Johnny Zera, part 3

This is part 3 of Johnny Zera.  Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first!

The next major suspect in the case wouldn’t come until 2009. 

Daniel Acker was a swim coach at the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department.  An unhappy parent had reported him to his boss for showering with the male swimmers after practice. 


Daniel Acker, 2009

Just two weeks later a man called Acker’s boss.  The man told him that he needed to know he had hired a pedophile.  The man told Acker’s boss that he had been molested by Acker when he was 12.  That was 30 years ago.

Acker’s boss reported him to the police.

Acker was brought in to the police station.  He was chatty with police offices and agreed to let them search his home. 

In the basement of Acker’s home the police found model cars and scale buildings.  When the police officers removed the roof of Acker’s miniature police station there were photos on the walls.  Each photo was of a missing or murdered child.


Scale Police Station Model in Acker’s Basement

Acker had written numbers and names on the bottoms of the model cars.  One said “14 John C Zera”.  He told police that he did this to honor the victims.  He dedicated his hobby to boys that couldn’t have hobbies anymore.

Zera matchbox cars

Model car with Johnny’s name in Acker’s Basement

The police also found photos and a journal written about Johnny’s murder.  They found maps of the area that had been searched after Johnny’s disappearance.  The journal was 173 pages long and began immediately after Johnny’s disappearance and continued for the next 30 years.


In 1973 Acker was kicked out of his apartment because he was partying with underage boys.  Shortly after that, the mother of a teenage boy called the police saying that Acker had asked her son to pose naked for a photo.  Acker denied the allegation and the case was closed.

1n 1974 Acker was invited back to his old apartment if he promised that he would not bring teenage boys into his home.  When boys were seen at the apartment a short time later, his landlord called the police.  Again, the case was closed on Acker after the police monitored his home for several days and came up with nothing.

Acker had been questioned by police in 1976 and had been part of a search party in the park where Johnny was later found.  He was even seen by a police officer in the exact location where Johnny was found the day after his discovery.  He passed a polygraph test and was removed from the suspect list.


Acker in the 1970s

2 months after Johnny’s murder Acker accused a patient in the mental health facility where he worked of killing Johnny.  The police did not believe him.  This is what Acker said spurred his personal investigation into Johnny’s murder and led him to start keeping the journal.


Acker wrote Johnny’s mother and father and told them about the patient.  Johnny’s mother wrote to Acker several times and the two became friends.

The patient was shown a photo of Johnny.  He said that he had never seen him before.  His doctors at the mental health facility said that he had the brain function of an 8 year old.


Some investigation into the case uncovered 3 additional victims of Acker’s from the 1970s and the police suspected that he had committed over 100 assaults in the past 30 years.  One of Acker’s current victims came forward.  He was a 19 year old male who said that he had begun sleeping with Acker when he was 15 and that they were still together.

Acker had worked as a swim coach and lifeguard.  He had also worked for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex and Child/Adolescent Treatment Center.

Acker confessed to having a relationship with the 19 year old when he was a minor and to more than 20 additional assaults on underage boys.  He pled no contest to 2 counts of second-degree sexual assault in 2009 and is serving a 20 year sentence in Osh Kosh State Prison.


Osh Kosh State Prison

He has never confessed to having anything to do with the death of Johnny Zera.

 A video summary of this story:



 Photo Credits:

Daniel Acker 2009-

Model Police Station-

Model Car-

Daniel Acker 1970s-

Journal and Photos-

Osh Kosh State Prison-


Johnny Zera, part 2

This is part 2 of Johnny Zera.  Be sure to read part 1 first!


Even before the news came out that the lead detective in Johnny’s case had claimed an innocent man as a suspect so that he could spend time with his mistress, other careless and negligent mistakes were made in the case.

In July 1977 a file containing information about Johnny’s case was found in the basement of a private residence by the new tenants.  The file was supposed to have been delivered to the district attorney’s office.  It had been in the possession of the head of the Glendale, Wisconsin crime lab.  He had given the file to a friend of an investigator for the district attorney’s office.  Then the investigator and his friend got into an argument and the friend decided to keep the file.  He left it in the basement of his home where it was found after he moved out.


The next suspect in the case was a substitute teacher at Franklin High School.

Johnny-Zera-Michael-Uporsky-Substitute-Teacher - Copy

Michael Uporsky

Michael Uporsky was also a hall monitor and girls’ basketball coach.  He also taught swim lessons at the school.  When questioned the first time, Uporsky said that he was on his lunch break at the time that Johnny went missing.  No one at the school could remembered seeing Uporsky during lunch and students reported that he had been 10 minutes late to his class after lunch.

Uporsky said that he hadn’t seen Johnny on the day of his disappearance, but he remembered an interaction with Johnny the week before.  Johnny had attended a swim lesson at the school but didn’t want to get in the pool.  Johnny never told him why we was anxious about getting in the water.  Uporsky admitted to knowing Johnny’s brother, Mark, because he was more active in athletics at Franklin High School.


Franklin High School

In 1978 an anonymous tip came into the Franklin police department that Uporsky had made sexual advances on a young man in a hotel room.  The caller suggested that Uporsky be looked into for the murder of Johnny.

Uporsky had a checkered past and a foot fetish.  At 12 years old Uporsky was accused of removing the shoes of a 6 year old’s feet after luring him into his home with the promise of playing with a puppy.

At 14 years old, Uporsky assaulted a 12 year old boy and attacked his feet.  For this offence he was charged and sent to a mental health facility.  Despite this, he would be accused of forcing a 9 year old boy to the ground and removing his shoes less than a year later.

At 22 he would attack 3 more boys 12-18 years old.  These arrest would send him back to treatment.

People would note that Johnny was found with barefeet.


Evidence photo, Johnny’s clothes

Uporsky responded to the accusations of his involvement in Johnny’s death by admitting that he had been arrested in the past, but that his prior assaults had been non-violent and non-sexual.  He also told police that he was not a “rational heterosexual man.” [1]

By 1979 Uporsky had left Franklin High School and was now a scout for the NBA team, the Seattle SuperSonics.


Seattle SuperSonics, after winning the NBA championship. Uporsky is third from the right (in the green jumpsuit)

He was asked to come to Franklin.  While there, he took 2 lie detector tests.  During the first test, the administrator noted that Uporsky was gulping air.  He advised Uporsky to breathe slowly because his quick breaths could cause an incorrect reading.  He would later report that he believed that Uporsky was deliberately trying to alter his results.  This first test was deemed inconclusive.

The second test showed that he was being dishonest about being involved in Johnny’s murder.

That year several of the boys that Uporsky worked with at Franklin High School claimed that he roughhoused with them and often tickled their feet, but none of them had come forward at the time of any of the incidents.

All the evidence against him was substantial and the police could not hold him.

The SuperSonics won the 1979 NBA championship and, shortly after that, Uporsky was fired.

Investigators in the case kept track of Uporsky’s movements for years after this.  Whenever he would apply for a new job or begin dating a new woman, they would be contacted and informed of Uporsky’s sketchy past and involvement in a murder investigation.

One of Uporsky’s girlfriends was convinced by detectives that he was only dating her to get to her son.  She allowed police officers to eavesdrop from another room while she questioned Uporsky about Johnny’s murder.

Uporsky is now living a relatively quiet life.  Last making the news in 2013 when he lost his 1979 championship ring on the beach while walking his dog.


Uporsky’s Lost Championship Ring

Next week, we will discuss another suspect in this case.

A video summary of this story:






Johnny Zera (part 1)

February 20, 1976 in Franklin, Wisconsin…


Franklin, Wisconsin

John and Janice Zera and their sons had been living in the small town of Franklin for less than a year.  They had moved from Milwaukee.  Phil, Johnny and Mark were 13, 14 and 15 years old.


Johnny Zera

The two older boys went to Franklin High School.


Franklin High School

Most of the students there had gone to school together all their lives.  Johnny and Mark hadn’t really found their crowd yet, but the boys hung out with one another, and their little brother, often playing in the woods by their house.

On February 20, 1976 Johnny ate lunch and then went to study hall.  What happened next depends on who you ask.

Everyone agreed that Johnny asked the teacher for a hall pass.  After he left the classroom, some students said that they saw him walk out the front door of the school and get into a Ford Torino.


1970 Ford Torino

Other students say that he was skipping class in the school lobby.  His next class was Drafting and some students said that they saw him outside of the Drafting Room, but he did not attend the class that day.

After school Mark walked home alone.  It was unusual for Johnny not to come home right after school, and even more unusual for him to not tell anyone where he had gone.  His parents were worried and called the police.  They told John and Janice that Johnny was probably fine and to wait.  He would be home soon.

When Johnny had not returned that evening, John took Mark and went looking for Johnny.  Janice spent her evening on the phone with everyone she knew in the small town asking if they had seen Johnny.

Around dark it started to snow so John and Mark returned home.

The next day was Saturday, but the principal agreed to meet John and Mark at the school.  They asked to look in Johnny’s locker.  In it they found his school books and his green winter coat.  The three men became even more concerned after finding Johnny’s coat and called the police again.

A search for Johnny commenced and the police began interviewing anyone that may have seen Johnny that day.  For a little while the police focused on Mark, but soon realized that he really didn’t know where Johnny was.

The Zera home was base for the searchers who included cops, a snowmobile club, friends and relatives.  Even a psychic showed up to offer services.


February 28, 1976 in Whitnall Park…

Whitnall Park is a park located across the border of Franklin and Hales Corners, Wisconsin.  There is an entrance to the park 5 miles from Franklin High School and 8 miles away from the Zera home.  A group of teenagers were exploring the woods when they discovered Johnny’s body.  He was naked and laying facedown with his head resting on a log.  It appeared to police officers that Johnny had not put up a struggle and that his body had not been dragged to that location.  They found Johnny’s clothes 20 feet away.  They found a white tshirt, jeans, boxers and his shoes with his socks inside.  They also found his hall pass and a pen and pencil.


Evidence photo, Johnny’s clothes

Oddly, they found that someone had written “hell” on Johnny’s wrist.

Police officers also found a rock with blood and hair on it.  They believed that this is what the killer had used to murder Johnny.

Because the park is located in 2 different cities, there was a debate over which police department would handle the case.  Johnny’s body was found in Hales Corners, but his missing person’s report had been filed in Franklin.  In the end, Hales Corners would take the case.


Hales Corners, Wisconsin

Hales Corners Police Department was the smallest police department in the state and there had only been one murder in Hales Corners since the 1950s.  A man killed his wife and was found waiting outside the police station for officers to arrive the next morning so that he could turn himself in.

When this case turned out to be more than they could handle, they asked for help from the Milwaukee FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Over 1000 people were interviewed in Johnny’s case, but the killer was never found.


Johnny’s autopsy reported that  semen was found on the body and there was indication that he had been sodomized multiple times before his death.  (Possibly for weeks or months prior.)  His time of death was reported as 1 or 2pm.

An FBI profiler gave a description of the possible suspect.  His profile included “sadistic male homosexual,” “Bi-sexual,” “Psychopathic behavior when it comes to sex,” “Peculiar sexual demands of females,” “Wife or girlfriend has left him,” “Strong religious background,” “Average intelligence or below average,” “has had relations with boy before,” “18-50 years old,” “60-70% of buggery committed by family members,” “Outgoing, makes a lot of noise” and “Heavy drinker” [1]

Despite the biased and opinionated nature of the profile, police began to question suspects that they believed fit.  They even went so far as to go around town asking if people knew anyone that might be gay.


The first suspect that police officers focused on was a construction worker who was doing some work at the high school at the time of Johnny’s murder.  When questioned, he originally told police that he had worked on a roof in a different location that day.  Upon investigation, police discovered that he had worked on the roof the day before Johnny went missing and he had been off on February 20, 1976.

Later the construction worker, whose name has never been released because he was never charged with any crime, was able to provide proof that he had been at the doctor the afternoon of Johnny’s disappearance, but could not account for his whereabouts that morning.

The construction worker showed signs of mental instability in his interviews with police.  He claimed that his girlfriend was psychic and could read his mind.  He claimed that he could control the actions of animals.  At one point he choked on his cigarette.  He said that someone was using the cigarette as mind control.

The construction worker denied killing Johnny and a polygraph showed that he was telling the truth.  Despite this, he remained a suspect in the murder for two years.


It was later determined that a detective on the case was having an affair with a friend of the construction worker.  He had used the investigation as an excuse to spend time with this woman.  The detective was suspended for two months without pay.


Next week, we will discuss another suspect in this case.

A video summary of this story:


Sources: [1]–where-do-we-start-b99541079z1-344852602.html–where-do-we-start-b99541079z1-344852602.html/


Photo Credits:

Franklin, Wisconsin-

Johnny Zera-

Franklin High School-

Ford Torino-

Evidence Picture-

Hales Corners-

Lina Medina

Warning:  This post is about a small child who was sexually abused and there is a photo that some may be sensitive to.  Please skip this article if you are particularly sensitive to this subject matter.  Thank you for visiting

September 23, 1933 in Ticrapo, Peru…


Ticrapo, Peru

Lina Medina was born to Tiburelo Medina and Victoria Losea.  She was the 8th of 9 children.  In April 1939 when Lina was just 5 years old she was taken through the mountains from her tiny Peruvian village to the town of Pisco.  The family didn’t leave their town for just any reason.  The journey was too perilous for that.  It was 4 hours by horse across mountain trails to get to the road where the family could get in a vehicle that would take them the rest of the way to Pisco.

But this trip was necessary as Lina’s mother had begged her husband for 3 months to take Lina to the doctor in Pisco.  Her daughter was sick and the family feared she had malaria.  When Lina’s stomach began to grow exponentially, her parents feared that she had a tumor.

Warning:  Some readers may find the following image disturbing.


Lina Medina

Lina, Tiburelo and one of Lina’s brothers arrived at the office of Dr. Geraldo Lozada.  He examined Lina.  This was a very special case.  When Senora de Benavides, the president’s wife, heard Lina’s story she sent the head of surgery of the hospital in Lima to examine Lina.  From there, Lina and Dr. Lozada were taken to Lima.

Lina did not have a tumor.  She was pregnant.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital in Lima, Lina developed a fever and could no longer walk.  Lina gave birth by c-section to a 5 pound baby boy.  At 5 years, seven months and 21 days old, Lina was the youngest person in history to ever give birth.


Lina Medina, her son and a nurse

How could this happen?  It seems that Lina was born with a rare condition called precocious puberty.  This means that she went through puberty at an extremely young age.  The average age for a girl to start going through puberty is about 10.  It was reported that Lina experienced her first menstrual cycle at approximately 2 ½ years old.  Lina had fully developed breast and sexual organs.

Tiburelo was arrested for rape and incest, but was later released because there was no evidence that he had committed any crime.  There is speculation the Lina’s uncle fathered her child or that she was raped during a festival in her village.  Lina has never revealed who was the father of her child.

Lina named her child Gerardo (after Dr. Lozada) and the two grew up as brother and sister.  It was finally revealed to Gerardo that Lina was his mother when he was 10 years old.


Lina Medina with her son and Dr. Lozada

Lina grew up and went to work for Dr. Lozada who helped both Lina and Gerardo to pay for school.  Lina married Raul Jurado in 1972.  The couple had a son in the same year.  He was 33 years younger than his brother.


Lina Medina with her husband, Raul Jurado

Gerardo died in 1979 from bone marrow disease.  Lina and her youngest son are still alive.  It was reported that she lives out her life in poverty in a small village in Peru.  She and her family refused the spotlight and never profited from her miraculous birth.


Lina Medina in 2015


A video summary of this story:




Photo Credits:

Ticrapo, Peru-

Lina Medina-

Lina with nurse and son- https://www

Lina with her son and Dr. Lozada-

Lina with her husband-

Lina in 2015-

Ursula and Sabina Eriksson

In 2008 Ursula Eriksson lived in the US and her twin sister, Sabina, lived in Ireland with her husband and 2 children.


Sabina Eriksson

Ursula came to visit her sister May 16, 2008.  The two left for Liverpool, England by ferry early the next morning without telling anyone where they were going.  When they arrived in Liverpool, the two women headed to the St. Anne Police Station and reported that Sabina was worried about her children’s safety, despite the fact that she left them behind in Ireland with her husband.

After leaving the police station, the ladies boarded a bus to London.  They refused to check their bags and sat in their seats hugging their bags to their chests.  When the driver stopped at Keele Services (a mechanic shop in Staffordshire), he asked the sisters to exit the bus because he was suspicious of their odd behavior.


Keele Services

The manager at Keele Services reported the twins to police saying that they may have had bombs in their bags.  Police interviewed Ursula and Sabina but did not deem them a threat and they were allowed to leave the service station with no further intervention.  Keele Services is right next to the M6.


London’s M6 Motorway

Police were shortly after called to the area because two women were walking along the center median and dodging in and out of traffic.  A film crew for the television show “Motorway Cops” [1] (similar to America’s “Cops”) went with police officers to the M6 (England’s longest motorway and it contains the oldest section of highway in the country [2]).  There is no way they could have prepared for what happened next…

The police caught up with the women on the side of the highway and were talking to them.  While cameras rolled, Ursula broke away from officers and headed straight for the side of a semi truck.  Officers tried to stop her, pulling off her jacket, but she got away and was run over by the truck.


Police officer trying to contain Ursula, Sabina is standing left in the red coat

While police were attending to Ursula, Sabina ran into the path of a Volkswagen, rolled over the top of the car breaking the windshield.


Sabina after being hit by the Volkswagen

Ursula’s legs had been crushed by the wheels of the truck and Sabina lay in the third lane of traffic.  Back up and ambulances were called while the women were covered and attended to by police officers and passersby.  Ursula began to try to get up and asked for police assistance.  Officers told her, “We’re police, we’re here to help.”  She responded, “I know you’re not real,” and spit on an officer [3].  Shortly after, Sabina jumped to her feet and ran away.  She punched a female police officer who tried to contain her.  Sabina crossed the center median and ran into traffic moving the opposite direction.  She removed her jacket and was screaming at officers, “They’re going to steal your organs!” [4]


Traffic that day on the M6

It took 6 police officers and civilians to wrangle Sabina back across the median where she was forced to the ground and she was handcuffed.


Sabina being handcuffed

Both sisters were loaded into ambulances and taken to the Emergency Room.

Police searched the women’s belongings and found multiple cell phones in their bags.

Ursula was taken in for emergency surgery to repair her crushed legs and was held in the hospital for weeks while she recovered.

Sabina was treated and released from the hospital 5 hours later and taken into police custody.  Upon her arrival at the police station, Sabina was calm.  She made conversation and joked with police officers.  She did make one statement that officers took note of, “We say in Sweden that an accident rarely comes alone.  Usually at least one more follows-maybe two.” [3]

The twins tested negative for drugs and none were found in their possession.  Sabina did not once inquire about the well-being of her sister while in custody.  She was charged with assault of a police officer and trespassing onto a motorway.  (Ursula was never charged with anything.)  The police called Sabina’s husband in the US who said that he had no idea where she was or why she left.

Sabina was sentenced to 1 day in jail for trespassing on the motorway but was released because she had already served that much time.  Later that day Sabina approached two men walking a dog.  She asked them if they could direct her to a bed and breakfast.  One of the men, Glenn Hollinshead, was a 54 year old paramedic.


Glenn Hollinshead

He invited Sabina to stay with him.  Sabina, Hollinshead and Peter Molloy returned to Hollinshead’s home where Sabina told the men that her sister was in the hospital and she needed to find her.  Hollinshead agreed to help her.  The three sat around drinking until Sabina offered the two men cigarettes.  Before they could light them, she snatched them away saying they were poisoned.  Molloy stated that Sabina was nervous and aggressive.  He was bothered by her odd behavior and left Hollinshead’s house.

The next morning, Hollinshead made good on his promise to help Sabina find her sister.  He called the local hospitals asking for Ursula.  He then went to his neighbor, Frank Booth, and asked to borrow some tea.  The neighbor promised to bring the teabags by when he had finished in the yard.  Moments later, Booth saw Hollinshead stumble out of his house and hears him say, “She stabbed me.” [3]  He had been stabbed 5 times.  He died from his injuries.

Sabina was seen leaving Hollinshead’s home with a hammer.  She began beating herself in the head with it.  She was seen by a passing motorist, Joshua Grattage, who tried to stop her.  Sabina pulled a roof tile from her pocket and hit Grattage in the head with it.  The paramedics who had been called to Hollinshead’s house saw Sabina with the hammer.

Sabina ran to a nearby bridge and jumped from it.  She fell 40 feet and landed on the A50 (another roadway).


Bridge over the A50

She was taken to the hospital with broken bones.  She was arrested on June 6th, 2008 and charged with murder on September 11, 2008 (the day she was released from the hospital).

Sabina plead guilty to manslaughter with diminished responsibility.  She refused to answer any questions asked by the police or in court.  The prosecution and defense agreed that Sabina was insane at the time of Hollinshead’s stabbing but was fit for trial.

She was sentenced to 5 years in prison on September 2, 2010.  She had spent over a year in prison before sentencing and was credited for time served.  She was released from prison in 2011 and returned to her husband and children in Ireland.

Upon her release from the hospital, Ursula returned to the US.


There is a common theory to explain the events on the M6 that day:  folie à deux.  Folie à deux is also called Shared Psychotic Disorder.  This is when two people share delusions.  There is typically a primary sufferer and a shared partner.  It is found most often in female siblings.

This diagnosis was the reason for Sabina’s short jail term.  The judge acknowledged that the sentence did not make up for the loss of Hollinshead’s life and was sympathetic to the grief of his family and friends.

The film from the reality show was made into a movie called “Madness in the Fast Lane.”  It can be viewed here:

A video summary of this story:

Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]


Photo credits:

Sabina Eriksson-

Keele Services-


Ursula running-

Sabina in roadway-

M6 traffic-

Sabina being handcuffed-

Glenn Hollinshead-

A50 Bridge-






Genie, The Feral Child (part 3)

This is part 3 of Genie the Feral Child.  Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first!

Genie was admitted to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in November of 1970 and lived there until June 1971.  In this time, Genie was growing, developing and building relationships with the scientists and hospital staff studying her.

Jean Butler, one of Genie’s teachers at the hospital, asked (and was granted permission) to take Genie to her house for the day several times per month.  On one of these trips, in late June 1971, Butler informed the hospital that she and Genie had been exposed to rubella (German Measles).  She claimed that the two of them would need to stay at her home, away from others, during the contagious period.

There was speculation that Butler fabricated this story to gain more permanent custody of Genie, but, if the statement was true, Butler’s home was a better area to quarantine Genie than the isolation ward at the hospital.  They were concerned that without continued therapy and training, Genie would begin to regress.

Butler was not married and had no children of her own.  She later attempted to become a foster parent to Genie and was awarded temporary custody of her while the matter was being settled in court.  The hospital was adamantly opposed to this arrangement.

While in Butler’s care, Genie began going through puberty.  According to many studies, this time period marks the upper limits of significant language learning in most children.

Butler became interested in Genie’s hoarding behavior, noting that Genie now filled the plastic containers that she liked so much with liquid and stored them in her room.

Butler also addressed Genie’s fear of dogs during this time.  She was given a toy dog and was shown the TV show Lassie.  Genie would learn to accept dogs that were contained (behind a fence), but could not tolerate cats at all.

While living with Butler, Genie stopped self-harming and began to talk out her frustration or destroy objects.  Genie began to learn and use new words more frequently and no longer needed a diaper.  But Butler also began to deny visits to the scientists studying Genie (whom she called the “Genie Team [1]).  James Kent and Susan Curtiss were denied access to Genie altogether.


Susan Curtiss

There was no denying that Genie had progressed well in Butler’s care and most scientists believed that she meant well for Genie, but she was preventing them from doing the work prescribed by the grant they had received.

There were accusations that Butler was difficult to deal with, had issues with authority and some, including Curtiss, claimed that Butler’s main drive was fame.  Curtiss claimed that she heard Butler say that Genie would make her “the next Anne Sullivan [1]” (a reference to the teacher that worked so closely with Helen Keller to teach her to communicate).

In August 1970, Butler’s application to foster Genie was denied.  This could have been, in part, because Butler was an employee of the hospital in which Genie was receiving care.  Hospital policy was clear in saying that hospital staff could not foster patients.  Butler stated that Genie was extremely upset when she was told that she would not be staying with Butler.


It was suggested that Genie could go live with David Rigler and his wife, Marilyn.  David had originally applied for and received the grant to study Genie.  The Riglers had three children already and Marilyn had previous experience working with children.  David was concerned that living with Genie would conflict with his working relationship with her, but the couple agreed that, if no other living arrangements could be made, that Genie could come live with them.  The hospital agreed that this was the best option for Genie at the time.


Genie with David Rigler

The Riglers originally agreed to keep Genie for no more than 3 months.  Marilyn taught Genie while David took over as her therapist.  The research team was able to more closely work with Genie while in the Rigler home than in Butler’s.

Upon Genie’s arrival at the Riglers’, she began to require the use of a diaper again.  The initial observations of the Riglers were in stark contrast to what Butler had reported.  They noted that Genie still regularly self-harmed and was easily triggered to do so.  They noticed that she was much less talkative than Butler reported.  She was hesitant to speak and, when she did, rarely said more than one word.  Unless she was scared, she would often take a long time (several minutes) to respond physically or vocally to a situation.  She still did not respond to extreme temperatures and was still very impulsive.

Marilyn noticed that Genie liked when people told her that she was pretty.  She was able to convince Genie to vocalize her frustration, instead of self-harming, by telling her that she wasn’t as pretty when she left marks on herself.


Genie with Marilyn Rigler

Eventually, Genie was able to control herself enough to attend a public school for the mentally handicapped where she interacted with children her own age.  At home, she learned to iron, sew and make herself food.  Genie learned to share and began to show an understanding of right and wrong.

During the time that Genie lived with Butler, Dorothy had surgery to fix the cataracts in her eyes and was finally able to see.  She came to visit Genie weekly during her stay with the Riglers.  They began to bond, but there was some tension between Dorothy and Marilyn as the women felt they were both trying to occupy the same role in Genie’s life.  Dorothy was skeptical of the scientists working with Genie, while there was underlying resentment of Dorothy from them because she had so badly neglected Genie in the first place.  David, in particular, thought that Dorothy was in denial of the damage she had caused her daughter.

Butler remained in contact with Dorothy during Genie’s stay with the Riglers.  She steadily convinced Dorothy that the team was not looking after Genie’s best interest and caused further friction between Dorothy and the scientists.

Despite their initial agreement of 3 months, Genie lived with the Riglers for 4 years.  She continued to grow physically and emotionally.  She still lacked many basic social skills, but seemed very happy during this time.


By 1975, despite only understanding approximately 25 words when she first came to the hospital, Genie could now identify most of the objects around her.  She clearly understood what was being said to her, even if she refused to use the word herself.  Sentence construction and grammar were Genie’s biggest hurdle.  She could imitate correct speech, but could not produce sentences with proper structure and mostly spoke in broken sentences.  Scientists were beginning to understand how the brain compartmentalized what words a person knows from their ability to use them in conversation.

One example of Genie’s issues with speech was here confusion between “you” and “me.”  She would say you while pointing at herself.  Scientist attributed some of this to her inability to tell the difference between herself and others.

Genie learned about money and had an intense desire to earn it.  She began responding to activities that would lead to her earning a reward.  Despite all her accomplishments, scientist discovered that people who had not acquired a first language before a certain period, would never fully learn one.

Despite this, they did learn that Genie could talk about the things that happened to her before she learned to talk.  Genie would say things like, “Father hit big stick” and “Father is angry” [1].  It took Genie a while to understand the concept of death and, for a long time, she was afraid that her father would find her.

Genie was able to express the things she could not say with hand movements and by drawing pictures.  She was particularly apt to draw things that scared her.  Towards the end of her stay with the Riglers, Genie began to learn sign language.


Genie turned 18 in 1975.  This would mark a turning point in Genie’s life.  Dorothy decided that she would like to care for Genie herself.  The Riglers agreed and Genie was returned to her mother to live in the home in which she grew up.  At this same time, the grant that funded the research done on Genie ended and was not renewed.


Genie with Dorothy

Genie only lived with Dorothy a few months before she became too much for her mother to handle and was turned over to the California Department of Health.  The Riglers stated that they were unaware of this.  Genie was put in a foster home at the end of 1975.


Genie’s new home did not allow her mother regular visits and was far less accommodating than the Rigler or Butler homes.  While in the care of her new foster parents, Genie was abused physically and emotionally.  She began to require the use of a diaper again.  Genie refused to speak, or even open her mouth, after she was beaten for throwing up.  Curtiss continued to meet with Genie once a week and pushed to have Genie removed from her new foster home after seeing the decline in her language and physical well-being.  Genie remained in the care of these foster parents for almost 2 years.

Genie returned to the Children’s Hospital in 1977.  She rehabilitated there for two weeks before being placed in another new foster home where she remained for less than a year.  Genie was placed in yet another foster home in January of 1978.

Genie was confused by all the moving around and believed that she wasn’t good enough to have a permanent home.  She continued to deteriorate during this time.

In 1976 A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day “Wild Child” was published by Curtiss.  Dorothy took offense to the title and contents of the paper.  Dorothy brought a lawsuit against Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the doctors and scientists that worked with Genie.  She stated that they had breached confidentiality agreements and had prioritized testing over Genie’s general well-being.

Rigler and Dorothy’s lawyers went on to say that Butler had encouraged Dorothy to file the lawsuit.  The case was dismissed.

Curtis met with Genie one last time on January 3, 1978 before Dorothy cut all ties between Genie and Curtiss and halted all research and testing on her daughter.  Butler remained in contact with Dorothy and reported on Genie’s condition until a stroke in 1986.  She died in 1988.


Genie lived in a series of foster homes and hospitals from 1978 until the 1990s.  She experienced severe abuse during this time.  In 1984, when Genie was 27, she had a birthday party.  One of the scientists that worked with Genie was in attendance.  He saw her again two years later.  He reported that both times Genie did not speak and seemed very unhappy.

Genie spent 1992 in a state-run hospital and only saw her mother, who had lost her vision again, once a month.

In 1993, Genie seemed to be in a better situation, in a supportive foster situation with regular visits from her mother.  She began speaking more and seemed much happier.  The Riglers, by then, had begun speaking with Genie and her mother again.  Upon seeing Genie again for the first time, she was happy to see them.


It is assumed that Genie is sill alive and living in Los Angeles in the care of the state of California.  Her last possible sighting was in 2000 by a private investigator hired to check on her current situation.  She was living in a center for mentally handicapped adults and seemed to be doing well.  She did not speak much, but was communicating via sign language.


Genie with Dorothy

Dorothy died at 87.  John Wiley, Genie’s brother, has only ever spoken out about himself and his family one time in 2008.  He said that he had not seen Genie or his mother since 1982 and did not keep up with the media concerning the case.  He said that he had heard that Genie was doing well.  John died in 2011.


Genie’s Brother, John Wiley


A video summary of this story:

Sources: [1]

**Please note: I would not normally use Wikipedia as a source, but this article, in my extended research, is incredibly accurate, well-written and extensive.  The writer of this article had access to resources not available to the general public.  I feel confident in the information taken from this article for its use in this blog post.


Photo Credits:

Susan Curtiss-

Genie with David Rigler-

Genie with Marilyn Rigler-

Genie with Dorothy-

Genie with Dorothy (2)-

John Wiley-

Genie, the Feral Child (part 2)

This is part 2 of Genie the Feral Child.  Be sure to read part 1 first!


When Genie arrived at the hospital, she was examined by Dr. James Kent.  She was 4’6” and weighed only 59 pounds.  She had 2 full sets of teeth.  Her body was damaged by the restraints used to keep her immobile.  Her vision was not impaired but she could not focus on objects more than 10 feet away.  This would equate to the size of the room she had been kept in.


Genie’s Room

She hunched over when she stood and could not extend her arms and legs.  She got tired very easily.  The doctors called her movement a “bunny walk” because she bent her arms and held her hands in front of her chest when she walked. [1]  This indicated to the doctors that she was using her hands to test the area around her as she was unable to connect what she was seeing with what might touch her.


Genie, nurses called this her “bunny walk”

Her fine motor skills were equivalent to those of a 2 year old.  She could not chew or swallow food.  She required the use of a diaper and showed no recognition of very hot or very cold temperatures.

She was very interested in discovering new items.  Early on, she did not seem to be able to tell the difference between people.  This included her mother and brother.  When she heard a new sound, she would search for its source.

The doctors learned that Genie was extremely frightened by dogs and cats.  It would be years before Dorothy would reveal that Clark would bark at Genie when he beat her or when she was making noise in her room.  No one would ever know the reason for this behavior.

She did not like to touch people and did not like to be touched.  Genie continuously drooled, spat, sniffed and blew her nose on anything close.  She would take things from other people if she wanted them.  She was impulsive.



When she was upset, Genie would violently self-harm, but did so silently and with a straight-face.  The only noise she would make during these outbursts were with items around her; scraping a chair across the ground, for example.  These tantrums often seemed to happen without reason or source of her frustration or anger.  They could only be stopped by turning her attention to something else or when she was too tired to continue hurting herself.

Genie’s lack of language is what most intrigued scientists that studied her.  She was 13 years old and only seemed to understand about 25 words.  The majority of these words, they assumed, she had acquired since she had been brought to the hospital.  The language centers of her brain acquired new words so it was determined that she simply had never developed a first language.

Doctors and scientists remain divided on whether or not Genie was mentally disabled.

In the care of the doctors, Genie began to progress.  She gained weight, she could see better and she was growing, but some new characteristics began to emerge.  She began hoarding items that she liked.  If anyone touched these objects, it would agitate her.  The things that she hoarded didn’t tend to be traditional toys.  Genie was drawn to colorful plastic items.  Her favorite thing to collect were buckets, but she would play with any ordinary plastic container.  Early in her stay, she would stop throwing a tantrum if she were given a plastic container.

Genie was responding to verbal and non-verbal communication and had a group of adults that she preferred and socialized with.  She was responding well to communications, but was still almost completely non-verbal.  Once the charges against her mother were dropped, Dorothy began visiting regularly.  The two began to build a relationship.



Genie developed an interesting coping mechanism as her stay in the hospital wore on.  She would destroy things after she played with them.  She also liked to watch others destroy her toys when she was done with them.  These actions seemed to calm her.  She also became fascinated with watching people play the piano.  She was able to identify the books that contained the songs that she liked.  She would trade out the music being played for one that she liked more.

About a month into her stay, Dr. Kent was given a grant to study Genie.  In January 1971, the formal, funded, studies of Genie began.

Dr. Jack Block and his wife, Jeanne, were some of the first to evaluate Genie.  They discovered that she showed normal 12 to 13 year old growth and development in some skills, but only 2 to 3 year old development in others.  At this time, Genie had begun listening to the speech of others and mimicking the sounds that she heard.

Follow up tests done in April and May of 1971 showed a huge growth in Genie.  Her lower scoring skill sets were now at almost a 5 year old level.  Her ability to categorize objects and situations was exceptional and she showed skills above her actual age.



Genie was even able to vocalize fear and seek comfort at this point.  She did so, for the first time, when an earthquake hit and she sought comfort in the hospital kitchen.

Genie did not like crowds and had to miss part of her birthday party because there were too many people in attendance.  When in a smaller group setting, Genie began to give and receive hugs.

Despite the great amount of growth that she exhibited, in April 1971, Genie attacked another young female patient.  She thought the girl was wearing a gown that belonged to her.  It was the first time that doctors had ever seen Genie express frustration physically to harm someone other than herself.

The brain testing done that year, and in subsequent years, would show that depriving Genie of language had severely damaged the development of the left hemisphere of her brain.  That is where her language center was housed.  The right hemisphere of her brain seemed much more developed and dominant.  This side controlled her vision and touch.  Even in her isolation, she was able to develop these skills much more than language.

Testing showed that Genie could hear with both ears, her hearing was much more acute to language with her left ear.   She could identify non-language sounds equally, and well, with both ears.

In May 1971, Susan Curtiss joined the team working with Genie.  Curtiss focused on befriending and getting to know Genie before, she believed, any measurable work could be done.

At this time, about a year and a half after her first test, Genie scored up to 8 years old on skills that, earlier, she had scored at 2 years old.  She was much healthier than when she was discovered and she did not tire as quickly as before.  There was concern that she was not socializing with children her own age and she still lacked basic social skills.

In mid-1971, Genie’s living arrangements would begin to change and she would leave the hospital for a series of foster homes.  We will explore this time in Genie’s life next week in part 3 of Genie the Feral Child.

A video summary of this story:

Sources: [1]

**Please note: I would not normally use Wikipedia as a source, but this article, in my extended research, is incredibly accurate, well-written and extensive.  The writer of this article had access to resources not available to the general public.  I feel confident in the information taken from this article for its use in this blog post.

Photo Credits:

Genie’s Room-

Genie’s Bunny Walk-–potty-chair-abandoned-asylums.jpg

Genie, Smiling-

Genie, Close Up-

Genie, with Hairpin-