The Re-emergence of Karen Diehl Revives Horror of Abused Child

Date: 2001-10-16


Buried somewhere in one of the cardboard boxes near my desk is an old reporter's notebook with spare the hose clamp, spoil the child scrawled on the cover.

It is the sort of thing a queasy newspaper reporter would scribble when she couldn't bear to look at any more autopsy photos of a 13-year-old.

I wrote those words back in 1987 when I covered a portion of the trials of Karen and Michael Diehl, who were ultimately convicted of crimes relating to the death of their adopted son.

Anyone who remembers the case would be stunned to learn that Karen Diehl - who served six years of a 31-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter, abduction, child neglect and assault and battery - was now the associate director of a program for the elderly in Waynesboro.

Spare us the claptrap about rehabilitation and paying one's debt to society.

Far more important is society's sacred duty to protect its most vulnerable members.

Just as convicted sex offenders ought to be kept away from day-care centers and women's shelters, so, too, should people convicted of violent felonies be kept away from the helpless elderly.

The last time the Diehls were entrusted with the care of a vulnerable person, he wound up nude, restrained with hose clamps, forced to eat his own feces, and ultimately dead.

For those who weren't living in Hampton Roads back in the late 1980s, here's the nutshell version of how these campground Christians came to harm their son:

Karen and Michael Diehl arrived in Virginia Beach from Idaho in 1986 with their 17 - you read that correctly - kids in tow.

Four of those children were their offspring.

The others were adoptive children with a variety of disabilities.

The Diehls lived in a school bus in a campground. Their only visible means of support was a patchwork of government checks and charitable handouts.

You'd think such a bizarre living arrangement would have raised suspicions.

You would be wrong.

The Diehls were media darlings. For a while you couldn't turn on the local news or open a newspaper (including this one) without finding a fawning story about the big-hearted family.

All that changed when Dominick ``Andrew'' Diehl died and the public got a horrifying peek inside that school bus.

Andrew was severely disturbed and disruptive. Yet some social service meatheads tossed this fragile child to this overloaded family, who then drove cross-country offering parenting advice to anyone who would listen.

The abuse Andrew Diehl suffered at the hands of his parents is almost unspeakable.

Testimony at the trial of his parents revealed that the boy had been shackled, usually naked, to the floor of the bus for more than a month before his death as punishment for his antisocial behavior.

Even though testimony in the trials showed that Karen Diehl administered most of the boy's beatings, and forced Andrew to eat his own bodily waste, it was Michael Diehl who received the harshest punishment: a first-degree murder conviction and 41 years behind bars. He remains in prison.

Two years ago, Karen Diehl was hired by the Valley Program for Aging Services Inc.

She didn't volunteer that she was a felon.

Her employers never asked.

Now that they know, they don't care.

Others do.

Augusta County Supervisor Tom Sikes told me he might spearhead an effort to cut county money - which totals between $30,000 and $35,000 a year - to the Valley Program if Diehl isn't dismissed. The program is private, although it receives public funds.

``You wouldn't hire a sex offender to run your after-school program,'' Sikes told the Daily News Leader of Staunton. ``This is the same kind of situation. ''

Diehl's employers insist she is a model employee.

They say she's conscientious and that ``her performance over the past year, which is working with older adults, has been excellent.''

That may be true.

But it's worth remembering that back in 1986 - before the tragedy - everyone in these parts was mightily impressed with Karen Diehl, too.

Reach Kerry at 446-2306 or at kerry.dougherty(AT)


Michael and Karen Diehl

This case still haunts me. I covered this for WAVY-TV . I moved away and started my own family but I have never forgotten it. I've always been curious about the case but today I decided to find out where they are today. The news you deliver even if in 2001 came as quite a blow. It sickens me that Karen Diehl can move on and others see her as a wonderful employee. I still can't believe she only served 6 yrs after torturing and finally murdering her adopted child Andrew!

Karen Diehl

I served time with Karen Diehl in the Goochland Correctional Center for Women. I was there for having written bad checks. Never made parole on a 12 year sentence, had to actually mandatory release on the sentence. Karen made first parole, AND had the backing of a nationally known religious organization in Virginia Beach. The ministry sent her money to surive on in prison. Karen was well off by prison standards.

Interesting to hear that she works for an organization that serves the elderly.

Karen is a tortured soul. She would wake up screaming in the middle of the night (I shared a dorm with her), blood chilling screaming. I often wondered if it was the child she abused into death coming back to haunt her.

That was 18 years ago. I have moved on with my life but am still insanely curious about the Diehls.



Thank you for sharing your story. I wonder which nationally known religious organization you are referring too.

Dominick Diehl's is one of those cases that made a deep impression on me. Having added many of the more than 400 cases of post-placement abuse, I must say they are all horrible, yet some cases touch me more than other's. This was one of the saddest cases to me.

Haunts me, too

Lynn, I remember you doing the coverage on the case. Those of us who had any direct participation in it will never be able to forget it. At the age of 20, I was filing the actual ER, coroner, and police reports, organizing information for Tom Shuttleworth and the defense team. This woman is truly a psychopath and I was also appalled to find out that her 40 year sentence was really only 6 and that she was then allowed to work in social services. Some experiences just never leave you.

Karen Diehl

Karen was my room mate at VCCW for quite some time, while no one else wanted her as their room mate.  Karen, highly intelligent, was torn about what happened and especially when her biological children petitioned to have the parental rights of Karen and Michael removed.  She always seemed conflicted about many things, including whether Michael would see her as a "whore" for tweezing her eyebrows and wearing an underwire bra.  There were many times when Karen was very comforting to be around and she never spouted off with any ultra-conservative Christian views.  She always told me that she couldn't understand why people were upset that they'd hit Dominic with a "rod" no wider than a thumb (apparently quoting a Bible translation).  The 700 Club was publicly known (and mentioned on this site) as supporting her - she never lacked for money while in prison. 

I wonder about 2 things:

1. Where is Michael Diehl now?  Was he paroled because I do not see him in the VADOC inmate locator.  If they're back together on the street, it could be dangerous.

2. Has Karen's intestinal problems gotten better? (strange that they made that child eat and drink his own waste and that she later developed intestinal problems).

Michael was paroled in 2007

He was released on mandatory parole in Dec 2007. According to the newspaper, both he and Karen are together in Knoxville. TN.



Angela Joy Diehl

I don't know your adoptive parents, but as someone mentioned earlier, it appears they might be in Tennessee.
These are just guesses, but you could try:

contacting the Karen listed in this community events listing
or try Unity Church of Knoxville

Michael Diehl's Location?

I was a juror on Michael's trial. I sat through 3 weeks of the trial and also attended the sentencing hearing. This trial very much bothered me and I guess still does. I will NEVER forget the pictures of Andrew's buttocks taken during the autopsy. They were just too gross to describe. The only time that we had contact with Karen was during her testimony. She was very matter-of-fact on the stand and did not think that she did anything wrong.

Michael was also very much relaxed. He wore nothing but a flannel shirt and jeans during the trial, but was dressed in a suit and tie during the sentencing hearing. I was very much impressed with the children when they were introduced and during their testimony. It was apparant that they were raised very well and respected the truth. One of them went on to get an appointment to the Air Force Academy and became a pilot.

The only reason that Karen was convicted of involuntary manslaughter instead of first degree murder (as Michael was) was the fact that the prosecuter left out an instruction to the jury that said that if a murder is commited during the commission of another felony, it is automatic first degree (I may be mistaken on the wording, but not the result).

I don't know where either Michael or Karen are now, but if they are together, we will probably hear about it soon. If they are on parole. it is probably still Virginia.


I read about this case in Cyril Wecht's book, not being in America. He describes that the authorities were sort of pleased to shove these children, who nobody wanted, to the Diehls. That's what they do, don't they, someone else's problem now. Andrew had been described to them before the adoption as beyond help, so they seem to have accepted him as a challenge. What they were not told was that he had actually been assessed as a sociopath. The Diehls made a fatal mistake not giving him back, I guess. Andrew's behaviour was beyond tolerance, but that is no excuse for what they did, of course. They should have admitted, here was a case that they could not handle, but nobody likes admitting defeat.

Sociologically, and long term, the success or failure of the Diehls' upbringing of these children should be measured on whether they became delinquents, are honest and successful citizens, and maybe how they deal with having a family of their own. This is a rather large sample to do some studies. When bad things happen, they must lead to learning.

I saw it all

I worked as a law clerk for Clark & Stant during this trial. I was originally hired to work in the corporate department, but when the firm received a $40,000 retainer from a Christian organization to defend these people, Thomas Shuttleworth and his team needed more help. At the tender age of 20, I filed emergency room reports, reviewed depositions, and read with unparalleled horror what had been done to this child. Karen Diehl stated in no uncertain terms that "God instructed" her to do what she did, because this child "had the devil in him". I am 46 now with two children of my own and this experience still haunts me. It also cured me of my then-lifelong dream of becoming an attorney. You should have seen the celebration among the support staff when we lost that case.

Read Dr Cyril Wecht's take

Read Dr Cyril Wecht's take on Andrew's death in his book Cause of Death. The case is not as cut-and-dried as it seems.

Andrew Diehl's death

I did read what Cyril Wecht wrote about this case, but he left so much out, and his writing appeared to be egotistical and self-serving. These reasons made me take his offering with a grain of salt. This case is absolutely horrifying.

The Law and Religion failed to protect the innocent

I'm looking for the huge millstone that is suppose to be hung around the offenders necks and cast into the deepest sea!!! This goes for all who have supported these less than humane life forms who consider themselves Godly and Just!

I was the law clerk above

I was researching another case and came back to this page where I commented over two years ago. I am telling you that I don't care what Dr. Wecht wrote in his book or for what purpose. I PERSONALLY saw each and every sheet of evidence related to that case...ER report, Coroner's report, police reports, the Diehls' statements, you name it. This child could have been hit by a speeding concrete truck. It *is* as cut-and-dried as those of us who actually worked on the case state. Karen *repeatedly* stated that she believed God was speaking to her and that Dominic had the devil in him which could only be starved and beaten out of him. The number of days that I could not eat anything at work due to the nature of the information far outnumbered the days I could. Every paralegal, legal secretary, and clerk involved in this case went out to celebrate when we lost. It was truly the most evil case any of us had ever seen or could even fathom. She is indeed a true psychopath and was only adopting special needs children for the income and adoration. Dominic died a horrific death and the church hired her defense team. Those are facts.

Diehl case

I currently live in a neighborhood where a couple like the Diehls have adopted bi-racial children like the murdered child, Dominic. These children have emotional problems and I do not sense love in the home. But it was the reverence and admiration the community has for this couple that reminded me of the Diehl case. I served as a foster parent for two of the traumatized children and was also a witness for the state. The children were totally disturbed by what Karen did to their "brother". One refused to speak and the other was brutal to other kids when no one was around. On the surface, she seemed emotionally healthy. The children were terrified of Karen. She is a psychopath who used the kids to get money from the agencies and churches. It is difficult to believe that the 700 Club supported this woman with the donations they received from the Christian community in Va. Beach.

The legal system is so screwed up that a Religious organization could influence decisions made in a court of law where church and state are to be separated. Karen, more than her husband, was the evil one. He was unable to control her moods and temper and was afraid to get help. Karen chose that boy and made him her scapegoat. All the dark kids were treated badly by her. Her own kids knew her dark side. Out in six years and in secret? What a travesty. Over and over again I find myself losing respect for the law and its "different strokes for different folks" policy. I hope this couple is watched by the agencies
where they settle and are never permitted to hold any position that necessitates care of the vulnerable.

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