By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Later, she says she noticed another burn, a long, thin mark on the four-year-old daughter's leg. When she asked about it, Mehmert says, the eleven-year-old sister quickly interjected that the little girl had burned herself with a curling iron. However, the older girl then held up her little sister's shirt to expose another long, thin burn across her sister's stomach. "So she burned herself twice with a curling iron?" Mehmert recalls asking. "She said yes, that's what happened. Then their mother came out and told them to all go in the house."
Mehmert says she was concerned about the children, but she didn't feel it was her place to say anything. That changed in mid-August. Raoul and his older sister were over visiting when, out of the blue, the boy said his mother and father had "grounded" him because his four-year-old sister had lied about him. "He said that she told his parents that he was kissing her on her 'privates.'"
Mehmert says she was stunned. "I was saying to myself, 'What am I hearing here?' So I asked him, 'Are you doing that?' He said no, but he wouldn't look at me.
"I said, 'Well, you know, Raoul, children her age are too young to know how to lie about those things.' But then his sister, the older one, said, 'Let's talk about something else now.' And that was the end of the conversation."
Unsure of what to do, Mehmert called a child psychologist in Evergreen and told her what the boy had said. The woman told her that as a psychologist, she was legally obligated to report the allegation of sexual abuse of a child to the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, which includes child protection services. The psychologist reported Mehmert's accusations on August 21, 1998. But Mehmert never heard from social services and figured it must not have been a big deal to the authorities.
In the meantime, she kept an eye out for Raoul, who always seemed to be getting into something he shouldn't. One day that fall, she saw him trying to enter his next-door neighbor's house through a window. He'd had to jump up to reach the sill and was lowering himself inside rear-end first when she called out, asking him what he was doing.
The telephone was ringing, he explained. He was going to answer it.
"I told him, 'It's not your house and not your telephone,'" Mehmert says. "'And what you're doing is against the law.' He just kind of looked at me like he didn't understand what he'd done wrong."
When Mehmert took the boy home, she says, his mother told her, "I can't do anything with him. Sometimes I just have to lock him in a closet."
"You lock him in a closet?" Mehmert asked.
Beverly explained to Mehmert that it wasn't as bad as it sounded. "After all, she told me, there was a window in the closet and a computer for him to play with." Beverly also told Mehmert that she'd tried sending Raoul to counselors, but that hadn't worked; she'd also sent him to stay with his biological father, but he couldn't handle the boy, either.
Mehmert grew increasingly concerned about Raoul. For Easter, the Wuthriches got their children a large bunny they named Peter Rabbit. This time it was the neighbor whose telephone Raoul wanted to answer who complained to Mehmert about the boy. The woman, Shirley, says she was in her backyard playing with her grandchildren when to her surprise, a bunny came flying over the Wuthriches' eight-foot-tall wood fence into the empty lot next door. Then Raoul scrambled over the fence, where he captured and played with the bunny before picking it up and tossing it back over the fence again. This happened a couple of times before Raoul apparently tired of the game.
Later, when Mehmert asked the children about Peter Rabbit, they told her he had "gone to heaven" -- but that was okay, because they had a new bunny. They showed her this bunny, which had a lump the size of a fist on its back and seemed to be injured. She asked about the lump, and the oldest girl told her they weren't sure but they thought that perhaps a fox had bitten the bunny. The next time Mehmert asked about the bunny, she learned that it, too, "had gone to heaven."
In April 1999, with something akin to horror, Mehmert learned that Beverly Wuthrich had opened her home to provide daycare for young children -- less than a year after she had been charged with child neglect and ordered to attend parenting classes. Mehmert says she wondered whatever had possessed the woman to do such a thing. "She didn't know where her own children were most of the time. But Beverly said that Andreas had lost his job -- he was an electrical engineer, or something like that -- and she needed to make money."
It seemed that every time she turned around, Mehmert was hearing something troublesome involving the Wuthrich children. A friend of Mehmert's told her that she'd been driving down busy Highway 74, which leads from Interstate 70 to Evergreen, when she'd spotted two little girls with backpacks trudging along the side of the road. With cars and trucks whizzing past within a few feet of the girls, she decided she'd better stop and pick them up. They turned out to be the now five- and three-year-old Wuthrich sisters. Their mother had called them at the house and told them to meet her at Taco Bell. Mehmert was aghast. It was more than two and a half miles from the neighborhood to the restaurant, much of it along busy roadways with little shoulder to walk on. At one point, they'd had to cross the highway.