Sleepovers With Uncle Jeff

"We prosecute aggressively in Jefferson County. I don't want you guys in Houston to think we don't."

— Waylon Thompson, Jefferson County District Attorney's Office

"My eyes were always shut...There was a few times that he never knew I saw. But I saw dead into his eyes. I looked dead into them."

— Ashlyn Treadway, 18

Stuck to the window of the Jefferson County District Attorney's office in Beaumont is a poster with the admonishment "Never Hurt a Child. Never, Never, Never." It's been a core platform issue for Tom Maness, who's held the office for 20 years. For a while, the slogan graced billboards along I-10 in Beaumont. The words looked so good there, big and bold.

The D.A. got a pat on the back for his fierce dedication to child safety last February, when a U.S. Department of Justice press release announced the arrest of a 52-year-old man suspected of soliciting sex online from an investigator with the Texas Attorney General's Office posing as a 13-year-old girl.

"Protecting children is our top priority," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was quoted as saying. Abbott thanked the law enforcement officers integral to the cyber sting, including Maness.

The suspect pleaded guilty to one count of coercion and enticement in federal court, a charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life for trying to have sex with a girl who never existed.

Unlike that case, the abuse against Ashlyn Treadway was very real.

It started in Beaumont in 2000, a few weeks after her Aunt Beth returned from her honeymoon in the Caymans with Jeffrey Alan Klem, a cardiologist. Ashlyn was 11 and enamored of her aunt. And everyone was enamored of Klem, none more so than Ashlyn's grandfather, Lonnie Charles Treadway.

Treadway, whom everyone called "Buck," was the longtime pastor of New Life Tabernacle, a Pentecostal church at the epicenter of the lives of the Treadway clan. Klem made a great impression upon the church right away. He played cello in the orchestra, sang in the choir and sat in the front pew every Sunday. At New Life, church members were addressed as "brother" or "sister," but Pastor Treadway junked that for Klem. Klem was "my son-in-law, the cardiologist." In the mostly working-class congregation, the title had cachet, and Pastor Treadway intended on using it.

Shortly after the newlyweds returned, they helped celebrate Buck's birthday with a crawfish boil. That night, the Klems spent the night at Buck's home — the church parsonage. They invited Ashlyn to stay.

Ashlyn recalls Beth asking her if she wanted to sleep with her and Klem that night. Ashlyn was extremely close to Beth and spent many nights in bed with her, so she didn't think much of the invitation. Beth slept between Ashlyn and her 38-year-old husband.

At some point that night, Ashlyn recalls, she felt Klem's fingers on her. Her uncle had reached across his sleeping wife and pushed his niece's nightshirt toward her chin. His hands moved all over.

Is this really happening? Ashlyn thought. She trusted Beth, and Beth trusted Klem, so there couldn't have been anything wrong with it. While Klem's hand moved up and down her body, she flashed on that thing hanging on the bathroom doorknob in Beth and Klem's home. It was like a hotel "do not disturb" sign, only about making sure women tested themselves regularly for breast cancer.

That's probably what he's doing, Ashlyn told herself. It seemed to make sense. After all, this was Dr. Jeffrey Alan Klem. "My son-in-law, the cardiologist."

So when Ashlyn's little sister came to her a few years later and asked about Uncle Jeff's hands, that's what Ashlyn told her. Probably just checking for signs of breast cancer.

And when Ashlyn's younger stepsister asked about Uncle Jeff's hands, Ashlyn didn't know what to say. All of this, whatever it was, was liable to make someone mad. Like Beth. Like her grandfather. And no one would believe it anyway. Better not to say anything at all.

But in 2003, Ashlyn's stepsister Ashlee McEntire spoke up anyway, followed by Ashlyn's sister, Brea. Ashlyn and Brea's father, Les Treadway, and his second wife Lisa (Ashlee's mom), took the allegations to Buck and Patsy Treadway. It remained a family secret for two more years, until Randee McDaniel, another young girl from the church, came forward.

Although church members say Buck called his granddaughters and Randee liars and whores, Klem, in August, pleaded guilty to three counts of injury to a child in Jefferson County district court. In a carefully crafted plea bargain, Klem avoided having to register as a sex offender and was hit with ten years' probation and a $6,000 fine. He's facing two more charges in Harris County — one of which also involves Ashlyn.

All the girls' parents have also filed a civil suit against Klem and Buck Treadway, accusing the pastor of covering up his son-in-law's pedophilia. For this offense, Buck booted them all out of New Life Tabernacle. It has divided the church, but the United Pentecostal Church International has expressed no interest in investigating whether one of its ministers allowed a child molester to prowl around the church's children for seven years.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow