To begin with, Wheeler found out that back in 2005 two of John Cantrell’s former foster daughters, Sally and Chandra (not their real names), had accused him of sexually molesting them in California many years before.This information had never been mentioned during the trials of Pittman and Mayo.In Tyler, the kids’ testimony was enough, and the legal system marched on to the next defendant, Booger Red, who was convicted on August 21, 2008, and given life. How could the authorities in one county—the police, investigators, members of the DA’s office—arrive at such a different conclusion than the authorities in the county next door?Everyone looked at the same basic facts, saw the same interviews, and read the same reports, but Wood County found nothing, whereas Smith County found the worst child sex ring in Texas history. The answers lie deep within a strange, winding story that covers two decades and two states and involves dozens of well-meaning adults and troubled children.Both were born and raised in California, though John’s parents were from the West Texas town of Olton.After marrying, the Cantrells settled in Vacaville, northeast of San Francisco, and had two children, Jacob and Jon-L.Wheeler also turned up more than a dozen swingers who went on the record with emphatic statements that there had never been any children in their party house.
a weekly newspaper that serves much of Wood County, in East Texas, sat down to a familiar front page.Pittman and Mayo were each convicted in only four minutes, about the time it takes twelve citizens to stand up and raise their right hands in anger, and both were sentenced to life in prison.But things were about to get a lot more complicated.“There are probably two hundred swingers within fifty miles of here,” Russ said.“It’s a lifestyle is all it is.” Not, however, a lifestyle shared by the majority of the citizens of Mineola, a quiet town that’s home to 5,600 souls and a large number of antiques stores and Baptist churches.According to the allegations, there were half a dozen adults involved in the sordid operation, including Shauntel Mayo, Sheryl and Harlan’s birth mother; Jamie Pittman, her boyfriend; and Sheila Sones, the kids’ maternal grandmother.Many of the accused had drug or alcohol problems and lived in rural Tyler.On an average Friday they would host anywhere from fifteen to thirty swingers, most of whom the couple knew (the Adamses insist that the Retreat was not a club but an “on-premises party house”).“If we didn’t know them,” Russ told me, “they had to be known by other couples before they were invited to party.” Sherry would provide a snack buffet in the evening and then make breakfast burritos Saturday and Sunday mornings.As Margie explained to the on-duty officer, one of her new foster daughters, eight-year-old Sheryl, had told her that she and Harlan, her six-year-old brother, had been forced to perform sex shows at the swingers club.(The names of all the children in this story have been changed.) The police couldn’t find any evidence or other witnesses, though, and the investigation was dropped.