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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

As shattered lives are put back together, cracks remain

BY ROY WENZL
The Wichita Eagle

The morning after the cops came, Lisa Henderson drove into the Vasey driveway and yelled at Shelly Vasey.

“You took my children away from me.”


Kellie Henderson, left, visits with her twin sister, Kathie, in November in Wichita. The twins have a loving but edgy relationship, and conversations veer often between laughter and words that cut.

Promise Not to Tell

Shelly, in her doorway, called to her own children over her shoulder. “Don’t be scared. Go to the bedroom. Keep the phone close.”

She turned to Lisa.

“I was protecting them.”

“But I will never see them again.”

“You would never want them to go through that again,” Shelly said. “Now it won’t happen again.”

“I’ll never see my kids again. Because of you.”

Lisa left. Shelly sank down.

Would everybody hate her? She’d broken her promise to the girls. Andrew, who had played in her house as a little boy, was facing rape charges. Would he reach out from jail to hurt her or her two kids?

Matt called. At that moment, he had not been arrested yet.

“Turn yourself in,” she said.

“No.”

“Matt, I will call the police myself and tell them where you are.”

The police found him. Matt probably hated her too.

***

Judge Gregory Waller, only months before, had heard the serial killer BTK testify in detail about how he strangled and tortured people. But at Brad Henderson’s sentencing, Waller listened with evident discomfort to what happened to the Henderson girls.

“There's nothing worse than what they were put through,” he said.

With the sentence he handed down, he ensured that Brad Henderson would not be eligible for parole until 2028. Andrew got the same sentence. Only 18, he would be 43 if he is released then.

Matt got less, mostly because he’d not forced sodomy, and had not beat up the girls as much as Andrew. He would be eligible in 2012.

At the hearings, Shelly Vasey began to do something the twins did not understand.

Shelly reached out in kindness to Lisa Henderson. And she didn’t stop there.

***

Lisa did not have many friends. People in the neighborhood knew now what had happened in her house. She knew it would do no good to point out that her husband beat her every week. Even Andrew said it — he told Jim Vasey one day, when Jim visited his prison, that his mother had been as much a victim as the girls.

But it was no use trying to explain that, and Lisa knew it.

“Many people have decided to hate me,” she thought. Her daughters treated her coldly. Kathie told people to never refer to Lisa as her mother.

She had betrayed her girls; she’d been stupid and naive. One day, as part of her therapy after she lost her children, she had written to Kathie. “Words can’t describe how awful I feel about myself for not listening or hearing you when you told me about the abuse . . . most of all not protecting you. I’m so sorry, from the bottom of my heart. . . .

Lonely, she was grateful when Shelly Vasey, of all people, reached out to her.

Shelly even helped her clean her house. In the girls’ bedroom, Shelly pulled back a window drape one day, and saw three words carved in the windowsill:

“Pray for us.”

***

Kellie seemed to compensate for her traumas by working hard in school, bossing her sisters. Kathie acted sad, distracted, lost.

The twins and their younger siblings started new lives with a foster family from Kirwin. Going from Wichita to a small farming town in arid northwestern Kansas was a letdown, though the foster family took great care of them. Kellie liked them; they pushed her to study, took her on walks, seemed interested in what they had to say.

Kellie, the eldest because she was born 20 minutes before Kathie, tried to take the lead in helping her sisters, tried to counsel and criticize.

They told her to shut up.

The girls thought the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services took good care of them, except for one thing: One day, SRS gave their little brother the choice of remaining in foster care, or going back to Lisa in Wichita. He went back.

“What the hell,” Kathie thought.

***


Kellie Henderson, right, with Shelly Vasey, the woman who made her rescue possible, at the twins' graduation from Thunder Ridge High School in Kensington, Kan., in May 2009. The Vaseys made the five-hour drive that day, and have stayed in the girls' lives since police freed them from sexual abuse in 2005.

Promise Not to Tell

Kellie is a 19-year-old student at Barton Community College in Great Bend, taking 20 class hours, working part time. Mary Hester, the director of the library, says she’s one of the hardest-studying students on campus.

She dresses sharp, does not smoke. When she wants to see her sisters she has to count every penny for gas money.

She vowed to find a career helping people, maybe abuse victims — social work or psychology. She decided years ago that she would one day speak out publicly as a sex abuse victim to help others recover.

She loves the Vaseys.

“Shelly was like a mother to me; Jim was like a father. They are caring and good. They have a perfect life. I want what they have. I want a husband. I want three or four kids. I want a nice home; I want a perfect life.”

Sometimes she calls or visits her youngest brother, now 15, the boy that Andrew slapped around. She takes him to movies; she worries about him. She worries about her sisters, whom she says lack drive and direction.

She has had three boyfriends in her life. She’s had intimacy issues with all of them.

She does not often call her biological mother, because she has nightmares every time she talks to her. She does not often go to church, though she wants to go someday, as Shelly has gently prodded her to. “But I still pretty much think the same thing that I sometimes said to Kathie back when we were being raped. I can’t quite get over it. If there is a God, how could he let this thing happen to us? We didn’t deserve it.”

She despises Andrew the most; Matt and her father only a little less so.

Sometimes, when she sees her little brother at Shelly’s house, she says things that bother Shelly: “Why do you have to look so much like Andrew?”

***

On Oct. 30, despondent over another string of personal failures, Kathie Henderson walked out of her home in Clay Center, two hours to the north of Wichita.

In her hands she held all her possessions: one pack of Marlboro reds, and a trash bag of tank tops and pants.

She said goodbye to yet another boyfriend, climbed into Shelly’s car, and rode to Wichita. The boyfriend was African-American; she’d chosen him in part because his skin did not resemble Andrew’s.

She lives in the Vaseys’ guest bedroom. The house is spotless, which made her vow to quit smoking.

In Clay Center she’d lived on food stamps.

“I’ve failed at everything,” she told Shelly.

No, Shelly said.

Kathie agreed with Kellie about one thing: Andrew is a monster, and she wants nothing to do with him.

“I don’t want to see him. If he gets killed in prison it wouldn’t bother me a bit.”

She says these things to Shelly sometimes, when Shelly comes home. Shelly works as a paraeducator at Andover Central Middle School, and likes having somebody to talk to until Jim comes home. But when Shelly hears Kathie’s bitter words, she shakes her head.

Kathie’s taken to calling Shelly “Mom.” “She saved our lives. I had wanted to kill myself, I was so desperate. She saved my life. How do you thank somebody for that?”

***

Almost immediately after she saved them, Shelly began doing things that baffled and upset the twins.

She wrote Andrew in prison, hinting at kindness.

She worried that judgmental inmates might hurt him. His answer surprised her.

Putting him behind bars was the best thing anyone did for him, he told her. He said he would not have stopped. He said he was sorry.


Andrew Henderson, left, with Shelly Vasey, who five years ago made the 911 call that got Henderson arrested, convicted and sent to prison. He has told her that stopping him from raping and molesting his own sisters was the best thing anyone has ever done for him, and he remains grateful to her for reaching out to him, offering friendship and a chance to atone for his wrongs.

Promise Not to Tell

The twins scoffed when they heard this. And after she reached out, some neighbors confessed to disgust.

They should burn, one said of the Henderson males.

Why are you being nice to them? Monsters.

Shelly felt sorry for these critics. What kind of Christianity was that?

“I’m not foolish about Andrew,” she said one day, with Kathie sitting beside her on the couch. “He hurt the girls too much. I want him to be punished too. But of course he can be forgiven. What Christian should think otherwise?”

***

One day last year, Andrew wrote a request to the Vaseys. It took six months of working with the prison system to give Andrew what he wanted. In March, Shelly and Jim, whom Andrew had always kiddingly called “Pastor Jim,” drove the 40 or so miles to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

There, with other inmates looking on, Jim dipped Andrew into a baptismal tub, and welcomed him to the Christian faith.


Jim Vasey, left, baptizes convicted rapist Andrew Henderson in March, five years after Vasey and his wife turned Henderson in to Wichita police for molesting and raping Henderson's sisters.

Promise Not to Tell

After he climbed out, Andrew clasped Jim in a hug and held him, silent, for a full minute.

(Read a letter Andrew wrote while he was in prison to reporter Roy Wenzl.)

***

When Shelly told the twins about the baptism, Kathie looked horrified. Later, when Kathie saw that they’d taken photos at the baptism, including of Andrew with his arm around Shelly, Kathie threw her hands to her face.

“I don’t want to see that sight. Ever.”

But Shelly kept at it.

The twins did not argue with her. They knew what she was really up to, in part because she told them, in part because they’d known her since Andrew had first led them on the begging expeditions when they were all little kids.

Everything she was doing now, in reaching out to Andrew, was designed not only to forgive the rapist but to shine a light for the children he had raped. Everything she did was fit to a purpose. As she had done for them all their lives, she gave them what they needed. When she saw they lacked food, she gave them eggs and milk. When she saw they lacked toys, she gave them trampolines and backyard swings. When she learned about the rapes, she sent men with guns to their door.

And now, when she saw that they lacked forgiveness she gave them a model of forgiveness, to drain anger out of their souls.

But the girls are not ready.

They are not even ready to forgive each other.

***

All her life, until Shelly saved them, Kellie and her sisters had lived in a house where betrayals always came in pairs and bunches, where the victims, as desperate as prisoners in a concentration camp, had sometimes betrayed each other even as their brothers and parents betrayed them all.

“Leave me alone,” Kellie had sometimes told Andrew. “Take her instead.”

“You make me out to be the bitch!” Kellie said one day last month, whirling on Kathie, her voice clipped and cutting. “Like I was the only one of us who told Andrew to take you instead of take me. Like I was the only one who did that! You did it to me, too!”

“But you did it to me!” Kathie yelled back. “And you always got what you wanted!”

“Like I was the only one!” Kellie yelled back.

Kathie burst into tears, slammed the front door as she ran out. The door slam had shaken the house.

Kellie stared at the wall, tears streaming down a face red with anger.

Andrew was in prison. So was Matt. And her father.

Lisa had served 45 days in work release. She is still living in the same home in Wichita, raising the twins’ little brother.

There are times when Kathie hates Kellie and Kellie hates Kathie. And Kellie knows that maybe they’ll never get past that.

***

Only six days after a homeless and jobless Kathie Henderson had moved in with the Vaseys, Kellie took a break from college in Great Bend and drove to Wichita for the weekend.

As usual, she fought with Kathie almost from the moment they hugged at the front door.

They fought mean and dirty. Kellie chided Kathie for stupid choices and stupid boyfriends and a stupid lack of direction. Kathie fought back and wiped away tears, resenting Kellie’s success as much as her chiding. Kellie to her was the same bossy, everybody’s-favorite, the know-it-all, the glib and clever sister who always got her way.

Beside the twins, on the same couch where they’d told Shelly their secret, Shelly snuggled close, speaking gently, trying to make peace.

“You two love each other,” she told them.

And Kellie as she talked reached out absentmindedly to touch Kathie’s shoulder, or her knee, and Kathie reached out to untangle a strand of Kellie’s hair; and as they touched, they did not seem to realize they were touching.

In the bedroom that Shelly and Jim had given to Kathie when she had moved in with them a few days before, was all the evidence Shelly needed to know that they’d get past it someday. They’d get past it all.

It was a clothing bag — Kellie’s clothing bag.

A few minutes before, when Kellie had shown up at the door and carried it in, Shelly has shown her another spare bedroom in this big house, where Kellie could sleep alone.

But Kellie had grinned, and shook her head no.

She asked where Kathie slept and plopped her bags on Kathie’s bedroom floor next to the one full bed.

All weekend she slept side by side with her twin, as they had slept side by side in the bunk bed.

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THE SERIES

PART ONE: For a decade, girls endured the horror at home

PART TWO: Neighbors rescue girls from years of molestation

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