How have claims of Satanic ritual abuse held up over the past two decades? Generally, not well. There have been retractions, apologies, and debunkings in many of the high-profile cases of the ’80s and ’90s. And I think we can learn a lot from how the accusations were handled then, compared with how they look now.
Let’s start with the case of Vicki Polin. In 1989, 29-year-old Vicki and her therapist appeared on Oprah to discuss the horrific abuse Vicki allegedly suffered at the hands of a “Satanic cult” to which her Jewish parents belonged. An excerpt from this broadcast is one of the first things you’ll find if you search for “ritual abuse” on YouTube or Google Video; anti-Semites love it.
Vicki (using the name “Rachel”) said she witnessed human sacrifices, suffered sexual abuse, and developed Multiple Personality Disorder because her family’s sect had involved her in their time-honoured rituals from a young age. Outwardly, the family was Jewish, upstanding, and traditional. Her mother even served on a human rights commission in their Illinois town. But some of the women in the family were “breeders” who offered their babies as human sacrifices (Vicki explained that they were overweight enough to conceal secret pregnancies). She was forced to murder an infant herself. According to Vicki, her mother’s family had practiced Satanism as far back as the seventeenth century. Periods of normality would be brutally interrupted by nights of depravity; “what was bad, was good”. This dual existence traumatized Vicki further, making it easier for her family to create MPD in her.
Vicki seemed strangely relaxed as she described these things. She laughed easily when Oprah cracked jokes to lighten the mood. She had remarkably little insight into why her family chose to practice violent Satanism alongside Judaism. “Power” was her only answer.
Vicki “recovered” her memories of these events as an adult.
At the time Vicki appeared on Oprah, FBI agent Kenneth Lanning’s investigation into Satanic ritual abuse was still three years in the future. Satan’s Underground author “Lauren Stratford” had not yet been exposed as a hoaxer (in fact, her story was also featured on the show). Stories of covert Satanism were still uncommon enough to be startling and confounding to TV audiences. Just what is going on here? they wondered. Are Satanists really abducting children, killing babies, and ritually sacrificing people in large numbers?
As time went on and compelling evidence failed to surface, the subject died a natural death in the mainstream media. Only a handful of SRA victims and their advocates carried the torch into the 21st century. Most accounts of ritual abuse and human sacrifice debunked themselves by being packed with implausible, utterly unbelievable details.
In the ’80s, however, watchers of Oprah and Geraldo weren’t exposed to full accounts of SRA. They heard only capsule accounts, squeezed in between commercials. What would they have thought if the stories were told in all their bizarre detail, I wonder?
I had assumed Vicki Polin melted back into obscurity like the other SRA victims of the ’80s, but I recently learned that she’s still actively sharing her story. Henry Makow posted a profile of her at his site which reveals details not seen in the Oprah clip…
- Vicki’s family belonged to the Illuminati, which evolved from the heretical Frankist Movement of the 18th century (not the 17th).
- Many rabbis brought Satanism to the U.S. from Europe.
- Vicki’s rabbi was a Satanist, and some of her abuse occurred in the synagogue. She was sexually abused on top of Torah scrolls laid on the floor.
If these things had been included in the ’89 Oprah broadcast, would people (other than anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists like Makow) still have bought into Vicki’s story? I like to think the answer is no. And Vicki evidently feels the same way, because a presentation she gave in 2008 covers the sexual and emotional abuse she suffered, without mentioning Satanism at all. While her Awareness Center, Inc., website contains some information on ritual abuse and the Frankist movement, Satanism is not directly mentioned there either.
Today Susan Polk is known as the woman who brutally murdered her 70-year-old husband, California therapist Frank “Felix” Polk, in the midst of a contentious divorce in 2002, leaving his body for their 15-year-old son to discover.
But in 1987, Susan and Felix were just starting out. They had married five years earlier, shortly after Susan discontinued therapy with Felix, whom she had been seeing since she was a troubled 15-year-old. They had three sons, the oldest being 4-year-old Adam. After the birth of the youngest boy in January, Adam began spending three days a week in a babysitting service run by a respectable, middle-class woman in her fifties. The daycare didn’t have any kids in it aside from Adam and the woman’s own child.
One morning, Adam told Susan he didn’t want to go to daycare. She automatically asked if someone had touched him, and he said, “Yeah, that’s it.” Years later, at his mother’s murder trial, Adam would testify that he didn’t even know what his mom meant by “touched.” He just didn’t feel like going to daycare that day.
In therapy, Adam supposedly gave vivid, detailed descriptions of atrocities he had suffered and witnessed, and was diagnosed as having MPD. He said that each day, after being dropped off at daycare, he was driven to a local warehouse in a schoolbus. Other kids were picked up along the way, some of them possibly developmentally disabled. The warehouse was equipped with professional filming equipment, a stage, and seats for a large audience. Numerous adults dressed in red robes and triangular masks raped, tortured, and even murdered children onstage. Adam was sometimes dressed as a girl. There were arcane rituals and grotesque feasts of urine, vomit, feces, blood, and human flesh. Once, a baby was placed in a bag and hammered to death.
A police investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by the daycare provider. Felix Polk was outraged by this, so he became a vocal defender of the notion that Satanic cults were victimizing children. He and one of his female patients (also an SRA victim) spoke about ritual abuse at the 4th annual conference of the Consortium of Child Abuse Counsels, held in Berkeley. At other events, Felix actually took Adam onstage with him. Some of his colleagues, not to mention his own daughter, criticized him for exploiting his son, saying he was using the ritual abuse allegations to promote his private practice or to fulfill his need for a cause. Felix strenuously, indignantly denied this.
Nonetheless, Adam and Susan Polk later said the abuse never happened. The only violence Adam witnessed as a child were the vicious fights between his parents. Like so many other kids in the ’80s, he was coaxed into believing he suffered ritual abuse by an overzealous therapist and his concerned parents. Felix’s reasons for believing his son was brutalized by Satanists will probably never be known, but the bizarre and disturbing allegations made by the Polks were not unique where Susan Polk is concerned.
In 1997, while on vacation at Disneyland, Susan spontaneously “recovered” memories of her father raping her, and of her parents murdering a policeman and burying his body beneath their house. There is no evidence that either event occurred.
During her murder trial, Susan declared she had psychic abilities and that Felix routinely drugged and hypnotized her in order to obtain accurate forecasts of world events. In this way, he found out about 9/11 in advance and warned Israel’s Mossad about it. You see, Susan insisted her husband was a Mossad agent even though he had no known connections to the intelligence agency, never worked in a government capacity, and had never even been to Israel. She also accused him of bribing a judge to send one of their sons to a juvenile detention facility.
While on trial, she baselessly accused the family who had generously taken in her youngest son of trying to steal her dead husband’s estate. She accused a deputy of breaking her arm with a blackjack, even though her arm was not broken. Worst of all, she insisted that a former patient of Felix had organized her neighbors to frame her for her husband’s murder. Two years later, she stopped denying that she had murdered Felix Polk.
Adam warned his mother’s lawyer, Daniel Horowitz, that his mother gained control over situations by “contriving fantasies”. Horowitz learned this firsthand a short time later, when Susan accused him of murdering his own wife (a neighbor boy was convicted of this crime).
We don’t have to rely on Susan Polk’s fantasies and delusions to debunk the claim that Adam was ritually abused, however. She did that herself, in court. While representing herself and questioning Adam on the witness stand, she acknowledged that the allegations were completely untrue, and tried to persuade her son to tell the court that Felix had fabricated them. He refused. Both of his parents had supported the allegations, he said.
After reading a transcript of Felix Polk’s SRA presentation, I have no doubt that he seemed sincere, reasonable, and believable to everyone who heard him speak. Who wouldn’t believe a father who tells you he feels crushing guilt for failing to protect his son from predatory, vicious pedophiles and killers? It was a horrifying story that probably seemed a little too weird not to be true.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see with crystal clarity that the story came largely from the imaginations of two deeply troubled, volatile people – at least one of whom had a habit of spinning dark, outlandish tales of conspiracy and intrigue.
If the seemingly credible SRA stories of Vicki Polin, “Lauren Stratford”, and the Polks were fabrications, what does that say about the stories being told today of murderous Satanic cults and ritual child abuse?