Image: Five men arrested
Lafayette County Sheriff's Department
Police arrested these men, from top left, after relatives accused them of child abuse: Jared Leroy Mohler of Columbia, Mo.; David A. Mohler of Lamoni, Iowa; Burrell Edward Mohler Sr. of Independence, Mo.; second row: Burrell Edward Mohler Jr. of Independence; and Roland Neil Mohler of Bates City, Mo.
updated 11/12/2009 1:29:58 PM ET 2009-11-12T18:29:58

Five family members charged in a child sex abuse case on Thursday made their first court appearance.

A 77-year-old father and his four adult sons are charged with several felonies, including sodomy and rape involving children under 12.

The suspects are Burrell Edward Mohler Sr. and his sons, Burrell Edward Mohler Jr., 53, Jared Leroy Mohler, 48, Roland Neil Mohler, 47, and David A. Mohler, 52.

The men appeared in Lafayette County court in orange jumpsuits and with shackles at their wrist, waist and ankles.

The judge read the charges against them. The men did not enter pleas and did not appear to have legal representation at the 20-minute hearing.

The men are being held on cash bonds. Their next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Meanwhile, authorities were preparing to resume the search for evidence, including possible bodies, on land in nearby Bates City where the abuse allegedly occurred.

The property, east of Kansas City, was once owned by two of the men arrested Tuesday.

"There has been an indication that there are body or bodies in numerous locations," said Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh, although he would not say whose bodies they might be.

A small excavator could be seen moving across the property Wednesday. Two ambulances were parked nearby, and crews were searching a creek with metal detectors.

The allegations, which include bestiality, forcing children into fake marriages with relatives and making an 11-year-old have an abortion, date from 1988 to 1995.

Lay ministers
Three of the five men are lay ministers in the Community of Christ church whose licenses have been suspended, church spokeswoman Linda L. Booth said.

Alumbaugh pleaded for the public's help, saying investigators "believe that there are other victims out there" and that the public can provide more information.

Video: Charged

Cpl. Bill Lowe of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said a 26-year-old woman came forward to investigators in mid-August with the allegations. A probable cause statement released by the Lafayette County prosecutor's office says five other siblings of the woman have accused all five men of abuse, but it's unclear whether all the siblings were claiming to be victims.

Lowe said the woman told investigators that she and her siblings had buried glass jars around the property that were filled with messages "about what was happening to them" when they were younger. The woman said she had "suppressed many of the memories of abuse perpetrated on her" and her siblings, according to the probable cause statement.

Bad memories
Sgt. Collin Stosberg of the Highway Patrol said the adults told the children to write down their bad memories.

"That was what they were told. Write these memories down, put them in a jar and bury it and the memories would go away," Stosberg said. "It was a way for them to cope."

The woman who came forward also claimed some of the men forced her to have sex with a dog and to watch as her brother was abused.

"She became pregnant and was made to have an abortion at age 11 1/2. She doesn't remember any sexual abuse after that date," the probable cause statement said.

All five were being held in the Lafayette County jail on cash bonds ranging from $30,000 to $75,000. It was not clear if they had attorneys.

The Associated Press is not revealing the relationship between the siblings and the suspects to avoid identifying the alleged victims of sexual assault.

Leadership roles
Booth, the church spokeswoman, said none of the Mohlers served in leadership roles in the congregations they attended "nor did they serve as volunteer youth workers, teach children or youth church school, or work with children or youth."

"The church takes seriously the allegations that have been made and suspended the priesthood licenses of three lay ministers: Burrell Mohler Sr., David Mohler and Jared Mohler," the church said in a statement.

Booth said one of the men, whom she refused to identify, had been registered to work with children but that license has been terminated.

Neighbor: No knowledge of sons
On Wednesday, Deborah Burris, who has lived across the street from Burrell Mohler Sr. for several years, described the suspect as a friendly, helpful neighbor.

“We didn’t even know he had sons. We didn’t know anyone but Burrell himself,” Burris said.

She said she thought Mohler lived with his wife and a daughter, but she had never seen them. He was occasionally seen walking around the neighborhood but had appeared frail lately, Burris said.

She said Mohler’s house has an apartment on the north side, and there had been “quite a bit of activity there at different times.”

“I had thought maybe someone was moving in or out of there,” Burris said.

The Community of Christ, with headquarters in Independence, split from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1860 and was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until 2001. It has about 250,000 members worldwide.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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