AP

SEPTEMBER 25, 10:19 ET

Experts Explain Toogood's Culture
By LISA FALKENBERG
Associated Press Writer


AP/Stephen J. Carrera
Johnny Toogood and his wife Madelyne Gorman Toogood listen as their attorney Steve Rosen speaks to reporters Sunday, Sept. 22, 2002, in Tinley Park, Ill. Madelyne, charged with felony battery to a child after being caught on videotape beating her 4-year-old daughter, is expected to appear in court Monday in Indiana.

DALLAS (AP) The tearful testimonial Madelyne Gorman Toogood gave in front of glaring TV cameras after she was videotaped beating her daughter was starkly uncharacteristic of the reclusive, media-shy Irish Travelers culture to which she belongs, experts say.

Toogood, who was caught beating her 4-year-old daughter, Martha, in a department store parking lot, said she is a member of the clannish, nomadic culture of descendants of Irish immigrants, most of whom came to the United States as refugees during the potato famine in the 1840s.

``By nature, they're very reclusive people,'' said Joe Livingston, a South Carolina state investigator who has been tracking Travelers for nearly two decades. ``They tend to shy away from publicity.''

Some law enforcement experts who have studied the culture paint it as a secret society, fond of material wealth evidenced by gaudy jewelry and new vehicles.

Police often associate Travelers with scams involving fraudulent home repair that target the elderly. They tend to use aliases, carry bogus identification cards, and avoid contact with non-Travelers, whom they call ``country folk,'' authorities said.

But professors and academics said the reclusiveness is a defense mechanism against stereotypes and the ancient persecution that has haunted nomadic peoples throughout history. Travelers, who may be Irish, English, or Scottish, have no more criminals among them than any other ethnic culture, experts said.

``If there were, they could not sustain their living,'' said Larry Otway, who began studying Irish Travelers in 1977 and has worked as a paralegal and adviser on court cases involving Scottish travelers.

What the clans in the culture do share, Otway said, is a nomadic lifestyle, a language called ``Scelta'' with roots in Gaelic and Romani, an almost ``pathologic'' devotion to Catholicism, and an anti-bureaucratic form of self government that he describes as a ``consensus democracy.''

The largest Traveler settlement is a group of 3,000 in Murphy Village, S.C., experts said. Toogood is believed to belong to the Greenhorn Carrolls, a Traveler group in the Fort Worth area. Estimates of the U.S. Traveler population vary from 20,000 to 100,000.

Ian F. Hancock, a professor at the University of Texas who wrote the Irish Travelers entry for the Encyclopedia of the South, said a distraught Toogood called him Thursday seeking advice.

``She was scared to turn herself in because she knows very well how the police feel about the Irish Travelers,'' said Hancock, who has a reputation as a sympathizer of the group. ``She didn't think she'd get a fair shake and she knew she'd been rough with the child.''

Toogood, who also has two young sons, remains free on a $5,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 7. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison.

She was scheduled to have a 90-minute supervised meeting with her daughter on Tuesday but the child, who is in foster care, was sick. An attorney for the state said Toogood would be allowed to see Martha on Wednesday if the girl has recovered from the flu.

Hancock and other academics said they believe Toogood's case has been sensationalized by the media because of her ethnicity.

``As bad as what she did, and it's inexcusable, I still think there's an awful lot of profiling going on,'' Hancock said. ``Very much is being made of her ethnic background. If she were German American or Italian American, would that even be an issue?''

Copyright 2002 Associated Press.