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Ritual abuse cases in day care centers

The "Little Rascals" ritual abuse case in Edenton, NC

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bullet "In the Little Rascals day-care-abuse case in North Carolina, one mother told reporters that it took 10 months before her child was able to "reveal" the molestation. No one at the time considered the idea that the child might have been remarkably courageous to persist in telling the truth for so long." Carol Tavris 1

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In excess of 90 children accused a total of 20 adults with 429 instances of child sexual abuse in a day care center in Edenton NC. Among the alleged perpetrators were the sheriff and mayor. Allegations included a baby killed with a hand gun, a child being hung upside down from a tree and being set on fire. Nobody in town noticed a baby missing. Needless to say, charges were never laid against the mayor or sheriff.

Robin Byrum, Darlene Harris, Elizabeth "Betsy" Kelly, Robert "Bob" Kelly, Scott Willard Privott, Shelly Stone, and Dawn Wilson were charged with engaging in various sexual activities with children in the Kellys' day care in 1989. Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson were found guilty of multiple charges of child sex abuse and given long sentences. Betsy Kelly and Willard Privott pleaded "no contest" and were released. The charges against the other three were dropped. Convictions were overturned on appeal and new trials ordered. The cases were finally settled in 1999 when all charges were dropped against Kelley.

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The Cases:

These charges relate to the Little Rascal's Day Care in Edenton. It is perhaps the second most famous day care ritual abuse case in North America (after the McMartin Preschool in CA.) The PBS program Frontline has produced a series of three powerful documentary episodes on this case, called Innocence Lost. 2 It showed that the various ingredients of a typical MVMO abuse case were present in Edenton:

bullet no physical evidence that any actual abuse or killing happened.

bullet hysteria by the parents, investigators and general public.

bullet lack of evidence which would have been present if the children had actually been abused.

bullet the alleged abuse happened even as parents were coming to and fro during the day; nobody noticed anything strange at the day care center.

bullet the children initially denied that anything "funny" happened at the day care; but the interviewers did not believe the children.

bullet after months of extensive interviewing, using what are now known to be manipulative, suggestive techniques, children started to disclose abuse events. This was assisted by communications among parents who also grilled their children.

bullet all of the documentation and tapes of the children's initial interviews were lost or destroyed.

bullet testimony described a long string of physically impossible or highly improbable events.

bullet nobody seems to have asked the logical question: how could 7 to 20 adults form a conspiracy and abuse children hundreds of times, without any child complaining or without any parent noticing something amiss?

Some of the children's disclosures included:

bullet being taken to the back room of a store and sexually abused. There is a very wide opening between the back room and the rest of the store, so that any sexual abuse would have been perpetrated in the full view of customers.

bullet being taken on board a space ship and flown into outer space where they were abused.

bullet seeing a large fish tank where sharks were trained.

bullet being taken on board a ship into the ocean and abused while trained sharks swam around the boat.

During the winter of 1988-1989, Edenton police attended a Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) seminar. The first allegation of abuse followed shortly afterwards. One theory is that the first mention of abuse followed the accidental hitting of a child at the day care; another story has the first allegation following intensive questioning of a child by his mother under the guidance of a SRA course attendee.

As in other MVMO cases, the children initially denied abuse at the school. However, after repeated interrogations, they started to reveal sexual and then ritual abuse. Children were criticized or rewarded in accordance with the abuse content of their stories. Cases against 13 of the adults that were accused by the children were not pursued; the remaining 7 were arrested. Two workers at the school, Dawn Wilson and Robin Byrum spent time in jail. Dawn was separated from her 19 month old infant; Robin was separated from her 3 month old infant. They were offered immunity from prosecution if they would testify against the main defendants, Bob and Betsy Kelly. Both refused to accept the prosecution's deal, apparently because neither had observed any abuse. If they had seen any abuse, it is very highly probable that both would have jumped at the offer of immunity. Otherwise, they could expected to be tried as co-conspirators in hundreds of Little Rascals' abuse cases and never see the light of day again.

Bob Kelly was tried on 100 charges and found guilty on 99, and given 12 consecutive life sentences. Dawn Wilson was then tried on 5 counts and given one life sentence with no possibility of parole for 20 years. The third trial was to be of Betsy Kelly. Involved were 30 charges involving 16 children. She accepted a "no contest" plea which allowed her to go free. She gave a speech to the court indicating her innocence. Willard Privott, a local merchant who claimed to have never been in the day care building, was held in jail for 30 months. He was unable to raise the 1 million dollar bail. He was interrogated only once, and initially given a plea bargain involving "only" a 50 year jail term. Eventually, he was offered and accepted a "no contest" plea bargain which would enable him to leave jail with time served. He also read a statement in court maintaining his innocence.

We will not describe the various proofs that ritual and sexual abuse did not happen in Edenton. For more information, see an essay by Dr. Jonathan G. Harris. 3

Little Rascal's is a most important case, because it demonstrates how the mind set of the interviewers can be transmitted to the children and persuade them to disclose events that never happened. A San Diego grand jury which investigated child abuse observed:

"Of particular interest is the information the Jury received about the Little Rascals pre-school case in North Carolina. Eighty-five percent of the percent of the children received therapy with three therapists in the town; all of these children eventually reported satanic abuse. Fifteen percent of the children were treated by different therapists in a neighboring city; none of ... [these] children reported abuse of any kind after the same period of time in therapy." 3
(emphasis added by us).

In effect, the Edenton MVMO case was a real-life replication of the type of laboratory experiment that could never be done for ethical reasons:
bullet Select a town or city in any area of the U.S. or Canada.

bullet Take 90 children, and divide them into two equally sized test and control group.

bullet Have the test group interrogated by therapists who believe in ritual abuse, using direct and repeated questions.

bullet Have the control group independently interrogated by therapists who are skeptical of ritual abuse using general questioning.

bullet Compare the rates of disclosures of ritual abuse from the two groups.  

The probable result would be that close to 100% of the test group and about 0% of the control group would reveal ritual abuse. 

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The Appeals:

Bob Kelly's and Dawn Wilson's guilty verdicts were overturned by an appeals court because of massive errors during their trials. The trial judge refused to review transcripts of the children's interrogation. The judge allowed parents to testify as expert witnesses, even though they were not qualified to do so. There was gross misconduct by the prosecutors. The prosecutor, Nancy Lamb, decided in 1997-MAY to not proceed with retrials; she said that the parents did not want their children to experience the stress of another trial. A new trial would have been clearly impossible. The reliability of the children's' testimony would be destroyed by experts in child interview techniques. 5 There is no hard physical or medical evidence that anything "funny" happened at Edenton. All charges were dropped.

Bob Kelly was later charged with 8 child abuse indictments involving a girl who was 10 years old at the time of her alleged abuse in 1987. (Some sources say 9 years). These charges are unrelated to the Little Rascals cases, and were also dropped.

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It would appear that in this case, the memories of abuse were accidentally implanted by sincere Edenton therapists who believed in the reality of Satanic ritual abuse. The out-of-town therapists, who had no such belief system, found no abuse at all: Satanic or otherwise. Any group of young children anywhere in North America, if exposed to the same questioning procedures by believers in Satanic ritual abuse, would probably eventually accuse dozens of local adults with hundreds of crimes - some provably false.

As with other cases in North America and elsewhere where ritual abuse has been alleged, we suspect that no ritual abuse occurred in Edenton. Probably no other abuse happened either, other than the apparently accidental slapping of one boy. As in other cases, the children will be scarred for life by the memories inadvertently planted by the interviewers. There is probably little difference between a child actually being abused and a child having had false memories of abuse implanted their mind. Both will be partly disabled for life. At least two of the defendants have gone through divorces; all have been profoundly stressed and financially impoverished by these events.

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Additional information:

Lew Powell, a retired newspaperman in Charlotte, NC, has created a web site on the Little Rascals case. He writes:

"My motivation is simple outrage and shame over how North Carolina prosecutors maliciously denied justice – and continue to deny exoneration – to seven innocent defendants." 7

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  1. Carol Tavris: "Mind Games: Psychological Warfare Between Therapists and Scientists," The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: The Chronicle Review, Vol. 49, Issue 25, Page B7, 2003-FEB-28.
  2. A series of three PBS Frontline TV shows produced by Ofra Bikel deals with the Little Rascals case:
    bullet "Innocence Lost" (July 1993). 
    bullet Innocence Lost: The Verdict".
    bullet Innocence Lost: The Plea".
    Further information on the Little Rascals case can be found at the PBS web site at Transcripts are available from Journal Graphics at 1-303-831-9000. They may also be viewed, starting two weeks after broadcast, on the above WWW site. Video tapes are available from PBS video at 1-800-424-7963. Ofra Bikel won a Champion of Justice award in the Journalism category from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers early in 2001 for the Edenton series and for two other programs which dealt with the misuse of jailhouse informants and the unwillingness of the legal system to release inmates cleared of their crimes with DNA evidence. Her media awards include an Emmy, two DuPont-Columbia Silver Batons, and both Grand Prize and Best of Category at the prestigious Banff International Television Festival.
  3. "SBFAQ (Should Be Frequently Asked Questions) about Little Rascals, the Ritual Sexual Abuse Hoax and its costs" was written by Dr. Jonathan G. Harris, a MIT Professor of chemical engineering. See:
  4. 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury, Report #8 "CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, ASSAULT, AND MOLEST ISSUES" (San Diego County, CA). See:
  5. S.J. Ceci & M. Bruck, "Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony", American Psychological Association, Washington DC (1995) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. The Little Rascals' case is described in:

    Debbie Nathan & Michael Snendeker, "Satan's Silence", BasicBooks, New York NY (1995). This book is out of print, but might be able to obtain a used copy for you

    Mark Pendergrast, "Victims of Memory", 2nd Edition, Upper Access Books, Hinesburg VT (1996), P. 366. Review/order this book

  7. Lew Powell, "The Little Rascals Day Care Case," at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-APR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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