By Adrienne Papp
The Debra Pauli Story: The Worst Child Abuse Case in Recorded History
We’ve all heard fantasy stories, or true events that are either too good to be true, rags to riches tales, or so full of suffering and unspeakable human misery that we have a hard time comprehending its reality. No wonder that some of the biggest blockbusters made in Hollywood come out of true stories of ordinary people doing the impossible, exemplifying the good in us and not the all-too-common tragically wasted potential and literal loss of life when it comes to horrific circumstances like those of Debra Pauli’s.
The unbelievable true story of Debra incorporates not only the impossible, but also the exceptional and unprecedented. It’s a story that begins in the deepest hell and most barbarian of conditions ever seen by the mortal eye, and yet transitions into a tale of triumph over impossible odds, redemption and a shared hope for the human existence.
Debra’s story is not an easy one to tell, some of the details are not only disturbing, but also painfully unnerving. Yet, the chilling perplexities while astonishing, also serve as a sad illustration and soul-penetrating lesson of what an individual “Homo sapien” is capable of by revealing both the darkest and most uncivilized characteristics, as well as the triumphant resourcefulness of the human spirit.
The nightmare began at birth. When Debra Pauli was born she was dubbed “The Devil’s Daughter,” as her paranoid schizophrenic mother bizarrely identified her as a child from the Devil in a family where she desperately wanted only male children. Sexually abused herself as a child, Debra’s mother began to abuse her daughter at birth, putting her crib in a confining closet at the back of the house. She was convinced that her newborn daughter was trying to destroy her marriage and would end up having sex with her husband.
When she was three weeks old a mosquito from the nearby swamps got through a hole in Debra’s closet and bit her, causing encephalitis, a high fever, convulsions and eventually a coma. Debra had to have her spine drained and spent weeks recovering in a hospital. All along her Mother insisted that she had been “born crazy.” At six weeks, Debra had to be rushed to the hospital when she stopped breathing and turned blue from lack of oxygen. Her Mother claimed that “Debra tried to kill herself” by stuffing her blanket down her throat ( as if a six week old were able to do that,) not admitting to paramedics that she had tried suffocating her daughter until she was near death.
Debra, being the oldest daughter, took the full brunt of her Mother’s abuse, although younger sister Danielle was also badly mistreated when she was born. They were both routinely subjected to vindictive deprivation and homicidal rage, yet Debra was her Mother’s main target. In the young family living near St. Louis, MO, which also included two boys, but only the girls were subject to the terror and dread dealt to them by their mentally disturbed Mother. “My Mother wanted nothing to do with me or my sister Danielle, who was born eleven months after I was born in 1962,” Debra says. “Both of us were kept in separate cramped closets as infants and toddlers, and when we moved to our second home we were kept in a damp, musty, unfinished basement with just a mattress. The meager food we received was placed on the stairs, as if we were sub-humans or pets. Neither of us ever had any potty training and we would go for days without having our diapers changed and we both had terrible rashes and sores from our soggy diapers.”
Those sores caused Debra to scratch herself continuously, and when her mother discovered it, she became convinced that her daughter was touching herself sexually and was “queer.” Her delusional thinking led her to devise homemade straightjacketsthat she made Debra wear to control her “evil” habits. “The straightjackets made sure that I couldn’t move, and I was continually strapped into this restraint with one of my legs placed over the other,” Debra says. “That was how I learned to walk, in this straightjacket, with one leg over the other, hobbling in a contorted position, trying to move myself forward.”
The straightjacket also had long term physical implications. “One of my legs grew to be deformed since I had it continually strapped over the other one,” Debra says. “It took six months of physical therapy in a hospital to reduce the effect of that deformation.”
Debra’s mother also forced Debra to sit with strapped arms and legs to a potty chair for hours, and tried to get her to urinate by forcing a syringe up her vagina. For years Debra learned to hold her urine and bowel movements, but eventually she would make a mess in her panties, which caused her mother to smear her face with feces and then dry it with an electric fan, a humiliation that she found humorous. “And later when Danielle and I were together in the damp basement in our second home, she would stand us over a drain and hose us down with icy water in that cold basement in the dead of winter,” Debra remembers.
Mother just wasn’t cut out for housework either, and didn’t think it necessary to attend to cleaning and housework. “She never washed dishes. There were pots of food molding in the kitchen and in the refrigerator,” Debra says.
It was a terrifying existence for a child. Every day was simply something to endure, a test of survival. Eventually young Debra thought her father might come to her rescue and become her savior, but he was a slight man and powerless to deal with the destructive behavior his domineering 5-foot 9-inch, 250-pound wife exhibited toward his daughters.
Things worsened when Debra’s Mother would fight with her father, Larry, whose concerns for the girls would cause her to increase their abuse. Shouting and arguments could continue for hours, as she verbally abused the girls’ father. When police arrived they would arrest the Father, and he would spend a night in jail.
The daily torture continued in many ways. Physical abuse was commonplace, and included cigarette burns and the use of pharmaceutical drugs (such as Valium) to keep Debra quiet, beginning at an early age. “I was fed an assortment of adult pills to keep me sedated and immobile beginning when I was about two years old. Mother had convinced a doctor that she needed a prescription for stress and anxiety, and she used whatever drugs she could get to keep me in a stupor,” Debra says.
Within days of being force fed adult sedatives, Debra fell into a coma, losing sensory perceptions. Her Father found her on the floor of her closet reeking of urine and feces in a comatose state. She was rushed to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, where she spent several weeks recovering from her Mother-inflicted drug overdose.
The overdose was reported to social services, which finally stepped in and took serious action against the family, telling them that Debra would be placed in a home in southern Missouri for a year until the family decided whether or not they wanted her or could take care of her.
Debra eventually was returned to her family after her one year stay at a foster home. A number of relatives gathered at the family home to welcome her, and were impressed with how nicely her hair had grown out during her time away. Angered by the attention her daughter was getting, Debra’s mother took the scissors to her hair the next day, chopping off the offensive object of admiration.
For the first formative years of her young life, Debra Pauli was routinely brutalized, physically and emotionally on a daily basis. She was physically malnourished and beaten, emotionally and cognitively stunted, and completely without any nurturing or schooling. She was caged both physically in a closet and later in a basement, and mentally with pharmaceutical drugs and strong adult sedatives, but through it all she learned to survive.
“Many days I heard a tiny voice inside me say that things would be all right, the voice telling me that ‘It’s not you,” Debra recalls. “If it hadn’t been for that I don’t know if I could have survived the daily torment. Something deep inside me told me that there was something better for me and that I would survive my mother’s hatred for me. I somehow knew that my mother could beat me, could physically and emotionally torment me, but she would NEVER take away my will to survive or destroy me.” Despite the reassuring voice, Debra’s life was always about “hanging on just one more day.”
In 1967, after her parents divorced, Debra’s mother packed up the kids and moved to Arizona to live with a man who owned a ramshackle 10-acre ranch out in the middle of the Palo Verde desert, about fifty miles west of Phoenix. “He was an ex-military man who had a twisted sense of discipline, and was an ideal partner in crime for the demented behavior of my mother,” Debra says. “He built a form of animal pen for us out there, and we had to surrender our shoes so that we couldn’t run away on the scalding hot desert sand. Years later I went back to the site of the ranch and found a pair of my shoes there. I keep them on my desk now as the only keepsake as a little girl, and what I had to survive back then.”
Life at the ranch in Arizona also included other forms of abuse for the young daughters, including forcing them by cattle prod to scrub the bathtub in the trailer, constrain them to eat horse manure and dog food while the boys ate Oreo cookies and making them walk on hot galvanized metal in the 110-degree desert heat without shoes as a daily punishment. The girls, Debra and Danielle, were never allowed to stay in the trailer, and in many cases the boys were forced to torment their sisters as well. “My Mother thought it would be fitting if we were branded, and encouraged my brother Matthew to use a hot fork to make brand marks on us, Debra says.
Other forms of abuse at the ranch included burning the girls with cigarettes, Mother wrapping her finger around her daughters’ hair and yanking chunks of it out, and pouring hot pepper spice or paprika on the girls’ private parts in her delusional mind’s attempt to destroy her daughter’s female parts.
It’s almost impossible to believe this kind of torture was routinely inflicted on young innocent children, three young girls trying to survive a life that seemingly couldn’t get any worse. But Mother Jayne and stepfather Harold continued to find new ways to enhance the misery. It was years later that Harold decided to sexually molest the youngest sister Doreen.
Debra and Danielle became desperate to find ways to escape the compound, and they were finally able to run away. The police became involved, and the girls’ rebelliousness eventually got to be too much for the mother and step-father who got “tired of the runaway girls” and, before Debra’s 6th birthday (an occasion the family never celebrated), she and Danielle were dumped at a social service center to begin new lives in a series of foster homes. Strangely enough, Debra’s Mother was never arrested for her brutality towards her daughters for the simple reason that no one ever pressed charges.
“I had no frame of reference for what a normal family life was,” Debra says, “but I didn’t think things could get any worse. The odd thing was I really didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave my siblings.”
Their first placement at a foster home happened to be with a family who were nudists. The second foster family had an 18-year old son who raped Debra at the age of six. There were a series of other homes for the girls, and eventually Debra went to a family on her own and separated from Danielle, which was yet another pivotal turn in her life.
Each foster home was far from ideal. When Debra was nine she moved to the home of an older couple in Minnesota who wanted a daughter to replace their daughter who had been killed in a car accident. “That was a very strange experience for me. They had sealed off their daughter’s room and kept her things in place like she was still alive.”
Life in Minnesota for Debra offered some stability, but also more torment. By the 3rd grade Debra had figured out that she could get attention from boys, and by the 6th grade was running with a free spirited and unruly group of kids. When she was eleven years old, Debra was raped again, and she then became a school drop out in the tenth grade. “I was very rebellious towards the adult figures in my life, and yet on the flip side sexually very promiscuous with the boys, looking for the love and affection that I never got as a child,” she says.
While living with her adoptive parents in Southern MN, at the tender age of fourteen, Debra became pregnant. She had a son at fifteen, who she ended up keeping. She also tried to commit suicide later on, but her inner strength triumphed over death. The world needed Debra.
By the age of sixteen Debra was married, and by the age of twenty-two she had four boys. She was now a full-fledged mother, and was determined to give her children the love that was denied her as a child. By this point in her life Debra Pauli was determined to be the best mother she could be, virtually exploding with love towards her family.
Through her twenties, with the years of torture behind her and the healing ahead of her, Debra Pauli was finally on the right track to a balanced life. She busied herself with her family, getting an education, earning a 3.7 to 4.0 GPA and studying psychology and paranoid schizophrenia in an attempt to understand her mother’s illness. She had acquired a passion for learning as a college student and became committed to pursuing a career that would fulfill her potential. She had begun to recognize her true talents both as a woman and a teacher. At that time in her life Debra felt ready and pursued a 3-year search on her biological family. It was when she summoned the courage to contact her mother on the phone as an adult for the first time in many years. Her Mother’s first words to her were: “Yes, I remember you, you are the Devil’s Daughter.” In 1992 the family was reunited on “The Jenny Jones Show,” but there was no real reconciliation possible for Debra and her Mother.
And there were still many bumps in the road before Debra Pauli was to find her way to a stable, happy, fulfilling life. In her thirties she attempted suicide twice, and in her forties her third son Bryce lost his life in an ATV accident in 2005. She dedicated her third book, (“Why we Cry for a Soul set Free”) to helping other parents heal from the unbearable tragedy of losing a child. But, almost as if each setback made her stronger, there was a healing process, a pivotal turn of life going on underneath it all.
“I took many different paths,” she says in her book A Survivor’s Closet, “the paths that I thought were the right ones. Stubborn and full of determination, I believed I knew what was best for my child and my adult. Long stretches of time were spent in tears, releasing endless pains from the inner part of my soul. Allowing myself to breathe, to deeply inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth over and over to calm my restless body. I revealed my deepest emotional and physical courage so I could reshape my future. It was as if a hurricane was living deep inside me and after years of life-threatening waters, I could finally find calmer seas.”
Today, Debra Pauli, after having survived inhuman conditions and constant torture, is a highly successful businesswoman, the author of three books (A Survivor’s Closet, Why We Cry for a Soul Set Free, …and then There Was Light,with as many as 11 more books in the works, a life coach, and a corporate lecturer (www.debrapauli.com) teaching others, either as individuals, or groups, what it takes to be survivors and become successful at beating the odds when the odds are stacked against you.
Her story is a very vivid example for even the most skeptical of souls that with the right thinking and determination we can not only endure adverse circumstances, but can also reach the highest of human potentials and triumph into the light from the deepest of darkness. With a strong sense of self, Debra today commands all excuses begone, defines the true meaning of extraordinary, and proves every word of her teachings with her life experience. She earned her power through discovering her personal ability, which allowed the transcendence of intense and horrific situations and circumstances, something that other motivational speakers, although greatly recognized, cannot say about their own lives. Nobody has the personal history of terror and torment that Debra Pauli does.
Debra does not lecture philosophies; she puts thinking and realizations into practice. As Oprah once said: “We need to thrive to achieve the highest good within us and transform others through our own example.” Debra Luptak, a genius in her own right, dedicated her life to the most noble of causes: helping her fellow humans through a complete transformation of the self. For asEinstein said: “Only a life lived for others is worth living.”
In her very successful hard cover book, A Survivor’s Closet, Debra says: “Leave your memories buried beneath the dirt, Share your gift with those you inspire, and Dive into life with your gift of strength. “
This courageous, beautiful woman inside and out, turned her life into a raving success, raised four boys with love and caring, has the most supportive and giving marriage and is here to help all of us if we are willing to listen. Debra Pauli is God’s angel, an unparalleled inspiration and blessing to the World! She possesses the biggest treasure there is: the gift of forgiveness. That something inside her that was able to transform terror and daily fear into love and compassion is the very essence of what our 21st century crises-stricken humanity needs to find in each and every individual’s heart. Making a better world starts from within and is not only a must, but a responsibility that the majority of mankind does not understand. Most people in Debra’s shoes would choose drugs and alcohol to numb the pain or remain in denial, and even justify it, instead of realizing that the most joy and the biggest transformation is born out of hardship and not fun and games.
With Debra, a full presence emerges empowered by the encoded iron will granted by God to all humans, asking us to awaken, to become conscious and realize that our choices are the ones determining our destiny and not our outside circumstances, or other people’s actions.
By telling her story, Debra conveys to us both the teachings of Jesus Christ and the latest discoveries in science about the workings of the human mind and how we connect to that higher intelligence we know exists. Are we ready to understand our own power? Are we ready to wake up from sleepwalking through life, and instead, become valued individuals helping the world and ourselves evolve? Are we ready for a new way of thinking, a new reality, a new life, a new destiny? Are we ready to hear the words of the universe through Debra’s voice?
Debra Pauli has been ready all along, sensing even as a child that someday she would be called to shine her light throughout the direst circumstances of the human condition. Her destiny has been written from the beginning, unbeknownst to her, but something that humanity cries out to hear from a source that has been through it all. And, that source is her story: the Debra Pauli story!
About the Author of This Article: Adrienne Papp is a recognized journalist who has written for many publications including Savoir, Beverly Hills 90210, Malibu Beach, Santa Monica Sun, The Beverly Hills Times, Brentwood News, Bel-Air View, Celebrity Society, Celeb Staff, It Magazine, Chic Today, LA2DAY, West Side Today among many others. She is the President and CEO of Los Angeles / New York-based publicity company, Atlantic Publicity and publishing house, Atlantic Publisher. Adrienne writes about world trends, Quantum Physics, entertainment and interviews celebrities, world leaders, inventors, philanthropists and entrepreneurs. She also owns Atlantic United Films that produces and finances true stories made for theatrical release or the silver screen. Spotlight News Magazine is owned by Atlantic United, Inc with Adrienne Papp being the majority shareholder.