Dan Keller, a daycare operator falsely convicted of child molestation during the national “satanic ritual abuse” panic of a generation ago, is an old man now, recently freed after years in prison, and bearing somber witness to a panic few young Americans remember, but which they cannot afford to forget.
Dan Keller and his wife, Fran, were accused and convicted in the early 1990s of torturing and raping three preschoolers whom they’d cared for at their well-regarded daycare center near Austin, Texas. These cases first surfaced in 1983 and ended 10 years later, with the Kellers’ conviction. Since then, a government study has concluded that no “satanic” or “ritual” abuse has ever occurred in a daycare or preschool, and most of the convicted have been freed on appeal. Dan and Fran Keller were the last daycare workers to be convicted, and the last to be freed in November 2013. When they emerged from Texas prisons—after serving 22 years of 48-year sentences each—very few people younger than ages 45 or 50 remembered the hysteria that had put them behind bars. My film educates a new generation about the terrible harm that can be done by social panics such as the one that victimized Dan.
This short is told through various means, including Dan Keller’s heart-wrenching first-person POV of the bizarre allegations against him and his wife, and the impact and legacy of this trial on his family. He ruminates on this dark time as he shows the audience how he devised a clever and beautiful method of painting while in prison, using only instant coffee powder, water, and Q-tips—some of the only “art supplies” available behind bars. His artwork offers audiences a quiet space to recollect, while b-roll and newsreel tell the larger socio-cultural impact this case had in Texas. Dan represents Everyman; born in rural Texas, a man who had hoped to do good in his small, rural community but instead was demonized by prosecutors, detectives, and neighbors. We intercut Dan’s interview with trial footage, newsreels from the early-90’s, and talking head interviews with the Kellers’ attorney, Keith Hampton, and investigative journalist Debbie Nathan.
Acquired by KLRU-Austin, PBS Affiliate, for national distribution. Coming soon.