Utterly Depraved: The Colt Family of Australia
A Most Foul Discovery
If the hills of New South Wales, Australia could speak, they would have quite the tale to tell. On July 18, 2012, police and child protection agents removed 12 children, all cousins, from a farm in Boorowa, in the hills of Western Australia.
This was not the first time authorities had been called to the farm. Over the course of two years, from 2010-2012, seven reports were filed against the family for child neglect, refusal to seek medical attention, and failure to attend school. Living conditions on the farm were substandard, and the family had been asked to make improvements. Though some improvements had been made, the conditions were still uninhabitable. Despite the physical conditions, the children remained on the farm.
In July, 2012, a report from a concerned teacher prompted further investigation into the family. The teacher overheard one of the Colt girls tell another student,
"My sister is pregnant and we don’t know which of my brothers is the father.” (News.com.au, September 2014)
Authorities returned to the farm and removed 12 children from the property.
"...just despicable. The quality of life for the children was outrageous, just outrageous." Chief Detective Peter Yeomans
The Colt Family
The name of the family has been changed to protect the identity of the children.
The children were part of a multigenerational family living in an assortment of tents, caravans and sheds on an isolated property in the hills. The nearest town was 20 miles away, and the family rarely left their farm. The locals in the nearby town remember seeing the family a few times a year, and remarked on how they never seemed very clean.
The conditions in which the Colt family lived were basic. There was no running water, and the insides of the caravans were coated in dirt. Exposed wires, chainsaws, and other unsafe items were found around the property. The refrigerators contained little food or rotten food. The children wore filthy clothing and slept on soiled beds littered with cigarette butts. A kangaroo was even found sleeping on one child's bed.
The children had visible physical and cognitive ailments, including malnourishment, unintelligible speech, dysmorphic features, and hearing and sight problems. Medical examination revealed further issues such as fungal infections of the feet and mouth, extensive dental decay, psoriasis, and congenital health issues such as chronic renal failure, acute glaucoma, pneumonia and heart problems.
The children did not attend school regularly, though the family matriarch, Betty Colt, claimed they were homeschooled. One 15 year old boy had the cognitive level of a 5 year old. Many of the children could not read or write and, those who could, were functioning well below their age-level.
The children also lacked the knowledge of basic hygiene skills such as bathing, brushing their teeth, and using a toilet. One girl had never seen toilet paper, and one boy did not understand the concept of showering. In addition to the developmental and cognitive delays, the children showed evidence of psychological trauma. One child, Karl (age 12) threatened to stab caseworkers with a pencil and cut their throats. Two of the older children wet the bed.
Read the Judgment filed in the Children's Court, New South Wales
As authorities talked to the children, a disturbing picture of the family began to emerge. Authorities already knew this was no regular family, but what the children revealed paled in comparison to the squalid living conditions in which they were found. The Colt lifestyle was one of rampant sexual abuse, with family members engaging in acts with just about every other member. Just understanding the familial relationships was challenging, as someone's uncle could also be their father. For instance, Nadia (age 7) told authorities that her father was her maternal uncle, Charlie Colt. Kimberly (age 13) told a psychologist that she had the same father as her mother and grandmother.
The children also displayed highly sexualized behavior.
Cindy (age 5) tried repeatedly to kiss male carers on the lips, Brian (age 12) placed his hand on his sister's (Carmen, age 8) knee and moved up her thigh, and Carmen tried to force a boy to have sex with her.
The children talked openly about the sexual relations they had on the farm, both with the adults and the other children. These activities were encouraged by the adults.
The boys also revealed that they had tortured and mutilated animals.
Tammy, the adult daughter of Betty Colt, disclosed to authorities that she had been sexually abused since the age of 12 by multiple family members. She described how she would hide from her brothers in an attempt to avoid assault. Betty encouraged the abuse and forbid the girls from seeking medical treatment when pregnant. Tammy also revealed that she had been in a relationship with her brother the past 3 years.
Abuse Spanning Generations
The court ordered genetic testing of the 12 children removed from the home. When test swabs were taken from the family members, geneticists found that the family had been inbreeding for four generations. The results revealed that all but one of the 12 children were the result of incest.
The incestuous activities within this family date back 40 years to New Zealand, where a brother and sister had a sexual relationship. The relationship resulted in the birth of June Colt in 1948.
In 1966, June married Tim Colt (not a family member) and the two moved to Australia. The pair had 7 children: Rhonda, Betty, Cherry, Frank, Charlie, Paula and Martha. The family moved often, possibly to keep their disturbing family activities hidden from society. Both June and Tim Colt are now deceased.
Rhonda, Betty, and Martha were three of the four mothers whose children were removed on July 18, 2012. The other mother was Raylene, Betty's oldest daughter, whose 13 year old daughter, Kimberly, was removed from the farm.
Genetic testing revealed that all of the children were fathered by family members. Her 15 year old son, Bobby, was fathered either by her own father, Tim, or by her brother. The other four that were tested were fathered by a close family member, though it is unknown which family member.
Genetic testing of Raylene's daughter, Kimberly, revealed her parents to be either half siblings, uncle/niece, aunt/nephew, double first cousins, grandparent/grandchild, or first cousins.
Martha has 4 children fathered either by her own father, Tim, or her brother. One child is the result of a relationship with a close family member.
Rhonda's daughter, Cindy, was the only child not fathered by a relative. The Court's records indicate that "Unlike the other children, Cindy presented as a well-spoken polite, bright, intelligent girl whose development was normal for her age" (Children's Court, New South Wales).
Tammy is the adult daughter of Betty. She revealed that all her children were fathered by her brother, Derek. Genetic testing confirmed this. One daughter died (aged 2 months) of Zellweger Syndrome, a genetic disorder. Tammy and her children did not live on the farm, but the authorities later removed her children from her home.
Despite the genetic evidence, the adults firmly deny allegations of incest and sexual abuse. Betty Colt insists that the father of her children is a man named Phil Watson, though genetic testing reveals otherwise. Charlie Colt, the brother of Betty, fled Australia in June, 2014 when asked to provide a test swab for geneticists. He, too, denies the child sex abuse. He is believed to be both the father and the uncle of three of the girls. He also had sex with one of his daughters, but denies the allegations. He states that the genetic testing results are "absolute rubbish" (news.com.au, November 3, 2014).
All of the children have been placed in foster care or treatment programs. Betty Colt was sentenced to a maximum of 12 months in jail for plotting to kidnap two of her children from foster care.
Charlie Colt was arrested upon his return to Australia in November, 2014.
Police investigations into the family are ongoing.
Incest is defined as "sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related".(Merriam-Webster Dictionary). While it is considered a taboo in many cultures, it is not an uncommon phenomenon in our history as humans. Some forms of incest have historically been accepted, such as royal families marrying cousins to preserve the bloodline. Other families, simply out of physical proximity and necessity, married relatives because there was no one else available to marry. It is legal to marry your cousin in many countries, including several states in the United States. While this may be repugnant to some people, geneticists find little risk in the mating of first cousins. However, generational inbreeding and mating of relatives more closely connected such as siblings, can lead to serious genetic conditions.
Because of its taboo nature, incest had rarely been discussed or studied in the research community until the 1970s. Incest is often based on power relations within a family. The perpetrator (the adult, the older sibling) is the one who holds the power in the relationship, and the victim is coerced, pressured, or threatened into the acts. Some have argued that sibling incest is nonabusive and mutual because of the closeness in age. Age similarities, however, do not diminish the presence of power relations in a relationship. One child may hold more power and status in the family, regardless of the age.
Four Motivators for Incest
Incest occurs in a family that lacks love and affection. The incest serves as a form of affection for the perpetrator.
Sexual dysfunction is the norm in this family. These families are often polyincestual, with several members participating.
The perpetrator is angry and takes his anger out on the victim by possessing them sexually.
The perpetrator is enraged and sadistic. Finds pleasure in victimizing another.
Effects of Incest
- Relational trauma: the victim loses trust in others, feels confused about their family, has a lowered sense of self.
- Betrayal trauma: victim feels betrayed by the perpetrator, as the perpetrator should be the one who protects them.
- Traumatic bonding: the perpetrator abuses the victim, but can be caring at times. Victim bonds with them and associates abuse with caring.
In addition to the psychological effects, incest can pose a risk genetically. A few of the Colt children had abnormal features and developmental issues resulting from homozygosity. Homozygosity is the presence of two genes, inherited from the mother and the father, that are identical. Heterozygosity is the presence of two genes that are different. Generations of incestuous relationships can increase the chances for homozygosity because there is little genetic diversity. Homozygosity can cause harmful, but otherwise rare, genetic disorders because two recessive genes are given the opportunity to match up.
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