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The Pseudoscience of Attachment Therapy and the Tragic Death of Candace Elmore (Newmaker)

Written By: Naomi

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Child Death, and Child Neglect.

Authors Note: I am a trained mental health professional (specifically in the state of Colorado which is important for this case) so I am sharing what information I have that is relevant since this is riddled with unethical "therapy" practices and injustice by the system to Candace's birth family.


Candace Tiara Elmore was born November 19th, 1989 in Lincolnton, North Carolina to Angela and Todd Elmore. Angela was a teen mother who had been in and out of the foster system all her life and wanted to prove she could have a better family than the one she had been born into, she married Todd Elmore when she was 17 but she only did so to leave her mother who had a very similar upbringing in foster homes after she was abandoned by her own mother. Angela did not love Todd who was 23 when they married, he was described as a violent man with a history of petty crimes that continued into their marriage. Angela planned the birth of Candace and did everything for her arrival to make sure she would be a happy, healthy, and bright child. Candace was surrounded by love from the moment she was born and the man Angela’s mother married was there to support her and Candace anyway he could, being very involved in the early years of her life and even gave her her middle name of Tiara. Angela and Todd had two more children, Chelsea in 1991 and Micheal in 1992; Angela was working very hard to support her young family and went between many jobs while attempted to go to school but all attempts were interfered with by Todd who could not hold down a job and lied often about his intentions, over the years when money became tight, Todd would go to the pawn shop and sold Candace’s high chair and Angela’s wedding ring among other things. Regardless they always made sure the children had food, were clothed, had a home, and were loved.

Police responded often to domestic dispute calls at the home and police charged Todd with assaulting Angela on at least one occasion but charges were dropped since Angela couldn’t make it to court on time to testify against him. There is no documentation on Todd’s attacks on Angela since the police department has destroyed these files. Angela made the very strong and very dangerous choice to leave Todd and take her children with her in 1992, she was taken into a women’s shelter where Candace celebrated her third birthday. Even from an early age Candace had a big personality and a temper to match, she protected her mother and all siblings would try to stop their father from hurting their mother but Candace would be the one to hit him right back. Candace’s behavior mirrored that of her mothers when she was growing up. Angela’s mother Mary had been bounced between 16 foster homes total and when Angela was in the system she stayed with 10 foster families, one for, “disturbed children”. Angela speaks of the abuse she endured in these homes and the punishments she was given that were incredibly inhumane because she knew, to these people, she was a paycheck in the end. Angela had violent outbursts and was labeled as mentally ill by the state who offered her some treatment but dropped her at the age of 18. Because of this history and the label of being mentally ill, social services kept a close eye on her, Todd, and the children, eventually taking the kids away from Angela and placing them too in foster care. Angela tried to go to court to get her children back but the judge determined that Candace’s angry outbursts in foster care were similar to her mother’s and simply stated, “like mother,like daughter”. Officials never explained why the children were removed from Angela’s care and the family feared Todd Elmore would try to take the children, so they made the hard decision to terminate parental rights hoping that she would be adopted into a family who could support her and give her a better life than they could offer. Candace spent the next 2 years in the system until she was adopted by Jeane Elizabeth Newmaker.

Jeane came from a small town but her grandparents owned a mansion and the Newmaker family was well known. She graduated with honors from high school and went to University where she received her masters degree in nursing. She was described by classmates as a busy person but did not come across as snobbish, she was bossy and reminded people of a drill sergeant. Jeane went on to be a pediatric nurse practitioner and wanted to be a single mother, even at the age of 40. On June 14, 1996 Candace was renamed Candace Elizabeth Newmaker and was brought to her new 5 bedroom home with a large lawn in a golf course neighborhood. Jeane took two months off to ensure Candace settled in and would feel welcomed; her devotion impressed the parents of Candace’s new friends. She was sent to the top school in the district since Jeane could have only the best for her new daughter, teachers at the school remember Candace would snap at other kids but was easy to love and a delight to have in class. One teacher remembers on the first day of class that he could hear Candace outside his classroom, fearfully talking to Jeane about him, “There is a boy in there, I don't like boys.” Candace said, but she never displayed any behavioral issues in class. She did not forget about her birth family however and when she designed a poster about her life, she mentioned her younger brother and sister she had left behind. This caused her to be bullied by the other children for being adopted and they told her she was lying about having siblings.

Jeane made sure Candace could do whatever she wanted, signed her up for various activities and she spent time with her friends. She was mischievous and didn’t show much affection, but teachers all knew this was normal for children her age and she still impressed everyone with how adult she acted at times. She showed high levels of compassion and empathy for those around her that exceeded what would be normal for a child - these can signs of anxiety in children or specifically that they have experienced trauma and that they have had to grow up quickly to deal with the situations they are put in. Candace would play with a girl in her neighborhood a few years younger than her and tutor her but there was one occasion where she told her that she was very lucky to be in a family that loved her, when the younger girl needed further clarification, Candace explained she had been adopted and she had been born from her mother's heart because she wanted her, and that, “sometimes mama’s don't want their children.”

While others saw a well behaved child, the story was very different in the home. Jeane had hoped she could provide a stable home for Candace but found that she would not look Jeane in the eye, hold her, or allow her to show affection, some of her behavior was even described as “assaultive” so she proceeded to take Candace to various professionals. She would act wonderful to outsiders, but would become moody at home and act like a teenager. She was taken to specialists in ADD and PTSD as well as doctors and therapists who prescribed her medications. This did not help with Candace’s behavior and her adoptive mother actually felt that she was getting worse and would allegedly now play with matches in the home and purposefully kill goldfish.

William Goble who was a licensed psychiatrist was speaking at a conference in Virginia on Reactive Attachment Disorder in 1999. Reactive Attachment disorder (RAD) is caused when a child or newborn does not form a secure or healthy connection to their parents or caretakers, sometimes children presented like they feared their caretakers even in situations where the parents are shown to be nurturing and loving. This is most commonly found in infants 9 months old to children 5 years of age who experienced multiple traumatic events in early life or were emotionally or physically abused or neglected. The likelihood of a child developing RAD increases when they have been taken away from caretakers they already had a healthy bond with, had been in multiple foster homes, or had been in an orphanage. This disorder leads to them struggling with creating connections later in life or having troubles controlling or managing their emotions and describe often feeling alone, irritable, or sad. Goble explained how this disorder harmed children and how it could be treated. He was approached by Jeane after his presentation who was begging for his help, she had traveled to Virginia to speak to him and see if he could tell her what could be done to help Candace. Goble felt that this mother was set on the RAD diagnoses for her daughter after she explained what had happened since the adoption. Goble felt that, based off what Jeane was describing, Candace had a “fairly severe” case and referred Jeane to Conell Watkins who had first taught him about Reactive Attachment Disorder and specialized in attachment therapy. At her practice he had watched the treatment given to children who were hard to manage and had been diagnosed with RAD. He assured Jeane he had referred dozens of others to the same treatment and that it would be the best place to take Candace.

Hoping to get her adoptive daughter the care she felt she needed the two traveled to Evergreen, Colorado in April 2000 when Candace was 10 for an intensive therapy treatment that promised to help with Candace’s behavioral problems, rage, and form a stronger bond between her and her adoptive mother in two weeks for $7,000. The sessions would be conducted by Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder as well as “therapeutic foster parents” Brita St. Clair and Jack McDaniel, Jeane Newmaker would assist in some of the sessions as needed. The attachment Center at Evergreen had allegedly helped parents for decades with unruly children and trained therapists on how to work with RAD. The practice was based in attachment therapy which is pseudo science at best that is mainly found in Evergreen, Colorado. It can be referred to as, “rage reduction”, “re-birthing”, “Compression therapy” “corrective attachment therapy” and coercive restraint therapy. This “therapy” is mainly used on adopted or fostered children with behavioral problems described as disobedience, lack of gratitude, or lack of attachment or affection to foster or adoptive parents. By restraining the child the goal is to cause rage and despair until the child breaks and they are sent into an “infantile state” or age regression where they can be more easily re-parented through being cradled, bottle fed, and being forced to maintain eye contact. In this "therapy", control over the child is the main focus and "therapy" emphasizes obedience since it is believed that a child who is attached to their parents should always comply with their parents demands. This treatment was also used on children with autism for a period of time since it was considered at one point that autism came from the failure of connecting to the mother, an idea that has obviously been discredited.

This "therapy" should not be confused for attachment theory and attachment based therapy! Attachment based therapy is a type of family therapy where a mental health professional helps a parent and child heal a part of their relationship that has been harmed in order to build a secure emotional connection, this has been mainly used with teenagers who are experiencing depression and/or suicidal ideation. Treatment in attachment based therapy reframes the relationship and focuses on finding what damaged trust in the family unit then finding the adolescents strengths and helping them understanding why trust had been breached before finally assisting the teenager in finding autonomy and helping parents adjust in this phase of both giving the child space and supporting them through hardships while teaching them to take responsibility.

Treatment in attachment therapy could not be more different, traumatic, and harmful to such an extent that the American Professional Society of Abuse of Children (APSAC) did an investigation into “holding therapy” and procedures where coercive, aversive, and restraining measures were taken. These included aversive tickling, punishments in the form or restricting access to food, water, and the restroom, barring social interactions or connections outside of those with the parental figure, and encouraging the child to regress to an infant state. This treatment was popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s when there was a large influx of older orphans being adopted, usually from Eastern European and third world countries. At this same time reactive attachment disorder had also just been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In the early 1980’s holding therapy was used to question children and receive “detailed disclosures” of events experienced when investigating allegations of satanic ritual abuse but was found to just re-traumatize children and the forced bonding efforts after the therapy did not produce affection or love for parents but would instead create obedience out of fear and a connection more closely related to that of Stockholm syndrome. The parenting techniques given to build a bond with a child after therapy was referred to by some as “German Shepherd training” since they would be forced to be immobile and sit for long periods of time and given little to no food in order to further break them, this was done by foster parents in the program after treatment while the parent was being trained on the techniques for one to two weeks.

In the information that would be given out to those who visited this center with their children for treatment it was described as the child would be held down by two therapists on their laps and they would force eye contact with one therapist until the child broke down sobbing out of rage of being restrained and the therapist would then soothe the child to gain trust and show them they could be controlled and still feel safe. APSAC told a very different series of events that children would endure:

"A central feature of many of these therapies is the use of psychological, physical, or aggressive means to provoke the child to catharsis, ventilation of rage, or other sorts of acute emotional discharge. To do this, a variety of coercive techniques are used, including scheduled holding, binding, rib cage stimulation (e.g., tickling, pinching, knuckling), and/or licking. Children may be held down, may have several adults lie on top of them, or their faces may be held so they can be forced to engage in prolonged eye contact. Sessions may last from 3 to 5 hours, with some sessions reportedly lasting longer... Similar but less physically coercive approaches may involve holding the child and psychologically encouraging the child to vent anger toward her or his biological parent.”

This treatment resulted in adverse affects and trauma in children and caused at least six documented child fatalities.

An example of Attachment Therapy

The conditions mentioned by APSAC were those Candace Newmaker was exposed to when she arrived in Colorado with Jeane. On April 10th, 2000 Candace began therapy with psychiatrist Dr. John Alston. Her medications to regulate her mood and behavior would change multiple times over the following two weeks of therapy and she was no longer given her medications for depression and ADD that she had previously been taking. All her medications were given to her on a schedule daily by the foster father in the home they were staying in and Candace was instructed to refer to him as “Daddy Jack”, Jack McDaniel had no medical training and was being paid $700 to write a report on Candaces progress for a therapist and he described Candace as, "entirely gone" when under the influence of the mixture of medication she was being put on. In the first week of therapy the team felt they had already had a break through, Candace had undergone a three hour session where she had been wrapped up in a sheet with her head exposed and Jeane had laid across her to form a cross, after that she was released from the sheet and Jeane sat in a chair where Candace was then told to crawl to her, lay in her lap like an infant and be fed by Jeane from a plate. Jeane, finally being allowed by Candace to hold her, sobbed uncontrollably as she fed her.

On April 19th, they moved on to the next stage of therapy. Re-birthing. Candace was notably tired and had been suffering from nightmares where her birth mother was killing her by dropping her out of a window. The therapist takes advantage of the young girl’s nightmare and tells Candace that Jeane loves her, and wouldn't she like to be reborn to her. Candace agrees. The therapy session is being filmed on this day and documents when Candace is being told she will need to be born again and that it will be a hard process. She removes her shoes and socks and is rolled up tightly in fetal position in a sheet, she is told she must crawl out of the birth canal to be born to her new mother. Another blanket is wrapped around her, but this one covers her head. Therapist Connell Watkins sits near Candace’s feet and therapist Julie Ponders holds the sheet closed by Candace’s head. Foster parents Jack McDaniel and Brita St. Clair sit on either side of Candace’s chest and back. Jeane sits by Julie Ponders waiting for Candace to be “born” and is instructed to aim her words at the opening Candace will crawl out through. Then the four adults weighing a total 673 pounds push in on 70 pound Candace.

(TW: Very graphic details and abusive language ahead)

She struggles to get out of the sheets for 10 minutes before giving up and telling them, “I cant do it, I cant do it. I cant breathe, I cant breathe.” then tells them she is going to die and she needs air. The therapists continue to push against the girl and tell her that it is part of being reborn, that it is a hard process. At this, the adults pushed even harder. Candace begs them again to stop pushing because she cannot breathe. A little later she says “Ok, I'm dying. Im sorry.” The therapists yell back at her, “You want to die? Ok, then die. Go ahead, die right now.” They do no stop pushing against her and Jeane feels rejected, feeling that Candace does not want to be born to her, but is reassured by Ponders that this was normal and that unattached children were manipulative and lied to get out of being reborn by saying they couldn't breathe or needed to go to the bathroom, that they needed to carry on to show her who was in control.

20 minutes later Candace speaks up again “Please, you said you would give me some oxygen.” and shortly after she vomits and tells the adults. “Im throwing up, i just threw up. I gotta poop” To which they simply tell her, “Go ahead” and when she does Watkins tell her “Stay there with your poop and vomit.” Half an hour later Candace has gone silent again so the therapists tell her to scream for her life. Candace gags again and defiantly tells them no. Ponders, not pleased with this response, pushes harder on Candace’s head with her whole body telling the others there needed to be more pressure where she would need to exit from so she would have to fight for air. Another 10 minutes pass before Jeane asks Candace if she wants to be reborn. Again, Candace says no.. Ponder mocks her again at this, telling her over and over that she is a quitter and says, “She is stuck in there with her own puke and poop.” as time goes on they reach inside the blankets to check her breathing but Watkins reassures her she is breathing fine. Another 30 minutes later they reach in again, joke about how sweaty she is, and do not bother to check her breathing, they joke that they could continue this session forever. 10 minutes go by and they finally decide to end the 70 minute session and unwrap Candace. Watkins is the first to speak, “Oh there she is, Shes sleeping in her own vomit” Its only when Candace does not move or respond do they realize she is blue and not breathing.

Paramedics that arrive on scene notice blood on Candaces nose and that she is cold to the touch and realize she had not been breathing for a while. The therapists tell the paramedics that it was because Candace had been left alone for a few minutes during a re-birthing therapy that caused her to stop breathing. They see further signs of asphyxiation and are able to bring back a very faint heartbeat. She is taken to children's hospital and survives the night but by morning, she is pronounced brain dead and she later dies. The cause of death is listed as mechanical asphyxiation.

Jeane leaves the state and returns home, the cause of Candace’s death is not revealed to anyone and many think that she died in some freak accident. There are many memorial services for her. It was not until the therapists were arrested on May 18th and 19th that the circumstances hit the media and the truth was exposed to the town a month later. The case horrified parents and they kept the news from their children while trying to understand how such a thing could happen. Jeane refused to make a comment to the press on what occurred.

The therapists and the foster parents in this case were all charged with knowingly or recklessly committing child abuse resulting in death to which all four pleaded not guilty. The foster parents plead not guilty to Candace’s death, they had known the therapists for 10 years and believed they knew what they had been doing; they also felt they were not guilty since they both had been out of the room with Jeane when Candace had been unwrapped and were watching the remainder of the session on a monitor. A year later they plead guilty and were given a ten year probation sentence with 1,000 hours of community service in a plea bargain.

During the trial therapists Connell Watkins and Julia Ponders were shown to not of had licenses to practice therapy and the video tape of the session was used against them. There is now a gag order on the video so that it would not cause a public outcry. Watkins and Ponders were found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Interestingly, Candace is not the first child to have died under Watkin’s care. 1990 a 13 year old girl died of an aspirin overdose while in her care for attachment therapy. This death was ruled a suicide and there was a wrongful death lawsuit but there was nothing concrete enough for the state grievance board to discipline Watkins on but did write a letter where they expressed concerns for the supervision methods used at the treatment center.

Jeane Newmaker was charged with child abuse resulting in death which is considered a lesser felony and should she be found guilty she would only faces 4 to 16 years in prison. Jeane surrendered to this charge on May 24th and was given a four year suspended sentence, after that the charges would be expunged from her record - a convenient thing to ask for given her career.

It was later in September that Candace’s birth mother Angie was finally contacted. She had been holding out hope that one day Candace may come back to her, but instead she was heartbroken to learn her daughter had been killed. The news shook the family and her anger was directed at social services for taking her daughter, and at Jeane for trying to play god and rebirth her daughter. Angie asks many questions that also haunts those who investigate this case. How could Jeane who was a licensed pediatric nurse trust unlicensed therapists? How could adults who knew it was common knowledge that binding and smothering a child was not safe continue this practice? And how could they just ignore the please of a child who could not breathe and idly stand by as she died? Angie had told the social workers that if they took Candace away they would kill her, Angie's own time in the foster system had showed her how terrible people could be first hand. The secrecy of the whole system is designed to protect those who abuse their power and the children caught up in it or completely neglect them. The system has now completely erased the identity of Candace Tiara Elmore, she was never born. And in Colorado there is a death certificate for Candace Elizabeth Newmaker.

Watkins tried and failed to make an appeal to the court and was let out on parole in 2008 after serving seven years of her 16 year sentence with the restriction on contact with children or any type of counseling work.

The outrage of this situation was not lost thankfully, in Colorado and North Carolina the Candace Law was passed that outlaws the practice of rebirthing and any restraining therapy.

Sources: Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post, Cleveland Clinic, Good Therapy

(A/N: I warn that if you do go and look at these sources to do so with caution, some of them do get pretty in depth about her death)

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