A TRAGIC TURN ON A TRIP FOR GOD

Date: 1986-10-30

THE SEATTLE TIMES

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Michael and Karen Diehl were a devout Christian couple.

They raised four children. But for them that wasn't enough. So they adopted others, 13 more in all, some of them physically disabled and emotionally disturbed and of different races.

They left their home in Post Falls, Idaho, two years ago and began traveling around the country in a bus, said Police Lt. J.W. Pritchard.

They stopped at campgrounds along the way. "Apparently, they traveled to spread the word of the Lord," he said.

They appeared on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network in March, and were interviewed about their large family in The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star in Norfolk in June.

But somewhere their journey took an unexpected turn. And now they face murder charges in the death of an adopted 13-year-old boy.

Police yesterday ruled the death of Dominick Joseph (Andrew) Diehl a homicide after an autopsy showed he died of acute head trauma, said Sgt. S.W. Summerlin.

And today, first-degree murder charges were filed against the couple. Bail was set at $10,000 each. The additional bond brings the totals to $85,000 on Michael Diehl, and $70,000 on Karen Diehl, who were already free on bond from earlier abuse charges.

The Diehls appeared at a closed bond hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, followed by a custody proceeding for their other 16 children _ 12 of them adopted _ who are currently in the care of the city Social Services Department.

The Diehls also were accused of depriving the youth of his personal liberties to the extent that it is legally considered abduction, a police spokesman said.

"Given the details of what the investigation has revelead, I definitely feel they're a threat to the community," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kent Phillips said.

According to a search warrant, Michael Diehl told police he had been tying the boy to the floor of the bus for about a month and beating him with a wooden switch. He said the child had handcuffs on one hand and a hose clamp on the other hand.

When paramedics found Andrew Diehl in the bus Friday, his hands and feet were swollen and his body had open sores, the warrant said. Police seized ropes, a homemade whip, a wooden stick and a diary from the bus.

The other children were placed in foster homes after their parents' arrest.

The Diehls described Andrew as difficult and disruptive, said Pritchard.

Andrew Diehl was born in Minneapolis, Minn., and lived in a Chicago slum before he was adopted by the Diehls about five years ago.

Michael Diehl said Monday that he and his wife were not ashamed of the way they treated their children and that God had guided their actions.

"I can stand before my God with a clear conscience," Diehl told the Norfolk newspapers.

He said he quit his job as a carpenter to become a full-time father and since 1982 has supported the family with $2,200 a month in subsidies from adoption agencies.

The Diehls' attorney, Paul Sutton II, said: "I don't see that we're dealing with Bonnie and Clyde. I don't see that these folks are bad and terrible people. I've seen worse crimes with less bond and less media coverage.'

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