A 70-year-old man was in custody in Arizona on Thursday in what prosecutors described as a tangled case of incest and child molestation that stretched back decades.
One of his sons pleaded no contest Thursday to two counts of molestation that occurred between 1995 and 1997. A second son had earlier served seven years in prison on molestation charges in a separate case, investigators said.
“The incest conduct was so pervasive in this family that the victims did not even realize it was wrong. They thought that this was a normal way of life,” said prosecutor Mary Knox of the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office.
Investigators gave few details about the crimes, saying they wanted to protect the victims.
What they did say is that the family patriarch, Marion Reynolds Stogner, 70, is being held on $100,000 bail in Maricopa County Jail for investigation of engaging in lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. Prosecutors say he abused two victims they described only as close family members between 1955 and 1964.
His sons allegedly repeated the abuse, and now the relationships of victims and suspects are so complicated, “I had to draw a flow chart to figure it out,” said Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Det. Chris Forsythe.
“It’s a cycle of abuse that just continues oftentimes from one generation to the next,” he said.
One of Stogner’s two alleged victims, now a grown woman, was reportedly abused by his son, Randy Stogner, during the early 1970s, Knox said. But that charge was dropped in return for Randy Stogner’s no contest plea Thursday to the two molestation counts.
The case came to light last August when Randy Stogner’s second wife, since divorced, told authorities that she suspected him of molestation.
Forsythe began talking to family members, peeling back layers of secrets and pain with each interview.
Randy Stogner had come to authorities’ attention once before in the early 1980s, when he reported that he suspected his brother, John Stogner, of abusing children at Randy’s Ranch, a now-defunct day-care facility Randy Stogner was running.
John Stogner would eventually serve seven years in prison for molesting children, including one relative, Forsythe said.
The earliest abuse allegedly took place while the Stogners were living in Contra Costa County, a suburban area east of San Francisco. Forsythe said the family led a nomadic existence, moving from trailer parks to broken-down homes. “They were a very poor family,” he said.
Interviews with family members indicated that although some remembered being left in a car outside bars while Marion Stogner drank, the Stogner household was able to present a “seemingly normal family life,” Knox said.
But beneath, horror allegedly lurked.
“I’ve read a journal that one of the victims began keeping after she was contacted by [a detective], and it’s heart-rending. Even after all this time, she feels so much pain and so much confusion,” Knox said.
The woman has talked about titling her journal “And Say Your Prayers.”
That’s because after she was molested, “he would send her off to bed and remind her to make sure to say her prayers,” Knox said.
Investigators said the case continues to unfold, although they don’t know if any more charges will be filed.
According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Randy Stogner’s first wife filed a declaration in Contra Costa County Superior Court in November that said Randy Stogner claimed to have been molested by an uncle.
Randy Stogner “appears to come from a long family line of sexual predators and molesters, and they do not seem to feel there is anything wrong with this perverted behavior,” said the declaration, which sought to deny Randy Stogner custody of a 10-year-old son.
Marion Stogner’s two alleged victims, now grown women, were at first reluctant to talk about their painful past. But they are now willing to testify, a decision that Forsythe and Knox praised as courageous.
“They were reluctant. They were scared. They’re still afraid of these perpetrators. After all these years, they still have that fear,” Forsythe said. “Somewhere deep down inside they gained the resolve and strength to go ahead.”
The charges against Marion Stogner are well past the six-year statute of limitations, but prosecutors were able to act under a recent provision in the law allowing exemptions for cases involving substantial sexual contact or convincing evidence.
That law is being challenged, but prosecutors said the case was important enough to proceed on the hope that the law would be upheld.
A hearing was scheduled today to begin the process of bringing the older Stogner back to face the California charges.
Randy Stogner’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Jack Funk, did not return a telephone call to Associated Press on Thursday.