Vanderbilt Law Review


Adam Pie

First Page



Kessler Wilkerson was only two years old on the morning of October 16, 1976. At approximately 10:30 a.m., neighbors heard loud noises emanating from inside the Wilkerson trailer, alongside the sound of Kessler's crying and his father's screams. Two hours later, the now-quiet father delivered his two-year-old son to the emergency medical technicians. Despite their attempts to resuscitate the boy en route to the hospital, Kessler was pronounced dead on arrival. Discoveries in the hours and days that followed made Kessler's death even worse. Kessler's autopsy revealed "multiple bruises all over the child's body and.., significant bleeding and a deep laceration of the liver," which resulted in his death. Testimony after the fact revealed that Kessler's father Kenneth Wilkerson repeatedly kicked him, whipped him with a belt, and tied up Kessler in order to "bring him up to be a man." What makes Kessler's death so tragic was that it came at the hands of his father's "repeated beatings witnessed by others who did not know abuse when they saw it, and who never bothered to report" the abuse. By the time anyone paid attention, it was too late. Kessler was too young to call out for help, leaving the state unaware of the abuse and unable to intervene.

Unfortunately, tragic results can also ensue from an investigation of a child abuse allegation. Jochebed Good was just seven years old on the night of April 24, 1987. Armed with an anonymous tip, state social services caseworker W.N. Hooper and a female police officer drove to the Good household to investigate allegations of child abuse. At 10 p.m., Jochebed's mother Sandra answered a "very loud pounding' at the door. Sandra, feeling compelled to do so, reluctantly allowed Hooper and the officer into her home. After talking with Sandra Good, Hooper allegedly chased a frightened Jochebed around the house. Hooper proceeded to order the policewoman to conduct a strip search of Jochebed under his supervision, despite a lack of any evidence suggesting abuse. Finding no evidence of marks, injury, or abuse, Hooper and the officer left Jochebed and her mother "shocked and shaken, deeply upset and worried." Jochebed, a child who showed no signs of abuse, was forced to endure the frightening and humiliating experience of an invasive strip search on the basis of an anonymous call and an agency afraid of another child falling through the cracks.

The investigation of the Goods and the death of Kessler only begin to shed light on the nightmare created by the pervasive problem of child abuse in the United States.

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