On November 4, 1970, Los Angeles Child Services discovered 13-year-old Susan Wiley, who had the appearance of a 6-year-old and was unable to walk, feed herself, or even use the bathroom. The girl, who weighed less than 60 pounds, walked with an unusual gait caused by years of confinement.
When authorities began looking into parents Irene and Clark Wiley, they discovered that two of their children died within months of their births. One of the remaining children lived with Clark’s mother until she unexpectedly died and the fourth one was Susan, also known as “Genie.” Genie’s mother, Irene was nearly blind as a result of a childhood accident.
Her Family Locked Her In A Room
Susan Wiley, aka Genie, was born in 1957, five years after her brother, around the time that her father began to isolate himself and his family from other people. At birth, she was in the 50th percentile of the weight, the next day, she showed signs of Rh incompatibility and required a blood transfusion.
A medical appointment three months later showed that she was gaining weight almost normally, but she had a congenital hip dislocation which required her to wear a highly restrictive Frejka splint from the age of 4 1⁄2 to 11 months. Based on early medical records, Genie exhibited no signs of impaired mental development from birth.
Her father started keeping her in a locked room when she was about 20 months old. He almost always strapped her into a child’s toilet or bound her in a crib with her arms and legs immobilized during this time, forbade anyone from interacting with her, gave her almost no stimulation of any kind, and left her severely malnourished.
Because of the extent of her isolation, she was not exposed to a significant amount of speech during her childhood, and as a result, she did not acquire language. When she was 13 years and 7 months old, her abuse was brought to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities in November 1970.
Her Family Fed Her As Little As Possible
While the rest of the family slept in the living room, Genie’s father kept her in the second bedroom in the back of the house. He fed her as little as possible and refused to give her any solid food, instead sticking to baby food, cereal, pablum, an occasional soft-boiled egg, and liquids.
Genie’s family treated her like a monster, forcing spooned food into her mouth as quickly as possible, and if she choked or didn’t swallow quickly enough, the person feeding her rubbed the food on her face. However, her mother told the researchers that she was not allowed to feed Genie, and she tried to give her food late at night around 11:00 PM.
Genie Was Physically and Emotionally Abused
Genie’s father had a low tolerance for noise; he never allowed his wife or son to talk in the house and viciously beat them if they did so without his permission, especially when Genie was present. If Genie made any kind of noise, her father would beat her with a large plank that he kept in her room.
Genie’s father punished her for making noise or for acting out, especially during feeding time, if Genie attempted to make any sounds, Clark beat her with a wooden board until she was silent.
To keep her quiet, he bared his teeth, barked and growled at her like a wild dog, and scratched her with his fingernails. When he suspected her of doing something he didn’t like, he made these noises outside the door and beat her if he thought she kept doing it, instilling in Genie an extremely intense and persistent fear of cats and dogs.
When authorities went to Wiley’s house to look for child abuse, they discovered that Genie was completely neglected. Genie was found dirty, unbathed, and wearing a soiled diaper; she had never learned to use a toilet. Her father bound Genie to a potty chair with a cloth. He also chained her to a crib covered in wire and bound her so she couldn’t move.
Genie’s mother was a passive person who was constantly on the receiving end of her husband’s rage. Clark continued to beat her and threatened to kill her if she attempted to contact her parents or anyone else who lived nearby.
Clark and Irene’s Daughter Was Killed By Neglect
Clark and Irene Wiley’s marriage was an abusive one; Clark beat her and never let her leave the house. Irene’s injuries were severe enough that she had to go to the hospital on several occasions.
Clark had no desire to be a father, as made evident by the way he treated his children. Dorothy Irene, the couple’s first child, was born in 1948. Clark began to exhibit signs of aversion to sound soon after the baby was born. When the baby cried, he found it upsetting and placed it in the garage. As a result, Dorothy contracted pneumonia and died soon after.
Robert Clark, the couple’s second child, was born in 1949 and died two days later, possibly as a result of neglect. The couple had another son, John, in 1952. When John was four years old, he went to live with his grandmother, but two years later his grandmother was killed in a hit-and-run accident, and he returned to his family.
Genie Wasn’t Rescued Until she was 13
When Genie was about 13 years and six months old, her parents got into a fight, and Irene threatened to leave if she couldn’t call her own parents.
When Clark left the house the next day, Irene left with Genie to visit her parents in Monterey Park. Genie’s brother had already fled the house and was living with his friends.
Genie’s mother went to apply for disability benefits for the blind three weeks later, on November 3, and brought Genie with her, but due to her near-blindness, Genie’s mother accidentally entered the general social service office next door.
When the social worker who greeted them saw Genie, she knew something was wrong and was shocked to learn her age. Genie appeared to be six or seven years old and possibly autistic. Genie’s parents were arrested after the social service office contacted the police, and Genie became a ward of the court.
Genie, at the age of 13, appeared to be about 6 or 7 years old. She weighed less than 60 pounds (27.22 kg) and appeared malnourished.
Genie’s mother told authorities that she tried to interact with her daughter whenever she could, but she was beaten severely by her husband. She also stated that she fed Genie extra food, but Genie was frequently unable to eat. The court dropped the child abuse charges again Irene.
Life of Genie after her family
Because of Genie’s physical condition, the court ordered that she be transported to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Genie was malnourished, weak, and filthy when she arrived at the hospital. Doctors reported that Genie walked awkwardly, spat all the time, and couldn’t straighten her limbs all the way.
Genie’s muscles were severely underdeveloped, and she couldn’t feed herself. When they fed Genie, they discovered she couldn’t chew and had difficulty swallowing. Her parents had never taught her how to use a toilet, so she was completely incontinent.
Genie’s gross motor skills(abilities acquired during childhood as a part of the child’s learning) were extremely weak; she could neither stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs, she had very little endurance. Genie’s characteristic “bunny walk,” in which she held hands in front of her like claws while walking.
While eating, she held anything she could not swallow in her mouth until the saliva broke it down, and if it took too long she spat it out and mashed it with her fingers.
Genie’s cognitive abilities were difficult to assess because she was mute and did not appear to fully understand language. She did, however, respond to her own name on occasion. Her assessment revealed that she had the cognitive ability of a one-year-old. She was not autistic, nor did she suffer from any mental or physical illness.
Genie’s Stay At Hospital
Genie was assigned to physician James Kent, Kent initially observed no reactions from Genie but eventually drew a small amount of nonverbal and verbal responsiveness with a small puppet, and soon playing with the puppet became Genie’s favorite hobby.
Soon after, Genie began to learn to dress and use the toilet on her own. Kent attempted to form a normal friendship with Genie and decided to accompany her on walks and to all of her appointments.
Genie quickly began growing and gaining weight, gradually becoming more confident in her movements, and after a while, she had good hand-eye coordination.
When asked what happened to her in her home, Genie spoke in a hesitant manner:
Father hit arm. Big wood. Genie cry. […] Not spit. Father. Hit face – spit […] Father hit big stick. Father angry. Father hit Genie big stick. Father take piece wood hit. Cry. Father make me cry.
More harm than good?
The researchers may have done more harm than good to Genie. Some question whether the constant tests hampered her recovery.
Genie was staying with Jean Butler, a researcher, at the time. Butler quarantined Genie during a measles outbreak and kept her away from other scientists. Butler was obsessed with Genie and had expressed to her colleagues her desire to be compared to Helen Keller’s renowned teacher, Anne Sullivan. Butler even applied for Genie’s foster care, but the court denied his request.
Without any conclusive results, the case study lost funding, and Genie was placed in foster care by the state.
Genie never learned to communicate
Because it was difficult for families to care for Genie, she was moved from one foster care facility to another. Genie’s language skills began to deteriorate as a result of her lack of constant care. Genie once learned to speak some words together, but after a while, she found it difficult to speak only one word, and she soon stopped speaking altogether.
Clark and Irene were charged with child neglect and abuse. Clark, on the other hand, shot himself at the courthouse on the day of the trial. He’d written a note that said, “The world will never understand.”
Irene claimed that she had no idea the extent of the abuse that had occurred; however, Irene herself had been abused and tortured by Clark. In 1975, the court dismissed the charges against her, and she temporarily regained custody of Genie.
When Irene realized she couldn’t care for Genie anymore, she quickly returned her to foster care, Irene she died in 2003. John, who ran away from home, died in 2011 at the age of 58.
Where is Genie now?
Genie is now in a foster home and never speaks to anyone because her foster parents punished her for vomiting, and Genie refused to speak or interact with anyone after that. Genie’s posture was hunched, and she avoided eye contact.
Her life has remained private since that incident, and she now resides in a foster care facility somewhere in California. Genie has lost contact with the doctors she once knew. It is forbidden to speak to or contact Genie while she is in foster care. Genie never showed any signs of progress toward further development.