A HOUSE DIVIDED

A DAUGHTER'S ACCUSATIONS RIPPED THIS FAMILY APART.FAMILY PLOTS WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WAHRLES ISN'T A PRETTY PICTURE.

One of his fungus experiments proved deadly for Suzanne's pet mouse when it drank some of the slimy concoction.

Steven also began setting fires in what he claims was an attempt to burn off chemicals. Sharon eventually became so concerned that she took Steven to the fire department for a lecture on fire safety.

Steven would often boast about his experiments to friends and family, telling them that he was working on "recombinant genes" and that someday he'd win the Nobel prize. His therapist, Paul McClain, says Steven's experiments were an attempt to show that he was worthy. But Steven's lab work had just the opposite effect on his perfectionist father.

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"I like things that are nice and objective," Bob testified at his trial last May. "And, you know, if you make something, it should be nice and square or whatever. And [Steven] was into all these strange things, [and I'd tell him] `Get the slop out of the basement,' or, `What are you doing with that slime?' And you know, I didn't compliment him on making slime. To me, that was slime; to him it was something special, but to me it stunk up the basement.

"I knew he had problems," Bob continued, "but he didn't have the type of problems like somebody born without an arm. It wasn't quite so obvious. So after a number of events like the fire setting, you know, he was doing his experiments, I would tell him, `No, no, no.' And then it was, `What's wrong with you? Are you retarded or something?'"

When Steven was in the seventh grade at Dunstan Middle School, he became involved in the Science Olympiad, an after-school activity in which students test and build devices such as amphibious vehicles or bridges. The program was supervised by Steven's science teacher, Bruce Hogue. At the end of his eighth-grade year, Steven invited Suzanne to join. That, however, was less of a kindness than a practicality--his team would be penalized in the competition unless a girl took part, too.

Suzanne did well in the competition. The following summer, she participated in an astronomy program for high-potential students. From then on, her interest in science soared. When she was in eighth grade, her team won the state Science Olympiad, and she personally received eight medals.

Steven himself won a medal at the regional level, but it wasn't enough to win the respect of his sister. "Suzanne was constantly putting him down because he wasn't able to achieve what she had achieved," Sharon testified at a court hearing. And Steven, finding that he could not compete head-to-head with Suzanne, quit the Science Olympiad program.

While Steven turned his attention to Boy Scouts and his basement laboratory, Suzanne's interests took her far afield. She became involved in the Edge of Space Sciences, a group that uses ham radios and atmospheric weather balloons. At thirteen she became one of the youngest members of the International Association for Astronomical Studies at the Denver Museum of Natural History. She also became a show operator at the planetarium, explaining to members of the public how to use a telescope.

In ninth grade Suzanne won a scholarship through the National Space Foundation to attend the Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama. That would be only one of many science-oriented trips she'd take in junior and senior high. After she joined an Explorers group at Martin Marietta and helped prepare a fluid-droplet experiment that was sent up on the space shuttle Endeavor, she was invited to Cape Canaveral for the 1992 launch.

Suzanne went to Wisconsin through the IAAS and to Tucson with her Science Olympiad team. She traveled to Utah to study the stars. All the while, her grade-point average ranged between 3.6 and 4.0.

Suzanne expected her father to appreciate her achievments, Sharon says. And he did, in his own way, boasting about Suzanne to co-workers. "We knew how brilliant his daughter was," says Bob's boss, Randy Gorby. "He was so proud of her and of how she was doing in school, her science projects, the science fairs she had won."

But Bob was not good at showing his daughter that he was proud of her. He found it exhilarating to compete with her on projects, bragging when he was able to do something better than she had. Once, after she brought home a report card of A's and just one B, he ignored the A's and complained about the lower grade, leading Suzanne to write in her journal: "The stupid jerk. Gosh, I hate him."

Suzanne's journal, part of a sophomore school project, would play a crucial role in the trials of her father and brother. In it, she was unsparing in her criticism of both the male Wahrles.

One such journal entry was written on September 3, 1992, after a visit with Science Olympiad coach Bruce Hogue and his wife, Barbara. "Mr. Hogue asked, `Can I have a hug?'" she wrote in her childlike scrawl. "Dad never does that. He's not much of a husband to [Mom] or a father to Steven and I. I don't feel close to him at all like I do with Mr. Hogue." Of her father, she wrote, "My mom thinks he's going to have a heart attack. Somehow I don't think I'd be very sad. He's tormented us long enough! I'm sick of being called nasty names and being yelled at for no reason. I'm really sick of it."

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