It’s an autumn day in California, and an almost blind mother arrives at a welfare office with her daughter in tow (meaning accompanying alongside or under one’s supervision). Immediately, the staff notices something wrong.
Despite appearing a little older than a toddler, the girl is actually 13 years old. Suspecting neglect, they notify the police, and a strange and tragic tale of Ginny Wiley begins to unfold.
Ginny first came to authorities’ attention in November 1970 when her mother, Irene, walked into a social services building in California’s Temple City. Irene had been regularly beaten by Ginny’s father, Clarke, and was suffering from a degenerative eye condition as well as cataracts, leaving her barely able to see.
Having finally gathered the courage to leave Clarke, Irene took Ginny and fled to her parents’ home in Monterey Park, California. From there, she mistakenly entered the wrong facility while attempting to claim disability benefits in Temple City due to her poor eyesight.
Entering the office of Social Services, Irene and Ginny encountered a worker who instantly sensed that something was amiss. Assuming Ginny to be around 6 years old, the worker was shocked to discover that the girl was, in fact, a teenager. After questioning Irene, the staff decided to contact the police.
Both Irene and Clarke were arrested, and Ginny was moved to the children’s hospital in Los Angeles. Doctors there realized they were dealing with one of the most extreme cases of neglect in the United States.
Dr. James Kent, the physician who examined Ginny at the hospital, offered a bleak prognosis. Suffering from extreme malnutrition, Ginny weighed less than 60 pounds and stood at just 4 and a half feet tall.
Moreover, she had developed few gross motor skills and struggled to walk. Ginny also had difficulty focusing on items farther than 10 feet from her and faced challenges in swallowing food. She would spit and salivate wherever she went and was entirely incontinent. Most intriguingly, at 13 years of age, Ginny could not speak.
In fact, Ginny was almost entirely incapable of making any sound at all. Some accounts suggest that she couldn’t shed tears, instead opting to move chairs and other objects when she wanted to create noise.
Experts determined that Ginny was not physiologically or selectively mute. So, what had happened to the teenage girl?