“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
Why SRA authors might’ve passed on responding
March 8, 2014
Last of three posts
recounted earlier, Dr. Jon Conte expressed a willingness to consider my
expanded letter seeking a retraction of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence’s
past support of the “satanic ritual abuse” moral panic.
So what might have happened after I submitted that October 25 letter that resulted in Conte’s cutting off contact by email or phone?
I suspect the crucial clue lies in his specifying that “We are probably going to
invite the authors to respond, and if they choose to do so I will share their
responses before we publish your letter or their responses.”
Those authors would include Susan J. Kelley (“Stress Responses of Children to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse in Day Care Centers,” December 1989) and Barbara Snow (“Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighborhood Setting,” December 1990).
Kelley has been oft-recognized at littlerascalsdaycarecase.org, not only for her enthusiastically wrongheaded academic work, but also for her prosecutorial interviewing techniques in the Fells Acres case.
Unlike Kelley, Snow eventually suffered consequences, however small. From the Salt Lake Tribune (February 22, 2008):
“A therapist accused of unprofessional conduct – including imposing false memories on her relatives – entered into an agreement Tuesday with [Utah’s] Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
“Barbara Snow is voluntarily being placed on probation, according to a statement from her attorney....
“The disciplinary notice alleged Snow convinced a male relative he was sexually abused by his father. It also contended Snow convinced a female relative she was the victim of satanic abuse and military testing. When state investigators questioned Snow, she allegedly provided made-up notes about those sessions.
“In the agreement, Snow admitted destroying a relative's computer equipment [with a baseball bat!] and adding two incorrect dates to her psychotherapy notes....
“Snow was involved in the prosecutions of a string of child sex abuse cases in the 1980s. One man she testified against was granted a new hearing after the Utah Supreme Court questioned her credibility....”
Should it surprise anyone that Kelley and Snow – or
Dr. Richard Kluft – would be less than eager to look back at the toxic
misconceptions they spread?
A funny thing happened on the way to publication
March 7, 2014
Second of three posts
After our lengthy email exchange I took up editor Jon Conte on his offer to consider an expanded letter challenging the Journal of Interpersonal Violence’s past support of the “satanic ritual abuse” moral panic.
This is what I submitted on Oct. 25, 2013:
To the editor:
In December 1989 the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published “Stress
Responses of Children to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse in Day Care Centers”
by Susan J. Kelley.
In December 1990 it published “Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighborhood Setting” by Barbara Snow and Teena Sorensen. Both these articles endorsed, promoted and attempted to substantiate a concept that subsequent research has proven to be a quintessential moral panic. Today no respected social scientist will argue that satanic (or sadistic) ritual abuse ever existed in the nation's day cares.
These articles in JIV, however, were unequivocally confident that it not only existed but also was widespread. From Kelley's synopsis: “The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of sexual abuse and ritualistic abuse of children in day care settings. The sample was composed of 134 children; 67 children who were sexually abused and ritually abused in day care centers were compared on the Child Behavior Checklist with a carefully matched group of 67 nonabused children. Findings indicated that sexually abused children had significantly more behavior problems than did the nonabused children. Sexual abuse involving ritualistic abuse was associated with increased impact as well as increased severity in the extent of the sexual, physical, and psychological abuse the children experienced.”
Snow and Sorensen criticized “attempts to discredit victims and therapists” and seemed unaware that they were exposing the corruption of those therapists' interviewing techniques when they wrote: “Disclosures were difficult and progressed slowly. The majority of children showed little symptomology at initial referral with significant increases during the disclosure process.”
The Little Rascals and McMartin cases were but two manifestations of this moral panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Dozens of less publicized prosecutions occurred across North America and as far away as New Zealand and Germany. The extensive literature illuminating the day care moral panic includes “Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend” by Jeffrey S. Victor, “Sex Panic and the Punitive State” by Roger N. Lancaster, “Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America” by Philip Jenkins, “The Satanism Scare" by David G. Bromley, Joel Best and James T. Richardson, “Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance ” by Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, “The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic” by Mary De Young and the latest edition of “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” by Stanley Cohen – who coined the term “moral panic” in 1972.
The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Wee Care Day Nursery case in 1985. Among law enforcement reports debunking ritual abuse allegations the best known is “Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of ‘Ritual’ Child Abuse” by Kenneth Lanning, the FBI agent in the Behavioral Science Unit assigned to examine these cases. Similar reports have been issued in countries such as England (“Extent and Nature of Organised and Ritual Abuse” byJ. S. La Fontaine), the Netherlands (“Report of the Ritual Abuse Workgroup”) and Australia (“Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service”).
Eventually the convictions of most of the day care providers in the United States were overturned. Playing a major part in alerting appellate courts to the suggestibility of child witnesses was an amicus brief filed in the Wee Care case by pioneer researchers Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck.
Before the fever broke, however, untold harm was done to defendants, families and child-witnesses. In the words of sociologist Mary De Young:
“Innocent people have been accused and convicted; the autobiographies of
children have been usurped (and some children, now adults, have completely
retracted their allegations); professional reputations have been destroyed (and
some of the loudest proponents of the idea of ritual abuse have since retracted
their claims); tens of millions of dollars were wasted on investigations and
trials; it distracted attention, time, money and energy from 'real' cases of
sexual abuse and from the fathers, brothers and other family members who most
likely were the perpetrators; it made quality day care harder to find and
drove out male providers who could have been valuable role models to children, especially boys; it eroticized abuse by focusing on rituals and masked and hooded perpetrators; it added nothing – absolutely nothing – to a clinical or scientific understanding of the traumatic effects of abuse because the trauma children experienced in these cases was iatrogenic, i.e., caused by investigators, interviewers, prosecutors and hysterical parents; it broke up families; and even dropped property values and interfered with commerce; and it introduced distrust, cynicism and incivility into our lives and into legitimate work on helping abused kids.”
The Journal of Interpersonal Violence should not allow these misguided articles from 1989 and 1990 to stand as its last word on claims of day-care ritual abuse.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Alas, publication in the JIV now seems unlikely. Dr. Conte has not responded to my follow-up emails and phone messages over the past four months. Why might that be?
Next: I’ll consider some possible answers.
What!? A journal willing to retract?
March 6, 2014
First of three posts
Psychiatric Times isn’t the only professional journal to avoid reexamining the “satanic ritual abuse” era.
Other examples include Nursing Research, Child Abuse & Neglect and Relational Child and Youth Care Practice. The editors of each of these journals turned down my requests to retract their articles supporting and promoting the SRA moral panic.
The road to publication, however, has proved long and bumpy and ultimately – spoiler alert – a dead end.
Here are excerpts from my correspondence with Dr. Conte, who is a professor in the School of Social Work, University of Washington:
Powell (Oct. 30, 2012):
Hello Dr. Conte....
I am an independent researcher and blogger in Charlotte, North Carolina. My goal is to obtain a statement of innocence for the Edenton Seven, the wrongfully prosecuted defendants in the Little Rascals Day Care case (1989-1997).
In December 1989 the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published the article “Stress Responses of Children to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse in Day Care Centers” by Susan J. Kelley.
In December 1990 the Journal published the article “Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighborhood Setting” by Barbara Snow and Teena Sorensen.
Can you tell me whether the Journal ever published a retraction for these articles? And if not, would it consider doing so now?
Conte (Oct. 30, 2012):
I do not believe JIV [ever] published a Comment
on this 1989 manuscript. I would not prejudge any submission so long
as it is consistent with the overall mission and focus of the journal. A comment on a previous article, even years after publication would certainly be reviewed. Any submission must be scholarly and consistent with the purpose of knowledge development or dissemination. Your use of the term “recantation” [actually, “retraction”] would appear to suggest an advocacy purpose and that purpose alone would not be appropriate for a manuscript we would review.
Powell (Nov. 12, 2012):
I apologize for not having been clearer in my request.
What I am seeking is not a recantation but a simple, concise retraction by the editors, acknowledging that the concept accepted and promoted in these two articles -- ritual abuse in day cares -- was in fact entirely a product of a moral panic.
I am not an academic or professional, but I believe an examination of the literature in the intervening years would fully support such a retraction.
This passage is from the Retraction Guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics: “Retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon. Unreliable data may result from honest error or from research misconduct.”
Does the Journal of Interpersonal Violence want to leave these articles as its last word on the era of unfounded claims of ritual abuse in day cares?
Conte (Nov. 13, 2012):
As I said before we would accept a letter to
the Editor or longer manuscript. The letter would not be peer reviewed.
The longer manuscript would be.
Science and knowledge progress slowly. There are many things which are
published in good faith, blindly reviewed, and found acceptable for
publication. Then some years later with more research, experience, or
knowledge what was once acceptable is seen in a new light. I am not saying
this has taken place with the manuscript you have identified. It is not my
intent to review previously published work in light of the change in times.
If you wish to write a letter for publication I am happy to work with you in that effort.
Powell (Nov. 13, 2012):
I appreciate your thoughtful response. As much I would prefer a retraction -- professionally researched and peer-reviewed -- I appreciate your offer to consider a letter to the editor. Here is what I'd like to say:
“In December 1989 the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published ‘Stress
Responses of Children to Sexual Abuse and
Ritualistic Abuse in Day Care Centers’ by Susan J. Kelley.
“In December 1990 it published ‘Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighborhood
Setting’ by Barbara Snow and Teena
“Both these articles endorsed and promoted a concept – satanic (or sadistic) ritual abuse in day cares – that subsequent research has proven to be entirely false. Today no respected social scientist will argue otherwise.
“The Little Rascals and McMartin cases were but two manifestations of this moral panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Less publicized prosecutions occurred across North America and as far away as New Zealand and Germany.
“Untold harm was done to defendants, families and child-witnesses.
“The Journal of Interpersonal Violence should not allow these articles to stand as its last word on claims of day-care ritual abuse.”
Conte (Jan. 18, 2013):
I would suggest you consider several additional points: 1) you cite research which proves ritual abuse "false." I don't think you need to do a comprehensive research review, but since JIV is a scholarly journal, you should cite some of the research you are referring to. I am not sure that this research "proves" that RA does not exist but rather raises questions.
You might also make reference (if true) that no law enforcement investigation has every uncovered evidence that such "cults" exist. You also need to specify the harm that you feel these articles did. For example, does the term RA in the title imply belief that RA exists? I don't think you have to prove some harm, but be specific in what you believe the harm is.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, if there are issues within the articles (i.e., not just the title) then describe what you see as the conceptual, methodological, etc., problems.
We are probably going to invite the
authors to respond, and if they choose to do so I will share their responses
before we publish your letter or their responses.
Powell (Jan. 25, 2013):
I appreciate your guidelines and hope to produce something that is not only publishable but also contributes to discussion of this issue.
Conte (Sept. 4, 2013):
I am happy to work with you....
Next: My second attempt to make my case in the Journal of Interpersonal
Richard Kluft, advocate of ‘moderation’?
Feb. 28, 2014
As noted by Gary Greenberg, Richard Noll’s disappeared history of psychiatry and satanic ritual abuse “singles out two psychiatrists – Bennett Braun and Richard Kluft – who were instrumental in giving legitimacy to the SRA accounts. They helped change the DSM to make Multiple Personality Disorder (thought to be caused by the abuse) seem more common, they started the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, and they founded a journal called Dissociation....”
If the SRA era was psychiatry’s Wild West, then Braun and Kluft were... who? Butch and Sundance? Or Frank and Jesse?
In “Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory” (1995) philosopher Ian Hacking pointed out an editorial in Dissociation in which Kluft “pleaded for moderation, but... acknowledged that powerful emotions were at work. He also raised the stakes by printing a comparison that I find rather odious. He noted that one party refers to Nazis and the Holocaust, asking, ‘Should he or she be silent, emulating the “good Germans” who did not speak out about the atrocities in their midst, and by his or her silence become a facilitator?’”
Despite such overheated comparisons, and his ludicrous estimates of an epidemic of “multiples,” Kluft at least claimed “moderation” – not so Braun, whose excesses in patient treatment led to suspension of his Illinois medical license, closure of his hospital MPD unit and at least four out-of-court settlements, one for $10.6 million.
Today he practices in obscurity, while Kluft concentrates on stifling publication of incriminating journal articles.
C’mon, Dr. Kluft, aren’t you proud of your role?
Feb. 24, 2014
Why would Dr. Richard Kluft “take exception to” and “[raise] the issue of legal liability” over “When Psychiatry Battled the Devil”?
It’s not as if the record of Kluft’s involvement in promoting “satanic ritual abuse” and “multiple personality disorder” could be any longer or better-documented.
And it’s certainly not as if he has ever acknowledged the error of his ways.
In this exchange from a 2009 interview on CBS “Sunday Morning” he confidently posits a nationwide epidemic of undiagnosed cases of MPD:
Tracy Smith: So do you think that there are, what, thousands of people walking around out there with MPD who don`t even know it?
Kluft: Oh, easily.
Smith: Tens of thousands?
Smith: Hundreds of thousands?
Kluft: We might be at that level.
Passing off such fantasy as expertise would be knee-slappingly funny, of course, had it not typified the thinking that fostered scores of wrongful prosecutions and ruined thousands of lives....
I remain baffled – what exactly has Richard Kluft done to deserve such obeisance
from Psychiatric Times?
In search of a 'frank and unblinking appraisal'
Feb. 20, 2014
Following up on the curious case of Richard Noll v. Psychiatric Times, I wrote editor-in-chief James L. Knoll IV to ask about the removal of Dr. Noll’s “satanic ritual abuse” essay from the Psychiatric Times website.
Did the journal plan to address in some fashion the issues raised in Dr.
Noll’s piece? “Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to comment on the situation,” Dr. Knoll
Next I turned to Psychiatric Times’
described on the site as “[not] just figureheads with
impressive résumés.... They give us their frank and unblinking appraisal
of the contents of each and every issue....”
This is from a letter I sent to 22 PT board members:
“I am writing you in response to Dr. Allen Frances’s call for psychiatrists to ‘step forward and do the right thing’ about the profession’s failure to confront the 'satanic ritual abuse' claims of the 1980s and early ’90s.
“As you know, Psychiatric Times removed from its website Dr. Richard Noll’s history of the SRA era....
“Dr. Noll concluded by asking: ‘Are we ready now to reopen a discussion on this moral panic? Will both clinicians and historians of psychiatry be willing to be on record? Shall we continue to silence memory, or allow it to speak?’
“How do you, as a member of the Psychiatric Times editorial board, answer these questions?
“Would you now be willing to join with Dr. Frances in formally setting the record straight about SRA and in making amends to the scores of wrongfully prosecuted victims of the moral panic?”
So far I have not been overwhelmed with responses to these questions.
In fact, I have received only a single “frank and unblinking appraisal” –
Thomas G. Gutheil,
professor of psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard
“I do agree [with Dr. Frances],” he writes. "The 1992 FBI report compiled by
should have put an end to this, when he investigated many claimed cases from law enforcement viewpoint and in multiple cases found not a shred of
physical evidence, DNA, cells or bloodstains from butchered babies or sacrificed virgins.
“The problem is that social viruses like this are hard to assess and halt, like their biologic counterparts. I agree that individuals, especially in the legal system, should own up to their serious errors and miscarriages of justice, since improved science has blown up many claims, yet some prosecutors (e.g., Martha Coakley in Mass.) have not reversed themselves nor freed the imprisoned.
“However, I am not sure the entire mental health professions should share the blame.”
To be sure, distribution of responsibility among the professions is uneven – the Little Rascals prosecutors called on no psychiatrists at all,
only psychologists, off-brand psychotherapists, etc.
Psychiatric Times clings to embarrassing position
Feb. 14, 2014
Don’t miss the update appended by Dr. Noll:
“On 16 January 2014 I received a gracious email from PT’s editor-in-chief, Dr. James Knoll, updating me on the status of my submission. This message cleared up the mystery of the published article’s disappearance from PT.
“According to Dr. Knoll, ‘In an effort to present both sides, PT contacted Dr. [Richard] Kluft [of Philadelphia]. Please know that not only did he take exception to a number of your points, but he also raised the issue of legal liability. We are currently in the process of confirming that Dr. Kluft is willing to write a rejoinder to your piece.’
“Apparently he refused. About 10 days later I received another email from Dr. Knoll telling me that the reposting of my piece was to be put on hold at the advice of their attorneys. He did not outright reject the possibility it would be reposted, but I have heard nothing since....”
Followers of Retraction Watch – or even of littlerascalsdaycarecase.org – are not surprised to see editors go to absurd lengths to avoid candid correction. But the behavior of Psychiatric Times, billed as the most widely read psychiatric publication and boasting a lengthily-credentialed editorial board, seems especially unbecoming – even pusillanimous.
Dr. Kluft? Dr.Knoll? Can’t you do better?
‘Where is psychotherapists’ mea culpa?’
Feb. 7, 2014
■ ■ ■
“Kudos to Dr. Frances.... Fortunately, repressed memory therapy is much rarer nowadays (though I still hear of new cases, to my amazement and chagrin), but where are the psychotherapists saying ‘mea culpa’? I know of precisely two therapists who have had the ethics and courage to go public and apologize for their misguided belief in repressed memories and the harm they did to their clients.
“The bad interviewing technique and rush to judgment that caused the day care sex abuse hysteria has simply morphed into individual cases of false allegations, often related to divorce/custody battles or teenagers seeking revenge, and other reasons. Whenever anyone is accused of sexual abuse, they are assumed guilty until proven innocent. See www.ncrj.org for examples.
“I am also very glad that Dr. Frances has called attention to the outrageous case of Junior Chandler. I hope pressure mounts to secure his release, finally.”
■ ■ ■
“Thanks for sending [Dr. Frances’s post]. Really good for my grad class with clinical students.“
■ ■ ■
“I’m glad Dr. Frances is speaking out – he has credentials that can't be easily dismissed...
“How do we push for the total exoneration of those so needlessly prosecuted? I would join in that venture.”
■ ■ ■
“How unfortunate that journal editors refuse to get their hands dirty, even though their journals are already saddled with something dirty in their pasts.”
– W. Joseph Wyatt here
■ ■ ■
“It is hard to stir up interest in moral panics that have faded from view. Only a small number of individuals continue to take note. While most incarcerated individuals have some champions and have escaped continued imprisonment, there are always tragic cases of individuals who essentially become nonpersons.
“The good news is that the moral entrepreneurs are on the run at this point, but there are still some out there and the potential for trouble remains.”
■ ■ ■
“Is there any hope of starting a online petition to urge [Attorney General Roy] Cooper to do the right thing?
“Of course, now that he is running for governor he probably doesn’t want the Tea Party to say that he is a pedophile-lover.”
– Debbie Crane
■ ■ ■
“If only Cooper could see doing the right thing as an asset to his gubernatorial campaign....”
– Ed Cone
Is psychiatry ready to face up to its denial?
Feb. 1, 2014
“As our medical schools and graduate programs fill with students who were born
after 1989, we meet young mental health professionals-in-training who have no
living memory of the Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) moral panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. To those of us old enough to have been there, that era already seems like a curious relic of the past, bracketed in our memory palaces behind a door we are loathe to open again.
“Some mass cultural phenomena are so emotionally-charged, so febrile, and in retrospect so causally incomprehensible, that we feel compelled to move on silently and feign forgetfulness...
“Despite the discomfort it brings, we owe it to the current generation of
clinicians to remember that an elite minority within the American psychiatric
profession played a small
but ultimately decisive role in the cultural validation, and then reduction, of the Satanism moral panic between 1988 and 1994....
“Are we ready now to reopen a discussion on this moral panic? Will both clinicians and historians of psychiatry be willing to be on record?”
Wow! After more than two years of seeing mental health professionals shrug off responsibility for the moral panic they promoted, I can hardly believe what I'm reading. Noll, an accomplished author and professor, traces how it all happened – and asks, "Shall we continue to silence memory, or allow it to speak?”
An early vote to silence memory came from an unexpected source: Psychiatric Times itself, which clumsily pulled Noll's piece from its website.
By contrast, Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke, offered a powerful – and I hope influential – personal mea culpa.
Responses to N&O op-ed vary dramatically
Jan. 24, 2014
“Powell is right [in this News & Observer column]. The state should exonerate those wrongly convicted members of the Edenton Seven and the wrongly accused who were never convicted but had their lives ruined.
“The Innocence Project has freed men wrongly accused of murder or rape, but there seems to be little interest in making amends for those wrongly accused of abusing children, no matter how fantastical the accusations.”
“It can be hard, in calmer times, to imagine the power of a moral panic like the one in Edenton, itself part of a broader national hysteria. Lisa [Scheer] and I wrote about the case [in Elle magazine] and in our reporting found a community where rational people seemed afraid to dissent from the fantastical narrative.
“As young parents ourselves we were sympathetic to the families we met, but clearly things had gone very wrong in Chowan County.”
– From “Injustice in Edenton” by Edward Cone (Jan. 14)
And three online responses from the N&O:
“A few months after [Bob] Kelly's release I met him briefly. He had a job maintaining pay phones [for Glenn Lancaster], one of which was located in a pizzeria I was managing.
“I asked him if he was indeed who I thought he was and he said yes. When I told him I believed him and considered the accusations against him ridiculous on their face, he thanked me and appeared to be grateful for the moral support. What struck me was the lowly financial state he seemed to be reduced to and the humiliation he so clearly had to endure.”
– Bruce Henry
“Mr. Powell has forgotten Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Wall Street Journal journalist/commentator who received one of her numerous Pulitzer nominations for a series on the Edenton witch hunts. Those articles were some of the most powerful and insightful I have read in my life. I recall wondering why no North Carolina newspaper had the guts to stand up and condemn the witch trial hysteria and obvious travesty of justice taking place right in their own back yard.”
– James Gamble
Rabinowitz reported heroically on the ritual abuse epidemic, but she focused mostly on cases in Maplewood, N.J.; Malden, Mass., and Wenatchee, Wash., rather than in Edenton.
“I am so glad to know that you were in Edenton at that time and you know exactly what happened. Do you really think a child molester is doing to admit what they did? I don't think so!!!
“I'm sure you will allow them to baby sit your children or grandchildren.”
– Lu Ann Lewis Barber
Actually, I’d be glad to allow that – what potential babysitter has ever been more thoroughly vetted than the Edenton Seven?
It’s not too late to exonerate, Mr. Attorney General
Jan. 20, 2014
“Eighteen months ago I petitioned Attorney General Roy Cooper to issue a statement of innocence for the Edenton Seven.
“ ‘The Little Rascals case not only shattered the lives of the defendants,’ my letter argued, “but also left a deep and ugly stain on the reputation of the State of North Carolina.
“ ‘In 2001 Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift signed a resolution proclaiming the innocence of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. In time, such victims of the ritual-abuse day-care panic as the Edenton Seven will surely receive similar exoneration. Why not now? Why not in North Carolina? This is an opportunity to demonstrate moral leadership on a national scale.’ ”
“Cooper has yet to respond.”
– From “Like
Salem’s ‘witches,’ it’s time for NC to exonerate the Edenton Seven,”
my Jan. 19 op-ed column in the News & Observer (cached here)
on the 25th anniversary of the first Little Rascals sexual abuse complaint.
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.