The Associated Press has published a feature story on the egregious abuses that continued for decades at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in North Texas. Many abuse survivors say the institution ignores the needs of those it harmed and should be transparent about its mistakes of the past.

One man calls it a “horror house” where sadistic staff members whipped children until they were bloody and boys were repeatedly raped. Forced to live in a place with next to no accountability, many children at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch lived in constant fear.

Men talked to Dallas AP reporter Jamie Stengle about their childhood years spent at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, located outside of Amarillo, Texas. Their stories chronicle ongoing and egregious sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s, although the CFFP is aware of cases occurring well into the 2000s. A Facebook group for Boys Ranch survivors currently has more than 100 members.

Both the Amarillo Globe-News (which published the AP story on its front page) and the Austin American-Statesman are calling for Boys Ranch to launch an independent investigation.

Abuse survivors call on Boys Ranch for transparency

Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch takes in children whose parents cannot or do not want to care for them. Many parents have left their children at Boys Ranch, as it is often called, believing its well-crafted marketing messages claiming that the institution could be trusted to care for children. Boys Ranch has been celebrating its 80th year in operation by holding fundraising events and sending out emails without mentioning the abuses. In the AP story, CEO Dan Adams says he won’t bring in a third party to investigate.

Many survivors feel Boys Ranch is covering up untold numbers of abuse cases and should be doing more to help survivors with critical daily life needs. Many struggle with problems as a result of childhood trauma, such as PTSD and substance abuse. Some have committed suicide; others are living on the street.

“Boys Ranch has hundreds of millions of dollars, and yet the institution has been callously stingy in refusing to help alumni who were abused and tormented there,” says Janet Heimlich who founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project (CFFP), an Austin-based nonprofit organization that advocates for Boys Ranch abuse survivors. The CFFP had been urging Boys Ranch to set up a third-party entity to receive calls from survivors in need since many were reluctant to contact the institution for help.

In lieu of survivors receiving that help from Boys Ranch, the CFFP has stepped in and supported survivors in other ways. Last summer, the CFFP sponsored and organized the first reunion for Boys Ranch abuse survivors. Nearly 30 survivors and loved ones gathered in Amarillo to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and offer support to one another. A 6-minute video produced by the Child-Friendly Faith Project includes highlights of the gathering.

Abuses that spanned more than 60 years

Boys Ranch was started in 1939 by professional wrestler and tire salesman Cal Farley. It is a privately funded, faith-based residential facility outside of Amarillo, Texas. Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, the Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Foundation, and the Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Alumni Foundation report combined gross receipts and assets of more than $600 million.

The public first learned about children suffering severe abuse and neglect at Boys Ranch in a 2018 article that appeared in The Guardian. Previously, the CFFP had made unsuccessful attempts to convince Boys Ranch to issue a public apology and start a fund to help survivors. After the Guardian story broke, however, Boys Ranch CEO Dan Adams acknowledged and weakly apologized for the abuses.

While Boys Ranch claims to care about its alumni, it has been criticized for treating abuse survivors with disdain. In a 2018 alumni newsletter, Boys Ranch CEO Dan Adams referred to abuse allegations as “chatter.” Last year, the institution named a new dorm after Boys Ranch Superintendent, Lamont Waldrip, who survivors say was a renowned abuser. In a July 13, 2018 email to the CFFP, Adams threatened that he and his staff would “distance ourselves” from survivors needing help if the CFFP continued to advocate on their behalf.

“Boys Ranch could do so much for these men if it would stop hiding abuses of the past and use its funding in a meaningful way to help survivors overcome difficulties caused by childhood trauma,” says Heimlich. She says members of its Board of Directors who aren’t supportive of survivors should be replaced, noting that some board members are children of former staffers who have been accused of abuse.

Heimlich adds, “The institution has stolen the childhoods of so many. It’s time for some honesty and compassion so survivors and the entire Boys Ranch community can heal.”

If you are an abuse survivor of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch and would like to join a community of other survivors, please email us. You may also join a closed Facebook group called “Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Survivors.” Want to donate to help survivors of faith-based institutions? Click on this link.

Janet Heimlich is an award-winning journalist and the author of "Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment," the first book to fully examine the issue of child abuse and neglect enabled by religious belief. In 2012, Janet founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project whose mission is to share knowledge and build community around the issue of religious child maltreatment (RCM) and advocate for and empower those whose lives are impacted by RCM. She also sits on the board of directors of Foundation Beyond Belief and co-hosts the podcast, "Parenting Beyond Belief." Prior to becoming a child advocate, Janet was a freelance reporter for National Public Radio, work for which she won numerous journalism awards; she has also written nonfiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly and the Texas Observer.

3 Comments

  1. Steve
    May 18, 2019
    Reply

    I lived at the for almost eleven years, between 57-68. They were the longest years of my life. I lived under Cal Farley and his maniac. While Cal was out telling the world how great this place was, behind the scene was another story. No boy should of seen the things that I saw. Up above my friend Johnny tells of two brothers, staff members. Both did damage to boys, but the nice one that Johnny talks about wasn’t so nice to me. I still believe I was going die after he ran six of us boys. I have so many bad stories about what they did to boys and what boys did to boys. To me, Cal Farley wasn’t this great person, he lied to people to get their money. He was just a con man.

  2. Chris
    May 13, 2019
    Reply

    These men deserve justice and support for what was done to them. Does anyone know the therapists on staff who should have been protecting these young men? Where are the staffers, dorm parents and therapists NOW who let this happen to these innocent young men? What if the real abusers are still abusing children? There is one therapist, Norma Jo Backs, who worked at the ranch for the entire decade of the 80’s. She is now destroying children’s lives every single day in Fort Bend County when abusive parents (typically wealthy dads) pay her money to say the children are making up the abuse. Norma Backs is often paid to discredit children’s outcries of abuse, remove them from their safe parents (usually mothers) and request courts to force them to be with their abusive dads and often requests No Contact with the moms even though kids want to be with mom. This woman has been abusing children for profit under the guise of a therapist for 4 decades now. I think the other names of the abusers should be listed so we can see if they are still in roles or power to prey on young innocent children. I am so disgusted by the abuse to these young men while at Cal Farley Ranch. I pray everyone finds peace and justice and I pray these men know that anything that happened to them was not their fault no matter what twisted logic the Ranch used to make it seem like it was their fault. Child Abuse is not a childs fault!

  3. Johnny
    May 12, 2019
    Reply

    Back in the year 1964 I was sent to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch by a judge in Houston, Texas. I was the victim of my parents disaster of a marriage. I suffered much emotional & physical abuse at the hands of both my mother & father. My father was a well known city figure in Houston & had much power. My mother filed for a divorce in 1964. When it went before a judge, I again became a victim. The judge pointed at me as the problem. At this point I will say that I had my share of issues which I attribute to being the audience of the constant high drama & abusive relationship of BOTH parents. Home was a living hell for me. At a very early age, I developed serious depression due to the daily toxic environment at home. From the time I was in second grade, I had suffered my share of emotional abuse & was in therapy. School was no place for a kid (myself) who felt like he had no reason to live. There is not enough time here to detail my dark childhood life at home. So back to 1964 when I was around 13/14 years old in the courtroom. The judge pointed at ME, firmly explaining that my parents were wonderful people & that I was the cause of their poor marriage issues. Therefore the judge explained that he considered sending me to reform school in Gatesville, Texas, but was granting me the chance to make a better life for myself & my family by sending me to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo, Texas until I graduated High School. At my age, high school graduation was like a lifetime away. I must inject at this point, from the time I was about eight years old, my abusive father make constant threats to “send me away to school in another town” if my grades were not better. I’m saying this to let your readers know that from an early age I was threatened & fearful of abandonment daily. My father displayed fits of rage at me & my mother. Nothing was ever good enough to satisfy him. There were times, I feared for my life. At the same time my mother was having an extra marital affair as I watched more abuse between THOSE two. As bizarre as this sounds, this is no joke or fabrication. Simply the sad facts. I was a sad, lonely, lost kid who needed a healthy environment. Again, I was a victim of serious emotional abuse. Thankfully not sexual! Although abuse equals pain regardless of mental OR physical. I will add that I began having anger issues & got myself in some small trouble. Back to the courtroom & the judges decision, I was devastated by being thrown out for the next four or so years. I just wanted a “Safe Environment” like my friends. Now…..after his decision, I felt an emptiness I still cannot put into words. As you can imagine, my father was delighted at the judges choice to relocate me! My mother & father packed my clothes etc. & the next day we were headed to the airport. Destination: Amarillo, Texas. We arrived & stayed at a motel overnight & took a rental car north to “Boys Ranch”…At that time I was admitted to what was to become worse that he hell I lived at home with my abusive parents. I was a polite kid that was not a fighter, but indeed a victim. My new home brought on a new dimension of abuses of many twists & turns. What I witnessed at Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch have haunted me over these many years. There are times I still have nightmares of that place. Yep, from my abusive home in Houston, to my new one in north Texas. FYI – The only way I realized these horrible stories had finally surfaced was by accident. Yesterday, Saturday May 11, 2019 when I was checking Weather on KXAN TV’s Austin’s website & noticed a brief headline about Boys Ranch abuse. Then to my amazement, I read that all these stories finally came to light in 2017 in The Guardian News. I was shocked to hear that the truth had finally emerged! Had it not been for my weather radar search, I would know nothing. I am here to tell you that I witnessed much of these stories first hand & the many people who told of their experiences at this hell of a place are for real & I feel deeply sad for each of their unique tales of abuse at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. Due to the fact of my father’s powerful position in Houston & probable heavy donations to the place, I was never abused by any staff members, dorm parent (as they called them). ALTHOUGH, I was abused physically by sadistic boys who lived there. Problem was, there was no recourse. Had I reported them, it would have brought even worse abuse than was happening to me already. It was a living hell for me. Never knowing when the abusers would randomly choose me next. I still remember these guys by name & the satanic look in the eyes of one thug named David C. who beat me terribly for no reason. He was known for doing this to others. This kind of behavior must be like prison life. I witnessed sexual abuse of other kids who were ordered to perform acts on the weaker boys. I never encountered any of these forced sexual acts by staff members I will add. Just the abusive boys at the top of the chain. Again, prison mentality. I always found it difficult to believe the dorm parents & management of this place didn’t know of these sexual & abusive escapades, including mine!
    While on the topic of physical abuse, I’ll never forget when a kid got into trouble for something, the severe abuse these kids endured. I’m talking about them being beaten to the point that was hell on earth. Not just whipping with belts, but being thrown to the floor, kicked in the head to the point of these kids screaming & moaning. The next day the injuries were indeed visible. Cut’s, bruises, you name it. It was my opinion, that these were all “overlooked/ignored” by other dorm parents, school teaches, faculty members & the like. Simply – Everyone covered for one another in their “Dark Secrets” of abuse. I’ve thought that it must take a certain type of person to harm kids physically. A sadistic mentally odd human being. Then there were the night when report cards came out earlier in the day. Those evening to late night beatings in “My Unit” …sorry …”Dorm” will be forever recorded in my mind. Many of these I witnessed & those not seen could be heard by the male dorm parent kicking, beating, & yelling at his latest victim as he continued door to door down the wing of the place. Just for conformation, my “Unit/Dorm” was named “AILES”…plus I had an ID Number like AILES #***. This is to keep my identity private for now. Then, like many others, I made my attempt to escape this hellish place. That’s a story unique to itself. I hid out for three Month’s until I was caught in San Antonio, Texas by my father & a cast of his (well paid) detective team. The police dare not have been called, my father had to keep this ugly story out of the media. He was a well known public figure….remember? At this time I was put “In Holding” at a mental hospital in Houston at which time I was given a choice from my father. “A” Go back before the judge & be sent to reform school. Or “B” personally call Mr. Lamont Waldrip & politely ask if I would be allowed to return & make up all the schoolwork I missed while I was “On The Run”. Mr. Waldrip allowed me to return. It was during this conversation I reported MY physical abuse to him about what I had endured. Upon my return, they left me in the AILES Dorm/Unit but moved me to another room with less abuse than the old one. As I was reading The Guardian story, when the name Waldrip was written, I recalled that Lamont had a brother named Roger (I believe). I had Roger as one of my teachers. I will honestly tell you, Roger was always polite & respectful to me as his student. There’s much more I can share about my time spent there, yet I must tell you I believe each & every victims stories in the articles I have read since discovering this only yesterday. It’s been many years ago for all of us. That part of my life at Boys Ranch left me with even more emotional scars than before I arrived. My best to each & everyone who has mentioned their “Dark Day’s” & their own stories of abuse at the hands of people there. Thankfully, it took someone to bring this hellish place to light. I had assumed that the abuse there was short lived, but to my amazement, it appeared to go on for a very long time. My emotional life will forever be damaged by what I endured there. When I read these stories yesterday, they left me physically shaking as all those memories of abuse (never forgotten) hit me like a brick out of nowhere. Just think of the stories that will never surface. Many of the Boys Ranch victims are gone now & their stories taken to the grave. If by chance, your experience at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch was good for you & made a positive difference in your life, I am sincerely happy for you. By the way I was there when former Texas Congressman Bill Sarpalius was there. I believe he had a brother named Bobby there too. They were nice guys.
    Thank you for reading my experience & I will be thinking of all of you. I want to thank those who have exposed this. I never thought it would ever come to light. Money is power & this place was basically untouchable 1n 1964 & I’m sure much more today. Many donors have been fooled by this place + Farley’s Book “Shirttail blah bah”…It will continue to thrive, despite our efforts to tell it like it was for way too long!
    Again My Best, Johnny

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