“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 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.