1987 arrest case
The Finders came to wider public attention when two members of the movement were arrested in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1987 and charged with misdemeanor child abuse of the six children accompanying them, the two men having remained silent when, in a public park, the police inquired as to their identity and relationship to the children. The men were Douglas Ammerman and James Michael Holwell, both described as "well-dressed men in suits." They used a van to transport "six scruffy, hungry children" of varying ages. The age range of the children was between 2 and 11.
The two oldest children, referred to as "Mary" and "Max", were interviewed by law enforcement, as the others were too young to properly communicate. It was noted that medical examinations of the children showed signs of sexual abuse and malnutrition, as well as bite marks potentially belonging to an adult human. During the interview as well as eyewitness testimony from neighbors, it was discovered that the children were raised on a farm belonging to Pettie with little adult supervision, with there being twenty adults and one other child present. The younger children were observed to display behavior indicating they were not used to being in a house or using indoor plumbing, requesting to go outside to use the bathroom, or urinating in their pants (noted to lack underwear). "Max" had a poor concept of time. They explained that they were being “weaned” from their mothers and were rarely allowed inside the house, even sleeping outside. Neighbors observed that the children apparently lived in the farm’s watermelon field. Mary described Ammerman and Holwell as their "teachers", teaching them to read and "play games". One game involved disrobing a man, wearing his clothes, and going through his pockets for money (she later revised her statement and asserted that only jackets were involved). The two reported seeing female members of the cult naked and believed this to be another game as well. When questioned about "bad touches" Mary denied sexual abuse but "became very fidgety and wanted to end the interview". At another Finders farm in Virginia, agents recorded cages on the premises, with witnesses asserting they were used to keep children. As of 2022[update], the full medical and psychological reports are not available for public viewing.
According to U.S. District Court records in Washington, a confidential police source had previously told authorities that the Finders were "a cult" that conducted "brainwashing" techniques at a warehouse and a Glover Park duplex raided by law enforcement. This source told of being recruited by the Finders with promises of "financial reward and sexual gratification" and of being invited by one member to "explore" satanism with them, according to the documents. Police sources said some of the items seized showed pictures of children engaged in what appeared to be "cult rituals." Officials of the U.S. Customs Service said that the material seized included photos showing children involved in bloodletting ceremonies of animals and one photograph of a child in chains. It was noted by a detective during the investigation that documents were discovered with detailed instructions about methods to obtain children for unspecified purposes (including the impregnation of female members of the community, purchasing, trading, and kidnapping), but neither the documents nor anyone else with knowledge of them could later be found.
Robert Gardner Terrell, who owned one of the raided properties, claimed ″We are rational people″, ″not devil worshipers or child molesters″, and ″anything we’ve done is based on the desire for the children to have the richest life they could have.″ According to Terrell the recovered photos of naked children were of Holwell’s own children, and the dead goats shown in the photos mentioned by the Customs Service were already butchered with the children being taught how to prepare them. The men were released six weeks later, with the state of Florida dropping all charges against them.
The Finders leader Robert Terrell publicly gathered with members at the Vietnam Memorial Park in Tallahassee to speak with members of the press and give the public an opportunity to meet the group personally in order 'to dispel the bad image bestowed on the group by law enforcement and the media'.
Federal authorities concluded that there was no evidence of criminal activity, with it being noted that although more could have been done for the children, it was difficult to compile accurate information with what knowledge they did have into their lifestyle only being able to be judged subjectively. The authorities contacted the mothers of the children, who came to Tallahassee and retrieved them.
Allegations against the Cult
Despite this resolution, the issue was brought to wider attention in 1993 when Henry T. “Skip” Clements, an officer in private-sector consulting and a resident of Stuart, Florida, obtained a copy of the 1987 report which stated that the DC Police Department investigation into The Finders had been dropped as a "a CIA internal matter." Clements alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency had compelled the U.S. Customs Service to cease the investigation, supposedly because the commune was used as a front to train agents. Clements' allegations drew the interest of two United States Congress members Tom Lewis and Charlie Rose, leading to an investigation by the Department of Justice into the Finders and the 1987 investigation.  CIA spokesman David Christian asserted that the charges were a misunderstanding stemming from a company by the name of Future Enterprises Inc. being used to train agents, with one member of the Finders working as a part-time accountant there.
In 2019, the FBI released hundreds of documents related to The Finders, noting on their FBI Vault website it was their top requested topic. Despite a lack of evidence or verification by the Washington, DC Police Department, the belief that these reports indicated a larger conspiracy became popular in some quarters.
The Finders are often ascribed as an early example of Satanic Panic in the US. Some authors have gone as far as describing The Finders conspiratorial beliefs as the 'Patient Zero' to other conspiratorial beliefs regarding the U.S. Intelligence Services allegedly covering up or taking part in sexual abuse. Similar allegations of a grand scale governmental coverup can be found in other claims such as those surrounding the death of Jeffrey Epstein.
- Champion, Allison Brophy (August 23, 2004). "Foundation focused on theater restoration". The Daily Progress. Charlottesville, VA. p. A5 – via newspapers.com.
- Theisen, Lauren (2019-11-11). "The FBI Just Released a Trove of Documents About The Finders Cult". www.vice.com.
- Schweers, Jeffrey. "FBI releases 'Finders' files after 3 decades; Declassified investigation linked to Tallahassee child abuse case". Tallahassee Democrat.
- "The Finders Part 01 of 03".
- Saundra Saperstein; Victoria Churchville (1987-02-07). "OFFICIALS DESCRIBE 'CULT RITUALS' IN CHILD ABUSE CASE". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409.
- "Finders Member Says Group Doesn't Perform satanic Rituals, Abuse Children". Associated Press.
- Sword, JD (28 February 2023). "Were 'The Finders' a CIA-Fronted Satanic Cult?". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 14 March 2023. Retrieved 2 April 2023.
- Skorneck, Carolyn (17 December 1993). "Justice Department Looking At Alleged CIA Ties To Commune". Associated Press News. Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 29 August 2022.
- Sword, JD (28 February 2023). "Were 'The Finders' a CIA-Fronted Satanic Cult?". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 14 March 2023. Retrieved 2 August 2023.
- The Finders, FBI.Vault.gov