A Fells Acres Chronology

by Bob Chatelle
The Amirault Tragedy

Malden, Massachusetts, 1984
In 1966, at age 42, Violet Amirault — abandoned to raise her two children — took herself off the welfare rolls by starting a small daycare service in the basement of her home in Malden, Massachusetts.

This grew to the thriving Fells Acres Day School, which soon occupied the whole house (plus an addition) and served over 70 students at a time. For 18 years, the school cared for thousands of youngsters and gained community respect. No one ever made an accusation of abuse or impropriety.

In 1984, when the troubles began, Violet no longer taught but was the school’s principal. Her son Gerald didn’t teach (his wife Patti did) but did odd jobs — driving, cooking, repairs and the like. Violet’s daughter Cheryl taught one toddler class.

In April of 1984 a four-year-old, new to the school, wet himself during a nap. Gerald, at the teacher’s request, changed him into spare clothes kept on hand for such common accidents, put the wet things in a plastic bag, and sent them home with the boy.

The boy who wet himself had behavioral problems: bed wetting, lying, baby talk, and hostility. His parents were in the midst of a difficult breakup. Around the time of the wetting incident, the mother discussed with the boy the alleged sexual abuse of her brother. During the summer, the boy was discovered in sex play with a cousin. This led to his being interrogated by the uncle, the mother, and a therapist at Children’s Hospital. The boy told the uncle that Gerald had taken the boy’s pants down. On the eve of Labor Day, 1984, the boy told his mother that every day at preschool, Gerald blindfolded him, took him to a “secret room” with a bed and golden trophies, and performed various sex acts. The mother called a hotline and accused Gerald of sexual abuse…

Massachusetts Injustice From Hathorne to Harshbarger

January 20, 1692. In Salem, Massachusetts, 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams scream blasphemies, fall into trance-like states, and shake with convulsive seizures. Weeks later, physicians state that the girls are under the influence of Satan. They accuse three women of afflicting them. Before the Salem Witch Trials are stopped, 20 innocent people will be executed.

January 14, 1697. The Massachusetts General Court declares a Day of Contrition to repent for the hysteria-driven destruction of 1692.

1966. Violet Amirault — abandoned to raise her two children — takes herself off the welfare rolls by starting a small daycare service in the basement of her home. This will grow into the thriving Fells Acres Day School, which will occupy the whole house, plus an addition, and serve over 70 students at a time. The school will earn community respect, care for thousands of youngsters, and, for 18 years, no one will ever make an accusation of impropriety…

September 12, 1984. At the police-station meeting, parents are told that common childhood behavioral symptoms — bed wetting, nightmares, changes in appetite, etc. — are evidence of abuse. They are asked to go home and query their children about “magic rooms,” “secret rooms,” and clowns. They are told that a child’s denial of abuse should not be believed. They are told not to take no for an answer and “God forbid you say anything good about the people [the Amiraults] or your children will never tell you anything.”

The Fells Acres investigation begins in earnest. Not one child ever makes an accusation against the Amiraults except under repeated prodding questioning by parents, police, therapists, or social workers. Overall responsibility falls on the shoulders of Middlesex County District Attorney, Scott Harshbarger and First Assistant District Attorney, Tom Reilly. Harshbarger assigns the investigation to Assistant District Attorney, Patricia Bernstein, who will later be joined by Larry Hardoon, who flies to California to consult with the McMartin prosecutors. Among those assisting the investigation are pediatric nurse, Susan Kelley (Ann Burgess’s pupil) and Dr. Eli Newberger, of Boston’s Children’s hospital…

September 12, 1997. Violet Amirault dies.Among her last words are, “Don’t vote for Scott Harshbarger.”…

September 9, 1998. The Boston Globe endorses Tom Reilly for Attorney General and Martha Coakley for Middlesex County District Attorney. (Coakley successfully prosecuted Ray and Shirley Souza, who were accused of sexually abusing their grandchildren, on evidence as phony as the evidence that convicted the Amiraults. Coakley is also endorsed by the Boston Herald.)…

Read the entire chronology here.

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