Unspeakable Times

A Little Girl Was Locked In A Basement By Her Own Parents For More Than A Decade

On November 4, 1970, Los Angeles child services discovered an unprecedented case of child neglect. At 13, Susan Wiley had the demeanor and appearance of a 6 or 7-year-old girl. When the authorities began investigating parents Irene and Clark Wiley, they found that two of the four Wiley children passed within months of their births. A third child lived with Clark’s mother until her unexpected passing, and the fourth was Susan, also known as “Genie.” Genie, despite her age, was unable to speak, feed herself, or use the toilet. At less than 60 pounds, the girl walked with an unusual gait, the result of years of confinement. 

After child services rescued Genie, child psychologists devoted themselves to the girl’s recovery. Known as a “feral child,” Genie’s isolation from society in her formative years caused her to have stunted cognitive and behavioral abilities. She never developed the ability to communicate with language, although her behavioral and social skills improved with years of positive reinforcement and therapy. Since Genie, other cases of feral children have come to light, such as Danielle Crockett, known as “The Girl in the Window,” and Ukraine’s Oxana Malaya.

The courts arrested Genie’s parents, but Clark took his own life before the trial. The judge subsequently dismissed the charges against Irene. In 1994, Nova - a PBS series - released an Emmy-winning documentary about Genie called Secret of the Wild Child. As of 2016, Genie lives in a Los Angeles facility as a permanent ward of the state.