On the 10th of November, five days after Angela’s forensic interview, private therapist Patrice Hayhurst collected her session notebooks and placed them at-the-ready in her rural home office in Sharon, Connecticut.
And she waited for the police.
She would speak with the detectives as she spoke with everyone. Respectfully. Calmly. She would listen to their questions and she would answer as best she could.
She had no reason to be nervous. Anyone in her profession has to be prepared to work with law enforcement. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she was mandated to report so much as a suspicion of the neglect or abuse of children.
Which is exactly what she did.
Or had done, rather — more than two weeks earlier.
She did not have to second-guess her life choices. However difficult her profession, working from home had its benefits, and living in Litchfield County only sweetened the deal. Nestled on a hillside not far from town, her home office was simple in design and beautiful by nature. It was a place for reflection, a window of opportunity in which a client might see life anew — see it in relief, as it were, against a backdrop of some of the oldest mountains in the world.
It was nothing if not peaceful.
Even waiting on the police.
Tucked away in Connecticut’s rural northwest corner, bordering the rolling farmlands of upstate New York and that corner of Massachusetts where Norman Rockwell lived his last years, whatever Litchfield County lacks in shoreline is more than compensated by a thousand sparsely-populated square miles of lakes, ponds, and colonial-era towns dotting forested hills and river valleys from the Naugatuck to the Housatonic.
One has only to read the literature.
Published in 1917, Charles Shepherd Phelps Rural Life in Litchfield County, for example, is no less accurate a century later:
Within the bounds of the county are found the highest land, the greatest lake area, the most rugged scenery, and some of the richest agricultural lands of the state.
Of course incest crosses all geographies and demographies, as with any sexual abuse — or for that matter, mental illness, or addiction, or domestic violence — and although these issues are hardly unknown to lovely Litchfield County, any social worker looking to escape the daily heartbreak of big-city crisis services, might well succeed in Hayhurst’s little town of Sharon.
This much is certain: a social worker could do worse.
Hayhurst’s session notes were spare, but the broad strokes were clear. She had been seeing Angela for almost a year. Julie _X_ had first contacted her in December of 2002, expressing concern that Angela was “acting funny at home” and was “somewhat depressed.”
Julie also provided a ready diagnosis. She attributed Angela’s depression to the loss of Angela’s grandfather, who had recently passed away from cancer.
They were very close, Julie explained.
Further discussion, however, revealed what Julie meant by “acting funny”: Angela had run away from home after smearing her feces on the walls.
She was lost for around twenty minutes, according to Julie, until they were forced to search the woods.
They found her hiding down by Indian Lake Creek.
Above: granite outcrops in the mountains, shimmering with mica and rose quartz, bedecked with mountain laurel.
Below: glacial boulders, rivers named for ghosts, stone fences trailing into the dark of ancient woods.
It may come as a surprise to the reader that “New” England is, geologically speaking, nearly twice as old as England. In fact it is among the oldest lands on the face of the earth, as Betty Flanders Thomson details in her 1958 masterpiece of poetic geology, The Changing Face of New England.
Far back in the mists of Cambrian times, half a billion years ago, the ancestors of our Berkshires and Green Mountains emerged from the waters of an ancient sea.
While the ocean waters have advanced and receded, and hills have risen and worn away again, always there has remained in New England some area of dry land. . . .
Although described by its first white explorer, in the late 1600s, as a “hideous, howling wilderness,” today the area is prime real estate from head to tail.
Hayhurst had helped a number of people in her years. She had positively affected the health of her little community.
The _X_ family were not her only clients.
Nor could she possibly have known the truth of what was happening in that house.
For all its beauty, New England is also a hard land, and Litchfield County is no exception. Dark comes early in the valleys. Winter can be hell.
In the 1700s, white settlers built the first cabins and mill houses by ax and adze, settling in the river valley and clearing land deep into the hills, finding the former fertile, though stony, and the latter blessedly pregnant with iron ore.
Along the Housatonic they named new towns after old ones — Kent, Cornwall, Canaan — erasing the unwieldy words of Matabesec Mohegans, christening in proper English the land of the Scaticook and Wechquadnach.
And on the rocky northwest face of certain mountain, in the cold shadows of towering pines, white settlers tried and failed to build a little community called Dudleytown.
Going starving mad in the process.
And turning murderous, according to legend.
One by one.
The last survivors stumbling into the valley below, babbling about dark figures in the pines. Shape-changing Indians. Dog-face demons with hooves.
A few miles from Dudleytown, some luckier whites felled trees for charcoal, stoked furnaces, and forged iron. Taking its name from the Hebrew word for “forest,” the town of Sharon grew steadily throughout the 18th century while missionaries educated the remaining Matabesecs regarding the ascendancy of Christ the Lord.
As part of a larger region — “iron country” some have called it — Sharon and its regional neighbors would come to be known as Arsenal of the American Revolution.
Later they would supply the cannonballs for the Civil War.
Theirs being a long history of wins, Sharon prospered, and it would come to be known for its sprawling town green and an expanse of regal estates along the high road through town.
Several hundred feet below which, and less well known, is a crossroads. Once Wechquadnach burial grounds — over which whites built iron works and, later, a munitions factory — today the crossroads comprise a small cluster of houses and a gothic-carpenter style tavern, equal parts shabby and historic.
Sharon locals simply call it The Valley.
At the heart of which, in a little house dating to the 1800s, lived Family _X_.
Julie attended Angela’s sessions and often “helped” Angela to explain things, or simply did the talking for her.
In April 2003 — six months before her molestations would come to light — Angela sat quietly with her mother in Hayhurst’s office as Julie expressed concern about another “funny” thing.
This time, however, Julie’s concern was not Angela’s behavior but her body.
Specifically, her vagina.
Lately, Julie explained, it “felt funny.”
Julie was rather vague that day, the therapist would later tell detectives, but Julie had again offered the therapist a diagnosis: something might be stuck inside Angela’s vagina.
A foreign object of some sort.
Perhaps a parasitic organism.
“Like a tick might be in it,” said Julie.
Julie did not say if she and Jeff had already examined Angela’s genitals at home, or in what manner, or to what extent. Julie did agree with Hayhurst, however, that if Angela’s discomfort persisted, Julie would seek a diagnosis from an actual physician.
Following the tick conversation, Julie told Hayhurst that Angela had recently asked about “sex.”
Julie, in response, had explained the details of heterosexual intercourse.
Julie then decided to revisit the topic, there in Hayhurst’s office, as Angela sat quietly and listened.
The scene that day remained a vivid one, Hayhurst would later tell detectives:
Angela was quieter than usual.
I remember very clearly, as Julie was describing the facts of intercourse — meaning, a man’s penis going into a woman’s vagina — Angela’s reaction was squeamish.
I remember feeling that Julie had been very explicit with a 7-year-old.
Following this tick-and-intercourse session, Hayhurst switched the focus of therapy from Angela to her parents.
In the autumn of 2003, after months of therapy with Julie and Jeff, and shortly before the revelations of incest, Julie had asked Hayhurst to see Angela again, who was apparently having a difficult time in school.
School — Math, science — having a lot of trouble understanding work. Tries really hard but feels she’s not as smart as everyone else.
Overwhelming…. Even with extra help she feels completely lost. “She can’t keep info in her head.”
Problems with friends in school.
Angela’s issues at school were as odd as they were unfortunate. The little girl was not merely “intelligent” and “sociable.” She was witty, precocious, and nothing short of charming. She possessed excellent language skills, a natural creativity and imagination, and a knack for telling captivating and emotive stories.
Certain aspects of mathematics and sciences remained a mystery however, even with a tutor. Absent the context of her routine molestation at home, Angela’s school issues had been deemed sufficient to earn her the label of “learning disabled.”
Hayhurst noted that Angela had other troubling concerns at home — specifically her father.
Dad gets angry/nasty with kids.
Made Jesse cry, makes Mom cry.
Angela’s afraid of their fighting.
M_ at school — a boy in Angela’s class. His parents fight with each other physically.
Angela afraid of that for her parents.
Angela’s nightmares involved her father as well.
Specifically his knives, which Jeff collected as a hobby.
Bad dream, the therapist noted — Dad stabbing Mom.
Until police and social services became involved, Hayhurst had no idea what was really going on in Angela’s home.
She’d counseled Jeff and Julie for six months, and she’d counseled Angela over the span of a year, and during that time Hayhurst had learned nothing of the truth.
When all is said and done, perhaps the most a therapist can hope to achieve is to model thoughtful and compassionate behavior. One can listen and empathize. One can offer assistance, recourse, resources. Based on prior experience and learning, one might even offer some advice.
Seeing clients from home means opening the door to friends and neighbors and strangers alike.
One pretty much hopes for the best.
Few locals will disagree that the Valley is special.
All of a square quarter mile. No more than a few dozen residents. Five of them arrested for rape and sexual abuse of children. A sixth murdered, the case unsolved. All within the span of a few years.
Indian Lake and Webatuck, twin creeks running through the Valley’s heart, each to a side of the road.
As if mirroring its crimes.
Sexual assault to the east. Murder to the west.
All of it dating to the time Family _X_ called the Valley home.
All of it within a few hundred yards of that front door.
READ CHAPTER 3:
THE SPECIAL ROOM