The puzzling case of Genie left scientists confused

Genie Wiley was only 13 years old when the authorities noticed something was really wrong with her. The poor teenager, who was physically and mostly mentally abused by her father, was locked inside a room with no daylight for too many years. Her neglect and condition left her scarred for life. Countless of researchers studied her case and alongside the tragic story, they had some incredible revelations which left them baffled. What happened to Genie Wiley and how did her story ended, is one of the most fascinating and tragic cases in history.

Genie Wiley

It was just another fall day in Temple City, California until a mother who seemed to be fully blind, walked in the welfare office with her daughter hobbling by her side. The staff soon noticed something was off, that the girl who appeared to be a young kid, was  actually 13 years old. It seemed like pure neglect and they decided to call the police immediately. This is how the tragic, dramatic and strange story of Genie Wiley begins.


She was noticed for the first time

Genie became noticeable for the first time in her life, literally, by the authorities in November 1970. That was when the authorities saw that her physical and emotional state is as worse as they had ever seen. Genie was abused on a daily basis by her father, who had left her with a severe eye condition, cataracts and other physical bruises.

image01 (1)

The courage to escape

When Genie’s mother, Irene, finally gathered enough courage to take Genie away from that abusive home, she drove to her parent’s house in Monterey Park. Due to her visual impairment, Irene accidentally entered the wrong office which changed her life and her daughter’s life forever.


Something was wrong

It wasn’t hard to see that there was something completely wrong with Genie as soon as she and her mother walked into the social services office. The worker at the office noticed something weird about Genie.

after courage

The first shocking revelation

The social worker noticed that Genie, who appeared to be a six year old in terms of her appearance, was actually a teenager. You can only imagine how shocked she was to find that out.


The worst case of neglect

After a series of questions, the workers at the social service office decided to contact the police. Following this, Irene and Clarke were arrested and Genie was transferred to the Children’s Hospital on L.A where she was examined. The staff at the hospital soon got to the conclusion that they were dealing with one of the worst cases of child abuse and neglect in the history.



James Kent, a physician who worked at the hospital at the time, was one of the doctors who examined Genie, realized that the 13-year-old was suffering from severe malnutrition as she barely weighed 60 pounds and was less than 5 ft tall. Her motor skills were under-developed and she could barely walk.


She had no voice

That wasn’t all for though and the findings just got worse. Genie couldn’t focus on objects that were far as ten ft away, she couldn’t swallow food aמd basically she had no voluntary control over her urination. At 13 years old, Genie was unable to speak.


The odd case of Genie


Moreover, it was further discovered that poor Genie was incapable of making any kind of sound whatsoever. She didn’t have the basic instincts that most people have as she was unable to shed tears. Instead, when she wanted to make noise, she would just move objects around the room. According to scientific examinations, Genie was not selectively silent. So what is it exactly that happened to Genie?

odd case

How it all began

Irene was 20 years younger than Clarke when the two met. When they got married, she had no idea who her husband was and the kinds of things that ticked him off, for example noise. Genie, the youngest child of the couple, was born in April 1957, and she had one living older brother after tow of the babies her mom gave birth to,died in infancy.

how it all began

In a splint second

Unlike her deceased siblings, Genie, who was five years younger than her older brother John, was quite healthy when she was born. When she was three months old, she was diagnosed with a rare condition of a dislocated hip, a condition which required the poor baby to wear a splint. Obviously, this held her back especially in terms of motor skills and that was when her father had reportedly started to suspect that his daughter was intellectually limited or disabled.


The accident that changed her life

Clarke, who didn’t want to face or recognize his daughter’s disability, withdrew from her and discouraged the other family members to do the same. When Genie turned two years old, everything changed for the worse. Clarke was struck by grief after his mother was killed in a car accident and everything has become overwhelming for him.


Doomed destiny

Experts believed that following the accident, Clarke was led to believe that his family needed protection from the harsh world outside. He moved his family into his late mother’s home. Genie’s destiny was doomed from the beginning, and after moving to the house, everything just went downhill.


Genie in a room

Genie’s father, hid his daughter in a room where she was locked and isolated from the outside world. In that room she was strapped into a straitjacket and was tied to chair. Was was even worse was that she was forbidden to express any sort of emotion – she couldn’t cry nor speak nor make noise. She was abused both mentally and physically.


The roaring 60’s

As we’ve mentioned earlier, this was one of the worst cases of child neglect. In fact, her father went to great lengths to make sure his daughter was kept quiet as he did not like noise . Clarke was imposing silence with what he knew best, his fists and if he thought she was too loud for him, he would even hit her with a piece of wood. Those were the 60’s for Genie.


Too much quiet time

Clarke, who discouraged both his wife and son from contacting or making any sort of a connection with Genie, worsened his daughter’s condition to the point she couldn’t form any type of language. On top of that, he blacked out the windows in her room and kept her in the dark.

quiet time


It’s hard to tell where people find the strength to carry on when they are at the lowest point in their life, but somehow, Irene managed to tell herself ‘enough is enough’ when Genie was about 13 years old. It wasn’t easy for her as she was basically entirely blind and was scared of her abusive husband.

blind sided

Will she get her happy ending?

When Genie eventually came to the authorities’ attention, she was probably hopeful deep inside that her story would have a different ending. However, the way her story was unfolded, wasn’t as hopeful as you may think and Genie’s happy ending is questionable.

a happy ending

Scientifically speaking

Genie’s discovery did provide scientists and researchers the opportunity to search and examine the development of language, the human brain and the evolvement of speech under extreme conditions of isolation.


Irene and Clark

Irene, who found the courage to escape, was later held in prison, and Clark, who was charged with child neglect and abuse was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot. He left a note saying ‘The world will never understand’. Now that both her parents were out of the picture, Genie was at the mercy of the authorities.


Making progress

Genie adapted fairly well to her new surrounding. Physician James Kent was visiting Genie on a regular basis and was trying to maintain in her life and show her some stability. He noted that she was making a lot of progress. She soon started to dress on her own, she was able to focus better and her motor skills improved incredibly.


Step by step, word by word

As time passed by, Genie slowly started to acquire some skills with learning the language. Sure, her vocabulary was still quite basic, but the words that she spoke proved an amazing understanding and grasp of her world and her surrounding. The researchers later came to a fascinating and interesting conclusion.

step by step

The human brain

Linguist Eric Lenneburg hypothesized in 1967 that there is a critical period of time for humans to acquire language skills as well as a certain age when they start to lose the ability to learn a new language. Genie’s discovery set a precedent in the sense of that type of research. His discovery was critical to understanding what Genie was going through.

human brain

Critical time

Lenneburg came to the groundbreaking conclusion that Genie never had the grounds to learn how to speak or acquire those skills to learn a language at that critical time at that critical period of time. Because of that, many had lost hope that she would ever find some peace and improve. Genie proved that although it was later in her life, she could learn a lot.


Home Foster Home

Genie spent most of her youth in foster care but when she was 18 she returned to live with her birth mother. However, Irene soon realized that she couldn’t cope with her daughter’s ‘odd’ situation and was once again placed in different foster homes.


Susan was a ray of light

Susan Curtiss, a linguistics professor at UCLA was one of the researches who was was trying to bond with Genie when she just started working on her case. She used to walk with her and take her shopping so Genie could feel somewhat. The authorities, however, didn’t let her to stay in touch with Genie later.


John, Genie’s brother

After he witnessed his sister being abused for so many years and suffered the worst emotional and physical scars, John’s happy future was doomed. He was once interviewed in 2008 and said ‘I feel at times God failed me. Maybe I failed him.’ The last time he saw his sister was in 1982. John later settled in Ohio and found a job as a housepainter. His daughter, Genie’s niece, Pamela, turned to drugs and died in 2012. John died in 2011 after he was suffering from diabetes his entire life.


The film

While Genie’s life was the furthest thing from the spotlight, literally, an independent movie named Mockingbird Don’t Sing was made based on her story from the perspective of Dr. Susan Curtiss. The film brought to life the story of Genie, the feral child.


A happy ending?

These days Genie is under the care of a facility home in Los Angeles which its location is unknown. The facility for the mentally underdeveloped adults provides Genie the home that she needs. She should be 60 years old today. She is leading a simple lifestyle and appears to be somewhat happy, however her communication is still very limited as she only speaks a few words.



Genie’s case is one of the most studied cases in the field of language acquisition and underdeveloped linguistic skills and her story enchanted many researches around the world. If anyone could find some sort of peace in Genie’s tragic story, is that.