Documents reveal thoughts of Dollar couple

Date: 2005-04-08

ABBIE VANSICKLE
St. Petersburg Times

During the two months John and Linda Dollar have spent in the Citrus County jail, accused of torturing five of their adopted children, they have faced intense press coverage.

Stories about the couple have reached across the country. Photographs of the Dollars wearing red jail jumpsuits and sitting in court have been aired on national television.

Until now, their version of events has not been heard. But glimpses into their thoughts, both before and after arrest, are contained in hundreds of pages of documents prosecutors released this week. Among the documents are jailhouse letters and transcripts of phone messages they left their oldest daughter before they traveled from Florida to Utah.

The couple have been charged with multiple counts of aggravated child abuse and torture. They have pleaded not guilty and await trial.

Since their arrest, the Dollars have written and received about a dozen letters from each other as well as family and friends. Being held without bail in separate cells at the county jail, the only way the Dollars can communicate daily is through letters, which can be opened and inspected.

Scattered among Bible verses and poetry in the letters are the Dollars' worries about finances and the daily problems of living behind bars, such as filing taxes from jail, as well as their desire to tell their version of what went on in their home.

After reading their children's testimony, Mrs. Dollar wrote to her husband that she was surprised.

"I don't understand what is going on, but in time God will reveal his plan for us," she wrote. "I was so shocked today when I received the paperwork. . . . I don't understand. I love the kids so much. I just can't believe this is happening. Things have been blown out of proportion."

The couple's telephone messages to their oldest daughter, Shanda Rae Shelton, provide insight into the couple's decision to go to Utah after learning that authorities were investigating the way they treated their children.

On Jan. 28, the day after the children were removed from their care, both John and Linda Dollar left phone messages with Shelton, who is married and lives in Pasco County.

"Uh, I am sorry things have turned out the way they have," John Dollar said. "I am sorry that you all have had to face this music. Uh, Shanda, I've always loved you and I love you still and I hope you see in your heart to forgive me."

One topic addressed again and again is their effort to persuade John Dollar's mother, Pauline, to testify on their behalf.

"We are very fortunate to have hired a Christian attorney and one that cares. Our story will be told soon, when it is ready to be released," John Dollar wrote in a Feb. 23 letter to his mother. "It is very, very important that you assist us by providing them with answers to their questions. No one else, please!!"

Pauline Dollar, a retired schoolteacher, lived with the Dollars at their Pine Ridge home on Pink Poppy Drive from August until their arrest in February. She told investigators her son and his wife had to be stern with the childrenbecause they were wild. The children weren't allowed to sleep in their beds because they'd smeared the sheets with tomatoes, she told a detective.

She has since moved to North Carolina, where she's staying with relatives. She told detectives she first moved in with her son after he and his wife borrowed $40,000 from her savings to stockpile food, toilet paper and supplies for Y2K. They allowed her to live with them to help repay their debt to her, she said.

"It really would be wonderful if you could appear on our behalf," John Dollar wrote to his mother. "Please call and talk to our attorney about this, please! He needs as many witnesses as possible. You are one of the most important key witnesses we have."

Mrs. Dollar also wrote to her mother-in-law, asking that she support the couple.

"You know how hard John and I tried to be good parents," she wrote. "You know how much food I cooked, clothes I washed and all the material things we provided for the children. You know how much we loved and cared for them."

In the same letter, Mrs. Dollar seemed puzzled by her oldest daughter's actions since their arrest. Shelton has petitioned unsuccessfully to visit her siblings and spoken with reporters about life in the Dollars' home.

"The media . . . have really damaged us," she wrote. "Shanda seems to want to hurt us for some reason. Don't know why, except for money?"

She also asks for forgiveness.

"Please forgive. You know I tried hard, Mom," she wrote. "Please step up to the plate and let people know we didn't abuse the children day in and day out."

The Dollars also have written to several other people, asking for support. In a letter to a Tampa insurance agent, John Dollar wrote of his frustration with news reports about their arrests and the accusations against them.

"Brother Stan, we still need your moral support," he wrote. "I ask and plead with you to stand by us as friends through Christ. When our story is finally released and the public knows the whole story, much of this will be cleared up. The news media seems to have crucified us without facts and truth."

Included with the letters were reports by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office that detail the specific abuse suffered by children at each of the family's five Hillsborough addresses since 2001.

The Dollar family moved often in the past decade, alternating between rural Tennessee and the Brandon area of Hillsborough.

At the family's Plant City home, two of the boys told investigators they were tied with bands in 2002 and 2003, so they could not get food.

When the family moved to Ranch Road in Valrico in 2004, the boys say all of the children were locked in a linen closet for long periods of time. One of the older boys was taped inside a cardboard box all night after he was caught trying to steal food, and the boys told investigators they were shocked with a cattle prod as punishment.

In July, at a home on Happy Acres Lane, also in Valrico, the same boys told a detective their parents clamped pliers to their fingers, tearing the skin off their small fingers. The boys also say they were beaten with thorny branches and kept in a closet, their bodies bound with plastic ties.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

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