The Prodigal Witch XI: Audrey Harper

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When Satanic panic spread to the UK, Audrey Harper become England’s version of Lauren Stratford: A real, live “former Satanic witch” who could help the righteous root out other dangerous devil worshipers.

Insanity in the UK

In the ’80s and ’90s, a woman named Audrey Harper made many appearances on behalf of the Christian organization Reachout Trust, a major proponent of Satanic panic in the UK. She claimed that in the ’60s, she belonged to a murderous Satanic cult in London. Her story was similar in theme to Doreen Irvine’s 1973 book From Witchcraft to Christ, and that may not have been a coincidence; reportedly, Irvine and Harper were both converted to Christianity by the same evangelist, Eric Hutchings. (3)  And both women, as living examples of “what Satanists do”, were integral to the anti-occult crusade spearheaded by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens, Diane Core of Childwatch, and Maureen Davies of Reachout Trust. (1)

Though it has the same basic structure and many common elements, Audrey Harper’s story was much darker than Doreen Irvine’s. While Irvine witnessed nothing more “deviant” than some bird murders and gay orgies in the early ’60s, Audrey was party to child sacrifice and other extreme forms of brutality during the same time. It’s odd that they didn’t cross paths until becoming Christians, as they may have belonged to the same international “black witch” cult.
Their backgrounds were even eerily similar. Though Audrey had a more privileged life than Doreen (she was adopted by a doctor and his wife), hers was a loveless childhood. She fell into drug addiction and prostitution at a young age, and things only went downhill from there. Her boyfriend died, she gave up their baby for adoption, became an alcoholic. Homeless, she fell in with a gang of hippies in Picadilly Circus and became a chronic pill-popper and pot-smoker. (2)

Then everything changed. In 1961 Audrey was invited to a glamorous Chelsea party, because homeless hookers who reek of weed and booze get invited to these things all the time.
After the party, the beautiful people inducted her into a coven that met monthly in the upscale village of Virginia Water (where, ironically, some Harry Potter scenes have been filmed). On Halloween night she signed a parchment pledging herself to Satan (just like Irvine), and drank the blood of a sacrificed rooster (just like Irvine). Then she was sexually initiated on the temple altar by the cult’s head “warlock” (the same term used by Irvine). This is the story she told to the London paper Sunday Sport in one of her first interviews (March 13, 1988). (4)

The “warlock” soon enlisted Audrey to recruit other vulnerable youths for the cult. The kids were gathered in a room scented by “heroin candles” and given hallucinogen-spiked drinks, which invariably led to orgies and the filming of porn. Ritual abuse and infant sacrifices were routine.
The cult also engaged in a range of petty crime, from church desecration to robbery.
Audrey remained with the cult for five years.
Like Irvine, Audrey never gave a name for her cult nor identified any of its members (at least, not publicly). She used the terms “witchcraft” and “Satanism” interchangeably, implying there is no distinction between earth religions and devil-worship. She was vague about her cult’s religious beliefs. She didn’t mention any scripture, like Irvin’s massive Book of Satan, nor any rituals that didn’t involve drugs, sex or murder. But she did describe the supernatural powers she developed, including the ability to levitate and the very handy skill of occult furniture arrangement: “I could bring down the powers of darkness to move furniture about”. (2)
Irvine had developed the same skills during her years as a “black witch”. Sadly, everyone forgot to take pictures.

Drug-addicted and mistreated by cult members, Audrey ended up in and out of mental hospitals, where she gave birth to her second child. She gave up this baby for adoption as well, fearing the head warlock would sacrifice it. (2)
Her addictions, combined with personal intervention by the Devil himself, served to keep Audrey tied to the cult. “Satan could direct me to the coven by remote control,” she later explained. “There was no resistance. I had to go.” Even after leaving the cult, she continued to believe that all her self-harming actions and poor choices had been the direct result of Satanic interference. Every time she injected an overdose of heroin, or walked to a cemetery where babies would be slain and women raped on altars, it was all the Devil’s idea. This near-total abdication of personal responsibility is so common to the testimonies of “former Satanists” that it begins to wear very thin after you’ve heard a few of them. It’s hard to believe that even the most hopelessly drug-addicted, beaten-down person would passively watch gruesome atrocities committed under her nose month after month, year after year, without making any effort to extricate herself from the situation. (2)

Of course, because this is first and foremost a Christian testimony, it was God and His people who provided Audrey with a way out of Satanic slavery; she finally resolved to leave the cult after a stint in a Christian rehab centre in 1966. Her escape was effected without any repercussions, just as Irvine’s departure from the black witches had been. Somehow, though she was not yet born again, her telepathic link with Satan was weakened.

Audrey married, had a third child, and attended church regularly. But she was consumed by guilt and rage until 1986, when she was exorcised by Roy Davies of Emmanuel Pentacostal Church in Stourpart. Freed from the demonic aftereffects of witchcraft, she was finally born again (Doreen Irvine, too, was exorcised after leaving her witch cult).
In 1988, Audrey decided to go public with her story.

How Audrey’s Story Was (Mis)Used

Geoffrey Dickens latched on to Audrey Harper immediately, supporting her and helping her spread the news that, to her knowledge, English Satanists were still sacrificing children. Dickens was one of two Tory MPs (the other being David Wilshire) engaged in anti-occult agitation during the late ’80s. Wilshire actually called for witchcraft laws to be re-instated, and Dickens campaigned for occult literature to be restricted or banned. Complaining that “perverted cults which worship the devil can freely publish guides on how to dabble in the occult,” he opined, “The Home Office must act.” (1) He worked closely with Childwatch, a Hull-based organization that used every opportunity to warn the public about Satanic ritual abuse in England. Its founder, Diane Core, declared that up to 4000 English children were being sacrificed by Satanists annually. She publicly aired bizarre stories from alleged SRA survivors, like the “breeder” who claimed her cult froze sacrificed babies so members could defrost and eat them later.
Wilshire declared in the House of Commons that Satanism is about the ritual mutilation and torture of people, particularly children. (1)

Audrey Harper fit right into this crusade. Along with SRA survivor Cassandra “Sam” Hoyer, she gave numerous interviews and became a darling of the tabloid media. Both women were aided and abetted by Dickens, Wilshire, Core, and Davies of Reachout Trust, all of whom politely ignored the glaring inconsistencies in Ms. Hoyer’s various accounts. (1)

Police looked into the possibility that Harper’s baby-killing cult was still active, but Audrey gave them so little to go on that the investigation was soon dropped. If her story had seemed credible to law enforcement, it’s quite possible that Audrey herself would have been charged in connection with infant murders. This aiding and abetting is a very peculiar feature of ex-Satanist testimony, and it’s one that gets overlooked by many Christians. Few people have pointed out that Mike Warnke (if his story had been true) should have been charged with abduction and rape, that Lauren Stratford could have been prosecuted for allowing her three children to be killed by her associates, or that Irene Park deserved jail time for sexually exploiting her children. It’s bizarre that the people who tried to flush out occult criminals embraced self-described occult criminals when they encountered them, instead of demanding they be prosecuted. These “whistleblowers” were simply re-classified as victims and enlisted in the fight. But being a whistleblower does not necessarily absolve you of participation in awful deeds.
Fortunately, not one of these “whistleblowers” was actually telling the truth.
In spite of a years-long crusade against Satanic crime, no evidence of the mass murder of children by Satanists ever surfaced. The entire campaign was based on anecdotes, recovered memories, and uncorroborated stories from “former Satanists” and “ritual abuse survivors”.

Harper did a significant amount of work for this campaign. Alongside Irvine, she joined the Investigation Committee of the Evangelical Alliance, dedicating to compiling evidence of ritual abuse and other occult-related crime. (3)  She appeared on the talk show After Dark in April ’88, to confront neo-Pagans about their evil ways. (6)  She met with a parent involved in the Nottingham case to discuss ritual abuse. She collected the testimony of other “survivors” of Satanism to share with her audiences, including stories from coven “breeders” (women forced to give birth to babies specifically for ritual sacrifice). No criminal charges resulted from the sharing of these stories, because Harper did not know (or did not reveal) the full names of the alleged victims.  (2)

The UK effort was closely aligned with the one going on in the U.S. For example, Harper, David Wilshire, Doreen Irvine, and Maureen Davies appeared in Caryl Matrisciana’s documentary Devil Worship: The Rise of Satanism. You may recall that Matrisciana was one of the people who encouraged “Lauren Stratford” to write her 1988 memoir of violent Satanism, Satan’s Underground.

Was any part of Audrey Harper’s Story True?

Aside from the magical furniture-arranging and whatnot, there’s nothing in Harper’s story that couldn’t have happened. It is, of course, entirely possible (but not likely) that a kooky band of “witches” and “warlocks” were conducting some weird ceremonies in Virginia Water during the very early ’60s and that Audrey participated in them. But her accounts of Satanic crime don’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. For one thing, she couldn’t bring forth a single person to corroborate any part of her story. She claimed that her life as a Satanist was so secretive, no one outside the cult was even aware of her involvement.
For another thing, her story changed dramatically during the first two years of her public appearances. Undoubtedly, the changes stemmed from her involvement with a group of activists who were desperately trying to convince the world of the reality of Satanic ritual abuse. Audrey’s original stories, told to tabloid reporters, didn’t contain much of that. By late ’80s standards, her Irvine-inspired material was bland and unhelpful. If she wanted to retain the interest and support of her allies, she had to offer up some “evidence” that would aid their campaign. So that’s exactly what she did.
In 1990, Harper and reporter Harold Pugh published her story of redemption from Satanism, Dance with the Devil: A Young Woman’s Struggle to Escape the Coven’s Curse.Suddenly, the sacrificed rooster used in her initiation ceremony was a sacrificed infant. Geoffrey Dickens, who wrote a foreword for the book, must have noticed the discrepancy. Perhaps, as Reachout would later do, he convinced himself that Audrey had simply been misquoted in the tabloid press. Some inept yellow journalist must have scribbled “cockerel” in his notes when he meant to write “baby”. Happens all the time.

As recently as 2005, Reachout Trust republished Harper’s book and continued to defend its integrity. They claim that two members, Doug Harris and Mike Thomas, have investigated Audrey’s story and concluded she has been truthful. It’s possible that Harper believed her own stories, but it’s the truth, not “honesty”, that is at issue in Satanic horror stories like Audrey’s. A perfectly sincere person can declare that tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered by devil worshipers every year, without having a single fact to support that statement. Doreen Irvine, who comes across as earnest and sincere in her presentations, was diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
It is our responsibility to learn if such statements have any factual basis before even repeating them, much less demanding action from legislators, citizens, and clergy (as Reachout, Childwatch, et al, did in the ’80s and ’90s). Reachout now states it does “not support the myth of SRA [Satanic ritual abuse].” Evidently, its members learned some hard lessons after the hysteria Reachout helped create destroyed lives, careers, and families throughout the UK.
Nonetheless, the organization still offers Dance with the Devil for sale on its website, at a significantly reduced price, along with Jeff Harshbarger’s memoir of Satanism.

Harper herself has apparently moved on.

Notes:

1. For more information on the UK anti-occult crusade, see this timeline . The UK crusade has also been extensively documented by the Sub-Culture Alternatives Freedom Foundation (SAFF)
2. Dance with the Devil by Audrey Harper and Harold Pugh (Publications, 1990)
3.Satan in Suburbia” by Gareth J. Medway. Fortean
Times. Nov. 2001. ,
4. Lure of the Sinister:
The Unnatural History of Satanism (New York University Press, 2001)
5. “Christian Authors” (part 5) by Kerr Kuhulain. Witchvox.com. Retrieved July 29/11.
6. “The Devil Rides In: Charismatic Christians and the Depiction of a Satanic Menace in Contemporary Great Britain” by Philip Jenkins. Religiologiques. Spring 1995.

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The Prodigal Witch X: Derry Mainwaring Knight

God’s 007

In the spring of 1983, an unassuming, middle-aged fellow by the lofty name of Derry Mainwaring Knight appeared in Newick, East Sussex, and began attending the local Anglican church, St. Mary’s. He became a regular at Bible studies and prayer meetings. He offered to hand out Christian tracts.
He told the late vicar, John Baker, that he had been born again in jail (he had just been released from Hull Prison after serving time for a rape conviction). His sincerity and eagerness to devote himself to his newfound faith must have touched Reverend Baker deeply, because he did everything in his power to help the ex-con. When Knight said he was homeless, Baker gave him a room in the rectory attic, rent-free. When Knight said he was desperately short of cash, Baker promptly raised over £6000 to put toward the newcomer’s debts.

St. Mary’s Church in Newick

That’s when Knight began to show symptoms of demonic possession, lapsing into strange trances and talking about the Devil.
During one such spell, he revealed to Baker that he was the grandson of a sorceress who groomed him from childhood to be a great Satanic leader. When he was just eight years old, Granny informed Derry he could enter into communion with the Devil himself if special platinum plates were surgically implanted in his skull. The plates were installed, and just as Granny promised, Derry was able to communicate directly with Satan. As an adult, he become a high-ranking member of a secretive but powerful cult.
When he came out of his altered state, Baker repeated all this to Knight and asked him if it was true. Yes, Knight admitted, it was. For years, he had been struggling to break free from a Satanic cabal that operated at the the highest levels of English society.

The son of a pastor, Knight had been raised in Germany. Lucifer manifested in his bedroom one night to claim him when he was nine, he told Baker.

Now, Derry claimed, he wanted to destroy his own devil-worshiping sect from within. He wanted to rid himself of demonic possession. He wanted to pay off his debts to cult members, so they could no longer hold sway over him. He wanted to bring other Satanists out of occult slavery. He wanted to destroy unholy Satanic regalia. To do all that, though, he would need funds. Major funds.
Over the next several months, members of St. Mary’s Church and other area residents donated a staggering sum (over £300,000) to Knight’s anti-Satanic crusade. The county high sheriff gave over £83,000 pounds. The wife of millionaire Tory MP Timothy Sainsbury ponied up nearly £120,000 pounds. Anthony David Brand, Lord Hampden contributed a Rolls-Royce with state-of-the-art communications equipment so that Knight could continue to pose as an affluent Satanist-about-town. The bishop of Lewes wrote a letter on Derry’s behalf, requesting donations for his “necessary work”. In November 1983, Reverend Baker secured a £25,000 loan from a Christian charity and handed it over to Knight.

Lady Susan Sainsbury, one of Knight’s prominent victims

Where did all this money go? Knight claimed to be buying up Satanic paraphernalia such as talismans and robes, expressly to destroy them in dramatic ceremonies. He explained that some of these items were being used to magically influence him, keeping him tied to Satan; the objects would send “signals” to the plates in his head. Oddly, no one suggested he simply get the plates removed.
On one memorable occasion, Knight flung a golden scepter into the Thames. Another time, he and the Reverend Baker carried a silver chalice into the church garden and crushed it.
At the time of his arrest in 1985, Baker was in the process of raising £20,000 so Knight could acquire a “Satanic throne” from a lavish temple in Pall Mall.
The members of St. Mary’s didn’t get to see a lot for their money, but they treasured the satisfaction of knowing they were literally buying a man’s way out hell. Like shareholders, they held regular meetings so they could be briefed on Knight’s progress.

No one in the Newick congregation was aware that Knight had just been sprung from prison after a rape conviction. Nor that he had prior convictions for fraud and robbery. Nor that he was an out-of-work housepainter in spite of his cult’s supposed affluence.
Clearly, he was still in Satan’s grip and needed all the help they could give him. Sometimes he would collapse to the ground in a deep trance, muttering Satanic incantations.

The first person to hear serious alarm bells in his head was the Bishop of Chichester, the late Eric Kemp. The septuagenarian bishop caught wind in the summer of 1985 that congregants in Newick were throwing fat sums of money at a Satanic double agent, and didn’t think it sounded quite right. The double-agent thing was sensible enough, he thought, but the donations seemed excessive.
The alarm bells turned to sirens when Derry himself told Kemp he had been initiated into Satanism by a defrocked Catholic cardinal. As Bishop Kemp knew, no English cardinals had been defrocked in the ’50s.
Kemp believed the Charismatic movement, which was popular among certain Anglicans at that time, rendered Christians vulnerable to this sort of deception. They focused on the ubiquity of evil until they convinced themselves that things like mind-control scepters and telepathic head-plates could really exist. They also convinced themselves that God was speaking directly to them, exhorting them to help scammers like Knight in His name.

A church investigation, conducted by a retired bishop, uncovered Knight’s police record, and Newick authorities were notified. Inspector Terrance Fallon concluded he was dealing with your typical con man – Derry was just luckier than the usual crook, having stumbled onto a community of kind-hearted and extraordinarily gullible people with scads of money. The donations had gone straight into Knight’s own pocketbook, usually manifesting as gifts for “lady friends”, high-end car rentals for himself, and posh parties. On one occasion, he chartered a champagne steamboat cruise along the Thames for one hundred guests. The Anglicans were not invited.

Knight, under Inspector Fallon’s questioning, played the innocent. Sure, he had asked the vicar for some cash to pay down a debt, and chatted with him about black magic and Satanism because Baker was “interested in that sort of thing”. But he never asked for another handout, he insisted. The Anglicans were so keen to squash Satanic evildoing in their area that they plied him with fistfuls of money every time he showed up for a prayer meeting, begging him to do something about the occult menace. (1)

As it turned out, Knight had a colourful history of scamming Christians out of their money. He had been dishonorably discharged from the Coldstream Guards for defrauding a fellow out of thousands of marks.

When the Anglicans of Newick learned about Knight’s real past, and his Larry Flynt present, most of them wisely faced the fact they had been scammed. Many of them testified against Derry at his 1986 trial. So did local jewelers who had been hired by Derry to craft peculiar-looking scepters and medallions out of gold and silver.
Church member Randle Mainwaring (no relation) testified that Knight once proposed sexually blackmailing a local bank manager to raise funds for his anti-Satanism campaign.

But others stubbornly maintained that Derry had been doing God’s work, and should never have been arrested. Michael Warren, who lost £36,000 pounds to this “work”, vociferously defended Derry from the witness stand and warned the court that Satanism was “very much a potent source of evil in this country”. (2)
Reverend Baker, too, remained certain that Knight’s life was imperiled by devil-worshipers. On the witness stand, he refused to name the items he and Derry had destroyed, for fear he and others would be “shot or disposed of in some way” by cult leaders for revealing details of their ritual implements. (2)

Though Knight admitted to Inspector Fallon that he wasn’t a Satanist, just the recipient of something like compulsive philanthropy, his trial defence strategy was to declare himself a member of a cult called “The Sons of Lucifer” and bring out shocking testimony that would blow the lid off Satanic doings at the highest levels of English society. He “outed” two Tory politicians (William Whitelaw, Enoch Powell) and one Labour MP (Leopold Abse) as cult members.
He declared he would have no need to bilk money out of churchgoers, because he was a successful pimp.
Derry Mainwaring Knight was convicted of nineteen counts of obtaining money by deception and sentenced to seven years in prison by Judge Neil Denison. He also received a £75,000 fine.
After his conviction, his own mother claimed he had conned her out of a large sum of cash.

Knight’s Legacy

Reachout Trust, a UK organization dedicated to fighting the occult, listed Derry Mainwaring Knight’s story as evidence that ritual abuse was really occurring in England in the ’80s, and with Reverend Kevin Logan produced a tape titled Set Free in Christ. In the video, a woman identified as Peggy Knight claimed she was Derry’s mother and a born again Christian. She said the cult Derry betrayed still posed a serious threat to the entire family.
Logan also included the Knight story in his 1988 book Paganism and the Occult, though he obscured the names and details. In this book, Logan stated that every city and major town in the UK contains a “small exclusive coven made up mostly of people in the professions.” (3)
Logan was heavily involved in UK Satanic panic; one of his most tragic Satanic ritual abuse misadventures is described in my post on Doreen Irvine. We’ll see Logan and Reachout Trust again in the next part of this series, dealing with “former Satanist” Audrey Harper.

Today, professional conspiranoid David Icke still considers Derry Mainwaring Knight a valuable Satanic whistleblower: “Willie Whitelaw, a chairman of the Conservative Part, was named as a leading Satanist by self-confessed Satanist, Derry Mainwaring Knight, at Maidstone Crown Court in 1986. As usual, nothing was done about it. Mainwaring-Knight lived near East Grinstead, one of the centres of Satanism in England.” (4)

Is it possible that Derry Mainwaring Knight really did practice Satanism with high-level politicians, when he wasn’t scamming churchgoers? No. The fact that he had to manufacture Satanic paraphernalia in order to destroy it indicates he didn’t have access to any real stuff. At one point he claimed to be a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, an occult organization, but this wasn’t verified. That’s probably why he chose not to mention the OTO at his trial. There is no known Satanic group called Sons of Lucifer, and no grand Satanic temple exists in Pall Mall. “Nothing was done” about his courtroom accusations against Whitelaw simply because no one, barring a country vicar and a few Charismatic believers, found his tales remotely credible.

Due to the prominence of Knight’s victims and the sheer wackiness of his scam, the outcome of his trial was covered by all the major English daily newspapers. The affair should have staunched the spread of Satanic panic in the UK, but sadly it did not. Stories of former Satanists and ritual abuse survivors, which were every bit as spurious as Knight’s Sons of Lucifer nonsense, continued to flow through the media like a diseased river, polluting minds and sweeping innocent people into whirlpools of persecution.

Sources

1. The Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism by Gareth J. Medway(New York University Press, 2001)
2.A British Con Man Says the Devil Made Him Do It” by Dianna Waggoner. People magazine. Vol. 25. No. 24 (July 16, 1986)
3. Paganism and the Occult by Kevin Logan (Kingsway Publications, 1988)
4. The Biggest Secret by David Icke  (2nd edition; David Icke Books, 1990)

The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford Part III

continued from Part II

Out of the Frying Pan, Into Another Frying Pan

In the summer of 1997 a new face appeared at a support group called the Child Holocaust Survivors Group of Los Angeles. Laura Grabowski didn’t share much about her background at first (she was even reluctant to identify her country of origin, Poland). She said she had kept her past a secret from everyone throughout her life and was fearful of revealing it, but over several months she told members of the group a few stories about her time as a child inmate of Auschwitz.
Her parents died during the war, so after Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, 5-year-old Laura was sent to an orphanage in Krakow. In 1950 she was adopted by a couple from Washington state.
Soon, Laura was so close to her fellow survivors that she referred to them as her new family. (1)

There were many gaps in Laura’s story. She never gave her birth name or the names of her parents, never explained how she came to be adopted by foreigners, never spoke of her other family members. She did, however, describe the experiments at Auschwitz in some detail. She could remember the doctors giving the children candy. She remembered Mengele injecting chemicals into her eyes, rendering her temporarily blind. She remembered the procedure that left her unable to bear children. (1)

There was nothing in Laura’s story that indicated falsehood up to this point. Roughly 3000 Polish children and teens were incarcerated at Auschwitz, and 52 of the liberated inmates were children under the age of 8. (4) Mengele did attempt to change the colour of the iris by injecting dyes into children’s eyes, and experimented with sterilization.
But Laura’s Mengele stories were problematic. His subjects were mostly children with disabilities or unusual traits, and very few of them were allowed to live. As the above numbers show, most of the Polish children were murdered or died of disease. (5)

There were other not-so-subtle hints that Laura’s story was fabricated. She posted this to an online Holocaust survivor forum called H-HOLOCAUST: “For myself, the Holocaust is about individual suffering… And if some call themselves survivors who are not survivors in any sense of the word, does this upset the whole survivor movement? I think not.” (1)

Meanwhile, historian Jennifer Rosenberg set up an About.com page to share her Holocaust research. Shortly before she traveled to Auschwitz in 1998, she was contacted by Laura, a frequent visitor to the site who used the screen name Child Survivor. She asked Rosenberg to place a pair of pink sandals at the death camp to commemorate her friend Ana, a little girl who died there.
Rosenberg did so, and said Kaddish for Ana and others. As she wrote on her website, the tiny shoes were a poignant reminder of how young and innocent some of the victims had been, bringing the darkness of Auschwitz into sharp relief for her and other members of her tour group. (3)

Laura befriended another frequent visitor to Rosenberg’s website, Monika Muggli, and the two began an e-mail correspondence. Laura told Muggli she was desperately ill with a rare blood disorder. While she still could, she wanted to travel to Los Angeles in April 1998 to meet Binjamin Wilkomirski, a fellow child survivor of Auschwitz whose widely-acclaimed memoir, Fragments, had been published in 1995. (3)
Wilkomirski, born in 1941, had been just two or three years old when he entered the camps. His memories of that time were repressed until he entered psychotherapy as a middle-aged adult and began “recovering”. The memories he recovered were fragmentary and mysterious, so he wrote his memoir from the perspective of a young, confused child. Tanks became “big gray monsters”, and the inmates’ uniforms became pajamas. (2)
Laura and Wilkomirski had been corresponding since the previous year, and could recall meeting each other in Auschwitz and in a Krakow orphanage.
Their experiences had been stunningly similar. They were the same age. They had both been adopted by Christians after the war, and raised away from their countries of origin. They had both been victims of Mengele, and both suffered blood diseases they believed to be caused by the medical experiments. Binjamin could vividly recall Laura’s white-blonde hair (their heads had not been shaved, leading Binjamin to conclude they were probably unregistered inmates). They compared notes and realized they both had their coccyx bones broken by the camp doctors. They had so much to share.
Sadly, Laura’s California doctors said she must fly first-class to make sure she received the attention her fragile condition required, and she simply couldn’t afford the airfare to L.A.
Muggli promptly sent $1000 to her American friend. (3)

Bruno Grosjean, AKA Binjamin Wilkomirski

The meeting between two child survivors drew international media attention. The BBC recorded a concert held at a Beverly Hills synagogue on April 19 (Holocaust Remembrance Day), in which Mr. Wilkomirski played his clarinet and Laura Grabowski sang an original piece, “Ode to the Little Ones”. Incredibly, though they had met only briefly 50 years earlier, Binjamin recognized Laura on sight. He movingly described how he was sitting disconsolately in the mud, believing himself to be the last child in the camp, when white-haired Laura and her little friend Ana appeared hand-in-hand.
Laura admitted she didn’t remember Binjamin right away, but eventually realized he was the boy known as “Andrzej”. She told the BBC, “He’s my Binje, that’s all I know.”
A local Jewish newspaper noted that Wilkomirski was helping his long-lost friend reconstruct her half-remembered childhood memories, her own “fragments”. (3)

Exposed, Again

Somehow, Jon Trott or the Passantinos learned that Laura Grabowski could be Laurel Willson/Lauren Stratford. This was quickly confirmed. Documents signed by Grabowski included Laurel’s Social Security number and address, and in one letter Laura signed her name “Laura Stratford-Grabowski”. As mentioned in Part I of this post, Grabowski was the maiden name of Laurel’s mother, Rose Willson. Anton and Rosalio Grabowski emigrated from Poland in the 1890s. They were lifelong Catholics.
The three writers also compared signatures of Laura and Laurel, finding them nearly identical. Photos of Laura showed a distinct resemblance to old photos and film footage of Lauren Stratford.
The Cornerstone team learned that Stratford/Grabowski had applied to the World Jewish Restitution Organization. An anonymous source told them that in ’98 and ’99 Jewish Family Services made 24 disbursements to Grabowski, totaling $2,188. (1)

Laurel Willson was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington in 1941, and the Willsons began adoption proceedings within days of her birth. She did not live in Poland until the age of 10. In fact, she had never left the U.S. at all. The entire story was a fantasy. Family photos provided to the Cornerstone researchers by Laurel’s sister, Willow, show Willow and Laurel together as little girls. In one photo, they pose with a group of nuns.
In her books, Lauren/Laurel said she was abused from the age of four by her mother, Satanists, pedophiles, and child pornographers. She gave detailed descriptions of her life in Washington before the age of 10, descriptions that evangelistic Christians like Johanna Michaelsen and Hal Lindsey found highly convincing. Those stories were not true, and the Holocaust stories of “Laura Grabowski” were not true.

The Holocaust survivor community that had become Laura’s family didn’t know how to respond to the revelation that she was a Gentile who had never lived abroad. Jen Rosenberg told Forward magazine she didn’t want to deal with the issue at all. (3)

And what of Laura’s long-lost friend from Auschwitz, Binjamin? As you may know, he was also a fraud. In August 1998, the Swiss news magazine Weltwoche published an article by writer Daniel Ganzfried, laying out evidence that Wilkomirski was really a Swiss Gentile by the name of Bruno Grosjean. Grosjean had remained in Switzerland throughout the war, and was never in a Polish orphanage. His father was not killed in Latvia. He never knew his father. His mother did not die in the camps. (2)
Wilkomirski initially responded to the allegations by explaining he had been given the name of a Christian boy, Bruno, after the war. This satisfied many of his admirers. (2)
However, Ganzfried’s findings were confirmed a year later by Stefan Machler, the historian hired by Wilkomirski’s literary agency. He uncovered still more damning information: When Yvonne Grosjean died in 1981, Bruno contested her will because he knew he was her illegitimate child.
More damning still was Bruno’s “recognition” of Laura Grabowski, a woman who had never been in Auschwitz.

DNA tests conducted in 2002 showed that Bruno Grosjean’s biological mother, Yvonne, and “Wilkomirski” were indeed mother and son. There is absolutely no question that “Binjamin” the Latvian Holocaust survivor was really Bruno Grosjean, born 1941 in Switzerland and adopted by the Dössekker family of Zurich in 1948. (3)

It is quite obvious that Laurel Willson mined Fragments for information about the Holocaust. She placed herself in a Krakow orphanage, just like Wilkomirski.

Of the two hoaxes perpetrated by Laurel Willson, this one was probably more damaging. Though short-lived in relation to her Satanic cult hoax, it defrauded at least one organization that could have been assisting a real Holocaust survivor. And like other Holocaust memoir hoaxes, it has been used by Holocaust deniers to argue that all such memoirs are fictional.

The stories of Lauren Stratford and Binjamin Wilkomirski were known to be “recovered memories”. While there are indications that traumatic memories can sometimes be forgotten and spontaneously recalled, this would seem to be an exception to the rule; most memories of traumatic events are consciously recalled. For this reason alone, those eager to promote their stories should have verified them to the greatest possible extent before making them public.

This entire sad affair mirrors the meeting between Eugenia Smith, a woman who pretended to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, and Mikhail Goleniewsky, a man who pretended to be the Tsarevtch Alexei. The two “siblings” instantly recognized each other. Later, as their credibility eroded, both denounced the other as a fraud.

The End of the Underground

Lauren Stratford never publicly responded to the exposure of her Holocaust imposture. Nor did she recant any of her Satanic testimony, though the two overlapping accounts wildly contradicted each other. No evidence ever surfaced to validate either version of her life story, so her former supporters quietly backed away from Satan’s Underground.
None of the people who helped promote Lauren’s story have expressed regret for failing to verify even the most basic details before presenting her terrifying tales to the public.

Lauren Stratford passed away in California in April 2002. To my knowledge, she remained estranged from her adoptive family to the end of her life.

It is now generally accepted that the woman known as Laurel Willson, Lauren Stratford, and Laura Grabowski confabulated her stories of Satanism and Holocaust survival. There are only a few diehards who insist Satan’s Underground was factual, like Satanic ritual abuse survivor Gregory Reid. As late as 2002, Reid defended the veracity of Lauren’s account and hinted that the Cornerstone writers were complicit in a cover-up of the “real” story. He brought no evidence to the table.

Examing how and why Satan’s Underground came to be, and why it affected so many people, offers us invaluable lessons about critical thinking. If only Joanna Michealsen, Hal Lindsey, Pat Robertson, Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, and the other SRA advocates of the late ’80s had learned them…


Sources:


1.
“Lauren Stratford: From Satanic Ritual Abuse to Jewish Holocaust Survivor” by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott. Cornerstone magazine. Vol. 28, Issue 117 (October 1999).
2. The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth by Stefan Machler (Random House, 2001)
3. A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski by Blake Eskin (W.W. Norton, 2002)
4. The “Children in Auschwitz” page of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum website
5. Mengele: The Complete Story by Gerald Posner and John Ware (McGraw-Hill, 1986)

The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford Part II

continued from Part I

Unearthing the Underground

In 1989, Christian authors Bob and Gretchen Passantino teamed up with Jon Trott, one of the Cornerstone magazine writers who would expose Mike Warnke’s deceptions in 1991, to investigate the story told in Satan’s Underground. They had been alerted to possible problems with Lauren Stratford’s testimony by another Cornerstone researcher, Eric Pement. A colleague expressed doubts about Stratford’s credibility to Pement after he booked Lauren as a speaker at the Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism. (2)
The Passantinos were extremely skeptical of Satanic ritual abuse stories, and realized that Christian writers played a role in fomenting the hysteria.

As with Warnke’s The Satan Seller, nearly everything in Satan’s Underground turned out to be at odds with the facts. First of all, “Lauren Stratford” was really Laurel Willson. Secondly, the chronology was wonky. Willson was born in 1941 (as I guessed, she grew up in Washington state), so if her timeline is accurate she ran away from her adoptive mother in 1956, met Victor in 1959, and left Victor’s cult when her father died in 1960.

Trott and the Passantinos learned that Laurel’s adoptive father, physician Frank Willson, left the family when Laurel was nine years old, not when she was four. He died in 1965. This means Laurel was twenty-four years old, not twenty, at the time of his death. And Laurel lived with both her adoptive mother and father at various times after the age of fifteen.

This timeline, which makes Laurel Willson a good deal older than Lauren was when she was supposedly a virtual hostage of Victor’s Satanic porn empire, undermines the impression given in Satan’s Underground that Lauren was a dewy innocent during her year as a Satanist. She would actually have been in her mid-twenties and out of college.
Lauren had gone to great lengths to prove to us she was never a Satanist by choice, that everything she did was done under duress. This would be easier to believe of a 19-year-old who had never lived away from home.

More surprising was the fact that Laurel had a sister, Willow. Though Lauren didn’t explicitly state she had no siblings, she strongly implied she was totally alone with her deranged mother after her father left the family. This was not the case. Laurel and Willow often visited their maternal grandfather, Anton Grabowski, in Tacoma. (4)

And what of Lauren’s adoptive mother? Was she really a demented, violent, raging harpy who allowed homeless drunks to rape four-year-old Laurel? Did she really invite child porn film crews to set up shop in her basement? Did she beat Laurel and abuse Frank so viciously he ended up in hospital on several occasions?

Rose Willson was a schoolteacher. In 1941, the year they began adoption proceedings for Laurel, she and Frank lived in the town of Buckley, Washington, not far from Tacoma. Willow was five years old.
The Willsons were older parents. Frank Willson, born around 1899, earned his medical degree from Loyola University in 1926.
According to Willow, the Willsons were devout members of the local Bible Presbyterian Church, and raised their daughters in a “very sheltered, strict Christian” environment. Both had volatile tempers and argued frequently, but Willow says their anger was not directed at her or Laurel.
Willow described Rose Willson as straightlaced. In her opinion, her mother would never have become involved with child pornography. (3)
At any rate, it would have been very difficult for a middle-class Tacoma woman to do in the early ’40s. It’s very unlikely Rose Willson herself had been a victim of child pornographers, having grown up in pre-WWI Tacoma.

Willow’s and Laurel’s upbringing was completely average for small-town kids in the ’40s. They made trips to the beach, played in local parks, and rode their bikes around the neighborhood. The Willsons fostered Laurel’s musical talent by paying for lessons in voice and various instruments. As a teen, Laurel was part of a singing trio and belonged to several school clubs. (3)
Recall that in Satan’s Underground, Laurel claimed she was deprived of toys, outings, and extracurricular activities throughout her childhood.

In short, Willow noticed nothing out of the ordinary in the Willson household. She was a Christian missionary in 1989, so she was probably not just covering up her family’s alleged Satanic porn activities. (2)

Other parts of Lauren’ story were at least partially true. Laurel did run away from home (around the age of sixteen), and was sent to live with Frank at his new home in San Bernardino, California. However, she didn’t stay there long. She returned voluntarily to her mother’s home in Tacoma. This fully contradicts Lauren’s claim that she escaped her mother’s nightmarish household and never looked back. (3)

Interestingly, there have been many rumours of Satanic cult activity in and around San Bernardino. It was at San Bernardino Valley College, Mike Warnke claimed, that he was recruited into the violent Satanic sect known as The Brotherhood.
Crackpot “mind control researcher and deprogrammer” Fritz Springmeier (who got out of prison last year after serving seven years for his role in an armed robbery) states in his nonsensical article about the “McDonald bloodline” that San Bernardino is a “major headquarters for the Illuminati and Satanic Hubs”, with thousands of black magic practitioners residing in the area. Springmeier is a major purveyor of misinformation about the occult. He claims to have deprogrammed an Illuminati slave called Cisco Wheeler, and together they authored several books about Illuminati mind control. He vociferously defended “former Illuminati member” John Todd after Todd’s stories were shown to be fraudulent.
In addition to the nonsense of Warnke and Springmeier, Devil Canyon in San Bernardino has supposedly been the site of Satanic rituals involving animal mutilation. But these stories weren’t circulating when Laurel lived in the area. The rumours reportedly began in 1981, after the Kimberly Crest mansion in Redlands was used in the filming of the slasher flick Hell Night.

For a time, 17-year-old Laurel lived with Willow’s family in Seattle. This is when signs of severe emotional problems began to surface. She accused Willow’s husband of sexually molesting her, the first of many sex abuse allegations she would make. In 1959, shortly after enrolling at Seattle Pacific College (a Christian school now called Seattle Pacific University), Laurel told a classmate she had been forced into prostitution by her mother and molested by staff members. According to Willow, Laurel admitted to the dean that she had fabricated these stories to “impress” her friend. Shortly after this incident, she made her first suicide attempt by cutting her wrists. (3)
By the Satan’s Underground timeline, Lauren was in California, hopelessly addicted to pills and under the control of the pornographer Tony and his minions.

Laurel’s condition seemed to improve when she returned to San Bernardino and enrolled as a music major at the University of Redlands (then a Baptist school that required daily chapel attendance). She became the choir director at a First Assembly of God church. On the surface her life was back on track, but she told friends her father was molesting her, and made numerous suicide attempts over the next six years.
In 1962, she attached herself to an older Christian couple and moved in with them. Seeking sympathy and stability in the homes of others would become a lifelong pattern for Laurel. This eerily parallels the behaviour of “serial teenager” Treva Throneberry, who attached herself to Christian families and falsely accused several men of sexually abusing her. Treva, too, told horrific tales of Satanic ritual abuse.

Laurel lived with Norman and Billie Gordon for nearly a year, and required far more attention than their children. She told them her mother had died when she was very young, and her stepmother abused her physically and sexually. On one occasion she showed up at the Gordons’ home with a bruised forehead, claiming her stepmom had bashed her with a can of peaches. Under questioning, she admitted it was a lie.
She experienced periods of hysterical blindness that she later admitted were fake – which sheds some light on the episode of blindness recounted in Satan’s Underground (supposedly experienced on the day she ran away from home). She engaged in self-mutilation.
The Gordons washed their hands of Laurel after she lunged at Billie with a broken vase. (3)

Laurel returned to live with her father and attended another First Assembly of God church. She told a friend that two lesbians in the congregation had seduced her. It’s highly unlikely that even one lesbian would attend a Pentacostal church.
Despite her emotional turmoil, Laurel earned her bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Redlands in 1964. Then she left home without telling anyone where she was going, and pretended to be a drug addict to gain entrance to an L.A. rehab program called Teen Challenge (she was twenty-three at the time).
After her father’s death in 1965, Laurel lived on her own and held down a job as a music teacher at Hemet Junior High School. In ’66 she married a younger man, a minister’s son, after three or four dates. The marriage was annulled two months later. (3)
None of these events are mentioned in Satan’s Underground.

In January 1968 Laurel left Hemet Junior High. She later told people she worked as a guard or a counselor at the California Institute for Women in Chino from 1969 to 1971, but there is no record of her employment there. If she did work at the Institute, it was her last job outside the home.
During this period, Laurel sang with a gospel trio called Delpha and the Witnesses. In ’71, she lived for a time with the family of group member Ken Sanders in Bakersfield, and she remained in Bakersfield for the rest of her life. She told Sanders and Delpha Nichols that her mother and several men had sexually abused her “in the name of Christ.” This abuse had been so brutal that she doubted she could bear children, she told them. She didn’t mention Satanism or Satanic ritual abuse at all until the ’80s, after the publication of Michelle Remembers.
Nichols and her husband, Willie, were so touched by this damaged woman that they legally adopted Laurel when she was thirty years old. But she continued to seek support from others. To a church friend, she related stories of abuse that the woman later realized were drawn from the book Sybil. Clearly, Stratford was familiar with Multiple Personality Disorder long before she was diagnosed as having it, and was not above passing off others’ suffering as her own. (3)

By now, Laurel’s mental instability was obvious to everyone who knew her. It prevented her from working outside her home (she gave private piano lessons and drew mental disability payments), singing with a group (Delpha and the Witnesses split in ’74), or maintaining relationships. She put such tremendous demands on one close friend’s time that the woman began to feel alienated from her family, and attempted suicide. Laurel deliberately estranged herself from her mother and Willow in the late ’70s, telling them she had a new family. (3)

Enter Satanic Panic: Bakersfield and McMartin

It was California’s pedophile ring hysteria and daycare ritual abuse allegations that led Laurel on a circuitous route to Johanna Michaelsen and Hal Lindsey, the people who would make her story famous. Without her marginal involvement in two infamous cases, Lauren may never have met them at all and her bizarre stories would never have been believed.

Unfortunately, by sheer chance, Laurel happened to live in a city in which sex-abuse hysteria and Satanic panic would establish a firm grip in the mid-’80s. It all began in 1982, when 38-year-old Mary Ann Barbour learned that one of her husband’s granddaughters, 7-year-old Becky McCuan, may have been touched inappropriately by a family member. Barbour was furious that the alleged abuse hadn’t been reported to the authorities (though Becky had undergone therapy, and visits with the family member were supervised). She decided the McCuans were unfit to parent their two daughters or to continue running a daycare centre in their home. Questioning her stepdaughters closely, she “discovered” they were abused not just by one relative, but by a huge group of local pedophiles – including their own parents. The Barbours were granted custody of the two girls.
The investigation mushroomed into a literal witch hunt. For the next three years, children were aggressively interrogated until they “revealed” horrific abuse that included torture, murder, child pornography, and Satanic rituals. Many of these children later recanted their testimony, and 34 of the 36 convictions in the case were overturned on appeal, but the damage has been permanent for some families. Alvin and Debbi McCuan, for instance, weren’t released from prison until 1996, and remain estranged from their daughters to this day. (5)

Laurel contacted a foster parent involved in the Bakersfield case, Pat Thornton, to say she feared for her life because she had inside information about the perpetrators – Satanic cultists.
Laurel fell into her usual pattern with Thornton. She called her at all hours with emotional crises, demanding attention. She said she had been a “love slave” to a Satanist named Jonathan for many years. Jonathan belonged to a huge Satanic pedophile/pornography ring involved in the Bakersfield abuse. It was headed by man known as Elliot.
Laurel had been an unwilling cult member her entire life, as both of her parents had been members. She was sexually abused by both of them. Her youth had been spent in a farmhouse basement. She had lost more than one child to human sacrifice. The first, Joey, died when she was fifteen, and she said she still possessed an audio recording of his death. For two years, she had been confined to a Los Angeles warehouse along with other cult breeders.
Laurel was enrolled in high school and living with her mother and sister at age fifteen. According to Willow and others who knew her during that time, she was never pregnant.
Laurel told Thornton she began to resist the cult after her father died in 1983. She wanted to leave the cult and expose it, but Jonathan and Elliot continued to force her to attend late-night ceremonies that included ritualistic sexual abuse of preschoolers. This was ongoing in 1985, yet in her book Laurel would say she left Satanism over two decades earlier. (3)

If Laurel could meet privately with individuals involved in a high-profile child abuse investigation, what prevented her from leaving the cult? Surely, if Jonathan and Elliot allowed her enough freedom to associate with “the enemy” on numerous occasions without any interference, she had enough freedom to slip out of the area?

Laurel also claimed to have inside information about the McMartin preschool case; members of her cult were involved in that, too. She said she had a lesbian affair with one of the accused, Virginia McMartin. No evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the elderly Mrs. McMartin, who died at the age of eighty-eight in 1995, was a lesbian.
Pat Thornton didn’t believe Laurel really had inside information. Nonetheless, she arranged for her to meet with a private investigator working for some of the McMartin parents, Judy Hanson. Laurel appeared for the meeting in a wheelchair, carting an oxygen tank. She told Hanson she was terminally ill. Again, this speaks against the notion that Satanists were forcing her to attend rituals. Would Jonathan and his fellow cultists really haul Laurel’s wheelchair and medical equipment to and from remote sites just so she could be witness to their abuse of children? Even if this was happening, couldn’t she seek shelter in a hospice (or impose herself on strangers, as she so frequently did)?
McMartin parent Bob Currie video-recorded Laurel’s testimony and shared it with several other McMartin parents. They all agreed her story was not credible, and could end up damaging their case. All of the details she offered were either unverifiable or had already been made public in media reports. The district attorney, Colleen Ryan, reached the same conclusion.
It was Currie who provided Johanna Michaelsen’s contact information to Laurel, at Laurel’s request. (3)

Virginia McMartin during her trial

As mentioned in my thumbnail sketch of Johanna Michaelsen, Michaelsen was aware of the contents of Laurel’s McMartin-related testimony before Satan’s Underground was published. She admitted to the Cornerstone writers that she didn’t know if it was true or not. (3)
This is a damning admission, because the McMartin testimony flatly contradicts Laurel’s later testimony, having a completely different timeline and very different details. In this earlier account, Satanism had always been part of Laurel’s life and she was still active in it during the mid-’80s. Why would Michaelsen overlook these inconsistencies and uncritically accept Laurel’s later stories? Why would her brother-in-law lie about having documentation? Why would Harvest House publish such a disturbing memoir without securing any evidence that it was, in fact, a memoir? According to Cornerstone, the publisher received nothing more than character references from people who hadn’t know Laurel very long. No one from Harvest House contacted Laurel’s family to confirm even the most basic information. (3)

If Laurel really possessed all the evidence she claimed to have, and if her stories were accurate, prosecutions probably would have resulted. “Victor” or “Jonathan” could have been tracked down. Rose Willson, who was still alive, would surely have been investigated for possible involvement in a child pornography ring. Laurel could have led police to the other women who were forced to be breeders for the cult. Law enforcement would have been keenly interested in everything she had to say.
Laurel tried to persuade her supporters that this was, indeed, the case. She told them she had given the specifics of her case to Justice Department official John Rabun, and that Rabun was one of her advisors on Satan’s Underground. As it turned out, Rabun worked not for the government, but for the National Center for Missing Exploited Children. He told the Cornerstone researchers he had spoken to Laurel Willson only once, over the phone. Just like the Bakersfield investigators and the McMartin parents, he didn’t find her story believable. (3)
This episode demonstrates that Laurel Willson was not merely delusional, but on at least some occasions engaged in deliberate deception in order to make her fictional stories seem credible.

There are also indications that Laurel attempted to erase the contradictory stories she had told. After her book was released, she legally changed her named to Lauren Stratford. She asked Bob Currie to give her the videotapes of her McMartin testimony. She stopped communicating with Pat Thornton. (3)
The name change, the physical distance and estrangement from her family, and her cutting of ties with certain people helped ensure no one would uncover her true background. But the Cornerstone article documented Laurel’s real life so thoroughly that Harvest House yanked her book from publication (it was subsequently reprinted by another publisher).

Her speaking engagements dwindled in the early ’90s, forcing her into bankruptcy in 1994. (3)
Eyewitness accounts of Satanic evildoing were no longer novel or shocking; Lauren had a lot of competition. Also, skeptics of the whole phenomenon were beginning to be heard in the media. The 1992 BBC Panorama program on which Lauren appeared, In the Name of Satan, had a distinctly critical tone, to her annoyance. This same program, which is not to be confused with the cheesy video documentary of the same name by evangelist Bob Larson, also documented the mental abuse Pastor Doug Riggs was inflicting on his parishioners. The tide had turned.
When Satanic panic finally subsided in the U.S., Lauren Stratford altered her name and background once again. This time, she became a Holocaust survivor.

Part III: Out of the Frying Pan, Into Another Frying Pan


Sources:

1. Satan’s Underground by Lauren Stratford (Harvest House, 1988)
2. “Lauren Stratford Update” by Jon Trott. Cornerstone magazine vol. 18, issue 91. 1990.
3. “Satan’s Sideshow” by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott. Cornerstone magazine. 1989.
4. “Lauren Stratford: From Satanic Ritual Abuse to Holocaust Survivor” by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott. Cornerstone magazine
5. Dateline NBCreport by Keith Morrison. Broadcast October 22, 2004.

The Prodigal Witch IX: Lauren Stratford

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“Lauren Stratford” on Geraldo’s 1988 TV special Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground

The late ’80s were the golden age of Satanic panic, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the woman known as Lauren Stratford launched that panic to a whole new level.

How Lauren’s Story Emerged

The key part of Stratford’s saga began in 1987, when she contacted Christian author Johanna Michaelsen claiming to be a California counselor who had recently recovered repressed memories of her involvement in child pornography and violent Satanism. The trauma associated with these memories had so undone her that she could no longer take care of herself, and the sex abuse support group she ran wasn’t providing her with the healing she needed. Worse, she was being stalked and menaced by associates of a Satanic porno kingpin named Victor.
Stratford said she had seen Michaelsen on TV a year and a half earlier, talking about devil worship, and immediately knew that Michaelsen was the solution to her problems.
Johanna and Randolph Michaelsen were not the kind of people to turn away a Christian sister in need. Incredibly, they welcomed this troubled woman into their home and nursed her like a child for a month, praying with her and comforting her when she woke screaming from nightmares. Lauren believed she was under attack by the Devil. She could actually hear the growling of demons and the shrieks of dying babies. She felt invisible hands throttling her.
Lauren later wrote, “In Mike Warnke‘s book The Satan Seller you can read of similar activities. He describes how evil spirits actually do physical harm to people.” (1)

The Michaelsens introduced Stratford to reporter Ken Wooden, who had become something of an expert not only on the exploitation of children, but on the hidden world of devil worship (or so he thought). Johanna sought his advice on how to counsel Lauren.
This was not Wooden’s first brush with Satanic ritual abuse. In 1985 he provided research for 20/20‘s report on Satanism (The Devil Worshippers), and that same year was consulted by investigators of a ritual abuse case in El Paso (the Michelle Noble/Gayle Stickler Dove case).
Wooden was primed to accept a tale of Satanic evil, and Stratford’s confirmed his worst suspicions about the extent of Satanic subversion in America. Without verifying any of her claims, he encouraged her to write her memoirs. He said going public was the best way to scare off the Satanists. Johanna seconded the idea. Michaelsen’s sister Kim and Kim’s husband, Hal Lindsey, were also extremely supportive. Michaelsen and Wooden joined Lauren on Hal’s Christian TV show to share her full story for the first time. Lindsey addressed a warning directly to the Satanists who wanted to silence Lauren, telling them he possessed documentation of Lauren’s allegations. Johanna later admitted Lindsey was “bluffing”.

After his work with Lauren Stratford, Wooden stepped up his campaign against ritual abuse. In November 1988 he wrote a letter to the New York Times titled “Light Must Be Shed on Devil Worship”. He mailed pointers on how to prosecute ritual abuse cases to 3500 U.S. prosecutors.

Lauren was also strongly encouraged to tell her story by Christian author Stormie Omartion (a fellow survivor of childhood abuse), filmmaker Caryl Matrisciana, and radio host Joyce Landorf Heatherley.
These evangelical Christians (some of international reputation) were deeply concerned about the effects of Satanic ritual abuse and occult crime, on both the spiritual and temporal levels. Their hearts were mostly in the right places, but they could have benefited enormously from a little skepticism and a touch of research. They were endorsing a story that had no basis in fact.

Lauren’s Story: Different, yet identical

Recovered memories of Satanic ritual abuse first surfaced in the book Michelle Remembers, published in 1980. Though none of the incidents recalled by Michelle Pazder could be corroborated, and several had definitely not occurred (for instance, the murder and dismemberment of her imaginary friend), this book offered the first hint that large clusters of Satanists were engaged in well-organized, deeply depraved criminal activities as early as the 1950s. Perhaps the book’s most unsettling revelation was that these Satanists were not dwelling on the fringes of society; they were middle-class urban professionals who masqueraded as Christians by day and tortured their children in the name of Satan by night.
Within two years of its publication, full-scale Satanic panic had erupted in parts of the U.S., with daycare providers and parents of young children standing trial for unimaginable crimes. In part two of this post, we’ll see how this hysteria provided a blueprint for the construction of Stratford’s personal Satanic mythology.

Stratford’s 1988 memoir, Satan’s Underground, picked up where Michelle Remembers left off. While Pazder experienced Satanism only in childhood, Stratford had lived most of her life in the subterranean world of porn, devil worship, and drug abuse. She could describe the atrocities of Satanism in far more detail than Michelle Pazder, making her memoir a more potent tool in the fight against the Devil’s disciples.
The book was successful for this and a few other key reasons: It was put out by a major Christian publisher (Harvest House), it contained an introduction by Johanna Michaelsen (as well as endorsements from well-known Christians like Mike Warnke and Hal Lindsey), and it offered compelling Christian testimony. Thanks to Lauren’s ridiculously broad definition of Satanism, it could even be used to denounce any non-Christian religion: “the worship of anything or anyone other than Christ is ultimately the worship of Satan”, she wrote on page 186.

It also had a fatal flaw. While the Pazders made some effort to ground Michelle’s recovered memories in reality (including dates and locations where possible), Satan’s Underground suffers the same deficit we’ve seen in most of the other ex-Satanist/witch stories: An almost total absence of verifiable details. And this was not an accident. Ms. Stratford had very good reasons for obscuring her past.

Lauren is only the third person in this series supposedly introduced to Satanism in early childhood (she initally claimed she entered Satanism around the age of 19, then later recovered memories of being ritually abused in childhood). The others claimed they were drawn to it during late adolescence, usually in the liberal atmosphere of college campuses. In this respect, her testimony bleeds into the Satanic ritual abuse stories of the late ’80s, with Stratford portraying herself as an innocent overcome by archetypal evil. More than any other ex-Satanist testimony we’ve seen so far, hers brings to mind the anti-Catholic tales of Gothic horror related by “former nuns” like Maria Monk and Charlotte Keckler, in which priests behave like rutting animals and mothers superior pitch aborted babies into cellar lime pits. Her story is lurid and surreal, yet also carefully crafted to yank the reader’s heartstrings.

There are at least two highly significant firsts in Satan’s Underground. Stratford was the first former Satanist to claim status as a “breeder”, forced to bear children for ritual sacrifice. The concept was introduced by Michelle Remembers. It’s no coincidence that within months of the release of Satan’s Underground, breeders were popping out of the woodwork to appear on Geraldo and Sally Jesse Raphael.
Stratford was also the first former Satanist to present testimony consisting largely of recovered memories (Michelle Pazder, as mentioned, was never actually a Satanist, and breeder Jacqui Balodis claimed she was a Satanist only because she was born into a devil-worshiping family).
Still later, Stratford became the only ex-Satanist to alter her story in order to pose as a Holocaust survivor.

As you read, note the many similarities among the testimonies of “witch queen” Doreen Irvine, “high priest” Mike Warnke, and Lauren Stratford:

– a childhood full of abuse, exploitation, and deprivation
– an early introduction to Christ that paves the way for salvation later in life
– an absence of time markers
– lack of detail about the beliefs of Satanists (scripture, philosophy, etc.), but extraneous detail about the practices of Satanists (sacrifice, crime, etc.)
– Helplessness. Rather than choosing to live a life of Satanic evil, the protagonist is a vulnerable innocent lured or coerced into sin by more worldly people. Drugs play a huge role.
– supernatural events and paranormal abilities
– complete redemption, healing, and forgiveness through Christ
– expert advice on how to avoid the snares of the occult

Into the Underground

Satan’s Underground opens with a fragmented yet graphic account of a young child – Lauren – being raped.

After this scene, readers may feel disoriented, as there are few solid details to ground us in reality: No time, no place, no context. We learn only that Lauren was adopted either privately or on the black market, and that when she was about four years old her adoptive mother began paying for household services by allowing homeless men to rape Lauren. We are given the impression that life was normal for Lauren up to this time; she depended on her mom, was well cared for, and felt safe. After the rapes, life changed. Lauren’s mother became physically and verbally abusive towards her daughter and her husband, landing the latter in hospital several times. He left the family when Lauren was four.

Though we aren’t given many clues as to when or where these events occurred, Lauren seemed to be in her mid to late forties in her TV appearances of the late ’80s, indicating the abuse began in the ’40s.
A reference to the rainy season suggests Lauren’s mother may have lived in the Pacific Northwest, while subtle clues indicate her father relocated to California.

“On the surface,” Lauren writes, “I could not have had a more perfect home.” Both adoptive parents were upper-class professionals. They attended church regularly, which provided Lauren with the foundation for her faith. But Lauren’s life consisted mostly of abuse and chores. She had no siblings, no toys, no friends, and no free time. Negative associations related to her birth and heritage were drummed into her, with her mother forcing her to stand before mirrors and repeat that she was a bastard, a “no good”, a “bad blood”. Though Mother occasionally showed guilt and Christian devotion, she attempted to separate Lauren from God by telling her “Jesus don’t want no dirty, filthy little kid.” The language is hardly what you would expect from an educated, upper-class woman, indicating that Mother had a working-class background, if not a split personality. She would launch into unprovoked rages, screaming hysterically as she hurled things around the house.

The abuse escalated when Lauren was ten. After she threatened to run away, Mother handed her over to two men who photographed her naked with farm animals. Several months later, Lauren found a child porn magazine in Mother’s room that contained these photos. The same two child pornographers soon began photographing and filming Lauren and other children being raped by homeless men.

Lauren balked at reporting her mother to the authorities, fearing she would be murdered before they could intervene. As a teenager she confided in two pastors, a school counselor, and police officers, but all of them advised her to tolerate the abuse until she was old enough to leave home.
Then, at fifteen, she ran away and was placed in the custody of her father in another state. Mother harangued him with phone calls until he grudgingly agreed to let child pornographers continue exploiting Lauren. She was regularly taken from her dad’s home to an office in an upscale business district, injected with a stupefying drug, and abused in front of the camera. She became addicted to the pills the boss, Tony, gave to her.
We never learn how Mother, a socially isolated, middle-class woman with no apparent substance abuse problems, was introduced to the world of extreme child pornography, nor why Lauren’s father would tolerate the situation.

Lauren continued to appear in hardcore porn after enrolling in college. She explains she continued because of low self-esteem, drug addiction, and fears of sexual blackmail. Not even cradling the wasted body of a 15-year-old prostitute as she died of a drug overdose could send Lauren packing. She didn’t realize there was an even more sinister power behind it all.

This section of the book attempts to link child abuse to mainstream porn, citing the hysterical misinformation of Dr. Judith Reisman and the fact that “10% of all men who serve on school boards read Playboy“. Once the taste for mainstream porn wears off, Stratford tells us, “the flames are fanned into an ever-increasing abnormal, uncontrollable craving for perversions that end in abuse, torture, animalistic behavior… and sex with children.” (69) This was a popular view among Christian conservatives in the ’80s, but even then it contradicted everything known about sexual orientation. In this undated clip, Judith Reisman discusses the foundation of the ’80s anti-porn movement: Dr. James Dobson’s interview of Ted Bundy. The anti-porn crowd actually believed that if Bundy had never been exposed to girlie mags in the ’60s, he wouldn’t have developed into a sadistic sociopath (frankly, I’ve always wondered if Bundy was messing with Dobson’s head for one last sick thrill).

Victor

One day the pornographers shoved 19-year-old Lauren into a van, blindfolded her, and drove her out of the city to a gorgeous ranch, the legendary “House of Victor”. Victor was in charge of the porn operation, and Lauren came to suspect he ran a national child porn empire that had been keeping close tabs on her since childhood.
Victor was a slimeball out of central casting, with slicked-back hair and slabs of gold jewelry. He complimented Lauren’s porn performances and bragged about providing “first-class service for high society here at my estate”, a not-so-subtle hint that powerful forces are involved in Satan’s underground. He offered Lauren the opportunity to become “his woman” if she serviced his clients adequately. Lauren hated the industry, was repulsed by Victor, and didn’t want the assignment. But she believed if she refused, she would be hunted down and killed. So she let herself be taken to Victor’s ranch on a regular basis and abused in a cottage outfitted as a sex club, with fetish and torture rooms. His clients included doctors, lawyers, CEOS, judges, politicians, entertainers, clergy, and cops (after taking cocaine, these guys talked a lot).

Lauren knew that children as young as ten were at the ranch, and that some were being killed for snuff films, yet still wouldn’t go to the police. Keep in mind that she was living at her father’s house and attending college throughout this time. Her excuses are getting thin and contradictory.

At some point within the next year, Victor grew dissatisfied with regular debauchery and turned to Satanism. In a later book, Stripped Naked, Lauren describes recovered memories of being abused and mentally manipulated by Satanists in her childhood, so it’s quite bizarre that Victor stumbled onto the same ideas all on his own.
He became a high priest and set up a ritual chamber in the basement of the ranch house. Lauren, as his woman, was forced to attend ceremonies at which black-robed strangers summoned spirits, drank urine- and blood-laced wine, cursed their enemies, and engaged in human sacrifice and cannibalism. She was raped by several men atop the altar, and consecrated to the Devil. Victor filmed some of this activity and sold the footage to doctors, lawyers, and high-level politicians.
Watching demonic entities materialize at rituals, Lauren concluded that demons can physically harm people if cultists demand it. This added another layer of threat to her supposedly walled-in existence.

It is at this point that Lauren, for the first time, directly addresses skeptics. She writes that it must be difficult for us to believe infant sacrifices are a regular occurrence in today’s America, and we’re probably wondering where all these children are obtained. She would have the same questions had she not witnessed such sacrifices, she assures us. After describing several particularly cruel and gruesome sacrifices, she gets to the point: “If you do not believe, you have played right into their hands, and they have accomplished their purpose.” (96)
In other words: You’re with us, or you’re with the Satanists.

In chapter six, Lauren further attempts to explain her compliance by likening herself to a POW who has been brainwashed. To bolster the argument, she again brings in Judith Reisman, who personally told Lauren that brainwashing had psychologically paralyzed her from a young age.
Lauren mentions this because she’s about to describe her own participation in an infant sacrifice.

Because she refused to voluntarily make a sacrifice to Satan as Victor demanded, he employed a man named John to break her will. John locked her in the basement, deprived her of food and sleep, and trapped her in a box with dozens of snakes (a scene nearly identical to one in Michelle Remembers). This torture regime seems to centre around the misconception that occultists require their victims’ consent in order for their magic to work.
Finally, John told Lauren that for every week she held out, a baby would be sacrificed in her name. She held out for at least three more weeks. Not until John caged her in a barrel with the corpses of three infants did she relent.

The entirety of chapter seven is devoted to the sacrifice, held on Halloween (“one of the most important dates on the Satanic calendar – THE CELEBRATION OF DEATH!”). It was performed in a Christian church. To overcome her extreme reluctance to stab the cloth-shrouded baby, Lauren imagined she was attacking all the people who had ever abused her.
Afterwards, the cultists trooped to a cemetery nestled in a ravine, dug a shallow grave beneath a tree, and placed the still-shrouded infant in it. Lest you think Lauren is finally giving us some verifiable details, however, she adds that bodies of sacrificial victims were always disinterred and cremated; burials were of ritual significance only.

The Satanic sect Lauren describes bears very little resemblance to Warnke’s Brotherhood, John Todd’s Satanic Illuminati, or any of the other imaginary cults we’ve seen so far. Lauren’s Satanists don’t seem as interested in world domination as they are in torturing children, placing curses on enemies, and enriching themselves. They are the antithesis of everything Christian. While Jesus loves the little children, the Satanists eat the little children. While Christians gather in sun-filled churches, Satanists congregate in basements and cemeteries in the dead of night. While Christians pray to God for healing and peace, Satanists summon demons to cause anguish and pain. Again, this aligns Satan’s Underground more with ritual abuse stories than with other ex-Satanist testimonies. Stratford doesn’t mention Victor’s cult having any scripture, organized rituals, or specific beliefs.

Lauren’s not-so-daring escape

Lauren’s father, a workaholic she seldom saw, died when she was twenty. “There was no reason for me to stay put. I immediately packed up and moved to another city.” You read that correctly. Lauren had been free to leave at any time. In fact, there were few repercussions. Victor left her alone, aside from an occasional phone threat to ensure her silence.
Lauren must now produce some other lame excuse for her failure to report the countless rapes, murders, and torture sessions she had witnessed. This comes in the form of a demonic spirit guide, a deceptively kind entity that appeared to her in ghostlike form and called itself Mother. Every time she thought about going to the police or a therapist with her story, Mother stopped her.

Lauren took a series of professional jobs involving the counseling of troubled people (yikes), but her life was far from settled. She moved continuously to evade Victor’s phone harassment, if that makes any sense. She suffered a chronic, life-threatening illness as a result of abuse (in her 1993 book Stripped Naked, she claimed to have a rare blood-clotting disorder, which isn’t likely to have been caused by abuse). Stress and illness landed her in hospital over forty times in an eight-year period.
For pain management, she began guided imagery sessions with a social worker. She experienced violent abreactions during some of these sessions, and suppressed memories of the abuse she suffered in childhood began to surface. Journaling aided the memory retrieval process. I should note that guided imagery therapy and journaling are mentioned frequently in the recovered memory stories of the ’80s, along with abreactions and “body memories”.
Her progress was slow and difficult, thanks to the harangues of “Mother” and her unnamed condition, which rendered her unable to work. One bizarre episode of uncontrollable shaking and gibberish-talking landed her in hospital. A doctor told her a pain medication had triggered a memory so traumatic Lauren couldn’t express it in English.

In therapy, Lauren recovered memories of having three children (Joey, Carly, and Lindy) during her time with Victor. Carly and Lindy were killed in snuff films, and Joey was burned to death on a Satanic altar. Leaving aside the question of how a woman could forget three pregnancies, how did Lauren bear three children between the ages of nineteen (when she met Victor) and twenty (when she left him)? This is never addressed in Satan’s Underground.
We are told that “occult murder authority” Dr. Al Carlisle learned from a Satanic Black Prince that 40,000-60,000 Americans are sacrificed every year. This number was frequently cited by Satanic panic purveyors in the ’80s and early ’90s, though it was flatly contradicted by missing persons statistics. Its original source has never been identified
Lauren tells us we must face that face that babies, children, and teens are being killed in snuff films and Satanic rituals. “I beg you: Don’t let Joey’s life be for nothing.”

It was at this point in her struggle, around 1985, that Lauren saw Johanna Michealsen on TV. Though she hesitated to contact her for fear Michaelsen would go to the police, her TV appearances gave Lauren the courage to begin speaking out against child abuse and porn and to form a support group for victims of sexual abuse. This group caught the attention of Christian radio host and author Joyce Landorf Heatherley, who invited Lauren to be an anonymous guest on her show several times. Lauren told the listeners that therapy can’t heal you, only Jesus can.
She now had the attention, admiration, and unconditional support of numerous women. People were turning to her for guidance. Finally, eighteen months after first seeing her on TV, Lauren had the strength to contact Johanna Michaelsen.

After spending seven hours listening to Lauren’s stories, the Michaelsens decided to take her into their home. We aren’t told if this was their idea or Lauren’s, but we’ll see that moving in with strangers was already a well-established pattern for Lauren.
Along with Ken Wooden and and the Lindseys, the Michaelsens nursed her through a three-week spiritual battle similar to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Lauren emerged triumphant in Christ and healthier than she had ever been. This part of the book, in contrast to the claustrophobic gloom of the first thirteen chapters, is life-affirming and inspiring.

Chapter fourteen of Satan’s Underground consists of expert advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of Satanic deception. If you’ve read the other stories in this series, every item on Stratford’s list will be familiar to you: Don’t play Dungeons and Dragons (“where evil is a dominant theme”), don’t listen to heavy metal music, avoid Ouiija boards and all forms of divination, etc. Weirdly, though, Stratford also warns us against guided imagery, the very process that allowed her to recover her memories of Satanic abuse in the first place. This is probably because of Johanna Michaelsen’s negative experiences with “occult” visualization techniques.

The fifteenth chapter details the spread of Satanic violence. Every case Stratford mentions is either a hoax or an instance of Satanic panic: the Pico Rivera and Bakersfield “pedophile rings”, Henry Lee Lucas’s imaginary Hand of Death cult, the W.I.C.C.A. letter, the allegations of Dr. Walter Grote of West Point (who would appear on Geraldo’s Satanism special with Lauren). Given Stratford’s involvement in the Bakersfield debacle, which we’ll examine in Part II, it’s surprising she states the district attorney “dropped the case in a plea bargain.” In reality, thirty-six people were convicted.

In the penultimate chapter, Stratford gives advice to parents of ritually abused children. Some of the advice is sound if applied to any form of abuse (report the abuse, seek therapy, maintain your child’s normal routine to the greatest extent possible), but her thoughts on ritual abuse are extremely weird and clearly tailored for the Patriot conspiracy crowd. For instance, she warns that in addition to undermining God and family, ritual abusers may destroy a child’s patriotism. The abusers might molest children with miniature U.S. flags, or dress up in military uniforms “to increase the child’s association of patriotism with ugliness.” The former notion later popped up in the absurd stories of “MK-ULTRA survivor” Cathy O’Brien, who claims she recovered memories of atrocious abuse at the hands of U.S. presidents, country music stars, and holographic lizards.

How Satan’s Underground Was Used

Most books by former Satanists, like Warnke’s The Satan Seller or Irvine’s From Witchcraft to Christ, functioned primarily as Christian testimonies that highlighted the dangers of the occult. But Satan’s Underground served two additional purposes:

1. It provided “evidence” that Satanic ritual abuse was occurring on a vast scale. Children’s Institute International (a primary player in the McMartin daycare debacle) recommended the book as a resource on child abuse. “Cult cop” Larry Jones promoted the book via his Cult Crime Impact Network (CCIN) and at least one issue of its File 18 newsletter. Stratford gave a presentation at CCIN’s ritualistic crime seminar in Boise, Idaho on October 25, 1988.
2. To a lesser extent, it was used as anti-pornography propaganda.

The response to Satan’s Underground was immediate and widespread. Other Satanic breeders were interviewed on daytime TV shows, and Lauren herself appeared on Oprah with Johanna on the February 17, 1988 broadcast. She also appeared in Geraldo Rivera’s 1988 special Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground (available on YouTube), and on Christian programs like CBN’s Straight Talk and The 700 Club. On these programs, her testimony was used to prop up the contention that Satanists posed a real, ongoing threat to the average American.
On the Geraldo special (which seems to have drawn part of its title from her book), Lauren described the murders of her three children and said the hearts are commonly removed from sacrificed infants. She said she still suffered nightmares in which her son Joey is missing, and she can’t find him.

For the next decade, Stratford gave presentations at Christian gatherings and ritual abuse seminars. She networked with Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) survivors and their therapists, becoming friends with Dr. Catherine Gould, a California psychologist who compiled a widely-distributed list of SRA “symptoms” in the ’80s.
She published two more books. In the third, Stripped Naked (Firebird Press, 1993), she revealed that her childhood abuse had involved Satanism and sophisticated mind-control programming designed to manipulate her alter personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder). The Satanists trained some of her alters to commit suicides if Lauren’s repressed memories ever began to surface.
Lauren claimed she was stunned and alarmed to learn she had MPD/DID, but in Part II we’ll see she had a keen interest in that subject long before she met the Michaelsens.

Despite a devastating 1991 expose in Cornerstone magazine (the same Christian periodical that dismantled Mike Warnke’s bogus stories), Stratford’s staunchest supporters somehow found ways to reconcile all the contradictions and unanswered questions of her confusing, overlapping accounts. They overlooked clear signs that she may have suffered from a factitious disorder. They politely ignored her refusal to name names.
But eventually, Lauren Stratford’s tales became so impossibly bizarre that all but her most deluded supporters were forced to abandon ship.

Part II: Unearthing the Underground