THE WITCH IN THE HOUSE WAS REAL ( A LEGACY STORY )
THE STORY OF A RAPE THAT LED A VICTIM TO BECOME A DECORATED, PIONEER POLICE WOMAN AND SEX CRIME EXPERT IN IOWA IN THE ’70’S
My sister, Trula Ann Godwin Tanner, after the Witch was gone. She stood as a testimony to survival.
Most of my life I have struggled with what is real and what is not. I think that I have not always used good criteria to make the judgements by. Influenced by approvals, criticism, religious intolerance and just plain faint heartedness (is that a word?), I often let myself be led in paths other than those I believed would lead me to truth.
I know I am not alone, I hear from friends and acquaintances their doubts and questions and I am always open to their experiences; but in the past I wavered at committing to firm declarations of belief. I have decided in view of this story that I have to face my convictions and let them be known.
I admit to the fact that I have a weakness in my character which makes me want to be right, knowledgeable and the expert. Sometimes when I am unsure, I dig my heels in and try to present myself as confident and sure. The story of the ‘Witch in the House’ is one of those times.
My life in comparison to my sisters became a paradox. At the time of this event my sister was a stay at home mom who loved to lecture me on my inadequacies because I worked. I would challenge her right back saying I could be all things my family needed and contribute beyond just the home front, and financially as well. Soon an event would occur that would change our lives forever and reverse our roles.
In truth my working was a necessity due to extreme catastrophic medical bills due to the illness of our youngest child. My sister’s husband made better money than my husband who taught school. The irony was my husband went to college, my brother-in-law was lucky to finish high school and worked in factories most of their marriage. There was the usual sibling rivalry and competition and it had been that way from earliest childhood and I simply saw this as a power struggle I couldn’t win.
When I received a call from my sister I could hardly believe my ears. My sister was inviting me over and wanted my advice on a problem she was having with one of her four children. As she was pregnant with number five, I felt it was a momentary lapse due to being overwhelmed and in no way entertained any thoughts that it was a truce or that she was recognizing I had skills in parenting. I accepted and planned it for my next day off.
SISTER TO THE RESCUE (?)
As a nurse I cherished the time off as I worked nights and was up and down all during the day taking my three children back and forth to the orthodontist where all three were in treatment with braces. But her needing me and my advice and help was too amazing to pass up. I looked forward to the date and was unprepared for what transpired.
We sat in her living room drinking coffee and chit chatting. That in itself was unusual as my sister never chit chatted with anyone, or about any thing. My sister was a no-nonsense person with the theory, “what you see is what you get”. By nature she would not lie. She just felt she was too strong to do that and if you couldn’t handle it, that was your problem. No, you wouldn’t hear her say, “oh, that looks good” if it didn’t. In fact you might hear, “if you weren’t so fat that might fit, but it looks stupid that way”.
Her two boys were the ages of my two oldest children. Her third child, a precious little doll baby, was only six days older than my youngest daughter. It was the ‘baby doll’ she wanted to talk to me about. I was surprised, as I thought it would be the youngest child; a little toddler with wild thick hair who seemed to have a will of her own and be a free spirit. (Little did we know that would be a foreshadowing of the future). But, it was the baby doll she wanted to talk about and I was somewhat taken aback by her very serious and troubled introduction.
This was taken about a year before my sister called me in to consult about “Baby Doll”.
Brad Darrin Amy “Baby Doll” Rhoda
This Picture is why I nick named her “Baby Doll”
THE WITCH IS IN THE HOUSE; OR IS IT?
It seemed that the baby doll had not been sleeping most nights. She had regressed and began wetting the bed and the event that prompted the call was that she had “pooped” in her bed during the night and just laid in it. It was dried all over her bottom and legs when she got up”. When my sister asked her why she did that and didn’t get up and go to the bathroom just across the lighted hallway, she replied, “The witch was here again. It was in my doorway and it wouldn’t leave”.
My sister explained she had been working on this problem for some weeks. Every time she had an “accident” she would say it was because she was scared. Then it became that “there was a witch” in the doorway and she couldn’t get out of bed as she was too afraid. She said she had to lie still so the witch would think she was sleeping and didn’t get her.
My sister was at her wits end. Baby doll wasn’t the type to be a problem, she had been potty trained and quit wetting the bed long before now. She had never been one to lie before this. My sister couldn’t abide a liar even at this young age.
I now admit that in hindsight, I think some of my attitude was condescending; my advice was faulty though well intended, and I definitely gave her a lot of credible information which all turned out to be useless, and wrong. In my defense, I truly meant well. I loved this little baby doll and wanted to be sure my sister didn’t get too overwhelmed and be too hard on her. And the truth was the problem was so progressed at this point, yet I was unprepared for my sisters next statement. “Maybe she should come and live with you for a while.”
This was an astounding proposal considering my sister’s house was very spacious, especially compared to ours. My sister prided herself in her children being in her care and no one elses. It showed her level of frustration. She further elaborated that she was really concerned as she considered baby doll to be completely distraught, crying for hours and absolutely worn out.
I tested the baby doll who was a true momma’s girl. I asked her, “Want to go home with auntie?” Her immediate response was to come to me and crawl up into my lap. I was stunned. With further explanation she still wanted to go with me. It was at this point I decided I could really help if I just used my nursing skills and explained some of this logically.
After explaining at length to my sister that many children regress when the mom is pregnant and they need extra TLC, and I thought this was more likely the situation. I felt Baby Doll had found that saying she was scared was not a lie, but it was, to her young mind “acceptable.” An adult would understand her being scared and her needing them.
AUNTIE’S FAUX PAU; SHE CREATES A WITCH KILLER
Then I turned to Baby Doll and did the unforgivable; I lied. I told her that I had at home a “witch killer”. If she slept with it she would be safe and nothing could get her. I promised to bring it by the house before she went to bed. Knowing that her dear auntie would not lie, she agreed to sleep at home that night with the witch killer. Later, I went to the fabric shop and bought a little cut out clown which I took home and made. I quickly stuffed it and took it back to her, telling her the clown was a secret witch killer and she could be safe from now on,
I left their house feeling my niece would definitely sleep now as she trusted me and my sister would see what a wise mom I was; even if I did work. The next morning the phone rang and I already knew who it would be.
Baby doll came home with me and began to live at our house.Weeks passed and she started school with our family and was doing very well. She slept through the nights and slept with my daughter. They were like a set of twins. I loved having them together and life settled in to a routine.
Nothing ever stays the same and we all knew one day Baby doll would go home. For her it happened when she had an ‘atypical’ appendicitis attack. It began before school when she complained of a stomach ache. It wasn’t an uncommon complaint as she often had constipation and felt better after her bowels moved. I sent her to school when it was noted there was no fever or nausea.
Later the school called saying she was complaining more and now complained she was sick at her stomach. Still no fever. I checked in with her mom and she said she’d come out and check her when school was out. Then the school called and she was in the nurse’s office and a fever was starting.
Her doctor thought it was the flu so she came back and then became really sick with pain. My sister took her to the emergency room and they literally took hours to diagnose appendicitis even after her mother and I had concluded it was going to be the problem. By the time they had diagnosed her and got into surgery, her appendix had ruptured. She was very, very sick and recovery was very long.
My sister decided in view of all of this, she needed to take her home. We all understood that decision and I as a parent would have made the same one. We sent her back carrying her witch killer which had protected her the whole time she was at our house, so we guaranteed it to work at her house. And for a while, it did.
THE SOUND OF THE PHONE RINGING CHANGED FOREVER
I will never forget the call some time later. My sister had been taken to the hospital for treatment following a rape in her home. I could hardly take it all in.
Her new baby was only weeks old. My mother had been staying at the house to help my sister so she could go in to the hospital for a tubal ligation as she and her husband decided five was enough. Just the day before the call, my sister had returned home from the surgery and my mom had returned to her home after assurances from my sister she would be fine.
My sister has often recounted the event of the rape. Telling it, became almost a mantra to shake her demons when she was trying to heal and overcome the flashbacks. In actuality, it took her a lifetime to recover ; though she quit being a “victim” and became a survivor, long before.
THE DEVIL, OR IN THIS CASE WITCH, IS IN THE DETAILS
She told how on that night, mom had left after dinner and the dishes were done. My sister was beginning to wear down and the pain of her incision was coming to life since the pain meds wore off. Her husband was working nights so she went to bed when the children went to bed. The baby was in her bedroom in a bassinette and she had fed him and put him down. She laid down and went into a deep sleep.
After midnight she turned in the bed and was brought to an alert state by two things. One was she was thirsty, and the other was that her incision pain was intense. The hall light gave just enough light that she could check the sleeping baby and go into the kitchen to get some water. She didn’t turn on the light but opened the bedroom doors to check the sleeping children.
She wore only her husband’s t-shirt and it was big enough to hang loosely but even the slightest touch of the fabric against the incision caused her to flinch. She decided against a pain pill. They weren’t really her thing so she’d try to tough it out; then maybe after the baby’s next feeding she’d take something if it was still that painful. Maybe even a cold pack later. Right now she just wanted to sleep.
She stretched out in bed lying on her right side facing the wall. She tried to get comfortable but the pull on the incision was just too much. She turned on her back and felt the stretch of her abdomen send a pain across her stomach. She quickly turned on to her left side. In the turning, she was now facing the bassinette that held the baby and she opened her eyes to take another peek. The light from the hallway flowed into the room helping her eyes adjust.
Suddenly, an unintended gasp escaped her mouth before she could assess the situation. She was focused beyond the baby and seeing in the doorway, the definite outline of a dark figure . The silhouette appeared to be a man’s and he was wearing some kind of bulky jacket and head-gear that was pointed. Later she would realize he wore a hooded sweatshirt.
Instantly she was awake and all the senses and adrenalin were sending thoughts screaming thru her mind. “Oh my God, it looks like a witch in the doorway”.
Her mind assimilated the message and the thought instantaneously established for her that this was Baby Doll’s witch. She forgot the pain and pushed with her legs, turning toward the wall. It moved her away from the doorway and she was inching across the bed to the furthest edge. Too late, she tried to just lie quietly and pretend to be asleep as the baby doll had advised when she encountered her witch.
The witch was not fooled. He entered the room.
In the hour that followed ,she would beg for her children not to be harmed, for the “witch” not to hurt her, and for compassion considering she had just returned from having surgery. The witch was somewhat thoughtful at her last request and asked what kind of surgery she had. She was reluctant to tell him it was a tubal ligation and said it was some adhesions being removed from around her intestines.
In silence she endured his military commands and the smell of his clothes. There was the smell of automotive gasoline and oil, and she felt nauseated.
In hindsight, she believed he did actually treat her more gently than he would have had she not had surgery and had not had a baby in the room; but it did nothing to give her peace of mind. In a future time she would learn she was the first of many victims . It was a fact that he became more violent with each woman, hitting his last victim with a tire iron. In the cases that followed, as in my sister’s case, the dog in the house did not bark. That suggested to investigators that it had encountered the “visitor” before, and maybe many times. The officers thought he’d been in the house watching them at night and if she hadn’t awakened and seen him, it might have continued as a voyeuristic experience.
FROM VICTIM TO SURVIVOR IN JUST ONE DECISION
When he finished he let her go in to the bathroom. He told her he knew her children, her husbands schedule and he got in with no trouble; if she told anyone, she would be sorry. He would be back and would do harm to the children and to her. Her first step toward recovery and becoming a “survivor” rather than a victim, was that she waited until she felt he was gone then she called the police despite his threats.
THE VICTIM IS VICTIMIZED AGAIN, AND AGAIN
There is much that could be told of the bungled investigation and the stereotypical response of the all male component of cops, who asked her “what were you wearing?” It went down hill from there and would in the months ahead steel her resolve to become a police officer and make sure other victims were treated with dignity and follow up.
The long years of wondering and the bitter-sweet experience of knowing that her rapist was finally caught, were heartbreaking when he owned up to every single rape, except hers. By then he was in prison, she had become a Pioneer Police woman and sex crime expert. NO inmate wants retaliation for what he did to a cop: even one who became a cop after the crime.
OFFICER TRULA GODWIN (TANNER) SWEARING IN DAY: DAVENPORT, IA , P.D. INDUCTED INTO IOWA WOMEN’S ARCHIVES POSTHUMOUSLY
And when DNA came into investigations, her evidence had been conveniently “lost” from the evidence storage and so could not be tested: a whole different story to pursue another time about “paybacks”.
Let’s go back to the original premise of this Legacy Story. That the Witch in the house was real. He was.
LESSONS LEARNED BY ME
I learned never to over simplify to “fix” the fears of others. It is true that there is a definite time and place for fears ,and for adults to take serious the fears of children. I have thought so many times about my niece, her fears and how it profoundly changed her life. It would seem that in context, it would have made her doubt that her auntie knew anything about witches and that her auntie lied. Thank God for forgiveness.
As bad as all of that is, it is worse that she, like all the children, became caught up in the need for a mutual recovery after the attack. It really happened to all of the family members as well; and changed their lives for ever. So is the nature of the act of rape.
Whatever the “witches” in your children’s lives; listen, listen, listen. Don’t be quick to fix things. Some things can’t be fixed. Remember that their trust in the truth can be enhanced or destroyed by you, so don’t create witch hunters as a quick fix. Instead, keep an open mind and accept that you may not be able to answer or explain all the questions and fears.
“BABY DOLL” OUT WITH TRULA DURING HER CHEMOTHERAPY FOR BREAST CANCER AFTER 25 YEARS ON THE POLICE FORCE.
WRITTEN BY TRULA AS A POLICE OFFICER FOLLOWING HER RAPE
As for my niece today, she is tough, stands up for herself and fights for the underdogs. She investigates people who abuse children and takes on the bad guys and helps children get rid of the “witches” in their lives for real. And she never gives them witch killers made of stuffed fabric. You go girl.