Clan members roam nation

Mother videotaped beating daughter belongs to group

USA Today/September 26, 2002
By Larry Copeland

Washingtion -- The clannish, insular band of itinerant workers that Madelyne Gorman Toogood says she belongs to shuns the spotlight.

Toogood, 25, who was videotaped beating her 4-year-old daughter in an Indiana department store parking lot, is a member of the Irish Travelers . The Travelers roam the nation for much of the year, working as painters, roofers, sealers and pavers. Their world, say police who've studied them for years, is deliberately isolated and highly secretive.

The Travelers arrange marriages between members of their extended clans. Most of them are nomadic, hitting the road for 10 months a year to work. When they don't want to be understood by "country people" -- any non-Traveler -- they speak their own argot, a mixture of Gaelic and English called "cant." Traveler boys usually drop out of school by age 14 or 15 to follow their fathers around the country, learning a trade.

Joe Livingston, a South Carolina state investigator who has been tracking the Travelers for 18 years, said he was surprised by the videotape of Toogood hitting her daughter, Martha, in the parking lot of a Kohl's department store in Mishawaka, Ind. "Normally, they're not abusive toward their children," he said. "They're very loving of their children."

The Travelers came to the United States during the Irish potato famine of the 19th century. Similar nomadic people from England and Scotland also came here, and all made their living trading livestock, selling wares and plying their trades. Today, estimates of the total Traveler population vary widely, from 20,000 to 100,000.

The largest Traveler settlement is at Murphy Village, S.C., a community of about 3,000 outside North Augusta. Authorities say there are also Traveler settlements in Memphis; Bear, Del.; Sunset, La.; Spiro, Okla.; and Fort Smith, Ark. Authorities say they believe Toogood belongs to the Greenhorn Carrolls, a Traveler group in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.

In May, Fort Worth police issued a warrant for her arrest after she failed to appear in court on theft charges, said Lt. Mack West of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department. Toogood and another woman had been arrested March 27 at a Kohl's department store in Fort Worth.

"They stick to themselves. Our staff is familiar with them, but we haven't had any complaints," said Marie Pate, director of operations at the Better Business Bureau of Fort Worth. "Primarily, they work outside of this area."

Pate said the Travelers live in a trailer park, which she believes they own, in White Settlement, a community near Fort Worth.

Many Travelers are honest tradesmen, adhering to the Irish proverb, "The work reflects the man." Others, police say, are con artists.

"I'd be a fool to tell you that all Travelers are crooks. I don't believe that," said Mike Haines, who worked Traveler cases for 20 years before retiring last year from the Dallas police. "But there are a lot of them that are. They're involved in home-repair frauds of all kinds."

He recounted a typical case in which three men scammed an 85-year-old woman out of $13,000. "She's asleep at 8 in the morning when she hears a noise on the roof," Haines said. "She looks up and three guys are up there. She asks, 'What are y'all doing?' They said, 'Ma'am, you told us to come today. Have you forgotten already?' She paid them, even though she had never seen them before in her life."

Haines said the Travelers mostly do exterior work, going door to door offering to pave or seal driveways, repair roofs or paint. "Sometimes, they might go inside, walk in with a little bottle of water and (surreptitiously) spray it on the ceiling and say, 'See, you've got a leak right there, and you didn't even know about it.' "

Livingston said Toogood has driver's licenses in Indiana, Missouri, Texas and New Jersey. Most Travelers, he said, travel around the nation in patterns similar to those of migrant farm workers.

"Most of them have a circuit that they operate on," Livingston said. "They come through in the spring and they come back through in the fall."

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