February 25, 2011
An American family: Daniel Voll profiles Patty Muth and Allen Muth, the first brother and sister sent to prison for incest in the United States (Esquire 1998)

by Daniel Voll

IN THE HOLDING PEN at the Milwaukee County Jail, Patty and Allen Muth are waiting for the deputy sheriff to turn his back. They are both handcuffed and wearing prison-issue jumpsuits with white socks and flip-flops. She has hazel eyes and dark-blond hair and weighs ninety-five pounds. He is taller by a foot, a lanky redhead. The deputy is distracted by another inmate. Patty and Allen finally do what they’ve been plotting for months. It is the moment they have been living for, and it is over in one second. They kiss.

Ten minutes later, they are escorted into a hearing to get the results of a court-ordered test to determine the paternity of their fourth child. As Allen is taken by the sheriff’s deputy to the other side of the room, Patty’s gaze never leaves him. She’s worried that he’s losing weight. All she ever sees is his quiet tenderness, his kindness. How he would say he was going out for cigarettes and return with a bouquet of her favorite flowers. He’s the only man she’s ever loved, and she whispered that in his ear before they entered the courtroom; she wanted to make sure he knew. Allen rakes his fingers through his red muttonchops and buries his face in his hands. He can’t even look at her, his despair is so great. If he is the father, the state will take away their child forever.

Large shamrocks are taped to the wall behind the judge, who is wearing a green tie under his black robe. It is Saint Patrick’s Day. The judge announces that a DNA test shows a 99.98 percent certainty that Allen is the father. Patty and Allen request a photo of their child. Their request is denied.

Downstairs, Patty is shackled around the ankles, and a chain is locked around her waist. It makes her feel like a dog. The metal links are cold, like they’ve been refrigerated. The deputy shackles Allen’s ankles. A chain is also locked around his waist. When he submits his wrists for the handcuffs, her eyes search his face. She sees that he wants to cry She strains toward him, but the guard tightens his grip. They need to touch once more. Allen reaches for her, but the deputy yanks him toward the door. They are marched outside to different vans. She presses her face to the window and watches him being driven away, tears streaming down her face. They are returning to separate maximum-security prisons, where they are each four months into felony sentences-five years for Patty eight years for Allen. Their crime: Allen is Patty’s brother, and Patty is Allen’s sister.

[Photograph]From Milwaukee County Jail, with love. Allen and Patty write each other every day and have created a body of decorated prison correspondence that is as marked by its sincere as it is by its sameness.

MOST PEOPLE THINK incest laws are to keep fathers from having sex with their daughters, not to punish someone whose only sorry crime is to have found as one’s mate the single most inappropriate person in the world, and to have started a loving family, well, a family anyway, with that person.

Most people manage to get through life without sharing a conjugal bed with a sibling, and most people are socialized in such a way that they cannot even fathom such a need, and if that isn’t the case, then most people certainly don’t make a blood knot the one lasting relationship of their lives, thirteen years and counting, up until the moment that they are mug-shot and shackled and led away to prison-to prison!-to keep them from sleeping with a big brother or little sister. But then, most people don’t ever feel that intensity of need about anything. The kind of need where you’ll get an offer to stay out of jail, and maybe even get your babies back, if you’ll just stay away from him or her, and you instead offer the state your bare wrists for handcuffing and say, Take me away. No, most people are not the Muths, proud parents of Jennifer, eleven, Crystal, seven, Paul, two, and Lisa, five months.

Although they didn’t meet until Patty was eighteen years old, she and Allen have the same biological parents. Patty was the youngest of Dorothy and Ernest Muth’s nine children. She was born in Milwaukee in 1967. Four years earlier, Dorothy Muth had been convicted of child neglect and spent six months in the same prison where Patty is now serving her time. On Patty’s birth certificate, her father’s job is listed as union truck driver; in truth, he was also a shiftless alcoholic with a mean streak. He would use the family money for liquor and leave Patty’s mother with a few dollars a month for diapers and food. They moved often, leaving behind filthy houses, to evade the Milwaukee County Department of Public Welfare, which made more than fifty visits to the Muths’ homes. As far as her father was concerned, the social workers could all go to hell, and he threatened to kill those he found on his property.

Patty’s older siblings had already been removed by social workers before she was born, and they were scattered across Wisconsin. Some were in foster care, and a few, like her oldest brother, Allen, were in a county orphanage. Three months after Patty was born, the state also placed her in foster care.

Patty’s foster home, where she had her own bedroom and pet rabbits, was on a Wisconsin farm. There were a half dozen other foster children. Growing up, she thought this was her real family. Her foster parents taught her to milk cows and ride horses, and she has mostly good memories of those years. But when Patty was six, her foster mother packed a suitcase for her, and the little girl was brought before a judge. She was being adopted out. Patty screamed, clinging to the leg of her foster mother. The patriarch of her new family, a bearded Dutchman, stood in the courtroom, his arms open.

After running away from the Milwaukee County Children’s Home, Allen was returned to his father. The oldest and quietest of the Muth children, Allen bore the brunt of his father’s abuse. To pay room and board at home, he was contracted out to paint houses. Allen got through those years by dreaming of one day driving a big-rig truck. In the back of his Bible, he drew a picture of a truck, and in the picture he was behind the wheel, escaping his father. He quit school after the eleventh grade and went to work at a Big Boy restaurant, making cakes and pies. For two years, he operated a machine at a bindery, shrink-wrapping magazines-Plab, Hustler, and Better Homes and Gardens. He saved his money, and by i979 he had the si,8oo tuition to attend the Sun Prairie Diesel Truck Driver Training School.

In her first few years with the Dutch family, Patty had a temper and was defiant. She missed the farm and the only family she had ever known. Her new family lived in Milwaukee, above their craft store, the Dutch Connection. She grew into a pretty girl with a wild streak. She often skipped school, but she loved reading, especially novels, and she played violin in the orchestra. She kissed a few boys in high school, and in her junior year she had sex with her boyfriend, a black classmate. She got pregnant. When she delivered the child, her adoptive family insisted that she put the newborn in a foster home. She was told that if she kept the baby, she would no longer be welcome in their house. Three months later, in June 85, Patty graduated from high school.

Standing against the back wall at her commencement that June night were members of an extended family that she had never met and did not even know existed. They watched her cross the stage and accept her diploma from the principal, who wished her good luck and a good future.

Late that night, a strange woman’s voice on Patty’s phone announced, “This is your biological sister Barbara.” For the first time, Patty learned that she had brothers and sisters, that she came from a family of nine. They had hunted her down. It was the end of a long search to reunite the Muth children, and Patty, the little sister, had been the missing piece of the puzzle. Barbara was up from Texas; most of the rest lived in Milwaukee. The family met two days later at a Dunkin’ Donuts downtown.

The only one missing from that gathering was Allen. The others told Patty about him, that his job was long-distance trucking and that he was on the road. He had gotten married, but that was in trouble, they said. She liked this new family. They felt familiar. Within days, Patty moved out of the Dutch Connection and in with her sister Ruth, who was a registered nurse. Ruth wanted to help her get into nursing school.

Patty met Allen a few days after her graduation. He showed up unannounced. Patty came downstairs, and he was outside, smoking a cigarette. He had red hair and was tall, which surprised her. He was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a T-shirt, and she thought he looked nice. His voice was gentle, and she liked his shy, polite ways immediately.

He showed her his car, a ‘69 Olds Cutlass 442 with fur seat covers. He was proud of the car, and he kept it clean and polished, the wheels chromed. She told him she was a neat person, too. Neither of them could abide a mess. He invited her to breakfast at Big Boy, and he opened her car door. He was a careful driver, and when they got to the restaurant, he told her to order whatever she wanted, which she did, and he ordered the same thing.

They sat in silence and looked at each other across the table. Finally, she asked, “So you drive trucks?” She didn’t know what else to say.

He told her he’d driven all forty-eight states. And about “reefer” units, short for refrigerated produce trucks. And that his rig had twenty-one gears. She’d never thought much about trucks before, but she was fascinated by this stranger who looked so much like her, and so she paid attention.

[Photograph]"Hello baby!" Patty begins one letter, How are you doing? Fine I haope. Me, I’m doing like shit. Everbody in here knows about our case. "They never quite expected to go to prison, and they don’t get all the fuss.

Allen drove Patty out to the airport after breakfast and parked in a grassy spot near one of the runways, and the two sat in the Cutlass and watched the planes take off and land.

Patty asked Allen to tell her about their mother. “She was pretty when she was young,” Allen said. “You look just like her.”

"I appreciate the compliment," Patty said.

They talked all afternoon, sitting in the car with the windows open. She told him about her foster family and her rabbits and how she’d learned to milk cows. How afraid she’d been at age six, when she was adopted and had to leave the farm. She kept studying his face, looking for signs of herself in him. He didn’t say much. When he did talk, it was quietly. She asked him what the good things were about his childhood, but he couldn’t think of any. She reached over and traced the long scar on his face, and he said it was from a car accident.

As the sun set, they watched the lights of planes taking off, the vapor of contrails lingering in the violet sky. Elvis was playing on his eight-track. She said she wished she were on a plane going to someplace with a beach, like Hawaii Allen said his truck could take him anywhere he wanted to go.

The next time she saw Allen, he was underneath his car, putting on new shock absorbers. She’d just had a fight with her boyfriend, and she wanted to talk. Allen took her for a walk down by Lake Michigan. She liked the way he listened, and it felt as if there was nothing she couldn’t tell him. She trusted him. She liked that he was tall and had red hair, strawberry-blond, really, and she liked his mustache and his sideburns, which he said were a tribute to Elvis.

When the whole Muth family went out on a boat to watch Fourth of July fireworks, Allen was the only one Patty wanted to talk to. She wanted to make up for lost time. He gave her a kiss on the cheek that evening. He told her that he was leaving in his truck in a few days, and she wanted to be around him as much as possible. She spent the next few nights at his house, sharing a bedroom with his two kids. Allen and his wife slept in the other bedroom. Patty lay awake at night, listening to them argue.

One morning, after Allen’s wife went to work and the children were off to school, Patty read the newspaper aloud to Allen, and he drew silly mustaches on the photos. She told him that reading without her glasses was giving her a headache, and Allen gently massaged her temples. She was sitting beside him on the couch. His fingers were taking away the pain. That feels good, she said, closing her eyes. Even when her headache was gone, she didn’t tell him to stop. He held her face in his hands and stroked her hair. She felt safe with him, and this was a feeling she’d never had before. She reached toward him, and they kissed for the first time.

She was lying in her bed later, when he came in and sat next to her. He had just taken a shower and was wearing a blue terry-cloth robe. He held her hand and then kissed her again. She moved over to give him more room, and he stretched out beside her. He kissed her neck and then her shoulders. “If you don’t want to, it’s okay,” he whispered. “I can just leave.”

"No, don’t leave."

"Okay. I promise I won’t. We’ll take this slow. We’ve got all the time in the world."

She took off her nightgown, and he put his arms around her and held her close. He asked if she was on birth control. She said yes and showed him the pills. “I won’t hurt you,” he said. “I promise.” She liked his weight on her body.

Afterward, she put her head on his chest. I love my kids, he told her, but I don’t get along with my wife. I get along with you.

They knew they had to keep this a secret.

PATTY DIDN’T WANT HIM TO GO on the road yet, but driving trucks was his calling. He’d once driven a flatbed with a tarped load of lumber from Madison to Los Angeles in twenty-four hours when the boss said it had to be there the next day Nothing, he told her, compares to the feeling of sitting up there high on the seat, knowing that you’re leaving everything behind. He told her about the time he drove across the Canadian border and pulled to the side of the road for a nap and saw a giant moose coming out of the woods. How it had just looked at him.

Allen drove his truck to Patty’s house to say goodbye. He was hauling dry goods to a store in New Jersey. Patty had never seen a truck so big. It took up the whole street. The huge diesel cab was polished to a deep black shine. Patty climbed up the ladder on the side and looked in the window and announced that she was going with him. He shook his head no.

"Don’t make me beg," Patty said.

Social workers would later tell Patty that since Allen was thirtytwo and she was only eighteen when they met, she had been manipulated by him. But Patty never agreed with this version of events. She knew she wanted to go on that first trip with Allen, and nothing could have stopped her. She didn’t think about the consequences; she just felt that a long-lost person had come back into her life for a reason, and she wasn’t going to let him go.

Patty rode shotgun, her feet up on the dashboard. She enjoyed sitting up so high, trying to figure out all the instruments. It was like being in the cockpit of an airplane, and she liked watching the scenery go by. She liked watching Allen downshift, working the gears. Under her seat was a photo album full of his safe-driving awards. In back, behind a curtain, was a set of bunk beds, a small TV with a VCR, and shelves for his personal gear. It was all very clean and tidy. He looked over at her and smiled. “You’ve got pretty eyes,” she said. “Sky-blue. Really pretty.”

After dropping the load in New Jersey, Allen turned south to Florida, where he took Patty swimming in the ocean. She couldn’t get him to wear shorts at the beach. He said he’d spent half his life in a short-pants uniform at the orphanage. He went swimming in his jeans, which made him look very funny when he walked out of the surf.

They crisscrossed the country in that i8-wheeler, hauling loads, feeling as if they were on a honeymoon. In Reno, they played the slots, and in Memphis they pulled the rig into Graceland and joined a tour. Allen bought an Elvis doll and a toy pink Cadillac. Sometimes, at night in the truck, before going to sleep side by side on their bunk, they watched Elvis’s Blue Hawaii or Kissin’ Cousins. When his hair got too long, past his collar, she’d cut it for him on the side of the road. At truck stops, they would shower together and roller-skate in the wide parking lots for exercise. Everyone they met just figured they were married.

IF THEY COULD GET USED TO the idea, learn to love it, where’s the damage? Isn’t that feeling what you’re supposed to look for in life? Trust and compatibility and a smile just for you? And they hadn’t even known each other until just now, so their being brother and sister didn’t matter, really, they told themselves. Hell, it was almost a coincidence. Allen had made the break with his wife, and that hadn’t been pretty, draining the water bed and leaving on the sly, but who on God’s green earth or the interstate highway system would stand in judgment of them now?

The prosecutor in Milwaukee would later say that she wouldn’t have cared if Patty and Allen screwed naked on Wisconsin Avenue, as long as they didn’t have children.

In April i986, Patty noticed that she was getting sick a lot. The choice to have the first child was hers. “I fell in love with Allen, and he was in love with me,” she says. “I wanted to have one of his children. I wanted to have a daughter by him that would have red hair, blue eyes, and his caring, his heart.”

She didn’t know how Allen would take the news. But he said, “I’ll stick by you.”

The child was born in Abilene, Texas, where they tried to start a life far away from Allen’s wife, who had refused to grant him a divorce. When Jennifer* was born, just after Thanksgiving, Allen was in the delivery room. A healthy baby, the doctor proclaimed, but small, like her mother. The Muths spent the first Christmas around a tree decorated with baby ornaments. Allen bought an antique cradle, which he stripped, sanded, and revarnished. There were baby clothes and blankets and a nice recliner for Patty. It was scary having the child those first weeks. “She looked so fragile,” Patty says. “Like if you held her too tight, she might break.”

Allen had taken a leave from driving to be with Patty during the end of her pregnancy, but now he had to get back to work. He called every night, but Patty was lonely and she struggled with Jennifer, who was twice admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.

Soon after the birth, the Abilene Child Protective Services office began to get calls claiming that Patty and Allen were siblings and that the child was being neglected. Their sister Barbara, who lived nearby, made the calls. “Barbara wants to get Patty and Allen separated,” a Texas social worker wrote down. “She wants us to have them split up. She feels that their relationship (incest) is wrong!! Barbara wants the baby.”

Now Allen and Patty were about to learn the power of the taboo, the energy and sanction it gave others to end their relationship, to restore order, to put the apple back on the tree. Somebody was starting to make a fuss, and it was dawning on Allen and Patty that sheriffs deputies can drive up and take your baby away. Steal your baby and give it to the rich, Allen said. Social services can order you into parenting classes and counseling, and even if you do that, let some headshrinker give you tests for hours, they can still take away your baby. Take her from her crib. Because now it’s on the record, the official record. Not Allen loves Patty, will give his life for her But other words, like consanguinity. Words like sibling relationship. Words like teminate parental rights. Sure, it’s only one municipality in Texas, but these records are connected to other places on highways too cryptic for Allen’s mind. Highways of information. And these people have power, the keepers of the records, the social workers, the prosecutors. His father used to rail against these selfsame. Now Allen understood. You’re not going to take away my family. Not my little girl He’d bottle-fed her the first evenings, up at night, walking her around, cooing her stories. She was a love child, their start toward the future. And it made him angry. Angry enough to say, I’ll shoot you in the face if you touch my child. The social worker wrote that down, too.

Two months after sister Barbara’s first call, Jennifer was taken from them-permanently, as it would end up. They were stripped of their parental rights. The court issued a no-contact order. If the Muths tried to see their child, they would be arrested.

NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME to reconcile yourself to exactly what incest means. All sorts of warnings echo through time of the dire consequences of spilling your seed carelessly of lying with the wrong one, of tasting forbidden fruit. Forbidden, which means against the laws of God and man. Now would have been a good time for Allen and Patty to reconcile themselves to that reality. They had been warned. Incest is incest. The law is the law. And, Lord, did they have to have babies? That’s when things really started to go wrong. But after the loss of their daughter, they were grief-stricken. And, perhaps strangely, they were more hopelessly in love than ever. We are staying together, they began saying to each other, repeating it like a mantra. We can’t let them do this to us.

Patty and Allen left Texas and spent the next three years on the road. Allen’s company didn’t allow riders in the winter, for fear that the truck might jackknife, but Patty moved into the truck anyway. Allen often cried at the wheel and would stop along his routes from time to time and buy stuffed animals for his lost daughter. That truck became their home, where they loved and fought. Patty once threw an ashtray at Allen, cutting his head; he slapped her hard. Allen got a heart-shaped tattoo with his and Patty’s names inside, and when she admired a black-pearl ring, he put it on layaway and later wrapped it in a velvet jewelry box and surprised her with it.

They both loved sex, and they never lost that desire, and even during the time of grief, it brought them closer, gave them a place to forget, but these days it seemed that sex was the only thing they thought about. Patty joked that maybe it was the vibrations from the truck.

After losing their baby, Allen and Patty were certainly more than aware of the taboo. And maybe the taboo exaggerates actual probability. Jennifer, after all, had been healthy, and in fact a court-approved geneticist would later say that other children of theirs he tested had no genetic defects. But of course, Allen and Patty couldn’t have really known that that’s the way everything would turn out.

They conceived their second child in the truck, or on a blanket next to a stream in Yellowstone when they pulled off for a picnic-they could never tell for sure. They were on a night run to Chicago, delivering fresh lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes to the Windy City Farmer’s Market, when Patty’s water broke. Blaring his air horn, Allen pulled the truck right up to the hospital door. He carried Patty down in his arms, yelling, “My wife’s about to have a baby!”

For her first two weeks, the newborn, named Crystal, would sleep only on Allen’s chest. “I never laid on my back before to sleep,” he says.

[Photograph]After losing a child to a foster home, Allen and Patty were allowed to visit for an hour a week.

Allen vowed they’d stay one step ahead of the law. They had learned their lesson. Don’t put down roots. No fixed address. Stay on the road. They would keep Crystal with them on the truck. Patty knitted scarves and mittens and packed the cooler with baby formula. On quiet stretches of the freeway, Allen taught her to drive so they could trade off watching their new daughter.

At Christmas, Allen decorated the cab with tiny blinking lights and a miniature tree. There was a Santa Claus hood ornament and a wreath wired through the grille. For three years, the child slept to the hum of the tires, the sound of their voices. The sense of flight, of evasion, that they both felt actually helped make these years the happiest of Patty and Allen’s lives. But given the world they were running from, a world of rules, where you have to drive between the lines, pay your taxes, and not sleep with your sister, a terminus was inevitable. On a surprise inspection, the trucking firm discovered that Crystal was a permanent passenger, and, for liability reasons, barred Allen from having the child with him. But you’re breaking up our family, Allen pleaded. Patty took a room with the baby at a motel in Milwaukee, where relatives and friends could help baby-sit, and she divided her time between being with her daughter and being with Allen on the road.

IN MARCH 1994, while on a run through Texas to Arizona, Patty and Allen committed a series of stupid blunders. At a truck stop in El Paso, they got caught stealing a radar detector. Eleven days in jail, and Allen was fired from his trucking job. Returning by bus to Milwaukee, the Muths faced even worse news. When they hadn’t returned as scheduled and failed even to call, the baby-sitter reported them to county authorities. They had been gone six weeks, and during that time Crystal had been placed in protective custody.

Nancy Ettenheim, a Milwaukee County prosecutor specializing in difficult family court cases, was handed the Muth file. Immediately, a social worker told Patty that she would never get her daughter back as long as she was with Allen. You’re a young, attractive woman, Patty. There are lots of men! And Patty took the advice to heart, at least for a little while. She and Allen had moved into a little room at the Skyway Motel just south of Milwaukee. Allen had taken a job working the graveyard shift at Kmart, buffing floors, and sometimes Patty worked there, too, beside him. But mostly Allen worked alone, locked in the store from midnight to 7:oo AM., and during this time Patty had an affair. Allen went crazy with jealousy, howling in his motel room, begging for her return. Patty came back, and within months, even as Ettenheim prepared to terminate their parental rights to Crystal, Patty got pregnant again.

She went into labor at Wisconsin State Fair Park, and Allen drove her at seventy-five miles an hour to a Waukegan, Illinois, hospital, in the misplaced hope that crossing the state line might allow them to keep their child, a healthy seven-pound boy. But three weeks later, two cops and a social-service worker, authorized by a judge to use “whatever force necessary,” took the newborn. Paul was in his crib, asleep. “We haven’t done anything wrong!” Patty screamed. The cops told Allen to step back. Seven months later, the court “terminated forever” Patty and Allen’s parental rights to Paul.

For Ettenheim, the Muths became a personal crusade. It wasn’t even the sex so much as the resulting children. Paul’s birth outraged her. She had hoped to separate the couple, but nothing worked. She was even sympathetic to their desperate, pathetic love. She had studied the family history, and she saw the pathology repeating itself. Their parents had spent their lives having children, only to lose them all to the state. Ettenheim was determined to stop what she called the baby-making machinery.

She dusted off an 1849 Wisconsin statute that criminalized incest. The law, which recommended a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, was used to kneecap the occasional father who had abused his daughter. But as far as Ettenheim was concerned, this was abuse. Those poor children were victims. What would they call their mother? Their father? That last one really sealed it for the prosecutor, really got to her. How the hell was a child supposed to be able to explain this out in the world? Her strategy was to arrest the Muths and, perhaps with the help of a reasonable judge, convict them both of felony incest before they could have any more children.

[Photograph]Allen and Patty Muth, shown here in prison Polaroids taken on April 28,1998, are the first brother and sister ever to be sent to prison for incest in the United States.

Patty and Allen were booked in February 1997 at the Milwaukee County Jail and released on a personal-recognizance bond, pending their felony trial. Even while being fingerprinted and mug-shot, Patty and Allen had a secret, which they told no one, not even their lawyer. She was pregnant again.

THEY WERE NOT going to lose a fourth baby to the state, even if it meant jumping bond and becoming outlaws. They hatched a plan to flee Wisconsin. The court date was set for July, four months away. If they stayed, prison time seemed a real possibility. The presiding judge had once sentenced a man to eight years for breaking into a Pepsi machine.

They once again set their sights on Texas, where their favorite sister, Ruth, offered them refuge in a little town outside Houston. Her husband once worked for the feds, she said, and he might help them create new identities.

A month before their court date, they began quietly selling off their belongings at a flea market, and to earn more money for their trip, they found work through a temporary-job service, getting up at 4:00 A.M. to bring in $5.50 an hour picking up trash with a poker at a landfill. Just after lunch every day they would report to a factory where, for twelve hours, they would stack magazines onto pallets for $6.50 an hour. They kept up this schedule for a few weeks, until they got so tired that they requested a new assignment, at a linen factory, where they ironed the cloth napkins that were used at local country clubs.

To aid their flight, they bought a midnight-blue 1986 Ford LTD. It was an old squad car, and the used-car dealer who ran the junkyard promised them it would do 140 miles an hour. Allen found a magazine ad that sold identity kits, complete with new birth certificates, new social-security numbers, the works. Patty dyed her hair brown in the sink, and Allen liked it. He decided to shave his sideburns and mustache. They cut out a magazine article entitled “How to Live in Mexico on $14 a Day.” Neither one spoke Spanish, but that didn’t matter.

Allen put his .22 pistol under the car seat in a metal gun box. He had never fired it before. They talked about snatching their kids from the foster parents. “I don’t want kidnapping charges,” Allen said. “But I can dream about it.” They would come back and find the kids when they were eighteen. They’d explain what happened. “We’ll tell them we thought of them every day” Patty said. “And that their birthdays were the hardest.” They packed up the crib, teddy bears, and boxes of clothes for their new baby into a rented U-Haul.

Goodbye, Wisconsin. Allen drove straight through to Abilene, where they unloaded the U-Haul into a storage shed. He had rented the unit since their last stay in Texas, and stored inside was his classic ‘69 Cutlass, the car he’d driven on their first date. Its engine was blown, but Allen wouldn’t part with it.

They headed on down to Shepherd, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where Ruth took them in. She told them they could stay as long as they needed. The trial date in Wisconsin came and went. Milwaukee seemed a million miles away.

One day in late July, Patty and Allen pulled up to Labor Ready, a temporary-employment office on the outskirts of Houston. They wanted to work so they could chip in for groceries and living expenses at Ruth’s. Pushing open the door, Patty said, “I have a bad feeling about this.” They filled out applications, and after the manager entered their vitals into his computer, he looked up. Without saying a word, he turned and walked into the back office. A minute later, a uniformed police officer walked through the front door. “Do you know there’s a felony warrant for your arrest?” he asked. Patty could feel the baby kick in her stomach. She was six months pregnant. She turned to Allen: “We’re going to lose the baby.”

It was as simple as that, and the rest just hit like a bad dream, stal ting with ten days in a Houston jail and the extradition back to Wisconsin in a van with twelve male prisoners, twelve convicts. Handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. Allen told the driver he was Patty’s husband, and he requested to sit next to his pregnant wife. Patty rode with her head on his shoulder and their fingers intertwined. Along the way, they named the child. The trip took a week. Patty and Allen blamed each other for being caught. The van stopped rarely, and Patty developed a painful urinary infection. Allen watched the clock to ensure that Patty took her prenatal vitamins on time. They ate breakfast and lunch at McDonald’s. At night, they slept in the detox units at county jails.

Back in Milwaukee, the judge was not going to risk losing Patty and Allen again. Locked up on separate floors at the county jail, they began to write letters back and forth. Allen mailed Patty a copy of his mug shot with a note: “Put some toothpaste on the back of it and paste it inside the cover of your Bible so you don’t lose it. We’ll get out of here,” he wrote. “Everything will be all right.”

On October 9, in a quick trial, the Muths were convicted of felony incest. One month later, Patty gave birth. The male deputy who guarded her wanted to shackle her feet to the hospital bed. The doctor said no. Patty was scared and in pain. She cried out for her brother. Their newborn daughter weighed six pounds nine ounces. Patty phoned the chaplain and asked him to call Allen at the jail. “Tell him she’s got his red hair and blue eyes.”

Eight hours later, Patty returned to the operating room for a tubal ligation. A female deputy stood by during the procedure and nearly fainted from the blood. Patty was scheduled for sentencing in two days, and she had been led to believe that voluntary sterilization might be viewed favorably by the court. She believed it was the only way to keep her baby and avoid going to prison.

Patty got to stay with her baby in the hospital for twenty-four hours. She could take two Polaroids. When she returned to the county jail, she was given ice packs to put on her breasts to keep her from producing milk.

In court for sentencing, Allen saw Patty for the first time since the birth. Her eyes were swollen, and he wanted to put his arms around her. He did not yet know that Patty had been sterilized. He had refused to let them cut him. He’d written to Patty from his cell: “Don’t do it. They can’t sterilize us.”

But the judge spoke up, and he was complimenting Patty about her decision to submit to sterilization, and how that registered as a good-faith gesture on her part, and Patty nodded her head and kept looking over at Allen because, bless him, he didn’t know anything about it, and Allen looked like he might just crumple to the floor, might just die. Patty was pleading to him with her eyes: Baby, I did it for us. But Allen felt like it was over. They could do just about anything to him now. He didn’t care anymore.

"I believe severe punishment is required in this case," the judge said. "I think they have to be separated. It’s the only way to prevent them from having intercourse in the future, and I believe prison is called for."

The judge asked if the age difference didn’t prove that Allen had dominated Patty in the same way that a father might victimize his daughter. Allen’s lawyer shrugged, saying that he knew couples of even greater age difference who are happily married, including his own daughter and her husband. Give them probation, the attorney argued. They’ve been punished enough. They can never again see or hold their children.

PATTY WAS SENT TO the maximum-security unit at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Among her fellow inmates are two women who microwaved their babies. Allen was sent to Dodge Correctional Institution, another maximum-security prison, twenty-five miles across cornfields from Patty where every day he hears the taunts: “Hey, did you fuck your sister today?” “Hey, maybe I can take a whack at your sister.”

Allen writes to Patty every night. He illustrates his letters with pale-blue tulips and red roses. On one envelope, he draws with colored pencils a pair of swans, their necks bowed toward each other, the empty space between them forming a heart. When she receives the letters, she holds them to her face and breathes them in, and she rubs her fingers over his drawings. In their Bibles, they both keep photographs of all their children, including the Polaroid of their last child, Lisa, taken moments after her birth. One afternoon, watching Jerry Springer on TV, Patty saw a father who’d had a child with his daughter. Patty called her attorney “Why are they on TV, and I’m in here?”

Allen is scheduled to remain in his maximum-security prison until 2005. Patty will get out first. She says that she will wait for him. Like in a movie, she will have the car parked outside the prison gate. They will drive out of Wisconsin. They will start again.

[Footnote]*All children’s names have been changed

Daniel VollEsquire. New York: Jul 1998. Vol. 130, Iss. 1;  pg. 122, 8 pgs

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    An American family: Daniel Voll profiles Patty Muth and Allen Muth, the first brother and sister sent to prison for...
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