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….


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?

‘Parents too trusting’? No, magazine too gullible

May 1, 2013

“For several years… during which innocent people, many of whom were themselves the parents of young children, were sent to prison, the press by and large went along. ‘The horrors may only have started with sodomy, rape, oral copulation, and fondling,’ Newsweek confidently reported of the McMartin allegations in April 1984….

“Time’s account noted that a horse was slaughtered in front of the toddlers to intimidate them into silence, but the magazine neglected to ask how this messy procedure was accomplished without detection in a busy preschool in the middle of town, where parents and teachers came and went throughout the day. ‘Parents,’ Time chided, ‘were too trusting, assuming that separation anxiety was the reason their children cried when dropped off at school.”

“By the late ’80s, then, the notion that many, many day care workers went into the field only to sate their Sadean lusts for small children, and that schools were places fraught with sexual ‘stranger danger,’ and that childish innocence was under unprecedented assault from the forces of evil, had sufficient credibility to darken the nightmares of mothers and fathers across the country.”

– From “Against Innocence: The truth about child abuse and the truth about children” by Margaret Talbot in The New Republic (March 15, 1999)

“By the late ’80s…” indeed – exactly when the initial allegations were made in the Little Rascals case.

Former justice calls for investigation of state bar

Robert F. Orr


Robert F. Orr

Feb. 8, 2016

“Bob Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice, says it’s time for a comprehensive outside review of the state agency that oversees lawyers.

“Orr… is part of a committee looking at legal professionalism as part of Chief Justice Mark Martin’s recently launched review of the state justice system….

“The call for evaluation comes amid questions about the bar’s aggressive prosecution of three defense attorneys who have worked on Racial Justice Act (text cache) and innocence inquiry cases….”

– From “Former NC Supreme Court justice calls for review of state bar” by Anne Blythe in the News & Observer (Feb. 6)  (text cache)

Right on, Justice Orr. And thanks to the N&O for its continuing attention to the flagrant self-dealing of the Prosecutors Club, most recently this account (text cache) by Joseph Neff contrasting the bar’s two sets of ethical standards:

“For most of 2015, the North Carolina State Bar vigorously and publicly pressed ethics charges against two anti-death penalty lawyers for what were eventually judged to be unimportant inaccuracies in two sworn affidavits.

“During the same time, the bar privately dismissed complaints that three prominent prosecutors – one running for attorney general, another now a Superior Court judge – used a false affidavit in a racially divisive case that has roiled Winston-Salem for more than a decade….”

I’ve even seen it suggested that the situation demands a separate panel specializing in prosecutorial misconduct (text cache).


McMartin Preschool acquittal did little to stem spread of hysteria


May 18, 2018

“Despite the acquittal in [the McMartin Preschool case], the hysteria kept raging there and nationally; mainstream news still gave it credence, police still made arrests, prosecutors still prosecuted, and true believers among psychologists and psychiatrists (and their clients) still believed and proselytized, often with a government imprimatur….

“In a small town in Tidewater North Carolina, children testified that a satanic cult operating a day care center had ritually abused them – and taken them in hot-air balloons to outer space and on a boat into the Atlantic where newborns were fed to sharks; several people were sentenced to long prison terms and served time before their convictions were overturned or charges dismissed.”

– From “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History” by Kurt Andersen (2017)

The ripples from McMartin were even more pronounced in Edenton, after prosecutors brought back from California a crucial lesson: Conceal, obscure or destroy the therapists’ notes that would reveal how relentlessly the child-witnesses had been manipulated.