Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal
January 30, 1994
SILENCE, FEAR HIDE A TALE OF HORROR
SOME WHO KNOW HIM SAY EDDIE SEXTON WIELDED CULTLIKE POWER OVER FAMILY
BY DAVID KNOX AND CHERYL CURRY
The spacious, bi-level house nestled in a grove of tall pines doesn't look much different from the other middle-class homes along Caroline Street.
Perhaps a bit larger and more affluent: The house sports a deck off the side overlooking a good-size pond.
Clearly, the family that once lived here needed the room; telltale signs of children are everywhere.
There are two swing sets -- one steel, the other wood -- out back and a basketball hoop in the double driveway. A wooden dock, perfect for diving, juts into the pond.
But there are no hints of the horrors that famly members say took place inside.
Neighbors say no outsiders were allowed past the statue of Jesus near the front door.
Not even law-enforcement authorities could pierce the wall of secrecy -- until it was too late.
Two family members -- an in-fant boy and a son-in-law, Joel M. Good Jr., 24 -- were killed in October and November in Florida while the parents were on the run from sex abuse charges involving their 12 children.
Capital murder charges were filed Friday against the 51-year-old head of the family, Eddie L. Sexton Sr., and two of his children, William Sexton, 23, and Estella M. "Pixie' Good, 24, the mother of the slain child and wife of the dead man.
Authorities say both killings were ordered by Eddie Sexton, a man who held his family in a cult-like grip.
Family members say his influence -- born of years of sexual and physical abuse -- was so strong that his sons and daughters would carry out his demands without question.
The bizarre tale of the Sextons begins years before the two bodies were unearthed in graves near two state parks in the Tampa area where the family had camped.
Attention was first drawn to the Sexton household in the late 1980s, when Jackson Township police were called to investigate several small fires in the home, said Chief Philip W. Paar.
"There were accusations that one of the older Sextons set the fires," Paar said. Police also paid a few visits in response to reports of disputes between Eddie and his wife, who, like their daughter, is named Estella.
But the first hint that the Sexton children were in danger came in January 1992, when Jackson High School reported to police that one of the children, a 19-year-old daughter, may have been sexually molested by her father.
An "odd bunch"
The girl initially denied the allegation, said Jackson Police Detective Sgt. Glenn Goe. Several months later, after leaving home and becoming close with a woman from a Christian organization, the girl "opened up' and accused her father.
The evidence gathered in the investigation, including a lie detector test given to the girl, was submitted to the Massillon prosecutor. But Goe said no charges were filed because there was no physical evidence to corroborate the girl's tale and none of the other children would talk.
"She said that Dad every day would give the kids a quarter to fink if they saw any of their siblings talking to authorities," Goe said.
Neighbors were no help. They knew nothing about the abuse. One described the Sextons as an "odd bunch who kept to themselves."
Eddie Sexton didn't allow his six younger children to talk to other youngsters, and he forbade his adult children from working.
Eddie didn't work, either. Since 1970, he had received workers' compensation and Social Security disability payments for a back injury suffered when he was employed by Canton Drop Forge.
Neighbors wondered how Sexton could afford such an expensive home, along with a camper and two cars. Chief Paar said the children also were receiving government benefits. He speculated that they could afford a middle-class lifestyle "if they pulled everything together."
Lack of Proof
Neighbors said Sexton exercised complete control over his family. For years after the family moved into the house, they didn't even know the Sextons' last name. One said they dubbed him " "the bishop' because those kids just followed him around like his word was law."
While the police investigation didn't lead to criminal charges, enough questions were raised about the welfare of the children -- including rumors that Sexton had fathered children by some of his daughters -- to refer the case to Stark County Family Court.
On April 21, 1992, the six youngest children -- ages 5 to 15 -- were placed in the temporary custody of the county Department of Human Services.
While in foster care, the children were interviewed about reports of child abuse. But none came forward.
"There are some cases we can't prove and I get frustrated with that. This was one of those cases," said Judee Genetin, chief counsel for the human services department. "We had only so much ability to prove things when the victims are the (only) witnesses."
Juvenile Court Judge Julie A. Edwards said that isn't surprising, especially in cases of sexual abuse.
The judge said she once asked a woman who had been molested as a child, 'What could someone have said to you that would have made you tell?' She said, 'Absolutely nothing. I would have kept that secret.' "
Without evidence to substantiate the abuse, the children couldn't be kept away from their parents indefinitely.
While authorities said they couldn't prove that Sexton had abused his children, his elder brother, Otis Sexton, 54, said he was sure of it. Otis Sexton and his wife even picketed the county courthouse in July 1992, carrying signs saying "Arrest Child Abusers' and handing out pamphlets to protest the failure to charge his brother.
Otis said his suspicions were aroused about six years ago during a camping trip.
Unlike previous outings, his brother parked his motor home away from Otis' camp.
"He said I was being nosy and he didn't want me near them," Otis Sexton said.
He later witnessed an example of physical abuse when his two daughters were baby-sitting for Eddie Sexton's family.
Otis said he received a phone call from his daughters, who said they had found several of Eddie Sexton's children tied to their beds.
"I couldn't believe it," Otis Sexton said. "I went over there and told Eddie, 'That's not how you treat your children.' "
Otis Sexton said he also came to believe that his brother had sex with his children and fathered children by two of his daughters.
One of the two was Estella "Pixie," who had married Joel Good on Feb. 12, 1992, a month after the Jackson police investigation began.
Otis Sexton said he didn't think the timing was a coincidence.
"Joel was brought into the family because he (Eddie) wanted to cover' the incest, Otis said.
Pixie and Good, an orphan who had been placed in the custody of an aunt and uncle, were classmates at Jackson High School, graduating in 1987.
By the time of the marriage -- with Eddie, a mail-order minister, performing the ceremony -- Pixie had two children.
The birth certificate for the second child, born Nov. 25, 1990, at Timken Mercy Medical Center, lists Good as the father.
But Otis Sexton said that Good later told family members that he "never had sex with Pixie. She kept pushing him away."
History of violence
Otis Sexton also had reason to fear his brother was capable of violence.
He said his brother served more than four years in prison in the 1960s for beating a gas station employee with a tire iron during a robbery.
While Otis Sexton was picketing outside the courthouse, Eddie Sexton and wife were inside fighting back -- arguing that the county court had no jurisdiction over the family because they were of American Indian descent.
Edwards rejected that claim, ruling the tribe that the mother said she belongs to, the Allegheny Nation, is not recognized by the state or federal government.
But two months later, none of the children had come forward with credible testimony, and Edwards agreed to return three of the youngsters -- a girl and two boys ages 10, 12 and 16 -- to their mother.
The remaining children -- a girl and two boys ages 6, 14 and 15 -- remained in foster care while the investigation continued.
Meanwhile, the judge ordered Eddie to have no contact with his family.
Otis Sexton said Eddie, who was living nine miles from his home in a camper just over the Summit County line, defied the order almost nightly.
Judge Edwards acknowledges that Sexton still was controlling his family, but said that at the time she had no way of knowing that.
"Some no-contact orders are real effective," the judge said, "if we have the cooperation of the mother."
Without that help, "you basically have to catch him in the act," she said.
Shielded by a barricade
On Nov. 21, 1992, Eddie Sexton was caught in the act -- in fact, he put on a televised performance.
Police surrounded Sexton's home after he called a Cleveland television station and threatened to kill anyone who came onto his property because he feared the court intended to take the three children away again.
Sexton barricaded his wife and children in the home for more than seven hours, surrendering only after human services officials agreed to his demand for a new caseworker.
Police found a shotgun and handgun in the house. Sexton was charged with felony abduction and misdemeanor offenses of endangering children and inducing panic.
Sexton was freed six days later, after putting up a $7,500 bond. When he appeared in court the next week, the abduction charge was dropped because the family had gone into hiding and wouldn't testify against him.
He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanors. But Massillon Municipal Judge Eugene Fellmeth suspended his 180-day jail sentence and placed Sexton on probation.
Fellmeth said he freed Sexton on the recommendation of the city prosecutor's office.
"They're the ones that investigate the case," Fellmeth said. "I never question them if I think it's reasonable."
Assistant Prosecutor Stephen A. Ginella Jr. said the case was handled by Robert A. Zadell, a part-time assistant.
Zadell could not be reached for comment. But at the time, Jackson Police Capt. Steven E. Zerby said that prosecutors told the judge that the conditions of probation would strengthen the Family Court order that Sexton not have contact with his children.
On the run
The police and prosecutors weren't the only ones to misread the seriousness of the situation.
At the time, Judge Edwards said she focused on Sexton as the problem in the family and still had hopes of bringing the family together someday.
"The first thing always attempted is the reintegration of the family," she said. "If a family is fixable, we have to try to glue it together."
In retrospect, Edwards said, officials underestimated the iron-clad hold Eddie Sexton had over his wife and children.
Judee Genetin, who represented the human services department at the standoff on Caroline Street, agreed.
"There is one decision I would have made differently," Genetin said. "When the father was arrested ... I made the decision to let the kids remain with Mom. Mom shortly thereafter absconded with them."
Eddie Sexton apparently caught up with his family in December 1992, and officials believe they traveled in Indiana and Florida, hiding out in campgrounds.
Sexton made several trips back to Ohio.
In May, one of Sexton's teen-age sons, who had been placed in foster care, disappeared and was found with the parents when they were arrested.
Sexton also continued to pick up his workers' compensation and disability checks from a Massillon post office box.
Otis Sexton said Steve Ready, the sheriff's deputy attached to the human services department, staked out the post office. He also went to the home of another relative in Canton where Eddie Sexton was thought to be staying.
The law close in
While the family was in hiding, the legal machinery gradually turned against him.
In July, the case was referred to the county Prosecutor's Multi-Agency Task Force on Child Abuse for criminal prosecution.
In September, Family Court gave permanent custody of his five minor children (one of the original six youngsters had turned 18) to human services.
A month later, a grand jury returned criminal indictments against Sexton and his wife. Under law, grand jury proceedings are secret, but there is no indication that authorities obtained any evidence other than the account of the daughter who attended Jackson High, whose allegations more than a year before sparked the investigation. Eddie was charged with four counts each of rape and sexual imposition and two counts each of sexual battery and child endangering. Estella was charged with gross sexual imposition and child endangering.
The couple also faced federal warrants for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Facing stepped-up pursuit because of the indictments, Eddie tried to talk his way out -- the way he had during the standoff a year before. He telephoned Stark County officials and tried to cut another deal: He would turn himself in if the charges against his wife were dropped and the children were allowed to remain with her and money was provided the family.
Instead, authorities traced his calls to a phone booth outside a campsite in the Little Manatee River Recreational Area, near Tampa, Fla.
On Jan. 14, FBI agents arrested Sexton and his wife at a nearby supermarket.
The story could have ended there. But two of Sexton's children couldn't live with their secrets any longer.
While authorities had taken three minor children into custody, the four adults -- including two mothers with three children -- were free because there were no charges against them. The eldest Sexton son, 24-year-old Eddie L. Jr., drove to Florida at Otis Sexton's urging to bring back the siblings.
Two of the adults, William and Pixie, turned down the offer. But an 18- year-old boy, Charles, and his 21-year-old sister and her child returned to Canton.
Both were interviewed by authorities. Several days later, Charles told Eddie Jr. something he had not told authorities -- that two members of the family had been killed in Florida.
"He said he had to tell me," said Eddie Jr., who had moved away from home about six years ago. "He was tired of holding it in."
Charles agreed to return to Florida with Ready and another deputy to point out the location of the graves.
The body of a 9-month-old boy, Skipper Lee, was found on Thursday, within hours of the start of the search. Good's body was found the next day.
Pixie and William were arrested, and Florida officials say both have admitted their roles in the killings. Pixie is accused of smothering her child after her father told her to keep the baby quiet to avoid drawing attention to their campsite.
She also is accused of first-degree murder for planning the slaying of her husband on orders from her father, who was afraid that Good planned to report the baby's death.
William, who is accused of strangling Good, also was charged with first- degree murder and being an accessory to the killing of the child.
Sexton is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Good slaying.
If convicted, all three could face the electric chair in Florida.
Florida officials say Sexton's wife also may be charged.
As horrifying as the crimes in Florida are, Otis Sexton is braced to hear more frightening stories of years of abuse as the children come forward.
The two adult children who returned to Canton told their uncle that Eddie Sexton practiced bizarre rituals, telling his children he was God and Satan and ordering them to drink deer's blood. As punishment, boys were made to stand naked holding books in aching, outstretched arms.
Eddie Sexton also would put a dead cat in the middle of the family's dining room table and order his children to join hands around the animal.
"This was a cult in a manner," Otis Sexton said. "The rituals of the dead cat, drinking the blood....Yes it was a cult."
Otis Sexton said he is relieved his brother has been arrested.
"I'm happy," he said. "It's a happiness that the kids are free -- they're not prisoners anymore.
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