THE FRANKLIN COVER-UP -- CHILD ABUSE, SATANISM, AND MURDER IN NEBRASKA
CHAPTER 2: LARRY KING, A MAN WELL-KNOWN TO CHILDREN
The first alarm went off on June 10, 1985, when the Washington County, Nebraska, Sheriffs Department contacted a Nebraska Department of Social Services (DSS) social worker handling the case of Sean*, Sally* and Steve McArthur*. The children were living in foster care with Jarrett and Barbara Webb of Fort Calhoun.
The social worker wrote up the call:
The Sheriff's department phoned today and stated they have the McArthur children in their custody and they had picked them up from the Webb home due to child abuse complaint. Sean had welts and scratches over parts of his back which he said the Webbs had beat him with a railroad iron and belt. They also had picked up the Webbs' son Joey*, age 16. Joey also complained of being beaten by his parents ... Sean said the Webbs have been beating [them] for quite some time and this is not the first time this has happened to them. They were afraid to say anything the other times.
Jarrett Webb worked for the Omaha Public Power District and was a board member of the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, headed by Lawrence E. King, Jr. His wife, Barbara, is Larry King's cousin.
Foster child Sean McArthur and adopted son Joey Patterson* Webb were removed from the Webbs' custody that month. Other of their foster and adopted children -- there were as many as nine in the house at one time -- tried to make their break, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs. In August, Joey's sister Kimberly Patterson* Webb (age 14) and another brother, Michael*, ran away, but were returned to the Webbs. In November, Nelly Patterson* Webb, 16, fled to the home of her grandmother, Ruby Patterson*.
The Fremont office of DSS reported on the reasons, in a document dated December 18, 1985:
Our office and a Deputy interviewed Kimberly [who had obtained permission to visit Nelly at their grandmother's] and Nelly separately and together. Both girls stated numerous times that they refuse to go back to the Webbs. ... Both girls have stated they have received "whippings" and "beatings" from both Barbara and Jarrett at different times. These started in 1978, approximately eight months after they moved into the Webb home. The girls said they were hit with objects: an extension cord, a belt, a "black thing," (rubber hose) and a "railroad prop" (a narrow piece of heavy black rubber approximately two feet long with several holes in each end). Before they were struck, they were made to remove their clothing. They were mainly struck on the back or on the behind, but occasionally on the head or face.
Social workers removed Nelly, whose full name was Cornelia M. Patterson* Webb, from the Webb home and placed her with foster parents Ron and Kathleen Sorenson in Blair, Nebraska. Soon after this move, she was interviewed at the Washington County Sheriff's Office by State Patrol Investigator Jane F. Tooley. Tooley found out that the abuse was not limited to beatings.
Tooley wrote in her report, dated January 30, 1986:
She stated that she had been sexually abused. ... Nelly stated that when she was approximately nine or ten years of age, that Jarrett Webb kissed her for a long time and that she pulled away because she couldn't breathe and it was nasty. She stated that he was french kissing her and she stated that he was slobbering in her mouth. ... Nelly stated again that when she was approximately nine or ten years old that on one occasion Jarrett Webb made her take a nap with him in his bed and she stated "he played with all my body parts" ... he touched her vagina and that he put his finger inside her vagina. ... Nelly stated that when she was 10 and 11 years old, at night time when everyone was in bed, Jarrett Webb called her into his room a couple of times. When she didn't come into the room he then told her to come in or he would whip her. ... She stated that Jarrett Webb pulled the sheet down and pulled her on top of him. ... She stated that she could feel his hair against her leg and knew that he didn't have any underwear on.
When Nelly was 15, she told Tooley, Jarrett Webb punished her by ordering her to undress and lie on the bed, and then beating her with a rubber strap. Next, he made her lie on her back, put her legs in the air, and "he pressed himself between her legs," and "started 'humping her'. He started beating her again with the strap. ... He then started sucking on her breasts. ... Nelly stated that she started crying and that Webb left."
When, in February of 1986, the Department of Social Services requested immediate and emergency removal of Kendra* and Michael Webb from the Webb home, it listed eight separate concerns, among them:
2) Repeated allegations of physical abuse told to our Department by six children during separate interviews:
a) of being struck for long periods of time while naked, by various objects, including a belt, rubber hose, and the "railroad prop";
b) denial of meals in the home
3) Sexual abuse of Nelly by Jarrett (supported by a poly-graph test given to Nelly 1-30-86)
4) The intense concern by the children out of the Webb home for the physical and emotional well-being of the children remaining in the home. ...
DSS memos show that the Webbs aggressively sought to terminate their status as adoptive parents of Nelly and Kimberly, starting immediately after Nelly's flight in November 1985. Under DSS rules, this would cut short an investigation into the mistreatment of the girls.
Reversing an adoption was not a routine procedure. "Regarding a relinquishment [of adopted children], the Department does not accept one easily," noted one DSS social worker in her log of the Patterson Webb case. The Webbs insisted on it. Social workers recorded that in January 1986, Barbara Webb "was crying and carrying on," inquired about "allegations" the girls were making, and wanted "to get relinquishment over with."
Negotiations on behalf of the Webbs were conducted by attorney Gary Randall, whose brother Casey Randall was in the orbit of Larry King's Franklin Credit Union; Nelly and Kimberly referred to Casey as "Larry's maid." Gary Randall arranged the relinquishment with the help of the very official who would have handled a criminal prosecution of the Webbs for child abuse, had there been one at that time, Washington County prosecutor Patrick Tripp.
In June 1986, in the face of a pattern of gross abuse of children by the Webbs, the state suspended their foster care license. Prosecutor Patrick Tripp again came to the rescue, deciding not to file sexual abuse charges or any other charges against Jarrett or Barbara Webb.
Instead of investigating her reports about the Webbs' involvement in pornography and child prostitution, Tripp called Nelly Webb a liar -- lie detector tests notwithstanding.
Tripp's attitude was recorded by Julie Walters, a youth care worker called on to interview Nelly and Kimberly Patterson Webb in March 1986, because they had described abuse of boys residing at Boys Town, the large orphanage west of Omaha, where Walters was employed. In Walters' fifty-page report on the child abuse described to her by the girls, Tripp figures as an adversary of the children:
When presented with Jane Tooley's investigation, Pat Tripp, the Washington County prosecutor, said he didn't believe Nelly and wanted her to take a polygraph test. At his request, Nelly was given four polygraph tests administered by a state trooper at the State Patrol office on Center St. in Omaha. The state trooper, after Nelly's testing was completed, told Kathleen Sorenson he tried to "break Nelly down" but he was convinced she was telling the truth. He also told Nelly that she "passed" and that he believed her. Although the polygraph tests showed Nelly was not deceptive, Atty. Pat Tripp maintained he still didn't believe what Nelly said. He said Nelly had fantasized those stories to the point that she believed they were true.
Tripp's line, that child victims in Nebraska just invent abuses, and that therefore their complaints need not be seriously investigated, would be heard from one law enforcement agency after another, throughout the Franklin case, down to the perjury conviction of victim-witness Alisha Owen.
For Pat Tripp, there was a personal element in this case. He was a "good friend," according to foster parents cited in a September 1989 report by legislative Franklin committee investigator Karen Ormiston, of two individuals named by Nelly and Kimberly Webb as involved with the Webbs -- Fort CalhounSuperintendent of Schools Deward Finch and Fort Calhoun High School principal Kent Miller.
Between late 1985 and June 1986, thanks to Tripp, the Webbs escaped both a DSS investigation and possible criminal prosecution. Shortly after his refusal to file criminal charges in this case, Tripp quit as Washington County attorney. Today he is a prominent lawyer in Omaha.
Well-known as they were, Deward Finch and Kent Miller were small fry compared to another name that appeared in Walters' report, the same person for whom Nelly and Kimberly said Casey Randall was the "maid" -- Larry King. Walters wrote:
While the Webbs were away, the kids snooped through the house. They found:
1. pornographic video tapes in a bag under the Webbs' bed (which the kids played on the VCR while Webbs were gone) -- one tape specifically showing teenagers involved in sexual activity. Nelly and Kimberly knew from eavesdropping that Larry King supplied the Webbs with the video tapes;
2. pornographic magazines in the basement. Once when Sean was suspected of snooping around in the magazines he was not allowed to eat anything at the Webbs' house for one week;
3. box of a lot of "romantic" novels in Mrs. Webb's closet (i.e., mothers having sex with their sons);
4. stacks of 8" x 10" (approx.) "photo" envelopes marked "DO NOT BEND" in Mrs. Webb's closet ...;
5. photos of naked white women in Webbs' bedroom dresser drawer.
Walters' report also conveys the Webbs ' pricey lifestyle and the involvement of more people, including Larry King, in their activities:
Although at the 3/7/86 hearing, Mr. Webb stated that he earns $32,000/year , the Webbs' home is furnished quite expensively ($2,000 paintings, crystal, silver, several VCRs, TVs, etc.). Also, Mrs. Webb wears a four carat diamond ring, a full-length fur coat, all custom-made dresses, expensive accessories. When they throw a party it includes caterers and limousines. ...
Larry [King] attends meetings/parties at the Omaha Girls, Club ... about every other week. He sometimes invited Joey Webb or Nelly by calling the Webbs and telling them to have one of the kids ready in so many minutes. Nelly said they had no choice about attending these functions. She said she attended only once about 2 years ago (age 14) but Joey attended regularly from the time he was in seventh grade (approx. age 12-13) until he left the Webbs' home (age 16). When Nelly attended she and Larry King went alone in his limo. Other times, Mrs. King and Mr. and Mrs. Webb also attended.
Nelly described these functions as lasting about 45 minutes. She said she attended one held on a Fri. evening about 7:00 p.m. There were about ten to fifteen older men present and about twenty-five young teenage girls there. The girls all signed a brown notebook Larry King had. Nelly has appeared very frightened and teared up when asked about [document illegible]. ...
Larry King either called or sent invitations to Nelly, Kimberly and Joey to attend parties at his home which are held about every other week. This began about two years ago. Again, Nelly said the kids had no choice about whether or not they would attend. They were driven over to King's with Mr. and Mrs. Webb. ...
Nelly and Kimberly said they talked with boys at those parties who said they were from Boys Town. ... From [Boys Town] year book photos, after examining '83, '84 & '85 yearbooks, Kimberly said [four boys] had all attended some of Larry's parties during the summers of '84 and '85. Nelly was afraid to mention any names but earlier had mentioned a "Brent" (whose picture she didn't find in the yearbooks), who told her he had left Boys Town in '84. Brent was "flown to another city somewhere" in Larry's private plane to "work for someone else" after he and Larry had a disagreement. ...
At the parties there are usually about thirty adults present, male & females, more white than black guests because according to Larry "blacks get ignorant when they drink and tighter with their money and whites spend more money when they're drunk." Also present were some prostitutes (ages unknown but not teenagers) and [illegible] ages 16-22, and Nelly and Kimberly -- about twenty kids total. If a man was interested in a young lady he held out a folded $50 or $100 bill in front of them and whispered something in their ear. Then they went upstairs or to some other area of the house. Nelly and Kimberly said the prostitutes told them they gave half of the money they got to Larry King. Larry also gave some of the boys at these parties new cars. The sexual activity was not always behind closed doors or confined to the upstairs rooms, and sometimes involved more than two people. Couples engaged in sexual activity were same-sex as well as opposite sex. ... The money Joey told Nelly and Kimberly he made "working for Larry" the Webbs took from him supposedly to keep for him. ...
The girls talked about Larry King's power to command underage youth to do his bidding:
Larry claims to donate money to Boys Town and be on the Board of Directors at Girls Club. Nelly said Larry has gotten Boys Town boys and other boys to his home by asking them to do some yard work. If Larry asks the young man to do something and he refuses, Larry might hit him. Nelly said Larry "has a bad temper." Larry also tells the young men they'll get hurt.
Julie Walters' write-up contains the most explosive account by the Patterson Webb girls, which marked the pornography and prostitution network they were caught up in as a scandal of national scope. What they told was so awful, that it screamed for immediate investigation. In the course of attempts by law enforcement personnel and, later on, news media to belittle the children's testimony, however, this particular item from Nelly's account would serve the opposite purpose: How can anything she says be believed, the line went, if she says this? The passage in Julie Walters' handwritten report reads as follows:
Nelly also accompanied Mr. and Mrs. King and [their son] Prince on trips to Chicago, N.Y. and Washington, D.C., beginning when she was 15 years old. She missed twenty-two days of school almost totally due to these trips. Nelly was taken along on the pretense of being Prince's babysitter. Last year she met V.P. George Bush and saw him again at one of the parties Larry gave while on a Washington, D.C. trip. At some of the parties there are just men (as was the case at the party George Bush attended) -- older men and younger men in their early twenties. Nelly said she has seen sodomy committed at those parties. At other parties during Larry's trips, Larry had local prostitutes (in their 20's & 30's) there to entertain his male guests. ...
At these parties, Nelly said every guest had a bodyguard and she saw some of the men wearing guns. All guests had to produce a card which was run through a machine to verify the guest was, in fact, who they said they were. And then each guest was frisked down before entering the party.
This was not the last time that the name of George Bush would surface in the Franklin affair.
After the Patterson Webb girls raised Larry King's name, Julie Walters asked some discreet questions about King of Boys Town employees, and of some people in the north Omaha community. Walters summarized what she was told:
"If you mess with him, you'll get your legs broken."
"On the outside he has all the appearances of an upstanding citizen; but underneath he's very dirty."
"Omaha has a very large underworld and he's a very powerful man nationally. Maybe he doesn't have all the connections personally but he knows the people who do. ... [King] used to be very active in Big Brothers and took more than an appropriate interest in the young men."
Walters also recorded information on Fort Calhoun school officials Deward Finch and Kent Miller, whose "good friend" Washington Country prosecutor Pat Tripp was. Finch would later be named by two other victim-witnesses as an associate of Larry King.
Kimberly overheard Mrs. Webb tell someone on the phone, "I got him [Finch] all the way. I caught him several times down there with black girls." Nelly saw Mr. Finch leave the Webb home once as she returned home from school and Kimberly saw him leave the Webb house several times during daytime hours. Kimberly's first period class at school is a study hall which is located across the hall from the school's office. She said Mr. Finch would regularly call the Webbs and say, "It's time for another meeting." Mr. Finch would interrupt whatever he was doing when the Webbs arrived to meet with them, meeting in the school office sometimes for several hours. At some meetings, Kent Miller, principal of Ft. Calhoun H.S., was also present. Mrs. Webb almost always carried a large Gucci bag (almost the size of a shopping bag) with her into these meetings. Kimberly said Mrs. Webb carried some photo envelopes (from Mrs. Webb's closet) with her at least once into these meetings, telling Kimberly she was going to show Mr. Miller pictures from their trip.
The Walters report was turned over to law enforcement agencies by March 1986. The DSS logs were also accessible.
Law enforcement officials failed to pursue the many clues and leads provided in these eyewitness accounts by children living with the Webbs, which might have taken them into a cleanout of child prostitution, pornography, and interstate transportation of child prostitutes from Boys Town. While they stalled, the trail grew cold. County Prosecutor Patrick Tripp called Nelly Patterson Webb a liar after she passed four lie detector tests. Nobody was indicted. Jarrett and Barbara Webb went free. And Larry King was invited back to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the Republican National Convention in 1988, as he had done in 1984.