Devil Stars in Bakersfield Sex Abuse Drama

11 August, 1985, San Jose Mercury News


Sunday, August 11, 1985 Section: Front Page: 22A Dateline: Bakersfield

Mercury News Staff Writer

The four alleged satanists bowed their heads before the preacher, a man also accused of abusing children during satanic rituals.

''I command that Satan take his hands off the children," said the Rev. Willard Lee Thomas, who is free on $60,000 bail while awaiting an October trial on child abuse charges.

"I command the minds of the children be renewed and restored in God," Thomas said.

As television cameras whirred, Thomas clutched a Bible and some supporters gave rousing choruses of "Amen."

''They accused Daniel, they accused Paul, they accused Jesus Christ," Thomas said at a recent service. "God almighty, I'm in with the big boys."

A drama of good and evil is unfolding in this steamy Central California city, 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

At least 77 adults and 60 children have been named recently in Kern County Sheriff's Department reports of child abuse. The reports detail the activities of three child molestation rings that children say engineered the cannibalistic murders of 29 youngsters.

While sex abuse charges have been filed against 17 people -- with five of them being convicted so far -- deputies have uncovered no evidence to support the murders or the satanic rituals.

And two of the children reported murdered have been found alive. A third actually died one day after she was born in 1972 -- 12 years before the abuse charges surfaced.

Despite the lack of evidence, the investigation has continued.

The case has the makings of a sordid soap opera -- children who tell of devil worship and satanic killings; a sheriff who is convinced the youngsters are telling the truth; a therapist who feels it's God's will that she counsel the children; and parents labeled as devil worshipers who say they love God with all their hearts.

''It's a witch hunt, plain and simple," said Jack Cummings, whose child and two stepsons are in protective custody pending the outcome of the investigation.

''The children are being coached as to what to say," said Cummings, who has not been charged with anything. "It's brainwashing."

''There is no witch hunt," Kern County Sheriff Larry Kleier said recently. "We are not brainwashing the children. We have bent over backward to make sure we are not putting words in the children's mouths."

''I don't know whom to believe," said Kern County Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephen Tauzer, who along with state authorities is investigating the allegations and the handling of the matter by the sheriff's department.

As in Jordan, Minn. -- a town of 2,600 where last year 24 people were charged with sexual abuse -- the accused in Bakersfield are fighting back.

In the Jordan case, one person was sentenced in a plea- bargain arrangement and two others were acquitted; the rest of the charges were dropped.

Following a public outcry, a Minnesota state commission is now investigating how the prosecutor handled the Jordan case.

In Bakersfield, the accused have organized support groups and church services, filed civil suits, and taken their cause to the media by releasing previously secret sheriff's reports obtained from defense attorneys.

''We are not going to sit back, have our children taken from us and go quietly off to jail," said Jackie Nokes, Cummings' wife, who has yet to be charged. "We want the truth to come out that we didn't molest anyone."

Many of those named in the police reports are neighbors, members of the Nokes family and friends who worked as oil rig operators.

''It's like a plague on one house," said Roy Nokes, a grandfather and the patriarch of the Nokes clan, who also has not been charged. "It's tough to figure out who has it out for us."

The case began unfolding last summer when a young girl said a Bakersfield man had given her "little green pills" that made her "feel funny."

After taking the pill, the girl said she was molested.

Soon detectives received lurid reports from other children saying they were abused.

Slowly the investigation came to center on Michael Nokes, a 10-year-old with a toothy grin.

For almost six days, Michael refused to talk much about the molestations, even though other children said the boy had been sexually abused.

But eventually, after questioning by sheriff's deputies and under the counseling of therapist Carolyn Heim, Michael detailed dozens of instances of sexual abuse and satanic torture.

While Michael has at times recanted some of his statements under more questioning, detectives still believe him.

''I'm absolutely convinced these children are telling the truth," Sheriff Kleier said recently.

Added Heim: "The details are so clear and so specific that the children could never have gotten together to make it up."

Recently, a 130-count indictment against Michael's parents, Brad and Mary Nokes, was dismissed before Michael could testify.

Defense attorneys say Michael's statements will never be credible. The boy is in a foster home as sheriff's detectives continue to investigate the case.

''The kid is a virtual zombie," said attorney Stanley Simrin, who defended the boy's parents. "The system has got him so mixed up that he doesn't know right from wrong."

Sheriff's detectives said they do not know if more charges will ever be filed in the case.

''Percentage-wise it's probably not going to come up with a case, if you look at what's happened around the U.S.," Kleier admitted at a recent news conference. ''But that doesn't mean you don't try, that you don't give it your best effort."

The accused received a boost last week when the state attorney general's office agreed to look into the handling of the case.

Cummings hopes the probe will clear child abuse suspects and eventually lead to court orders to return at least seven children to their parents. The children are now in court- ordered welfare custody. ''This poor community," Cummings said. "Half the people are afraid of the devil and the other half are afraid of the sheriff.

''We pray to god that the nightmare will end soon."

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Last Updated: 26 Nov 95 -- Mark Pritchard

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