--Aiken County, South Carolina
It began on January 26, 1990, when a relative of Therea Tyler called the Aiken County Department of Social Services for help because the Tyler home was without heat. Two child protective services workers appeared, finding the children sick with colds and their mother sick with the flu. The social workers took Krystal Scurry and her half-brother Debarge Staley, placing them into a foster home.
Krystal`s father, Jessie Scurry, objected to their removal. "I ain`t signing nothing," he told the social workers. "I ain`t giving my kids to nobody."
So, too, did Theresa Tyler object, but the social workers threatened that if they did not allow the children to be taken, that the police would be called.
In their report, the two social workers wrote: "Trailer was cold, stinking, smelled of urine, milk had clabbered, notified law enforcement, but they were backed up." According to Department of Social Services records, the report also claimed that the two children "never had shots and neither have been seen by doctor since birth."
11-month-old Krystal and 3-year-old Debarge were placed into the foster home of Clarissa Bell Bates.
For the first year in foster care, the children rarely saw their mother or their social worker. The family would claim that the Department failed to help reunite them, while the Department of Social Services would say that that the mother extended no effort to see her children.
While in her care, Clarissa Bell Bates violently shook young Debarge, slapped him, yanked him, stuffed food in his mouth and forced him to sleep on the floor. According to Debarge, she did all of that, and much more, to Krystal.
19-year-old Stacy Brown, one of the six foster children in the home with Krystal, said Bates would often jam food into the 2-year-old's mouth. Brown described it this way: "She'd get mad when Krystal wouldn't eat. Sometimes she'd do it until Krystal would vomit. It was bad; she was so tiny."
This was far from the worst of what Krystal would endure at the hands of her foster mother.
The signs of abuse were obvious to Mary Craft, a child services coordinator with Babynet, a support group in Aiken. Krystal was 22 months old and just beginning to walk. She couldn`t talk very well. Worse, one arm hung down by her side and she wouldn`t let anyone touch it. There was a visible knot on her forehead.
Craft reported her observations to the Department of Social Services on several occasions. She later recounted her experience with the Department to the Charlotte Observer:
Five names of five different case workers were given to me, and nobody seemed to know anything about the child. Everybody kept saying, 'It`s not my case. It`s not my case.' When I got hold of the caseworker, he told me he just got the case and didn't know very much about it.On February 15, 1991, Bates took Krystal, along with Debarge and two other children, to the Aiken Community Hospital. A hospital social worker reported to the Department that Bates had pinched one of the children on the buttocks, grabbed another by the throat, and left without getting treatment for Krystal.
She then took Krystal to the Medical College of Georgia in nearby Augusta. The Augusta hospital admitted Krystal, keeping her there for nearly two weeks.
Dr. Rebecca Jean Atha would later explain that the main reason she kept Krystal hospitalized for so long was because she was afraid to send her back to Bell`s house.
Krystal seemed unusually depressed for a 2-year-old, she had an unexplained paralysis on her right side and a broken arm. She also had two healing leg fractures. Dr. Atha said she telephoned the Department several times, talking with caseworker Bill Perkins. "I told him that I was very afraid for this child, that I did not think she should go back to this foster home."
According to Dr. Atha, the caseworker said that he understood what the doctor was saying; that he accepted full responsibility for the child; and that he was going to put her back in the best foster home that he knew of--that of Clarissa Bell Bates.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Bates had a 44-year-old son, described as a transient and an ex- convict, who moved into the home with Krystal and Debarge.
Debarge described the horrors he and his sister endured to social workers. According to DSS records: Debarge said he didn`t like John Bell. He said Bell hurt him. He kicked him, hit him in the belly and hit him on the back with a belt, hit him in the head with a hammer.
Debarge also said that John Bell kicked Krystal and two other children living in the house, and that they had told Clarissa Bell Bates about it.
On the afternoon of November 2, 1991, John Bell left the foster home with Krystal in the car. Four days later, workers gathering pine straw for baling found her naked and bruised body discarded in woods outside Aiken.
Bell later testified that he had smoked crack cocaine the day of the murder. He is serving life plus 30 years for raping the child, and killing her.
But it was only after her death that the true extent of the injuries she had endured at the hands of her foster mother were revealed.
Clarissa Bell Bates was arrested in November of 1993, and charged with multiple offenses including assault and battery, physical and medical neglect. The postmortem X-rays indicated fractures to the right shoulder, both knees and right pubic bone. At the time of her death, Krystal was already partially paralyzed and could not walk.
Solicitor Barbara Morgan of Aiken described it this way:
I don't know how to describe that foster home other than a hellhole in which a tiny child was tortured over a 20-month period, with practically every major joint in her body broken.
To add to the horror, apparently DSS--who took this child from her mother because she had a cold--and placed her with the foster parent, either didn't notice all these fractured bones or they did, and refused to protect the child.
In December of 1993, Ruby Chambliss and Louise Blount, the two workers who removed Krystal and Debarge, were arrested.
Chambliss, who was supervisor of the county child protective services unit at the time of Krystal's death, was charged with unlawfully exerting DSS control over Krystal and Debarge.
She also was charged with failing to investigate the neglect allegations against Krystal's parents, ill treatment of a child, unlawful neglect of a child, and failure to perform her state mandated child protective duties.
Louise Blount, the supervisor of the county treatment unit, was also charged with unlawfully taking possession of the children by coercing the parents to voluntarily place the children in DSS custody.
The two were also charged with illegally accepting $50 from Krystal's father. They allegedly obtained the money under the pretense of paying for the children's medical care, converting it instead to their personal use.
The two child protective workers most responsible for Krystal's tragic death would be suspended, with pay, in December of 1993 pending the outcome of the proceedings. Ruby Chambliss and Louise Blount would enjoy their paid vacation until the Department would call them back to work in May of 1994, with the charges still pending against them in court.
Chambliss and Blount worked desk jobs inside of the Department until they again found themselves unemployed in February of 1995. The Department had determined that the two had falsified the case records that led to the removal of the children. In their reports they had written that it was snowing, and that the house was cold and lacking in heat. The weather was actually warm that day.
A total of six Social Services workers, including the county director of foster care, would eventually be charged in connection with the death of Krystal Scurry. The charges included ethics violations, falsification of records, embezzlement, and neglect of duty.
"The whole system killed Krystal," her mother told reporters. "If they hadn't took her from me, she'd still be with me now. I know she'd be safe when she was with me, and I wouldn`t let nobody harm her."
The Aiken County Department of Social Services settled a suit with Krystal's parents for $467,000.
Krystal was one of five foster children killed in South Carolina foster homes between February 1991 and January 1992. The deaths were first reported in a series of stories in The Charlotte Observer in early 1993.
SIDEBAR: The Charges |