Delays in case frustrate alleged victims of missionary doctor

Donn Ketcham in an Ottawa County courtroom on Feb. 10, 2017.


GRAND HAVEN (WOOD) — The women identified as sexual assault victims of a former missionary doctor decades ago in Bangladesh say they never got their justice.

They thought that would finally change when a local woman came forward to report that the doctor from the city of Wyoming had molested her as a child.

But a year after Dr. Donn Ketcham was charged in Ottawa County Circuit Court, the case is still unresolved. Now, the women who say Ketcham molested them so many years ago at a Baptist missionary camp in Bangladesh wonder if they’ll ever get to face him in court.

“It felt like maybe something was finally going to happen to him because I knew there was nothing we could do,” said Sheryl Marshall, listed as one of Ketcham’s victims in Bangladesh.

Ketcham, who turns 87 in a week, was charged on Dec. 19, 2016 with first-degree sexual assault against a girl who was 4 or 5 years old.

The alleged victim, now 24, testified it happened in the late 1990s at Ketcham’s office in Allendale. She said it happened while her mother was in the room.

She reported it first in 2011, but the investigation was reopened after Target 8 told the stories of five women Ketcham allegedly molested in Bangladesh when they were young.

They said they were the children of missionaries molested under the guise of medicine in the 1980s.

“A lot of bad memories,” Marshall told Target 8 last year. “I remember my mom sitting in the corner of the room often and he would have his back to her, doing things that he shouldn’t do.”

Marshall is among several women from the missionary camp in Bangladesh who are listed as witnesses in the local case — to help prove the alleged abuse is part of a pattern.

“The girl that is bringing charges needs backup, she needs to know she’s not alone, that there were others that went through the exact same thing,” Marshall said. “I think it’s important. It’s hard, but it’s important.”

But the case in Ottawa County Circuit Court has been delayed repeatedly. The latest delay is to determine if Ketcham is competent to stand trial.

“We’ve gotten subpoenaed five different times and every time we get it in our minds that we’re going to go to this trial, we get a call or letter saying they’ve postponed it again,” Marshall said. “It’s very difficult.”

It’s difficult, she said, to draw on memories she’s tried a lifetime to forget.

“It’s both anger and frustration. I’m scared. It’s scary to think about testifying, so you try to prepare yourself, and then it doesn’t happen, so.”

Still, she said she wants to face Ketcham before he has to answer to God.

“Too many people need justice,” she said.

The Ketcham story is detailed in a 280-page report released by ABWE, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. The highly critical report details years of alleged sexual abuse by Ketcham — 18 children and five women, all missionaries or missionary children, are listed as victims — all while he served in Bangladesh for ABWE through the 1980s.

Much of the alleged abuse happened under the guise of medicine — physical exams that victims and investigators say went way too far.

Ketcham has pleaded not guilty in the local case. Court records show he was to face a two-day trial later this month, but that has been delayed. No new date has been set.