The owners of a now-closed girls boarding school in southwest Missouri won’t face a jury on abuse charges for another year and a half. Charged 16 months ago with nearly 100 felony counts of child crimes, Boyd and Stephanie Householder, who operated the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, are scheduled for trial Nov. 27 to Dec. 15 of 2023.
That decision came down at a hearing Monday in Cedar County Circuit Court. “I am extremely relieved that there is now a trial date,” said the couple’s estranged daughter, Amanda Householder, who for several years has been an outspoken critic of religious boarding schools in Missouri and has filed a lawsuit against her parents alleging abuse.
“That day can’t come soon enough.” The Householders weren’t in the courtroom, instead attending through video conference. They’ve been on house arrest for a year. The Householders were arrested in March 2021 on felony child abuse charges. Boyd Householder faces 78 felony charges, including six counts of second-degree statutory rape, nine counts of second-degree statutory sodomy, six counts of sexual contact with a student and 55 counts of abuse or neglect of a child. He also is charged with one count of second-degree child molestation, a misdemeanor.
The charges allege that Boyd Householder, now 73, slammed girls’ heads or bodies against walls, slapped or struck them with his hands, a belt or other objects, shoved one girl’s face into horse manure and poured hot sauce down a girl’s throat.
Stephanie Householder, 57, is charged with 21 felonies, including 11 counts of abuse or neglect of a child and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child. The couple was held without bond until last July, when David R. Munton, presiding judge of the 28th Judicial Circuit, unexpectedly set a $10,000 bond after Boyd Householder said he had COVID-19 and Stephanie Householder said she had a serious blood clot in her foot that if not properly treated could result in amputation.
Their release infuriated former students and child advocates. Former residents who talked to The Star about the reform school described punishment that included withholding food and water and being forced to stand against a wall for hours for even minor infractions.
In September, the Householders asked the judge to loosen their home confinement restrictions. Among the reasons given was that they wanted the freedom to leave their Vernon County home to be able to drive to Walmart for groceries. The couple also asked to be able to go to church on Sundays instead of listening on their phones from home. Munton denied the requests.
Amanda Householder sued her parents in March for forced labor, beating her for their own sexual gratification and making her punish other students at their southwest Missouri boarding school. She alleged that her parents made her work at Circle of Hope as a teenager and help discipline students, including the use of painful physical restraints that sometimes lasted for hours.
She also accused her parents of beating her while she was naked, making her do repeated exercises for hours on end and force-feeding her until she’d vomit, then making her eat it. Some of the childhood abuse, she said, also occurred at Agape Boarding School, where Boyd Householder worked before opening Circle of Hope.
She alleged that Agape’s founder, who died in October, was aware of the abuse for years but did nothing to stop it and failed to report the allegations to authorities. The Householders opened Circle of Hope near Humansville in 2006. They closed it shortly after about two dozen girls were removed amid an investigation in August 2020.
In a September 12, 2020, interview with The Star, the Householders vehemently denied the allegations against them and accused their daughter of wanting to do anything to shut them down. They haven’t spoken to the media since.