BAKERSFIELD — On one side you have people like Roy Nokes--lanky, down-home, tanned by years of laboring under the blistering San Joaquin Valley sun; a man accused by his own grandson.
On the other side you have people like Carolyn Heim--articulate, committed, highly schooled in the darker side of human behavior; counselor for the children who, one by one, eventually blurted out the stunning accusations.
"The community has gradually been polarized," said Glenn Cole, foreman of the 1984-85 Kern County Grand Jury.
There are those, including Kern County Sheriff Larry Kleier, who tend to believe the children's stories that Nokes, and as many as 76 other adults, were members of satanic child-molestation rings that engaged in cannibalistic murders of infants.
Witch Hunt Feared
And there are those who, citing an admitted shortage of substantial corroborating evidence and obvious errors in the children's stories, tend to believe that Nokes and the others are victims of a massive witch hunt.
Even Kleier, whose 10-man task force has yet to produce the remains of a single body or even the report of a missing child, admits it will be hard--if not impossible--to prove the stories are true.
Although molestation charges have been filed against at least 17 people--with five of them convicted--no one has been arrested or charged in connection with the purported murders. While charges against six have been dismissed, some of those dismissals are being appealed, six others are awaiting trial, and dozens more named in the investigation await uncertain futures.
Bad for Everyone
In the meantime, it seems, everyone is suffering: the children, said to be victims of the basest forms of abuse, isolated from the families and friends they have come to accuse; the accused, fearful of prosecution, deprived of their children, stripped of community presumptions of innocence; even law enforcement officials, smarting under criticism that they are destroying families and hounding innocent people in pursuit of allegations too fantastic to be believed.
Cory Taylor got it from two directions. As a county child-care worker assisting sheriff's deputies, she investigated allegations that children were savagely abused, only to have Roy Nokes' grandson accuse her of the same thing. "People are asking, 'My God, what has happened to our community?' " Cole said. "Have we got sexual abuse that has turned into a horrible cancer--murders, satanic cults? Or do we have brainwashed children accusing innocent persons of nonexistent crimes?"
There are critics who contend that Kleier is refusing to admit that he doesn't have a case. But the sheriff said that "when you hear things like we heard from those kids, you just can't ignore them. . . .
Hard to Believe
"Emotionally, I have a hard time dealing with what those kids said, Kleier admitted. "But from the standpoint of my job, I can believe it. Over the years (Kleier has been with the department since 1958) I've seen just about everything that one person can do to another. . . .
"What made those kids really credible was when, independently, they began telling the same stories. I believe them."
Stanley Simrin, a Bakersfield attorney representing some of the accused, doesn't believe the stories.
"Some of the statements the children have made are provably false," he said. "Some of them have named victims who could not possibly been killed. And there's absolutely no evidence to support them. . . .
"I'm amazed that (law enforcement officials) have continued to pursue and harass. There's a presumption of guilt, and they're closing their eyes to facts which tend to prove them wrong."
Not only have no bodies been found, but at least two of the infants reported slain in the satanic rites are known to be alive, and a third actually died the day after her birth on May 20, 1972.
Focus on 10-Year-Old
If there is a focal point to the whole controversy, it is a bright, personable, handsome 10-year-old named Mike Nokes.
Mike's parents, Brad Nokes, 28, and Mary Nokes, 31, were long-time friends of another couple in the neighborhood, Gerardo (Johnny) and Cheryl Gonzales. The boy and his sister used to play frequently with the Gonzales children, frequently visiting the Gonzales' home.
On June 14, 1984, according to Kern County Sheriff's Department reports released to attorneys under evidentiary rights of discovery, a neighborhood girl told her mother that Gerardo Gonzales and another man had molested her after feeding her some "little green pills" that made her "feel funny."
Other children reportedly told investigators that Gonzales and the other man had molested them, too. Gerardo Gonzales, 29, and the other man were arrested. Both currently await trial.
Children Added Names