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….


‘Satanic ritual abuse’: A product of its era’s mythology

Feb. 3, 2017

“Recall that after the 1970s there ensued a decade of moral panic over child sex abuse – including so-called satanic ritual abuse. Off-camera in The Exorcist [1973], the possessed Regan performed a Black Mass. In a film shot in the 1980s, her role in such satanic proceedings would have been quite opposite. In the mythology of that decade, the child is never a demon; the child is a victim of demons (i.e., pedophiles, satan-worshiping or not).

“Importantly, the tales of satanic ritual abuse that roiled the 1980s were nonsense, since discredited – as fantastical as any account of demonic possession. Yet they were believed, often beyond a reasonable doubt….”

– From “Fear of Children: What ‘The Exorcist’ Makes Us Confront” by Julia Yost at First Matters (Oct. 31, 2014)


Day-care panic had roots in incest movement

140523RushMay 23, 2014

“….The widespread belief that sexual abuse of children is endemic to society is a relatively new notion. In fact, it can be traced to a particular moment in history: April 17, 1971.

“On that day the New York Radical Feminists, a group that at its height boasted no more than 400 members, held a groundbreaking conference on rape. For two days, women held forth on a subject long considered taboo…. A speech given by Florence Rush (was) the highlight of the event.

“Rush was an unlikely star for such a gathering. A middle-aged social worker, who had never been raped, she outlined statistical studies suggesting that sexual abuse of children, including incest, was a more widespread problem than was generally recognized….

“Before Rush’s speech, feminists had given little thought to incest. Author Andrea Dworkin recalled that before the conference ‘we never had any idea how common it was.’ In the decades following Rush’s talk, feminists more than made up for their earlier unawareness, competing with each other in elevating the number of victims….

“Believe the women. Believe the children. These refrains became the mantra of the incest movement. While the women’s movement would be enormously successful in turning sexual abuse – including incest – into a major public issue, women, ironically, would become the chief victims of the hysteria it generated.

“The obsession with this supposedly rampant sexual abuse played out in two ways: ‘Believe the women’ became the repressed memory hysteria. ‘Believe the children’ turned into the day-care hysteria….”

– From “Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes” by Rael Jean Isaac in the Women’s Quarterly (summer 2001) text cache

The road to the moral panic that would sweep up innocent day-care providers from North Carolina to New Zealand was a long one. If Florence Rush’s 1971 speech was one milestone early on, then perhaps the still-contentious 1988 conference of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation could be seen as the beginning of the end – although the allegations against the Edenton Seven weren’t yet even a gleam in a therapist’s eye….

‘So, Paula, do YOU think I should pardon them?’

150429McCroryApril 29, 2015

“Wednesday marks the 230th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

“The two men, both mentally disabled and struggling to pay their bills, need the pardon from McCrory to be eligible for financial compensation from the state for the years they were wrongly incarcerated. McCrory received the petition September 11 of last year.

“McCrory has been busy of course, most recently taking an unannounced trip to Los Angeles where he appeared on a panel at conference (and hobnobbed) with Paula Abdul and other celebrities at an event called the Global Gourmet Games….

“Meanwhile Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are still waiting for justice from McCrory and still struggling to pay their water bill….”

– From “Day 230 of Gov. McCrory denying justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown” by Chris Fitzsimon at the Progressive Pulse (April 19)

It’s not just Junior Chandler and the Edenton Seven who suffer from the indifference of elected officials who hold the power to at last do right by them.

To withhold compensation from the hapless McCollum and Brown seems especially heartless. If McCrory has an explanation for his nearly eight months of foot-dragging, he’s not revealing it – unless maybe he spilled to his tablemates at the Global Gourmet Games….

Edenton Seven can’t wait forever for exoneration

Sept. 1, 2014

The recent deaths of Little Rascals figures Patricia Kephart Hart (obituary cached here) and C. Harvey Williams remind me that the clock is ticking on the defendants as well. (Patricia Kephart, mother of one of the potential child-witnesses, dated and later married Assistant Attorney General Bill Hart; Williams was Edenton police chief.)

Others who have since died include Kirk Osborn, appellate lawyer for Dawn Wilson, and Bradford Tillery, the judge originally assigned to the case.

Let’s hope that none of the Edenton Seven, still awaiting exoneration from the state, shares the fate of Connie Tindall of the Wilmington 10.

‘Where is psychotherapists’ mea culpa?’

140207LettersFeb. 7, 2014

A sampling of responses to the recent reporting and comments of Richard Noll and Allen Frances about psychiatry’s costly failure to reject the cult of “satanic ritual abuse”:

■  ■  ■

“Kudos to Dr. Frances….  Fortunately, repressed memory therapy is much rarer nowadays (though I still hear of new cases, to my amazement and chagrin), but where are the psychotherapists saying ‘mea culpa’? I know of precisely two therapists who have had the ethics and courage to go public and apologize for their misguided belief in repressed memories and the harm they did to their clients.

“The bad interviewing technique and rush to judgment that caused the day care sex abuse hysteria has simply morphed into individual cases of false allegations, often related to divorce/custody battles or teenagers seeking revenge, and other reasons. Whenever anyone is accused of sexual abuse, they are assumed guilty until proven innocent. See for examples.

“I am also very glad that Dr. Frances has called attention to the outrageous case of Junior Chandler. I hope pressure mounts to secure his release, finally.”

– Mark Pendergrast

■  ■  ■

“Thanks for sending (Dr. Frances’s post).  Really good for my grad class with clinical students.“

– Catherine Caldwell-Harris

■  ■  ■

“I’m glad Dr. Frances is speaking out – he has credentials that can’t be easily dismissed…

“How do we push for the total exoneration of those so needlessly prosecuted? I would join in that venture.”

– Moisy Shopper

■  ■  ■

“How unfortunate that journal editors refuse to get their hands dirty, even though their journals are already saddled with something dirty in their pasts.”

– W. Joseph Wyatt here and here

■  ■  ■

“It is hard to stir up interest in moral panics that have faded from view. Only a small number of individuals continue to take note. While most incarcerated individuals have some champions and have escaped continued imprisonment, there are always tragic cases of individuals who essentially become nonpersons.

“The good news is that the moral entrepreneurs are on the run at this point, but there are still some out there and the potential for trouble remains.”

– David G. Bromley

■  ■  ■

“Is there any hope of starting a online petition to urge (Attorney General Roy) Cooper to do the right thing?

“Of course, now that he is running for governor he probably doesn’t want the Tea Party to say that he is a pedophile-lover.”

– Debbie Crane

■  ■  ■

“If only Cooper could see doing the right thing as an asset to his gubernatorial campaign….”

– Ed Cone

North Carolina’s bull market in hysteria

Sept. 19, 2012

“The rumor has traveled like a Halloween ghost – from Wilson to Coats to Apex to Raleigh.

“Perplexed law enforcement agencies statewide have been fielding inquiries for weeks about stubborn – but unfounded – rumors of a plan by unidentified Satan worshipers to kidnap and sacrifice children.

“The most common variation is that a satanic cult plans to abduct one or more blond-haired, blue-eyed children between the ages of 2 and 5 for a human sacrifice on Halloween.

“‘All these parents of blond-haired, blue-eyed children are frantic,’ said Detective R.C. Couick of Garner. ‘I’ll bet I’ve received 500 phone calls from mothers saying they were going to dye their children’s hair.’

“Sheriff Freddy W. Narron of Johnston County said rumors seem to have started after a local newspaper printed articles about Satanic cults.”

– From “Rumors of satanists kidnapping children are tough to snuff out” (News & Observer of Raleigh, October 28, 1989)

What fertile ground North Carolina, circa 1989, provided for hysteria about 2- to 5-year-olds. The sheriff of Johnston County seems to have summoned considerably more skepticism about farfetched rumors than the Little Rascals prosecutors. Within three months of the Halloween panic all of the Edenton Seven had been arrested.

Too bad ‘True Detective’ chose to mislead, not to enlighten

140315CamposMarch 15, 2014

“In an interview with Entertainment Weekly (True Detective creator Nic) Pizzolato responded to a question about the inspiration for the show: ‘You can Google “Satanism” “preschool” and “Louisiana” and you’ll be surprised at what you get.’

“This is clearly a reference to a 2005 child abuse prosecution in Ponchataoula, Louisiana, that generated lurid international headlines about ritualistic Satan worship inside a church, complete with black robes, animal blood, orgies, and pentagrams.

“This has since led various media sources to report breathlessly on the ‘true story’ behind True Detective. The problem is that this ‘true story’ turns out to be completely false, at least in regard to all the details regarding Satanic ritual abuse.

“These were apparently part of a classic atrocity story, invented by the defendants to garner sympathy from jurors – the idea being that the defendants were victims of an unspeakably evil church-based mind control cult, rather than merely being banally evil and not very interesting child molesters.

“What sort of moral responsibility do artists have not to exploit, and thereby perhaps propagate, moral panics? The aesthetic power of The Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will has not absolved their creators for choosing to exploit racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.

“Our shameful history of panics and persecutions over the imaginary satanic ritual abuse of children should have been treated by artists as talented as the makers of True Detectiveas a cautionary tale, rather than as an opportunity for further invidious myth-making.”

– From “True Detective’s dangerous lies about satanic ritual abuse” by Paul Campos at The Week (March 12)

I’m surprised to find myself cutting the just-concluded HBO series a bit more slack than Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado. But True Detective’s potential for doing harm in 2014 seems minimal compared with the hysterically alarmist Do You Know the Muffin Man? which aired on Lifetime while arrests were still being made in the Little Rascals case.

McMartin’s prosecutor’s pitch was certainly graphic

Feb. 8, 2013

“Your honor, ladies and gentlemen, this is a case about trust and betrayal of trust… trust placed in the hands of Ray Buckey and Peggy Buckey.  Parents who will testify will tell you… they didn’t ask about activities that were going on at the preschool. They didn’t piece together the clues they were getting from their children. These parents will tell you they now understand the importance of listening. The case contains 100 felony counts of Section 288-A and B, and one count of conspiracy….

“Betrayal! These innocent children placed their trust in these two teachers and the teachers betrayed them…. One mother observed her two daughters performing oral copulation on each other. Another mother saw a sore rectum in her child. She will tell you she did not want to go to school, did not want to sit on her father’s lap and that she ran through the house singing, ‘What you see is what you are/ You’re a naked movie star.’

“One mother will tell you that she saw her daughter masturbating with a wooden pole. One mother will tell you that her children had nightmares.  One mother will tell you that her child had a rectal fissure. Another mother will tell you she saw bloody stools when her child went to the bathroom.  Then, the people will ask you to bring back verdicts on all 100 counts….”

– From Deputy District Attorney Lael Rubin’s opening statement in the McMartin Preschool ritual-abuse case

After the jury acquitted the Buckeys on 52 counts and deadlocked on 13 counts, Rubin complained that “They were lucky. I just hope to God that years from now we don’t hear about Ray Buckey molesting children…. I don’t think I would do anything different.”

Rubin seems to have been almost as graceless a loser as Nancy Lamb, doesn’t she? Almost.

How Bill Hart got better at playing dirty

Dec. 2, 2011

111202Hart“Videotaped interviews made during the early cases (alleging day care ritual sex abuse) show that when children were allowed to speak freely, either they had nothing to say about abuse or they denied it ever happened to them.

“Once it became obvious that these records would prevent guilty verdicts, prosecutors began advising investigators not to keep tapes or detailed notes of their work.”

– From “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt” by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker (1995)

Perhaps the most significant difference in the two largest abuse trials was that McMartin defense attorneys were able to expose to jurors the prosecution therapists’ manipulative interview techniques, while Little Rascals attorneys were stymied by the premeditated unavailability of original documentation.

“After Bob Kelly’s indictment,” according to an article in the ABA Journal, “Bill Hart, a North Carolina deputy attorney general assigned to the case, traveled to Los Angeles to consult with McMartin prosecutors.

“He learned that McMartin jurors had criticized videotapes of therapist Kee McFarlane’s interviews with the children. She asked leading questions and rebuked children who did not tell of abuse….”

Hart could have brought back to North Carolina the lesson that interviewers shouldn’t “(ask) leading questions and (rebuke) children who did not tell of abuse.” Instead, he brought back the lesson that interviewers should leave no evidence of having used exactly those fraudulent techniques.

An antipodal view: What would Bronte have thought?

120210BronteFeb. 10, 2012

“(The scene of children screaming invective at a prison-bound Bob Kelly) was… the graphic heart of the documentary….

“The car pulled away, and they began to giggle self-consciously. A second or two of awkward silence heightened the artificiality of the moment, the sense of a construct that the girls fully understood. Then an older woman (presumably a mother) moved into the silence, and began to clap and cheer. A few others joined in in desultory fashion. ‘Let’s go get something (to) eat,’ said the mom….

“By chance, I had just finished reading ‘The Professor,’ a minor novel of Charlotte Bronte’s. Like most Bronte novels it was laced with leisurely reflections, and this one struck me powerfully enough to note down: ‘Human beings – human children especially – seldom deny themselves the pleasure of exercising a power which they are conscious of possessing, even though that power consists only in a capacity to make others wretched.’

“As those children shrieked at Bob Kelly through the glass of the police car window, I wondered if there wasn’t more than a whiff of that pleasure in power in the air.

“And then I remembered this town is called Eden, and we’ve known for a long while that the darnedest things happened in Eden.”

– TV critic Ron Cerabona, reviewing “Innocence Lost: The Verdict”
in the Canberra (Australia) Times, Oct. 18, 1998

At long last, is APSAC cracking the door to recantation?

Richard Wexler

Richard Wexler

Oct. 5, 2016

Richard Wexler’s unequivocal recollection of how the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children promoted the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic made me curious about what APSAC might have to say about the subject today.

I was startled to see this description of a presentation at the organization’s most recent (June 21-25) annual colloquium in New Orleans:

“From disco to pet rocks, our past is littered with things which make us wonder, what in the world were we thinking? The field of child maltreatment and interpersonal violence has certainly had its share of misguided ideas, from satanic ritual abuse hysteria to multiple personality disorder treatment centers.  How did this field get so many things so wrong?”

Sorry I missed such a provocative self-examination! [I’ll post APSAC’s video soon.]

I asked Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, whether sanctioning the pet rock analogy might signify APSAC’s tacit disowning of  the “satanic ritual abuse” myth.

“I wouldn’t call it disowning,” he said. “Over the years their position seems to have evolved into ‘Well, yes, some people may have been a little overzealous, but…’  At one point, even Roland Summit, in his ‘Tunnels’ article, no less, tried to cast himself as falling between two extremes in the debate.

“What they have not done, of course, is apologize to the children victimized by the McMartin madness, and withdraw the awards given to Summit and [Kee] MacFarlane.”

Nor, of course, have they apologized to the wrongfully prosecuted defendants in cases such as McMartin and Little Rascals.


‘Understanding and Assessing’ ritual-abuse mythology

May 28, 2012

How would Bruce A. Robinson, founder of the comprehensive and widely respected, describe the credibility now given ritual abuse?

“I am unaware of any child psychologist or similar specialist who still believes ritual abuse happened in child care facilities. I think there is a consensus that repeated direct questioning of young children will get them to reveal stories about events that never happened. Over time, these stories often become ‘memories.’ ”

Mr. Robinson, meet Kathleen Coulborn Faller, professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan.

As previously noted, Dr. Faller in “Understanding and Assessing Child Sexual Maltreatment” (second edition, 2003) identifies herself as a true believer. Here’s how she makes her case:

■ “Responses to allegations of ritual abuse have undergone a transformation in the last 10 years, so that any case… elicits great skepticism. In fact, it is no longer au courant to believe in the existence of ritual abuse.”

Au courant? Does she really consider scientific research into children’s testimony to be some kind of fad, like pet rocks?

■ “The vigor of the attack against ritual abuse… reinforces the belief of some professionals, myself included, that there is substance to ritual abuse….”

What!? And where are these other professionals?

■ “Ultimately the backlash… resulted in the reversal of some criminal convictions involving ritual abuse (New Jersey v. Michaels, 1994; North Carolina v. Kelly, 1995)… ”

In fact, these convictions were overthrown not because public and professional opinion had begun to shift, but because their many legal defects were obvious to appeals courts.

● ● ●

I’ve again asked Dr. Faller to respond.

A national epidemic of supposed ‘remembering’

Aug. 30, 2013

“The Edenton case is not just a horrifying aberration. Adults across the country are suddenly ‘remembering’ that they were abused as children, and filing civil lawsuits and criminal charges against aged parents…

“Claims of long-ago child abuse, ‘blocked out’ from memory until now, have become a common defense tactic. Unscrupulous ‘therapists’ and sensationalist writers feed the frenzy.

“Anything goes against accused abusers, especially the right to a fair trial.”

– From an editorial in the Arkansas Times (Aug. 5, 1993)

What, no applause from Attorney General Easley?

June 17, 2013

“I don’t know if Bob Kelly and the staff of that now-infamous Edenton day care center abused those children… But I do know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that something is dreadfully wrong in that case, and I applaud the (N.C.) Court of Appeals ruling that ordered a new trial for Kelly and Kathryn Dawn Wilson. Everyone who cares about justice should join in a standing ovation for the court’s common-sense ruling.

“Fat chance of that.

“The prosecution, led by Attorney General Mike Easley, has already begun its campaign to discredit the ruling as a nitpicking exercise that found minor technicalities in the state’s longest and most expensive trial….”

– From “Justice unlikely for Kelly” by News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers (May 9, 1995)

Easley said he would petition the N.C. Supreme Court to review the cases immediately: “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 appeals court) disregarded these facts and misapplied the law.”

The Wilson Daily Times opined that “Easley’s vow to appeal the overturning is futile, and he knows it. … Easley tried to play tough prosecutor… implying the convictions were thrown out because of technical indiscretions. But he well knows that the errors in the trials were substantial and egregious (and) made a mockery of justice.”

 Four months later, when the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals, Easley had lost his bravado. “All prosecutors know that cases involving children weaken with age,” he said. “A retrial in this matter will be extremely difficult.”

Isn’t half of Junior’s life enough, North Carolina?

Sept. 8, 2014

“The aging prison population represents a national human-made epidemic decades in the making. …

“Our current trajectory is economically infeasible and morally untenable….

“Although there is no commonly agreed-upon age at which an incarcerated individual is ‘old’ – definitions range from 50 to 65 – it is clear that the number of people in prison requiring significant age-related medical care will continue to rise at a substantial rate. From 1995 to 2010, the U.S. prison population aged 55 or older nearly quadrupled….

“On average, it costs approximately twice as much to incarcerate someone aged 50 and over ($68,270) than a younger, more able-bodied individual ($34,135)….

“The elderly in prison also demonstrate a greater risk of injury, victimization, ailing health, and death than their younger counterparts….

“The phenomenon of accelerated aging, which can be attributed to the prevalence of environmental stressors coupled with a lack of access to holistic healthcare, means that the body of an incarcerated 50-year-old has a ‘physiological age’ that is 10 to 15 years older….

“The stated objectives of incarceration would suggest that correctional spending should be allocated among demographics in proportion to their public safety risk and potential for behavioral change.

“Aging adults in prison have the lowest recidivism rate and pose almost no threat to public safety. Nationwide, 43.3 percent of all released individuals recidivate within three years, while only 7 percent of those aged 50-64 are returned to prison for new convictions….”

– From “The High Costs of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population” prepared by the Osborne Association (July 2014) (Hat tip, the New York Times)

Today is Andrew Junior Chandler’s 57th birthday. He has been in prison since he was 29 years old. Even if he were guilty – which he clearly is not – how can the State of North Carolina justify his continued incarceration?