updated 4/5/2007 10:07:28 PM ET 2007-04-06T02:07:28

Al McDaniel waited nervously inside the Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff's Department Thursday as detectives interviewed his 6-year-old grandson. McDaniel hoped the interviews wouldn't confirm his worst suspicion — that William Huck Sr. molested the boy at the in-home day-care center Huck's wife operated.

Huck was arrested March 25 and has since told authorities he molested 40 kids over 30 years, according to legal documents. He is charged with 13 counts of first-degree child molestation and four counts of statutory sodomy and is jailed on $1 million. Authorities say more charges, perhaps many more, are likely.

Huck does not yet have an attorney. Calls to his home were not returned, and no one answered the door there Thursday.

The alleged confession has people in this tight-knit community 50 miles south of St. Louis shocked and angry, with many wondering if their own children or grandchildren were among the victims.

"I just can't see someone abusing kids like that," McDaniel said. "You want to twist his head off. There's a whole flock of folks who probably have the same attitude about it."

Until late last month, Huck, 60, was simply a retired railroad worker with no criminal record. Authorities say there had never been allegations against him of any sort, much less something as serious as sexually abusing children.

4-year-old gave account to police
That changed March 24, when a couple told police their 4-year-old son had casually mentioned that Huck made him do things. The boy gave a detailed account to sheriff's deputies.

In an interview with deputies, Huck allegedly confessed to abusing the boy 12 times over the past year, and to abusing the boy's sister, now 10, when she attended the center. The current 17 charges all are for alleged abuse of the two siblings.

A probable cause statement said Huck admitted to widespread abuse over three decades. Police believe Huck's wife was completely unaware that anything was wrong.

Ste. Genevieve, founded along the Mississippi River by French settlers in 1735, was the first permanent European settlement in what is now Missouri. The community of 4,500 residents draws thousands of tourists each year for its quaint setting, antique stores, bed & breakfasts and tours of French Colonial buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Efforts to protect the community from the Great Flood of 1993 drew national attention as townspeople battled the raging river with a sandbag brigade. Locals say the effort was typical, just as when neighbors pull together when someone gets sick or dies.

Facing a threat from inside the community has shaken people in a different way, resident Sue Bach said.

"In the big city, you might be a little more careful where you send your child," Bach said. "You don't think about this happening in a small town. I think it's going to make a lot of people really wonder."

The Hucks' home sits on a country road just outside of town. The one-story brick house is surrounded by a big grassy lot and well-kept garden. A small and tidy playground sits near the home, with a swing set, plastic playhouse and toy trucks lying on a bed of pea gravel.

Happened when wife was out
The probable cause statement alleges that Huck molested the children when his wife was away. The most recent abuse happened while she was at a doctor's appointment, the statement said.

The day care business was not licensed by the state because the couple watched fewer than five kids at any given time. State officials said licensing is required only for centers with five or more children.

Sheriff's Lt. Tim Craig spent Thursday interviewing families and children who attended the day-care center. He declined to speculate how many additional charges could be filed.

It isn't yet clear when Huck will be arraigned. One court date was canceled out of fear for his safety.

"There's a lot of people angry," Craig said.

Until now, Huck was known as a friendly man who sold homemade cheese during the winter, said Dennis Heberlie, who lives near the Hucks.

"I've known him all his life," Heberlie said. "I still can't believe it. How could it go on for so long and nobody knew about it?"

Allegedly used fear tactic
Huck used fear to manipulate at least one child and keep the abuse secret, according to police. Craig's arrest report said Huck told the 4-year-old boy that "police would come and get him" if the boy broke their secret.

McDaniel said his grandson stayed with the Hucks for about three weeks. His daughter stopped taking him there when the child began crying and resisting each time he had to go, McDaniel said.

"He just raised hell every time they dropped him off," McDaniel said.

By late Thursday, the boy was still being interviewed by police.

Bach, who is site coordinator for the Ste. Genevieve Head Start Center, which works with 72 children each day, was hopeful the incident would at least remind parents to educate their kids about abuse and the danger of keeping secrets.

"I think parents are going to be a little bit more interested, involved and concerned," she said.

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