Matthews Case
16 Children
Victims of Attachment Therapy Parenting/Rehoming
Kenton, Tennessee (Gibson County)
Abused discovered August 2004

In December 2004, Frances Ellen Matthews, 49, was found guilty of one count of child abuse; she faced up to a year in jail but was sentenced to only 20 days.

Matthews admitted to hitting her disabled daughter, Marianna, in the face with a shoe. Marianna has spina bifida and is confined to a wheel chair.

Matthews and her husband Dale had 16 children, ages 3-17, many with severe disabilities. Twelve were adopted, one was away in “respite,” and three were of unknown status and suspected of being “rehomed.” The 14-year-old girl in respite reported the abuse. This same girl made a charge of abuse the previous February, but was returned to the Matthews.

All were initially placed in foster homes over several abuse and neglect charges involving: slamming a child against a dryer; beating a child with a yardstick, breaking it’; and beating a child with a wire hanger.

Mr. and Mrs. Matthews still faced dependency neglect charges.

The Matthews exchanged children with their neighbors
Debra and Tom Schmitz who are also alleged to have abused Marianna. Most of the children in the Schmitz home were diagnosed with “Reactive Attachment Disorder.” Matthews told the press, “We help each other out. I’ve had quite a few people say: ‘If you don't take this child, I'm going to kill her. You're my last resort.’”

According to Gibson County investigators, when the Schmitzes no longer wanted a girl, age “11 or 12,” she was sent to the Matthews home, from which she was later sent to another large family in Arizona.

Between them, the Matthews and Schmitz had 34 children in their homes; investigations of both families began within a two-month period. Ten children were returned to the Matthews home.

The Matthews family had lived in Tennessee for less than a year. They stayed with the Schmitzes when they first moved to Tennessee from North Carolina.