Police unravel tale of Salisbury family's abuse

Wife, children kept in club, storefront

Globe/June 18, 2001
By Farah Stockman

Alisbury - Patrick McMullen - high school dropout, father of six, salesman of used odds and ends - led his family from one unlivable situation to another, preaching against the poisonous influence of school on children while allegedly raping and beating his own.

''I'm raising the best people I'll ever know,'' McMullen was fond of saying about the six children he and his wife home-schooled, according to a longtime friend of McMullen's who asked to remain anonymous. But now, police are unraveling the story of a father who allegedly led his family from one unlivable situation to another, keeping school authorities and even relatives at bay so that he could beat his sons and sexually abuse two of his daughters.

McMullen was arrested after his wife, Christine, left him and filed for a restraining order against him, and reported to police that her children had been sexually abused since childhood. He now stands charged with four counts of rape, indecent assault on a child under 14, and disseminating obscene material to a minor.

McMullen's sister, who lives in Salisbury, persuaded Christine McMullen to leave her brother after visiting the junkyard lot and former nightclub where the family was living. Now, as police trace the story of a father who appeared to control nearly every facet of his family's life, those who knew him paint a portrait of a ''cult leader without a cult'' who began with great aspirations, but became increasingly angry at the world around him.

''If you spoke to Patrick McMullen, he can come across as one of the most intelligent, brilliant people even though he had only been to school up to the ninth grade,'' said the friend, who has also been McMullen's business partner. ''But he had a twisted side where he just lost touch with reality.'' McMullen grew up in a devout Mormon family that took in foster children, a friend recalled, but he left high school before graduation, and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he worked on fishing boats. When he returned, he married the daughter of a respected Merrimac family, and the couple moved to a secluded, ramshackle house in Thompson, Maine, authorities said yesterday.

''He had a lot of dreams,'' said a friend. ''He used to tell me he was going to be a millionaire by 35.'' But the odd jobs that McMullen worked did not earn enough to pay the bills, and ultimately, the couple lost the Maine house. The couple and their young children moved to Merrimac and lived with his wife's parents. But tensions soon arose.

''There was no love between the mother-in-law and Patrick,'' said Merrimac police officer Arthur Evans, who declined to elaborate. ''I don't think he was real respectful of their ways,'' said the friend. ''Instead of appreciating that they were helping him out, he probably judged them for their ways.''

According to Evans, McMullen was active in the John Birch Society, a group that, according to its Web site, ''exists to preserve freedom by exposing and defeating those forces ... which work to create a totalitarian one-world government.''

McMullen moved his family out of his in-laws' house, and into a series of unconventional quarters. The family of three daughters, now ages 8, 13, and 17 and three sons, now ages 10, 12, and 15, lived in a bus by Lake Attitash, and later moved to a store in a strip mall on East Main street, where McMullen sold old furniture and used car parts.

The windows were covered with blankets so that no one could see inside, and the children slept on couches that were waiting to be sold. They sneaked out to their grandparents' house to shower and to eat. Slowly McMullen prohibited all contact with his wife's mother, a teacher at Pentucket Regional High School, and her father, George Denault, an engineer.

Merrimac police became worried when they realized that the children were no longer living with the Denaults, but in a commercial building without a shower or kitchen. The Department of Social Services, who had visited the family around 1995 to ensure that the children were being schooled at home, received more calls about the family.

Shortly thereafter, McMullen grew fed up with visits from police, the school department, DSS and his landlord - who eventually cut off electricity to the building. He moved his family into a former nightclub in Salisbury. ''He was angry with the world,'' said Evans. ''He believed in dominance, the elder of the family. He's the boss. That's the way it was.''

In Salisbury, the children lived behind an 8-foot wall, sometimes staying indoors for months at a time. Christine McMullen had to ask permission to leave the home and was timed when she went grocery shopping, according to Salisbury police. McMullen, on the other hand, would go out whenever he wanted and would even frequent rock concerts, his friend said.

When he was arrested, police said, McMullen seemed almost unaffected. ''I don't know if he thought he had them beat into submission so that they would never talk,'' his friend said. ''He's so confident and cocky, he probably thinks that he could beat the rap.''

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