“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

Did jurors really believe ‘poop in the spaghetti’? 

Jan. 25, 2015

Q:  You said that Mr. Bob made spaghetti at the day care.... Now, when did Mr. Bob say that there was poop in the spaghetti?

A:  After we, um, ate it.

Q:  All right. Did -- did you ever have to eat poop at the day care?

A:  No.

Q:  Okay. Did anybody try and make you eat poop at the day care?

A:  Yes.

Q: Who?

A:  Mr. Bob.

Q:  Tell me about it.

A:  I don’t remember it.

Q:  You don’t remember it?

A:  No.

Q:  Well, how do you know Mr. Bob tried to do it?

A:  What?

Q:  Did somebody tell you about it?

A:  No.

Q:  Okay. Well, then tell me how Mr. Bob tried to make you eat poop.

A:  Um, he told me, um, to eat it.Q:  Okay. Where was it?

A:  I forgot.

Q:  You forgot. Well, was it in Ms. Shelly's room?

A:  No.

Q:  Was it in the kitchen?

A:  Yes.

Q:  Okay. Well, did he make other kids eat poop while you were there?

A:  Yes.

Q:  Okay. Well, um, what happened when they ate it?

A:  I don’t know.

– From defense attorney Jeffrey Miller’s cross-examination of a child witness in the trial of Bob Kelly


This exchange represents only a tiny fraction of the 7-year-old girl’s testimony, which stretched over two days and included similarly incoherent references to Kelly and other defendants having raped her, urinated in her mouth, threatened to kill her parents, sodomized her with pencils and sewing needles, taken her on boat and truck rides, forced her to witness the killing and burial of babies and small animals.....

How funny and trivial such childish imaginings would seem, if only the jury’s gullibility hadn’t sent Kelly to prison for six years. “The children were convincing,” insisted rogue juror Dennis T. Ray.



Day-care cases rooted in ‘sense of powerlessness’? 

Jan. 17, 2015

Q: Do you have a better understanding of why people act the way they do in certain situations?

A:   ....Whenever the safety of children is perceived to be in question, we run the risk of responding with emotion rather than reason. Certainly in Salem [where three of her ancestors were accused witches] that was the case. And look at the so-called “satanic ritual abuse” pre-school phenomenon in the early 1980s, which is now seen to have been a tremendous miscarriage of justice. Calls for moderation are dismissed with the assertion that the children have to come first -- which, of course, they should.

“But it's also tempting to read these experiences as expressive of a deeper anxiety about childrearing in an uncertain world, with no guarantees of a good outcome. I feel that it comes from a sense of powerlessness that can't be expressed elsewhere....”

– From an interview with Katherine Howe, author of “Conversion,”
a novel based on a mysterious 2012 outbreak of tics and seizures
among teenage girls in upstate New York,
in the Daily News of Batavia, New York (Aug. 23, 2014)




District attorney to reexamine Little Rascals – or not? 

Jan. 11, 2015

Before he turned back a challenge from Little Rascals prosecutor Nancy Lamb, incumbent District Attorney Andrew Womble had given me an inkling of hope he might consider revisiting the case.

This is from a letter I sent him on Sept. 11:

“In your Q&A with the Outer Banks Voice... you recalled ‘a pervasive mindset that the job of the district attorney was to prosecute all cases and to gain convictions. The Duke lacrosse case sort of changed that in my mind; the role of the district attorney is to seek justice.’

“Your thoughtful response leads me to ask how in retrospect you view the prosecution of Bob Kelly, Dawn Wilson and the rest of the Edenton Seven. Is Little Rascals a case  you would have chosen to take to court, much less extend over eight years?

“Johnson Britt, Robeson County DA, recently disavowed the state’s allegations against two defendants cleared by DNA testing. In addition to the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ robust overturning of the verdicts against Kelly and Wilson, a quarter-century of medical and social science research has made ever more clear the innocence of the Edenton Seven....

“As district attorney, would you be willing to voice your own unofficial exoneration of the defendants in the First District’s most notorious prosecution?”

When Womble didn’t respond, I turned to Holly Koerber-Audette, his campaign consultant. Two weeks before the election she offered encouragement: “I am more than happy to talk to him about your request.  I have followed the case and your excellent efforts for a long time now.... You have my word, I will discuss it with him.”

My several follow-up emails have gone unanswered. Whatever the DA’s response, I’d be glad to see it.


View from UK: ‘Whole culture...has become hysterical’ 

Jan. 3, 2015

“Lurid tales of children being sexually abused, of animals being ritually slaughtered and babies being bred for sacrifice, in bizarre black magic ceremonies by cults of devil-worshipping Satanists first surfaced in America in the early 1980s. The allegations of what became known as Satanic ritual abuse soon spread to Britain, Australia and New Zealand in the late 1980s and early 1990s....

“As early as 1994 a UK government-funded investigation concluded there was no evidence Satanic ritual abuse existed. Yet despite the continuing absence of evidence, anywhere in the world, a minority of child care professionals including police officers and social workers, and adult psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists persist in the belief that Satanic ritual abuse exists....”

– From a synopsis of remarks by Rosie Waterhouse, a journalist and academic
who has been the foremost investigator of supposed “satanic ritual abuse”
in Great Britain for the past 24 years


If my Google News feed is any measure, however anecdotal, such British claims may now outnumber those from the States. I asked Dr. Waterhouse to expound:

“There is a hard core of ‘believers’ who continue to spread the myth and very alarmingly seem to have influence among authorities and the media....

“The whole culture now about allegations of child sex abuse – from Satanic to dozens of police and official investigations and inquiries into non-Satanic ‘historic’ allegations, including against high-profile people including celebs and politicians – has become hysterical....

“Setting aside the Satanic abuse allegations – which I believe to be the most spurious, because as far as I am aware there has never been produced any physical, forensic, corroborating evidence, anywhere in the world – the historic non-Satanic allegations which have gone to trial have resulted in some convictions and some acquittals. Of other allegations which have not yet come to court, some may be true. Others I sense are the product of trawls for alleged survivors and witnesses to come forward, often with the prospect of compensation, and are false....

“The tidal wave of allegations is overwhelming. I really am depressed by it all.”



Edenton 7 won’t be snapping selfies at marker ceremony 

Dec. 31, 2014

“Dear Mr. Powell:

“At their meeting on December 16, the members of the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee... voted unanimously not to approve a marker [in Edenton recognizing the Little Rascals Day Care case].

“Your nomination was among 17 on the agenda (only five met with approval).... In short, the committee felt that the case was too recent – with too many people affected by it living in the area. They felt that much more time needed to pass before the subject could be judged by history and considered for a marker. One suggestion was that it might be considered 25 years after the deaths of those convicted.....”

– From a letter rejecting my application for a “history on a stick” marker for the Little Rascals case


I respect the committee’s reasoning, even though I doubt I’ll be around when it’s ready to reconsider – in what, 2075?




Why evangelicals fall prey to ritual abuse tales 

Dec. 22, 2014

““We evangelical Christians by definition live by our own narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. We believe in good and evil. That is why, as a group, we might be vulnerable to other meta-narratives – after all, if you believe in one, it’s easier to accept a second and a third.

“One example: in the 1980s and 1990s too many of us accepted the story of widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse, despite the fact that the evidence could not be found, nor could anyone name the thousands of missing children who supposedly had been sacrificed to the devil.”

– From “ ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ has its 50th Anniversary
by Gary Shogren at Open Our Eyes, Lord!


Although “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” by Richard Hofstadter was first published in response to Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, it continues to offer insights into the attraction of a wide range of conspiracy theories.






Seeking corroboration isn’t disrespectful – it’s useful 

Dec. 10, 2014

“More than a decade ago, I wrote about the McMartin preschool case, and other satanic ritual child abuse accusations that turned out to be false. Back then, the slogan many supporters of the accusations brandished was, ‘Believe the Children.’ It was an antidote to skepticism about real claims of child abuse, just as today, ‘Believe the Victims’ is a reaction to a long history of callous oversight of rape accusations.

“ ‘Believe the Victims’ makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.”

– From “Reporting on Rape” by Margaret Talbot at newyorker.com (Dec. 7)


Given the prosecution’s strategic secrecy, the pursuit of corroboration in the Little Rascals case presented an enormous challenge. But news coverage could been far more skeptical and revealing – perhaps even game-changing. The editor of the News & Observer certainly thought so.




News media newly skeptical about sex allegations? 

Dec. 3, 2014

“I was in graduate school in Southern California 30 years ago when the McMartin Preschool scandal erupted, featuring tales of Satanic rituals, underground tunnels, group sex with animals and children, and various acrobatic acts that would challenge Cirque du Soleil, all believed credulously by the media and California prosecutors....

“There was something so literally incredible about [such] ‘Satanic ritual abuse’ cults that serious doubts and questions should have been raised right at the outset.

“Some hard questions are starting to be asked about the latest sequel to the Salem witch trials – the college campus ‘rape culture’ hysteria.... The Rolling Stone story about an especially brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia is provoking considerable backlash – with a few critics suggesting the entire story might be a hoax ....

“It took years for the ‘Satanic child abuse crisis’ to collapse, and several months for the Duke lacrosse scandal to turn around. What is interesting about the UVa story is how quickly it is facing credible challenge....”

– From “The Spirit of Salem Lives On” by Steven Hayward
at powerlineblog.com (Dec. 2)






Can Edenton squeeze in one more historical marker? 

Nov. 27, 2014

“Of the dozen or so historical markers clustered in the town of Edenton, only one – recognizing novelist Inglis Fletcher – postdates the 1800s.

“The North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Committee now has the opportunity, 25 years after the first arrest in the Little Rascals case, to add to that number a 20th Century event inarguably significant in the legal and social history of not just North Carolina but also the nation.”

– From my application proposing
“history on a stick” recognition for
the Little Rascals Day Care case



The marker committee, composed of historians from four-year colleges across the state, will meet in December to decide which pending applications meet its criteria.











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.