Lives intertwine in dark tale
By STEPHANIE GARRY and MELANIE AVE
Published June 24, 2007
March: Candice Farris is wanted in Kentucky on forgery and identity theft charges. Henderson police believe Michael Sisk, her boyfriend, is with her.
December: Farris and Sisk are arrested in Grand Junction, Colo., on more than a dozen charges, including forgery and theft.
Feb. 21: In Clearwater, Sisk is charged with forging a check and Farris is charged with identity theft. Her daughter, Courtney Clark, is placed in state protective custody. Farris is pregnant.
March: Farris is released from jail and gives birth to another daughter, Alize.
April 13: A hearing determines that Farris can get custody of Courtney.
May 16: A caseworker approves Farris to take a trip to Kentucky for her father's funeral but later learns it was a ruse.
June 6: The Sarasota Family YMCA finds Farris has not completed required parenting classes. She is evicted from her St. Petersburg residence at 610 Newton Ave S. Also in June, Farris takes Courtney out of state without caseworker approval.
Sometime in 2006: Portage, Wis., police say Farris meets Michaela Clerc on the Internet through an interest in lesbianism, and Clerc falls in love with her. Sisk and Farris move in with Clerc and her longtime partner, Tammie Garlin, in Sanford.
July 21: Farris is jailed in Colorado, and Courtney is placed with Clerc's mother, Cynthia Martell, in Sorrento.
Aug. 15: A caseworker receives a call from a relative who is worried about Farris abducting Courtney and taking her out of state.
September: Garlin visits her father in Tennessee and brings Farris with her. They sleep in the same bed, and the father assumes they are partners.
Sept. 23: Authorities say Farris persuades Martell to give Courtney back and leaves. Farris, however, says in a jail interview that Martell dropped the girl off in Sanford, saying she could no longer afford to keep her.
Oct. 4: Martell tells the caseworker that Courtney disappeared with her mother.
Oct. 5: A juvenile pickup order is issued for Courtney and sent to Colorado, where her mother has a Oct. 27 court hearing, for which she never shows.
Fall: Neighbors say the group took off suddenly, leaving dogs and belongings behind in Sanford.
Dec. 29: Courtney is entered into Florida's missing children tracking system.
Jan. 23 and 25: A caseworker reports Courtney missing to Pinellas County and Lake County sheriff's officials - the first report to local law enforcement since she disappeared in September.
Feb. 19: Courtney is listed as missing in the Florida Crime Information Center.
Feb. 28: The group moves to Wisconsin to "see snow."
April 8: Farris says violence ensues after Garlin admits to fantasizing about her, which makes Sisk and Clerc jealous.
June 4: Police say Garlin is kicked, dropped on her head and strangled. She is buried in the back yard.
June 14: Cpl. James Vachon, a detective with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, gets a tip from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Courtney could be in Wisconsin, where Sisk has been located through credit reports. He sends teletype to Portage police.
June 14: Police check out the house at 304 W Oneida St. in Portage, where they find two women who give them false names, a 15-year-old and three babies. They later learn of 11-year-old Andrew, found burned, mutilated and starving in an upstairs closet. Questioning leads to the arrests of the two women and teenager. The children are placed in Wisconsin child protective custody.
Police learn about the older children's mother from the 15-year-old and find the mother's body buried in the back yard of the home. Autopsy results show she was strangled.
June 15: Sisk is found in Milwaukee as he waits for a Greyhound bus headed to Kentucky. He is arrested.
June 18: The Florida Department of Children and Families launches an internal review and inspector general's investigation into the handling of the case.
June 26: Law enforcement officials in Columbia County, Wis., file 42 criminal charges against the three adults and the 15-year-old.
June 29: DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth calls the FDLE and Lake County sheriff's detective heroes for helping find the missing child and uncovering the crimes. He vows to find out what went wrong and fix any problems. DCF and the St. Petersburg Times file a petition in Pinellas County Circuit Court to open all child welfare records on the case.
Sources: Portage Daily Register, Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Gleaner in Henderson, Ky., Orlando Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, Columbia County Circuit Court, Sarasota Family YMCA, interviews
Wisconsin authorities are still trying to unravel the tangled story of transients whose travels and multistate crimes ended last week with charges of murder and child abuse in the town of Portage. "I think we've just gotten to the tip of the iceberg, " said Portage police Lt. Mark Hahn.
Authorities say Kentucky natives Michael Sisk and Candice Farris traveled the country for years, stealing identities and cashing forged checks. They met a lesbian couple from Sanford in 2006. The two families, which some have described as a cult, moved to Wisconsin together in February from Seminole County.
Police, working on an investigation into a missing 2-year-old Florida foster child, found on June 14 one of the women buried in the back yard of a two-story home in Portage and her 11-year-old mutilated son quaking in the closet. They also found the missing toddler and her two younger sisters.
Three of the adults and the dead woman's 15-year-old daughter now face 42 criminal charges including murder and child abuse.
The boy is recovering in a Wisconsin hospital. The other children are in custody of Wisconsin's child welfare system.
And the detective who helped uncover the case is left shaking his head at the gore that was revealed by his hard work. Says Lake County sheriff's detective James Vachon, "It takes my breath away."
Michael Sisk, 25, Madisonville, Ky.
Has a criminal record of fraud in Colorado and Florida. He was briefly jailed in Colorado. He was later arrested in Clearwater for cashing a forged check. The boyfriend of Candice Farris, whom he met about three years ago in Kentucky. He is the father of her two youngest children. Farris said he considered their group of four adults a cult, and police describe him as a "ringleader." He faces 11 charges, including murder and child abuse.
Candice Farris, 23, Henderson, Ky.
Also known as Candace Clark, she was arrested in Clearwater and Sanford last year. She had numerous arrest warrants for forgery and fraud in Kentucky and Colorado. Acquaintances describe her as a smooth talker. She has three children, ages 2 years, 1 year and 3 months. She is accused of abducting the oldest, Courtney, from Florida's foster care system in September. She faces 11 charges, including murder and child abuse.
Courtney Alisa Clark, 2
She is the oldest child of Candice Farris. The state took custody of her in February and again in July when her mother went to jail. Her mother took her from foster care in Lake County in September, but the caseworker didn't report her missing to local law enforcement until January. Farris says the foster mother dropped her off, saying she could no longer afford to care for her.
Tammie Garlin, 36, Immokalee
She had two children, Andrew, 11, and Felicia Mae, 15. Her body was found buried in the back yard of the Portage, Wis., home where the group lived together. Her family said she was mentally incompetent and suffered from seizures. Farris says violence ensued when Garlin admitted to sexual fantasies about her, which angered Sisk and Michaela Clerc, Garlin's lesbian partner.
Michaela Clerc, 20, Sanford
When Farris was arrested in July, the state's foster care system placed 2-year-old Courtney in the care of Clerc's mother, Cynthia Martell. Her mother said she was mentally slow with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Police say Clerc admitted to helping scald Garlin's 11-year-old son. She met Farris on the Internet and fell in love. She faces 11 charges.
Felicia Mae Garlin, 15, Sanford
She is Garlin's daughter. Her grandfather and uncle say she helped her mother during seizures, but she told Wisconsin police that she helped bury her mother and plant flowers over the site. She is being charged on 10 counts, including murder and child abuse.