FX’s five-part docuseries Children of the Underground centers on “charismatic vigilante” Faye Yager, who “built a vast underground network that hid hundreds of mothers and children, saving them from the alleged abuse of husbands and fathers when a broken court system would not.” In the Children of the Underground trailer, Yager explains via archival interview footage that she gave clients “a course in how to break the law and get away with it,” provided they were willing and able to “live like a criminal” to protect their child.
Indeed, Yager promoted her Children of the Underground network on various daytime talk shows throughout the late 1980s and 1990s as an organization fighting to save sexually abused children from their parents. Yager started the group after her ex-husband allegedly molested her daughter, Michelle, yet she was the one who ultimately lost custody. Putting herself on the FBI’s radar, she advocated for extreme measures, including helping non-custodial parents to kidnap their children and then “disappear” with new identities. By 1992, Yager claimed to The New York Times that she’d helped hide about 2,000 families, but even now, an exact number remains unclear.
The same year, Yager faced one of her most high-profile legal battles after she was charged with cruelty to children, interference with custody, and kidnapping in connection with her interactions with two children. Though prosecutors claimed that she had coerced the children into making false sexual abuse accusations against their father, Yager was eventually acquitted on all charges. If convicted, she would have faced up to 60 years in prison.
As criticism and lawsuits against her continued to mount, things took a turn after she helped the ex-wife of the wealthy businessman flee the country with their two daughters. Bipin Shah, who pioneered the ATM, denied all abuse allegations and sued Yager for $100 million, vowing to “destroy” her organization in 1998. Meanwhile, Yager insisted to Time that she was “not afraid of Mr. ATM.” After Shah’s ex-wife, Ellen, and their children returned to the United States, he dropped the lawsuit, and Yager largely retreated from the spotlight for a time.
According to the Hartford Courant, Yager and her husband, Atlanta doctor Howard Yager, bought the Inn at Brevard, a bed and breakfast located in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, in 1997. According to the historic inn’s website, the Yagers still own the inn, which they have given “their personal touch,” adding an “eclectic collection of period antiques and decorative charm.”
As for whether Yager still operates Children of the Underground, there are some conflicting accounts. According to Family Abduction Watch, Yager’s daughter recently tweeted that her mother “stopped helping families” after the Shah case in the late ‘90s. As Yager told Newsweek herself in 2016, her “group still exists,” though it became “much harder” to pull off the disappearances in recent years. “You can still do it, you’ve just got to have a lot more—I don’t want to get into that too much,” she told the magazine at the time. “The FBI just seizes the moment with that, especially where I'm concerned.”
Yager’s step away from the spotlight — she gave an interview for Children of the Underground, but refused to appear on camera — may have helped her stay more under the radar. What the FX series brings back to the forefront, however, is the debate over whether Yager should be viewed as a hero or a villain.