"Joel, please come over here. Let me show you what we are going to do. This is a video camera," she said pointing it out to him. "We are going to make a video tape of everything that you or I or Mr. Johnson say while I am asking questions. Have you ever been on video tape before?"
"No," he replied somewhat louder than his last response.
"Would you like to see what you look like on tape?" she asked.
Receiving a nod she turned the camera to record and pointed it at him for a few seconds. Then rewinding it she removed the tape from the camera and put it in the VCR and played it on the TV monitor.
"Is that really me?" he giggled. "I look funny."
Rewinding the tape and putting it back in the camera she said to him, "Now, while we are talking the camera will be taking our pictures. I will ask you some questions and I want you to answer me the best that you can. If you don't know something just tell me. If you do tell me something I want you to only tell me the truth. I don't want you to make up anything just to give me an answer. This is not a test. There are no right or wrong answers. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he said.
"Good," Barbara said. "Why don't you go take a seat with Mr. Johnson and we will get started."
Joel took a seat next to me on the small couch while Barbara took the chair at the end of it forming a sort of "L."
After stating the date, time and place of interview, she said, "Persons present in this interview are Joel Jay Anderson, Mr. Crane Johnson, Joel's foster parent, and Detective Barbara Silver. Joel is the person from whom information is sought.
"Joel, do you promise to tell me the truth and only the truth?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
"Joel, Dr. Greene has filed a report saying that you have been beaten on your back. Is that true?"
"Tell me who beat you on your back."
"Do you know why he did it?"
"No, every time he got drunk he would whip me," he said moving closer to me and grabbed my hand.
"What did he whip you with?"
"Most of the time with his belt. Sometimes with his hands. A few times with a hanger."
"Was that a wire clothes hanger?"
"Did he ever hit you?"
"What did he hit you with?"
"His fist. Once he hit me with his shoe."
"Was he holding the shoe or was he wearing it?"
"No he had it in his hand and hit me with the heel."
"Did he ever kick you?"
"Yeah, sometimes when it hurt so bad I'd curl up and he would kick me in the back."
I could see the tears starting to form in his eyes so I reached my arm around him and hugged him. He looked up at me with those beautiful eyes as if begging me to stop this. I leaned down and kissed his forehead before whispering, "It's okay."
Barbara had paused a moment while this was going on but then continued, "Did anyone besides your dad ever hit you or whip you?"
"One of his friends slapped me once."
"Why did he do that?"
"He said I didn't get him his beer fast enough."
"What did your dad do when the man slapped you?"
"Nothing, just laughed."
"Do you know the name of the man who slapped you?"
"I think it was Earl something."
"Did your mother know that your father whipped you?"
The tears were now beginning to flow down his cheeks. I had prepared for this and had a box of tissues handy. I gave him one and he dried his eyes.
"Did your mother try to stop your dad from whipping you?"
"What happened when she tried to stop it?"
"He would hit her and knock her down," he said with anger in his voice.
"Did your mother ever whip you?"
"No! She tried to make him stop, but she couldn't. She tried! She tried!" his body wracked with sobs.
It took several minutes before Barbara could continue.
"Did anyone ever whip or hit your brothers?"
"Sometimes, if I couldn't hide them he would whip them with the belt. When I saw he was that way I would make them go in the garage or up in the attic. I couldn't let him beat them, they're my brothers and I had to protect them. They're too little. I couldn't... Sometimes if he caught them I would kick and hit him 'till he let them go. Then he would beat me, but I could take it. They're too little. I just couldn't let him hit them, especially TJ. He's too little. He's my brother, I had to protect him."
"How often did you or your brothers get whipped?"
"Every week. Sometimes more. Every time he got paid. He'd get drunk and then beat me."
"Was it always the same?"
"Not always. If he was really drunk, he couldn't hit me as hard or as long. He would fall down on the floor and I could get away from him and he couldn't catch me."
"Did anyone ever do anything to you that you didn't like besides whipping and hitting you?"
Turning his head into my chest he spoke so softly and with as much pain as I had ever heard in a voice, "Yes, ma'am."
"Who did this?"
"My dad," he said so softly that Barbara asked him to say it again.
"My dad," this time he said it with anger.
"What did he do to you that you didn't like?"
This time he looked up into my eyes with the tears streaming down his cheeks as if to ask "Do I have to?"
"It's okay, son. I love you and nothing that you could say would ever make me stop loving you. I know it is hard but you need to tell Detective Silver about it," I said hoping to keep the quiver out of my voice.
"Joel, I know this is unpleasant for you. Please believe me I don't want to cause you any hurt, but I need as much information as I can get. I need you to speak up and to speak clearly so that everything you say will be on the video tape," Barbara said.
Joel nodded, "Okay."
"What did he do to you that you didn't like?"
"Sometimes he would yell at me, 'Come here you little fag, I'm horny' and grab me by the neck. Then he would make me... uh... Do I have to?"
"You're doing fine. It's okay. Just tell us what happened. Remember you did nothing wrong," I said giving him another hug.
"He would make me unzip his pants and... and..." he started sobbing again.
"Take your time," Barbara said softly.
After a minute or so he regained his composure enough to continue. "He would make me rub my hands up and down on his cock. When it would get real hard he would put it in my mouth and make me suck it," he said sobbing but with anger. "He grabbed my ears and jerked me up and down on it. Sometime I would choke. I would gag and throw up. Then he would really get mad."
"What would he do when he got mad?" Barbara asked.
"He'd hit and kick me. He'd take his belt off and whip me. He'd take all my clothes off and whip me. Then he'd... Oh, I can't tell you! It was awful! Please!"
"It's okay. You're doing fine. Just take your time," I said wiping the tears from his cheeks.
"He'd make me sit on his lap and he'd... he'd... put his dick in my butt and bounce me up and down. It hurt. It hurt so bad I would scream but he just did it anyway. If I screamed too loud he would put his hand over my mouth and nose so I couldn't breathe. When he was done he'd lock me in the shed in the back yard."
"Did he do anything else to you that you didn't like?"
"Sometimes when he was doing it to me he would grab and squeeze me as hard as he could."
"What would he squeeze?"
"My... My dick and balls. It hurt really bad. Sometimes I couldn't walk too good after."
"When did this start? How old were you when this started?" Barbara asked.
"I think I was 10 when he did it to me the first time. He didn't do it very often then. But then it started to be almost every week at the end." The tears were flowing down his cheeks now but he was not sobbing. The tears were more of anger than sadness.
"Did he ever do this to your brothers?"
"He tried a couple of times, but I hit and kicked him until he let them go. He would get really mad and was really rough with me then. He would always hurt me worse when I did that. But after a while he quit trying to do it with them. I had to protect them. I did. I couldn't let him do it to them. They're my brothers!"
"Did your mother know what he was doing to you?"
"Yes, ma'am. She saw him doing it to me a couple of times. She would scream at him and pound him with her fists. Once he hit her with his fist and she fell down and didn't get up all the time he was doing it to me. I think he knocked her out."
"Did he ever beat your mother?"
"Yes, he would hit her all the time. He was always slapping her on the face or hitting her in the stomach. When I seen him do it I would try to get in his way and keep him from doing it to her. Most of the time he would just beat me, but sometimes he'd lock me in the shed and then start beating her again. I tried to make him stop, I really did! I did!" This time the sobs shook his whole body.
"Joel, you are a brave boy. I know you did everything that you could do to stop your mother from being hurt. I know that she loved you very much. You are my hero! I love you even more then I did before you told me this. I didn't think that was possible, but I do," I said as I began to sob along with him.
Barbara waited a few minutes before she asked her next question. "Do you know what happened to your mother?"
"Would you tell me about it?"
"He shot her in the face."
"Who shot her in the face?"
"How do you know he shot her?"
"I saw him do it."
"Tell me how it happened."
"I don't know. He came home on Thursday. He was drunk and saying he got fired. He started to beat momma. I tried to stop him. He stopped beating momma and started beating me. Then he did it to me again. This time it hurt really bad. When he was done he locked me in the shed. He said I was a goddamn fag and he was going to fuck it out of me later. I was scared. I had been digging a hole in the ground at the back of the shed every time he locked me in there. I kept digging most of the night. I didn't have anything to dig with except my hands and a sharp stick. I could hear momma and him arguing. He was screaming and yelling at her. I was almost done with my hole but I was so tired I had to rest. When I woke up I could hear them arguing some more. I think it was almost noon. It was dark in the shed so I couldn't tell. I finished digging my hole and crawled out of the shed. I sneaked into the house through the back door. They were still arguing. I heard her say she was going to go to the police and report him. He said if she did he was going to kill her. I saw him go back into their bedroom and came out with his gun. He said for momma to shut the fuck up or he would shoot her."
He had said all of this almost without taking a breath. It was as if he wanted to get it all out at once so it would be over with. Instead he broke down again at this point. His sobbing was uncontrollable. I held him to my chest and rocked him as I stroked his back.
Maybe five minutes later, which seemed like an hour, he regained his composure enough that Barbara thought she could continue.
"What happened then?"
"He... He shot the gun a couple of times at her face. She fell down on her back and I saw him shoot her four more times right in the face. There was blood everywhere. I must have screamed because he turned to look at me. He pointed the gun at me and it clicked three times. There were no more bullets in it."
Turning to face me he asked, "Why weren't there any bullet holes in momma's face at the funeral, Uncle Crane?"
I didn't want to go into any gory details so I just answered, "They fixed them at the funeral home."
"Go on Joel, did anything else happen?" Barbara asked.
"When he saw that there wasn't any bullets left in the gun he grabbed me by the throat and said if I ever talked to anybody about what I saw he would rip my throat out so I couldn't talk. He threw me against the wall so hard that he almost knocked me out. Then he ran out the door and I heard the car roar down the street. I think I stood looking at momma down there on the floor and just cried. I remember going outside and screaming at the top of my lungs. I don't remember anything else until Uncle Crane asked me to go to McDonald's with him. I didn't even know where I was. Every time I tried to talk, nothing came out."
"Thank you Joel. I think that will do it for now," Barbara said as she got up to switch off the camera and remove the tape.
"I am so proud of you, Joel. I know that it was very difficult for you to relive all of this," I said giving him a big hug and kissing the top of his head. Remembering that Joyce wanted to speak to him I said, "Ms. Gehrig would like to talk to you for a few minutes, okay?"
"Do I have to?" he asked.
"No, that is entirely up to you. If you want to talk to her that is fine. If you don't want to talk to her that is also fine. It is your choice," I said.
"I don't want to talk to her. She would have let the judge take us away. I don't like her," he said burying his face in my chest.
"That's okay, I'll tell her. Let's go see if Hildy has started lunch, I'm hungry," I told him.
The thought of food seem to brighten his mood. He jumped up, grabbed my hand and literally dragged me to the door.
Hildy was in the kitchen preparing mountains of ham salad and egg salad sandwiches to go with the big pot of tomato soup that was just coming to a simmer on the stove.
"Hildy," I said "Joel would like to eat a little early. I know it's only 11:30 but he missed his morning snack and I think he might starve if he doesn't get something to eat quickly."
She grinned at my little joke and then said to him, "You go get your hands washed and I'll get a plate set for you."
Joyce came into the kitchen as Joel rushed by her to wash his hands.
"Where is he going? I want to talk to him," she said.
"He is getting cleaned up for lunch to answer your question. As far as the second comment, he doesn't want to talk to you. He said that you would have let the judge take him away. I guess that he can tell a spineless bureaucrat when he sees one," I said with a little more venom in my voice that I had intended.
"I suppose that you have been bad mouthing me to the boys. The twins would hardly talk to me and every time I tried to talk to TJ he would hide behind one of his brothers" she replied.
"No, you are wrong. I have never said anything about you one way or another in front of the boys. For someone who works with children, you seem remarkably out of tune with them. Joel is an extremely bright and perceptive boy. He can read a person very quickly and I think he had you pegged from your first visit. I think that he has shared that read of you with his brothers. Joel protected his brothers from as much physical abuse by their dad as he could and he is still trying to protect them from you and the system that you represent. To you these boys are just another case to be handled. You have no feelings for them as human beings. I do and I'll be damned if I'll let you and the system ruin the lives of four of the most loveable and well behaved boys I have ever known," I said.
"But, I'm responsible for them," she sputtered. "I could have them taken away from you in a minute."
"You just try it. I will have you investigated so thoroughly that by the time I get done with you I will know how much money the Tooth Fairy left under your pillow for your baby teeth. If you think that you can withstand that kind of scrutiny, go ahead, give it your best shot," I said through gritted teeth.
Her blush at the thought of that type of background check told me she wouldn't follow through on her threat.
"Damn, I'm getting to be a pushy bastard," I thought.
Joel bounced back into the room followed by the twins and TJ.
"Can we eat too? We're hungry," TJ asked looking at Hildy.
"Yes, did you wash your hands?" she asked.
Getting a nod from everyone she started putting plates and bowls on the table. The mountain of sandwiches that she had fixed started to dwindle before our eyes. The soup disappeared almost as quickly.
Turning back to Joyce I said, "If you, Sylvia and Barbara would like to stay for lunch you are more than welcome. I believe that Hildy has made more than enough."
Barbara came into the kitchen as I was making the offer to Joyce. She said, "Thank you so much for the offer, but I have to get back to the office. I have one more interview to do this afternoon."
As I escorted the ladies to the door, Barbara turned to me and said, "Thank you for your support during the interview. Without you displaying your genuine support and affection for Joel, I'm sure that the interview would have been much longer and not as productive. I've got enough information on the tape to charge Mr. Andersen with numerous crimes up to and including premeditated murder. That boy is very remarkable. I can see why you are so attached to him. I don't know many adults who would sacrifice themselves to protect the ones they love like he did. His brothers are very lucky to have him around."
"I am lucky, too. Just having them around has changed my life for the better," I said.
"Thank you for being so gentle with him in the interview. He is more fragile than he shows. His psychiatrist says that he will need psychological support for some time," I said taking her extended hand and shaking it.
"She is a very good looking woman," I thought to myself still holding her hand. All too soon she gave her hand a tug reminding me that I still had it in my grasp. I hadn't noticed before but she was not wearing a wedding ring. "Hmm."
I activated the gate to let them out before stepping outside. I watched them all the way down the lane and off the property.
As I entered the front door I was met by Hildy. She walked up to me, put her arms around and gave me a hug.
"Thank you for standing up to her and not letting her take our boys away. They deserve the opportunity that you can give them. They also need to feel safe. They can here," she said giving me another hug.