How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of seven innocent
North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


  • APSAC’s child-protection record doesn’t inspire confidence

    Richard Wexler

    Richard Wexler

    Sept. 28, 2016

    “The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children [is] presenting a ‘special issue’ of one of its publications devoted to [Differential response] – or rather, devoted to bashing DR….

    “APSAC’s track record for getting child welfare issues right is less than distinguished. As Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker explain in Satan’s Silence, APSAC was formed in the 1980s largely by well-meaning ‘professionals’ who promoted claims of a supposed epidemic of mass molestation and satanic ritual abuse in day care centers.

    “ ‘From its inception,’ Nathan and Snedeker write, ‘APSAC’s leadership roster was a veritable directory of ritual-abuse architects.’  Kee MacFarlane, who led the questioning of children in the notorious McMartin Preschool case, served on APSAC’s board – and received the group’s Outstanding Professional award – a decade after McMartin.  And in 1997, three years after writing an article promoting the idea that there really were secret tunnels under the McMartin Preschool, Roland Summit, another former board member, received the group’s Lifetime Achievement award.”

    – From “Opposition to Differential Response Dealt Heavy Blow” by Richard Wexler in the Chronicle of Social Change (Sept. 24)

    Differential response – a less adversarial, more collaborative approach to reports of child abuse and neglect – isn’t a subject I’m well-informed on. But Wexler’s characterization of APSAC’s culpability for the day-care panic can’t be disputed.

    Next: Has APSAC recanted about ‘satanic ritual abuse’?


  • Day-care panic rooted in more than sex-role changes

    George Case

    George Case

    Sept. 23, 2016

    We Believe the Children” offers a clear explanation of how a then-novel crusade for child welfare and a murk of neo-Freudian psychological theory together drove officials to find suppressed trauma where none existed, and [Richard] Beck also cites the popular nonfiction books Sybil (1973) and Michelle Remembers (1980) for their role in spreading acceptance of Multiple Personality Disorder and Satanic Ritual Abuse as authentic phenomena.

    “He further argues that the day care scandals represented a conservative backlash on behalf of traditional family structures, in which fathers worked while mothers stayed at home to raise children, over the newer model of two busy parents dropping their kids off with professionals.  In this reading, the contemporaneous wave of incest survivor memoirs and self-publicizing MPD victims likewise reinforced the traditionalist ideal of helpless females unable to cope in a modern society that gave women too much sexual and career freedom.

    “Maybe.  Yet Beck only devotes a paragraph or two to the burgeoning pop-culture fascination with the occult which preceded the Satanic panic, and it’s worth pointing out that, despite hit films like The Godfather and Scarface, no one in the 1980s was accused of recruiting children into a mobster underworld, and despite turmoil in the Middle East, day cares were not suspected of being fronts for Islamic terrorists.

    “Rather, the emphasis on perversion, ritual killing, and cultism which characterized the scare drew on obvious sources in the mass entertainment of the mid-1960s onward.  As I’ve written in my book Here’s To My Sweet Satan:  How the Occult Haunted Music, Movies, and Pop Culture, 1966-1980,

    For a culture accustomed to the bloody rampages of Charles Manson, the shameless perversities of Anton LaVey, and the no-holds-barred gross-outs of The Exorcist, such combinations of cruelty, vulgarity, and the occult [in the McMartin charges] were no longer surprising.…For a long time the public had been bombarded with messages of what Satan and Satanists were like, of the words, images, and symbols associated with devil worship, and especially of how children were Satan’s favorite victims.  It had all finally proved too much for some people.

    “I believe it’s this influence that fostered the climate for McMartin and other travesties, at least as much as any right-wing fantasies about dutiful moms and dangerous outsiders….”

    – From “Children of the Grave” by Canaadian author and blogger George Case (Sept. 23)

    An earlier challenge to Beck’s emphasis on conservative backlash points a finger at feminism.


  • Johnny Small freed, now deserves pardon of innocence

    Johnny Small

    Johnny Small

    Sept. 14, 2016

    “[Chris] Mumma said she intends to request a pardon for [Johnny] Small from Gov. Pat McCrory. In order for Small to be compensated for the years he spent in prison, he has to be exonerated of the charges on the grounds that he did not commit the crime. Under North Carolina law, the Industrial Commission can award exonerees $50,000 for each year spent in prison up to a maximum of $750,000. Exonerees also are eligible for job training and college tuition….”

    – From “Johnny Small’s freedom makes some question if investigator should be charged” by F.T. Norton in the Wilmington Star-News (Sept. 9)

    Let’s hope McCrory responds more willingly and humanely than he did in finally pardoning Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.

    Case closed, Governor – no reinvestigation needed!


  • Emissaries from Raleigh bring kneejerk resistance to exoneration

    Roy Cooper

    Roy Cooper

    Sept. 11, 2016

    “I honestly don’t understand not only how the Attorney General’s Office felt it was necessary to fight us through a full week of hearing in this case, but how they could stand up at the end of that hearing and say they thought Johnny should stay in prison.

    “That is not a minister of justice. A minister of justice should be objective enough to evaluate the evidence in a fair way and there was no way anybody could look at the evidence that came out in that hearing and say Johnny Small should be in prison.”

    – Chris Mumma of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, quoted in “Johnny Small free after murder charge dismissed” in the Wilmington Star-News (Sept. 8)


    I would’ve expected, before my apprenticeship on the exoneration watch, that district attorneys would be less willing to having their fingers pried loose from wrongful convictions than their allies in the attorney general’s office. It’s the DAs, after all, who have to ‘splain their misfeasance to the voting public.

    But this often seems not to be the case, as exemplified by Assistant AG Jess Mekeel’s misplaced concern for “the stability and reliability of our justice system.”

    How much of this institutional resistance to exoneration owes to a tradition of prosecutorial blood-brotherhood? And how much springs directly (if not via email) from Attorney General Roy Cooper?

    If Cooper took heed of Mumma’s thoughtful plea for “more cooperation between prosecutors and defense attorneys in their efforts to achieve justice,” evidence of it has yet to surface.



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The Little Rascals Day Care 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.