11 April 2012

Killer

For this year's A-Z challenge, I'm posting juicy tidbits of researchy goodness for your interest and edification. I intend to use these as story prompts for the terrifying writing challenge Story a Day in May. You may use them however you wish.


This is Beth. In the video from which this still is taken, she's six and a half.

Source
Beth is a killer. She hasn't killed a person, but she talks very candidly about wanting to kill her brother and her parents.

***This post gets a little bit graphic and a lot horrible, though it does have a positive ending. Click through to read the rest if you wish.***


Beth routinely sticks pins in her brother and the family pets. Her parents lock her door at night so she can't wander into her brother's room and punch him in the stomach. This is a good choice: as she points out to her therapist who is interviewing her, if she had her way, she would stab her parents and her brother at night time, "'Cause I don't like them seeing me do it, but they can feel me do it."

She's already collected some paring knives from the kitchen. When warned that she shouldn't touch a nest of baby birds she found, she later removes the birds from the nest and squeezes them so hard she breaks their necks.

Beth was profiled in the HBO documentary "Child of Rage" in the early 1990s. The documentary is short - under 30 minutes - and well worth watching if you're interested in this kind of thing.





Beth is a victim of horrifying abuse at the hands of her biological father, who starved and neglected her and her younger brother. He also raped Beth. Since her first adoptive parents got her when she was 19 months old, all this happened when she was still a baby.

The documentary details how Beth, diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), sees the world. It's a powerful record of the legacy of abuse because much of the material it presents is through Beth's voice, which is minimally supplemented with narration, interactions with her therapist, and short interviews with her parents.

Because she lacked a primary bond with a caregiver, and because her dad was a monster in human form, she lacks empathy and remorse. She receives therapy and goes to live with a woman who specializes in dealing with and essentially reparenting children with RAD. (The woman, unnamed in the documentary, is Nancy Thomas, who it seems ended up adopting Beth.)
I have children that have killed numerous times. Cold blooded, family members, neighbour children, killed them. And they can do it. It makes my blood run cold just thinking of it. Nine years old. People don't think a nine year old is capable of cold-blooded murder but they are. That attachment break does severe damage to the heart, the ability to care and the ability to love. They don't care and they don't love, they're capable of anything.
The therapy is about taking complete control over the child's every move. They have to ask permission to do anything - from getting a glass of water to going to the bathroom. They do chores. If they do them successfully, they receive praise for a job well done, which eventually allows the therapist to build in a sense of right and wrong. Basically, they built Beth a new conscience from scratch.

(On a perhaps inappropriate side note, this process is really similar to what my dog trainer explained to me she does with a dog that is aggressive or has ceased to listen to its owner - essentially she attaches the dog's leash to her waist and the dog accompanies her all day. Taking away choice is a powerful tool for healing, I think, although obviously it has got to be done ethically.)

RAD symptoms closely resemble psychopathy. Psychopaths also lack conscience, often kill or harm siblings and pets, and express no remorse. The difference, according to Doctor of Psychology Kelly McAleer, is there is no necessary connection between psychopathy and early abuse. By her definition, RAD sufferers resemble sociopaths.

Beth is a success story. She wrote a book about healing from RAD.

As a writer of dark fiction, I'm interested in this story because of the way it seems evil has a life of its own, jumping from person to person and generation to generation. So powerful is the aftereffect of abuse, it completely took over this tiny vessel. Fortunately there were people who were strong enough to help her.

49 comments:

Amanda Heitler said...

I so nearly didn't read this but I'm glad I did. Thanks for this one Elizabeth. Thought provoking stuff on many levels and for many reasons.

Kyra Lennon said...

That made me shiver! Most interesting post I've seen in the whole A-Z challenge so far - great job!

L.G.Smith said...

I wonder though if some personalities are more susceptible to the effects of abuse. Not everyone abused at infancy responds this way, so I'm thinking she must also have been somewhat genetically predisposed (via her father's DNA?) to develop RAD perhaps?

Traci Kenworth said...

So scary.

Laura said...

Wow. That's terrifying. Thank goodness some people have the strength, knowledge and compassion to help heal these people.
great post
Lx

The Insolitus Lupus said...

Oh, those poor children! They could have been so much more if they were treated right from the beginning :'( It's so sad to loose perfectly good people to abuse.

MAJK said...

The most brutal aspect of child abuse is that it under cuts the life principle of Trust. That is the principle that all human relationships are based in. Without these parameters, all humans become mere objects.

Thank you for sharing this.

*~ MAJK ~*
Twitter @safireblade
A TO Z Blog Challenge

Libby said...

I think this is part of a documentary I watched years ago... she's creepy.

Fantasy Writer Guy said...

Wow. That was a heavy hitter. It seems so shocking doesn't it? And yet only because it feels unfamiliar. But of course humans are indeed killers. We do it all the time. But this is a brand we've devised no excuses for. And of course we know that Beth did not become some monster, but only failed to develop into the angel that we expected; the angel that is partly authentic and partly a calculated image. She didn't bottle her rage as most learn to, but dealt with it matter-of-factly.

Do you wonder about the older Beth in the later interview? How much has she changed? Or how much has she learned to mask herself?

Hard stuff to reckon with and too many easy answers floating around.

Timothy Brannan said...

I read this and then had to read all sorts of other pages just make sure the girl got the help she needed.

To say that what happened to her was horrible doesn't even begin to describe it or do it justice.

I am trying to read all the A to Z blogs, but coming back to the ones I really like.
Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

Tim
The Other Side
The Freedom of Nonbelief

M Pax said...

I had seen this documentary years ago. I'm glad to hear she was helped.

Andrew Leon said...

Okay, I am now sufficiently freaked out.

E.J. Wesley said...

As a psychology and counseling type, I find this stuff incredibly fascinating. As I read, I was thinking 'sociopath' is what we'd call her if she were an adult.

So many of the people we deem to be disturbed in our society have suffered horribly at the hands of others. That's not an excuse for harming anyone, as there are plenty of people who have suffered similarly and not paid it forward. It's just to say that everyone has a story, and judgement should be withheld if the facts aren't known.

Yes, that little girl would seem like a monster to most, and not unjustifiably. But she was literally made that way. Bless anyone who tries to help her, because she deserves to have as much effort put into her healing as there was put into her undoing.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." ~ Plato

Elizabeth Twist said...

I thought the warning was appropriate. People might not want to read about this.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks. I think it's hats off to the documentary makers for letting Beth speak for herself.

Elizabeth Twist said...

The other missing piece that I didn't mention is that her mother died? I think? Or at least was absent? That abusive monster dad was left alone with Beth and her brother. So she had no primary caregiver at all - she would have been better off raised by wolves, in some ways.

My understanding is there is a huge range of responses to abuse. My theory is that Beth's rage was so close to the surface because she wanted to heal and was ready to let all that psychic toxin out. Nancy Thomas, the woman who took her in, talks about Beth wanting to heal. Some people bury that stuff so deep that it only comes out years later, if at all, or it comes out in strange snaky ways that aren't recognizable as a product of abuse.

I see Beth as incredibly strong.

Elizabeth Twist said...

It's striking, isn't it?

Elizabeth Twist said...

I am amazed at the intestinal fortitude of Nancy Thomas. She's a superhero.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Beth got better. I'm sure there are lots of kids who don't.

Elizabeth Twist said...

That is exactly what Nancy Thomas, the woman who took Beth in, says in the documentary. Exactly that.

Elizabeth Twist said...

There is something particularly sideways about a six year old expressing the things Beth does.

Elizabeth Twist said...

"But this is a brand we've devised no excuses for."

Exactly, because it's so in your face, and such a thorny problem, and totally not her fault. There is something especially chilling about the matter-of-fact way Beth expresses her rage. I suspect that before those interviews were filmed, a lot of work had already gone into getting her to open up. The rapport she has with her therapist is really important, I think.

I did wonder about older Beth in the later interview. I felt a little uncomfortable with how much coaching it seemed she was getting around the issue of who she hurt the most, and she does seem reluctant to answer those questions. I think the tears are genuine. Given how she's interacting with the animals before that scene, I think she's found a way to let genuine feeling in.

This is, at best, a guess.

Can you imagine being however old she is there - eight or whatever - and have the realization that you've done real damage to people? It's like she's living that werewolf nightmare - waking up in the morning and finding out that you've killed or hurt someone.

All that having been said, I personally think that humans aren't monsters by nature. I think the monster parts of us are psychic garbage, muddying the waters of compassion and integrity. That's compassion and integrity as opposed to mere conformity.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Hi Tim!

I felt the need to do a similar bit of research after I watched the documentary. She got great help, and she wrote a book, which I intend to read.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Nice to see you here, M Pax.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Sorry!

Elizabeth Twist said...

What's tricky about a six year old describing these powerful feelings of murderousness is that obviously it is not her fault, although she's the one taking these horrible actions. It's an interesting moral conundrum for anyone watching. Agreed people all have sovereignty over themselves and must make moral decisions for themselves, but it seems pretty blatant to me that young Beth was just acting out programs that her father had instilled in her.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

incredible post that you have on your blog today, Elizabeth. it's fascinating that a child so young could be a cold-blooded murderer. I had no idea that it was even possible to build a new conscience.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks, Michael. This has been a great conversation. I am very curious to read Beth Thomas's book.

Anonymous said...

The update of Beth's story explains that after Beth stayed with Nancy Thomas, she returned home for a visit. Her did not return her to Nancy Thomas but instead placed her with an aunt while waiting for a facility to open that would care for her. She was placed in the facility and the parents eventually chose to legally abandoned her. That's when Nancy Thomas found her again and adopted her. My question is what happened when Beth returned home? Why did the parents not allow her to go back to stay with Nancy Thomas? Why did they finally decide to legally abandon her? In the documentary she seems to have made serious progress by the end. I'm wondering if she regressed once she went back home. The adoptive parents seem very kind and caring and Nancy Thomas praises them highly in the documentary. Also, what happened to Beth's brother? Did he stay in the adoptive home? I wonder if Beth has contact with the adoptive parents now and/or her brother? She is a nurse but also lectures across the country with Nancy Thomas. I wonder if anyone has asked these questions of her, I haven't found any information after extensive Google research.

Donna Munt said...

Wow. Horribly fascinating and definitely a subject worth exploring in fiction, if you can stomach it. Thanks for posting that. I think.

Anonymous said...

I wish someone somewhere would post the info on what happened to Beth's biological rapist of a father. There's nothing out there about him or if we was ever prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Just an update. The woman in the video is not Nancy Thomas. It is Connie Watkins, a woman who took in children with severe emotional issues. Connie was the one who helped Beth start to make positive changes. Nancy Thomas adopted Beth later, after all of the events in the documentary transpired. Nancy is now an "attachment therapist." Her books have been a key piece in several recent abuse cases because some of the attachment therapies are, in and of themselves, abusive and unethical.

Anonymous said...

I think poor Beth is now continues to be abused by this Nancy Thomas for making money.Its just breaks my heart to know that the adoptive parents gave her away and now she lost her brother too.what about him? he is also a victim! why no one talks about him?I asked my self the same questions. what happened when she got home??

Anonymous said...

I also would like to know what led to them giving her up as I was sad to learn this.

I believe the family kept her brother Jonathan and then adopted another girl named Bethany.

After doing a bit of research I believe the original adoptive parents were Tim and Julie Tennent.

Tim Tennent has a Wiki page and is on Facebook as well. The family looks happy and much more relaxed than when they were featured in the film.

Also, here's his website:

http://timothytennent.com/

Kersten said...

Anonymous on June 1, 2012- I believe it is Nancy Thomas in the video. At about 24:20, she says "with you, in therapy, and Connell and myself." (You said Connie Watkins, but I believe you are referring to Connell Watkins.)

Anonymous on September 18, 2012- great research! I think you are right.

Kersten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I also wonder what happened to her brother. Connell Watkins served 7 years in prison after smothering a child while conducting "attachment therapy". I do wonder if Beth's rehabilitated behavior is an act or not. Sociopaths, whether children or adults, rarely develop a conscience.

krisolav said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kris said...

@ Anonymous - at Tim's wiki, wouldn't Bethany still be Beth, that maybe they still list her as a daughter although already let another person adopt her.

noonespecial said...

Assuming RAD in children would be considered Anti Social Disorder if medically diagnosed; assuming that age is a factor in determining Sociopathy; knowing that "Holding Therapy" (or whichever name(s) the "therapist/co-therapist" uses) is backed by no documented scientific, medical, therapeutic or statistical evidence that support it's success or validity. Then wouldn't it be safe to assume that if a child was in fact, clinically anti-social and if their only method of treatment was "Holding Therapy", that upon becoming "of age" the once child would then be a sociopath and had gone untreated, medically and scientifically speaking. Could that mean that such an individual have the ability to navigate the ins-and-outs of RAD treatment and model oneself as the ultimate success story, thus becoming a "poster child" of sorts and providing the perfect cover, a plethora of opportunities to live out their genetically predisposed tendencies in an ideal environment?

If Beth was considered clinically ant-socia as a child, then she basically received no real form of therapy to treat, prevent, or cure a future diagnosis of sociopathy. Could Nancy Thomas' adoptive daughter and business partner who is also a nurse be a sociopath that actively advocates, practices, and implements "Holding Therapy" currently on vulnerable youths? Could she possibly identify future sociopaths undergoing "therapy"? Could she "nurture" those who are like herself and "treat" those who aren't. Could she mentor future sociopaths for a career in medicine and/or "therapy"?
Beth has above average intelligence, above average looks, the gift for gab, is a victim and survivor, has support, love and recognition, and is skilled at accessing numerous resources…a bit reminiscent of Ted Bundy...

Angélica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henrietta said...

Does anyone know if Timothy Tennnt was the original adoptive parent Because I saw a Tim and Julie Welch who were Methodist pastor and had an older son Garrison maybe they changed Jonathans name but they were both killed in accident trying to help tornado victims I believe. Anyone know? Because this one Timothy Tennant says that Bethany is a missionary off on a mission?

NowWhat said...

It is not my intention to come across as brusque, so please don't take this the wrong way, but what you say in your first 2 sentences is far from the truth .. I did some research, there's lots of information about this story, about both beth and her brother who by the way had not shown the level of violence as beth did which is my guess why his name was hardly mentioned, which doesn't mean he didn't receive help.. nancy is not making money off of beth, she decided to pursue an interest in "attachment therapy" that's all, she's an advocate and there is nothing wrong with that. anywho do the research because its fascinating, disturbing and hopeful.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Really fascinating ongoing discussion. I've stopped monitoring this because there are obviously many more people out there who know more about it than I do, and everyone is free and welcome to have a say about it. @NowWhat, It's not clear who you're responding to. Please specify if you come back to comment further. Thank you, and thanks to everyone who's added their thoughts.

jennywocky said...

@henrietta -- I was doing some Google's on this too. While it seems pretty amazing that two couples would have the same names for their kids and be in the same age group and same line of work, I think the Tim Tennent who is president of Ashbury College is not the same Tim Tennent in the video... at the very least, they look nothing at all alike. The ages of the kids are also slightly different. But I don't know anything about the family on the video dying in a tornado.

Knowledge Seeker said...

Can someone please tell me what the flip happen to Jonathan after all of this? I've tried to search numerous times and have come up with nothing!

Knowledge Seeker said...

Can someone please tell me what the flip happen to Jonathan after all of this? I've tried to search numerous times and have come up with nothing!

Andrew Leon said...

This comment is just to late you know that I can't comment on your new post. In fact, I can't find the option on your blog anymore to comment anywhere. The only reason I'm able to comment here is that I got the email update about the last comment which gave me an option to respond.

Wendy Beaulieu said...

Her biological mother passed away , that's why she was left with the biological monster of a father.

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