Little Rascals: Ritual Sex Abuse Hoax and its Costs

Disclaimer: This information represents the views of the author and not of MIT or any groups or publishers mentioned. I speak only for myself.


The satanic ritual abuse (SRA) hoax has ruined many innocent people's lives and forced some to spend years in prison. Several are still in prison or have trials pending. Power hungry district attorneys, sloppy and unscientific psychotherapists, ignorance and hysteria drive these prosecutions.

Even when the charges are dropped, the falsely accused teacher suffers a shattered reputation, ruined career, and financial ruin. The child victims end up convinced that they were sexually abused in satanic rituals. The trials feature junk science and outrageous legal antics that could be worthy of a Monty Python skit or Kafka novel.

The Little Rascals Daycare Case is one of the largest ongoing ritual abuse cases. In that case two people have been sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in the state penitentiary.

Note to Readers: Because of the very limited amount of time available, there are certainly points for improvement here. Feel free to point out to me spelling, grammar, and style errors that I have not filtered out.


  1. What is the Little Rascals Daycare Case?
  2. What is the evidence that the charges are groundless?
  3. Who are the Edenton Seven?
  4. Why did Betsy Kelly plead no contest to ridiculous charges?
  5. What is the evidence against the Little Rascals Defendants?
  6. What is happening to the appeals of Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson?
  7. Is this a Southern small town phenomena? Other ritual abuse trials.
    • McMartin: The mother of all ritual abuse cases.
    • Akiki: Another unbelievable one.
    • Michaels/Wee Care:
    • Country Walk and Fijnje: Janet Reno's career building.
    • Does she really like children?
    • Fells Acres: Note: 3 people remain in jail.
    • Jordan Minnesota:
  8. What can start an SRA.Panic?
  9. What can I do?

1. Question: What is the Little Rascals Daycare Case?
Answer: Robert Kelly, the owner of a plumbing supply company, and his wife Betsy ran a prestigious daycare center in Edenton, NC. In the fall 1988 their school was so popular in this upper middle class community that they moved to a new larger building to accommodate more children. Three months later they would find themselves and their teachers the victims of the nations largest satanic ritual abuse (SRA) prosecution. In 1992 Bob would be sentenced to twelve consecutive life terms in the North Carolina state prison. In early 1993 the school cook, Dawn Wilson, would receive a life prison sentence. In the meantime others accused of being apart of this sex ring would spend over a year in prison unable to meet the excessive bails set by the court.

In late 1988 to early 1989 the Edenton police were taught about supposed satanic cults who ritually abused children in daycare centers. How the ritual abuse allegations started is very uncertain, because very poor records were kept. One version is that rumors started after a boy was slapped at Little Rascals and the Kelly's did not apologize to the mother. (Nobody disputes the slapping incident.) Another mother repeated questioned her son about Little Rascals' under the guidance of a police officer trained in ritual abuse. One day the boy claimed that Bob Kelly did bad things to him, and eventually accused Bob of sticking a finger up his rear.

Then a police officer and several therapists began interviewing children and asking questions about abuse. From the statements of the parents and notes of the therapists it appears that almost no children claimed to have suffered sexual abuse until repeatedly interrogated by parents and therapists. In fact therapists and police officers justified the destruction of the tapes of their early interviews by claiming that nothing was revealed. Children were criticized when they denied abuse and praised when they made accusations.

A Frontline show, Innocence Lost (July 1993) (transcripts available from Journal Graphics, 1-303-831-9000 and recording available from PBS video 1-800-424-7963) documents the ludicrous nature of this case and the coercive interviewing techniques which pressured children into making accusations.

In one example, their children in therapy identified more "abused" children. One mother, Debbie Forrest had been in and out of the center at all hours of operation and seen no evidence of sexual abuse in the center. Her son exhibited no symptoms and reported no abuse even though other children claimed he had been molested. In early interviews he excited the police when he admitted that Mr. Bob played doctor. They were quickly disappointed when the child described this as applying a bandage to the site of a playground injury. One therapist, Judy, called Debbie at work and told her that by not bringing her child in to the state sponsored therapy she was being a bad parent. Debbie responded that she wanted to use an independent psychiatrist. The therapist objected and called Debbie's mother to try to get the boy to attend "therapy." Eventually an independent clinic confirmed that there is no evidence of the abuse.

On Innocence Lost, another couple who are skeptical about the case, Sandra and Mike, recounted how their son began showing abuse symptoms only after the "therapy" began. Their son ultimately would accuse the sheriff, the mayor, and many others of participating in the sex ring. At one point in therapy he maintained that Mr. Bob (Bob Kelly) was the "good guy" and the sheriff was the "bad guy." Sandra also recounted how when parents confided in her they admitted to refusing the give their children desert until they "told the truth" about Little Rascals.

Many parents, under the guidance of therapist, gave children homework and readings to encourage them to disclose abuse. One accusing parent described how she took her daughter to several meetings with a therapist over a period of several weeks. (See Innocence Lost) Each week the therapist would give the family a book which described an animal daycare situation where the "adult" animal would abuse the little animal and instruct the little animal not to tell. The story would end when the little animal disclosed the abuse and everything was made better. After several weeks of such nightly readings and several therapy sessions, the child disclosed all sorts of sexual abuse including accusations that she was thrown into shark infested water. Ultimately these disclosures contained stories of trips into outer space, devil worship, human sacrifice.

After the McMartin case (see below), ritual abuse believers and prosecutors learned not to make video tapes of therapy sessions because they would show the jury how coercive the interviews were. In fact on a nationally televised panel discussing ("When Children Testify," Frontline video 1991) a prominent FBI official admitted that he does not recommend videotaping child abuse investigation interviews because it creates evidence that the defense attorneys can use. In the Little Rascals case, police investigators and therapists stated that they destroyed audio tapes of initial interviews because the children made no accusations.

2. Question: What evidence is there that no abuse occurred at Little Rascals?
Answer: It is always hard to prove something did not happen. But look at the evidence.

  • No parent saw anything unusual at the center even when arriving in the middle of the day. A couple of parents did testify in favor of Bob Kelly at the trial.
  • In this and many other similar cases, the prosecution can produce no parents who removed their children from the daycare because they felt their children were unhappy there. This in spite of all the symptomology that the parents start remembering after SRA therapists and investigators hand out the symptom lists. Likely if large numbers of children were being traumatized, at least some parents would notice their children's emotional difficulties and their dislike of daycare and change schools.
  • Several former Little Rascals' teachers testified that they saw no evidence of sexual abuse.
  • Only after considerable coaxing did the sexual abuse accusations occur. While it is certainly common for children not to disclose unless asked or coaxed, it is unlikely that this would be the case in the 50+ children involved!!
  • Even if only 1 in 10 would disclose spontaneously, the likelihood that all 50 children would keep such a secret is less than 1%.
  • The children's testimony includes stories about baby killing in outer space, being thrown into shark infested water.
  • The children accused over 20 people including the mayor and police chief. Eventually seven were arrested.
  • Their medical examinations are completely consistent with a finding of no sexual abuse. Granted, some forms may leave no evidence. Sticking a fork or knife up a child's rear or raping a four year old girl would cause serious injury.
  • Although the prosecution used the poor profitability of Little Rascals, as indicated by Bob Kelly's tax returns, to suggest that he was running a child pornography operation; even after a massive search, state and federal authorities have found not a single pornographic picture of Little Rascals' children.
  • Considerable research suggests that children can be cajoled into giving false accusations. Some illustrations of this are shown in Frontline's show.
  • The children's accounts were inconsistent. Even in the trial (after much coaching) some initially denied abuse or said they forgot. After coaxing, accusations came out. The prosecution and some members of the jury claim that the accounts were consistent. So do the supporters of the UFO abduction theory claim independent accounts are consistent!
  • Even in the trial some children testified that the defendants shot babies in outer space and threw them into shark infested water when defense attorneys reminded them of statements they made in therapy.

3. Question: Who are the Edenton Seven?
Answer: (Sources: Virginia Pilot 11-23-93, page D1. also Innocence Lost transcripts)

  • Robert F. Kelly Jr, co-owner of Little Rascals with his wife. In April 1992 a North Carolina jury convicted of 99 out of 100 counts involving sexual crimes against children. He is serving 12 consecutive life terms and his case is under appeal. Perhaps it is luck that he was not charged with operating an unlicensed spaceship? What was the one count he was not found guilty of? Having sex with his wife in front of the kids. According to the Frontline show, the jury did not believe his wife would do such a thing. The nature of this case is best described by the title of an Atlanta Constitution article I pulled off a database: "Boy 7, Says Kelly Prayed to the Devil" The abstract describes testimony by the boy given in court that devil worship services took place at Little Rascals.

Three jurors believed that Kelly was completely innocent, but caved in after intense pressure during two weeks of deliberations. Jurors pushing for a conviction insisted that an acquittal would hurt the children. The three jurors have signed affidavits that they convicted Kelly because of pressure from other jurors, rather than because they believed Kelly to be guilty.

Furthermore they documented serious jury tampering by other jurors. Jury forewoman, Katherine Harris, brought in copies of a "Redbook" article on child molesters and the pro prosecution members of the jury used it to diagnose Kelly as one. Juror Dennis Ray claimed that someone in a prison he worked told him he knew that Bob is a child molester. Another juror told the others that he was molested as a child and kept it secret, even though he denied this during the jury selection process.

  • Kathyrn Dawn Wilson: The Little Rascals' cook. On December 20, 1992 she was convicted of one first degree sexual offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. She was sentenced to life in prison and is awaiting the decision of the appeals court. She is under house arrest on $250,000 appeal bond. Dawn was not accused of any sexual misconduct until months into the investigation, after considerable "interviewing" of the children. One parent watched the therapy session where her son made the first accusation against Dawn Wilson. She told Frontline that her son was badgered and confused by the therapist, and the therapist identified a "bad doll" as Dawn. According to jurors a key factor in the conviction was the prosecution's adding therapist notes to the evidence pile at the end of their rebuttal, when Dawn's attorney could no longer refute it.
  • Elizabeth T. "Betsy" Kelly. Ran Little Rascals. In January 1994 she pleaded no contest to 30 charges in exchange for a 7 year sentence. Given credit for the two years spent in jail trying to raise bail, she will serve no more than 1 year and 3 months. She maintains her innocence, but after seeing two innocent people get life sentences, she did not believe a fair trial would occur. The following have not been tried yet:
  • Willard Scott Privott: Owned video store and shoe repair shop. Spent 3½ years in jail until his bail was lowered from 1M to 50K. According to some sources Privott has never been in the daycare center, but authorities were suspicious because his video store sold some X-rated films. The prosecutors accuse him of being the link to the "kiddie-porn" world even though pornographic pictures of Little Rascals children have ever been found. He recently pleaded no contest to some charges in a deal which insured he would serve no additional prison time.
  • Shelley Alyce Stone: center worker in charge of 4-5 year old. charged with 14 counts and free on 375K bond. She has refused to accept anything other than an apology from the state. Her trial was scheduled to begin on October 31, 1994, but has been postponed.
  • Robin Boles Byrum: cared for 2-3 year olds. facing 22 counts and free on 200K bond
  • Darlene McDonald Harris: not a worker at the center. Faces three counts of sexual abuse. Free on $245K bond. Like Privott, she has never been in the center. Her involvement started when a jealous ex-husband accused her of child abuse.

4. Question: If Betsy Kelly is innocent, then why did she plea bargain?
Answer: The plea was "no contest." A no contest plea allows the defendant to maintain innocence. She refused to accept a guilty plea. The Kellys have an 11 year old daughter, Laura. Should Betsy have been convicted, it is likely that she would be sentenced to life in prison or consecutive life terms. Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson were already convicted. Although many people believe that with better defense preparation (with the a top defense attorney) and free services of expert witnesses, Betsy could have won. There was still a substantial risk of a conviction given the hysteria surrounding the case. With the plea bargain, she is guaranteed to be with her daughter and out of jail in 16 months.

5. Question: What evidence is there against the defendants?
Answer: Only the coaxed words of children repeated interrogated by therapists. According to the "Innocence Lost," there was no physical indication of the alleged abuse, no pornographic pictures of the children found, and the testimony of the children appeared to be coaxed and rehearsed.

Even on the witness stand some children initially denied or claimed not to remember the abuse until coaxed and led by the prosecutors. For example if a child responded "I don't know" to the question "Where did Mr. Bob put his ding doing?", the prosecutor would ask "In your mouth?"

In another instance the prosecution had to drop the charge that Mr. Bob licked a child's "hiney." Why? The prosecutor accidentally coaxed the child into testifying that he licked Mr. Bob's "hiney."

6. Question: Are Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson appealing their convictions?
Answer: Yes. In February 1994, Judge Marsh McClelland denied Bob Kelly a new trial. Thus the appeal will go to higher courts. The grounds for the appeal are that the jury was not impartial. By themselves, the recantations of the three jurors probably are not sufficient grounds for a successful appeal. Judge McClelland ruled that although there were some improprieties, they did not have a substantial effect on the jury's decision to convict.

The nine jurors who still support the conviction denied that tampering occurred. One of those jurors denied the incident with Redbook (under oath), claiming that he told Frontline that "There might have been a book." Even the showing of his Frontline interview in which he described the usage of the Redbook article could not convince him.

Dawn Wilson is also appealing her conviction.

7. Question: Is this an isolated case? Does this only happen in "backwards" rural areas where there are a lot of ignorant bigoted people?
Answer: Unfortunately there are many such cases, in both rural and urban areas. Edenton while perhaps close knit and insular can hardly be considered primitive or backwards. There are many other cases. They are often poorly publicized because they are deemed "local issues".

  • McMartin: (Manhattan Beach, CA)

The most famous is the "mother of all SRA cases", the McMartin case. The McMartin preschool was a prestigious nursery school in Manhattan Beach, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. The owner, Virginia McMartin, and six teachers were arrested. Among them were Ray Buckey, a teacher and the owner's grandson and Peggy Buckey, his mother, who ran the school. Examples of accusations include that Ray Buckey killed a horse with his bare hands to frighten the children, the children were taken to a car wash and molested, a naked movie star game in which pornographic movies were made, and all sorts of sexual acts. Many children who did not attend when Ray Buckey was a teacher accused him of molesting them at the school. Others claimed that they were taken into tunnels beneath the school where the teachers had devil worshiping rituals. In spite of many excavations, no tunnels have been found.

After the 18 month pretrial hearings the prosecutor admitted that there was no evidence against five teachers and dropped charges against them. Of course by that time everything they owned had been consumed in attorneys fees and their reputations had been shattered. One teacher and her husband spent the next two years fighting to get their children back from foster care. As if that wasn't enough, the state billed them for the foster care at a rate of $100 per month. [See Los Angeles Magazine, Oct. 1993]

The main trail of Peggy Buckey and her son Ray Buckey took two and a half years. The judge excluded many valuable defense witnesses but permitted extensive discussions by the prosecutor on Ray Buckey's belief in pyramid power, whether he ever had premarital sex with adult women, Ray's dislike for wearing underwear, and Ray's possession of Playboy. Peggy Buckey was acquitted on all charges. Ray was acquitted on most. The rest yielded hung jury verdicts with a majority voting for acquittal. In an unusual move, D. A. Ira Reiner retried to case on some of the remaining charges and achieved another hung jury. He then gave up. In the meantime Ray Buckey had spent several years in jail, and the state spent about $15 million dollars to investigate and try the case.

So far one book has been written about this case, Abuse of Innocence by Paul and Shirley Eberle (Prometheus Press, 1993). The book is highly critical of the state's handling of the case and the media coverage of it. It provides many first hand accounts of the trial and quotes from court records(the authors attended it). My problem with the book is it somewhat sensationalized and the authors seem to give credence to an anti establishment conspiracy theory that the government and the media are creating a massive nationwide witchhunt. Paul and Shirley Eberle are alleged to have been involved in the production of pornographic literature which included child pornography in the mid 1970's (See 88 Mich. L. Rev. 1709, n.27 (1990)).

  • Akiki (San Diego):

Another highly publicized case was the trial of Dale Akiki (took 8 months in San Diego). Dale is a mildly deformed, mentally retarded man who watched children while their parents attended church services for 1½ hours. During the one and a half hour he was alleged to have tortured the children, kidnapped them in his car (even though he cannot drive), dunked them in feces filled toilets, killed an elephant. He was denied bail and spent over two years in jail awaiting trial before being acquitted. This story I believe generated only one article in the Boston Globe and two in the cataloged articles in the NY Times. Akiki has been featured in People Magazine and several television interviews. (one source: National Review, Trial by Therapy Sept. 6, 1993.)

  • Michaels (Maplewood, NJ) [A classic ritual abuse prosecution.] (see Trial by Therapy, above. Also From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell in Harpers, May 1990, also Victim or Victimizer, by Debbie Nathan, The Village Voice, August 1988).

Margaret Kelly Michaels was a young drama student who moved to Northern New Jersey to be near the New York theater scene. She taught nursery school in Maplewood, NJ for 9 months. She spent 6 years in jail before her conviction of 115 ridiculous counts of sexual and physical ritual abuse was overturned.

This case has been good for the publishing industry. Two books have already been published: Nap Time by Lisa Manshel and Not My Child by Patricia Crowley (pub. Avon Books, 1990). Both are pro prosecution and Crowley is the pseudonym of one of the accusing parents (her role in the case is clear in the book). The former book has more information about the case, the latter gives the parents' view. Crowley, a professional journalist, of course did extensive research for her book. The most damming evidence from Michaels' past she found was that Michaels was depressed in her last year in college and took photographs of a toilet as part of an art class.

If you can picture a method of torturing children, it was probably included in the accusation against Michaels. Some of the acts she was accused of: playing "Jingle Bells" while naked, arranging pileup games where children piled up naked on top of each other, creating other naked children games such as "butts and penises", coating herself and the children with excrement, making children eat excrement and drink urine, sticking knives, forks, spoons, and Lego blocks into various orifices, molesting children in a tractor, forcing children to have sex with each other, performing oral sex on children, making children perform oral sex on her, teaching children to abuse others, coating genitals and other body parts with peanut butter and making children lick it off, showing children a bloody tampon. The children's stories were remarkably consistent — every "communicating" child claiming to be penetrated stated that an object went in an orifice. Children who disclosed no abuse were deemed "non-communicating".

The case began when a few days after Kelly left Wee Care for another center, a boy during his doctors visit said "My teacher does this to me at nap time" just before a doctor inserted a thermometer. Crowley's book reveals that for the past several months the boy's family was having marital problems so severe that the father spent some nights away from home. The child had become aggressive and appeared to crave attention. He frequently made statements like "I'm warm. Should I have my temperature taken?" Of course Crowley interprets this as a subtle disclosure of abuse rather than a cry for attention.

The prosecution presented extensive hearsay testimony of parents recalling symptoms that their children exhibited during and after Kelly's employment at Wee Care. This testimony was generally based on parents recalling the events after at least a year later than they are alleged to have occurred. In at least one instance a parent testified that the apparent abuse destroyed a marriage.

The prosecution's chief expert witness was Eileen Treacy, a fringe psychologist with neither a license, MD, or PhD. Her testimony conveyed to the jury that scientific evidence indicates that the children's symptoms were caused by sexual abuse, even though most psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree strongly with drawing such a conclusion.

The defense attempted to rebut this evidence with testimony from several experts including Prof. David Brodzinsky, the head of Rutgers psychology department. Brodzinsky testified that the psychological community did not accept "Child Sex Abuse Syndrome" as a means of diagnosing sexual abuse. He presented his the results of a survey he carried out on parents observations of their preschool children's behavior. The survey showed that many of the Wee Care children's symptoms were reported at severe levels by most of the survey's respondents. The prosecutions attack of the survey (as reported in Crowley's book) — that the professor was remiss in not informing the parents that he was doing the survey for the purpose of Michaels' trial.

Furthermore the defense was not allowed to have its expert examine the children until after Michaels was convicted and the insurance company insisted on such examinations before any settlement. Before the trial parents had insisted that such interviews would be too traumatic to their children. The judge also banned defense expert psychiatric testimony that Michaels did not come close to fitting well-known profiles of sadomasochistic child molesters.

The apex of this trial was the defendant's performance of "Jingle Bells" on an electronic keyboard at the request of Prosecutor Goldberg during the cross examination (see "Nap Time"). Of course the defense objected that this was grandstanding, but the prosecution considered the quality of her performance evidence that she exaggerated her musical abilities on her resume. Thus the judge briefly converted the courtroom into a concert hall. The prosecutor began his closing arguments with the folk song "Both Sides Now" in the rebuttal, to demonstrate that Michaels' writing these lyrics in her rollbook proved her mental instability.

On March 11, a New Jersey Appellate Court (264 N. J. Super. 579, 625 A.2d 489 (1993)) stated that "Behavioral indicators of child sexual abuse may be helpful but are rarely conclusive. Contrary to the belief of the trial judge, no amount of cross examination could have undone the harm caused by Treacy's purported validations. The defendant's convictions were obtained by the use of expert testimony which should have been excluded. The impact of the error was so overwhelming as to require reversal."

The appellate court also maintained that the judges handling of the children's televised testimony conveyed to the jury that the judge believed the children and that an acquittal would be "personally offending the judge," although they did not agree that the procedure of allowing the children to avoid in court testimony violated the confrontation clause of the Constitution. The appellate judges observed "— the children manifested virtually no reticence or emotion when speaking of the defendant or the alleged acts of abuse — Having been visited by the prosecutor's staff the night before their testimony in almost every instance, their testimony appeared well prepared, rote, and detached."

The court opinion also discusses the considerable amount of literature on the suggestibility of children and the importance of scientifically proper interviewing procedure. The justices note many violations of the guidelines published in "The Manual of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse." They state "Unfortunately, the initial interview of the children in this case were not recorded. We do not have any reason to believe, however, that they were any less offensive than the subsequent interviews."

Michaels plans to publicize her ordeal and has written articles in The National Review (inset to "Trial by Therapy") and Ms. Magazine ("I Am Not a Monster", Nov. 1993). The Essex County Prosecutor finally dropped the charges in this case, but only after the NJ state supreme court blasted the prosecutions interviews of the children. This is probably the first case in which a high court barred testimony because the children's memories were tainted by improper interviewing.

  • Florida Cases:

Our attorney general, Janet Reno, has been accused of managing SRA prosecutions (see Trial by Therapy, Natl. Review, Sept. 6, 1993; Justice Gone Crazy, Readers Digest, Jan 1994.) One, the Country Walk Case resulted in a conviction. Frank Fuster is serving a 2 life terms and a 165yr term. Country Walk is often cited as a well documented case because of the confession of Illeana Fuster and the fact that one child tested positive for gonorrhea.

In Revisiting Country Walk (Debbie Nathan, Issues in Child Abuse Accusations Vol. 5, p1, (1993)) Debbie Nathan reveals that much of the evidence in this case is extremely dubious. The gonorrhea test was later found to yield false positives one third of the time. Illeana confessed during intensive therapy sessions in which she was kept in isolation for almost a year, except for visits by her defense attorney, prosecutors, and therapists. Her attorney insisted on getting a confession and plea bargain as the only way out of a life prison sentence. His strategy was successful, Illeana received a ten year sentence and was released and deported after three years.

More recently Illeana has recanted her "confession." She had initially refused to get involved, but more recently wrote a deposition describing how prosecution psychiatrists essentially "brainwashed" her. Also Fuster's son has recanted all his accusations (He actually recanted immediately after making them, but nobody believed him). In recent depositions he described how he made the accusations because interviewers Jo and Laurie Braga would not let him leave the room until he told them what his father "had done."

In another case, Janet Reno supervised the multi-month trial of Bobby Fijnje, the fourteen year son of Dutch civil servants. Bobby had watched over children in a church run nursery school. The case parallels the Michaels and others with the lack of physical evidence or adult witnesses and the coercive interviews of the children by therapists. After spending over two years in a detention home and being tried as an adult, Bobby was acquitted. The state spent a few million dollars on this one.

Another early case (known as the "Scott County case") occurred in Jordan, Minnesota in the early 1980s. It began when a trash collector caught molesting young girls, accused their parents of running a child sex ring in order to gain a light sentence. After the parents were arrested, their friends protested. Then they in turn were accused and arrested. At one point 24 people were accused and many children spent months in foster care. During coercive interviews some children were told they could return to their parents if they described the abuse (this I found in Scalia's dissenting opinion in Craig vs. Maryland 1990). Ultimately the trash collector admitted to making up the accusations to obtain a generous sentence; two parents were tried and acquitted; and Kathleen Morris, the prosecutor, lost her next election.

  • Fells Acres (Malden, MA.1984): (No one from the press has debunked this atrocity yet. The following is based on trial transcripts, appellate decision, and Boston Globe articles).

A notable feature of this case is that the prosecution maintains that the children were molested in a room referred to as the "secret room", "hidden room", "special room", or "magic room." No such room has ever been found; but that did not stop one jury from convicting owner Violet Amirault (60 years old at the time) and her daughter Cheryl LeFave. Nor did it stop another jury from convicting her son Gerald (Tooky) Amirault.

Vi, Cheryl, and Gerald remain in Massachusetts prisons, having lost all appeals to date. Vi and Cheryl keep getting denied parole because they won't confess. Their sentence was 8-20 years, but the judge promised to reduce it to five years if they were denied parole when they first came up. He kept his promise, but in an unusual move, the prosecutor appealed the revised sentence and won at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Gerald's sentence is much harsher — 30 to 40 years.

The case started when a mother was having difficulties dealing with her five year old son. In March of 1984 she moved to Medford and enrolled her son in Fells Acres. Soon afterwords, her husband lost his job as a custodian at Wellesley and moved out of the house. Her son, Michael, attended Fells Acres two days a week from late March or early April until June. His behavior worsened during the summer and it appears she may have suspected sexual abuse (she like most parents denies questioning her son about sexual matters). She had her brother, who claims to have been molested at camp once, talk to her son, Michael. The son said something to the effect that someone had pulled his pants down. The mother at Gerald's trial testified that she was anxious about this, but denied suspecting sexual abuse, even though soon after this initial 'disclosure' she called a child abuse hotline. Sometime at the end of August Michael told her some story about being repeatedly abused in a secret room by Gerald and of being forced to urinate in a cup and drink the urine while his teachers where in the room. He claimed he was then taken to an upstairs magic room. The secret room was alleged to have a bed and a shelf with gold trophies. At the trial, the mother and son maintained that the rooms were in a white house and a brown house away from the school, even though earlier they gave no indication that the rooms were outside of Fells Acres.

The police and social workers started further interviews with children, including Gerald's own daughters. They then closed the school and held a parents meeting where parents were asked to ask their children about a magic room, a secret room, and a clown. In some of the early stories children claimed they were molested by "a bad clown." Eventually 20 substantiated cases surfaced. Nine children testified against Gerald, and four against Cheryl and Vi.

Ritual abuse theory promoters cite this as a documented case because all appeals have been lost and there are claims to physical evidence. The physical evidence is completely faulty. With the possible exception of one child, the "physical signs" are commonly found in unabused children. The one exception is a girl with a small scar on the hymen. I have not investigated this one claim, but there are many possible explanations — misinterpretation of the exam, the girl had inserted something into her own vagina, or the girl was molested at one time by someone else. This girl had testified only to be anally raped with a knife. Dr. Emans, the prosecutions witness tried to claim that the knife may have missed and left a small mark on the hymen. The judge struck this testimony as too speculative.

Any of Dr. Emans' testimony should be regarded with strong skepticism, given her twisted testimony in Cheryl and Vi's trial. Dr. Emans testified that the presence of vulvitis in all three girls testifying was unusual and significant in identifying sexual abuse; in spite of the fact that the total population really included 60 girls, and a monograph she co-authored in 1982 states explicitly that vulvovaginitis is common and often due to poor hygiene. Furthermore, one of the girls had not been at the school for 18 months by the time Dr. Emans carried out the examination. Vulvitis caused by the rubbing of sexual abuse generally heals within three weeks. The other two girls were examined at least four weeks after the school closed.

Many of the children were eventually interviewed by a pediatric nurse, Susan Kelley, who is a strong proponent of the existence of ritual abuse. Her interviews where highly leading and suggestive, not settling for "no" answers. Children frequently told her very bizarre stories in attempts to figure out what she wanted to hear. After repeatedly being asked about a magic room, one girl began to describe a scene in which the bad clown passed out sticks on fire. Susan Kelley proceed to ask about whether she had seen the clown's peepee or bumbum, and continued to ask such suggestive questions even after getting no for an answer.

During the trials, many children admitted to practicing their testimony. The testimony of Brian M., below, is classic example of this:
Cross by Julianne Balliro (comm vs. Amirault, May 26, 1986): page 31-98
Q: Okay. Well, do you practice things about Fells Acres, too, the same way you practice your ABCs?
A: Yes.
Q: Okay. You've been saying them over and over and over again?
A: Yes.
Q: And you say them with lots of different people?
A: Yes.
Q: And if you forget, sometimes people help you remember?
A: Yes.
Q: Okay, and sometimes there's things — there are some things that they don't help you remember, right?
A: Right.
Q: Things like who Steve is, right?
A: Right.
(Steve is a mysterious bad man who Brian mentioned on an interview)

Many others testified that if they did not practice, they would forget what happened at Fells Acres. Almost all children testified that they were threatened, even though experts state that threatening children frequently causes them to tell about the abuse right away, when the abuser is not a family member. Even the state's expert, Dr. Renee Brant, could not estimate the probability that a threat would be successful at keeping a child quite. In ritual abuse cases such as this one, threats have to successful virtually 100% of the time for the case to be credible, as no children disclosed any abuse until repeatedly questioned. In fact, when the case broke out most of the children testifying stated that they liked school and wanted to go back.

This case included bizarre testimony as to a good clown and a bad clown who molested children. Some children claimed the bad clown was Gerald, even though they often initially named it with some other name. There was also a good puppet show and a bad puppet show. The bad puppet show is describe in this testimony of Brian M. (age 6½ at Gerald Amirualt's trial): (Redirect by Prosecuter Larry Hardoon. (Comm. vs. Amirault May 26, 1986) page 31-100 to 31-101)
Q. Brian, Juliane asked you about a puppet show; do you remember?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. And did you go to one puppet show or more than one puppet show?
A. Just only two.
Q. Okay, there's two. And can you tell me what the two of them were?
A. I forget.
Q. Alright. Well, were they both good puppet shows?
A. No, one was bad and one was good.
Q. Okay, and what happened at the one puppet show that was bad, Brian?
A. They took everyone's clothes off.
Q. Alright. And did they do anything after they took everyone's clothes off?
Ms. Balliro: Objection.
The Court: Overruled.
A. I forget that one.
Q. Okay. So you don't remember what they did after they took everyone's clothes off?
Ms. Balliro: Objection. Motion to strike.
Court: Overruled.
A. No.

page 31-103: Bench conference:
Ms. Balliro: Your Honor, I would just move to strike the business about "they" took everyone's clothes off. We don't know who "they" is or whether "they" includes Tooky or Tooky was at the puppet show. The only reason I went into the puppet show was because he connected it to the house. One boy testified to being tied to a tree in front of all of the students and teachers. He also said that Cheryl killed a dog a buried its blood in the sandbox. He even claimed a baby was killed there during one interview, although he forgot this at trial time. Another claimed that Vi killed a frog and fed it to him. During the original interview he said it quacked like a duck and was a monster. A girl claimed her wrist was slashed and it bled. Another girl talked about a game where she licked ice-cream off of the trunk of an elephant and the trunk was Gerald's penis. Another girl claimed that the clown had chased her naked into the school yard, and everyone yelled "Ha Ha you are outside naked."

The location of the magic or secret room moved around during the investigation. Some initially placed it in the basement, but at the trials the prosecution claimed to have identified it as an upstairs bathroom or an adjoining classroom, even though neither was ever inaccessible and both where regularly used by the children and teachers at the school. No teacher ever heard any mention of a magic or secret room nor saw Gerald dressed as a clown until this witchhunt started. The descriptions appear to be very inconsistent. Some mention wires on the floor. Others a lamp and a green light and a green or orange rug. Some mention a camera on a tripod. No testimony that I have seen mentions a sink or toilet or any object normally found in a bathroom or classroom (I have read the complete trial testimony of six children and part of the direct examination of a seventh). Many of the children claimed that they told their teachers that they were going to the magic room.

8. Question: What can trigger SRA.panics.
Answer: All sorts of things. The McMartin case was started by an accusation by a drug addicted psychotic mother. Her son had apparently been abused by the father. She later made a series of very bizarre accusations, including that someone had molested her dog.

Some may be triggered by an incident of physical or sexual abuse, though the perpetrator may or may not be among the accused. Sometimes a personal vendetta is behind the accusation. In a case in Niles, Michigan, the first complaint appeared after the daycare center owner filed a neglect report against one parent. Her husband was ultimately convicted, spent five years in jail, and was released after a successful appeal.

Other times a parent may have problems with the child and after reading or hearing about sexual abuse erroneously assume the cause is sexual abuse. One case began when a girl reported that a teacher played with her vulva. Many bizarre accusations later, the prosecutor realized that the case was a hoax. Apparently a month before the accusation, a physician had treated the child with a vaginal cream.

A common trigger is when a parent reads a symptom list and then decides that his or her child had the symptoms of a victim of sexual or ritualized abuse. The parent (or therapist) than repeatedly questions the child. One noted trigger is a parent catching a child in sex play and pushing the child to reveal where he or she learned it.

One case detailed in Elizabeth Loftus' book Witness for the Defense began when a five year old girl made the statement "Dick is another name for penis." The parent overreacted and pestered the child until she created a sexual abuse story. The defendant was tried for sexual assault and acquitted. As a result of the parental pressure and therapy, the girl will likely go through life believing that she was sexually abused.

9. Question: Where can I send letters of support to the victims? Letters of support to:
Betsy Kelly/Bob Kelly
1300 Western Blvd.
Raleigh, N.C. 27606

Dawn Wilson and her daughter Elizabeth (age 5) and son Zachary (4 months).
Route #2 Box 223
Statesville, NC 28677

Jonathan G. Harris
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT Rm 66-450
25 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA.02139
ude.tim.anehta|sirrah#ude.tim.anehta|sirrah (617)253-5273 Fax 253-9695

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