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….


Betsy Kelly barred from reunion (but still got T-shirt!)

150628HolmesJune 28, 2015

“Today in Edenton members of John A. Holmes High School’s Class of ’73 will walk across a stage in caps and gowns, receive diplomas and turn tassels on their mortar boards  – 20 years late.

“Their graduation ceremony was cancelled abruptly in 1973. A decision not to renew the contract of a black band leader had caused racial unrest, and school officials feared a disruption…. Diplomas were mailed to the 142 graduates….

“One member who doesn’t plan to attend is Elizabeth Twiddy Kelly…. A condition of her ($400,000) bond prohibits her from going to her hometown.

“ ‘There are a lot of them I would love to just touch base with, but that will have to happen another year,’ Mrs. Kelly said.

“The class committee plans to send her a class T-shirt and a letter.”

– From “Class of ’73” by the Associated Press (June 12, 1993) 

Seven months later Betsy Kelly pleaded no contest to charges of child sex abuse, while maintaining her innocence, and accepted a sentence of seven years in prison. She was paroled in November 1994.

How Edenton resembled Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, left; Edenton, N.C.

Google Earth

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, left; Edenton, N.C.

Jan. 2, 2016

“The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence… and on several occasions produced inaccurate information….

“Despite declaring the program a ‘success,’ there was no evidence of any independent evaluation concluding that it was effective, only internal assessments by CIA officials and contractors with a financial interest in the program.

“The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures….”

– From “20 Key Findings from CIA Torture Report” in Congressional Quarterly News (Dec. 9, 2014)

Sound familiar? Too little prudence, too much hubris?

Yes, the Pentagon’s recent recognition of the American Psychological Association’s disavowal of practices at Guantanamo brings to mind a different kind of “enhanced interrogation” – no waterboarding, but just as corrupt.

The Little Rascals prosecution’s well-paid and single-minded therapists seem to have recognized no ethical barriers in extracting phony claims from the children they interrogated so relentlessly. And neither prosecutors nor therapists were ever held accountable.


Children ‘defend veracity of implanted memories’

Sept. 27, 2013

“The children are the big victims (in unfounded sex abuse cases) and are sacrificed….  Can you imagine being a child and being interrogated, being sent to the gynecologist, seeing your mother cry, seeing your father getting into fights, or a person you really like being sent to prison? You actually end up believing that this happened to you, that’s what we called ‘added memory.’

“Those children grow up with the same memories as those who actually experienced child abuse. I found it disturbing and I felt that it had to be told.”

– From an interview with Thomas Vinterberg, director of “The Hunt,” at filmophelia.com (July 11, 2013)

Vinterberg’s sympathy for the children in such cases is well placed – but do they in fact “grow up with the same memories as those who actually experienced child abuse”?

Although reliable follow-up is scarce,  Debra Poole, professor of psychology at Central Michigan University, had this to say about the unfounded claims of child witnesses in the Fells Acres (Amirault) case:

“It has nothing to do with lying and everything to do with the implanting of false memories…. Studies have shown that children will vehemently defend the veracity of implanted memories. They recall reporting them, and those reports produce mental images of the events that these individuals cannot distinguish from their real experiences. But the kids are not responsible for that. The interviews are.”

The Little Rascals child witness I talked with insists she continues to “remember vividly what happened.”

View from 1908: ‘The lawyer alone is obdurate’

Paul Kix


Paul Kix

May 5, 2016

“Psychologists have long recognized that human memory is highly fallible. Hugo Münsterberg taught in one of the first American psychology departments, at Harvard. In a 1908 book called ‘On the Witness Stand,’ he argued that, because people could not know when their memories had deceived them, the legal system’s safeguards against lying – oaths, penalties for perjury, and so on – were ineffective.

“He expected that teachers, doctors, and politicians would all be eager to reform their fields. ‘The lawyer alone is obdurate,’ Münsterberg wrote.”

– From “Recognition: How a travesty led to criminal-justice innovation in Texas” by Paul Kix in the New Yorker (Jan. 18)

Dr. Munsterberg saw clearly the stubbornness of lawyers, even if he may have overestimated the open-mindedness of those other callings.