For a decade, girls endured the horror at home

12/09/2010 12:32 PM

12/12/2010 12:19 AM

Kellie and Kathie Henderson are twins born in Wichita 19 years ago.

Their brothers and father sexually abused them most of their lives; their mother knew it was happening; and neighbors and police rescued them in 2005. Twins Kellie (left) and Kathie Henderson say it will take a lifetime to recover.

Promise Not to Tell

Their brothers began molesting them before the girls reached Kindergarten.

When their mother found out, she did little to nothing. When their father found out, he raped them too.

The police who rescued them say somebody should have called 911 immediately, once relatives and friends knew. But it didn't happen like that. When the cops finally showed up, the twins lied to protect the rapists.

Until now this story was shrouded in all the secrecy that society can devise. Revulsion keeps people from discussing it; child abuse victims in court papers are sometimes listed with initials rather than names; newspapers almost never publish victims’ names, or defendants’ names; defendants escape notoriety for their crimes because naming them would identify victims.

Police and prosecutors say the secrecy that protects victims has kept the rest of us in the dark about how bad sexual abuse is.

They say hundreds of perverts abuse children here every year; there were 455 cases investigated in Sedgwick County last year alone. Most such criminals are men trusted in the home.

The twins say our secrecy and our revulsion let deviants keep other kids stuck in spiderwebs of lies, threats and forced sex.

The authorities say the twins have a point. Marc Bennett, who prosecuted the twins’ rapists, said that nearly every time the newspaper writes about a sexual-abuse case, more victims come forward.

So the twins are telling their story here with their names and faces revealed, rejecting secrecy, revulsion, shame.

They hope other victims come forward.

***

Jim and Shelly Vasey moved into their southeast Wichita neighborhood in 1992, with Jim earning a living in the claims department for State Farm.

She kept busy with their son and daughter, and Bible studies, and Sunday and Wednesday attendance at Countryside Christian Church on South Rock Road.

A couple of years after they moved in, little kids from across the street came knocking, led by a cute blond boy begging food. His name was Andrew Henderson.

“Could we have eggs and milk?” they’d ask.

Sweet-looking kids, Shelly thought. Soft yellow hair, big eyes, kids maybe three to five years old, boys and girls. They’d ask for milk, eggs, cheese and Band-aids on some days, and cereal and cookies on another day.

“Don’t you have food at your house?” Shelly asked.

“No.”

They begged at other houses too. Cunning scroungers, they never asked for the same things at the same house in the same week.

Begging made no sense. The houses south of Harry and Webb indicated good incomes: a new neighborhood with bay windows, porch pillars, SUVs in the driveways. Brad Henderson, the father, worked at Boeing, but had habits involving cocaine and Crown Royal whiskey, Jim Vasey learned. Six kids and no common sense, Jim thought.

They needed the food. “They don’t even have toys,” Jim said.

So Shelly gave them food, invited them to play with her children’s dolls and swing set.

They looked adorable; no wonder people gave them food, Shelly thought later.

Later she would learn that the kids were good at keeping a secret.

***

The Secret, as Kellie called it, began with her earliest memories, perhaps age three.

Andrew began molesting the twins when he was 7 or 8 and they were 3 or 4. About a year before fifth grade, Andrew began to force intercourse.

The girls hated it. Kathie thought sometimes that dying would be a relief.

By fifth grade they were getting raped every day, and Andrew had coaxed younger brother Matt to join in, before school, after school, at night, on weekends. The girls complained, but the mother didn’t believe. They’d watch her drink vodka.

At night the twins would hear footsteps, and one twin would feel a hand on her mouth.

Kathie and Kellie slept in the bottom bunk; their sister, a year younger, slept on top.

Sometimes one would speak up.

“Why us?”

Sometimes Kellie in desperation would betray her sister, telling Andrew, “Leave me alone, take her instead.” One time Kathie told the boys to take Kellie. Betrayals followed betrayals.

Neither twin ever forgot.

***

By the early 2000s the Henderson kids were a fixture at the Vaseys, bouncing on their trampoline, (sometimes with Shelly), shooting baskets. The girls stayed late.

The hugging-est girls anyone ever saw, Shelly thought.

Shelly tried to coax them to church. Their dad said no.

They hopped and jumped, swung in the swing, ate pie, candy, cookies. They ate ravenously.

They adored Jim, a big man with dark hair and a gentle manner. But Jim worked 50-hour weeks. By nine or ten at night, when the girls refused to leave, he’d make them go, and walk them home.

***

One day the mother, Lisa, finally suspicious, confronted her husband and demanded action. The girls took heart at this; he seemed angry. He beat Andrew, which was not unusual; he beat Lisa twice a week or more.

But after Brad Henderson beat Andrew he called the twins into his bedroom one at a time, and asked what his sons had done.

“Show me,” he said.

After that he made the twins have sex with him too. Sometimes he made Kathie and Kellie put on their mother’s lingerie and walk around the bed while he watched them.

After he beat her up for challenging him, Lisa never confronted him again.

***

Kathie thanked God that Andrew and Matt and her father were leaving her little sister alone.

She seldom talked to Kellie, but adored their little sister. They’d climb a backyard tree to hide, climb up the roof and talk.

If they ever go after my little sister, that’s it, Kathie thought. I’ll kill them.

One day, in fifth grade at Seltzer Elementary school, Kellie and Kathie sat staring as a teacher in health class took up sex education.

The teacher said sex happens with couples in love, couples giving pleasure with affection, loyalty, trust.

Nothing about this surprised Kathie; she already knew her family was despicable. But every word dropped like a stone in Kellie’s ears, especially “couples.”

She had assumed sex at home was how families lived. Now she knew better.

She and her sisters had been told repeatedly to never tell.

Kellie went home that night filled with revulsion. She could see many things clearly now: Her brothers and father were raping her; she and her sisters were prisoners, trapped in a lie: They could not have friends, play sports, sleep over. They could not have a childhood. Their abusers denied them money, true friendships and food; the girls sometimes ate wallboard crumbling off basement walls. Andrew threatened to kill any girl who told. He beat them with fists if they resisted. He knocked out Kathie one day; there was no one to cradle her head. He dragged the girls to the basement nearly every day and raped them.

It was all she and her sisters could do to keep the secret; if they told, Andrew would beat them; he was a tall, beefy kid who outweighed the twins by more than 100 pounds.

They went to the Vaseys not just for the fun but for food and comfort and loving. They would play on their swing set, shoot baskets, and for a little while, they’d feel safe.

She was living a lie: everything she did and everything she did not do was fashioned to keep the secret.

On the night after the sex lecture, when Andrew grabbed her, Kellie punched him, screaming that she now knew this was disgusting, this was wrong.

Andrew knocked her down, grabbed an ankle, and dragged her to the basement.

On the way down, her head hit every step.

***

Brad Henderson left his family in October 2003, when Kellie and Kathy were 12. He left them with no car, no food, no electricity. Lisa begged friends for help, found a job that kept her out late.

The last thing Brad did before he left was rape Kathie again. As usual, he paid. He often gave $20. On his last night he gave her $100.

He said he would miss her.

Brad rode to Colorado with his sister, Jennifer Walker, who lived in Ordway, and who blistered his ears for miles. He cried.

“Don’t you want to be there for your girls? Protect them, keep them pure?”

“Too late,” Brad said.

“What?”

“Too late.”

Jennifer stopped the car.

“What do you mean?”

Brad said Andrew was a monster. That Andrew monitored phone calls.

“And?”

Rape, he said.

Jennifer said they had to go back. Brad said no.

“Too late.”

Jennifer drove on.

She vowed to rescue the girls. But she was broke, working in a Pizza Hut.

She wanted to call, but Andrew monitored calls.

So on the day she learned the girls were getting raped, she drove home and began to save pennies to go back.

It took a year and a half.

***

With Brad gone and no longer able to object, Shelly Vasey had the girls come to a Christian discipleship class at her home. The few Bible passages about sex upset the twins: right and wrong, love and affection. Couples. Consent. Trust.

The girls almost spilled the secret, but fear stopped them.

Sometimes at night Kellie lashed out, and for once Kathie agreed with everything Kellie said.

“Where is God?

“If there is a God, if He is perfect, if He wants everything perfect, why does He let this happen to us?”

Sometimes Kellie ran out of her house, wanting to shout “rape” to all the neighborhood. But she feared for her sisters. So she kept the secret.


Excerpt from Kellie Henderson's writings

Promise Not to Tell

***

One day when the girls were 12, Jim Vasey with his big arms and gentle manner dipped the three Henderson girls into the baptismal tub at Countryside Christian and welcomed them to the faith.

Andrew watched, a bulky and muscular lineman for Southeast’s football team. At close to 240 pounds, he outweighed his little sisters by about 140, and always had an angry look. Kellie thought this had gotten worse the more he smoked pot.

The girls had told Jim they wanted Andrew there because they loved him.

Apparently so, Jim thought. The boy, now 17, was sobbing like a child; Jim thought he was deeply moved by the baptisms.

But Kathie knew better.

Andrew raped her that night.

A few months after that, he molested his youngest sister.

***

In mid-March 2005, Jennifer Walker showed up at the Hendersons’, driving a camper, friendly to all. She had cried and saved pennies for more than a year.

She said nothing to Lisa, the mother. Her brother Brad, the father, had warned that Andrew was vicious and monitored phone calls and mail. So she had not written, never called. She made an excuse to sit in her camper with the twins.

“Is something going on?”

She said Brad had told her that Andrew was molesting the girls.

Yes, Kellie said. Andrew and Matt.

“Matt!” Brad hadn’t told her that. Furious, Jennifer asked Kathie if it was true.

Yes, Kathie said. “And Dad.”

Sick and sobbing now, Jennifer said this would stop.

“We will tell somebody,” Jennifer said. “Who baptized you? Who do you trust?”

***

Aunt Jennifer called Shelly Vasey immediately.

When Shelly cheerfully let them in her door minutes later, the twins hugged Shelly, and sat down with her — Kathie to Shelly’s left, Kellie to her right; Jennifer sat on the couch opposite.

Moments later, as Jennifer talked, Shelly collapsed sideways in sobs, with the arms of the twins wrapped around her.

“How could I have missed this?” Shelly said. “I failed you.”

“No,” Kellie said.

“I failed you.”

Then came rage.

She wanted the girls out of that house. Now.

Up to this point, everything Jennifer had done since arriving in Wichita had been decisive; she’d questioned the girls, decided to act, and had driven the twins immediately to the home of a woman the girls trusted. She’d told the story, assuming (but not saying) that Shelly would act swiftly.

Shelly would remember Jennifer asking her not to call, not to act, at least until Lisa, the mother, could be consulted; and Shelly heard the girls agree. Jennifer and Kellie worried about upsetting Lisa, worried what Andrew might do.

They made her promise not to tell.

Jim Vasey came home to find his wife crying, a woman he did not know on his couch, and the twins looking scared.

They told him. And for the next half hour, Jim paced off to the side, back and forth, looking like he wanted to tear somebody up. Now he knew why Andrew cried at the girls’ baptism. And why the girls never wanted to go home at night. And he had taken them home.

Jennifer brainstormed. “Is there somebody at your church you could talk to, sort out what to do?”

Kellie said they should talk to Lisa. Kathie got angry; she wanted Shelly to call the cops, but she stayed silent.

“Something has to be done,” Shelly said.

Yes. Kathie said, speaking at last. Because Andrew is raping the younger sister too.

“What?” Shelly said. “This stops now.”

Jennifer had to get back to her job in Colorado. She assumed she had fixed this. She thought, as she said later, that Shelly would sort this out and call in the cavalry, from church or somewhere. But Shelly thought Jennifer said not to tell.

They left Shelly crying on the couch, with Jim consoling her. Jennifer took the girls home, and drove to Colorado the next day.

The day after that, Andrew dragged Kathie down to the basement.

She kicked and fought all the way.

---

CONTINUE THE SERIES

PART TWO: Neighbors rescue girls from years of molestation

PART THREE: As shattered lives are put back together, cracks remain

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