“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
In Guilford County, a DA who paid attention
Nov. 27, 2015
“We cannot bring criminal prosecutions based upon what we think the facts
might be, out of our love for animals or in response to public pressure.
Down that road lies the wreckage of the Duke lacrosse case, the Little
Rascals Day Care case
and other prosecutorial misadventures.....”
– District Attorney J. Douglas Henderson,
explaining his dismissal of animal cruelty
charges against the former director of
the Guilford County (N.C.) Animal Shelter
An animal shelter isn’t a day care center, euthanasia isn’t “satanic ritual abuse” and Henderson’s decision hasn’t met with unanimous community support, but how encouraging to see a DA who seems to have learned appropriate lessons from two of the state’s most notorious “prosecutorial misadventures.”
Catholic clergy abuse scandal unrelated to day-care cases
Nov. 18, 2015
“Readers who want a deeper look at how young children’s accounts of CSA
[child sexual abuse]
were discredited in the same time frame of the [Roman Catholic] clergy CSA scandal should read Ross Cheit’s 2014 book ‘Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology and the Sexual Abuse of Children’....
The clergy sex abuse scandal at the center of the just-released newsroom drama “Spotlight” had nothing to do with the “satanic ritual abuse” moral panic so earnestly if unpersuasively denied by Professor Cheit.
Clergy abuse was all too real, and the evidence proved undeniable; abuse in
day cares was a fantasy produced
by undertrained and overreaching therapists. Tragically, the children's accounts that were "discredited" were their original denials that they had experienced abuse.
Worth noting: Dr. Friend is former director of
Stuart House in Santa Monica, Calif., a child abuse treatment center
opened to accommodate the tidal wave of (mostly imaginary) abuse cases spawned by McMartin.
‘Michelle Remembers’ spread its myth widely
Nov. 15, 2015
“In 1977 the Canadian psychotherapist Lawrence Pazder published a memoir of one of his patients, ‘Michelle Remembers.’...
“Michelle’s memoir had been preceded by a number of other books by survivors of child abuse, such as ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ (1952) and ‘Sybil’ (1973).... What Michelle remembered, though, set her book apart. The narrative included lurid details of years of sexual abuse, satanic ritual, animal sacrifice, serial rape, baby killing and a climactic final battle between the devil (complete with horns and tail) and the Virgin Mary...
“Michelle had apparently repressed the memory of these events for something like 20 years. Only after sessions with her therapist (whom she later married) did the memories reemerge, from the couch to the printed page.
“‘Michelle Remembers’ was the first to really discover satan, and many of its narrative moments would recur, endlessly, in the following decade in a series of expanding claims of a secret satanic conspiracy for world domination. As one law enforcement official put it, ‘Before “Michelle Remembers,” there were no Satanic child prosecutions. Now the myth is everywhere.’ ”
– From “From History to Theory” by Kerwin Lee Klein (2011)
Chandler’s sentence designed to lock him up forever
Nov. 8, 2015
“The latest obstacle to Gerald Amirault's freedom came without fanfare. A three-member panel of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections has now decided that, since the prisoner has refused participation in treatment programs for sex offenders, he was considered to be ‘in denial.’ Permission for him to appear before the Board that could grant early parole would therefore be denied.”
– From “How to Extort a Confession” in the Wall Street Journal (April 22, 2002)
Steadfast in his supposed “denial,” Amirault wouldn’t be paroled until 2004 – 18 years into his 40-year sentence.
Compared with Junior Chandler, however, he was lucky. Chandler’s two consecutive life sentences have made him ineligible for parole. For a brief moment during his long and maddening appeals process, in 2008, it seemed those life sentences would be made concurrent – thus qualifying him for parole consideration. But a switch in judges, orchestrated by the attorney general’s office, vaporized that prospect.
A footnote: The North Carolina Department of Correction has its own Sexual Offender Accountability and Responsibility program. “Through psycho-educational modules, behavior techniques and empathy training,” its website says, “S.O.A.R. participants learn that sexually abusive behavior is both controllable and manageable.”
Junior Chandler recalls having been invited to participate, but .... “They said I had to admit I was guilty. I told them I couldn’t do that, because I hadn’t done anything.... What would you do?”
Just what McMartin case needed: More hysteria!
Nov. 4, 2015
“[Psychiatrist Roland] Summit praised the hysteria-induced news media hype and community gossip [about the McMartin Preschool case] as a public service: Without that type and extent of press coverage, the researchers and other professionals would not be able to gather this information and would be trapped by old myths about child sexual abuse.
“Summit complained that investigators were limiting the ability of parents to cope by discouraging them from meeting and discussing the case. The community’s priority, he explained, should be to support the children. Hundreds of children had escaped sexual assault, he claimed, because of the publicity about the McMartin case.”
– From “Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Reference Handbook” by Karen L. Kinnear (2007)
The “satanic ritual abuse” day-care myth had no more enthusiastic – and effective – pitchman than Roland Summit, who conjured up the Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, who spread the gospel as far as New Zealand and who never ever gave up on the existence of the McMartin tunnels.
Although Summit himself never made it to Edenton, his ill-conceived cosmology arrived full-blown.
Salem profits from its historic shame – so why shouldn't Edenton?
Oct. 29, 2015
“You have to be ... inventive to brand yourself as a Halloween capital – extending a one-night affair into a monthlong celebration and inviting hundreds of thousands of visitors into your streets – when for centuries you were known as the community that put innocents to death for witchcraft. How did Salem, Mass., repackage a tragedy as a holiday, appointing itself ‘Witch City’ in the process?...
“About 200 years after the trials, a Salem silversmith issued a souvenir spoon, featuring a witch holding a broomstick. Other mementos followed. It was difficult to hit the right note: The Salem-based Parker Brothers company issued, then quickly discontinued, a witchcraft card game.... When Arthur Miller visited Salem in 1952, he discovered the subject was taboo....
“Meanwhile the city fell on hard times.... As if by magic, a different kind of enchantment arrived in the form of the ABC sitcom, ‘Bewitched.’ It seemed that an ancestor of Samantha, the main character, had been convicted of witchcraft during the trials....
“In Samantha’s wake, Salem recast its inglorious past, or at least some version of it.... The city transmuted its secret shame into its saving grace. In 1982 it introduced ‘Haunted Happenings,’ later extending the holiday into a four-week festival. ‘Salem owns Halloween like the North Pole owns Christmas,’ The Boston Globe declared.... Halloween is to some extent year-round in Salem, where you might well bump into a goblin in a sandwich shop in July.
“Three hundred years after the trials, Salem unveiled an elegant, understated memorial to the victims. Three hundred and thirteen years after the trials, it unveiled a gleaming statue of the ‘Bewitched’ star, Elizabeth Montgomery, on a broom. Not everyone liked the idea: A former historic district commissioner clucked that one might as well plant a likeness of Colonel Klink at Auschwitz. But the 1992 memorial was arguably not itself possible without ‘Bewitched.’ It isn’t easy to commemorate an atrocity. ABC’s domestic goddess had both laundered and folded the history....”
– From “First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them.” by Stacy Schiff in the New York Times (Oct. 24)
Edenton may lack the springboard of a popular sitcom, but this 1993 letter writer foresaw the tourism potential of remembering the Little Rascals case. Proposals for a statue – or a spoon – anyone?
Will Mass. governor show McCrory (or Cooper) the way?
Oct. 22, 2015
North Carolina isn’t the only state that has failed to mitigate – however little and late – the injustices it inflicted during the “satanic ritual abuse” era.
In Massachusetts, the Fells Acres Day Care case of 1984 resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of Violet, Gerald and Cheryl Amirault. Even more than in other such cases, the prosecution was gratuitously and unceasingly hateful. In 2002, at the urging of District Attorney Martha Coakley, Acting Gov. Jane Swift refused to sign the parole board’s unanimous recommendation of commutation. (At least voters managed not to reward Coakley, with either a Senate seat or the governorship.)
In 2004, Gerald became the last of the three Amiraults to be released, but his parole carried numerous restrictions.
Barbara Anderson, a longtime advocate, provides this update:
“Gerald’s parole conditions became more burdensome over the years as real sex crimes were committed in the commonwealth: polygraph exams; exclusionary zones (towns he isn’t allowed to enter); a ban on leaving the state without a permit that must be voted on each time by the parole board (and then for no more than two weeks). For years his monthly GPS surveillance fee was $380; this has been dropped to $80 for parole supervision.
“The harshest provision seems to be the ankle bracelet, which keeps him from wearing shorts in the summer or ski boots in the winter, from swimming at the beach with his grandchildren. He has to keep a log of everywhere he goes outside his house.”
During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, Republican candidate Charlie Baker told Anderson that if elected he would address Amirault’s plight. Baker narrowly defeated Coakley, but so far he hasn’t followed through.
Anderson again calls on Baker “to remove the bracelet from Gerald’s ankle, to drop his curfew, to allow him to get a job and to start helping his wife earn money to pay the mortgage acquired during his defense.
“Just call the Sex Offender Board and ask to have him re-classified from Level 3 to Level 1 to ease his restrictions. Or ask them to vote to take him off parole.... Otherwise he’ll be suffering unfair indignities until 2024.
“Clearly there is no way for Massachusetts to make up for 30 years of injustice. ‘Pardon’ is the wrong word, since the Amiraults did nothing wrong, but it may be the only remedy since governments don’t usually do ‘apology.’ “
If Gov. Baker should belatedly rouse himself to unshackle Gerald Amirault, might his fellow Republican governor in North Carolina – or that governor’s would-be successor – take notice? The Edenton Seven may not suffer the continued punishment still visited on Amirault, but their lives too were forever and indelibly damaged by the state.
‘A hard core of evil in the soul of humankind?’
Oct. 20, 2015
“[Richard Beck’s “We Believe the Children”] addresses only the question of why those events unfolded in the particular way that they did, at one particular moment – not why this hydralike form of communal social hysteria can be stamped out in one place only to rear another ugly head elsewhere.
“Perhaps there is no answer to that question – or, at least, no answer we want to hear. Politics, social mores, human psychology, a rye-eating fungus: all these submit calmly to our investigations. But a hard core of evil in the soul of humankind? That might be the real witchcraft, one we dare not examine too closely.”
– From “Trial
and Error: Three centuries of American witch hunts”
by Ruth Franklin in Harper’s Magazine (Oct. 17)
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.