FBI releases ‘Finders’ files after 3 decades; Declassified investigation linked to Tallahassee child abuse case

The FBI unlocked its vault recently and released hundreds of documents related to the Finders and a Tallahassee child abuse case that sparked a bizarre federal investigation into allegations of Satan worship and child pornography involving an eccentric commune in Washington, D.C.

The arrest of the two well-dressed men in suits tending to six motley, bug-bitten children made sensational headlines in 1987 when they were identified as members of The Finders, a secretive commune that based its teachings on the writings of Chinese philosopher Lao Tse.

The Tallahassee Democrat covered the story extensively at the time, and headlines about the strange group that preaches complete passivity in the face of danger spread across newspapers nationwide.

Related: Welcome to the revolution! Tallahassee Democrat archives are open

The mysterious Finders organization in Washington, D.C., has been the subject of unproven conspiracy theories for decades, often linked to similar theories involving shadowy government agencies and child sex rings.

It is the top requested topic, according to the FBI’s Vault web page.

Douglas Ammerman and James Michael Holwell were pulled over in a van and arrested in February of 1987 in Tallahassee after witnesses reported seeing them in Myers Park with six scruffy, hungry children between the ages of 2 and 11. After Holwell “fell face down on the ground and refused to stand up” or answer questions, the men were charged with misdemeanor child abuse and held on $100,000.

Unable to locate the mothers, police placed the children into state custody.

Six weeks later, after an investigation that went all the way to D.C., the men were released from custody. The state dropped charges against the men in March.

After receiving at least 500 calls from women claiming to be the mothers of the children, the actual mothers were ultimately found and traveled to Tallahassee to get their children back. One of the mothers decided to stay and raise her child in Tallahassee.

Federal agents concluded there was no evidence of criminal activity, and dropped the case against the Finders.

It would have been swept into the annals of FBI case history, except for a Stuart, Florida, resident named Skip Clements, who had been researching the Finders for years. He claimed the U.S. Customs Service called off the investigation at the behest of the CIA, which he said was using the commune as a front to train agents.

He even convinced at least two members of Congress to look into it, and it sparked a Justice Department investigation. Both congressmen have since died.

Once again, the Democrat reported on the alleged cover-up conspiracy.

The 324-page file released by the FBI Thursday include redacted memos, D.C. Metro police reports, search warrant affidavits, and FBI field office reports describing how a tip to the Justice Department led to reopening the Finders case.

A November 5, 1993, memo said the Department of Justice requested the investigation after receiving a tip concerning child sexual abuse and “brainwashing” by the Finders and what role, if any, the U.S. intelligence community played in stopping the investigation of 1987.

It refers to a child sexual abuse case in Miami that led to information of a large, well-organized scheme, which was used by at least one member of Congress to re-authorize the investigation into organized sex abuse, the memo said.

In October 1993, a source whose name was redacted, but is likely Clements, met with U.S. Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C. to discuss a group called “the Finders,” the memo said.

An FBI file out of the Jacksonville office referred to the 1987 arrest of Ammerman and Holwell in Tallahassee.

Another document refers to efforts by another congressman, Rep. Tom Lewis, R-Fla., to introduce a resolution requiring the Customs Service to reinstate its Child Pornography and Protection Unit after learning child abuse arrests and convictions had fallen by half and staff time to one-fourth of previous levels.

Back in 1987, Tallahassee police contacted the U.S. Customs Service, which got in touch with the D.C. Metro Police Department to investigate. Prior to the arrest of the two men in Tallahassee, D.C. Metro Police had been told by a confidential source that the Finders were using children in “brainwashing techniques” and strange rituals by the group, but the source had not witnessed any actual child abuse.

The Metro Police searched two properties owned by members of the Finders, where they found documents, photos and a large amount of computer equipment and “instructions for obtaining children for unspecified purposes.”

The instructions allegedly included information about getting female members pregnant, and buying, trading and kidnapping children.

A joint investigation with the FBI’s D.C. field office led to the identification and interview of the mothers of the six children, two of the fathers and other key members of the group. They all said they were part of “an alternative lifestyle, communal type association of intellectuals who have chosen to live the way they do.”

While the Tallahassee Police suggested the group could be tied to devil worshipers, the mothers who came to Tallahassee to claim their kids said that was nonsense.

The mothers hired attorney Paula Walborsky to help them get their kids back from the state.

“They didn’t show up in saffron robes smeared in goat blood,” she told the Democrat in a Feb. 15, 1987 article. “They came in tweed and pearls.”

“They’re about as counterculture as the Miccosukee Land Co-Op,” she said, referencing what the Democrat described as “a local rural Yuppie community of cedar-and-glass homes.”

Finding no evidence of child sexual exploitation, kidnapping or any related crimes, Metro Police dropped the case.

“The lifestyle of the so-called Finders organization may differ from the societal norm, but so far the Metropolitan Police Department has not uncovered any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by members of the group,” Washington Police Chief Maurice Turner told the Democrat.

Another document said a customs agent who asked to review evidence in the case was told it was a CIA internal matter.

The CIA has denied there was ever a cover-up, saying the charges were preposterous.

“This story is a non-story,” CIA spokesman Dave Christian told the Democrat in December 1993. “I think of it as a nothing-burger.”

Article source: Jeffrey Schweers, Tallahassee Democrat

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