Wichita For years, Crystal says, she felt bad about how her mother treated her younger, adopted brother: Adam Herrman, who would be 21 now if he is still alive. One pivotal day more than a month ago, she brought her concern to the state. Her action led to the discovery that Adam disappeared in 1999, and it triggered an ongoing law enforcement investigation into what happened to him.
Crystal, now 31, said she saw her mother, Valerie Herrman, kick and punch Adam and spank him with the metal buckle of a belt. Valerie Herrman also stepped on his bare feet with her heels, said Crystal, who asked that her last name not be used to protect her children’s privacy.
Crystal said she also saw Adam being kept in a locked bathroom.
Valerie Herrman, now 52 and living in Derby, denied the abuse allegations but said she did spank Adam with a belt twice and kept him locked in a bathroom at times under the advice of a psychiatrist after he threatened the family.
Crystal said she and her younger biological brother, Justin Herrman, tried to protect Adam over the years. In 1999, she said, her mother told them that Adam had gone back into state custody.
Crystal tried to search the Internet for Adam’s name in an attempt to find him or learn something about him. “And I would never get anywhere,” she said. She thought maybe he had been adopted again and had a new name.
Eventually, a cousin encouraged her to seek closure about the abuse she says she saw.
‘Just wanted to find him’
So around Thanksgiving, she said, she called the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services seeking information about Adam.
“I just wanted to find him,” she said.
She wanted to tell him: “I’m sorry for how you were treated.”
SRS indicated that Adam had been with their parents until 2005, when he would have been 18. That didn’t make sense to Crystal because she hadn’t seen him since 1999, when he was about 11.
After the phone conversation with SRS, Crystal said, she had to make a decision: pursue it or let it go.
She waited a few hours.
“That’s when I decided that in Adam’s best interest, it was time for something to be done ...
“It was hard because it was my parents,” she said.
That same day, she called SRS back and said the agency’s records are incorrect and that Adam had not been in his adoptive parents’ home since 1999.
SRS told her that Adam had been “emancipated in 2005,” and that his last address was in Derby, according to the records.
Setting record straight
She asked SRS if Adam had been returned to state custody, and the agency said he had not, contradicting her parents.
“Then I told them basically that we hadn’t seen him since 1999, that our parents told us he went back to the state ... that he was in a boarding school or a mental hospital,” she said.
The next day, she was asked to meet with an SRS caseworker in Wichita, and she told the caseworker about the abuse she says she saw.
She said she saw Adam being locked in a bathroom at the family’s home in Derby — before they moved to Towanda — and that she and her brother Justin would sneak Adam food because they didn’t know when her mother would feed him.
“Towards the end, he was pretty much mostly in the bathroom,” Crystal said.
Other relatives have said they saw Adam locked in the bathroom; Valerie Herrman said that Adam was locked in the bathroom only when he slept, and that she gave him a sleeping bag, sheet, blanket and pillow.
He was locked in the bathroom after knives had been found under his pillow and he had threatened to kill the family, Valerie Herrman said.
Accusations of abuse
The Herrmans say Adam had psychological problems.
Crystal disagreed. “I never saw any type of mental problems” with Adam, she said.
Crystal said she had left her parents’ home in 1994, when she was about 17 and Adam was about 7. Although she wasn’t always around Adam, she said she saw him enough to think that he was being treated badly.
Adam and her mother never seemed to bond, Crystal said.
Valerie Herrman said Adam had been a difficult child but that she loved him and missed him. She said he ran away in 1999 and never returned. She and her husband, Doug, say they didn’t report Adam missing because they feared it would lead to him and his younger siblings being taken from them.
Crystal said that when her mother abused Adam, she tried to protect him.
“When she would do those things, I would get in the middle of it, and I would tell Adam to run.”
‘Most bizarre case’
Crystal said the last time she saw Adam was around the spring of 1999 when the family was moving from Derby to the Towanda mobile home park where authorities say he disappeared.
Crystal described her mother this way: “She can be the sweetest person in the world one second and then in the next second, she can just be a monster.
“I beat myself up every day because I wish I had turned her in. If I knew it was going to lead to a missing boy, you bet. I kept praying it would get better. I kept begging my dad to help us.
“My dad never abused Adam. He never stopped it, but he never abused him.”
The SRS caseworker who talked with Crystal indicated she would contact the Wichita-Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, and the day after her interview with the caseworker, the unit contacted her, she said.
“All of the detectives have told me it’s the most bizarre case they’ve ever dealt with,” she said.
Crystal said she knows detectives are working hard to find Adam.
But, she said, “My worst fear is they will never find him and will never have all the answers.”