends, she grilled them about possible molesters and soon accused several of their playmates of abuse.  Then, suspecting an adult perpetrator, she asked her four-year-old daughter whether "Pawpaw," her granddaddy Bruce, had ever touched her.  Trish had never liked her husband's parents.  Now she questioned her daughter repeatedly about what Pawpaw might have done, but the child insisted that nothing had happened.

Finally, in the fall of 1992, the child told her mother something about Pawpaw Bruce.  Trish frantically called Patty, Lann's wife, who questioned her four-year-old daughter.  Soon, Child Protective Services became involved, then the sheriff's department.  The police questioned both granddaughters closely.

Many recent studies have demonstrated that children --particularly preschoolers -- will say just about anything to please an adult.  Small children have active imaginations and, if properly coached and repeatedly led in a particular direction (often using sexually explicit dolls), they will accuse almost anyone of sexual abuse.  That is clearly what happened in the case of Bruce Perkins.  Fortunately, we have the tapes of a police detective's interviews with the grandchildren.  Though the children had already been coached by their mothers, the leading nature of the questions is obvious:

Interviewer:  Did he ever put anything wet [on your vagina]?
Child:  Uhh, no.
Interviewer:  How about, did he ever use any kind of oil or ketchup?
Child:  Ketchup.

Elsewhere, the policeman asked how the child knew that Pawpaw Bruce had also molested her cousin.  "Cause my momma told me," she answered.

Eventually, an elaborate set of horrifying accusations came out of these protracted interviews.  In October of 1991, Carol Perkins hosted a birthday party for her husband at their house, attended by over forty friends and relatives.  During the party, Bruce Perkins supposedly lured seven children, including three grandchildren, up to his bedroom, where he stripped them naked, smeared cake, ice cream, ketchup, and mustard on their privates, licked it all off, pushed Lego blocks inside them, took pictures of them, cleaned them up, and sent them all downstairs, with no one the wiser.

Adding to the improbability of this story are several facts. The bedroom door had no lock.  Perkins was supposed to have abused a cat during the birthday molestation, even though Carol Perkins hates cats and won't have them in her house.  Four of the seven children were not even at the birthday party.  No photographs or any other evidence were ever found.

Other allegations were even more preposterous.  Perkins was supposed to have taken one granddaughter out to the chicken house and forced her to have intercourse with their dog, after which he cut off the dog's penis and squirted blood all over the child.

All of this purportedly occurred in a 4' by 4' area, and the dog not only survived the experience, but grew a new penis!  There were also supposed to be magical moving walls in the bedroom.

Incredibly, Bruce Perkins was found guilty by a jury.  He had passed a lie detector test administered by Ernest Halsey, the chairman of the Texas State Polygraph Examiners Board, but the judge refused to let Halsey testify, so the jury never heard about the test.

The human tragedy caused by these misguided sex abuse hysteria cases is incalculable.  After the trial, on her 31st wedding anniversary, Carol Perkins sent her sons a tape of the country western song "Daddy's Hands," to remind them what their father meant to them:

I remember Daddy's hands, working 'til they bled,
Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed.
If I could do things over, I'd live my life again
And never take for granted the love in Daddy's hands.

Instead of the sons remembering their father's hard work and love, they interpreted the song as their mother's cynical attempt to rub their noses in what "Daddy's hands" had done, molesting his grandchildren. Meanwhile, the grandchildren themselves have indeed been abused, by the very system that was supposed to help them.  They will probably always think now that their loving grandfather did something awful to them.

Bruce Perkins' first appeal has been denied, but his new lawyer, John Ackerman, has appealed to a higher court.  In the meantime, Carol Perkins has been forced to sell everything she ever owned, including their business and home, to pay for legal fees.  She now lives with friends and sells cars to make a living. And she visits Bruce in prison once a week for two hours, where he has a new painting waiting for her.

Mark Pendergrast is an investigative journalist,  the author of Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations And Shattered Lives.



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Carol A. Perkins
7019 St. Highway 75 South #12
Huntsville TX 77340
(936) 662-7333