A Killer Nanny

Charlotte Foster wanted a male nanny who’d play sports with her sons. She got an escaped murderer.

Nanny employment agencies tell parents that it isn't safe to hire a nanny off the street. Pat Cascio, the Houston-based president of the International Nanny Association, says agencies ask questions that parents wouldn't think of when screening candidates. She says she's able to weed out career nannies from people who don't speak English and aren't qualified for any other job. "Like I've told parents before, 'Would you really hire someone that McDonald's wouldn't hire?' "

At Cascio's nanny employment agency, Morningside Nannies, she receives 40 to 80 calls a week from potential nannies; only half of the candidates are invited into the office for face-to-face interviews -- of those, six are sent to interview with parents. Marsha Epstein, president of the American Nanny Company in Boston and past board member of the International Nanny Association, says that before she hires a nanny, she checks four to six references and demands a verifiable, gap-free employment timeline. "You've got to go back and research every inch of their lives," Epstein says. "You have to be a detective."

Lamar Mathews, president and founder of the Houston-based Nanny Professionals Inc., the agency Foster used, says potential nannies fill out an eight-page application peppered with open-ended child care philosophy questions.

In January 2000, the nanny was escorted out of the United States.
David Terrill
In January 2000, the nanny was escorted out of the United States.
Twenty years after escaping from Swiss custody, Hanspeter Bieri (shown above in his Harris County mug shot) was arrested again.
Zurich Kantonspolizei
Twenty years after escaping from Swiss custody, Hanspeter Bieri (shown above in his Harris County mug shot) was arrested again.

After a family decides to hire a nanny, two references rate the nanny's ethical conduct, initiative, judgment, attendance, punctuality, flexibility and personal appearance.

"It's pretty thorough," Mathews says. "Because we're dealing with children, it's so important that we get these references."

Last, before parents officially hire a nanny, Mathews says, her private investigator conducts a criminal history search. "We want the most up-to-date information," Mathews says, explaining why this is left until the last minute. Plus, it's the only service that actually costs anything. Mathews says she discloses everything the investigator finds and leaves the final choice to the parents. "Some might hire someone with a DUI or who stole a lipstick when they were 19," Mathews says. "It's up to the family's judgment, it's their decision." None of the nannies actually works for Mathews; she emphasizes that she's just a go-between who takes an 8 or 9 percent cut of the nanny's annual salary.

Stephen Glenn Davis applied for a job at Nanny Professionals Inc. on September 14, 1998. He said he was the father of three boys, aged eight, two and 11 months. He claimed that he was born in Stockton, California, about 80 miles east of San Francisco, had never been arrested, and signed a release authorizing the agency to conduct a criminal background check.

On his application, the nanny wrote that he loved the fast way children learn and show their feelings. He said he was patient with kids and always tried to earn their respect, listen and understand their problems.

"He had good answers," Mathews says.

Foster's husband had never interviewed a nanny with her -- he had always let her hire and fire -- but he sat in on this interview. "What guy signs up to be a nanny? That thought's going through my Texas husband's mind," Foster says. Male nannies, recently dubbed "mannies" by The New York Times, have gained popularity in the last few years -- they're usually young guys who skateboard, and build forts and LEGO landscapes with kids after school. Still, Cascio says she's wary of a man who wants to work at home with children because she's heard horror stories of perverts and pedophiles; in one case, a male nanny stashed kiddie porn inside the house.

Stephen Glenn Davis's résumé was on file at Nanny Professionals Inc. for more than a year before he interviewed with the Fosters. Most families aren't interested in even considering a man, Mathews says. "It's reverse sexism," she says. Foster says she was open to hiring a male nanny because he could play sports with her sons. The agency sent two men to interview with Foster. The first worked in the YMCA's after-school program and was active in his church. He was a nice young man, Foster says, but he wasn't athletic, so Foster didn't think he would click with her kids.

The second was Davis, a six-foot-tall, 160-pound man who spoke several languages. During his interview on October 12, 1999, he told Foster that when he worked in Brazil, the maid kidnapped one of his children. He said he moved to Houston three years ago and worked part-time at a car dealership because he wanted to spend more time with his kids. As a part-time, latchkey nanny, he would work only after school -- he planned to spend most of the day with his two youngest children and his wife could watch them in the evening. "He had all the right credentials," Foster says.

The next day, Foster says, the nanny agency told her that Davis had interviewed with a West University family and they had offered him a job, but the nanny said he would rather work for the Fosters, so they hired him.

" 'Yes! I've got someone to play soccer with my boys,' I thought to myself," Foster says.

But combining Davis's résumé with his interview, Foster couldn't put together a chronological employment timeline. There was a monthlong gap the nanny explained by saying he had to take care of his sick mother. "I like my paperwork neat and clean, and this guy's paperwork wasn't neat and clean," she says.

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