A timeline for the Adam Herrman case
07/07/2010 2:49 PM
07/07/2010 2:49 PM
From records and recent interviews, The Eagle compiled this timeline for Adam Herrman:
June 8, 1987: Adam is born in Wichita with the name Irvin Groeninger III. He becomes a foster child of Doug and Valerie Herrman, and his adoption is finalized in 1993. His new name is Adam Joseph Herrman. The Herrmans also adopt two of Adam's younger siblings.
1990 or 1991: The Herrmans lose their foster care license after an investigation, which they declined to discuss in detail during a recent Eagle interview.
August 1996: Adam is enrolled in the Derby school district as a fourth-grader at Pleasantview Elementary. Records show his previous schools were St. Mary's, a Derby Catholic school, and El Paso Elementary, a Derby public school.
Nov. 26, 1996: Derby police receive and investigate a report of suspected abuse of Adam at his Derby home, in the 900 block of North Westview.
The brief, public portion of the police report lists it as a child-in-need-of-care case. Derby police Lt. Tim Brant said in an e-mail about the case that "it was investigated by our detective and SRS. The matter was referred for counseling through SRS."
SRS spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said SRS knows of one case of suspected abuse of Adam in 1996. "It was investigated and found to be unsubstantiated," she said.
Ponce said she could also confirm Valerie Herrman's statement in the Eagle interview that Adam spent two days at the Wichita Children's Home. Valerie Herrman said Adam spent the two days at the Children's Home, then was returned home, after she spanked him with a belt. She said a psychological counselor saw bruises and called police. Doug Herrman said in the interview that they were told that Adam could not be disciplined with a belt.
"I don't think they felt he was in any danger," Doug Herrman said.
Jan. 9, 1998: Derby police receive a report, apparently from Adam's school, Pleasantview, of suspected abuse.
The report says the possible abuse occurred days earlier, on Christmas Day 1997 at Adam's home in Derby, in the 300 block of South Willow.
Derby police classified it as a miscellaneous report because an investigation found that no crime occurred, Brant said.
"The investigation revealed the injuries occurred while the child was engaged in sporting activity with siblings," Brant said in the e-mail.
Asked by The Eagle whether she could recall the incident, Valerie Herrman said: "They were out playing football... and he had just some bruises on his arms."
Jan. 14, 1998: Adam runs away, according to Derby police.
He "returned on his own within two hours of the report and no further action was taken," Brant said.
Valerie Herrman said that Adam ran away a total of six to eight times, to get attention. Usually, it was for an hour or two, "and we always found him," she said.
February 1998: Adam withdraws from Pleasantview while in the fifth grade. The family told the district it was moving, records show.
Around the same time, the Herrmans moved to a Towanda mobile home park, Valerie Herrman said. She was the park manager.
She said she might be mistaken but thought that Adam had gone to public school for a short time in Towanda. But the Circle school district, which includes Towanda, said it has no record of him being enrolled.
For most of the family's time in Towanda, Adam was home-schooled, Valerie Herman said. She said he disliked regular school and preferred the one-on-one attention he received from her. Home-schooling also was a better fit for him because he had psychological problems, she said. His younger siblings, meanwhile, attended public school.
First week of May 1999: Adam disappears from his Towanda home. Valerie Herrman said she thinks it was on the weekend.
The 11-year-old ran away after Valerie Herrman spanked him with a belt, she said in the Eagle interview. He didn't return and her husband searched for him, they said in the interview.
They said they didn't report him as a runaway because they feared the spanking would lead to him and his two younger siblings being removed from their home.
Around Thanksgiving 2008: The Herrmans' biological daughter, Crystal, calls SRS in the hopes of learning something about Adam.
She learns from SRS that records show Adam was with the Herrmans until 2005, which contradicts what her parents had told the family for years: that Adam went back to state custody in 1999. She shares this with SRS and voices her allegations that Adam had been abused by her mother, Valerie Herrman.
Crystal's contact with SRS uncovers the fact that Adam disappeared in 1999 and triggers a law enforcement investigation, led by the Butler County Sheriff's Office, of what happened to him.
Dec. 15, 2008: Investigators search the Herrmans' current home in Derby and take a computer, pictures of Adam and medical and psychological reports about him, among other items.
Dec. 31, 2008: Investigators search the Towanda mobile home park where Adam was last seen.
Jan. 3, 2009: Adam's biological parents, now living out of state, and his biological sister tell The Eagle that investigators are seeking samples of their DNA -- to match it with any possible evidence of Adam they might find. The biological parents and sisters say they are stunned to learn that Adam has been missing for nearly 10 years.
The Herrmans' attorney, Warner Eisenbise of Wichita, tells The Eagle that the couple feel "horribly guilty" for not reporting Adam missing in 1999.
Jan. 5, 2009: Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy holds a news conference in El Dorado, telling reporters that detectives are treating Adam's disappearance as a death, although he could still be alive. Without elaborating, Murphy says investigators are "holding tightly" to something they found and not revealing it. He welcomes national attention to the case, saying it could help locate Adam if he is alive. He asks for the public's help and releases Adam's fourth-grade picture.
In an Eagle interview, Valerie Herrman's relatives accuse her of abusing Adam, including keeping him chained to a bathroom faucet -- allegations she denies. She says Adam had been a difficult child but that she has always loved him and misses him.
Jan. 6, 2009: Investigators release an age-progressed image of what Adam might look like now.
During an interview with The Eagle lasting more than two hours, Valerie and Doug Herrman say they love Adam and miss him. Valerie Herrman denies her relatives' accusations that she abused Adam. She says she did not chain him to a bathroom faucet but did keep him locked in the bathroom on the advice of a psychiatrist after Adam threatened the family.
The Herrmans say they continued to list Adam in court documents as late as 2003, and in a follow-up telephone call, she says they continued to accept $700 monthly adoption subsidy payments for Adam until his 18th birthday, in 2005 -- six years after he disappeared.
"I feel very guilty for stealing that money," she says.
Ponce, the SRS spokeswoman, said SRS has determined the total amount of subsidies the state paid to the Herrmans for Adam over the years. Ponce said SRS won't disclose the amount because it could hinder any potential criminal prosecution. She wouldn't elaborate, but added that if anyone knowingly gives false information to the state to get benefits, "that is a crime."
"We would pursue all legal avenues," she said.
To receive an adoption subsidy, a family must complete an annual, self-reported form asking whether they continue to be legally and financially responsible for the person adopted. The form's questions include whether a child lives with them and whether there are any changes that would affect payment eligibility.
Generally, adoption payments end when the child turns 18. Payments are negotiated before the adoption based on the child's needs, Ponce said. The subsidies are common when a family adopts siblings. Ponce said she couldn't say why the Herrmans received the payments in Adam's case.
The payments are designed to help in cases where adoption placement can be difficult because of a child's medical, emotional and social needs or because the adoption involves a number of siblings, she said.
Jan. 7, 2009: Investigators search the manufactured home that the Herrmans had moved from Towanda, in Butler County, to an area between Bentley and Sedgwick, in rural Sedgwick County.
Jan. 10, 2009: Investigators use dogs to search along the Whitewater River on the west side of Towanda.
Jan. 14, 2009: Acting on an out-of-state tip, authorities spent several hours digging at the empty Towanda mobile home lot where the Herrmans used to live. Workers and investigators -- using a massive excavator and shovels -- dug, probed and sifted soil from under and around a shed that Adam's adoptive father installed around the time Adam was last seen in 1999. Investigators used a "sniffer," a device that can detect gases emitting from a body. But after nearly six hours of searching, Murphy said they found no remains of Adam.
Jan. 15, 2009: A judge in Butler County grants a temporary order prohibiting SRS from releasing records about Adam that "touch upon alleged acts of neglect or child abuse directed towards Adam Herrman." A hearing on whether the prohibition will continue will be held in March.
Jan. 16, 2009: In an interview, Butler County's chief prosecutor, County Attorney Jan Satterfield, said that the Herrmans are suspects in his disappearance and that the investigation could result in first-degree felony murder charges, with the underlying crime being child abuse. The Herrmans have not been charged with any crime, and Valerie Herrman's attorney, Warner Eisenbise, has said that Valerie Herrman denies harming Adam. Attorney Dan Monnat, whose firm is representing Doug Herrman, said, "Doug Hermann is innocent of any act resulting in the disappearance of Adam Herrman."
Also, Murphy said detectives received an interesting tip Jan 15, but he wouldn't elaborate. He described it as "an interesting tip that has created some questions for us that have got to be answered."
Jan. 20, 2009: Murphy announces that officials will look for Adam again on Jan. 24 along the Whitewater River, this time farther south, for about 2 miles. They'll again be assisted by anthropology experts and search dogs, he said. Murphy also says that his detectives are "still working through leads," including "a few leads that have sparked our interest." He wouldn't elaborate.
Jan. 24, 2009: Murphy confirms that the Jan. 7 search of the manufactured home in rural Sedgwick County — the same home that the Herrmans had moved from Towanda — focused on the bathroom. "We looked at every inch of that bathroom," Murphy said in Towanda, where search teams scoured the east bank of the Whitewater River. They found “nothing of any interest,” he said. It was the second search along the river.
Feb. 7, 2009: A third search along the Whitewater River fails to find clues. But Murphy doesn’t sound discouraged. "It's a very hot case," he says. "We have a lot of focus on it." Although detectives have interviewed a number of people, they have not been able to talk to Doug and Valerie Herrman, Murphy says. He wouldn't discuss why.
March 30, 2009 Butler County Sheriff turns over investigative findings - a stack of papers nearly three feet tall - to County Attorney Jan Satterfield to determine if criminal charges will be filed.
December 2009 Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield said she expects to make a decision on charges in the Adam Herrman case within the next year.