“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878
depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family
How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors
destroyed the lives of seven innocent North Carolinians – and
have yet to admit they were wrong
N.C. judge throws out ‘ritual abuse’ conviction
Aug. 28, 2014
“ASHEVILLE, N.C. – After more than 20 years behind bars, Michael Alan Parker, 57, walked past the barbed wire gates of Craggy Correctional Center and looked out at the mountain skyline on Tuesday morning.
“Convicted of sexually abusing his three children in a 1994 trial charged with allegations of Satanism, Parker was freed after Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope ruled Monday that the medical evidence would no longer be interpreted as proof of sexual abuse. Pope vacated Parker's sentence and dismissed the charges against him....
“Parker was first jailed in February 1993, when he and several codefendants were accused of abusing Parker's three children in and near their home in Saluda, N.C.
“At trial in 1994, Parker's children testified in graphic detail about abuse that prosecutors labeled ritualistic. The 9-year-old girl testified that she had been sexually abused in a garage behind their home. She said a fire was burning inside a circle made of rocks, and she heard people chanting in soft voices.
“In an emotion-charged atmosphere, then-Assistant District Attorney Mike Edwards called the trailer park where the family lived ‘Sodom and Saluda’ and quoted the Bible in his statements to the jury....”
– From “Henderson
County man walks free after 20 years in prison”
by Renee Bindewald in the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal
Congratulations are in order for Mr. Parker and his appellate lawyer, Sean Devereux, who had labored doggedly (and often pro bono) on his behalf since 1999.
The similarities to Andrew Junior Chandler’s case are obvious, although the “Sodom and Saluda” allegations in the Parker case were rooted in domestic turmoil rather than in the way-too-familiar day-care fantasy. Most notable is Judge Pope’s recognition that the type of medical validation of abuse presented at trial has been persuasively discredited – see also, the physician’s recantation that set Fran and Dan Keller free.
Will Pope’s decision prove to be an aberration? Or does it presage the
breakthrough Junior Chandler has for so long been denied?
Building a better mousetrap? Not exactly....
Aug. 24, 2014
“The following dialogue is from Daniel Goleman’s article ‘Studies Reflect Suggestibility of Very Young as Witnesses,’ in the New York Times (June 11, 1993). It is an excerpt from 11 interviews of a four-year-old boy, who each week was told falsely: ‘You went to the hospital because your finger got caught in a mousetrap. Did this ever happen to you?’
“First Interview: ‘No. I've never been to the hospital.’
“Second Interview: ‘Yes. I cried.’
“Third Interview: ‘Yes. My mom went to the hospital with me.’
“Fourth Interview: ‘Yes. I remember. It felt like a cut.’
“Fifth Interview: ‘Yes.’ [Pointing to index finger....]
“Eleventh Interview: ‘Uh huh. My daddy, mommy, and my brother [took me to the hospital] in our van.... The hospital gave me . . . a little bandage, and it was right here’ [pointing to index finger].
“The interviewer then asked: ‘How did it happen?’
“ ‘I was looking and then I didn't see what I was doing and it [finger] got in there somehow.... The mousetrap was in our house because there's a mouse in our house.... The mousetrap is down in the basement next to the firewood.... I was playing a game called “Operation” and then I went downstairs and said to Dad, “I want to eat lunch” and then it got stuck in the mousetrap.... My daddy was down in the basement collecting firewood.... [My brother] pushed me into the mousetrap.... It happened yesterday. The mouse was in my house yesterday. I caught my finger in it yesterday. I went to the hospital yesterday.’ "
– From “Case Study of Implanted Memory” by Martin Gardner in Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1994)
Does this experiment’s series of 11 interviews strike you as extreme? For at
least one of the Little Rascals children, Judith Abbott, lead therapist for the
biweekly sessions for six months!
Second thoughts from a ‘ritual abuse’ prosecutor?
Aug. 17, 2014
“I’m not comfortable commenting on any of them at this point in time.”
– Lael Rubin, formerly the lead prosecutor in the McMartin Preschool case,
declining to say whether she still thinks the defendants were guilty
That’s not the only eyebrow-raiser in this recent 30-years-after piece by a Los Angeles TV station.
Rubin contends that “The strongest evidence, the physical evidence, the medical evidence, I think was very significant.” But Kevin Cody, who logged more hours in the courtroom than any other journalist, confirms my impression that the prosecution actually produced “zero medical evidence of abuse.”
Finally, Rubin credits the McMartin case with improvements in the interviewing of children: “The criminal justice system, interviewers and police, law enforcement are much more concerned about eliciting information from children, as opposed to giving them clues.”
This is disingenuous. Like
John E. B. Myers,
Kee MacFarlane and
Sylvia Gillotte – Rubin tips her hat to progress but refuses to take the
logical next step: admitting the injustices issuing from those McMartin-style
A dispatch from the 'comfort zone' of rationality
Aug. 10, 2014
“The thing is, Mr. Powell, you can’t do this journey without a willingness to look into the darker side of humanity. You must be willing to challenge every previously held notion that you may have about the world and how it operates. You must push past your comfort zone and look beyond the veneer and the facade to what lies beneath the surface and within the bowels of the human psyche. You must be courageous enough to swim against the tide long enough to reach still water, where you can actually study dissociative trauma and even mind control in conjunction with ritual trauma allegations. Only then will you begin to see these allegations in their true light....”
Why do I continue to resist Professor Gillotte’s call to “challenge every previously held notion... about the world and how it operates”? Is it passivity? Timidity? Lack of imagination? Or is it simply a stubborn bias for fact over faith?
A call to ‘look within the bowels of the human psyche’
Aug. 5, 2014
Following up on Sunday’s post about Professor Sylvia Gillotte, I’ve strung together excerpts from our lengthy email exchange about her belief in “satanic ritual abuse.” My comments are in wide paragraphs; Professor Gillotte's are in narrower paragraphs.
● ● ●
I have read your 1993 article excerpted from “Representing Children in Family Court,” in which you expressed belief that widespread ritual abuse existed in day cares.
And I see now in your summer 2014 syllabus for “Legal Perspectives on Crimes Against Children” that Dr. Randall Noblitt was the only scheduled speaker.
Does this mean you continue to believe that the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care prosecutions were justified? Or has your opinion changed in any way?
...What objection would you have to my bringing Dr. Noblitt's professional perspective on Dissociation and Trauma into my Legal Perspectives class?
Dr. Noblitt certainly would bring his own perspective to your class, but it is a perspective that has been thoroughly discredited by numerous psychologists, psychiatrists and academics.
Most recently, for instance, his testimony in the Fran and Dan Keller case in Texas proved pivotal in the overturning of their convictions.
The “satanic ritual abuse” era is a subject in many college classrooms. Yours is the only one I know where it is framed as anything but a moral panic. Although we obviously disagree, I welcome your thoughts.
The core of my professional opinion related to ritual trauma is not based upon the day care cases that received sensational media coverage during the ’80s and ’90s.... I followed those cases as a means of better understanding cases involving evidence of similar abuse – intergenerational in nature – in a number of cases with which I was involved as statewide staff attorney of the S.C. Guardian ad Litem Program. Like many, I initially found that such allegations lacked credibility -- that is, however, until the sheer weight of the circumstantial evidence forced me to move outside of the accepted paradigm.... Only then was I able to understand the organized nature of this abuse, its intergenerational aspects, and its connection to dissociative trauma.
I would take exception to the accuracy of your assertion related to the Keller case and that Dr. Noblitt’s perspective is one that “...has been thoroughly discredited by numerous psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics.” There are a quite a number of professionals in the field of law, law enforcement, psychology, and social work who differ with the opinions that were shared in the link you provided, and who continue to treat victims of ritual trauma today. These professionals span the globe and are respected, credible professionals in their field. They quietly work with victims, so as not to be tried in the court of public opinion, and they toil against huge odds at great professional cost to help bring these individuals to a place of healing.
I do not believe or find it credible that hundreds of people, from toddlers to middle aged grandmothers, representing various nationalities and walks of life, having no connection to one another, have conspired to perpetuate a lie about victimization that garners no gain, and only hurts themselves. While the artifacts evidencing their abuse may not be available due to the dynamics of its perpetration – and a level of societal denial that dissuades professional involvement – the psychological aftermath of their abuse is impossible to ignore. It is like walking through a disaster area following a storm....
What I’m not seeing in your thoughtful and caring comments is any mention of the profoundly misguided child-interviewing techniques that fostered the fantastical claims on which the day-care prosecutions were built. It’s no coincidence that publication of “Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony” by Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck (1995) coincided with the disappearance of the multiple-victim, multiple-offender day-care cases that had occurred during the previous decade.
Another factor in bringing this era to an end was the $7.5 million malpractice settlement awarded a patient of ritual-abuse therapist Bennett Braun.
Also, I think you understate Randy Noblitt’s remove from the rest of the
professional and academic world. The letter on behalf of the Kellers was signed
by 39 respected experts – how many would the prosecution have been
able to come up with in support of Noblitt? I’m guessing none.
Most recently, Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University and chair of the DSM IV Task Force, has issued a bold personal apology for having failed to expose the theoreticians and practitioners of “ritual abuse” therapy.
Even Wikipedia, whose entries typically cite a broad range of views, has barred “ritual abuse” believers from inserting their changes and additions on the subject.
I’m not imagining that our exchange is going to lead either of us to abandon our deeply held views, but I sincerely appreciate your discussing the subject with me. Maybe next semester your “Legal Perspectives...” course might include a guest speaker on “ritual abuse” other than (or even in addition to) Dr. Noblitt?
Many of the day care cases positively contributed to the development and strengthening of interview protocols and training for professionals across the field of child abuse and neglect. I discuss this in my class....
Here is my biggest problem with your approach. You continue to refer to all claims related to ritual trauma as "fantastical," which leads me to believe that you still don’t fully understand the dynamics of how this type of abuse is perpetrated and unfolds, or how the “fantastical” elements are consciously designed to discredit children upon disclosure to dissuade investigation. Nor do you seem to understand the organized nature of this abuse and its connections to other recognized crime....
Insurance companies often settle [malpractice] claims based upon calculations that have more to do with financial considerations than the perceived or actual liability of the individual sued. Furthermore, are you surprised that the huge settlement against Braun would have had a chilling effect upon other therapists and professionals?...
Unless you are truly open to understanding the dynamics of this abuse, you cannot understand or appreciate the difficulty in investigating and prosecuting these cases, or the dearth of empirical evidence.... I use a small portion of my Legal Perspectives on Crimes Against Children to address how law enforcement might step outside the normal investigative paradigm in order to better understand, recognize, and investigate these cases so that, one day, we might actually be able to accumulate some of the critical physical evidence and empirical data that are missing.
The thing is, Mr. Powell, you can’t do this journey without a willingness to look into the darker side of humanity. You must be willing to challenge every previously held notion that you may have about the world and how it operates. You must push past your comfort zone and look beyond the veneer and the facade to what lies beneath the surface and within the bowels of the human psyche. You must be courageous enough to swim against the tide long enough to reach still water, where you can actually study dissociative trauma and even mind control in conjunction with ritual trauma allegations. Only then will you begin to see these allegations in their true light....
It is my understanding that the Kellers appealed their conviction based on the recantation of testimony of an examining physician, Michael Mouw, M.D., not specifically on Dr. Noblitt’s testimony....
[I erred. The Kellers' appeal did cite Noblitt's testimony, but the district attorney based her call to overturn their convictions on only Mouw's recantation. In the event of a retrial, however, Noblitt's crucial "expert" status will get the scrutiny it should have received earlier.]
About the letter signed by 39 “leading” psychologists and psychiatrists: I would want to know what their qualifications are, whether or not they are members of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), how and why they can so confidently refute the existence of ritual abuse, or if they have an agenda that suggests bias such as membership in or adherence to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation [FMSF].
I Skype [Dr. Noblitt] into my Legal Perspectives class to directly answer questions my students may have about dissociative trauma in general, as Dr. Noblitt is the author of several articles, chapters, and books on the topic of dissociation and ritual abuse....
Dr. Noblitt teaches at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University -- Los Angeles. During his clinical practice (1983-2006), he treated more than 300 individuals who reported ritually abusive histories. Although a frequent target of the FMSF, he was not sued nor did he lose his license to practice psychology....
Dr. Noblitt is not a Lone Ranger, any more than I. While their numbers may be dwindling due to a lack of public and professional resources and support, there are professionals who continue to assist victims and other professionals in this field. Regrettably, misunderstanding of the nature of ritual abuse and its "fantastical" elements, as well as the mishandling of many of the highly public day care cases, have each served to drive many professionals underground or into the woodwork....
The public skewering of some of these professionals may have had a chilling effect on those victims seeking justice in the legal system, but it has not stopped their need for healing, and the vast majority of the professionals who treat these victims do so at great cost to themselves, mentally, emotionally, and financially. In this regard, those engaged in the organized perpetration of this abuse have indeed won, and you are an unwitting ally. When public discourse and academic freedom have been chilled or even effectively censored by such sites as Wikipedia, we may as well be living in China when it comes to ritual abuse. ....
Finally, if you are ever in Southwest Florida, let me know. Perhaps we can continue our dialogue in person. I find e-mail rather limiting in many respects.
Ms. Gillotte, I think we have taken our conversation to its natural end, and I again want to express my appreciation. Not everyone who holds your beliefs is willing to make the case for them in such scope and intensity.
I’ll look forward to that day when “we might actually be able to accumulate some
of the critical physical evidence and empirical data that is missing.”
In this classroom, only certainty about ‘ritual abuse’
Aug. 3, 2014
“Over the last 12 years, there have been hundreds of day care cases across the United States which involved allegations of ritual child abuse. The discovery and successful prosecution of a number of these cases has done much to expose cult activity and increase our awareness. While day care cases may ultimately be the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of organized cults who desire to expand their power and influence, there is nonetheless tremendous reluctance on the part of most victims to come forward. This is primarily due to the response of the media and the public.
“Along with the very real fear of reprisal or death associated with disclosure, adult survivors of ritual abuse who come forward face not only a climate of disbelief, but a lack of support services as well. Having endured the unspeakable horrors of ritual abuse, they face further victimization by an entire system in denial.....
“It is also often difficult to obtain conclusive medical evidence supportive of a child’s allegations of ritual physical and sexual abuse. Most cults use very sophisticated abuse, torture, and mind control techniques which are difficult to detect. For example, during the abuse and programming of children, cults may use the following: electroshock; pins and needles which are inserted under the fingernails or into sexual or other orifices of the body; knife cuts or burns into the scalp, onto the soles of the feet, or in the creases of the skin; as well as injuries designed to be explainable by otherwise acceptable means....
“Many cults either own or have access to a crematorium, and are assisted by cult physicians and/or coroners who cover up the cause of death of their victims. Less sophisticated methods for body disposal which have been used effectively are lime or acid pits, as well as tree shredders....
“When a concerned parent or therapist manages to make the child feel safe enough to make a disclosure, the system responds by discounting the allegations on the basis that the disclosure was not made at the onset of the therapeutic process....
“Children frequently report having been taken by train, boat, submarine or airplane to a specific location to participate in ritual activity. Often they are blindfolded and only told the name of the location after they have arrived.
“In reality, such transportation may only have been simulated, and a false location given. Or the child may, in fact, have been in a plane which flew in a circle for 20 minutes, with the ultimate destination falsified. In either case, facts are distorted to discredit later disclosures....
“[Footnote: ] My contact with survivors in South Carolina and other states in the South reveals that alligators are commonly used as a means of disposal in these areas....”
– From “Representing
Children in Family Court: A Resource Manual for Attorneys and
Guardians Ad Litem,"
a [no longer available] publication of the South Carolina Bar (1993, 1995) by Sylvia Lynn Gillotte,
chairman of the Resource Manual Project, Officer of the Governor,
Guardian Ad Litem Program, in Spartanburg, S.C.
Ms. Gillotte makes an earnest and articulate argument that the nation’s day cares were (are?) plagued by “satanic ritual abuse.” Predictably absent in her 5,000-word manifesto, however, is anything approaching the requisite extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Electroshock? Tree shredders? Plane rides? Alligators? “Cult physicians and/or coroners”?
Unlike so many who shared her convictions in the 1980s and ’90s, Ms. Gillotte has not retreated from the arena. Now an adjunct professor in the department of criminology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, she teaches a course on “Legal Perspectives on Crimes Against Children” that features a main text by John E.B. Myers and a Skype interview with Randy Noblitt.
Professor Gillotte’s syllabus is unusual if not unique in 21st-century academia. Much more typical: Catherine Caldwell-Harris’s at Boston University.
Despite our wide differences, Professor Gillotte has generously taken the time
to address my skepticism about ritual abuse. Later this week I’ll be quoting
from our exchange.
‘That sorry judge should have done something’?
July 15, 2014
“I realize I’m a little flip when I say 80 percent of the evidence is trash, but it is.
“I thought sooner or later some editorialist was going to write, ‘That sorry judge should have done something.’ And yet if I stopped it, it would have been a problem in an appeal....”
– Judge Marsh McLelland, in an interview published April 1, 1992,
in the Greensboro News & Record, shortly after
the jury began deliberations in the trial of Bob Kelly
Given that McLelland had been overseeing the Kelly case for more than 17 months – and still had Dawn Wilson’s trial ahead of him – I suppose he deserved to grumble a bit about the tedium.
But what an odd comment about wanting to avoid “a problem in an appeal” – did he believe only the defense was responsible for producing “trash” evidence?
Echoes of Little Rascals in 2014 race for DA
July 15, 2014
Here’s the big picture from the latest campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections:
More provocative, however, are the details.
It’s not surprising that Lamb’s donors include such loyal Little Rascals alumnae as parents Jane Mabry ($50) and Lynne Layton ($250) and therapist Judith Abbott ($200).
But at least one member of the prosecutorial alliance seems to have defected:
Yes, that’s Lamb’s former boss, H.P. Williams Jr., pitching in $250 to her
‘I was aware of the possibility of childish fantasy....’
July 11, 2014
“.... As you might imagine, I had not had reason to think about the Little Rascals case until your email arrived. Yes, I was very interested in the case at the time, but had no role or authority to intervene. [See governor’s 1991 response to letter writers.] The arrests and charges were highly publicized, as were the proceedings of the trial, upon which the two accused were convicted. So, like most citizens, I felt a compulsion to follow the case, at least insofar as the news coverage.
“My recollection is that both the horrible accusations and the contrary indications of coached and imaginative testimony of the children were featured in the coverage.... Being very familiar with Arthur Miller’s brilliant drama, ‘The Crucible,’ I was aware of the possibility of childish fantasy passing as falsely condemning testimony. From a distance, most readers probably shared the concern, ‘What if it were true?’
“I do not recall whether the defense attorneys contacted my office in an appeal for clemency in 1991-1992. Had they done so, they would have been advised that my practice was to let the appellate courts complete their judicial review before considering clemency. This was complete in 1995 when the NC Supreme Court declined to review the finding by the Court of Appeals of trial error, at which time there would be no cause for Governor Hunt to intervene. I have great respect for the judgment and integrity of then Chief Justice Burleigh Mitchell, and that would settle the legal principles of the matter for me.
“I can only wonder what conclusion I might have reached had the appeal for clemency been properly before me. My approach in such cases was to meet separately with advocates on both sides, without restricting the nature or style of what they had to say. I would make my decision based on corroborated evidence and the trial record, without following its standards for disqualifying some evidence. I gave attention to two main standards: (a) whether the punishment was suited to the nature of the crime, and (b) whether there was doubt as to the guilt of the person convicted....
“I believe your cause is to persuade the Governor to issue a Pardon of Innocence for Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson. It may be difficult to produce exculpatory evidence several decades after the events. You did not say whether Mr. Kelly and/or Ms. Wilson wish to return to that gauntlet, considering the degree to which they have restored their lives. If they do, it would my hope that Governor McCrory and his counsel would weigh the two guidelines cited above, although no Governor is bound in clemency matters by any precedent of his predecessors. While it can be difficult to prove a negative, it would help your cause if there were former accusers now in their thirties who have recanted the accusations of their childhood. Otherwise, the appellate finding of procedural error alone might not be sufficient.”
– From a letter from former Gov. Jim Martin responding to my question
about his recollections of the Little Rascals Day Care case
As welcome as a gubernatorial pardon would be, my hopes for the Edenton Seven are more modest: a “statement of innocence” from the governor or attorney general similar to that given the defendants in the Duke lacrosse case.
If only the Little Rascals prosecutors had been as familiar with “The Crucible” as was the governor....
Alarmed ‘Frontline’ viewers turned to governor
July 10, 2014
“Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns about the prosecution of the Little Rascals Day Care Center personnel in Chowan County. Although this matter is outside my jurisdiction as head of the executive branch, I appreciate your interest in the administration of justice in North Carolina....
“I would suggest that it might be appropriate to wait until after the trial when all the evidence has been heard before reaching conclusions about the correctness of actions taken by [District Attorney H.P. Williams] and the court.
“North Carolina has had a long history of evenhandedness in the administration of justice, and I am confident that the tradition continues to be in effect. Nonetheless, if you wish to express your concerns directly to the District Attorney, his address is.....”
– From Gov.
response to PBS viewers appalled
by the first installment of “Innocence Lost” (May 7, 1991)
Last week I found in the State Archives in Raleigh about a dozen letters beseeching Gov. Martin to look into the case. Although significantly less heated than those addressing the mayor of Edenton, the letters expressed alarm about the plight of the Edenton Seven:
“As a member of Amnesty International, I write letters to officials of foreign governments, many of them without democratic governments or traditions, urging them to look into the cases of people being unjustly treated....[In Edenton] one fact cannot be ignored: Defendants have been held in jail without a trial for close to two years....”
– Laura J. Reid, New York City
“I was disturbed by the incredibly high bonds recommended by the District Attorney and allowed by the Judge.... I would hope that you will personally intervene to request judicial review of the bonds set....”
– Steven J. Edwards, Decatur, Ga.
“As a former teacher, I can assure you that children – especially young children – can easily be coaxed, cajoled or pressured into say just about anything an adult might wish them to say.”
– S.T. Reynolds, Woodland, Calif.
I have asked Gov. Martin, now retired and living at Lake Norman, to discuss his views of the Little Rascals case both then and now. I’ll be posting his response soon.
Convictions overturned, judge angrily exited
July 5, 2014
“The Burlington judge who has presided over the the Little Rascals Day Care Center case since 1990 resigned in disgust the day after the state Supreme Court refused to review [the overturning of] two convictions.
“D. Marsh McLelland, a retired Superior Court judge, said in a letter dated Sept. 8 that the court’s refusal to review the cases ‘is legally and morally reprehensible.’
“McLelland’s letter to Chief Justice Burley Mitchell said the refusal to review a Court of Appeals order for a new trial raised the term technicality to new heights....”
– From “Judge quits Little Rascals case” from the Associated Press (Sept. 22, 1995)
I imagine that the “technicality” comment was from a direct quote, although I haven’t been able to find either McLelland’s original letter or a more substantial account. It’s no wonder he felt humiliated – the Court of Appeals decision had laid bare his indifference to the rights of the defendants.
Regardless, McLelland’s resignation proved irrelevant, as prosecutors decided not to retry Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson.
Portrait of a town haunted by hindsight
June 29, 2014
“[The Little Rascals Day Care center] is red brick, with plate glass windows on the front. The two-story structure is located on East Eden Street, amid mostly modest one-family homes, oaks, azaleas and crape myrtles, just a few blocks from the beautiful bay and downtown.
“The neighborhood is quiet now, but as the case unfolded during the last two years, journalists from time to time set upon the area, seeking eyewitnesses to the alleged incidents. Several residents recently told a visitor they had seen none of the alleged acts.
“For some, hindsight is powerful in the wake of the allegations. Lenora Smith, who lives next door to the center, voiced ‘surprise’ at the charges but does remember that ‘a few things I saw were kind of unusual.’
“Well, Robert Kelly owned a plumbing business, but ‘at times he stayed over there (at the day-care center) a lot,’ she said....
“Some people here admit to being a bit jumpy since the allegations surfaced.
“Debbie Jones said, ‘I get paranoid.’ Extending her hand, palm down, she made it tremble, saying: ‘I'm like this if I'm with my kids in a public place.’
“In a building on the town's main thoroughfare, South Broad Street, a young boy who looked about 5 years old, bolstered her point. As he walked out of an office into a hall, apparently heading for the bathroom, he looked over his shoulder and said stoically to a woman: ‘If I don't come back, call the police.’”
– From “Child
Abuse Charges at Day-Care Center Divide Formerly Close-Knit Community”
by Lee May in the Los Angeles Times (June 8, 1991)
It’s not just politics that make strange bedfellows
June 23, 2014
“The emphasis has got to be on the crime. Once you start using labels like satanic, sadistic or ritualistic, then you’re immediately raising a red flag.... Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals and especially the general public begin to back off, because it’s so hard to believe these things happen.... We emphasized rape, sex offense, indecent liberties, crimes against nature...Those were the crimes that Bob Kelly was convicted of, those are what the jury heard evidence of....
“We let the defense attorneys bring out the sadistic and ritualistic....”
– From District Attorney H. P. Williams Jr.’s address to “From Heartbreak Through Healing: Facing the Reality of Sexual and Ritual Abuse of Children,” the first national convention of Believe the Children (April 2-4, 1993, in Arlington Heights, Ill.)
I transcribed Williams' cautionary prosecutorial advice from audiotapes, so I can only imagine the scene on the speakers' dais he shared with not only one of the Little Rascals mothers, but also Laura Buchanan, author of “Satan's Child: A Survivor's Story That Can Help Others Heal from Cultic Ritual Abuse.”
What must have Williams been thinking as Buchanan earnestly recalled that:
“We stood poised with knives in an incomprehensible world where children killed children.... Permitted to live until age four [my sister] was sacrificed by my parents.... My final programming, as a teenager, occurred on an autopsy table in the coroner’s office. A surgical procedure was staged and through a small incision in my scalp I was told that a surveillance device would be inserted into my brain. The supposed implant would be used at national headquarters to continuously monitor my thoughts. For decades the programming was extremely effective. Until the age of 44, I had no idea that my parents practiced satanism....”
With Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson locked away, and the overturning of their convictions still two years away, DA Williams was riding high. But surely he must have experienced the slightest frisson of doubt when he saw Buchanan’s patent insanity being swallowed whole by the same audience that so enthusiastically applauded his case against the Edenton Seven.
Cable head Wendy Murphy strikes (out) again...
June 18, 2014
“I was disappointed to see that one of the most celebrated cases of this time was mentioned in [Ross Cheit’s] book but not analyzed. The Little Rascals case from Edenton, N.C., was the focus of a documentary by well-known filmmaker Ofra Bikel, whose reputation was challenged by her film, ‘Innocence Lost.’
“Bikel opined that the owners of the Little Rascals Day Care center were railroaded by children who made wildly incredible claims. For example, Bikel showcased the testimony of a little girl who said she’d been molested on a spaceship. When asked on cross-examination whether the spaceship was ‘real,’ the child said ‘yes.’ Bikel omitted crucial context on that. On re-direct examination about the spaceship the little girl explained that the day care center had taken the kids to a carnival and that the child had been molested on one of the spaceship rides.
“That particular story isn’t in this book, but it is packed with many like it. Even the most skeptical reader will find it difficult to deny that they were snookered by the media coverage to some extent, which means someone owes an awful lot of abused children an apology.”
“ ‘Witchhunt Narrative’ Retells '80s Day Care Abuse”
by Wendy Murphy at WeNews (May 23, 2014)
If you know Wendy Murphy from her frequent appearances on cable news channels, variously labeled as “legal expert,” “former sex crimes prosecutor” or “victims advocate,” then you aren’t surprised to see her so confidently weigh in on Cheit’s book. Neither are you surprised to see her so casually disdain the facts of the case. Take, for instance, her analysis of the Duke lacrosse case: “I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way. My own statistics speak to the truth."
So Ofra Bikel’s “reputation was challenged” by “Innocence Lost”? What does that mean? The same “Innocence Lost” that led to her winning a John Chancellor Award, a duPont–Columbia Award and an Emmy?
Murphy then cherry-picks the spaceship anecdote as if the child’s having earlier visited a carnival somehow confirms that she “had been molested on one of the spaceship rides.”
Was the carnival similarly responsible for Witness A’s testifying that Kelly put a candle and a burning flower stem in his "number two".... that he was on a tugboat with Kelly.... that Kelly tried to shoot an apple off another child’s head....that he and the other child were hung up in a bag in a tree?....
And was it responsible for Witness B’s testifying that Kelly made him put a Magic marker in another child’s butt... that Kelly tried to push him onto a fire in the woods.... that he saw a lion and a “real bear” in the woods.... that Betsy Kelly ran around the day care brandishing a knife?.....
And what about Witness C’s testifying that Kelly put his gun in her mouth.... that Kelly gave her pills that made her sleepy..... that another day-care worker beat four babies until blood came out of their eyes?....
Must have been some carnival.
Dr. Frances makes case for Chandler’s release
June 15, 2014
“Andrew Junior Chandler has been unjustly incarcerated in a North Carolina prison for 27 years, charged with a crime that almost surely never happened....
“Let’s hope that Gov. Pat McCrory will review the mistaken judgment of his misnamed ‘clemency office’ and correct this stain on the reputation of North Carolina justice.”
hysteria of sexual, satanic ritual abuse and a miscarriage of NC justice”
by Dr. Allen Frances in the Raleigh News & Observer (June 15) text cache
Dr. Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University, once again steps forward to take responsibility for therapy’s Dark Ages, this time in the newspaper read daily by those state officials who have refused to grant relief to Junior Chandler.
The Little Rascals case in brief
In the beginning, in 1989, more than 90 children at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, North Carolina, accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of sexual abuse over a three-year period. It may have all begun with one parent's complaint about punishment given her child.
Among the alleged perpetrators: the sheriff and mayor. But prosecutors would charge only Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth "Betsy" Kelly, Robert "Bob" Kelly, Willard Scott Privott, Shelley Stone and Dawn Wilson – the Edenton 7.
Along with sodomy and beatings, allegations included a baby killed with a handgun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire and countless other fantastic incidents involving spaceships, hot air balloons, pirate ships and trained sharks.
By the time prosecutors dropped the last charges in 1997, Little Rascals had become North Carolina's longest and most costly criminal trial. Prosecutors kept defendants jailed in hopes at least one would turn against their supposed co-conspirators. Remarkably, none did.
Another shameful record: Five defendants had to wait longer to face their accusers in court than anyone else in North Carolina history.
Between 1991 and 1997, Ofra Bikel produced three extraordinary episodes on the Little Rascals case for the PBS series "Frontline." Although "Innocence Lost" did not deter prosecutors, it exposed their tactics and fostered nationwide skepticism and dismay.
With each passing year, the absurdity of the Little Rascals charges has become more obvious. But no admission of error has ever come from prosecutors, police, interviewers or parents.
This site is devoted to the issues raised by this case.