"Evil Edith" Sanders and her house of horrors are dead and gone, but the police and social workers who ignored allegations of child abuse in her home have finally paid a price for their neglect.
On the eve of a trial into horrendous abuse suffered by children at Ms. Sanders's London, Ont., home over a period of four decades, the agencies targeted in a negligence lawsuit have agreed to pay a substantial settlement.
In return, the three plaintiffs - elderly women who were part of an endless line of children that Ms. Sanders systematically abused, tortured and pimped out - have ended their lawsuit against the London Police Service and the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex.
"The amount will allow them each to live very comfortably for the rest of their lives," said Toronto lawyer Ronald Manes, who represented plaintiffs Beatrice Feick, Kim Campbell and Yvonne Overton - Ms. Sanders's daughter. "We have been able to prove wrong the old adage that justice delayed is justice denied."
In an interview Friday, Ms. Campbell said, "We have been fighting many years to be heard - and London just wouldn't hear us. The bottom line is, abuse is abuse is abuse - I don't care if it's a hundred years old."
Ms. Campbell said that Ms. Sanders was "a disgusting individual. She was purely evil. This woman did not know what the word love meant. She was completely aware of the evil she was doing. I pray all the time for all the [children]who lived in that house. This woman is dead, but I'm sure that she is still haunting them."
The settlement closes the book on a stomach-churning case that saw Ms. Sanders convicted of child abuse in 2002. At 81, she became the oldest female inmate in the penitentiary system. Soon after serving a four-year sentence, Ms. Sanders died. Her victims, however, launched a lawsuit against her estate, the police and the Children's Aid Society.
The victims described almost-inconceivable suffering - even in an era where institutional violence was common and children were typically disbelieved.
Ms. Sanders was able to obtain an inexhaustible supply of victims by opening her home to a procession of foster children, runaway youths and children of unwed mothers. "Once she got her hands on somebody, they weren't going anywhere," said Mr. Manes.
He said that Ms. Sanders's estate has effectively admitted that she permitted adult boarders to rape children - including her daughter, Yvonne - and that Ms. Sanders habitually tortured children who had refused to assault their young confreres.
Ms. Sanders also attacked children with her fists, belts, lumber, cattle prods and hockey sticks; shaved the heads of girls; held a hot metal knife on one child's tongue; and tied another to a car, forcing the girl to run along behind it.
"The mistreatment they suffered was enough to make your stomach turn," Mr. Manes said. "But the fact that the system denied them access to justice was more than we could abide."
Mr. Manes had planned on showing the jury a sheaf of Children's Aid reports that he and co-counsel Jillian Evans assembled.
"These records are replete with a staggering number of entries that Edith Sanders was mentally ill - unpredictable, impulsive and unstable - a pathological liar, a criminal who even tried to deceive [Children's Aid]and kidnap a children from them," said a prepared text for Mr. Manes's jury address.
"Why did these defendants do nothing? The cries of these poor children ignored? On the face of it, doing nothing shows stunning indifference."
Children's Aid records showed that the agency was aware by the late 1940s that Ms. Sanders was unreliable, erratic and neglectful of the children in her care. They also showed that she had impersonated a Children's Aid worker in order to try and obtain a child; hated Yvonne and wanted to get rid of her; and was involved in prostitution and black marketeering.
Still, the agency continued to let Ms. Sanders care for foster children and paid little heed to warnings from her neighbours about the way the children were being mistreated.
Meanwhile, the police knew that Ms. Sanders - an occasional police informant - was a bootlegger, a child abuser, a fraudster and a drug trafficker. Yet, instead of investigating and charging her, officers frequented her home.
Why didn't the children flee this house of horrors?
Mr. Manes said that there is documentary proof that Children's Aid, police and schoolteachers were informed many times. "Our sense is that these kids didn't think that complaining would do any good," he said. "When they complained to [Children's Aid] they would get an awful beating. They were completely frightened of Edith."
All three women now live in the London area. Ms. Campbell and Ms. Overton are married with children. Ms. Feick, 71, lives alone in a nursing home.
Mr. Manes said that he asked Ms. Feick recently what she would like to do if she won her lawsuit. "She wanted more than anything to go to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry," Mr. Manes said. "Now, she's going to be able to go as many times as she likes."