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….


‘Have you ever stopped to consider…?’

July 31, 2013

“Have you ever stopped to consider what the statistical odds must be against the following allegations made by the prosecution? How could the following all be true?

“1. That seven child abusers would somehow all show up at the Little Rascals Day Care during the same time period.

“2. That out of these seven alleged abusers not one had any record of any sexual misbehavior in their past.

“3. That out of all seven of these alleged abusers not one was found to be in possession of any child pornography or other suggestive materials.

“4. That with multiple-hundreds of alleged abuses claimed to have taken place, not one single piece of ‘hard’ evidence was ever found. Nor was there a single adult witness to any behavior even suggestive of abuse.

“5. That out of all seven of these alleged abusers, not one would be willing to testify against the others in return for easier treatment.”

– From a Feb. 22, 1994, letter sent to prosecutors and the press by Jeffrey Keimer of Portola Valley, Calif.

These are questions that occurred to someone following the Little Rascals case from 3,000 miles away. Too bad they seem not to have occurred to so many prosecutors, therapists, parents, reporters and jurors. Up close, was the “ritual abuse” narrative simply too mesmerizing?

For Edenton, ‘Little Rascals is unfinished business’

Hayes Plantation

Hayes Plantation

May 16, 2016

The aftereffects of Little Rascals on Edenton have long interested me. With few exceptions the town’s residents, now fewer than 5,000 for the first time since 1970,  seem dedicated to forgetting their prominent role in the “satanic ritual abuse” day-care panic. When the chief prosecutor ran for district attorney, the local paper published 17 stories and an endorsement editorial without mentioning Little Rascals.

One Edenton innkeeper even deleted mention of the case from the town’s Wikipedia page.

So I’m always glad to see another perspective. This is from a note sent by a former resident:

“I was excited to see your Facebook page on Little Rascals. I had been looking for copies of the PBS programs for years and had only uncovered some poor quality copies.

“I have many friends in Edenton, which made viewing ‘Innocence Lost’ all the more interesting. I began to know Edenton right at the tail end of the saga. For me its attractiveness was the sense that I was in a very different place, a different culture from home. Quiet, peaceful, slow-paced. But we concluded this was no place to live. Yes, some nice people to be found, but overall, pretty stifling.

“The town leaders still have some things to answer for about Little Rascals, and I suspect that until there is a process of reconciliation, the town will remain a troubled place, though it does a good job putting on a facade.

“Little Rascals is unfinished business. The problem is that the power structure sees no reason for change. There is such a direct link to the plantation mentality here in eastern North Carolina (which also saw no reason to change), it’s not even funny.”


Grandmother blames ‘Kelly magic’ for outlandish tales

Jan. 18, 2013

““I am the grandmother of a Little Rascals Day Care victim, and I am greatly disturbed by many responses to ‘Innocence Lost: The Verdict.’

“Wake up out there! Do you think everything you see on television is true? The bizarre stories told by some of the children are unbelievable to the unknowing adult – being cooked in microwave ovens, going on spaceships – but by some Kelly magic, the children were brainwashed to believe them. I repeat! Wake up America.”

 – From a letter to the editor of the Chowan Herald by Frances P. Wilkins of Edenton (Aug. 26, 1993)

Exoneration depends on catching eye of media

121003EcholsOct. 3, 2012

“You can have all the evidence in the world, and that’s still only 50 percent of the fight. The other 50 percent is media.

“You have to get the media to pay attention. If not, they’ll sweep it under the rug and keep going.”

– Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, analyzing (in the New York Times) his continuing struggle for exoneration.

If you’re in the media – reporter, editor, blogger, author, moviemaker, aerial advertising entrepreneur – and ready to pay attention to the Edenton Seven, let me hear from you.

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.”

SRA apologists flushed from their diploma-papered caves

140322TimesFrontMarch 22, 2014

“Editorial Note: In light of the responses we have received regarding this article by Richard Noll, PhD, that was posted on our website on December 6, 2013, the article has been reposted with a modification. Additionally, we are posting responses from certain of the individuals mentioned in the article and from Dr. Noll in order to leave analysis of the article up to our readers.”

– From “Speak, Memory,” Psychiatric Times’ reposted version of Noll’s “When Psychiatry Battled the Devil.”

As pointed out at 1 boring old man, PT’s belated reposting omits this passage:

“New (American Psychiatric Association) work groups for the preparation of DSM-IV were formed. Not surprisingly, none of the former members of the DSM-III-R Advisory Committee on Dissociate Disorders was invited to be on the work group for the dissociative disorders.”

Prominent among those uninvitees, of course, were Dr. Richard Kluft and Dr. Bennett Braun, both of whom broke their silence to accept PT’s offer of space to swat back at Noll. Also responding: Dr. David Spiegel, recently described as “the most influential man responsible” for the inclusion of DID/MPD in DSM-V.

And now Noll has gently rebutted – for the most part, refuted – the SRA apologists’ noisy rebuttals.

It’s been 25 years since the fever-breaking Chicago conference – plus another three months while Psychiatric Times searched its soul and its appetite for litigation. Does the vigorous exchange on the PT site mark the beginning of psychiatry’s overdue reexamination of its SRA era?

If so, that discussion must address not only the causes of the moral panic but also its effects: that is, the wrongful and brutal prosecution of hundreds of innocent defendants such as the Edenton Seven – a subject Kluft, Braun and Spiegel managed to mention not at all in their responses. Are they really so oblivious?

‘That sorry judge should have done something’

140705McLellandJuly 15, 2014

“I realize I’m a little flip when I say 80 percent of the evidence is trash, but it is.

“I thought sooner or later some editorialist was going to write, ‘That sorry judge should have done something.’ And yet if I stopped it, it would have been a problem in an appeal….”

– Judge Marsh McLelland, in an interview published April 1, 1992, in the Greensboro News & Record, shortly after the jury began deliberations in the trial of Bob Kelly

Given that McLelland had been overseeing the Kelly case for more than 17 months – and still had Dawn Wilson’s trial ahead of him – I suppose he deserved to grumble a bit about the tedium.

But what an odd comment about wanting to avoid “a problem in an appeal” – did he believe only the defense was responsible for producing “trash” evidence?

A rare chance to watch the story unfold

130520WallaceMay 20, 2013

The day-care ritual-abuse era generated a wealth of words, many of which have been cited here. Aside from the epic “Innocence Lost,” however, little video evidence remains.

Just made available on our Bookshelf of Case Materials is the hour-long 1999 CBS documentary “Child Sex Scandals: Modern Day Witch-Hunt?

Part of correspondent Mike Wallace’s “20th Century” series, it includes basic coverage of the McMartin, LIttle Rascals and Kelly Michaels day-care prosecutions, as well as the closely-akin “recovered memory” movement.

Especially salient are the 30-second comments from key combatants in the opinion arena such as Maggie BruckRoland SummitElizabeth Loftus, and Mark Pendergrast.

Parent said God knew better than ‘Frontline’

April 17, 2013

“One day you will stand before almighty God and be accountable for that which you have done here on Earth, and no amount of lies and manipulation, no ‘Frontline’ presentation will be able to hide the truth from him. He knows every sordid detail and I pity you for that.”

– From a statement read by Little Rascals parent Susan Small at the plea-agreement hearing of Scott Privott (June 16, 1994)

On the scale of responsibility for brutalizing the Edenton Seven, the panicked, misinformed parents may rank as least culpable. They were neither demagoguing public servants (the prosecutors) nor overreaching professionals (the therapists). Even so, Susan Small’s tirade seemed gratuitously vitriolic – as if her own beliefs might have needed reinforcing?

I asked Scott Privott what it felt like being on the receiving end that day in the courtroom.

“I almost got up and told her to shut the hell up and that I would let the state put me on trial,” he said. “I thought to myself that I was glad God would judge me and not her and her pathetic cohorts.”

Scott’s recollection of his earlier knowledge of Susan Small highlights the Lilliputian stage on which the sprawling Little Rascals drama played out:

“I was in college with Susan Small’s husband, Morris; in fact, Morris and I used to ride together from Edenton to Elizabeth City to attend classes at the College of the Albemarle. Susan was at the college too, but I didn’t know her that well. Morris was my banker at the time of my arrest.”

A third member of the car pool: Jay Swicegood, another accusing parent.

“I am not like some of those who’ve been falsely accused and hold no ill feelings,” Scott says. “I have plenty of ill feelings, and I do not for one moment wish them any good tidings.”

Idle thought: Might it mitigate Scott’s bitterness if someone – anyone! – who participated in putting him behind bars for three years and eight months had the courage to apologize?

Another expert unfazed by being completely wrong

120709BurgessJuly 9, 2012

What happens to a social scientist who builds her career on exposing illusory “sex rings” and “ritual abuse” at day cares? And, more specifically, whose seminar at Kill Devil Hills apparently seeded the hysteria behind the prosecution of the Edenton Seven?

If you’re Ann Wolbert Burgess, it’s no problem. You just plunge ahead – and don’t look back.

Here’s how Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker described Burgess in 2001 in “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a  Modern American Witch Hunt”:

“promoter of the use of children’s drawings to diagnose sexual abuse, developer of the idea of the sex ring, participant in developing the case that imprisoned the Amirault family and currently a researcher into the traumatic aftereffects of ritual abuse.”

For some people, that would be a career’s worth of wrongheaded ideas. But Burgess, now professor of psychiatric mental health nursing at Boston College, continues to accumulate merit badges on new topics such as heart attack victims, AIDS, infant kidnapping, online predators, nursing home abuse, women in prison, mass murder and elder abuse. Here she is in Raleigh on May 29 testifying as “an expert in crime scene classification and offender typology.”


I’ve asked Dr. Burgess to reflect on Little Rascals and other examples of ritual abuse prosecutions. Too bad the subject didn’t come up when she was on the witness stand in Raleigh.

It’s not too late to exonerate, Mr. Attorney General

140121CooperJan. 20, 2014

“Eighteen months ago I petitioned Attorney General Roy Cooper to issue a statement of innocence for the Edenton Seven.


“ ‘In 2001 Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift signed a resolution proclaiming the innocence of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. In time, such victims of the ritual-abuse day-care panic as the Edenton Seven will surely receive similar exoneration. Why not now? Why not in North Carolina? This is an opportunity to demonstrate moral leadership on a national scale.’ ”

“Cooper has yet to respond.”

From “Like Salem’s ‘witches,’ it’s time for NC to exonerate the Edenton Seven,”
my Jan. 19 op-ed column in the News & Observer (cached here) on the 25th anniversary of the first Little Rascals sexual abuse complaint.

Burgess’s seminar paved way for Little Rascals prosecution

Ann Wolbert Burgess

Ann Wolbert Burgess

Aug. 23, 2016

“Connell School of Nursing Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess, a pioneer in the field of forensic nursing and an internationally recognized leader in the treatment of victims of trauma and abuse, has been designated a ‘Living Legend’ by the American Academy of Nursing, the academy’s highest honor.

“Burgess is being recognized this year for multiple contributions to the nursing profession and society. [Her] research and books cover topics such as serial killers and rapists, kidnapping, sexual victimization and exploitation of children, cyber crimes, sexual abuse, and elder abuse….”

– From “A ‘Living Legend’ ” by Kathleeen Sullivan in the BC [Boston College] News (Aug. 23)

Yet again, a key fomenter of the “satanic ritual abuse” day care panic takes a career achievement bow, plowing unapologetically past the wrecked lives of the wrongfully prosecuted.

Here’s how Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker described Burgess in 2001 in “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a  Modern American Witch Hunt”: “promoter of the use of children’s drawings to diagnose sexual abuse, developer of the idea of the sex ring, participant in developing the case that imprisoned the Amirault family and currently a researcher into the traumatic aftereffects of ritual abuse.”

Most grievous for the Little Rascals defendants, it was Ann Wolbert Burgess who led a three-day conference in Kill Devil Hills  just months before Bob Kelly’s arrest. The agenda: learning how to spot child molesters operating day-care facilities.

I’ve asked Professor Burgess to look back at her role in Little Rascals. No response – maybe she intends to bring it up in her acceptance speech.


‘You don’t just brush off 24 years of a man’s life’

121012Gaither2Oct. 12, 2012

The exoneration of Willie Grimes warms my heart, and not just because the 66-year-old parolee has become “Free at last!” after a 1987 rape conviction in Hickory.

As often lamented on this site, prosecutors such as those in the Little Rascals case simply refuse to acknowledge, much less take responsibility for their mistakes.

In the Grimes case, however, District Attorney Jay Gaither told the Innocence Inquiry Commission panel, “The State cannot argue any conclusion other than for innocence in the case of Willie Grimes,” then rested the state’s case and sat down.

Afterward, he explained that “In this week’s presentation of evidence we counted no less than 35 pieces of evidence and testimony in support of innocence…. The fact that the three-judge panel was so emphatic in its conclusion and decision only strengthens the confidence I have in our decision.”

121012GrimesBut Gaither went even further, on camera and rebroadcast by WSOC-TV: “On behalf of the district attorneys of North Carolina, I want to offer an apology to Willie Grimes.”

Yes – an apology!

Although the Grimes conviction occurred long before Gaither took office in 2002, DAs often feel compelled to defend even their predecessors’ performance. As former New York prosecutor Bennett Gershman has observed, “The prosecutor can’t do anything that undermines the public’s confidence in the prosecutor’s office. Once the public begins to doubt that prosecutors convict guilty people – that there may be mistakes in the system – that undermines confidence in the prosecutor….”

Gaither took the opposite approach. “You don’t just brush off 24 years of a man’s life and go on,” he told me Wednesday. “A series of events denied Mr. Grimes a fair trial. Closure was required.

“I wanted the public, as well as Mr. Grimes, to know that we weren’t just beat down, but that we were actually sorry.” (Click Gaither’s picture above to watch the broadcast that includes video of the courtroom apology.)

Also notable is how Gaither framed his apology: “I was speaking not so much for district attorneys as individuals, as for the State of North Carolina…. Only 44 of us have that right to say ‘The state says….’ ”

In this case, that right was admirably used. Would that it happened more often.

‘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.

2015: Train for justice stayed stuck at station

Dec. 30, 2015

Where things stand at year’s end in the obscure but still hopeful world of

– Junior Chandler continues to wait for a decision from the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic on whether to take up his case. On April 15 he will begin serving his 30th year in prison.

– North Carolina’s most recent two governors and its current attorney general all have ignored my appeals for a “statement of innocence” for the Edenton Seven. Might the approaching election offer opportunities at least to publicly frame the question?

– Professional journals are still refusing to publish retractions for the articles they published supporting the existence of “satanic ritual abuse” in the nation’s day cares.

– The Internet remains a poisonous cornucopia of authoritatively rendered misinformation. This is from a message board exchange I happened on earlier this month:

“I have heard the rumors that there are a large number of satanists who abuse their children in satanic rituals. I have heard even more about the illuminati having orgy parties like the one in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ where they rape children on an altar and then kill them in a sacrifice to Satan and then drink their blood. But I have no idea of knowing if any of this is actually true and if it is true how common it is….”

“These stories are true, for the most part. I met a young woman through my pro-life apostolate who had had several abortions – not of her own choice. She had been a prisoner of these satanists (her parents were involved in it) who had her impregnated with the precise purpose of the ritual sacrifice of abortion…..”

The only surprise here is the qualifier “for the most part” – among SRA believers, only absolute gullibility is allowed….

–  Finally, thanks to all those who have expressed support for the wrongfully prosecuted defendants in the “satanic ritual abuse” era. Let’s hope 2016 cracks the door to the exoneration they so profoundly deserve.