“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
Duke Law project examining Chandler’s case
Sept. 23, 2014
The Duke Law School Wrongful Convictions Clinic was a crucial ally of defense attorney Sean Devereux in the recent exoneration of Michael Alan Parker, whose “satanic ritual abuse” conviction bears many fundamental similarities to Junior Chandler’s.
Now, co-director Theresa Newman tells me the clinic “is reviewing the case file to determine if we can help Mr. Chandler prove his innocence.
“We are at the VERY early stages of our review, so we do not have a good sense of things yet and cannot even estimate a timeline for the review. The file is large and the case is complicated, so the review will take some time.
“That said, we are mindful of how long Mr. Chandler has been imprisoned and, to the extent possible, will try to conduct the review without undue delay.”
Even given Ms. Newman’s cautious caveats, this review must be seen as opening new possibilities for Junior Chandler.
“As many doors as the legal system has slammed in Junior’s face, there has always seemed to be one more. Thank you, Wrongful Convictions Clinic.
Elizabeth City Advance, Sept. 6, 2014
Evidence of new day in Edenton? We can hope
Sept. 17, 2014
I’m doubly intrigued by this recent letter to the editor of the Elizabeth City Advance.
First, that an electioneering party official – in Edenton! – would cite the Little Rascals prosecution as an “infamous” example of Nancy Lamb’s failures.
Second, that 10 days after publication not a single correspondent has taken to the pages of the Advance to challenge the point!
Will no one today step forward to justify the state’s longest and costliest trial? To swear continuing allegiance to the credo of “Believe the Children”? To once again praise unreservedly the eight-year crusade Nancy Lamb waged against Bob Kelly?
It’s almost enough to make me think rationality has reclaimed the public mind in Edenton. If so, it took its own sweet time.
What? No Little Rascals on Edenton’s Wiki page?
Sept. 12, 2014
Edenton has been the scene of many historic events – the Edenton Tea Party, the escape of Harriet Jacobs, etc. – but surely nothing happened there in the entire 20th Century more significant than the Little Rascals Day Care case.
So why is the case not even mentioned on Edenton’s Wikipedia page?
On Sept. 28, 2013, a rogue editor abruptly removed a passage similar to this one:
“Edenton achieved international notoriety for the Little Rascals Day Care sexual abuse trial, the subject of journalist Ofra Bikel’s award-winning trilogy of documentaries....”
Wikipedia entries are intentionally easy to edit, but the process leaves
The person whose name is attached to the Little Rascals deletion turns out to be an innkeeper in Edenton. He ended our exchange with “I did not remove anything or post anything on that site.... must have been my competitor from across the street.”
I have restored the deleted passage – let’s hope it proves innkeeper-proof.
Isn't half of Junior Chandler's life enough, North Carolina?
Sept. 8, 2014
“The aging prison population represents a national human-made epidemic decades in the making....
“Our current trajectory is economically infeasible and morally untenable....
“Although there is no commonly agreed-upon age at which an incarcerated individual is ‘old’ – definitions range from 50 to 65 – it is clear that the number of people in prison requiring significant age-related medical care will continue to rise at a substantial rate. From 1995 to 2010, the U.S. prison population aged 55 or older nearly quadrupled....
“On average, it costs approximately twice as much to incarcerate someone aged 50 and over ($68,270) than a younger, more able-bodied individual ($34,135)....
“The elderly in prison also demonstrate a greater risk of injury, victimization, ailing health, and death than their younger counterparts....
“The phenomenon of accelerated aging, which can be attributed to the prevalence
of environmental stressors coupled with a lack of access to holistic healthcare,
means that the body of an incarcerated 50-year-old has a ‘physiological age’
that is 10
to 15 years older....
“The stated objectives of incarceration would suggest that correctional spending should be allocated among demographics in proportion to their public safety risk and potential for behavioral change.
“Aging adults in prison have the lowest recidivism rate and pose almost no threat to public safety. Nationwide, 43.3 percent of all released individuals recidivate within three years, while only 7 percent of those aged 50-64 are returned to prison for new convictions....”
Today is Andrew Junior Chandler's 57th birthday. He has been in prison since he was 29 years old. Even if he were guilty – which he clearly is not – how can the State of North Carolina justify his continued incarceration?
‘What have you got? Exoneration? I don’t think so....’
Sept. 4, 2014
“The evidence you heard today in my opinion negates the evidence presented at trial.... Based upon this new evidence, the state does not have a case to prosecute....”
– Johnson Britt, Robeson County (N.C.) district attorney, acceding to
release of two defendants cleared by DNA testing after serving almost
31 years each for the rape and murder of a 11-year-old girl
“You find a cigarette, you say it has [a different suspect’s] DNA on it, but so what? It’s just a cigarette, and absent some direct connection to the actual killing, what have you got? Do you have exoneration? I don’t think so....
“It’s a tragic day for justice in Robeson County.... Apparently the district attorney just threw up his hands and capitulated.” More here.
– Now-retired DA Joe Freeman Britt (no relation to Johnson Britt),
acknowledging not an iota of doubt – “None. None.” – that
the two men he prosecuted in 1984 were guilty as charged
Hats off to Johnson Britt for breaking the prosecutorial code of arrogance (although that’s always easier when the mistake happened on a predecessor’s watch).
And what is there to say about Joe Freeman Britt, the coldblooded “deadliest prosecutor in America”?
What I wish I could say is that his willfully blind resistance to exoneration is
But of course it isn’t.
Edenton Seven can’t wait forever for exoneration
Sept. 1, 2014
The recent deaths of Little Rascals figures Patricia Kephart Hart (obituary cached here) and C. Harvey Williams remind me that the clock is ticking on the defendants as well. (Patricia Kephart, mother of one of the potential child-witnesses, dated and later married Assistant Attorney General Bill Hart; Williams was Edenton police chief.)
Let’s hope that none of the Edenton Seven, still awaiting exoneration from the
state, shares the fate of
Connie Tindall of the Wilmington 10.
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.
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.