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"The interviews with the children in the Michaels case are some of the worst I have ever heard. The children were undoubtedly abused, but probably not until they met the investigators." S.J. Ceci

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Margaret Kelly Michaels, 25, an employee of the Wee Care Day Nursery of Maplewood NJ, was charged with 235 counts of sexual assault against 20 of her students. The charges were laid in 1985 and were related to incidences which were supposed to have occurred three years earlier. The children accused Ms. Michaels of: 

bullet licking peanut butter off of their genitals.
bullet playing a piano while naked.
bullet forced the children to drink urine and eat feces. (None of the parents noticed odors of urine or feces on their children when they picked them up from school)
bullet assaulting them with silverware, a sword and Lego blocks. 
bullet forcing them to play the "cat game" where they all got naked and licked each other. 
bullet amputating children's penises. "Joey" said: "We chopped our penises off." (Not one penis was found to be missing).
bullet sucking one child's penis.
bullet scraping a boy's nipples with a fork.
bullet putting a real car and tree on top of one of them.
bullet inserted forks, knives and spoons in a boy's private parts.
bullet changing one child into a mouse.  
bullet etc. 

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The investigation:

A young child was having his temperature checked with an anal thermometer. He commented to the doctor that that procedure is exactly what his nursery school teacher, Kelly Michaels used. Michaels was picked up by police, interviewed and given a polygraph ("lie detector") test. She was found to be innocent. Such tests are typically accurate about 85% of the time. She was arrested anyway.

"Peg Foster of the Child Abuse Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Children's Hospital of New Jersey, in Newark, met with the parents the week after Kelly was first questioned. She provided the parents with a list of symptoms that children might be displaying if, in fact, they had been sexually abused. The list included tummy aches, fear of being separated from parents, and bedwetting. In addition Foster included a warning to be on the lookout for any sexual behavior or remarks, such as inappropriate sex play or touching." 7

As is common in such cases, some parents reported that they had noticed changes in their 3 to 5 year old children's behavior three years earlier, while they were enrolled in Ms. Michaels' class: nightmares, fear of the dark, an aversion to peanut butter and an increase interest in sex play.

Investigators interviewed the children, asking them direct questions, repeatedly. This was the standard interview technique at the time. Social workers, child psychiatrists, police officers, etc had been trained to conduct interviews in this way. They were taught that children will always initially deny that any abuse happened. It is only after lengthy, repeated and direct questioning that they will finally disclose the truth. After Kelly's trial, basic research revealed that many children who had never been abused would disclose sexual molestation if interviewed in this way. Investigators used anatomically correct dolls with the children. Again, this was common practice in the U.S. at the time. The use of such dolls was subsequently found to increase the number of false accusations by children. At least one investigator threatened to keep the child "all day -- till you tell me." 7 According to various sources, the interviewers repeatedly told the children that Ms. Michaels was in jail because she had done bad things. They needed the kid's help in keeping her there. Sometimes the investigators implied that their teacher had supernatural powers. The interviewers rewarded children who gave the "right" answers with police badges and other gifts. Those who gave the wrong answers were denied food or humiliated. Drs. Ceci and Bruck document some of the unbelievably manipulative questioning. 1 In our opinion, this constituted child sexual abuse by the authorities.

Author Lona Manning comments: "Sneaking off with her entire class to the choir room and playing "Jingle Bells" in the nude? Peeing on them? Engaging in group orgies with 3-and-4 year-olds? What child molester would take chances like that when footsteps in the hall meant being caught red-handed, with no time to clean up and dress the children. Feeding children a cake made of excrement? Most of them didnít want to eat their vegetables! A child forced to drink urine and eat excrement would probably throw up. How was that even sexual?" 7

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The trial:

There was no medical or physical evidence to confirm the abuse - evidence that would have had to be present if the abuse actually occurred. For example, some of the children disclosed that Kelly had forced them to urinate on a piano bench. The bench was sent to the FBI labs where no urine residue was found. The girls who disclosed that they had been vaginally raped with a knife had normal, intact hymens. None of her fellow teachers recalled any of this strange behavior, which allegedly went on daily for 7 months.

Kelly's defense lawyers might have been able to cast serious doubt on the charges by interviewing some of the children who maintained that no abuse had taken place. However, they were prevented from doing so by the judge. "Kelly and her lawyers could not show that, taken as a whole, the investigation was seriously flawed, and that if some of the allegations were obviously [physically] impossible, then all of the allegations were suspect." 7

Two entire days of the trial were devoted to examining a single homosexual experience that Ms. Michaels had during her freshman year at college, and the fact that she had enrolled in a drama class. The prosecution was obviously hoping that the homophobia of some jurors would increase their chances of getting a conviction. Nobody seem to realize that if Kelly had a homosexual experience with another adult, it was much less likely that she was an abusive pedophile.

The state's main expert witness, Eileen Treacy, testified for eight days. Yet, she had no real academic qualifications. She was eight years away from obtaining her PhD in psychology. She was not licensed as a therapist in New York where she worked at a clinic for sexually abused children, nor in New Jersey, where she testified. In a gross conflict of interest, Treacy both helped to choose which of the children would testify, and also functioned as the "independent" expert vouching for their credibility. Meanwhile, Kelly's defense attorneys were not permitted to bring in their own expert witnesses who would have testified that their client did not exhibit the normal signs for a child molester.

A second interesting twist to this case involved an instance of what has been termed "kiddy-porn". Police found a roll of film in which each picture showed young girls in what are known in the trade as "spread shots". On the photo developer's bag used by the customer to send in the roll was the same name as one of the families with a girl in the Wee Care nursery. The customer became a state witness in the case; she testified that Ms. Michaels had said to her that she was going to the doctor with a rectal bleeding problem. Michaels denied having said this. There was no evidence that she had sought medical attention for such a problem. Debbie Nathan et al.  states: "Michaels's [sic] attorneys were gagged from cross-examining her about her involvement in a child-pornography case - which would have discredited her and suggested the obvious: that Schocken's testimony was part of a deal to escape her own criminal indictment." 2 This testimony had a major effect on the jury, because it gave support to some of the children's testimony that Kelly had forced them to insert objects into her anus. 

After a nine month trial and 13 days jury deliberation Michaels was convicted on all 115 counts and given a 47 year sentence.

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The appeal:

Two investigative reporters came to Kelly's aid: Dorothy Rabinowitz 3 and Debbie Nathan. Their articles persuaded attorney Morton J. Stavis to take her case in 1990.  She was released in 1993 on appeal by the Appeals Court of New Jersey after serving 5 years -- 18 months of it spent in solitary confinement for her own safety.

45 leading cognitive, developmental and clinical psychology researchers filed an amicus curia ("friend of the court") brief stating that: "...if there were incidents of sexual abuse, the faulty interviewing procedures make it impossible to ever know who the perpetrators were and how the abuse occurred....we are deeply concerned about the long-lasting harmful effects of persuading children that they have been horribly sexually and physically abused, when in fact there may have been no abuse until the interviews began...Parents, especially mothers, spent hours on the phone comparing symptoms and worries....After reading a number of these interviews, it is difficult to believe that adults charged with the care and protection of young children would be allowed to use the vocabulary that they used in these interviews, that they would be allowed to interact with the children in such sexually explicit ways, or that they would be allowed to bully and frighten their child witnesses in such a shocking manner. No amount of evidence that sexual abuse had actually occurred could ever justify the use of these techniques especially with three- and four-year-old children. Above and beyond the great stress, intimidation, and embarrassment that many of the children so obviously suffered during the interviews, we are deeply concerned about the long-lasting harmful effects of persuading children that they have been horribly sexually and physically abused, when in fact there may have been no abuse until the interviews began."

in 1992-DEC, attorney Stavis died in a freak accident a matter of hours after he signed the final appeal papers for submission to the court. Lawyer William Kunstler agreed to take charge of the oral arguments. The judges ruled that Kelly's trial was unfair. They were particularly critical of the child interviews and of Eileen Treacy's testimony. The court decided that before Kelly was retried, a "taint hearing" would have to be held to determine if any of the children's testimony could be used in a new trial. Essex County appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court. They lost. In 1994-DEC, the County dropped the indictment. They had no reliable evidence at all that any of the events actually happened.

Kelley asked the courts for the right to sue the investigators and prosecutors in the case. She claimed that they had violated her constitutional rights by using unreliable evidence that resulted from improper interviews of the alleged victims. The New Jersey Supreme Court called the investigation "inept," saying that evidence from investigators' interrogations likely was unreliable. On 2001-JAN-16, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her request. 6

"The Wee Care children are now young adults. Many have been in therapy for years...Some of the families have received financial settlements from the day careís insurance company." 7

Lisa Manshel wrote a documentary book called: "Nap Time: The True Story of Sexual Abuse at a Suburban Day Care Center." She wrote the book with the assumption that Kelly Michaels was guilty of the charges. The reviews of this book on the web site are well worth reading. 9

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Author's comments:

It is fairly obvious that the Kelley Michaels case is basically a replica of many other similar multi-victim, multi-offender ritual sexual abuse cases. There was no physical evidence that confirmed that any abuse had actually happened. Yet if the children's stories were correct, there certainly would have been hard evidence available. Kelley is innocent of all abuse charges; nothing criminal happened at Wee Care. But dozens of the children, now adults, will suffer from false memories for the rest of their lives.

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  1. S.J. Ceci & M. Bruck, "Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony", American Psychological Association, Washington DC (1995). Pages 116-118; 121-122; 149-150; 178-179.
  2. Debbie Nathan & Michael Snendeker, "Satan's Silence", BasicBooks, New York NY (1995), P. 170
  3. Dorthy Rabinowitz, "From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell" Harper's Magazine, 1990-MAY, P. 52-3. See also a subsequent review in the The Wall Street Journal, 1996-MAY-15
  4. Mark Pendergrast, "Victims of Memory", 2nd Edition, Upper Access Books, Hinesburg VT (1996). This book contain skeptical descriptions of many MVMO ritual abuse cases
  5. S.J. Ceci & M. Bruck, "Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony", American Psychological Association, Washington DC (1995). Analyzes children's testimony in this case
  6. "Sex offender's case denied in court," Associated Press,, 2001-JAN-16. Online at:
  7. Lona Manning,. "Nightmare at the Day Care: The Wee Care Case," at:
  8. "Amicus brief for the case of State of New Jersey v. Michaels...," at: 
  9. Lisa Manshel, "Nap Time: The True Story of Sexual Abuse at a Suburban Day Care Center." As of 2001-SEP, this book is out of print. However, used copies can often be purchased at a low price. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. The reviews are definitely worth reading!

Copyright © 1998 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-SEP-2
Author: B.A. Robinson

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