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In his 1994 novel Down in the Zero, Andrew Vachss wrote the following:

I didn't react. Why would I want to see? This was coming too quick, secrets piled on secrets. When that happens, there's always a trade lurking close.

She got to her feet, walked out of the room. She was back in a minute, holding a slick–paper magazine with a black and white photo of a woman bending over on the cover—there was another person in the photo, but all you could see was the paddle in their hand. I stood up, joined her under the light. She thumbed through rapidly, looking for the ad. It was marked with a red ink star, hand–drawn. I held it close to read the small type:

Proverbs 13:24(!)

Next time your kid has a good one coming, make a full–size cassette of the chastisement and send it to me. I pay $50 for fifteen minutes, more for longer. Good sound quality a must. I travel frequently, with my own equipment. Write to make arrangements.

Only a P.O. box was listed, no name. A new kind of kiddie porn, legal too—I'd never heard of it before. Freaks carefully recording their own children getting whipped. To entertain other maggots. For money. I felt ice–picks of fire in my chest.

"Why did you show me this?" I asked her, my voice flat and level.

"Cherry told me. A long time ago. She said that's what you do."

"That ?"

"No. She said you ... hunt people like that...."


Eight years later, the news revealed in that novel finally made its way to the newspapers:

Porn fighters break ring of kid-spanking fetishists

By Naftali Bendavid
Originally published by Chicago Tribune, March 13, 2002


WASHINGTON -- Investigators are in the final stages of breaking up a ring of child-pornography enthusiasts in the United States and Canada who derived sexual pleasure from the severe spanking of children. Nine people already have pleaded guilty, including one in west suburban Chicago.

Members of the loose-knit group, which investigators have nicknamed "the Spanking Club," harshly beat children--often their own--with paddles, canes or other devices, and then exchanged videos of those spankings through the mail, officials said. The videos also featured close-ups of genitalia and other pornographic elements.

Those who investigate crimes against children say they cannot remember another such case, featuring an organized group focused on the pornography of spanking children. In all, authorities have removed 12 children ranging in age from 4 to 14 from their parents or guardians.


`Brutalizing' the young

"What we're talking about, it was not just a little paddling with the hand on a kid's backside," said Raymond Smith, a senior U.S. postal inspector who worked on the case. "They're using paddles, whips, canes and severely brutalizing these very young children, sometimes as young as 4 years old."

Some of the defendants have yet to be sentenced, and other arrests may be made. But whatever the final numbers, the case illustrates a phenomenon becoming increasingly known among law enforcement: that the Internet has made it much easier for child pornographers to find each other and create and exchange material in violation of the law.

Five years ago, the FBI created an initiative called Innocent Images, sending agents undercover to stop on-line child pornographers by, for example, entering chat rooms in the persona of girls. These agents opened 113 cases in 1996. That jumped to 1,541 last year.

In the spanking case, the pornographers sent videos through the mail because it is difficult to transmit a 90-minute video online. But they often communicated with each other on the Internet, authorities said.

Veteran investigators said that even by the disturbing standards of child pornography, the activities of the Spanking Club were chilling. The films did not involve ordinary spanking, but rather beatings, and they included a clearly sexual element.

"Any time children are brutally beaten, it's the most outrageous type of conduct that we have to deal with," said Michael Heimbach, chief of the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit. "It wrenches your heart. All the children's issues do, but when you see children being beaten on videos and their genitalia are being filmed, it's very, very disturbing."


Canada provided 1st break

Investigators' first break occurred in May 2000, when Canadian authorities intercepted a video mailed to an assistant school principal, David Wadsworth, and arrested him. He was carrying a phone bill that led investigators to David Patterson, a computer programmer in Dalton, Ga., who appeared to have been at the center of the ring.

A tape from Wadsworth's house showed Patterson "administering repeated spankings to four naked children, who cried out in pain during the prolonged beatings," said a prosecutor. Two of the children were Patterson's children, another was the child of a former wife, and the fourth was a family acquaintance, investigators said.

Patterson pleaded guilty and was sentenced last November to 10 years in prison. His ex-wife, Shirley Blaney, received 2 years.

More important from the investigators' perspective, Patterson agreed to cooperate, leading agents and inspectors to others involved in the group. Some of them beat children and made videos, while others simply trafficked in them.

There was Jim Nain, a railroad employee in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., in whose house agents found hairbrushes, a rattan cane and other items.


Teacher, nurse caught

There was Gordon Murray, an elementary school teacher in Brewton, Ala., who met Patterson through an ad in Domestic Discipline Digest.

There was Richard Roll, a male nurse and former scoutmaster from Jamestown, N.Y., who called his pornographic films "Rick Roll Videos."

And there was George Kelly of Lombard, Ill., who pleaded guilty last month to possession and distribution of child pornography. Kelly, 63, had been a volunteer Sunday school teacher at Christ the King Catholic Church in Lombard.

Kelly was creating spanking videos, investigators said, but they involved mannequins rather than children. During the search of his house, Kelly admitted to agents that he had manufactured and distributed simulated child pornography in exchange for "the real thing."

Kelly's sentencing is scheduled for April 19, and he faces a potential term of 70 to 87 months in prison.

Officials say they had to take down the organization quickly, rather than drawing out the investigation, because children were being abused. They do not believe there will be many other such cases, they said, because the group revolved around a relatively rare fetish.

Still, such people have a drive to get in touch with one another, and the Internet provides an easy way to do so, according to Smith, who heads the child exploitation unit at the Postal Inspection Service.

"They have a real innate need to communicate with others because deep down inside, they know what they're doing is wrong," Smith said. "But by communicating with each other and sharing experiences, it's a psychological support thing. It's a validation system. It makes them say, `See, I'm not so weird. There's a lot of other people out there that like the same thing as I do.'"

© Copyright 2002 Chicago Tribune

 


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