The mother of the six girls whom Lee Kaplan viewed as “wives” told them to tell the truth to authorities about their sexual activity with him, as they believed God was at work in their relationships with a man decades older than them.
“Most people would consider him a very bad man,” one of Savilla Stoltzfus’ daughters said in a conversation recorded by detectives and played Friday at Kaplan’s sexual-assault trial in Bucks County in the “gifting” case that has drawn national attention.
“We understand it was God,” their mother answers. “We understand it was for a good purpose.”
But if the story about their lives with Kaplan — who was discovered with the six girls, three younger girls, and his two daughters by one of the six in his Feasterville home last June — was going to come out, Savilla Stoltzfus told her daughters, they should be the ones to tell it. “Because it’s going to be told. So it should be told. The truth should be told,” she said.
This week, the sisters testified that they were Kaplan’s “wives” and that he had regular sexual contact with them, contrary to their initial statements to authorities.
Three days of testimony before Judge Jeffrey L. Finley provided new details about the complex relationship between the family of Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus and Kaplan, and sexual activity involving Kaplan and the girls. In April, Savilla Stoltzfus pleaded guilty, and her husband no contest, to child endangerment charges.
On Friday, the prosecution and defense rested. Kaplan’s attorney, Ryan Hyde, did not call any witnesses, and Kaplan did not testify. Closing arguments will take place Monday.
In the recording played in court on Friday, the mother said she told her daughters that “they,” evidently referring to investigators, wanted them to tell whether they “did or did not … come together with Mr. Kaplan.”
“They need you to say that so they can use that information in court,” she said.
“We don’t want to put Mr. Kaplan in jail, but maybe that’s where he … will be for a while,” she later added.
Kaplan spoke for the first time at the trial on Friday, but only to say he would not take the stand. When Finley asked him if that was his decision, Kaplan, in a deep voice, said, “Yes, that is my desire.”
Kaplan, 52, is charged with raping and sexually assaulting the six sisters while they lived in his house over about five years until his arrest last June. The parents have said in court they agreed to give at least one daughter to him.
Since going into foster care after Kaplan’s arrest, the daughters have been to the doctor and dentist for the first time, have enrolled in cyber school, and have been given Social Security numbers and birth certificates.
Doctors found three of the children had had Lyme disease for about five years, and five of the girls had to have multiple teeth removed, testified Stacy Roach, a Bucks County Children and Youth supervisor, who said the sisters generally were unkempt.
“They had to be shown a video of how to wash long hair,” Roach said. “It was obvious with the amount of dental work they needed that they probably didn’t brush their teeth.”
Testimony from nearly 20 witnesses this week provided a portrait of the girls living in isolation: residing in a crowded house where the windows were covered; not attending schools; and not having contact with other children, whom Kaplan said attracted evil spirits.
Now, said Roach, some of the girls have jobs and some are going to summer camp. “They laugh more, they smile more, they interact with us more,” she said.
Although at times unintelligible, the recording played Friday appeared to capture a candid conversation between the six girls and their mother, who had not seen each other in four months. They discussed dreams they had and their new life in a world about which they often expressed skepticism. One sister said she had looked up birthday celebrations online and concluded, “The round cake, the candles… it comes straight out of witchcraft.”
They discussed the case at length, with Savilla Stoltzfus telling her daughters repeatedly she had decided it would be best to tell the truth. She also told her daughters they did not have to say anything they didn’t want to. They discussed having sex with Kaplan.
One of her daughters asked: “Would you suggest — I mean — about how long it’s been going on –?”
“If they ask, just say so,” her mother replied.
Savilla Stoltzfus suggested that in the past, the family’s way of life might have been accepted, but not now. “In … our day, there is nothing more vile,” she said. “Even people drug-abusing, the things they do to themselves, is not as bad as this, in their eyes. But that’s today,” she told her daughters.
Noting that the girls didn’t tell authorities about the sexual relations until prompted to do so by their mother — and months after Kaplan’s arrest — Hyde suggested that Savilla Stoltzfus hoped to make a deal with prosecutors. He said the testimony merited a “skeptical eye” and argued that Stoltzfus had discussed the facts of the case in the recording.
When the girls were advised to tell the truth, “I think it was said with a wink,” Hyde said after the proceedings. He referenced an earlier letter she had written from prison, in which she expressed the belief that she could get out of jail if she implicated Kaplan.
“There were no promises made to anybody,” said Kate Kohler, deputy district attorney. Savilla “asked them” to tell the truth, Kohler said, “and I think that’s what they did.”
On the tape, as the daughters listen to their mother urging them to tell their story, one of them suggests they pray.
“God almighty, you brought us to this. You know. You’ve been with us all these days,” she says. “You will make us a shining example to all the people. We thank you for this opportunity… and we continue on the path that you have set us. Amen.”