A state parole board has denied the release of a former Bay Area day care provider convicted in 1983 of murdering a Pittsburg toddler and abusing 30 other young children at her Clayton home.

Eleanor "Lori" Nathan, among the most notorious child abusers in Contra Costa County history, will next be up for parole in 2018, according to a parole board's ruling this week.

About 30 of Nathan's victims and their families traveled to California Institution for Women in Corona on Tuesday to protest the 66-year-old Nathan's potential release at her second parole board hearing since 2007. Although some were small children at the time, many described over an 11-hour hearing their vivid memories of being abused by Nathan at her unlicensed home day cares in the 1970s and 1980s.

Eleanor "Lori" Nathan
Eleanor "Lori" Nathan was convicted in 1983 of first degree murder, mayhem and 33 counts of child abuse stemming from injuries she inflicted on children in her Concord and Clayton home day cares. (California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation)

"These are the scars that can be seen. I can hide from them with clothing and a simple refusal to look at myself in the mirror," Julia Cosmides Harris wrote the parole board. She said she was 3 years old when Nathan beat her nearly to death at her South San Francisco home. "But the scars that are under the skin, deeper than hurt -- these are the ones I can't hide from myself. These are the wounds that don't heal: the rage, the terror, the helplessness."

Retired prosecutor Douglas Pipes said Nathan was motivated by a greed for maximum profits by keeping up to 30 children at a time without the parents' knowledge. Pipes, who worked the original case and Nathan's two parole hearings, described Nathan as "a consummate liar who, as the warden of a concentration camp for defenseless little children, used her consummate acting skills to provide false information to young parents who trusted her, who terrorized the children into silence, and who affirmatively misled the authorities."


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Nathan had already killed 21-month-old Gregory Teasdale and hospitalized a 2-year-old boy with blunt force abdominal injuries when she inflicted the same on Cosmides Harris in 1975, according to Pipes. After Teasdale's death was mistakenly declared to have resulted from natural causes, it was the girl's injuries that finally got the attention of Child Protective Services in San Mateo County. Still, Nathan managed to avoid prosecution before moving to Concord with a promise to San Mateo County authorities that she would quit the day care business, Pipes said.

Parents and police were unaware of her past when she fatally abused 11-month-old Pittsburg resident Matthew Cromwell, the son of a Concord police officer, at her home day care in Clayton in March 1981.

Pittsburg police investigated Nathan for Matthew's death, but they didn't pin it on her until six months later, when a 15-month-old boy in Nathan's care was hospitalized for 21 days for blunt force trauma injuries to his abdomen. Recognizing how similar the child's injuries were to Matthew's, a Walnut Creek pediatrician connected both cases to Nathan, and her facade as a loving nanny crumbled.

Nathan was convicted of her Contra Costa County crimes and sentenced to 44 years to life in prison. The abuse she inflicted in San Mateo County was presented as evidence at the trial.

Staff archives: Lori Nathan walks into a packed room during her parole hearing Thursday afternoon July 26, 2007 at The California Institution for Women in
Staff archives: Lori Nathan walks into a packed room during her parole hearing Thursday afternoon July 26, 2007 at The California Institution for Women in Corona Calif. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group Archives)

Matthew's parents, whose marriage couldn't survive the devastation of losing a child, told the parole board Tuesday that the "negative impact on our lives as the result of Nathan killing our son is far-reaching and never ending."

"The pain is always here for us, it never goes away, and Nathan should never be free from the responsibility of her actions, just as we are never free from our anguish," Gordon Cromwell said.

Nathan has been reportedly doing well in prison, with only one minor disciplinary write-up since her incarceration. She maintained her innocence through her 2007 parole hearing, when the board told her it was bothered by her continued unwillingness to take responsibility for her crimes.

Before the board again this week, Pipes said that Nathan "fessed up" to the crimes for which she's been convicted but claimed to have not abused any of the children in South San Francisco.

The parole board "found her to be a liar and said they didn't believe her claims that she has turned a corner and has seen the light," Pipes said.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.