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Court docs reveal man's graphic text messages about child molestation while on San Jose-bound flight

A federal complaint unsealed Monday alleges in graphic detail the extent to which a man aboard a flight from Seattle to San Jose discussed in text messages that he planned to molest children.

The messages, exchanged between Tacoma, Wash., residents Michael Keller, 56, and Gail Burnworth, 50, took place as Kellar flew into the Bay Area for work on July 31, federal investigators said.

The couple discussed drugging and raping two of the three children who lived with Burnworth, her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s wife, the complaint states. One of the messages says the victims are 5 and 7 years old.

While Kellar and Burnworth discussed their plans, a passenger on the Southwest Airlines flight with Kellar snapped a photo of his phone, prosecutors said. The passenger alerted a flight crew member of what she saw and the flight crew alerted police, who took Kellar into custody when the flight landed.

The passenger’s photo revealed that Burnworth told Kellar that she would have the children to herself on Sunday and that she would drug them with Benadryl, then record herself molesting them while they slept, the complaint stated.

She also agreed to film Kellar raping the victims while they slept, the complaint stated.

Other messages found on their phones showed them discussing bestiality.

If it hadn’t been for the actions of that passenger — a preschool teacher on vacation who was on her way to visit family — Kellar and Burnworth could still be free, said San Jose police Sgt. Brian Spears, who leads the Silicon Valley’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

“One minute she is on her way to visit family on her vacation, the next thing you know her actions saved two children from continuous molestation,” Spears said. “I feel she is absolutely a hero and was paramount to this investigation.”

The day after the flight, Spears visited the woman to thank her for helping unravel the alleged conspiracy.

“I felt that she needed to be told in person she is our hero. I was blessed to meet her, gave her a big hug and said thank you,” Spears said. “She was emotional. She said ‘I just knew something was wrong’ and she felt it in her heart.”

While in custody at the airport, Kellar said the text messages were just fantasies that he discussed with Burnworth because they were into specific sexual fetishes.

Immediately after the interview, Kellar was arrested by San Jose police. Authorities alerted police in Seattle, who tracked down Burnworth at a neighbor’s home where she was housesitting.

Burnworth, like Kellar, ultimately agreed to being sexually aroused by children, prosecutors said. Burnworth said she “probably” would have helped Kellar molest the victims described in the text messages and admitted that she had already made up to 20 videos of the two victims and sent them to Kellar, according to the complaint.

One of the messages the passenger photographed showed Kellar allegedly messaging Burnworth, “…you can do this or are you just saying this???” to which Burnworth replies, “No I think I can do it if I don’t have parents over my shoulder or worried about who’s going to walk in on me And then on Sunday I will have the kids no parents just kids.”

Both were charged Monday with attempted enticement of a minor, including rape of a child and conspiracy to produce child pornography. Kellar remains in custody in Northern California pending his extradition back to Washington.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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