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.

 

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Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


 

For child witnesses, life was changed forever

Jan. 4, 2017

“[Richard Beck’s ‘Believe the Children’] is perhaps most poignant on the subject of the damage to the young people who acted as witnesses. ‘Children as young as three and almost never older than nine or ten,’ Beck writes, ‘children who previously understood their time in day care as essentially normal, whether happy or not, had their lives reorganized around the idea that they were deeply and irrevocably traumatized.’ ”

– From “Our Panics, Ourselves” by Rebecca Onion in Boston Review (Sept. 22, 2015)

LRDCC20

Children ‘got mixed up’? Believe them anyway

June 18, 2012

“Yes, prosecutors blundered terribly by piling on charges and piling on defendants, just because they could.

“Yes, some of the parents became hysterical and acted out of guilt. That’s the way people act when told their children have been sexually abused – by someone to whom they entrusted them, to whom they personally delivered them every day.

“And here’s another thing the experts are right about. The children weren’t perfect witnesses. They got mixed up. They talked about spaceships and houses that walked.

“But that’s what it means to be a child, and what makes children prey to pedophiles. Children don’t know how to defend themselves. They’re easy to scare and apt to do what adults tell them to do.

“There is plenty to learn from the tragic mistakes in the Little Rascals case. But the final tragedy would be to conclude that child sex abuse is some sort of figment of our social imagination, and not the very real predator it is.”

– From a column by Lorraine Ahearn in the Greensboro News & Record (June 1, 1997)

As previously mentioned, journalists were among those who just couldn’t believe nothing happened at Little Rascals.

Ms. Ahearn, who covered part of Bob Kelly’s trial before becoming a columnist, has changed her line of work since 1997 – has she also changed her mind about ritual sex abuse at day cares? Apparently not:

“I am no longer a working journalist, and I am not interested in weighing in.

“You may glean whatever you wish from the (column). I did cover the trial as a reporter and that was what my column was based upon, not second-hand views about unrelated cases.”

I’d be the last to disparage shoe-leather reporting, but it’s those “second-hand views about unrelated cases” – from journalists such as Debbie Nathan and social scientists such as Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck – that enable us to comprehend the incomprehensible.

●  ●  ●

Do I ever tire of asking the Lorraine Ahearns, the David Finkelhors, the Kathleen Coulborn Fallers, the H.W. Williamses, the Elisabeth Porter-Hurds and the Michele L. Zimmermans, “Have you changed your mind?”

Well, yes, I do. But do they ever tire of insisting they haven’t?

Sheriff, mayor escaped prosecutors’ dragnet

May 22, 2013

“One of the biggest strengths for the prosecution was that these children would go home every night to a parent or parents fully aligned with the prosecution theory. The story line would be reinforced at dinner, bathtime, playtime, bedtime….

“The children were, of course, separated from further contact with the accused day care workers, and by the time of trial their young memories of the actual person had been replaced by the fictional person, if they could remember who the perpetrators were supposed to be at all.

“At one point, a Little Rascals child pointed to a picture of the sheriff as one of the defendants; this identification, of course, was selectively ignored.”

– From “The Metanarrative of Suspicion in Late Twentieth-Century America” by Sandra Baringer (2004)

Edenton’s mayor was also among the initially accused, who numbered either 20, 24 or “dozens,” depending on the source. The inevitable question: How did prosecutors come to choose the Edenton Seven? Who lucked out – and why?

‘The right man’ was the wrong man? No way!

120319TriversMarch 19, 2012

In “The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life” (2011), Robert Trivers briefly addresses the causes and costs of the ritual abuse mania.

I asked Trivers, professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Rutgers University, about the role played by prosecutors in such cases:

“Prosecutors are notoriously vulnerable to tunnel vision – i.e., once a suspect has been identified, others disappear from sight; they also need to justify themselves in retrospect.

“I was told by (Innocence Project cofounder Peter J.) Neufeld that even after incontrovertible DNA evidence, 75 percent of the original detectives who came up with (and helped convict) the wrong person still say they believe they got ‘the right man.’ ”