Clovis police believe the house at 700 E. 10th St. was the site of numerous sexual assaults against children. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth
Police say a Clovis home was used as a sex “club” between adults and at least 18 preteen girls. Reports show the case came to their attention after a 9-year-old girl confided in her teacher.
Although dirty and vacant, the house at 700 E. 10th St. appeared to have had children in the area until recently. A few broken dolls lay scattered Tuesday afternoon in the yard, a stuffed animal rested on the roof, and closed curtains were printed with scenes of cartoon insects and balloons.
According to police records, a student at Parkview Elementary met with her teacher and principal on Sept. 16. An investigation led to the Sept. 22 arrest of Anastacio Esquebel, 21, who police said told them a number of other adults were also involved in sexual activity with children at the house.
On Tuesday afternoon, police arrested Billy Martin, 49, for child abuse and criminal sexual contact with a minor less than 13; Martin’s wife, Jeanette Martin, 44, was also arrested and charged with child abuse.
Esquebel is being held on a $1 million bond for six counts of criminal sexual penetration and six counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor under 12. Billy Martin is being held on a $100,000 bond; Jeanette Martin was released on a $10,000 bond.
Detective Kirk Roberts said three other suspects are not being named, but police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Harry Robbs, 40, on eight counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor under 13 and are asking the public for help in locating him, as well as other children who may have been victimized.
“We have yet to find Harry Robbs and we’d very much like to find him,” Roberts said. “We didn’t want to release information earlier out of concern for the other suspects fleeing the area. We believe that may be what happened with Harry Robbs. Once we arrested Anastacio Esquebel, word got out very quickly.”
The Martins lived at the 10th Street home until recently and police said Robbs apparently lived there as well. Roberts said the house appears to have been used as a site to attract children, most of whom were known by but not related to the adults.
“A lot of (the incidents) occurred at this house,” Roberts said. “Pedophiles usually work with kids they meet through regular social settings, and then do grooming, which means building trust, building a relationship of sorts.”
Neighbors said the suspects used toys and candy to lure children into the house.
Police said the home was used to attract children for sex acts and that not all of the suspects lived there.
“It had an atmosphere of these guys getting together and having a little club of this,” Roberts said.
Roberts said a Clovis school program to help students identify “good touch” and “bad touch” was instrumental in helping school officials and then police learn about the situation.
“What we had was the initial disclosures from Parkview Elementary, then we had another disclosure where the same perpetrator names and some of the same victim names were coming up,” Roberts said. “I think it’s safe to say this has been going on for several months.”
Clovis Superintendent Neil Nuttall said he was glad the schools began the program.
“It was very apparent that these students were equipped to make a report to the people they had trust in and relied upon, and that was their teachers and principal,” Nuttall said. “I feel horrible, of course, that this kind of behavior is happening but we’re pleased we’re responding to it.
“This is an incident where everyone sprang into action.”
Neighbors say they shared concerns with others.
By Gary Mitchell
CNJ SENIOR WRITER
A woman who lives near the house where police say adults were engaging in sexual activity with children said Tuesday she suspected inappropriate activities three months ago.
Birdie Hill, who lives near Ross and 10th streets, said she and her family tried to warn neighbors and police about inappropriate relationships between adults and children in the neighborhood, but felt their concerns went unheeded.
Police said Tuesday they learned about the allegations of sex between adults and children when a Parkview Elementary school student told a teacher and principal on Sept. 16. Deputy police chief R.E. “Bart” Bartosiewicz said he did not know about any earlier reports, but said police could have responded without notifying the neighbors.
“When you get these allegations, they may have looked into it, but if the leads are not there, they’re not there,” Bartosiewicz said. “The question is how hard did they try to make the police aware, or did they just call once or twice?
“If it was my kid or grandkid, I’d be down there standing on Chief (Bill) Carey’s desk bitching and moaning about this and saying, ‘What are you doing about this?’ ”
Hill said she and her family monitored activity at the house at 700 E. 10th St. and even tried to take pictures of unusual situations.
“They always had five or six little girls over there,” she said. “One day, Harry Robbs picked up our son along with several little girls, and my husband and I went looking for him. We found him and the girls at Roy Walker gym. After that, we didn’t allow our kids over there.”
Police have issued a warrant for Robbs’ arrest in connection with the sex charges. They’ve arrested three others and say they have more suspects.
Hill said she and her husband, Lee Hill, talked to several parents of neighborhood girls about their concerns, but the parents didn’t believe them.
“My husband and I talked to them in person, but they didn’t listen to us,” she said. “A lot of the parents would ignore me and let their kids go over there anyway. One of the little girls told us she was Harry’s ‘favorite,’ and Harry claimed that she was his girlfriend. She was only 11 and Harry was about 40 years old. We asked those girls why they kept going back over there, and they said ‘because he gives his candy and gifts.’ It was pathetic. I worried about it. I wished I could have done something about it.”
Alma Sherley, a neighbor on Ross Street, said she saw “strange men” at the house where several of the suspects lived until a couple of weeks ago.
“There was quite a few people who hung out over there at that house,” she said. “There were men I didn’t normally see in the neighborhood. They had a little girl over there, but there would be other little girls over there. I have a grandson I take care of, but I told him I didn’t want him going over there.”
Sherley said she often warned her grandson to stay away.
“They always had kids over there,” she said. “I knew something was going on over there. It seemed strange to me with all those people over there. I knew something wasn’t right. That’s why I made my grandson stay away.”
Sammy Cordova, an employee at Car Country Cash Today at 10th and Prince streets, said he hadn’t seen any activity at the house in recent days.
“The people in that house moved, but I don’t know where they moved,” he said. “There used to be a lot of kids who would hang around there. It’s just sad. I hope they catch the people they’re looking for.”