School Noted Adoptees' Size
TORTURE SUSPECT SAID STATURES WERE INHERITED
JIM TUNSTALL and SHERRI ACKERMAN
The Tampa Tribune
INVERNESS — The adopted children of John and Linda Dollar appeared abnormally small during academic testing conducted nearly three years ago at a Lutz private Christian school.
Barbara Dunlop, 51, administrator of Tampa Educational Academy of Christian Heritage Inc., said via e-mail Friday that she had noticed "some of the children were very small. The mother explained that they had been adopted and came from a family of small stature."
The Dollars were arrested Feb. 4 in Utah, accused of torturing at least five of their adopted children. A private prisoner transport company is expected to return the couple to Florida by month's end.
"There will always be evil in this world, and evil is very deceptive," Dunlop wrote.
The private school is registered with the Florida Department of Education, she wrote, and has served home schooling families for 12 years.
Parents who choose to educate their children at home must comply with annual testing.
"As a private school we have rigorous standards that must be met which include a yearly curriculum review, quarterly reports, and yearly testing," Dunlop wrote.
Although her e-mail suggests the children were at the school in subsequent years for testing, she wrote, "I found no reason to be suspicious of any member of this family."
She offered no further explanation when reached by telephone Friday night, though Dunlop confirmed she sent the e-mail.
Authorities say the children began talking about abuse after a female investigator reminded them of their Christian upbringing and the value of truthfulness.
Reluctant at first, the children eventually told Citrus County Detective Lisa A. Wall horrific stories of being beaten with hammers, subjected to electric shocks and having their toenails yanked out with needle-nose pliers, authorities said.
Ten years ago, Linda Dollar wrote on a Department of Children & Families foster and adoptive parent application that she had an abusive past, although she was not specific.
She said that when she was 6 her mother died, and her father was an alcoholic who physically and verbally abused her.
She left home at 16, married in 1971 and left her first husband because he, too, was abusive, she said.
"There's excellent research that kids who have been abused are more likely to become abusive" parents, said Lawson Bernstein, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"It's probably learned behavior coupled with biochemical reaction in the brain. They can become aggressive."
"Smaller People Can't Fight Back'
Abusers' anger is naturally directed toward those who are weaker and smaller, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
Such bullying occurs because "smaller people can't fight back," he said.
Linda Dollar, now 51, met John Dollar in 1980 when he was a part-time teacher under her supervision.
They married six years later in Las Vegas, 14 days after his second divorce.
"I was never able to have children before my present marriage," he wrote in his 1995 DCF application. Now 58, he described Linda Dollar as a wonderful mother to the five children they previously had adopted.
On their respective DCF foster and adoptive parent applications, they said they thought corporal punishment should be used as a last resort.
"Never should a spanking physically harm or hurt a child," he wrote.
"No other form of physical discipline is known to be acceptable by me."
His wife wrote that she least enjoyed parenting children in their teenage years.
Four of the five children allegedly abused are teenagers:
The oldest, 16, weighed 59 pounds when he was hospitalized Jan. 21 in Crystal River with head and neck injuries.
Twin boys, age 14, were 36 and 38 pounds.
Two other children, girls ages 13 and 12, also were malnourished.
Citrus County sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said the physical abuse stopped before the family moved to Citrus County in August, apparently because John Dollar's 85-year-old mother, Pauline, moved in.
"The children said things were better [physically] here," but they continued to be punished with sleep and food deprivation, Tierney said.
The Dollars are charged with one count each of aggravated child abuse-torture.
Linda Dollar is expected to be charged with five counts, or one for each child, Tierney said.
Her husband will face a sixth. He is accused of dropping the 16-year-old into a fireplace, which led to the boy's hospitalization.
The couple could face additional charges in Hillsborough County.
All seven children are in state custody.
The Dollars were arrested in Utah the same day investigators seized an electric cattle prod, pliers and other items from their home.
On Friday, investigators in Polk County used a search warrant to confiscate more pliers and what are thought to be portions of toenails and fingernails from the Dollars' 1995 motor home. The motor home was found abandoned Feb. 4 near Deer Creek RV and Golf Resort near Davenport.
They Ran A Christian School
The Dollars operated a Christian school of their own for about a year near Knoxville, Tenn., in the late 1990s, said Martha Dooley, of the Knox County Sheriff's Office.
The Dollars have eight adopted children, including a 25-year-old daughter who lives in New Port Richey.
Tierney said her agency was trying to determine whether the oldest child was abused.
The daughter could not be reached by the Tribune for comment.
As part of the DCF application process, the then-15-year-old girl was interviewed by caseworkers.
She wrote that she was understanding like her mother and that she and her father liked country music and pickups.
She also wrote that she would like additional siblings. "I would like for them to know that we are a loving, Christian family and that we want to love them and make them part of our family."
Reporter Lisa A. Davis and researchers Michael Messano, Melanie O'Bannon and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Reporter Jim Tunstall can be reached at (352) 628-5558.