Anyone who lived through the late ‘80s and early ‘90s may remember the wave of child abuse and sexual assault stories that captured the headlines every month. Reporting focused on a seeming pattern of monstrous — and sometimes darkly sinister — child sexual assault stories all over America. One of the most stunning concerned Fran and Dan Keller of Fran’s Daycare, located in Texas.
Austin, Texas: 1992
It all began when a 3-year-old day care child complained to her parents over alleged abuse by Dan. The police questioned the couple and all of their children. Following further testimony by the children, a strange and disturbing story began to take form.
Dan and Fran were Satanic worshipers, many of the children said, and had recruited the youngsters for help in their nefarious plans. Stories including white robes and bloodletting rituals, animal sacrifice and instances of grave robbing were all included in the horrors of Fran’s Daycare. Going even further, some children’s testimonies included details that were frankly supernatural or logically impossible, such as resurrections and the appearance of the devil himself.
As with the Salem Witch Trials nearly three centuries before, the courtroom readily accepted these testimonies without question. Details that were impossible to prove or without any evidence — the majority of the prosecution’s case — were rationalized quickly. The prospect of Satan loomed in the courtroom.
By the end of the case, there was only one concrete piece of abuse evidence: a doctor’s report of a wound on one girl’s vagina. This lone source seemed adequate to convict the two. The community sat with rapt attention and bated breath as the sentences were handed down.
After six days of courtroom mania, Dan and Fran each received 48 years in prison for their suspected participation in child sexual abuse and assault. They were shipped off to separate institutions, where each faced a mountain of challenges and decades of separation from each other. It is a well-known fact that those found guilty of crimes targeting children themselves become the target of violent attacks in prison, and the high-profile nature of this case made for unavoidable confrontations with other inmates.
The Case, Continued
Despite their public vilifications, many watching the case did not believe Fran and Dan were guilty, nor that the proceedings were handled justly. One lawyer, Keith Hampton, offered to take over as the couple’s legal counsel without pay. He would spend the next decade accruing a ream of evidence discrediting each integral pillar on which the prosecution had stood.
First, the supposed professional testimony of several child psychologists and professionals came under criticism. During the early ‘90s, a public panic surrounding widely fabricated accounts of ritualistic violence and Satanism was sweeping the nation. Many pseudo-professionals had found the means to quick cash by writing books and papers substantiating a web of sinister satanic cult activity. One of the key witnesses, a supposed expert in satanic rituals targeting children, fell into this camp.
Most importantly, the doctor who provided the one piece of physical evidence — the apparent wound of one girl’s vagina — came forward and admitted that he had been operating under false assumptions at the time. The fissure, he had learned several years later, was, in fact, a standard feature in pediatric hymens. When asked during his second court appearance years after, Dr. Mouw made it clear he was mistaken during his first testimony.
By 2013, over 20 years since the Kellers had been sent to separate prisons, the case seemed to be on its last legs. Hampton had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the courtroom proceedings in 1992 were flawed and would not have convinced any reasonable jury of the couple’s guilt.
Further, the evidence of mistakes on the part of Dr. Mouw and the faulty evidence provided by several witnesses would have dismissed the case under any normal courtroom circumstances. In a courtroom of 2017, improved procedures scorn similar testimonies. In 2015, the courts finally overturned the convictions of Dan and Fran Keller, releasing them on bond.
Unfortunately, the hardships had not ceased for the two as the Kellers — newly reunited for the first time in 23 years — had to seek unemployment and the support of friends to survive. The courts had not dismissed their prior conviction, despite scrapping the case, and still deemed them child sexual offenders. Nobody was willing to employ the aging couple.
Finally, as of late August this year, the couple has been declared “actually innocent” by the Travis County District Attorney, erasing any blemishes from their names and entitling them to over $3 million in damages and time lost behind bars.
Most important for the Kellers, though, is the clearing of their name. After 25 years and over two decades in prison, the Kellers can finally rejoin society. At the ages of 67 and 75, respectively, Fran and Dan are finally free.