‘They constantly asked him the same thing over and over again….’


Jan. 12, 2018

“[Bob Kelly’s] defense contended that the children’s allegations were just the responses of suggestible youngsters eager to please the interrogators who were urging them to disclose abuse. [Interviewed in “Innocence Lost: The Verdict”,] one mother whose child did not disclose abuse is seen heaping scorn on the police and social services interrogation of her child:

” ‘They constantly asked him the same thing over and over again, and they would rephrase it…. They talked to him, it had to be an hour and a half or so before we interrupted and they wanted to continue talking to him. I would guess the same questions were asked five or six times.’

“This mother’s recollection is one of the few clues to the police methods in this case. Police and prosecutors declined to cooperate with ‘Frontline.’ All of the investigative notes and tapes were destroyed, and the only source material available at trial was after-the-fact summaries….”

– From “Justice Abuse? ‘Frontline’ Documentary Takes Hard Look At A Small-town Scandal” by Bart Mills in the Chicago Tribune (July 20, 1993)


Remembering when ‘sketchiest of evidence or none at all’ was plenty


Jan. 8, 2018

“Because [this movement] was about sex and children, hysteria was not far behind. Before long, an industry of feminist and Christian therapists and self-help writers were claiming that virtually every behavioral quirk or emotional trouble could be traced to sexual abuse, even if – especially if – the alleged victim did not remember it. ‘If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were,’ wrote poet Ellen Bass and journalist Laura Davis in their massive bestseller The Courage to Heal  (1988). The symptom checklists in it and similar books include everything from arthritis to feeling ugly. Bass’s book launched a battery of unscientific ‘therapeutic’ and forensic interviewing techniques to extract false and ‘recovered’ memories of sexual depredation. …

“A new crusade marched under the banner ‘Believe the Children.’ With the sketchiest of evidence or none at all, child protective agencies removed kids from their parents. Credulous juries sent day-care workers to prison on charges of ‘satanic ritual abuse.’ Adults denounced their aging parents, guilty of nothing more than imperfect love, as sadistic rapists. It took only one accusation to ruin a person’s life. Bus drivers, babysitters, divorcing fathers, and boyfriends at the wrong end of a grudge lost jobs, families, and reputations with one accusation, one newspaper item. In its review of exonerations from 1989 to 2012, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that among convictions for crimes that never occurred, over half involved child sexual abuse: ‘Two-thirds of these cases were generated in a wave of child sexual abuse hysteria that swept the country three decades ago.”

– From “Will Feminism’s Past Mistakes Haunt #MeToo?” (Dec. 8) by Judith Levine in Boston Review


‘Moral panics: they may begin with a legitimate societal concern….’

Jan. 4, 2018

“Sexual harassment or assault, by contrast [with the Communism scare in Hollywood], obviously warrants discipline at the very least and criminal prosecution wherever appropriate. But then and now, what’s lacking is any shared obligation to respect constitutional rights, ensure due process or maintain a sense of proportion…. And that’s the thing about moral panics: they may begin with a legitimate societal concern – drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, human trafficking – but they can devolve into Prohibition, movie and broadcast censorship, banning comic books and rock ‘n’ roll, and general crusades against anything in popular culture challenging the official conformist line. And if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself succumbing to irrational fears of ‘satanic ritual abuse,’ ‘backward masking’ in rock lyrics and secret pedophilia rings run out of suburban pizzerias….

“It’s not witches, but the witch-hunters, that we should really fear, for they lead us to abdicate our responsibilities to be fair, thoughtful, measured, and rational….”

– From “Season of the witch” by Joel Bellman at LA Observed (Dec. 10)


‘Little Rascals case is a study of female/maternal vengeance’


Brian Lambert

Dec. 12, 2017

“Sadly, we’ve grown accustomed to gross miscarriages of justice in cases involving minorities and the indigent. Appalled as we are by such legal travesties we rationalize it as the consequences of traditional bigotry.

“But there is no racial component to the Little Rascals case. There isn’t even much of a class component, since the defendants and their accusers were for the most part, equals. With the exception of a couple jurors, all the characters are white and comfortably middle-class.

“Neither is there any effect of drug abuse or any other kind of aberrant psychology.

“If anything, the Little Rascals case is a study of female/maternal vengeance, since the Kellys’ foremost accusers were Betsy Kelly’s friends, the mothers of the children entrusted to her care. Likewise the vast majority of court-appointed therapists and counselors were female, as was the most prominent of the three prosecutors.

“The story is a riveting study of mass psychosis, of the willingness, ability and need of well- educated, civilized people to believe something in the face of a near total absence of logic and extraordinary cruelty to friends and neighbors….”

– From “A ‘Frontline’ documentary on child abuse hysteria shows how good TV can be” by Brian Lambert in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (May 27, 1997)



‘Believe the children’ (after they’ve been interrogated into submission)


Dec. 10, 2017

“Controversy over the credibility of children’s testimony has congealed into a debate between those who demand that we ‘believe the children’ no matter how outlandish their allegations and those who maintain that children are inherently so suggestible that their testimony can never be relied on upon. An interesting question that remains is why children are not believed when, as often happens, they specifically deny charges at the time they first arise….

“Why isn’t the child allowed to say no? A widening body of research shows that repeated questioning of children, especially by authoritative adults with a specific bias, will often lead to answers that conform to the interviewers’ expectations….

“Divorce, neglect, unsafe neighborhoods, bad schools – these primary social problems are not the fault of the people to whom we have entrusted our children. Forcing children to invent stories of abuse is abuse….”

– From “Child-care Demons” by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker (Oct. 3, 1994)


Charles Manson set stage for fear of hippies, then of witches


Dec. 5, 2017

“The Manson Family’s ritualistic murders in 1969 triggered the ini4al stages of na4onal cult hysteria….

“Manson made hippies scary for awhile, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that ’70s horror movies featuring hooded devil covens, witches and the occult emerged shortly after he was convicted. Manson and his apostles triggered a frenzy pertaining to cults that would reach ridiculous new heights in the ‘80s with the ‘satanic ritual abuse’ allegations, which inspired their own exploitation movies as well….”

— From “How Exploitation Movies Exploited Charles Manson and Hippie Hysteria
by Kieran Fisher at “Film School Rejects” (Nov. 25)



‘Mindhunter’ series misguided in choice of role model



Oct. 19, 2017

“Though ‘Mindhunter’ at times seems like a fictitious nightmare, the new Netflix series is very much rooted in reality. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is based on real-life FBI agent John E. Douglas, and Dr. Wendy Carr (played by Anna Torv) is based on Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, a pioneer in the treatment of trauma and abuse victims….

“The character molded after Burgess helps Ford and his partner legitimize their research with her sociological and science-backed knowledge….”

– From “The Influential Trailblazer Who Inspired Mindhunter’s Dr. Wendy Carr” by Kelsey Garcia at Popsugar (Oct. 16) 

Yes, it’s just a TV character. But the depiction of Ann Wolbert Burgess as a trustworthy source of “science-based knowledge” should appall anyone who recalls her national prominence in igniting the “satanic ritual abuse” day care panic.

Most grievous for the Little Rascals defendants, it was Burgess who led a three-day conference in Kill Devil Hills just months before Bob Kelly’s arrest. The agenda: learning how to spot child molesters operating day-care facilities.

She has never apologized.


‘I heard a so-called expert describe vast networks of these cults’



Oct. 15, 2017

“Remember, [this fictional child sex abuse trial] happened during an odd time in criminal justice, when the public was convinced there were satanic cults all over the country.

“I attended a forensic psychology conference in the early ’90s, and I heard a so-called expert describe vast networks of these cults abusing children and even sacrificing babies. She claimed that a quarter of her patients were survivors of ritual abuse.

“All around the country there were criminal trials going on…. Unfortunately, many weren’t based on facts but on fear and superstition.”

–  Dr. Lawrence Zucker, a character in “I Know a Secret,” the latest Rizzoli and Isles thriller from Tess Gerritsen 

That conference sure sounds like the actual one at Kill Devil Hills that preceded Bob Kelly’s arrest by just months.

And the “so-called expert”? Well, here’s how Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker described Ann Wolbert Burgess in 2001 in “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a  Modern American Witch Hunt”: “promoter of the use of children’s drawings to diagnose sexual abuse, developer of the idea of the sex ring, participant in developing the case that imprisoned the Amirault family and currently a researcher into the traumatic aftereffects of ritual abuse.”


Esteemed psychiatrist analyzes Trump – and Junior Chandler



Sept. 18, 2017

Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University, has been generating lots of attention with his provocative and important new book, “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.”

What better time to look back at Dr. Frances’s 2014 call to correct the “egregious injustice” committed by the State of North Carolina against Junior Chandler.


UNC psychologist still thinks kids aren’t suggestible


Sept. 10, 2017

“With no conclusive DNA evidence, medical evidence of penetration or an eyewitness to the alleged assault, both prosecution and defense relied on expert witnesses to speak to the reliability of a young child’s testimony and whether it had been tainted by outside factors, such as how her mother had pressed her about whether she was touched… and how child advocacy center staff had interviewed her….

“ ‘Did [the 6-year-old girl] lie? I don’t know, and the problem is, neither does anyone else,’ [Marine Col. Daniel] Wilson’s civilian attorney Phil Stackhouse said in a closing argument…. Stackhouse pointed out that she had twice denied to her mother being touched by Wilson before she said he had.

“A government witness, Dr. Mark Everson, an expert on childhood trauma at the University of North Carolina, had testified that 6-year-olds are remarkably resilient to suggestion, or the planting of false memories….”

– From “Jury Deliberates Over Colonel Accused of Child Sex Assault” by Hope Hodge Seck at military.com (Sept. 9)

Yes, that’s the same Mark Everson who helped persuade a jury that Bob Kelly was guilty of 99 counts of child sexual abuse.

Everson, a UNC psychologist, disputed well-accepted research that children are suggestible and should not be repeatedly interrogated by therapists. Even 10 years later, he found it hard to believe that every Little Rascals child-witness had been badly interviewed and confused: “There’s so much smoke there, it’s hard to imagine there’s no fire.”

Update: A military court at Camp Lejeune found Col. Wilson guilty of child molestation.