A WEALTH OF TROUBLE
part 1 of 2
Barbara Huttner pulls a thick wedding album from a shelf in her family room and flips through it, looking for a picture of her daughter. The volume contains dozens of photos that have been ripped into pieces and defaced with a black marking pen, the faces circled and crossed out with thick, angry strokes. By mutilating the pictures, Huttner says, she was trying to purge her daughter and son-in-law from her life and from her heart.
Huttner, however, couldn't bring herself to discard the ruined pictures. "I guess I hoped that someday I'd be able to put them back together," she says.
It's the same with her daughter's family; Huttner's emotions alternate between fury and an aching sense of loss. On good days, she says, she has not given up on the hope that, somehow, her family can be made whole. On bad days, she says, she's unsure if she wants her daughter and son-in-law in her life.
The schism began in late 1992 with a few guileless words uttered by Huttner's then-three-year-old grandson, her daughter's only child. His grandmother, the boy told his parents, had touched his "tushie" and kissed his penis. Virtually overnight, Huttner, a respected businesswoman and former Miss Missouri, became a suspected child molester.
By the time Huttner was brought to trial, two years after the accusations were made, her family had split into factions. The trial only worsened the rift as it became clear that, in order to win, the prosecution would attempt to assassinate Huttner's character and the defense would attack
the credibility and morals of Huttner's daughter. At times the alleged assault on the three-year-old boy became a sidelight to the emotionally wrought testimonies of mother and daughter.
The family's dysfunction further complicated the case. A therapist who interviewed both Barbara and her daughter noted, "Each family member levels accusations at the other, and it is difficult to discern what the exact nature of the relationships are, and what has actually occurred in these families."
Indeed, though the jury would never hear it, allegations of sexual abuse involving satanic activity and a ring of teenage prostitutes were leveled against Huttner by a female relative more than a decade ago. Those accusations were never proven, and Huttner was never charged.
The case involving Huttner's grandson fell into the estimated 95 percent of child sex-abuse accusations in which there is no physical evidence. Huttner was never interviewed by police, social workers or district attorney's investigators, despite her repeated demands to be heard. In addition, Huttner and others testified at trial that her daughter has repeatedly accused others of molesting her son.
It took an Arapahoe County jury only two hours to acquit Huttner on all charges. But the stigma of having been accused may never end for her. Even though she was found not guilty, the state office of Child Welfare Services has thus far declined to remove Huttner's name from a list of suspected child molesters. And though she says she has tried to bridge the huge gap between her and her daughter, the two remain estranged. Huttner says she hasn't seen her grandson since early 1993.
"I can't tell you the pain that goes through you when you're accused of something you did...not...do," Huttner says, her voice rising to emphasize the last three words. "It's a very helpless feeling. You find yourself struggling to stay alive and do the most simple things every day. It goes way beyond ordinary loss."
Huttner says she once reached the brink of suicide. But now she has joined the growing grandparents' rights movement and is speaking out for people who have been falsely accused of molesting children. "I want to have an impact on the system," she says. "No one should ever have to go through this."
And Huttner's course is destined to bring her tiara-to-tiara with her friend and former Miss America, Marilyn Van Derbur. Van Derbur has said she is a victim of incest and has dedicated herself to speaking up for other victims. She espouses the necessity to "believe the children" and has become a much-sought-after speaker for the cause.
"We must go a step farther," Huttner says. "We must go from `believe the children' to `listen to them, hear them, protect them.' Because I don't think that's being done."
Before, during and after Huttner's trial, media reports frequently referred to her as a socialite and former Cherry Hills matron, words that conjure up images of lavish living and party-hopping.
"I really resented that socialite business," Huttner says as she sips a cup of coffee in the kitchen of her Denver townhome. "I think it has a connotation that isn't always nice. It just isn't me. But it gave me some power. People listen to that. And if it allows me to get my message out, they can call me whatever they want."
Huttner's roots lie far from tony Cherry Hills Village, in the less-than-affluent sections of Kansas City. She has worked to support her family since she was a teenager and has survived two failed marriages--one to a young college beau, another to a man she describes as abusive. It wasn't until the last half of her life, she says, that she found some measure of contentment.
As a child, Huttner contends, her home life was stressful--her mother was often ill, her father was often drunk, and she says she was fondled by a family friend at an early age. Her desire to escape resulted in a marriage to college student Chuck Stell when she was only eighteen. She got pregnant right away, and when Stell was drafted, she ended up living back home with her parents. Her son Steve was born in 1954. The marriage died soon after.
Back in Kansas City, Huttner was awarded a scholarship to a finishing school, which she parlayed into a teaching job at a modeling agency and part-time work as a model. Though she stood only five-foot-two, Huttner was a striking blonde with Grace Kelly looks and poise. One day, she says, a talent agency rep approached her and asked if she would be interested in competing in the Miss Missouri pageant. She was, and she tap-danced her way to the 1959 crown.
In those years, state contestants were sent to compete for the Miss Universe crown, bypassing any national-level competition. Before long, Huttner was dispatched to Long Beach, where she roomed with Miss Ecuador.
Then the scandal hit. Although pageant rules permitted contestants to be divorced, someone back home called the local papers and told reporters that Huttner had divorced solely because she wanted to be a beauty queen. They also implied that she had abandoned her young son to go gallivanting around the country in search of glamour. The publicity did its damage--Miss Universe officials, Huttner says, informed her that though she would still be allowed to appear in the pageant, judges would be precluded from voting for her.
Despite the setback, Huttner still hoped for an acting career and made a brief foray to Hollywood. There she dated comedian Dan Rowan, later of Laugh-In fame.
"For two weeks I lived on Hershey bars and hot tea," she says. "Dan told me, `You're not going to make it out here.' He said, `Go home and marry the boy next door.'"
Huttner took his advice, returning to Kansas City and marrying Marvin Rogoff, an insurance executive she'd dated prior to entering the Miss Missouri pageant. The same day they got married, she, Rogoff and young Steve moved to Colorado.
The Rogoffs lived far below the standards to which Huttner would become accustomed in later years, settling into a small house in a middle-class neighborhood not far from the High Line Canal. Huttner thought her wish to have a stable family life might finally come true. She converted to Rogoff's Jewish faith and Marvin adopted Steve, who took his name. Two years later Huttner gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Alana.
Huttner had always worked, and she continued to do so even after the birth of her daughter. She says she regrets that now. "I missed out on a lot," she admits. When Alana was four, Huttner took a job teaching classes at the Jewish Community Center. "Beauty, calisthenics, yoga, charm-school class," Huttner says, searching her memory. "I taught women how to hold a cigarette and a cocktail glass at the same time. That was part of the sophistication thing."
Her home life, however, was anything but a picture of easy urbanity. "I was always asking myself, `Is it a family yet? Do we have it right yet?'" she says. Ten years into the marriage, she had to face up to the fact that the answer was no. The Rogoffs divorced when Alana was eight and Steve was sixteen.
A year and a half later, Barbara Rogoff married physician Walter Huttner, a widower with three children of his own. The two of them brought their brood of five (and three dogs) under one roof. The move to Dr. Huttner's home in Denver's Hilltop neighborhood was a step up for Barbara, Steve and Alana. Huttner also owned a home in Vail, and a couple of years later the clan moved to posh Cherry Hills Village. But the new living arrangements were nonetheless a trying situation for all of them. And Alana broke into open rebellion.
Walter and Barbara Huttner testified during the trial that the teenage Alana became sidetracked by alcohol and drugs and would often run away. When family counseling failed to work, Huttner says, she took a psychologist's advice to send Alana to a Colorado Springs boarding school.
There was nothing Dickensian about the school; students were tutored in French and permitted to ride horses. But Alana apparently found that sort of fun too tame for her liking. Only a few weeks after Alana's arrival, Huttner says, school officials threatened the girl with expulsion because she'd been found drinking. A month later--after getting into an alcohol-related car accident--school officials made good on their threat and kicked Alana out. She was fifteen.
By that time, says Huttner, the family was ready to try a little "tough love." They placed Alana in a Boulder school where rules were strict and many of the girls were wards of the court. Alana remained there for about a year.
After Alana "put that high school silliness behind her," says Steve Rogoff, now forty, he and his sister became closer. Still, there was a rhythm to his renewed relationship with his sister that annoyed Steve. It seemed to him that Alana was always lurching from crisis to crisis and that he or the Huttners were continually stepping in to "rescue" her.
Steve Rogoff says he often found himself reluctantly playing the part of Mayflower man for his sister as she moved in and out of boyfriends' lives. "It was always something," he says. "This boyfriend was beating her. That boyfriend was cheating on her." Barbara and Walter Huttner once flew cross-country to North Carolina to rescue Alana from yet another failed romance.
It went on like that for years, Steve Rogoff and Barbara Huttner agree. But the three managed to maintain a relationship through their shared love for horses.
In the early 1980s Huttner leased a Morgan named Boomer. "In retrospect," Steve Rogoff says, "that was one ugly horse." But he and his sister loved caring for the animal, grooming it and feeding it. Huttner then bought two more horses, one for her daughter and one for her son. They began spending hours together, grooming their mounts and trail riding.
By that time, Steve had become a contractor and was doing well for himself financially. He even took up polo, and Alana began accompanying her brother to the polo grounds and acting as his groom in the hopes, Steve says, of meeting an eligible polo player. "One reason," he says, "was that if she met someone, they would enjoy horses and share a common interest. But it also indicated that he would have some ability to provide for her."
Alana found both those qualities in Larry Norman, an advertising copywriter about fifteen years her elder. They married in 1987.
Huttner says she was pleased with the prospect of the marriage. Larry was Jewish, he seemed to really love her daughter, and he earned a nice living. In addition, it seemed to Huttner that Larry was "strong enough to put my daughter back on the right track."
At the wedding, both Marvin Rogoff and Walter Huttner walked Alana down the aisle. The picture of the three of them is one that still survives in Barbara Huttner's photo album.
Almost two years into the marriage, Alana gave birth to a son, Joey (not his real name).
In retrospect, says Huttner, she realizes an incident that occurred on the day of Joey's birth foreshadowed things to come. Alana's doctor had instructed her to walk, in the hopes it would induce a normal delivery. Alana and Huttner were strolling along the High Line Canal, Huttner says, when her daughter turned to her and remarked, "`You know, Mom, there's only one thing that bothers me. How do you know if a child has been sexually abused?'"
The relationship between Huttner and her daughter continued to improve after Joey's birth. The rapprochement, Huttner says, was partly due to Alana's decision to join Alcoholics Anonymous. And it was partly due to Huttner's respect for her daughter's parenting skills. "She took him to the movies, the zoo and dressed him adorably," Huttner says. "She spent a lot of time with him, and that boy had every imaginable toy." As for Alana, she apparently felt safe entrusting Joey to his grandmother.
When Joey was ten months old, Huttner says, Alana left him with her for ten days while she and Larry flew to Argentina to look for polo ponies. From that point on, says Walter Huttner, whenever the young couple felt the need to travel without their child--as often as two or three times each year--they'd leave Joey with the Huttners. "They never left him with anyone else," Walter Huttner says.
In late 1992, Alana and Larry decided they wanted to take a two-week bicycle tour of France's wine region, and they wanted the Huttners to care for their son while they were away. The timing wasn't good for the Huttners; Walter had suffered financial reversals (Barbara Huttner says some real estate deals went sour) and the couple was in the process of selling their Cherry Hills home and moving to a Denver townhome. Barbara began thinking about selling an exercise studio she owned, and the house in Vail also was put up for sale, traded in for a condo.
The Huttners agreed to watch the boy anyway.
Shortly after the Normans returned, Huttner says, she learned that her daughter had begun drinking again. And unbeknownst to her, Joey had begun making troubling statements, implying that his grandmother had molested him.
In court two years later, Larry Norman testified that he was watching television after returning from France when his son came in the room and asked, "Do you want me to rub your penis?" When Norman asked his son why he'd said that, the boy allegedly replied, "Because it means I love you."
According to a psychological report of the boy that is part of the court file, Alana took her son to his pediatrician the day after the "penis" conversation. She was told that the boy was fine but that she should "be cautious."
A few weeks later, Alana later testified, Joey told her, "When Danny [his pet name for Barbara Huttner] cuddles me, she touches my private parts," adding, "please don't ever tell her." And, while riding in the car with her one day, Alana would testify, Joey said that he and "Danny" played a "kissing game" with his penis.
Despite Joey's revelations, the Normans continued to socialize with the Huttners. Larry and Alana brought Joey with them while accompanying the Huttners to the mountains for several weekend ski trips. They allowed Barbara Huttner to babysit over the New Year's holiday. And they joined the Huttners for another ski weekend in January.
Between November 1992 and mid-January 1993, however, Alana sought out two therapists--social worker Irma Ponti and Judy Fox, an incest specialist--to discuss Joey's accusations. Alana then contacted a third therapist, Annelle Norman (whom both she and Barbara Huttner had seen in the past), and asked her to arrange a three-way meeting with her and her mother.
Huttner, who says she'd never been told about Joey's allegations, claims she assumed the three of them were going to address the issue of Alana's renewed drinking.
But the meeting had nothing to do with AA. Says Huttner, "Anelle put her hand on my leg and said, `This is going to be hard for you, but you're strong and you can handle it.' She said, `Alana has made the accusation that her son is saying things and that she thinks you molested the boy.'"
"My first reaction was shock," says Huttner. "My second was anger. Overwhelming anger." That gave way to hysteria. "I saw my whole life, everything I'd worked for and dreamed about, being shattered," Huttner says. "I knew what happened to people who've been accused of things like that. I'd seen it on talk shows. And I couldn't believe it was happening to me."
When Huttner continued to rage at her, Alana rushed out of the office. It would be their last meeting until the trial.
Steve Rogoff says that when he learned that Alana had accused their mother of assaulting Joey, he decided that it was "just more of her nonsense. More of the same old crap from her."
But from that point on, the investigation--and Joey's allegations--began to escalate. The case took on a life of its own. Therapists are required by law to report cases of suspected child abuse to county social service agencies. In February, Judy Fox did just that.
Arapahoe County Social Services stepped into the case in March 1993. In an interview with a social worker there the following month, Joey said that "Danny" had put her thumb in his buttocks and sucked his penis. This happened, he told her, at his house.
The Cherry Hills Village police department was brought into the case the same month. Detective Ray Florom, who declined a request for an interview with Westword, testified in a pretrial hearing that he spoke to Joey on three occasions. The first visit in late April 1993, Florom testified, was intended solely to establish a relationship with the boy and gain his trust. The officer didn't ask Joey about his grandmother.
On the second visit, Florom testified, Joey became visibly upset--clutching a blanket and sucking his thumb--when he asked about Huttner. Initially, Joey told the detective that Huttner was "doing bad things to us." Huttner, Joey said, had touched his "tushie" and his penis, something he said happened at Huttner's house while his mother was in Canada.
On the third visit to the boy's home, Florom testified, the boy got so agitated when asked about Huttner that the detective chose not to pursue his questioning any further. Alana, however, later told the detective that her son had made additional allegations, including an accusation that Walter Huttner had put on lipstick and told the boy to kiss him and that "Danny" had stuck the nipple of a baby bottle up his rectum and then forced him to lick the nipple.
Florom also interviewed therapist Irma Ponti, who had continued to treat Joey through the first months of 1993. According to court files, Ponti told another therapist that Joey had "acted out sexual themes in therapy using dolls" and that she believed the boy was trying to "entice" her with his body language. But Ponti added that she never questioned Joey directly about his allegations and that Joey never told her he had been sexually molested.
However, when Joey was interviewed by yet another therapist in January 1994, he again expanded on his charges. The Huttners, he said, had a giant, walking, talking penis in their house. And, he told the therapist, his own house had burned down, forcing his family to take up residence with Marvin Rogoff and his wife (which was untrue). In addition, the boy undressed a pair of dolls that he referred to as "mommy" and "daddy." Joey then proceeded to act out a fight between the two, using the daddy doll to strike the mommy. According to the therapist's report, as the two "fought," Joey yelled, "I hate you, Alana! I hate you!"
end of part 1
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Reader: Bars Will Lose a Ton on Drink Sales If They Let People Smoke Weed
- Thirty Mind-Blowing Murals at the Heart of Project Colfax
- The Mexican Says Adiós to Denver