When Susan Keller came home from work every night, it was a relief to relax and put her feet up.

They'd made a good decision hiring Mark, their old baby sitter's teenage brother. Susan had gone back to work for the first time in years, but she couldn't do her job if she were worrying that her kids were running wild in the neighborhood. She always returned home to find the kids and the house were uniformly spotless.Homework was done and double-checked. Food was thawing for dinner. It was autumn of 1987.

They had known Mark for years; he even mowed their lawn. They trusted him. They liked him.

It was an ideal situation.

There were things Susan didn't know. Like the fact her children - Theresa and Clinton - were being raped on a regular basis by that perfect baby sitter.

A family photograph taken today would show the Kellers as they appear to the world. John Keller is a large man with brown eyes and a big belly laugh, which erupts only rarely. His wife, Susan, is petite and pale, with small, fine features and a serious expression. Theresa would appear to be about 15, thin and wiry, with long reddish-brown hair and freckles dotting her translucent skin. She looks as if she's made of jade porcelain. Clinton, who seems to be 13, has a ruddier complexion and his father's dark eyes. His sand-blond hair cascades over his brow, and he's always flicking it away, like a fly that's annoying but not very interesting.

Theresa (her friends call her Terry) and Clinton (whose name is never, ever shortened) are actually 17 and 15 respectively. But their development has slowed, arrested for a time, it seems, by the events of that autumn, seven long years and many miles away. And by the private battle the family has waged since.

Curled up on the couch in their Salt Lake apartment, because she's been home from work with the flu, Susan tells the story in a monotone. She was interrupted while sorting laundry, and it lies in piles on the floor around the coffee table. Behind her, a wall holds half a dozen pristine photographs, carefully framed and dusted.

Anger occasionally bursts through and her voice gets louder. Terry and Clinton are outside playing with neighbor kids. John sits erect in a chair a few feet away, eyes partially closed as if he doesn't want to look into the past. But it's like a sticky spiderweb that wraps around them to control the present and the foreseeable future.

That year - 1987 - could be defined in a number of ways: It was the year that 10-year-old Terry messed with matches and almost burned the garage to the ground. She discovered lying then, adamantly denying responsibility for the blaze.

John and Susan yelled at her. They told her if she was going to lie, they didn't know if they'd ever be able to believe her again. Those words became important later.

It was also the year that Susan and John both went to work and had to hire Mark - 14 and responsible for his age, the son of one of Susan's friends and co-workers - because they didn't feel good about leaving the children home alone.

They worked hard, but they didn't make much money. She worked fast food; he was a laborer. Life was a grind of scraping and making do. They were tired at night but relieved because they could afford Mark. He watched the children in part because he liked them, he said.

At first everything was fine. It wasn't long, though, before Clinton, then 8, and Theresa complained that they didn't like Mark. When Susan asked why, they didn't seem to have a reason.

"I just assumed they didn't like him because he wouldn't take any guff," Susan remembers. "He made them do their homework and clean the house."

Reality was far different.

It began, apparently, with Clinton, although it would be almost four years before anyone else would know the little boy's terrible secret.

He wrote about it as part of his therapy, years later. On paper, the diary entry is a child's journey through darkness.

It started with a pillow fight that escalated from roughhousing to just plain rough. But nothing else happened for several weeks, and another portent was missed.

The family trusted Mark, and his status as temporary baby sitter became permanent.

One day Clinton and Mark were watching TV, and "the next thing I knew he had doubled up his fist and hit me in my face."

Clinton covered the handprint with his mother's foundation. When she asked who had been in her makeup, he denied it.

"So time after time he would hit me and tell me it was my fault and for a while I believed him that it was my fault, when actually, it was his. My feelings at this time was scared, worried, frustrated and upset that he would make those threats he made. After he was finished hitting me he said that if I told Mom that she would leave Theresa and me," Clinton wrote.

"Then as time went by it got to the point where I would plead with my sister not to go over to (her friend's) house, but as usual she did not listen to my plea for help; she just ignored me."

One day Mark suggested a game of hide and seek. When he found Clinton under the bed, he grabbed him by the neck and started hitting him. The next day, he had a new "game." And it didn't matter that Clinton didn't want to play. As usual, he let Theresa go to a friend's house.

"When he came in, he threw me on the bed and started to unzip his pants. He told me to do the same or he was going to shoot my parents with a BB gun. So I did and he started to play with me and hit me once in a while. And when he was done he told me it was my fault."

So goes the litany of Clinton's autumn. When Theresa went out to play, Mark would molest the boy, becoming increasingly violent and sexual. Each session was punctuated by brutal threats that Mark would kill Susan and John.

It wasn't every day, though. Sometimes, Clinton was allowed to go out and play with friends. Theresa had to stay in the house. One of the children, it seemed, was always "grounded."

Theresa didn't put up with it for long. After four brutal attacks, she told her parents.

But she had lied before. Remember the garage fire?

John and Susan called her a liar. Now, John says if he could change anything in his life, it would be that moment. "But I just wanted her to say it didn't happen. If she was lying, my life had not been destroyed. My child had not been violated. My world was still intact. I wanted it to be a lie."

Clinton kept his mouth shut. He wasn't telling anyone what happened to him.

Besides, he reasoned, it was his parents' fault. Why did they have to work and leave him with Mark? And why did Theresa ignore him when he begged her not to leave him alone with Mark? To heck with them all, anyway.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

A painful offering

The Deseret News has spent several months delving into the lives of the "Keller" family. The two children were sexually abused by a baby sitter in 1987 when they were 8 and 10. Since then, the family has been working hard to stay together and pick up the pieces.

The family offered the Deseret News access to medical information, doctors, therapists and their painful recollections of the past seven years in the hope that other people will learn from their experience. A five-part series begins today. Names of the perpetrator and family members have been changed.