House of Abuse
Investigators say adopted boys lived under hellish conditions
Nov. 24, 2013
The adopted children took their meals apart from the rest of the family, the ones related by blood who sat down together.
The boys were told to stay in their room and stay quiet. They were often required to eat standing up. Sometimes they ate peanut butter sandwiches, and sometimes they ate mush.
Here is what investigators say the daily menu at the Loesch residence consisted of, at least for two adopted boys, who were ages 13 and 10 at the time they were removed from the home in July:
For breakfast, they got "soggy corn flakes." For lunch and dinner, they got peanut butter sandwiches. With dinner, they got "an inch of water" to wash it down.
"While other family members ate prepared and varied meals, these children were required to continuously eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches," the investigator wrote.
MALNOURISHED AND HUNGRY
That’s just one disturbing detail outlined in an affidavit filed against Harbor Springs couple Kimberly Ann and Phillip Albert Loesch, ages 50 and 53, who are accused of child abuse against three at-risk children, beginning in 2008.
Kimberly Ann Loesch continues to deny the charges against her, and the couple have strong supporters in the community, despite the controversy.
Investigators described the Loesch parenting of the adopted children as "completely controlling, domineering, coercive, hostile, punitive, unloving, abusive and cruel."
The alleged abuse didn’t end with a strange menu, according to court filings. Indeed, according to investigators, food was used as a sort of weapon.
"For punishment the children were required to eat a bowl of "˜mush,’ consisting of corn, peas, and vinegar," an investigator wrote. "When the children vomited into the bowl of mush, they were then required to eat the vomit mixture as further punishment."
The hellish conditions described in court documents came at a price for the boys, according to investigators. When they were pulled from the house by officials after the oldest one ran away and caused a 48-hour search in the woods around Cross Village, the children were found to be malnourished, small for their age, and hungry.
STATE CALLED EIGHT TIMES
Perhaps most disturbing about the case is that before an Emmet County Sheriff’s investigation caused the children to be removed and the Loesches to face charges, state officials were repeatedly called to investigate the family.
Sheriff Pete Wallin said Child Protective Services were called to the home as many as eight times.
He said once deputies were called July 15 after the 13-year-old ran away from the Readmond Township home, it was clear that something was not right.
Wallin said in cases when children run away, investigators try to find out why.
"A lot of time they get grounded and they run away for a couple hours and then they’re back," he said.
In this case, the kid ran away for two days and he spent that time in the woods and abandoned houses.
The boy, who stood a few inches short of five feet tall and weighed 90 pounds, was hungry and scraped up, but he was alright.
"He stayed in some abandoned houses, from what we found out, but the weather was on his side," Wallin said.
What the boy told investigators about why he left caused investigators to look more closely at the Loesches.
Investigators wound up cataloging a litany of alleged abuse, while by all accounts the couple treated their two biological children well.
Kimberly Loesch perpetrated the abuse with the knowledge and support of her husband, according to the charges.
Among the allegations:
- Once, one of the boys was struck in the ear hard enough that he wound up with a perforated eardrum.
- Exercise became another form of punishment, at least for the adopted children, who were forced to do what investigators called "an excessive number" of pushups or other exercises while being deprived of fluids to stay hydrated.
- Sometimes they were forced to stand facing a wall for hours at a time. They were forced to carry or hold large rocks or buckets of water for extended periods of time.
"The rocks and buckets were required to be hidden whenever CPS came to investigate
based on complaints from school personnel or others, which occurred
frequently," the affidavit reads.
BOY WEARS A BOX
Some of the details in the affidavit are so bizarre and specific that it is hard to imagine how a 10 or 13 year old could make something like it up.
For example: "They were not allowed to socialize with other family members and were isolated in the house. (One of the boys) was required to wear cardboard box sides on his head so he could only look straight forward as punishment for looking up or around when, for instance, family members came in the bedroom."
Wallin said the couple received around $900 per month per child. At the time the 13-year-old ran away, they were raising two children. Earlier they had three, including an older sister who is now 19 years old and moved out of the home in 2012.
Wallin said the younger kids are doing alright now.
"They’ve been placed in a different foster home in the area," he said. "It’s my understanding they’re doing pretty good."
Since the Kimberly Loesch case is still open, Emmet County Prosecuting Attorney James Linderman said he couldn’t comment about either case.
Phillip Loesch pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 2, when he could receive up to a year in jail. By pleading no contest instead of guilty he avoids civil liability in the case. He had been charged with four counts of second-degree child abuse, a 10-year felony.
Kimberly Loesch is scheduled to face trial on second-degree child abuse charges.
FALSE OR EXAGGERATED
The Loesches, who have been allowed to live in Florida while the case is pending, are not without their supporters.
Bryan Klawuhn, attorney for Kimberly Loesch, said some of the allegations listed in the affidavit are false and others stem from facts that can be interpreted in different ways.
He said the case against Kimberly Loesch will be in discovery through the end of the year so it’s too early to consider plea deals.
"At this point, they’re just allegations," Klawuhn said of the affidavit. "Anyone can put anything in an affidavit of probable cause."
Klawuhn said he believes some of the allegations are completely false, including the allegation that one of the boys was struck in the head and suffered a perforated ear drum.
"The one thing that really stands out the most is this statement that the ruptured eardrum was the result of anything Phil or Kim did." Klawuhn said.
An example of something in the case that got twisted around, Klawuhn said, is that the kids were forced to exercise to excess. He said the kids were made to exercise because the Loesches believe in fitness.
"All their kids exercise; they’re physically fit people," he said.
LOTS OF SUPPORTERS
Klawuhn said this was an "at-risk" adoption and the children had a troubled past.
"The Loesches were doing the best they could, given the situation," Klawuhn said.
He points to the success of the Loesches’ biological children, who have made achievement academically and in athletics, as evidence the Loesches are good parents.
"Some people might disagree, but I tell you, there’s plenty of support for Kim and Phil in the community," Klawuhn said.
"They are good, solid, Christian people. ... I could fill the courtroom with people who would say the kids were well-nourished and sat down for meals with the family."
In fact, Klawuhn said 20 or 30 supporters of the family fill the courtroom every time there is a hearing in the case.
"The courtrooms are full when it comes to this case," he said. "All these people are volunteering to take time out of their days to come on down and show their support."
"˜TOOK GOOD CARE’ OF THEM
Klawuhn said it is not a crime to take an unusual approach to discipline.
"I could tell you right now that if I sat down with somebody and went through every form of punishment I use with my own son, there’s somebody who would say, you’re doing it all wrong," he said.
He denied the allegation that the children were forced to eat "mush" and if they threw up into the gruel, they were forced to eat the result.
"That would be an example of something that absolutely did not happen," he said.
He said at this point, only one of the two biological children has been interviewed by police.
"You ask any parent who has ever done an at-risk adoption, there are difficulties. There necessarily are," he said.
He said the compensation paid by the state to the Loesches for taking care of the children amounted to less than what the couple paid to take care of them. They paid for sports and music lessons and vacations, he said, and the money they received was no windfall.
"Kim and Phil took good care of these children," he said.
Daniel Harris, attorney for Phillip Loesch, did not return a message seeking comment.
INVESTIGATION OF CPS POSSIBLE
Dave Akerly, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, which oversees CPS, said he cannot comment about a particular case.
He said when CPS investigators are called to a home, as they were to the Loesch’s home as many as eight times, they first attempt to determine whether children are in danger of harm.
"Our people, when they go in to investigate, have to first convince themselves and be assured of the safety and well being and overall protection of the child," Akerly said. "That’s the first thing they’re going to look at in any situation -- is there an immediate danger to a child? If the answer is yes, and there is an immediate danger, they’ll be pressed into action and go to the courts."
If they determine the children could be in harm, then the CPS workers investigate further.
Akerly said in most cases an investigation does not lead to removal of children.
In a case when CPS has been repeatedly called to a home and the children have not been removed, but an investigation later finds abuse had occurred at the home, CPS caseworkers can be investigated.
That would either happen within the DHS, by the Office of Family Advocate, or externally, by the Office of Children Ombudsman, an independent office appointed by the governor.
An OCO investigation can be started if someone who qualifies files a complaint on behalf of the children.