What do “Satanic Mormon” child abuse rings and a glam cult leader have in common? This therapist:
On Wednesday (October 3, 2018), six people filed a lawsuit in federal court against a John and Jane Doe who have been identified as Robert and Brenda Miles. The six adult plaintiffs allege that the couple sexually abused them at “touching parties” when they were very young children in the mid-’80s. The lawsuit has grabbed the attention of Mormons, because Brenda Miles is the daughter of Russell M. Nelson, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This is the highest office in the LDS church. The President is not only the head of the church, but acts as the church’s only living prophet.
The six plaintiffs (three women and two men) are the children and stepchildren of a man who died by suicide in 1995. They have identified this stepfather as one of their abusers (he is designated “Perpetrator” in the filing, which you can read here). The alleged abuse took place in various homes in the Mueller Park area of Bountiful, Utah, as part of a Satan-worshiping pedophile ring run by Mormons. Satanic ritual abuse isn’t mentioned in any stories about this lawsuit, but it was a big part of the original accusations in the ’80s.
The timing of this complaint appears to be strategic. Idaho attorney Craig Vernon of the firm James, Vernon and Weeks filed it just three days before the church’s semi-annual general conference. The lawsuit alleges that church authorities and investigators conspired to cover up the activities of the child-molesting Mormons.
Three of the plaintiffs allege they remember being sexually assaulted at the touching parties by their father, their paternal grandmother, the Mileses, a 16-year-old babysitter and others. Two of the stepchildren claim they were raped repeatedly by their stepfather in the ’80s and again in the mid ’90s with the participation of his second wife. One child and one stepchild were only infants when these things allegedly occurred, but were told of the events by their siblings, parents and therapists.
The concept of pedophile rings barely existed until the late ’70s, when Boston psychiatric nurse Ann Burgess (the inspiration for the psychiatrist character in the Netflix series Mindhunter) studied incarcerated men convicted of molesting groups of children (mostly adolescents) and began presenting information to la enforcement regarding predatory “sex rings.” Public concern quickly grew.
In the early ’90s, Salt Lake City-based therapists Dr. Barbara Snow and Teena Sorenson developed a hypothesis of interlocking sex-abuse rings, publishing two studies on the matter (How Children Tell and Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighbourhood Setting).
Snow and Sorenson claimed to have discovered multiple pedophile rings involving incestuous adult perpetrators. They admitted that the children did not initially present with any symptoms of sexual abuse. Disclosures of abuse were slow in coming and difficult to extract.
What the published papers do not reveal is that Snow and Sorenson believed they had stumbled upon clusters of highly secretive, child-abusing Devil cultists masquerading as upstanding Mormon families throughout the state of Utah.
According to a Desert News article (“Snow involved in 5 probes of alleged sex rings“, February 21, 2008), “Snow was involved in five probes in Utah involving alleged sex rings – two in Bountiful, two in Lehi and one in Midvale. The children in all five cases told investigators similar stories involving satanic rituals and multiple adults.”
This all began in the summer of 1985, when Snow was working as a therapist with the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. Sheila Bowers, a Lehi mother and LDS member, brought her three young children to the Center with concerns about their sexual acting-out. Snow rendered an opinion that all three children had been sexually abused. The perpetrator was supposedly a teenage girl who babysat the children. This girl was the daughter of Keith Burnham, a Bishop in the LDS Lehi Eight Ward.
Snow reached out to other Lehi LDS families with young children who had employed the Burnham girl as a babysitter, and interviewed several of the children. She ultimately concluded that all of the children had been repeatedly molested by the entire Burnham family – Keith, his wife Shirley, and their teenage daughter.
The State Division of Family Services promptly removed the Burnhams’ younger children from the home. For weeks, the Burnhams were under investigation. No evidence of any abuse – other than the disclosures elicited by Snow – was uncovered. The Burham kids were returned to their home, and no charges were ever filed.
This was not the end of it, though. While many Eight Ward members disbelieved the abuse allegations and supported the Burnham family, others felt certain the kids really had been molested and suspected a cover-up. A group of concerned parents pressured state authorities to launch a second investigation into the Burnham allegations. The Utah County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney General’s office did so.
Rex and Sheila Bower sent their children to Dr. Snow to be evaluated, as did Alan and Gay Hadfield. Both families had pushed hard for a re-opening of the Burnham investigation. Like the Bowers, the Hadfields had three young children, a boy and two girls.
This is where things went horribly wrong for both families. In February 1986, the Bowers’ son allegedly revealed to Snow that his dad had molested him. No charges were laid in that case, but the Hadfields were not to be so fortunate.
In the 1992 KUED TV documentary Promise Not to Tell (available for rent or purchase on Vimeo), Gay Hadfield says she was approached by a concerned neighbour whose kids had supposedly been molested by the babysitter. She was told the sheriff’s office would contact her, but when that didn’t happen she decided to consult Dr. Snow instead.
Snow, a soft-spoken woman with a calm demeanor, explains the Lehi children she interviewed spoke of “numbers” of other kids being abused by the same “baby-tender.” She suggests the police were incredulous and slow to respond because the Burnhams were upstanding, respected members of the community. According to Snow, up to a dozen children described:
- multiple abusers, with a high proportion of women
- “highly aberrant” sexual activities
- being smeared with blood, drinking blood
- urine and feces used as sacraments
- pentagrams, stars, and Satanic symbols
As time went on, the stories elicited by Snow grew more elaborate and bizarre. By the time the investigation wrapped up in late 1988, she had named at least 40 perpetrators, including some adolescents. Yet there was no physical harm to any of the children, and no probable cause to indicate that such crimes had been committed in Lehi.
In May of 1986, as the Hadfield family was planning to depart Utah for a trip to Disneyland, 9-year-old Cara Hadfield had a session with Dr. Snow. Cara had been involved with the sex abuse investigation for nine months at this point, and maintained that she had neither witnessed nor experienced any mistreatment. It is unknown why Dr. Snow felt the need to keep assessing a child who was not party to any abuse.
At this session, Cara suddenly disclosed that her own father, Alan Hadfield, was sexually abusing her. Snow apparently did not contact social services immediately, because Cara Hadfield went home with her family as usual. Sometime that evening, she told one or both parents that Alan had molested her, then backpedaled and said he hadn’t. Gay Hadfield phoned Dr. Snow and declared that her daughter wanted to apologize, but on the line with her therapist, Cara quickly reverted to accusing her father.
The following day, the entire Hadfield family met with Snow. Two of the kids, Cara and 11-year-old Willy, accused Alan, though Willy initially denied being molested. Gay Hadfield believed her children.
Snow contacted the Attorney General’s office.
Alan Hadfield had support. Many Lehi residents flatly rejected the sex-ring stories that were coming out of Snow’s office, and believed Alan would be exonerated, just like the Burnhams.
They were wrong.
According to Snow, the Hadfield kids met with seven other mental health professionals. Dr Paul Whitefield says the kids gave him unprompted, detailed accounts of being abused by Alan and other Lehi residents. Hadfield, out of the 30-50 people named by Snow’s patients, was the only person arrested in Lehi. He went to trial on charges of molesting two of his children, and no one else’s. In Promise Not to Tell, defense attorney Bradley Rich points out the paradox that Cara and her brother Willy were believed when they accused their father, and disregarded when they accused anyone else. County prosecutor David Schwendiman admitted that their other allegations simply couldn’t be corroborated.
The Hadfield children described Satanic rituals that involved costumes and masks, photography, men dressed in women’s clothing and the consumption of human feces.
At trial, Cara and Willy Hadfield falsely denied that they had ever accused any other adults. The defense brought out that dozens of other Lehi adults had been named. Other parents who had sent their children to Snow testified that their kids would tearfully retract their accusations of abuse after each session with Snow, explaining that she had pressured or forced them to discuss abuse that hadn’t occurred. Only one psychiatric expert was called to the stand, and he testified for the defense. Dr. Stephen Golding deemed Snow’s interviewing techniques “subtly coercive and highly questionable.” Judy Pugh, a colleague of Dr.Snow at the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center, stated in her testimony that she thought Dr. Snow was coaching the children into disclosing sexual and Satanic abuse that they had initially denied. Her opinion was shared by Wayne Watson, Chief Deputy Utah County Attorney, who had observed one of Snow’s interviews through a two-way mirror.
Yet Alan Hadfield was convicted.
In the documentary, several experts on ritual abuse are interviewed. Roland Summit, who played a key role in the McMartin preschool affair and other ritual abuse cases of the ’80s, starts out talking in a sensible and straightforward manner about the public’s growing awareness of battered children and child sexual abuse. By the end of the program, he is deeply into Twilight Zone territory. He declares that people with dissociative disorders can molest children without having any memory of doing so, and courts and therapists ignore these zombie molesters because they simply don’t know what to do, or aren’t adequately trained to see the signs.
Halfway into the documentary, Bradley Rich points to the elephant in the room. Clearly, he says, Snow was interested in ritual abuse. Then, in multiple parts of the state, she found identical cases of it.
By 1992, when Promise Not to Tell aired, no one in Lehi seemed to be concerned about child-molesting Satanic cults hiding in plain sight.
Though Dr. Snow’s post-Lehi “discoveries” resulted in just one very questionable conviction (that of Bountiful resident Arden Bullock), the legend of Satanic Mormon pedophile cults persists. Dr. Whitefield penned the foreward to a book that used some of the Utah “sex ring” material (Paperdolls: Healing from Sexual Abuse in Mormon Neighborhoods). The authors carefully omitted all references to the weirder, ritualistic aspects of the cases. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, former Mormons who became the church’s most outspoken critics, helped spread the legend that Mormons secretly worship the Devil and defile children by leaking the 1990 Pace Memorandum. This spurred the LDS church to take allegations of covert Satanism seriously, though no evidence of such activity within Mormon communities has ever emerged. As with the rest of the ’80s and ’90s “Satanic panic” that scoured America, the UK, Australia and other countries, public concern eventually faded.
Barbara Snow continued to practice psychotherapy, and “found” more Satanic Mormon abuse rings operating in Bountiful and Midvale. One of the two Bountiful rings she supposedly uncovered, with the help of Dr. Whitehead, involved Brenda and Richard Miles.
These rings were identical in structure and activity to the nonexistent Lehi “ring.” Each involved a neighborhood “sex ring” consisting of three to twenty Mormon families, including a significant number of religious leaders. Each involved Satanic rituals and neighborhood “sex parties.” Three of the cases involved playing with, consuming and/or bathing in human feces. Two of the cases involved men dressing in women’s clothing and the use of costumes and masks. In three cases, the children described the use of candles and pentagrams for Satanic rituals.
Investigations were launched, but no arrests were made in these cases. That’s because the stories coming from Snow and her patients were so outlandish that they defied all common sense, and there was simply no evidence to support them. At least one skeptical investigator decided to test Snow by pretending to leak information to her. The police wanted to see what she would do with the false leads.
To no one’s surprise, Snow’s patients began to disclose abuse that included those bogus details.
It was now clear that Snow used highly suggestive, or perhaps even coercive, questioning with her young patients. In Alan Hadfield’s request for a new trial, his defense counsel presented as evidence the following:
- Barbara Snow’s doctoral thesis, in which Snow discussed the use of authority and punishment to modify patient behavior
- testimony that she used this technique to modify the responses of her child patients to questions about sexual abuse
- testimony from law enforcement personnel that false information deliberately “fed” by them to Barbara Snow in their investigatory work promptly appeared in the statements of children she interviewed
- a highly suspicious correlation between the factual patterns revealed in at least four child sex abuse investigations in which Barbara Snow was involved.
Snow’s career rolled on. In fact, she became a mentor to one of the most troubling young cult leaders active in the U.S. today, Teal Swan.
Swan grew up in Idaho, but entered therapy with Snow in Utah around 2005. It was shortly after her therapy that she began making YouTube videos about being ritualistically tortured and programmed by a Satanic cult that pretended to be Mormon, led by a man she called “Doc.” Swan’s stories of ritualistic abuse were so compelling that she was even invited to share her story on an Idaho news segment, KIVI 6’s On Your Side (you can watch that here).
After establishing herself as a survivor of unspeakable atrocities, Swan then branched into new age platitudes and motivational messages that earned her a vast, cultishly devoted following. In fact, there are signs that Swan is or will soon become a destructive cult leader. She claims godlike powers, encourages her devotees to tattoo themselves, and has established a small community in Costa Rica. She speaks blithely of suicide, murder and her own assassination.
Swan’s SRA story is a little more extreme than most. Doc’s Mormon/Satanic cult used highly sophisticated methods of torture and mind control. As a child, Swan was trained to torture and program other children using electricity. She was a slave of the cult throughout her formative years (c. 1990-2003), and was impregnated by Doc on three occasions. He would then perform abortions on her with veterinary equipment. She was drugged and confined in basements and lava caves. She witnessed sacrifices and was compelled to participate in acts of necrophilia and bestiality. She was forced to appear in violent porn and prostitute herself at gas stations.
Her most startling claim – and the one that draws the most skepticism to her tales – is that when she was about 8 years old, Doc took her to a mortuary after hours and sewed her into human corpses on two different occasions, leaving her there overnight. This is simply not possible.
“Doc” has spoken publicly about Swan’s accusations. He points to falsehoods in her autobiography, such as being raised in the wilderness (her parents were schoolteachers). He knew Teal’s parents, and at their request he allowed teenage Teal to accompany him on his veterinarian visits. He also helped her acquire a horse. But he was not (and has never been) a Mormon. According to Doc, Teal told fantastical stories to get attention. She claimed to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra, insisted she was going to be model, then moved to Utah to train for the Olympic ski team. Her self-glorifying tales continued into adulthood.
In a June 6, 2004 letter to Doc (reprinted here), she claimed she made the United States Telemark Ski Team and placed fourth overall at Nationals, and was due to appear in an upcoming Playboy. Both claims were false. The letter was full of affection, gratitude and fond memories of their times together. There are no indications that the relationship between Swan and “Doc” was in any way abusive, controlling or damaging.
In fact, the “Doc” described by Teal might be based on this veterinarian, but she has taken so many liberties with the truth of his life that we might as well just say “Doc” is a wholly fictional character existing only in the minds of Teal Swan and her followers. For example, Teal characterizes Doc as a lifelong bachelor with no children. The veterinarian has been married for over thirty years to his current wife, and was married to his first wife for fifteen years. He has two stepsons.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Teal’s cult is that she practices a form of “healing” that can, and probably does, lead to the “recovery” of false memories.
Soon after treating Ms. Swan, Dr. Snow ran into serious professional trouble for the first time in her decades-long career as a therapist. In 2008, she was placed on professional probation for treating her own sister-in-law from 2004-2006, and going to the woman’s Provo home and smashing some computer equipment and other possessions with a baseball bat when the woman refused to comply with her treatment recommendations. Snow falsely stated that she had not billed a third-party insurance provider for the “informal” treatment of her relative, when in fact she had.
It emerged that Snow had convinced her sister-in-law and one other relative that they had been subjected to Satanic and military abuse and repressed all memories of the events. Snow provided the details and urged her sister-in-law to visualize the abuse. Snow suspected that yet another pedo/porn ring was operating in East Salt Lake City, and she collected the obituaries of teenagers from that area whom she believed died in mysterious circumstances.
As the recently filed lawsuit demonstrates, the damage wrought by Snow, Whitehead and others was not temporary. Their fanciful tales of devil-worshiping Mormons ripped apart families, traumatized children who may not have been abused at all and divided entire communities. The attention paid to these bogus ritual abuse cases also drew attention away from actual child abuse, including the highly ritualized rape, forced marriage and brainwashing of young girls in Fundamentalist LDS (breakaway) communities.
The Satanic panic was not just an outbreak of hysteria limited to the ’80s and ’90s. It lives and breathes to this day.