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Minnesota man accused of molesting children in 1970s; defendant's wife also named in suit

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BRAINERD, Minn. -- A Crosby man is being accused of molesting two children — a brother and a sister — in the early 1970s at his wife’s in-home day care in Minneapolis.

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The brother and sister, Kelly (Crandall) Appel and Joel Crandall, who live in Wisconsin, filed the lawsuit Feb. 6 in Crow Wing District Court against Howard J. and Joanne L. Blanchar of Crosby. The suit contends Joanne L. Blanchar negligently permitted her husband to watch the children.

Vince Stevens, an attorney representing Appel and Crandall, said the victims have struggled all their lives trying to deal with what happened to them while at the Blanchars’ day care. Stevens said when the Legislature revised its statutes of limitation in child sexual abuse cases last summer -- extending the time period when victims could press charges -- the brother and sister decided it was time to file the suit against the Blanchars.

Attorney Jim Whelpley, who is representing the Blanchars, said the Blanchars deny the child abuse allegations. Whelpley said the case against the Blanchars is complicated, as it goes back about 40 years.

“We have plaintiffs who think they remember things,” Whelpley said. “We’ve been investigating and the things they remember are not possible. ... At this stage we are not finished with the investigation, but it appears what they say happened could not have happened.”

Stevens said this is not a case about money, as the Blanchars are retired and there is “nothing at the end of the tunnel.” He said the case is about doing the right thing. Stevens said Crandall and Appel want what happened to them to come to light so it doesn’t happen to other children.

The plaintiffs are asking for more than $50,000 plus attorney fees and other relief the court deems just and equitable.

A jury trial has been scheduled for September.

Besides testimony from Crandall and Appel at the trial, Stevens said three others, who are family members of the Branchars, will testify about their own alleged sexual abuse they encountered with Howard Blanchar. Stevens said the state filed felony second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in 2002 against Howard Branchar, relating to instances with family members. But the case was dismissed.

The counts listed in the lawsuit against the Branchars include child sexual abuse, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

According to the complaint filed against the Branchars by the plaintiffs:

  • From 1972 to 1975, Crandall and his younger sister, Appel, were enrolled in Joanne Blanchar’s in-home child care in northeast Minneapolis. During this time Crandall was 5 to 8 years old and Appel was 3 to 6.
  • Howard Blanchar would watch the two children, as well as other children enrolled in the day care in the mornings, until Joanne Blanchar would get home from her bakery job.
  • During the time period, Howard Blanchar engaged in harmful sexual contact and abuse upon the Crandalls and the other children on many separate occasions.
  • Usually in the mornings, while Joanne Blanchar was still working at the bakery, Howard Blanchar would select which children he would sexually assault that day. He would take one of the children into a separate bedroom and engage in serious sexual conduct. The children would shudder and pray that Howard Blanchar would not choose them on that day. To this day, Joel Crandall carries the guilt that he had hoped Howard Blanchar would pick his younger sister.
  • Howard Blanchar also forced the Crandalls to engage in sexual conduct while in his truck. The Crandalls specifically recall the sexual acts they were forced to perform while confined in his truck.
  • Upon information and belief, Howard Blanchar committed sexual assault against many children for a long period of time, the complaint said.
  • Joanne Blanchar knew or should have known the danger that Howard Blanchar posed to the children. She put her child care children in harm’s way by leaving them alone with her husband.
  •  Joanne Blanchar negligently permitted her husband to watch her child care children and commit sexual assaults against them.
  • As a result, the plaintiffs suffered and will continue to suffer great pain of mind and body; severe and permanent emotional distress; physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries.
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