In parallel, one of the most compelling cases of study for linguists, psychologists, and other scientists, and also one of the saddest and most extreme cases of child abuse registered in history, the case of Genie, the ‘feral’ child of Arcadia, California, still puzzles and shocks both the scientific community and the public in general, fifty years after it became public.

‘Genie,’ which is a nickname for the daughter of Clark and Dorothy Wiley, was infamously held captive in a locked room by her father since she was around 1 ½ years old, until seven months after her thirteenth birthday.

During this time, Genie was severely bitten, starved, and deprived of any mental or physical stimulation, including (most remarkably, for scientists) any sustained contact with spoken language, which severely delayed her acquisition of linguistic skills and made her a ‘feral’ child, unsocialized as a result of being abused.

Follow along as we review ten facts about the chilling, horrible, and exciting story of Genie Wiley, California’s feral child.


10 /10 Her Father's Motives

It’s an undeniable fact that Genie’s father was the driving force behind the relentless abuse that she suffered over the years, and, as such, his motivations have been discussed since the story went public.

Some speculate that his behavior stemmed from the abandonment and abuse that he suffered as a child himself, with his mother sending him to different orphanages so that she could devote herself to the administration of her brothel. This would eventually make him too possessive, resented, and prone to bouts of rage.


9 /10 Before Genie: The Death Of Her Siblings

Clark Wiley’s obsessively controlling nature went on to become more serious when he started having children on his own, beginning to beat, with increasing severity, his wife, Dorothy. She was increasingly blind as a consequence of an accident she had suffered years before.

His controlling tendencies became so absolute that when he had his first two children with Dorothy (first a girl, then a boy), he made his wife put them in living conditions that ended up killing them from neglect.

For example, his daughter was placed in the cold garage because her noises disturbed Clark, which eventually caused her death from pneumonia at ten weeks of age.


8 /10 Genie Is Born

Overall, Wiley’s second daughter and fourth child, Genie, was born in 1957 and was relatively healthy, requiring only a minor blood transfusion the day after her birth.

Her hip problems also required her to wear a corrective device for some months, which prevented her from learning to walk quickly and made her father start to think that she suffered from mental retardation.

As a consequence of this, he started making an effort to cut her out from the family, and, upon the death of his mother in a hit-and-run, he cut the whole family from communicating with the world as much as he could.

7 /10 Tied To A Child's Toilet

During her childhood, the cruelty of Clark Wiley knew no bounds. He would tie her to a child’s toilet during thirteen-hour periods, later putting her to bed restrained within a sleeping bag, covered by a metal screen.

His demented necessity for control went as far as terrorizing Genie by making the sounds of a dog or a cat, gnashing his teeth, barking at her, and even growing his fingernails long so that he could scratch her.

He beat her regularly with a wooden plank, force-fed her, and it’s very likely that he also sexually abused her. So Genie grew, confined to the backroom, while her father sat in the living room with a shotgun on his lap.


6 /10 Rescued By Accident

Only after his mother rebelled and her older brother had escaped the house that the world knew Genie’s deplorable conditions.

In 1970, the day after a vicious fight in which Clark relented, allowing her to contact her parents, Dorothy moved to their house and took her daughter with her. That same day she decided to apply for disability benefits based on her near-blindness.

She entered what she believed was the welfare office but was the social services department. There, Genie’s abuse was promptly identified, and she was taken under the government’s custody.


5 /10 Clark Wiley Kills Himself

The Wiley parents were quickly indicted with child abuse and would have been sentenced to prison if not for one reason: a cowardly man (as child abusers often are), Clark Wiley wrote two suicide notes and killed himself with his shotgun.

Genie’s mother took the occasion to explain that she was nearly defenseless against her husband, blind and beaten into submission and that she couldn’t have done anything to save Genie from the years of abuse.

The charges against her were dropped, and she was instead required to take to counseling sessions.

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4 /10 The Strange Personality Of Genie Wiley

But the consequences of the years of abuse suffered during critical periods of her growth did not abandon Genie. Among other things, she could not move well and displayed what was nicknamed a ‘bunny walk,’ walking in little steps with her hands held in front of her like paws.

She had no property concept and would take anything she desired; she masturbated in public at will and had an uncontrollable (and later understood) fear of cats and dogs.

She attacked herself violently when angry, without making any noise, and would not scream or cry during those moments. And, most surprising of all, she had no first language: her active vocabulary was reduced to two expressions, ‘stop it’ and ‘no more.’


3 /10 Genie's Development

Even though she had the cognitive development of a year-old child when she was rescued, efforts from child psychologists and other scientific community members had managed to improve her level to that of a four-year-old by 1971.

She began to become more responsive to other’s words and started displaying a minimum awareness of the social situations that she was in.

He started having a concept of property by the end of 1971, an elemental dominion of language (especially sign language) by 1972, and responsiveness to extreme temperatures by 1973, the year when she also shared something for the first time.


2 /10 Foster Homes And 1978 Lawsuit

However, her long and tortuous process towards recovery was interrupted forever in 1978, when her mother (mostly influenced by Jean Butler Ruch, one of the members of the hospital staff that had worked with Genie) decided to sue the Children’s Hospital where Genie was, for supposedly ‘abusing’ Genie by ‘overworking’ her.

After her lawsuit was dismissed, she forbade any further research or therapy on Genie as her legal guardian. She passed on to anonymity, living in a series of foster homes and mental institutions.


1 /10 She's Still Alive In 2020

By today, she is still alive and lives somewhere in California under the tutelage of the State. Reports of private detectives and other rumors say that she is mostly happy but has devolved almost entirely to the State in which she was at the time of her rescue.

Abused so long and for so many people, maybe it’s the best fate (a little peace, and no more demands) for someone with such a sad story as Genie Wiley, the ‘feral’ child of California.

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