The death of Chester Lee Miller

By WND Staff

It’s the kind of story that makes you feel ashamed to be a human being, that makes you want to put your head down and cry, that makes you want to grab someone by the collar and beat some sense into them or maybe beat them senseless.

Last week, Florida newspapers published the story of 18-year-old Chester Lee Miller. On Sept. 21, Chester knocked on a perfect stranger’s door in Milton, Fla. When Janice Goodman opened her door what she saw was a sight straight out of the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. There was Chester, 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 69 pounds. His eyes were sunken deep into their sockets, and had dark circles around them. His skin had a sickly pale pallor to it. There were purplish bruises on his hands and arms.

Chester, who could barely stand, told Goodman that he had come from Hazelton, Pa. to Florida alone by bus, riding for over 24 hours. He said he had been looking for his father, who he thought lived somewhere nearby. Now he was tired and he asked if he could come inside and “rest a little” and perhaps take a shower. Goodman invited Chester in and gave him something to drink and eat. But Chester was unable to hold anything down. Goodman and her mother saw that the boy was quite ill and called 911.

Chester died four days later in the Santa Rosa Medical Center. The results of an autopsy revealed that Chester died from the combined effects of abuse and starvation.

Before his death, Chester told Florida law-enforcement investigators that he “had begged for food and money” in bus stations along the route to Florida, but police said that “people ignored his pleas.” Chester also told police that in Pennsylvania he had “been beaten every day” and “not allowed to leave his house.”

Chester’s stepfather, Paul Hoffman Sr., “despised him,” according to Chester’s mother, “because [Chester] was my husband’s son.” Lyda Miller told police in Hazelton that she put her son on a bus bound for Florida because she was “afraid for my life” and of what Hoffman might do to Chester. She said that Hoffman “didn’t feed the boy” and prevented her from giving him any food. Miller said that Hoffman also frequently made Chester “stand in the corner all day.”

Police in Pennsylvania have charged Lyda Miller and Paul Hoffman Sr. with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. Those charges, police now say, may be upgraded to include homicide.

The Standard-Speaker newspaper in Hazelton reported on Sept. 26 that Penny Miller, Lyda Miller’s niece, said, “I never knew [Chester] to be a bad kid. He was well-disciplined, but a little slow.”

Pennsylvania police report that Chester didn’t attend school and “had no friends.” They said that their investigation revealed that Chester’s mother and stepfather “hardly ever fed the boy anything but table scraps” and “made him stay in his locked room.”

Contacted by the Pensacola News Journal, Robert Lee Miller, Chester’s father, who lives in Milton, declined to talk about his son, but did say, “Chester was a sweet, kind boy who trusted people and touched so many lives with his personality.” The News Journal did not report why Chester had been unable to find his father in Milton.

On Sept. 25, Robert Miller told Pennsylvania reporters that he sent Chester to live with “his mother because I couldn’t provide him with a family. … I thought I was doing something good.” Miller said that when Chester left for Pennsylvania he was “healthy and weighed about 100 pounds.” Said Miller, “He was always skinny like me.”

The death of Chester Miller is a national tragedy. It is a tragedy that plays itself each and every hour, day, week and month of the year in America. And as much as anyone hates to admit, Chester Miller’s death will make little difference in America’s recurring tragedy. Today in America, the story of abused, beaten and murdered children has become all too commonplace.

Anyone taking exception with this should first seriously ponder the recent cases of “Precious Doe” and Rilya Wilson. Precious Doe’s body was found over a year ago in Kansas City, Mo. The 4-year old girl’s head had been severed from her naked body, both of which were thrown into a wooded area. She has yet to be identified by police. The circumstances of her death remain a mystery.

Rilya Wilson, 5, vanished from her Miami, Fla., foster home in January 2001. The state of Florida’s child protection agency didn’t notice that she was gone for months. Rilya, whose name is an acronym for “remember I love you always,” is still gone. Nobody has a clue about what happened to her.

It’s a tired cliche to write that today’s youth are this country’s promise for a better and brighter future, but it’s the truth. That promise can come from no other place. Chester Miller’s death, along with the cases of Precious Doe, Rilya Wilson and countless other children, makes the future a lot less brighter for all of us.

H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative reporter and writer who lives in Florida.