Before moving on to 2011, I have one last fake teen tale for you. I’ve saved the most unsettling one for last, probably because I don’t even like thinking about it. Please proceed with caution.
Place: Kurim, Czech Republic
Time: May 10, 2007
In some ways, Moravia is the perfect setting for a tale of Gothic horror. The ancient cities of the South Moravian Region are still dominated by the dark architecture of the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. In Brno, not far from Kurim, the Gothic Revival spires of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul pierce the sky like black daggers, and icons representing the legendary beast that once terrorized the city loom everywhere.
But the South Moravian Region is also modern and ambitious, with glassy business districts and stunning functionalist architecture like Brno’s Exhibition Centre. City-dwellers are predominantly middle-class, and the crime rates are respectably low. All in all, today’s Moravia is not a place you would expect to find the macabre.
In a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Kurim, a man installed a CCTV baby monitor to keep an eye on his sleeping newborn son. These devices sometimes snag signals from other monitors nearby, but the new father was certainly not prepared for what he saw. Instead of his child’s crib, another image appeared on the screen: A small boy, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, huddled on a cement floor in a confined space. He was nude, dirty, and bound.
Police conducted a door-to-door search to find this little boy. Most neighborhood residents were cooperative, even helpful. Then officers reached a cheerful yellow house with a red roof, occupied by two attractive sisters. Klara Mauerova, a 31-year-old blonde somewhat resembling Renee Zellweger, was a single mother of three children. Her dark-haired sister, 33-year-old Katerina Mauerova, lived with her.
The Mauerova sisters allowed police, led by officer Miroslav Gregor, to search their home, but vehemently balked at opening a locked closet door. The investigators summoned firemen to bust the lock. In a cramped space, they found the boy: Klara’s younger son, 8-year-old Ondrej. Trapped in the windowless space in his own excrement and vomit, the boy was suffering dehydration.
Needless to say, Klara was arrested and all three of her children were immediately taken into custody.
Jakub was two years older than Ondrej. The boys told police and social workers that their mother and their Aunt Katerina had been abusing them since the previous July. Abuse isn’t really the right word, though. Jakob and Ondrej had been tortured. Klara and Katerina sexually abused them, beat them with belts, confined them in dog cages, burned them with cigarettes, chained them to furniture, dunked their heads underwater until they thought they would drown, and locked them in closets without food or clothing. The boys had also been forced to cut themselves with knives, and Ondrej’s skin had been sliced off in strips. The adults then consumed his raw flesh.
The two boys insisted they had deserved to be punished for bad behaviour, and anxiously protected their abusers. As it turned out, their mother and aunt had not been the only adults involved.
The only child in the household who escaped this malevolence was 13-year-old Anicka, or Anna, a tiny, shy girl who seemed very young for her age. Her owl-eyed face was dominated by enormous granny glasses, and she clutched a teddy bear as officers questioned her. In the only known photo of the entire family, taken on a canoe trip, Anna looks down at her feet instead of at the camera while a smiling Klara hugs her tightly. She seemed so socially inept that Officer Gregor referred to her in his report as a “wild girl”.
But it turned out that Anicka wasn’t Klara’s natural child. The young mother explained that Anicka had been abandoned on her late grandmother’s doorstep by drug addicts as an infant. After her grandmother’s death, Klara raised the child her as her own. She had legally adopted the girl just two months earlier.
The three Mauerova children were placed in a children’s home.
The abuse seemed incomprehensible – the Mauerovas had no known history of violence or child abuse – but investigators soon discovered what they believed to be the explanation for it: Katerina belonged to an offshoot of a little-known religious organization known as the Grail Movement.
On May 19, the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta DNES siezed on this connection, sparking lurid media stories about the “Grail Movement cult” and its child-abusing, flesh-eating members.
But Grail Movement members do not eat human flesh, nor do they typically turn their homes into torture chambers. The cult Katerina joined was, at most, a mutant offspring of the Grail Movement. In 2009, the Grail Movement Foundation in the Czech Republic successfully sued Mlada Fronta DNES for libel, forcing the paper to print a retraction.
The case became more troubling and sinister when little Anicka went missing from the Klokanek children’s home. During her short time in care, she had lost a lot of weight and appeared to be more confused and troubled than her little brothers. She told a doctor who examined her that she was actually a boy, which was clearly not the case in any physical sense. She was already developing breasts.
The police were beginning to learn that despite the adoption proceedings, Klara hadn’t really treated the girl like one of her own children. Anicka had never attended school like the boys and had no medical records, which indicated she had lived in seclusion for much – if not all – of her young life. Klara claimed Anicka suffered a “social disorder” that made traditional schooling impossible, but given Klara’s track record… well, she wasn’t the most reliable mother in the Czech Republic, was she?
Police couldn’t locate Anicka’s biological parents, nor were they able to find any documents to confirm her identity. Her father, Viktor Skala, had appeared in court to relinquish his rights to the girl back in March, but there was no proof that he was Anicka’s real father.
Stranger still, neighbors of Klara’s late grandmother couldn’t recall ever seeing a young child around her house.
A nationwide search for the girl commenced immediately. It seemed almost certain that Klara, and/or one of her cohorts, had abducted Anicka when she was younger. And that someone had abducted her from the children’s home to prevent her from disclosing more of the family’s secrets.
In late May, letters from Anicka were received by President Václav Klaus, a state official, and a national newspaper. The girl begged for clemency for her adoptive mother.
Norway, Winter 2007
Adam Fahrner, the 13-year-old son of Czech theater manager Martin Fahrner, was placed in an emergency youth shelter in Oslo. His teachers and psychologists believed his family, recently emigrated from the Czech Republic, had been abusing him in odd and sadistic ways. He talked of being beaten, burned with cigarettes, and sold into child prostitution by his own father from a young age.
Since his enrollment in the autumn, it had been obvious to staff at the Marienlyst school in Oslo that Adam was troubled in some way. Though his work was decent, he seemed skittish and uneasy all the time. He didn’t socialize much, and flat-out refused to take part in any sports activities.
In mid-December, Adam disappeared from the youth home in Oslo.
Missing child posters went up all over Norway. The boy usually had a shaved head and wore a black watchcap, but if he had run away and didn’t want to be found, he could change his appearance easily.
Fortunately, he didn’t. Adam was spotted in the northern city of Tromsoe, by someone who had glimpsed him on a missing child poster.
He had appeared in Tromsoe immediately after his disappearance, in the company of an adult friend named Michal Riha, and was placed in a youth home there.
Adam was returned to Oslo, where the police somehow learned that the real Adam Fahrner was still in the Czech Republic. This Adam was a 33-year-old woman named Barbora Skrlova, wanted in Kurim for abusing two little boys named Jakub and Ondrej Mauerova.
You see, Barbora Skrlova was also “Anicka“. To my knowledge, she is the only teen imposter to successfully pass as a girl and a boy.
As I mentioned earlier, the Mauerova sisters hadn’t been Ondrej and Jakub’s only abusers. Their other tormentors included their “adopted sister” Barbora Skrlova, Barbora’s 25-year-old brother Jan Skrla, 28-year-old Hana Basova , and 25-year-old Jan Turek. All worked at the Brno youth centre Paprsek with Katerina, and all were reportedly connected to a Grail Movement offshoot led by Barbora’s 75-year-old father, Josef Skrla. The old man had apparently crafted a hiking club into his personal religious group. Because his club was known as “The Ants“, some reports refer to the cult members by the same name.
In 2005, the Mauerova sisters took Barbora into their home. That’s when Barbora began instructing Klara on how to break the will of her sons. She enlisted other members of the cult to assist in this effort, and beginning in July 2006 the group operated its own torture chamber in the little yellow house in Kurim. Barbora and Klara supposedly took orders to “train” the Mauerova children from a mysterious doctor who sent detailed instructions via text messages. We do not know if such a person exists.
What we do know for certain is that there were many “Ants” involved in the Mauerova case. In addition to the elderly Josef Skrla (who has not been charged with any crime in relation to the case), they are: Viktor Skala, a Czech actor who posed as “Anicka’s” father in court during the adoption proceedings; Martin Fahrner and his wife; and Michal Riha, the man who brought “Adam” to Tromsoe.
Martin Farhner and his wife were such loyal members of the group that they agreed to let Barbora impersonate their 13-year-old son, using the boy’s passport to smuggle her into Denmark and then Norway. She was already a fugitive by that time, because in late May one of Katerina’s friends had revealed that little “Anicka” was really a grown woman. Just why cult members helped her pass herself off as a teenager is still unclear. There have been suggestions that Skrla and/or some of his Ants were attempting to present Barbora as a child messiah like Krishnamurti or Sai Baba, to draw more followers. Barbora herself has said she created the Anicka persona as a way to cope with reality, a familiar refrain in the world of fake teens.
Josef Skrla remains a murky but persistent presence in the case. According to one report in the South African Independent, he has gone missing. Though the media and a few anonymous sources have painted him as the unseen puppetmaster of the whole affair, no one actually knows if Skrla himself had any involvement in his children’s bizarre activities in Kurim – or if he even knew about them. It’s possible that Barbora and/or her brother Jan crafted their own little cult in Kurim.
Barbora was returned to the Czech Republic to face fraud charges. On the plane, she clasped a teddy bear and other toys.
To this day, not much is known of this strange little woman. She reportedly studied music at Brno’s Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, and wanted to be a composer. For a time she shared an apartment with Katerina (she may also have worked with her), and feigned being a cancer patient. She had Katerina tell classmates that she had died of leukemia, then resurfaced (with the help of Katerina and others) as a Norwegian orphan named Anna Jervinen. “Anna” first began visiting Klara’s house in 2005, in the company of Katerina. Klara told the Czech magazine Tyden that Anna had some of the characteristics of a feral child at that time; she still drank from baby bottles, and played with baby rattles, though she could converse in three languages (Norwegian, Czech, and English).
Klara claims she was duped into believing Anicka was an abused orphan from Norway, then manipulated into torturing her sons by Anicka, her sister, and that elusive doctor. (She gave investigators the name of a man from Azerbaijan. Neither Czech police nor Interpol could find a person by that name. This brings to mind “Avery” in the Rose Turford/Joyce Stevens case.)
It’s entirely possible that Klara was duped to some extent. Police determined that those text messages originated not from Azerbaijan, but from her sister’s cell phone.
The only problem with Klara’s version of the story is that when “Anicka” was scheduled to appear in court during the adoption proceedings in 2007, the daughter of another cult member (perhaps Viktor Skala) was brought in to play the part.
Barbora Skrlova pled innocence, as well. She said the Mauerova sisters and Hana Basova tortured her just as they did Ondrej and Jakub, and were plotting to sell her and the boys into child sex slavery. They drugged her, beat her, and sexually assaulted her with sharp objects (the latter allegation is particularly unlikely; a physical exam showed Skrlova to be a virgin).
Oddly, she is indignant that Ondrej exaggerated the extent of his abuse. (He actually downplayed it dramatically at first, shielding Barbora and the others.)
What Barbora hasn’t fully explained is just how she came to be adopted, at the age of 33, by a former roommate’s sister. She told the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny she befriended Ondrej and Jakub Mauer at a scout camp. She already knew their aunt Katerina, she said, because they had worked together at a children’s home in Brno.
On June 16, 2008, the trial of the six defendants opened at the City Court in Brno. Some of the testimony only deepened the mysteries of the case. For instance, Mauerova family friend Jirí Hlavácek described how, in the autumn of 2005, Klara asked him to pick up Anna at a remote location. Katerina gave Klara directions over the phone as Hlavácek drove. When they arrived at their destination, a wooded area, they discovered Anna with a bag over her head and her wrists bound.
Klara urged Hlavácek not to call the police, saying this would only put the girl in more danger.
Klara, sobbing continuously throughout the proceedings, admitted to the court that she had willfully tortured her own children. But she had been brainwashed by a 13-year-old girl, her sister, and her own cell phone. Not the strongest defense the judges had ever heard, I’m sure.
Katerina’s testimony didn’t clear the waters, either. Looking frazzled and gaunt, she stated simply, “Whatever my sister Klara said yesterday is a lie.” It was Barbora and Klara, she declared, who got out of control.
Jan Turek would admit only to loaning Klara the two dog cages in which her sons were often confined during their year of torture. He didn’t participate in the abuse himself, he insisted, and wasn’t even aware that the cages were being used for such a purpose.
Hana Basova, the most elusive figure in the case next to Josef Skrla, declined to appear in court at all. She denied any wrongdoing.
With the potent evidence of abuse and the weird, contradictory accounts of the defendants, it’s not shocking that all six were found guilty.
Klara was convicted of repeated abuse with severe cruelty, grievous bodily harm and depriving the boys of their freedom, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Katerina received a ten-year sentence for repeated abuse with severe cruelty, grievous bodily harm, depriving the boys of their freedom and giving false testimony.
Barbora was acquitted of fraud charges in relation to her escapades in Norway, but convicted of repeated abuse with severe cruelty. She was sentenced to five years in prison, as was Jan Turek.
Hana Basova and Barbora’s brother Jan received seven years.
Like everyone else, I can only look at the Kurim case and say “WTF?“. But I’m going to venture now into Maybe territory, and propose a possible scenario that could have led Klara (inarguably the most contrite of the abusers) to do the things she did.
In 2005, Klara is presented by her sister with a vulnerable young girl, molested and abused in a Norwegian orphanage to such a degree that she still has some of the traits of an infant. On the other hand, her linguistic abilities show her to be a blazingly intelligent child.
Perhaps she has an air of serenity and innocence about her – a touch of the holy. Katerina and Katerina’s friends are protective of this child, treating her almost like a little idol.
Though they encourage Klara to adopt Anicka into her little family, they begin to disparage her parenting skills. Look how well-behaved Anicka is despite all she has suffered, they point out. And yet your boys are always rough-housing and back-talking and behaving like ruffians. Being a single parent with insecurities, Klara takes this chiding to heart. She feels she must whip her boys into shape. She devises new, harsher punishments for them, and allows Anicka and her sister to do the same. She accepts the advice of Anicka’s doctor, who obviously cares a great deal for the girl. How many physicians will text-message their patients’ guardian to offer guidance?
This guidance is laden with an aura of the spiritual, even the mystical. Klara senses great holiness in these people surrounding her. They seem to have elevated themselves above the demands of the flesh; they are selfless and serene. To purify the boys, Klara is told, they must be brought to a state of contrition and submission so that new values can be taught. They must be made to overcome the weaknesses of their flesh so the spirit can be strong.
The Doctor suggests a new regiment of punishment, far harsher than anything Anna and Klara have done. If the boys bicker, talk disrespectfully, or show ingratitude, they will be: Locked in dog cages, deprived of meals, slapped with belts, etc.
Klara, fearing deeply for her boys’ spirits, is grateful for the help. She begins doling out the punishments, and the other adults are kind enough to assist her at every opportunity. With a whole community teaching them, they tell Klara, the boys will know they are loved and cherished even as they suffer. They will come to realize that everyone has made sacrifices for them, and will accept that they must make sacrficies of their own. The ultimate sacrifice, of course, is their own flesh.
When it’s time for Anicka to appear in court to be adopted by Klara, her crippling social phobia incapacitates her. Katerina persuades Klara that it would be best to let another little girl, a friend’s daughter, “stand in” for Anicka so that she doesn’t have to go through the ordeal of appearing before a judge.
By the time Klara realizes that Anicka is older than she is, and that her sister’s friends are lunatics, she’s standing trial for some of the most atrocious child abuse ever seen in the Czech Republic.
This scenario, of course, doesn’t justify a thing. In my opinion, Klara Mauerova and her cohorts got off lightly and should not be permitted within spitting distance of children for the remainder of their messed-up lives.