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Web posted Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Sisters, in 40s, accuse father of childhood rapes

Associated Press

ORLANDO -- Two sisters who as teens nearly 30 years ago began telling police of being raped by their father finally found an officer to listen, leading to an investigation that has ended an indictment of the man, now 65.

With their mother, the daughters, then 14 and 16, first went to the Orange County Sheriff's Office in April 1973.

They told investigators that for nearly 10 years, their father had raped them in their bedrooms, his offices, the park and at drive-in movies. They said he used threat of force to keep them quiet.

They said their mother didn't know until they told her -- after their father had moved out of state -- and she took them straight to the Sheriff's Office.

Nothing happened. For the next 28 years, the younger sister, now 43, would call the Sheriff's Office every few years, demanding to be taken seriously. She wasn't.

But in November, her call was turned over to the sex-crimes unit. In just a month, rookie detective Dorothy Montes developed enough evidence to have Robert Leroy Tolle, 65, arrested in Utah and extradited to Orlando.

Two weeks ago, he was indicted by an Orange County grand jury on charges of raping his daughter and stepdaughter between 1965 and 1970. A trial date is pending.

Montes, lacking physical evidence, asked the younger daughter to call her father and talk about her childhood while police recorded the conversation.

It was the first time in decades that the father and daughter had talked. Their conversation was transcribed in Robert Leroy Tolle's arrest warrant:

"I was so young. Why did you have sex with me?" the daughter asked.

"Because your mother wasn't taking care of me," the father replied.

She asked if he was sorry.

"Yes," he said. "And I have been sorry for a long time."

The daughter told Montes, as she had told other officers over the years, that the sexual and physical abuse began in 1963 when the family lived in suburban Orlando.

"The first time, he offered me an option," the younger daughter told The Orlando Sentinel in a story published Sunday. "I could either get a beating or he would do something that wouldn't hurt."

The older sister told the newspaper that he also used threats to keep her quiet.

The sisters said they don't think their mother knew of the abuse until 1973, when they told her three years after the parents divorced. By then, he had moved to Ohio, remarried and become a minister. He later moved to Utah.

After police finally got involved, "the older sister wanted to forget the whole thing, and she was pretty shaky about it," Montes said. "She was floored when I called her, and it was very hard for her to deal with it."

Tolle, who has been convicted of lewd-behavior charges involving adult women in Utah, is being held in the Orange County Jail without bail. He is battling emphysema, and is fed constant oxygen.

He is charged with three counts of rape of a child under the age of 10 or forcible carnal knowledge of a child over the age of 10 with force. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison, even if that means a prison hospital ward.

Orange sheriff's officials said they don't have a good explanation for what took so long. They said the best they can do is offer apologies and pursue the charges.

"I don't know what happened in the '70s, so it's hard for us to comment," said chief detective Steve Jones.

Deborah Day, a Winter Park psychologist, said there once was a tendency to think fathers weren't capable of so heinous a crime.

"Most women who pursue it see it as a way of validation," Day said. "It serves as a step in the healing process because sometimes no one had ever believed them."

Trial attorneys said preparing the case won't be easy after 30 years.

"It will be one person's word against another in a highly emotional atmosphere," said Orange-Osceola Public Defender Bob Wesley. He said he has advised his client not to comment.

The daughter who fought to get "this whole dirty little secret" uncovered said she hopes its helps lead to prosecution of other cases of father-child sex abuse.

"This country has a war on drugs; let's get a war on people who take children's childhoods away from them," she said.

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