How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


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


Nancy Lamb loses bid for district attorney

140603LambNov. 5, 2014

Andrew Womble: 24,357 votes (53 percent)

Nancy Lamb: 21,411 votes (47 percent)

 I’d like to attribute Nancy Lamb’s defeat to her misbegotten role in the prosecution of the Edenton Seven. But  voters in the First Judicial District probably gave more weight to her being a Democrat and to her having allowed a backlog of cases during her time in the DA’s office.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, another unrepentant promoter of the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care narrative, Martha Coakley, was defeated in her race for governor.

He stood up to Trump mania – how will he fare with Prosecutors Club?

Robert F. Orr

Robert F. Orr

July 20, 2016

“Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice… angered party officials when he told a WRAL TV reporter that the nominee was ‘singularly unqualified to lead this country.’

State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said Orr ‘hasn’t been a good Republican for a long time.’

“Orr said, ‘If I’d know there was some oath of loyalty, some code of omerta, where I couldn’t say anything against Trump, I probably wouldn’t have come.’”

– From “One NC delegate leaves GOP convention after criticizing Donald Trump” by Jim Morrill in the Charlotte Observer (July 19)

Orr’s willingness to break from the herd will be tested mightily in his efforts to undertake an external evaluation of the N.C. State Bar, which so eagerly finds ethics violations among innocence project lawyers but almost never among prosecutors….

Footnote: To the surprise of few, the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys supports restrictions on release of police body cameras and dashboard recordings.


Can Edenton squeeze in one more historical marker?

141127MarkerNov. 27, 2014

“Of the dozen or so historical markers clustered in the town of Edenton, only one – recognizing novelist Inglis Fletcher – postdates the 1800s.

“The North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Committee now has the opportunity, 25 years after the first arrest in the Little Rascals case, to add to that number a 20th Century event inarguably significant in the legal and social history of not just North Carolina but also the nation.”

– From my application proposing “history on a stick” recognition for the Little Rascals Day Care case

The marker committee, composed of historians from four-year colleges across the state, will meet in December to decide which pending applications meet its criteria.

Newspaper saw Kelly conviction as ‘breakthrough’

Oct. 2, 2013

“…It’s understandable that this week’s conviction of former day-care center owner Robert Fulton Kelly Jr. in Farmville, N.C., is being hailed as a breakthrough…. The conviction  increases public awareness of child abuse, serves notice that children should be taken seriously when they show signs of abuse, and calls attention to improved methods of handling such prosecutions.

“Since another long and costly child abuse case at a California day-care center nearly a decade ago that ended less conclusively than the one in North Carolina, prosecutors have learned much. They have learned how to question children without prompting them, have developed better investigative methods, and have improved the coordination between different agencies.

“But that’s not enough. Parents need to be more alert to detecting possible child abuse and more careful about picking safe, responsible day care centers. Despite this week’s conviction… it would be wrong and unfair to conclude that many day-care workers are degenerates.”

– From “How to Guard Against Child Abuse” in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City (April 25 1992)

During the era of day-care ritual-abuse allegations, most newspaper editorials managed to maintain at least a modicum of skepticism. Not this one – unless you count the Deseret News’ acknowledging a modicum of doubt “that many day-care workers are degenerates.”

For Betsy Kelly’s sister, a chillingly close call

130429Barrow2July 26, 2013

Rereading appellate defender Mark Montgomery’s thunderously compelling brief on behalf of Bob Kelly always delivers something I had either passed over earlier or forgotten. This time it was that

“(Jimmy) and Nancy Smith also declined to have their son Judson evaluated by one of the four therapists who saw the other children. By the time of trial, both Mr. and Ms. Smith had been accused by several children as having participated in the abuse. (One of the child-witnesses) said of Nancy Smith, ‘She’s Miss Betsy’s sister, so she must be mean.’ ”

The Smiths’ close call highlights once again the terrible randomness of the Little Rascals prosecutors’ accusation process.

How challenging the prosecutors’ decision-making must have been: Which child-witness had been adequately manipulated, and which couldn’t be counted on to earnestly describe the sharks, the butcher knives and the dead babies? Which innocent adult was vulnerable, and which might strike jurors as just too unlikely a serial ritual-abuser?

Nancy Smith (Barrow) recalls today that “I had NO idea I had been accused until working with (defense attorneys) Mike Spivey and Jeff Miller for Bob’s trial.  I happened to read some notes from police interviews and saw my name more than once….

“No member of my family – mother, father, Laura, Leslie, or Judson – was ever interviewed by police or prosecutors.  Jimmy and I talked with Brenda Toppin one afternoon in her office.  She only wanted to know about the state of Bob and Betsy’s marriage.”

‘Fear of closets’? Get that child to a therapist!

Oct. 22, 2012

In the Dark Ages of social science – the 1980s, give or take a few years — unfounded concepts were treated as received truth: satanic ritual abuse (later recast as sadistic ritual abuse), multiple personality disorder (later, dissociative identity disorder), repressed memory syndrome.

I’ve found no better example of the era’s overreaching ignorance than the chart at right.

On what possible grounds did California clinical psychologist Catherine Gould determine that satanic ritual abuse was indicated by a child’s “Refusal to eat red or brown food” or “Fear of closets and small spaces” or “Preoccupation with cleanliness”? Did this crazy quilt of symptoms come to her in a hallucination.

Regardless, Gould’s list, widely photocopied, contributed to parental panics at day cares across the country. After all, she was “a licensed psychologist specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of adult and child victims of ritual abuse”!

So just how reliable an authority was Catherine Gould? Well, it was she who first claimed the Los Angeles County Ritual Abuse Task Force was being poisoned with diazinon.

Later, according to the Associated Press, “She said her blurred vision and failed memory weren’t psychosomatic, but she admitted she never visited a doctor to be tested for the pesticide.”

Eating Problems
Refusal to eat red or brown food
Fear that food is poisoned
Bingeing, gorging, vomiting, anorexia

Problems Associated with Doctors
Fear of doctors
Fear of injections, blood tests
Fear of removing clothes

Toiletting/Bathroom Problems
Bathroom avoidance, toileting accidents
Preoccupation with cleanliness
Preoccupation with urine and feces
Ingestion of urine and feces

Family Problems
Fear of death of parents, siblings, pets
Separation anxiety
Avoidance of physical contact
Threatens or attacks parents, siblings

Sexual Problems
Age-inappropriate sexual knowledge
Fear of touch
Excessive masturbation
Sexually provocative behavior
Vaginal or anal pain
Relaxed anal sphincter,enlarged vaginal opening
Venereal disease

Emotional Problems
Rapid mood swings
Resistance to authority
Hyperactivity, poor attention span
Poor self-esteem
Regression and babyish speech
Flat affect
Nightmares, night terrors
Learning disorders

Problems Associated with Confinement
Fear of closets and small spaces
Fear of being tied up, ties up others

Problems Associated with Colors
Fear of colors red and black
Preoccupation with color black

Problems Associated with Death
Fear of dying, preoccupation with death
Play and Peer Problems
Destroys toys
Death, mutilation, confinement themes in play
Inability to engage in fantasy play

Problems Associated with Supernatural
Fear of ghosts, monsters, witches, devils
Preoccupation with wands, spirits, magic potions, curses, crucifixes
Odd songs and chants
Preoccupation with occult symbols
Fear of attending church

Other Fears and Strange Beliefs
Imaginary friends
Fear of police, strangers, bad people
Fear of violent films
Fear of aggressive animals
Fear of cemeteries, mortuaries, churches
Fear of something foreign inside body, e.g. bomb, devil’s heart

Downloaded Oct. 22, 2012 from

A funny story about the Little Rascals case (really!)

June 1, 2012

An incident recalled by a former Edenton resident:

“A friend had a son in Little Rascals but wouldn’t let him participate in the ‘hunt.’ She shielded him, as best she could, and didn’t interrogate him.

“Years later, when Bob Kelly was released, she thought it best to tell the son herself. He exploded in anger. Alarmed and filled with trepidation, she asked just what Mr. Bob had done to cause such a reaction.

“The child’s answer: Bob hadn’t let him put ketchup on his peanut butter sandwich.”

When adversarial system doesn’t lead to justice

Christine Mumma

Christine Mumma

May 26, 2016

“I would like to see more cooperation between prosecutors and defense attorneys in their efforts to achieve justice, particularly when there is a credible post-conviction claim of innocence.  The overloaded, underfunded, and often inefficient adversarial system doesn’t have to be the approach when common sense and a shared interest in justice can more quickly address injustices for the convicted and victims of crime.

“Prosecutorial conviction integrity units around the country have made that clear, but the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys seems to be encouraging less cooperation, not more.”

– Christine Mumma, quoted by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice

Mumma, of course, has famously endured the wrath of prosecutors whose autocracy she challenged.

You can like the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys on Facebook.

Or not.


‘Prosecutors’ Overreaching’? Edenton had it in spades

Aug. 27, 2012

“Prosecutors are the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system. They decide whether criminal charges should be brought and what those charges should be, and they exercise almost boundless discretion in making those decisions. Prosecutors alone decide whether to offer the defendant the option of pleading guilty to reduced charges….

“Equally problematic is that the charging and plea-bargaining decisions are made behind closed doors, and prosecutors are not required to justify or explain these decisions to anyone…. The lack of transparency also leads to misconduct, like the failure to turn over exculpatory evidence – a common occurrence made famous by the prosecutors in the Duke lacrosse and Senator Ted Stevens cases.”

– From “Prosecutors’ Overreaching Goes Unchecked” by Angela J. Davis in the New York Times (Aug. 19)

Prosecutors plea-bargained cruelly though futilely with the Edenton Seven. And while the evidence-withholding in the Duke and Stevens cases may have made bigger headlines, it was no more flagrant than in Little Rascals.

One example from the North Carolina Court of Appeals order overturning Bob Kelly’s conviction (May 2, 1995):

“Judge L. Bradford Tillery, a pretrial Judge, directed the State to file and present for in camera review identifying information, medical and psychotherapeutic files and DSS files with respect to the ‘indictment children’….

“In apparent compliance with Judge Tillery’s order… the State turned over a box of files to the trial court, Judge McLelland presiding. The box contained, inter alia, complete medical notes and therapy notes on the 29 indictment children, 12 of whom testified at defendant’s trial and 17 of whom did not….

“After trial, defendant’s appellate counsel went to the Office of the Clerk of Court for Pitt County to view the exhibits. He opened several boxes containing trial exhibits, none of which were sealed. One of the boxes contained 29 files labeled with the names of the indictment children. Appellate counsel reviewed some of the documents contained in the files before requesting the box to be sealed and transmitted to the Court of Appeals…. Defendant argues that the files contained undisclosed information that would have been material to the defense.”

In fact, the withheld files were bulging with exculpation – conflicting claims, evidence of hysteria, eyewitness testimony that nothing happened. Countless other examples are documented in Bob Kelly’s appeal brief.

Attorney General Mike Easley bridled at the appeals court’s concern over such “small areas… none of which are very significant.” And, after all, as prosecutor Bill Hart had asked smirkingly during the trial, “If you were playing poker, would you be playing with your full hand showing?”

NC GOP’s one weird trick for justice reform

160604McCollumFeb. 11, 2016

“Significant criminal justice reforms (are needed) to minimize the chances of wrongful prosecution in the future.

“Some might dismiss such goals as a liberal utopian ideal, but criminal justice reform is being embraced nationwide by tea party conservatives. Why? Because few things exemplify the overreach of an all-too-powerful government (better) than one that yanks away an individual’s freedom without legal justification….

“Conservatives in the heavily Republican Texas legislature have embraced some of the most far-reaching criminal justice reforms in the country….”

– From “Shame and joy behind 149 exonerations” in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Feb. 7 editorial)

And how is North Carolina’s own heavily Republican legislature taking up the cause of criminal justice reform? With the piously labeled Restoring Proper Justice Act, (text cache), which both conceals information on the drugs used for capital punishment and repeals a law requiring a physician be present.  Sponsoring Rep. Leo Daughtry railed against “roadblocks in front of the death penalty (that) have stopped us from using the punishment” for the past decade.

Had Daughtry had his way, death row inmates Henry McCollum and Leon Brown would long since have been executed – instead of exonerated and then pardoned by the same governor who blithely signed the Restoring Proper Justice Act into law.


In Guilford County, a DA who paid attention

J. Douglas Henderson

J. Douglas Henderson

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.”

How one journal editor went very, very wrong

121207FewsterDec. 7, 2012

Following up on Wednesday’s post:

Here’s how editor Gerry Fewster began his introduction to “In the Shadow of Satan: The Ritual Abuse of Children,” the still-unretracted 1990 special issue of the Journal of Child and Youth Care:

“Putting this issue together has been my most difficult Journal assignment…. It began as a fascinating prospect with little or no supportive documentation. As I discussed the concept with colleagues and friends the most unlikely doors began to open. Fragments of information – odd papers, crude and unfinished manuscripts, unsolicited telephone calls, personal revelations, and even photographs – began to appear….”

Dr. Fewster’s professional skepticism seems to have quickly yielded to those phantasmagoric “fragments of information.” He details an investigative process that….well, evaluate for yourself:

“Many times during the course of reading the material, I decided to quit. I found that I had neither the head nor the stomach for the task…. After spending many hours reading from the protective armor of the editorial role, I would feel physically ill. At first I attributed all of this to my reluctance to examine the depths of my own ‘shadow’ and urged myself on. Then, as my curiosity rekindled, I would shrink back in horror from the spectres of my own hidden motives and intentions….”

Dr. Fewster goes on to introduce his fellow contributors to “In the Shadow of Satan.”

Pamela S. Hudson, for instance, “provides an authoritative wide-angle perspective. Based upon clinical experience and the results of her own survey, the author identifies and discusses the most frequently reported symptoms and allegations surrounding ritual child abuse. Beyond the grisly nature of the content, this seasoned practitioner offers a wealth of insight for those who wish to know about satanic practices and better understand the terrifying experiences of children caught up in this vicious network.”

Hudson’s article isn’t available online, but fortunately is preserved in her subsequent book “Ritual Child Abuse: Discovery, Diagnosis and Treatment.” Here’s an example of the “wealth of insight” provided by “this seasoned practitioner”:

“The exceptional symptom in ritual abuse cases is the sudden eating disorder
demonstrated by these children. Besides being revolted by meat, catsup, spaghetti and tomatoes (which resemble organs), (cf., Catherine Gould) I had a case of a 20-month-old girl suddenly start to throw away her baby bottle. When she was older she said the perpetrator urinated into her baby bottle during his visits with her. Later, she spoke of witnessing the death of a baby girl….”

All this impressionistic pseudoscience could be written off as overreaching silliness, had it not contributed to the moral panic that swept up innocent victims such as the Edenton Seven. Isn’t it time for the editors at those professional journals that enabled the reign of error to at last set the record straight?

Who remembers wrongful conviction was overturned?

Keelan Balderson

Keelan Balderson

March 3, 2016

“From the McMartin preschool trial in the United States in the ’80s … not one ‘satanic abuse’ network in the modern context has ever been proven to exist.

“Despite this fact people tend to remember the sensationalism of each case, and the fear and rumors generated by them. Not the final verdict, which has always been acquittal or at least the overturning of a wrongful conviction. The truth of each case gets lost in time….”

– From “Satanic Ritual Abuse: 7 Fictions That Created A Mythology” by Keelan Balderson at WideShut  (March 8, 2015)

What might it feel like, all these years later, encountering people who vaguely remember your prosecution for “satanic ritual abuse” at Little Rascals – but not your exoneration?


Potent weapon for N.C. DAs: court calendar

March 20, 2013

“Unlike their counterparts in every other state, North Carolina prosecutors have control over criminal court calendars.

“In the Little Rascals case, prosecutors used their trial-scheduling authority to let defendants wait for years before proceeding with their cases. They have held the power of the calendar over (Bob) Kelly for a decade without having to account to any other government authority.”

– From “Little Rascals Day Care case still not over” in the Raleigh News & Observer (Jan. 4, 1999)

Almost nine more months would pass before prosecutors dropped the last charges against Bob Kelly.

Despite efforts at reform, district attorneys in North Carolina still maintain near total control over court calendars.

How could anyone doubt ‘shoes made of baby skin’?

150505AbbottMay 5, 2015

“Its members are, it’s claimed, drawn mainly from a school and church in Hampstead (a North London suburb). They are said to wear shoes made of baby skin, to dance with the skulls of dead babies and to sexually abuse young children. But the (satanic ritual) cult doesn’t exist. The claims are, according to a High Court Judge, ‘baseless’ and those who have sought to perpetrate them are ‘evil’….

“Why, after a police inquiry and a family court judgment which unequivocally rubbished the notion of satanic abuse in Hampstead, are the allegations still proliferating on the Internet and being spread all over the world? We hear from the supposed cult members who have had their personal details and photographs published online and received death threats. And we ask about the welfare of the two children at the centre of it all who were coerced into fabricating the fantastical story….”

From “The Satanic Cult That Wasn’t” by Melanie Abbott on BBC Radio (April 23)

This half hour of BBC coverage skillfully demolishes every iota of the Hampstead claims, but of course facts aren’t what engage the eagerly gullible. Since video of the 8- and 9-year-old siblings telling their concocted horror stories was uploaded onto YouTube, it has been watched more than 4 million times.