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….


Steinem made case for believing the unbelievable

150901SteinemSept. 1, 2015

 “(As witnesses) children are even less likely to be believed when their stories involve extremes of sadism, collusion among families and communities (sometimes extending over several generations) and so-called ritual or cult abuse – including the torture and killing of animals to frighten children into silence – that are so terrible that authorities decide these things just can’t be true.

“Yet many instances of such ‘incredible’ crimes are documented, sometimes by adults after years of suppressed memory, sometimes by authorities who are now beginning to believe children enough to investigate their stories…..”…

– From “Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem” by Gloria Steinem (1993)

Steinem’s semi-autobiography was a best-seller, both profiting from and contributing to the nation’s heightened concern with self-esteem.

In addition to using Ms. magazine to tout the existence of “ritual abuse,” she also helped finance the search for the imaginary McMartin tunnels.

‘A state lost the ability to see clearly’ – again

120813CooperDec. 31, 2012

Anticipating Attorney General Roy Cooper’s 2007 statement dismissing charges against the lacrosse defendants, Duke law professor Paul Haagen said,

“The critical thing could be the wording. It could simply say the state can no longer prove its case, which would be a very harmful outcome for the community, (or it) could provide a full accounting of why the case should never have been brought.”

As it turned out, Cooper – elbowed along by the Duke students’ phalanx of top-shelf lawyers – chose the road less traveled by prosecutorial bitter-enders such as H. P. Williams, Nancy Lamb and Bill Hart:

“In the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly…. I think a lot of people owe a lot of apologies to a lot of people.”

Cooper’s words were appropriate to end the case of the lacrosse defendants – and they would be just as appropriate to end the case of the Edenton Seven.

‘Satan’ issue was 100% baloney – but so what?

Dec. 5, 2012

As noted previously, my requests for retraction to Nursing Research and Child Abuse & Neglect went nowhere. But I found a spark of interest at a third journal, Relational Child & Youth Care Practice.

As well I should have – in 1990, RCYCP (then known as the Journal of Child and Youth Care) published not just a single article affirming the existence of day-care ritual abuse but an entire special issue.

In the Shadow of Satan: The Ritual Abuse of Children” included “A Case of Multiple Life-Threatening Illnesses Related to Early Ritual Abuse” by Rennet Wong and Jock McKeen, “Ritual Child Abuse: A Survey of Symptoms and Allegations” by  Pamela S. Hudson and “Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Cause of Multiple Personality Disorder” by George A. Fraser.

My request for retraction elicited this response from RCYCP:

“…. Carol Stuart and Grant Charles, Editors of RCYCP… have agreed that a statement in the next issue about the original article and the wrongful prosecution of these defendants would be appropriate.  Could you please provide… a draft of what you think is appropriate, ensuring correct names, etc. Our editors will then review and finalize and confirm any questions or issues with you.”

Boy, was I excited! This is what I proposed:

“In 1990 the Journal of Child and Youth Care (now Relational Child & Youth Care Practice) published a Special Issue entitled ‘In the Shadow of Satan: The Ritual Abuse of Children.’

“All five articles in the issue were based on the writers’ erroneous belief in ‘satanic ritual abuse,’ a moral panic that led to wrongful prosecutions against day cares in the United States, Canada and elsewhere during the 1980s and 1990s.”

A few days later I received this change of plan from RCYCP:

“We have carefully reviewed the 1990 Special Issue… and found no reference to the Edenton Seven or the Little Rascals Day Care. As such, our editors will not be printing a retraction.”

Of course, I responded:

“The Little Rascals and McMartin cases were but two manifestations of the moral panic of satanic ritual abuse. In the 1980s and early 1990s, numerous similar, if less publicized, prosecutions occurred across North America and as far as New Zealand and Germany.

“All these cases were rooted in the belief affirmed and promoted in the Special Issue….

“Little Rascals and McMartin are mentioned only indirectly, but my request for a retraction addresses – as does the issue – the entire false concept of satanic ritual abuse.
“I hope this clarification will move the editors to reconsider.”

So far, it hasn’t.

APSAC official acknowledges ‘granddaddy of our “oops!”’

Paul J. Stern


Paul J. Stern

Oct. 9, 2016

Paul J. Stern, recently retired prosecutor in Snohomish County, Wash., has long served the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children as a board member and as an instructor on forensic interviewing.

At the least his June presentation to a large audience of APSAC conventioneers promised to be provocative: “What Practices Are We Engaging in Now That 15 Years From Now We’re Going to Look Back on and Think ‘What in the World Were We Thinking?’ ”

But the title paled in comparison with what Stern went on to say about the rap sheet of this ostensibly professional organization – its serial gullibility about “satanic ritual abuse,” “multiple personality disorder” and various other “misguided ideas.”

Click below to watch a video of Paul J. Stern’s entire talk.

He rambles, and the video suffers from not showing his accompanying PowerPoint. But the case he makes is powerful, unmistakable and surely discomfiting to audience members such as President Emeritus for Life Jon Conte and Board Member at Large Kathleen Coulborn Faller.

“I may irritate a few of you from time to time,” he noted as he began.

Some excerpts, edited for clarity:

  • “I want to start by going back to the ’60s, the ’80s, the things we cared about then…. Some of the things we’ve grown up from in this field…. What were we thinking back then?… Oy! (clutches head, steps away from lectern)….What the hell were we thinking?….”
  • “Let’s get the granddaddy of our ‘Oops!’ out of the way: ‘satanic ritual abuse.’ Individuals and agencies that weren’t skeptical failed to recognize that all of the iceberg that existed was the tip….And that melted pretty quickly…”
  • “This matters [because] prosecutors sentenced people to prison based on good, scientific evidence that turned out not to be accurate.”
  • “Why does all this happen? Child abuse is both an advocacy field and a political field. We’ve got to energize the base, energize the policymakers, get their attention…. Easy answers manage anxiety, and they get attention. ‘Kids never lie!’ ‘Believe the children!’ Great slogans, great bumper stickers,  but it’s a little more complicated than that….”

Prosecutor Stern continued with a call for APSAC to focus on “evidence-based decision-making,” but I remained stunned by his acknowledgement of decades of APSAC’s cocky, costly wrongheadedness. Yes, innocent defendants such as Bob Kelly did indeed go to prison based on unfounded theories and corrupt interview practices.

Thank you, Mr. Stern, for your candor. Will this moment turn out to be an aberration – or is APSAC finally ready to make amends to the real victims of its “satanic ritual abuse” mythology?