‘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.


Donald Trump has Harvey. Nancy Lamb had Floyd.



Aug. 27, 2017

In 1999, when the last charges against Bob Kelly were dismissed, here’s how Joseph Neff of the News & Observer described the scene:

“The prosecutors in the longest, most expensive criminal case in North Carolina history picked a day when all attention was focused elsewhere to quietly throw in the towel.

“It was Sept. 15, as Hurricane Floyd churned northward toward landfall the next day, that Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb filed a two-page document with the Clerk of Superior Court in Edenton, dismissing eight counts of sexual abuse against Robert Kelly.”



At center of case: disgruntled mom, newly indoctrinated policewoman


Jane Mabry

Aug. 21, 2017

“It’s impossible to say what might have happened had Jane Mabry’s child not been slapped, or if Brenda Toppin had not just been to the sexual abuse class. I certainly don’t think Jane ever foresaw where it all led. Who could? I think all she wanted was to close Little Rascals.”

– Ofra Bikel, quoted in “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)


Toppin’s interview notes: ‘Just a lot of extra paper’

Brenda Toppin

Aug. 1, 2017

“In the McMartin case, the defense used videotapes of therapists’ interviews with the children to suggest that the idea of abuse had been implanted.

“[Ofra] Bikel says, ‘The authorities in North Carolina [in the Little Rascals case], who I know met with the McMartin prosecutors, learned from them that the therapists’ notes should just be summaries. They learned that if you want to win a case, it’s a bad idea to have tapes around.’

“The prosecution interviewer [Brenda Toppin] is shown testifying that she cannot say why her original interview notes were destroyed: ‘It’s just a lot of extra paper,’ she said.”

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


Why Mike Easley had to deny errors in Little Rascals trials

Mike Easley

June 19, 2017

“Our criminal justice famously presumes that every accused person is innocent until proven guilty. But once a conviction is obtained, that presumption is turned on its head. Charges were brought, and a jury, which saw evidence and heard from the witnesses firsthand, voted to convict. At that point, finality sets in.

“Prosecutors tasked with defending a conviction against compelling evidence that it was wrongfully secured typically have two choices. They can accept the responsibility for participating — directly or indirectly — in an injustice, or they can insist that nothing went awry or that whatever mistakes may have been made were ‘immaterial’– that is, the jury would have convicted anyway. The justice system strongly pushes them in the latter direction. Ambitious, hard-charging prosecutors know that the way to the top is amassing guilty verdicts, not admitting mistakes. In 47 states [including North Carolina], their bosses – the county district attorney, the state’s attorney general – are elected. Incompetence, or appearing ‘soft on crime,’ can be fatal at the ballot box….

“The refusal to admit a mistake – or even an act of bad faith – holds true regardless of whether the prosecutor defending the conviction had any involvement at the trial level, personally knew the key players or even worked in the same office…. This may be due, in part, to a phenomenon that [Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed] calls ‘the conformity effect.’ Prosecutors… are ‘culturally aligned with that side and tend to defer to their peers who were the original decision makers.’ “

– From “For shame” by Lara Bazelon at Slate (April 7, 2016)

Although examples of such prosecutorial lockstep are legion, most relevant here is N.C. Attorney General Mike Easley’s response to the overturning of the convictions of Little Rascals defendants Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson. Easley, himself a former district attorney (and future governor), laid it on thick:

“The decision casts no doubt on the credibility of the children or the integrity of the investigation…. In both cases, the facts supporting the convictions were clear and overwhelming. [The N.C. Court of Appeals] disregarded these facts and misapplied the law.”

Four months later, throwing in the towel after the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals, Easley managed to find fault not with the prosecutors but with the children.  “All prosecutors know that cases involving children weaken with age,” he said. “A retrial in this matter will be extremely difficult.”


How did prosecutors let go ‘16 psychotic, baby-killing pedophiles’? 


Brian Lambert

June 3, 2017

How did prosecutors let go ‘16 psychotic, baby-killing pedophiles’?

“An early indicator of the bizarre and fickle nature of the [Little Rascals] prosecution was that in all, 23 Edenton residents were named by the children (via counseling) as having engaged in essentially the same abominable acts as those indicted.

“Yet the county DA’s office arbitrarily pared the case to seven, leaving, one assumes, 16 psychotic, baby-killing pedophiles to walk freely on the streets of their small city….”

– 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)

Among the lucky 16: the mayor and sheriff.


Robin Byrum, youngest of Edenton Seven, recalls brutality at hands of prosecution


Robin Byrum in 1997

April 29, 2017

Robin Byrum, not long out of high school and pregnant with her first child, went to work at Little Rascals Day Care Center in September 1988. A year later she was in prison under $500,000 bond, charged with 23 counts of child sex abuse. Prosecutors had no credible evidence against her, but they were betting the youngest defendant would implicate Bob Kelly and the others accused.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she recalls today in her first interview since charges finally were dropped against her in 1996. “They thought I would tell on the others. That was the only reason I was swept up.”

Now 15 years into her second marriage, she lives in Eastern North Carolina. For her privacy I’m not mentioning her town or married name. “I’ve gone on with my life. It’s turned out well, in spite of all that….”


After months of sporadic questioning she was arrested in January 1990.  “Three men from the SBI came to my mother’s house. It was so frightening. They intimidated me. One of them put his foot up on the table and I could see the gun in his ankle holster. He said, ‘I’d hate to see you taken away from that child.’

“Then we went to the police station in Edenton. [SBI agent] Kevin McGinnis said he would give me one more chance to talk. I could hear my baby crying in the next room. When I told him again I didn’t know anything, he was so angry he kicked the desk across the room.”

Along with Betsy Kelly and Dawn Wilson, she was put in a cell in women’s prison in Raleigh. “I was three hours from my only family in North Carolina. Strip-searched before and after every visit.

“They put another prisoner in there with us, a snitch, thinking she could get us to talk. But we had nothing to tell….. One day they even tossed our cell, looking for ‘satanic’ passages marked in our Bibles.”

As the months passed, prosecutors offered Byrum ever more tempting plea deals. In a particularly poignant moment in “Innocence Lost: The Plea” (1997) she explains to Ofra Bikel why she had even turned down a deal offering no active time, but an admission of guilt: “‘That would mean knowing I would not ever have to be separated from my child again. But then I’d have to live with the rest of my life that I [said I] did something when I didn’t do it.’”

In 1990, bond was reduced to a still absurd $200,000 and her grandparents and two aunts in Kentucky managed to pay in time to get her home for Christmas.

Today Byrum, 46, works in health information management. “My office manager knew about the case, but the doctors hadn’t put two and two together until they went to your site. One of them shook his head and said, ‘How did seven people go to prison on something completely unfounded?’ Well, I’m still baffled too….

“How could anyone believe all these things happened? We were a block from downtown, in a building with huge windows and no curtains. Parents walked their 2- and 3-year-olds there, and they dropped by all the time….

“Didn’t a light bulb ever once come on that made somebody use their common sense?”