Invisible Children

15 children of Bill and Debbie Rettew

Content note: Case narratives include descriptions of severe violence inflicted on children, including abuse and neglect, sexual violence, torture, and murder, as well as mentions of suicide and domestic violence. They also include photos of victims and perpetrators of violence.

bill rettew
Fifteen children with disabilities were physically abused, medically neglected, and starved by their adoptive parents, Bill and Debbie Rettew. The Rettews had adopted at least nine other disabled children over the years in addition to their biological daughter Deborah Autumn Rettew (age 24) and Debbie’s biological son from an earlier marriage, Wilbur Beddingfield (age 32). All the children were privately adopted. The Rettews were conservative Christians and homeschooled all their children but one.

The Rettews first came to the attention of social services in November 1998 when one of their adolescent adopted children ran away from home and refused to return, citing physical abuse by Bill Rettew. The court ordered an evaluation of the Rettew children in June 2000; when the evaluation panel returned its review in November 2001, the children were removed. Some of the adult children who no longer lived with the Rettews reported being “slammed into walls, whipped with a belt, and thrown down stairs.” They “did not have their own toothbrushes, [and] were bathed only once a week.” The food storage area was kept locked—when they were rescued, “the children had voracious appetites and commented on the availability of food in the new home”. They were denied food as punishment. One of the girls told the authorities that “she was a surrogate mother, waking up at 5 a.m. to feed and clothe the other children.” The children did not receive adequate medical, dental, and mental health care.

In February 2002, as part of a deal to get some of their children back, the Rettews agreed to a court order that found that “they physically and educationally neglected their 15 children.” The court ordered that most of the children be enrolled in public or private school, that they be allowed ample socialization time as decided by the in-home therapy team, and that they be provided with any medical care or therapy advised by social services. At least three of the children asked that they not be returned to the Rettews; it is not clear how many eventually returned.

Date: November 8, 2001
Greer, Greenville County, South Carolina

Documents: Date:
Christian Family Ripped Apart 01-01-2002
Agency says abuse, neglect found at Greer couple’s home (Part 1) 01-17-2002
Condon says he hopes that allegations aren’t true (Part 2) 01-17-2002
Saints or sinners? (Part 1) 01-20-2002
Hundreds of pages of documents charge 1999 Father of the Year with physical abuse, neglect (Part 2) 01-20-2002
Rettews raised family outside system (Part 1) 01-27-2002
Evaluation panel urges training by in-home family therapy team (Part 2) 01-27-2002
First reports: 2 children should be returned to Rettews (Part 1) 02-12-2002
Girl said she was surrogate mother to others (Part 2) 02-12-2002
Stage set for return of youths (Part 1) 02-12-2002
Rettews could get some children back as early as mid-March (Part 2) 02-12-2002