The Fancy Times

Fine Slop for the Discerning Tastemaker

The Finders

Founded sometime in the 1970s, the Finders was, and maybe still is, a mysterious little cult located in and around the Washington D.C. area. 

“a 1980 Blue Dodge van bearing Virginia license number XHW-557, the inside of which was later described as foul-smelling filled with maps, books, letters, with a mattress situated to the rear of the van which appeared as if it were used as a bed, and the overall appearance of the van gave the impression that all eight persons were living in it.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The Finders lived in blissful obscurity until February of 1987 when the Washington Post ran a story about a kidnapping case in Tallahassee, Florida. The story began when two “well-dressed men in suits” were pulled over in a beat-up van after witnesses reported seeing them in a park with several dirty and skinny children. When the police asked the men about their relationship with the children one of the men fell face down on the ground and refused to get up. The other made no response, vocal or physical. 

“The children were covered with insect bites, were very dirty, most of the children were not wearing underwear and all of the children had not been bathed in many days…”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The men were arrested and the children submitted to examination. The children ranged in age between 2 and 11. They were identified as Honeybee Evans, John Paul Houlihan, Ben Franklin, Max Livingston, Mary Houlihan, and BeeBee. Each of them showed signs of long-term malnourishment and physical abuse. The youngest children behaved in a way that was noticeably ill-adapted to domestic life. They were unfamiliar with indoor areas and items, including plumbing. When they needed to relieve themselves they asked to go outside or went in their pants. 

“SS/A Kreitlow was further advised the children were unaware of the function and purpose of telephones, televisions and toilets, and that the children had stated they were not allowed to live indoors and were only given food as a reward …”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

Interviews with the eldest children revealed that the children had grown up on a farm owned by a man named Marion Pettie, a former U.S. Air Force master sergeant. They also informed interviewers that all of the children lived, and slept, outside in order to be weaned from their mothers. Their primary living area was the farm’s watermelon patch. 

As of the winter of 2023, the full medical and psychological reports from these examinations are still not available for public reading. 

“The men were arrested and charged with multiple counts of child abuse and lodged in the Leon County Jail. Once in custody the men were somewhat evasive in their answers to the police regarding the children and stated only that they both were the children’s teachers and that all were enroute to Mexico to establish a school for brilliant children …”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The men that the children were found with were identified as Douglas Edward Ammerman and Michael Holwell. The men claimed to be teachers that taught the children how to read and play games. In one of the children’s accounts, they described a game where they disrobed a man, put on his clothes, and rifled through the pockets for money. 

“Upon contacting Detective Bradley, I learned that he had initiated an investigation on the two addresses provided by the Tallahassee Police Dept. during December of 1986. An informant had given him information regarding a cult, known as the “Finders” operating various businesses out of a warehouse located at 1307 4th St., N.E., and were supposed to be housing children at 3918/3920 W St., N.W.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

Sometime before the events in Tallahassee, a former member of the Finders had gone to the police in D.C. to make an anonymous report. The source claimed they had joined the cult after being promised “financial reward and sexual gratification,”. They said the Finders was a cult and that they conducted a brainwashing program at a warehouse on Fourth Street and a duplex in Glover Park. 

The duplex.

“During the execution of the warrant at 3918/20 W St., I was able to observe and access the entire building … There were several subjects on the premises. Only one was deemed to be connected with the Finders. [He] was located in a room equipped with several computers, printers, and numerous documents. Cursory examination of the documents revealed detailed instructions for obtaining children for unspecified purposes. The instructions included the impregnation of female members of the community known as the Finders, purchasing children, trading, and kidnapping. There were telex messages using MCI account numbers between a computer terminal believed to be located in the same room, and others located across the country and in foreign locations.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The duplex was raided by law enforcement. Among the items seized in the raid were photographs of children engaged in bloodletting ceremonies and a photo of a child bound in chains. Of the documents found most ended up lost at some point that’s never been discerned. 

The warehouse.

Also found in the ‘computer room’ was a detailed summary of the events surrounding the arrest and taking into custody of the two adults and six children in Tallahassee the previous night. There were also a set of instructions which appeared to be broadcast via a computer network which advised the participants to move ‘the children’ and keep them moving through different jurisdictions, and instructions on how to avoid police attention …”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The owner of the warehouse property was  a Robert Gardner Terrell. He claimed that the photos found on his property containing naked children were Holwell’s and that they were his children. The sacrificial goats, he claimed, were already dead and the children were being taught the art of butchery. After the raid, he went on something like a PR campaign for the Finders. In a televised interview he wore a Ronald Regan mask and stated:

“We are rational people… not devil worshippers or child molesters. Anything we’ve done is based on the desire for the children to have the richest life they could have.”

The property owner.

“However, one of the officers presented me with a photo album for my review. The album contained a series of photos of adults and children dressed in white sheets participating in a ‘blood ritual.’ The ritual centered around the execution of at least two goats. The photos portrayed the execution, disembowelment, skinning and dismemberment of the goats at the hands of the children. This included the removal of the testes of a male goat, the discovery of a female goat’s “womb” and the “baby goats” inside the womb, and the presentation of a goat’s head to one of the children.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The well-dressed men never faced trial. The state of Florida dropped all charges and released them. Federal investigators concluded that there was no evidence of criminal activity. A joint investigation with the FBI led to the identification of the children’s mothers and other group members. All of those interviewed made the same statement, that they were “part of an alternative lifestyle, communal type association of intellectuals who have chosen to live the way they do.” Authorities in Florida contacted the mothers of the children, who retrieved them in Tallahassee. That was the end of any formal government involvement in the case. Archived Customs documents show that when Customs agents sought to examine the evidence gathered by D.C. police they were told that the investigation had become an internal matter. The story faded away.

The mothers.

“…there were among them intelligence files on private families not related to the Finders. The process undertaken appears to be have been a systematic response to local newspaper advertisements for babysitters, tutors, etc. A member of the Finders would respond and gather as much information as possible about the habits, identity, occupation, etc., of the family. The use to which this information was to be put is still unknown. There was also a large amount of data collected on various child care organizations.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

The mystery was revived by a private detective in Florida named Skip Clements. He had gathered evidence said to demonstrate that the C.I.A. had pressured U.S. Customs to drop the investigation, supposedly because the commune was used as a front to train agents. These claims and accompanying substantiation garnered the interest of the Department of Justice. 

Alas, the investigation was doomed to die again. C.I.A. spokesman David Christian delivered the word, stating that the charges were a misunderstanding. That a company named Future Enterprises Inc. trained agents in computer work and they simply happened to have a part-time accountant who was a member of the Finders. The firm was later found to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Finders organization. 

“The warehouse contained a large library, two kitchens, a sauna, hot-tub, and a ‘video room.’ The video room seemed to be set up as an indoctrination center. It also appeared that that the organization had the capability to produce its own videos. There were what appeared to be training areas for children and what appeared to be an altar set up in a residential area of the warehouse. Many jars of urine and feces were located in this area.”

Ramon Martinez, U.S. Customs memo

“I was studying them back in the 30’s. It was ONI back then [Office of Naval Intelligence], and then the Coordinator of Information comes on, and after that it turns into the OSS and OSS turns into the CIAU and the CIAU turns into the CIA. So I’ve been studying that all of my life. But I wasn’t personally working for them.” 

Marion Pettie

For being cited as the “founder”, Marion Pettie comes up in almost none of the limited information on the Finders. Unlike flashier megalomaniacs, Pettie never seems to have been interviewed nor made a public statement about the Finders. He had found his own heights in the Air Force. His wife had been employed by the C.I.A. and his son was employed with a C.I.A. proprietary firm known as Air America. This information he gave himself when he sat down for an interview with Steamshovel Press in 1998. An odd choice of venue, given that the Steamshovel Press was a conspiracy theory zine based out of St. Louis of small notoriety with a website no one seems to have updated since 2001. 

He claimed to spy on the spies. Concerning his wife he claimed to have sent her to her employment with the C.I.A. “as a spy, to spy on the C.I.A. for me. She was very happy about it, happy to tell me everything she found out. She was in a key place, you know with the records, and she could find out things for me.”

Even less is said for what the group even believed. There are some vague statements about the writings of Lao Tse and Taoism. Dispassion, anti-materialism, inaction, silence. And that’s all anyone beyond the group knows. 

Also interesting, considering the youngest of these children would have been in their late thirties by the time of this writing. Is it not a little off that there’s not even been someone pretending to be one of these children? After all, when the story first came out it provoked a bit of sensation. At least five hundred women called into the state of Florida to claim the children. At the same time, numerous reports surfaced of children flown in and out of South and Central America in light aircraft. Many of the accused in such reports were high-level Air Force pilots, not dissimilar to Marion Pettie. 

The scum seems quite settled on this. It’s a difficult dig that requires a lot of sloughing through the half-dead internet. Initially I thought this was all I was going to find, but looking over some of the original sources, I may look at this cult again someday soon.

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