To most of us, the mere mention of the word “incest” strikes us and stops us dead in our tracks. It’s immediately repulsive to most human beings the world over, and its taboo status reflects this. Incest may not be illegal in every society, but it is, at the very least, socially unacceptable virtually everywhere. But it does still happen today, all around the world.
Freud had a lot to say about incest, sometimes going as far as to suggest it was innate, an outgrowth of persons under certain forms of environmental and psychological distress, and this actually may not be too far from the truth. No matter what your thoughts, feelings, intuitions, or gut inclinations about incest, sometimes, in the course of human history, it has been very necessary when mating opportunities were scarce, and it’s a very real part of our history as a species.
One of the most infamous cases of incest revolves around a group of people from Canada known as the Goler clan, and they remain one of the weirdest and most horrifying examples of the practice in human history. Here are ten disturbing facts about this incestuous clan, so you can see for yourself.
The story begins in a place called South Mountain in Nova Scotia, Canada. Today, South Mountain serves as a recreational place for hiking, camping, sports, and many other activities. Go back to the 19th century, and South Mountain was home to the Goler clan, poor mountain people who very rarely saw outsiders and mainly kept to themselves. This set the stage for the unspeakable crimes which would eventually be uncovered in the 1980s.
Inbreeding can have some pretty nasty effects on the offspring of such unions, especially over consecutive generations, and incest was a major part of the background of the Goler clan. As a result, many of the people of the clan suffered physical and mental deficiencies. The reason for this is the way the genes mix. When the DNA of two relatives mix, the chances become greater that recessive genes for various defects or disorders which normally will be expressed, thus causing problems in the offspring. This gets worse over time, and the people of that remote Nova Scotian mountain range were no exception.
The group lived in two dilapidated houses and remained off the radar by sticking to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle within their extremely remote territory. They collected welfare checks and would sometimes work for nearby farms, but they were otherwise almost entirely removed from society. The Goler clan remained so remote through the generations by supplementing themselves through the habits of the ancient and prehistoric humans, by fishing, hunting, and gathering nuts, fruits, and berries for subsistence. The labor was divided; children did the small chores and such, while the adults handled other tasks and collected their welfare checks.
The adults of the Goler clan, over a dozen in all, had little education, which possibly played a critical role in the abuses which were to follow. The children, on the other hand, actually attended school, so there was a deep divide in the attitudes and perceptions, as well as the age, of the people of this mountain clan. Schools are institutional centers where our children not only learn the basics of math, science, and other academic subjects but also interact with one another and learn how to conduct themselves morally and within the greater societal framework. This was almost wholly lost on the adults of the Goler clan, and it shows.
Sexual assaults were taking place behind the metaphorical closed doors of the clan’s areas. Investigations would reveal that the adults were sexually exploiting the children in the most horrifying of ways. There were allegations of torture, sodomy, and physically violent sexual abuse of the children by the adults. It’s the most horrifying of thoughts, that young children were actually trapped and preyed upon by grown adults, their own family, who held total power over them. Far removed and isolated from society at large, exposed, terrified, naked, and afraid in the rural mountains, these children had seemingly no chance of escape.
In all, there were over 130 sexual abuse charges of various sorts brought against the adults. Ultimately, 13 of them would go to prison for their crimes.
Sadly, before the sexual abuse allegations came to light to the public at large, the children cried out for help to adults outside the clan. Their cries fell on deaf ears, reinforcing the idea that we should take all accusations of sexual assault seriously. From approximately 1980, several of the children, on multiple occasions, tried to notify adults of the pain, torture, and sexual abuse they were enduring back in the wilderness of South Mountain at the hands of only partially competent adults who’d been inbred for generations.
Worse still is that the children were often returned to the clan with no investigation. And then their family would punish them for talking. For no less than four long years, this went on as children tried to escape, trapped by family members who were abusing them and dismissed by adults who should have helped. Then, their big break finally came . . .
Then, in 1984, everything changed when one of the children, a 14-year-old, managed to get a school official to pay attention to her story, which detailed the monstrous allegations of sexual abuse, torture, rape, and punishment at the hands of the Golers. The girl broke down in tears and cried as she told her story. She revealed that she was being raped ten to 15 times per month. The teacher had to do something.
These allegations got the attention of the Canadian police, who launched an investigation into the clan and found out, much to everyone’s horror and shock, that this had been going on for generations. Forced incest, sexual abuse, and rape—the children were objects to be used for sexual exploitation, and much of the group had come from a long line of inbreeding. This wasn’t an ordinary case of rural inbreeding but rather was forcibly passed down from generation to generation.
The adults didn’t bat an eye during interrogations and investigations—they often openly admitted to it as if there wasn’t a problem and it was just their way of life. A sick, depraved, and macabre tale was being pieced together for detectives with every word the clan members spoke. They even bragged about their sexual conquests with the children, a horrifying nightmare to anyone with common sensibilities and even the slightest hint of moral decency. Even the youngest children were used and abused as sex objects for the adults’ gratification.
Ultimately, 16 adults would be charged with crimes, and 13 would end up behind bars. The community was shocked, and the county sprang into action, while the rest of Canada was shocked at what had gone on in a remote part of their own country. Everyone was glued to the trial, and nobody could take their eyes off of what was happening in this normally quiet section of Nova Scotia. The trial revealed that sexual assault had gone on within this small, tight-knit clan for over a century.
But it all came to a screeching halt the moment those 13 adults were sentenced for their crimes and began to serve their respective terms of one to seven years. Even further adding to the spectacle were the adults’ own mental handicaps, brought by generations of incest. This raises the question: Who’s to blame? Were the adults just victims carrying out the actions they were taught in their youth? Or does some blame lie squarely with them for not knowing on some level that their actions were inherently wrong?
A court psychologist found many members of the Goler clan to be “borderline mentally retarded,” and some of them, even after their stays in prison, still didn’t possess the intellectual capabilities to understand what they’d done wrong—they’d been locked up and had no idea why. This twisted group not only partook in a practice that was hideously taught to the younger generations by the older, but their mental deficiencies got worse and worse as the inbreeding continued. Thankfully, it was stopped when it was.
Watch footage of Golers being interviewed (shown in the video above), and you can easily see the mental deficiencies which permeated the family, and it doesn’t take long before you realize the tragic effects of inbreeding. Several family members couldn’t wrap their limited minds around the idea that they’d done something wrong and often couldn’t comprehend the meaning of the word “incest.” Some believed that the Golers, due to their deficiencies, needed help, not years of punishment.
The Golers had no running water or many of the other luxuries and enjoyments of a modern society, even in the 1980s. One of the family members was completely paralyzed from the neck down and had to live in this minimal, highly impoverished existence. Many of the children just piled onto a small mattress laid on the floor for sleeping, with nothing to do and no socializing outside of the family, aside from school.
In the aftermath of the abuse revelations, a local housing official said that the poverty was not only a contributing factor but the main and root cause of the incest that transpired. This has been true for more people than just the Goler clan—generations of painfully abject poverty, a complete lack of privacy, and the need for survival under such conditions increase the likelihood of incest.
It didn’t take long after the abuse came to public knowledge for the Goler clan to be referred to as a “hillbilly sex ring.” It arguably wasn’t far from the truth. The father of the family would let people have sex with whichever of his children they wanted to in exchange for some material item, such as cigarettes or alcohol. But it was the only woman who was arrested, Stella Goler, who really ran the show, as the Goler clan was set up much like a cult, not unlike that of Jim Jones. Stella was the matriarch of the family which so closely and terrifyingly resembled something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Many of the Golers intermarried with their family members and saw absolutely no problem with this. A man named Roy married Mary Goler, then later married Stella Goler, and then another. Also, a lady named Hazel Pinch married a Goler, and then another, and then another, and then another. And this process had gone on for 120 years. The clan was somewhere in between a sex trafficking ring and a tight-knit cult that managed to conduct these horrible practices for generations. They would have one another’s babies, quite proudly, even the children.
The aftermath was outstanding, and people realized how truly dangerous the isolation of highly rural families can turn out. The children were quite obviously (and thankfully) removed from the home and would be placed into the custody of the state, while the family didn’t even understand what they’d done. When asked what the word “incest” means, one family member stopped and asked, “Insects?” completely baffled by the question.
Donna Goler was was a preteen when the clan’s sexual atrocities were discovered, and she came to terms with the rape and abuse that happened to her as a youth. She would go on to strongly advocate for children’s rights and fight to keep children protected from child predators and pedophiles, making a good thing out of a very bad, disturbing situation. Specifically, she advocated for the law to provide greater protection for the young relatives of convicted child molesters.
Many of the convicted Golers got out of prison and returned to the impoverished conditions which ultimately caused the problem in the first place, with a complete lack of understanding of what was wrong or what needed to change. Sadly, they simply just couldn’t comprehend it; one of the defense attorneys noted that they didn’t even have the slightest clue as to what was happening to them during the court proceedings. No matter what your take is on the Goler clan, the events that transpired for over a century were absolutely tragic, and genetic evidence has proven that it actually happened for that long. Terrifying.
I like to write about the dark and deranged, the macabre and true crime, history, philosophy, and other weird stuff.