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San Jose Mercury News (CA)
December 9, 1992
Author: S.L. WYKES, Mercury News Staff Writer
A Palo Alto child psychiatrist who told police his daughter may be behind an alleged conspiracy to murder him charted the course of her psychiatric illness and accusations of sexual abuse in court Tuesday.
In a low, sometimes hesitating voice, Dr. Saul Wasserman testified that until April 1991, he and his wife Judith had had a good relationship with their only child, Rachel, 22. But two weeks after she attended an April 1991 anti-rape rally, where she accused someone of raping her, the Columbia University student began experiencing serious psychiatric problems, he said.
“She appeared to have gotten swept up . . . and was experiencing great emotional distress,” said Wasserman, an associate professor at Stanford University and director of the Pacific Center for Child/Adolescent Family Mental Health in San Jose.
When he and his wife arrived in New York to be with Rachel, Wasserman said, “she was not sleeping, was overtly paranoid, experiencing periods of hallucination and was having difficultly maintaining her thoughts in an organized way.”
Wasserman’s testimony came on the third day of a preliminary hearing in Palo Alto Municipal Court to determine whether two American-born Israeli brothers, Austin and Scott Feld, will be held for trial on charges that they conspired to murder Wasserman and his wife. When 38-year-old Austin Feld was arrested Nov. 19 less than a mile from the Wassermans’ Palo Alto home, he told police he was Rachel’s psychologist. Friends have since described him as a rabbi and psychologist.
In one of his jacket pockets, police found three hand-drawn diagrams of the Wassermans’ home and neighborhood, which Wasserman said were drawn by Rachel. They also found a key that fit the doors to the Wasserman house as well as family photographs.
Scott Feld, 36, a sheep farmer, told police he was touring the United States after attending a family celebration in New York. Both men are being held in county jail without bail.
Although the Wassermans told police about their daughter’s mental illness, the accusations of sexual abuse and two telephone death threats she allegedly made against them, Tuesday was the first time either had spoken publicly about what happened.
Rachel is a student at a religious institute in Jerusalem. She has not been charged in the case, although prosecutors are still investigating her possible involvement. Her parents have hired an attorney to represent her, but she remains in Israel.
Because of her emotional difficulties following the anti- rape rally, her father testified, Rachel Wasserman accompanied her parents home to Palo Alto. Wasserman said he took afternoons off to be with her, her mother took mornings off, and Rachel received therapy four times a week. She was quite depressed, her father said, but gradually her medication was reduced and her depression seemed to lighten.
At the end of the summer, he took her back to Columbia, he said, helped her move into a dorm and then went to visit her maternal grandfather, who was to have major surgery.
Ten days later, the grandfather died suddenly and the family was together for his memorial service.
It was obvious then that Rachel was experiencing anxiety, her father said, but it hadn’t yet affected their relationship. But shortly after her grandfather’s death, she started to deteriorate and changed therapists twice, Wasserman testified. A therapist prescribed Xanax, a tranquilizer, and Prozac, an anti-depressant.
”The issue was whether she was struggling with a delayed reaction to rape or a breakdown,” Wasserman said. His daughter began seeing a therapist, a “trauma specialist,” who supported the diagnosis of a delayed reaction to rape and who also encouraged his daughter to explore the possibility of previous trauma.
Soon after, he said, Rachel told her parents that her dead grandfather had sexually abused her. “We didn’t know what to make of it,” said Wasserman. “We chose to accept what she said.”
Then in December, Rachel accused her mother of sexual abuse and cut off contact with her, although her father went through “a period of time of trying to sort this out with her,” he said.
In April, “she started to accuse me,” he said, and completely cut off contact with him.
In earlier testimony, a Palo Alto police detective said he had been called by Seth Jones, a high school classmate of Rachel’s, who described a telephone conversation he’d had with Rachel following a visit with her in April, the same month she accused her father of abusing her.
Jones said Rachel repeated her allegations of abuse and asked if he knew how she could hire someone to kill somebody, testified Officer Michael Yore.
When Jones replied that such talk was “crazy” and asked why she would want to do something like that, Yore said, she allegedly replied, “I really hate my parents.”
Record Number: 9203290866
Copyright (c) 1992 San Jose Mercury News