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….


Counselors gotta counsel – but about what?

Oct. 8, 2012

“Even those (ritual-abuse day-care cases) that resulted in acquittals… reflect hundreds of children and their family members referred to counseling.

“Many families were limited to a handful of approved counselors, who also helped police and prosecutors by eliciting testimony from the children. One must wonder what these counselors counsel these children about, particularly in cases in which allegations were later proved to have come from them rather than from the children – and considering that the children began showing symptoms of abuse only after disclosing – the reverse of abused children’s usual responses to counseling.”

– From “Assessing the Costs of False Allegations of Child Abuse: A Prescriptive” by Susan Kiss Sarnoff (IPT Journal, 1997)

What a calamitous exploitation of the children – but what a canny career move for the therapists!

‘Why hadn’t any of the suspects copped a plea?’ he wondered


Feb. 2, 2018

“In August 1983 [Manhattan Beach, Calif., police chief Harry] Kuhlmeyer was presented with the McMartin Preschool case. Therapists and medical doctors had identified dozens of McMartin children as sexual abuse victims. Raymond Buckey, the sole male teacher at the preschool owned by his grandmother Virginia McMartin, was the primary suspect….

“Parents demanded Buckey’s immediate arrest, but Kuhlmeyer refused. His detectives could find no corroborating evidence.

“ ‘Why hadn’t any of the suspects copped a plea, why no mea culpas, no suicides? No one got drunk and bared his soul. If everything the kids said happened, it looked like the perfect crime. Even the Mafia has snitches,’ Kuhlmeyer said.

“The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office… drew up an arrest complaint about Buckey, but Kuhlmeyer refused to sign it. [The DA took the case to the grand jury, which routinely rubber stamps indictment requests.]

“Kuhlmeyer’s unpopular stance was vindicated seven years and $15 million in court costs later when two McMartin trials ended with no convictions.”

– From “Police chief during McMartin case refused to charge abuse suspects” by Kevin Cody in Easy Reader News (Jan. 31)

No such doubt, by either police or prosecutors, slowed the rush to put the Edenton Seven behind bars. The result, of course, was a disaster of McMartin dimensions.

Chief Kuhlmeyer died Jan. 12 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 94.


Kelly’s jury was rife with problems not visible at beginning

Dennis T. Ray


Dennis T. Ray

Aug. 19, 2016

The jury is empaneled in Farmville, N.C., where Bob Kelly’s trial has been moved because of pretrial publicity in Edenton.

Dennis T. Ray would turn out to be a major mischief-maker both inside and outside the jury room. Ray read aloud from a contraband Redbook article on how to identify child molesters,  disobeyed the court’s instruction not to visit the alleged crime scenes, reported that a jailhouse snitch had shared personal knowledge of Kelly’s guilt and displayed a supposed “magic key” referred to by several child witnesses.

140120TwentyFiveUnfortunately, Judge Marsh McLelland told defense attorneys he didn’t consider Ray’s rogue behavior – or that of a second juror, who dramatically revealed during deliberations that he himself had been abused as a child – to be a “tremendous problem.”

At least three jurors would later express deep doubts about the guilty verdict.

Roswell Streeter, at 28 the youngest juror, would write:

“I’ll say this to the last day of my life, that the evidence that came through the courtroom did not prove that Bob Kelly committed any kind of sex abuse.” He told “Frontline” he had felt intimidated and confused.

Mary Nichols was suffering from advanced leukemia,  and Marvin Shackelford had suffered two heart attacks. Both acknowledged afterward that worries about their health had moved them to vote guilty simply to cut short deliberations and go home. It had been nine months since the trial began.


50 students now know the facts

131028Caldwell-HarrisOct. 28, 2013

“What was surprising was that in a class of 50 students, none had heard of the day care allegations of the 1980s.”

– From a note from Catherine Caldwell-Harris, associate professor of psychology, Boston University

Well, that’s a bracing dose of reality, isn’t it? But thanks to Dr. Caldwell-Harris, those students in her developmental psychology class now have an understanding of the moral panic. Here’s her lesson plan, which she doesn’t mind being borrowed, along with her comments on how students responded.

Maybe the  current generation of academics sees clearly what many of their predecessors so horribly misjudged?