Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Ghost Sex, Celebrity Hauntings, and a Convenient Demon

This week, I’m going to labor the point that today’s celebrities just can’t seem to come up with anything original – even in the supernatural realm.

  • In 2011, Lady Gaga reportedly believed she was being followed around by the ghost of a dude named Ryan. A few months later, she told Harper’s Bazaar that the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen wrote her song “Born This Way” from beyond the grave (he had committed suicide the previous year). She might be the first celeb to have a ghost stalker, but she’s certainly not the first person to channel music from the dead. In the ’70s, an English senior by the name of Rosemary Brown released “new” works by major composers, including Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Weirdly, all of them spoke English.

 

  • Demi Lovato claims she has been followed around by the spirit of a little girl named Emily for most of her life. She told Ellen Degeneres she grew up in a “ridiculously haunted” house in Texas. Emily and her co-haunters like to screw around with electronics a little bit and make balloons float in the wrong direction. (Lovato also believes there might be mermaid aliens in the Indian Ocean, based mostly on an “extremely convincing documentary” she saw.)
    Even Ellen was unimpressed by the balloon story. And I’m unimpressed with the whole shebang, because it pales in comparison to the mother of all celebrity hauntings: Elke Sommer’s spooky-ass Beverly Hills house. In the mid- ’60s, Sommer and her husband, Joe Hyams, were hounded by poltergeist noises, ghostly dinner parties, and the spectre of a slovenly middle-aged man.
    While Lovato could produce nothing more than the unimpressive ghost photo you see below, Hyams became a less annoying version of the guy in Paranormal Activity, setting up microphones and even hiring a P.I. to monitor his house while he was away.

lovatoghost

 

  • Lee Ryan, a former member of some band I’ve never heard of,  says he grew up in Kent. But I think he grew up in the wilderness or something, because he didn’t recognize the ghost that visited him (via a psychic medium) when he was in his twenties. The spirit told him to work on his lower range and avoid drugs.
    Turns out it was Janis Joplin. Ryan took her advice about singing and abusing drugs, but may have forgotten to avoid abusing people.
    Michael Jackson did not grow up in the wilderness – though that might have been better for him – and immediately recognized Liberace when the ghost of the fabulous pianist began appearing to him with helpful career pointers. Jackson lined a secret room with mirrors so he could have a special place to commune with “Lee”. Then things got weird.
  • Ke$ha told Jimmy Kimmel that her hypnotherapist found a “ghost in her vagina” by waving a “ghost meter” over her body. She didn’t seem terribly concerned about this, and the whole thing may have been a publicity stunt. It’s not as disturbing as the fact that her mom dresses as a giant penis for her concerts.
    But then there’s B-movie actress Natasha Blasick. “I felt something entered the room. I couldn’t see anybody. Suddenly I could feel that somebody touching me,” she told the British TV show This Morning earlier this year. “Their hands were pushing me against my will and then I could feel the weight of their body on top of me but I couldn’t see anybody.” This sounded like a classic Old Hag encounter, until Blasick went on to say that when the experience occurred a second time she “decided to relax and it was really pleasurable, I really enjoyed it…You don’t see anybody but it’s very pleasant and it made me feel warm and fuzzy…It gave me comfort and support and love, and it did answer questions for me that there is something else out there.”
    Though the media had a field day with these crazy kids and their ghost sex, it’s all been done before. In the late 19th century, the much-persecuted sexual reformer Ida Craddock penned a series of works about her marriage to an angel/spirit she called Soph. For having the audacity to write about women and sex, Craddock was hounded to her death by Anthony Comstock.
    A few decades later, Englishwoman Dorothy Eady began receiving visitations from the spirit of Pharaoh Seti I, with whom she had been lovers in a previous lifetime. The two became lovers again, but Eady committed herself to a chaste life after becoming the unofficial guardian of the temple of Seti I in the ’50s. She took the name Omm Sety, meaning “mother of Seti”.
  • Now we move on to the dark side. Bob Cranmer is a former county commissioner in Pennsylvania. In 2003, he was charged with assaulting his 18-year-old son, punching him in the nose with such force that he was barely conscious by the time Cranmer’s 14-year-old son summoned the police. According to Cranmer’s younger son and wife, father and son had gotten into a quarrel over the bathroom. The charges were ultimately dropped.
    A decade later, Cranmer has a perfectly legitimate excuse for punching his son in the face: A haunted house. In his soon-to-be-released book The Demon of Brownsville Road, he explains that his Victorian home was possessed by a malevolent force that destroyed religious items, made a “blood-like” substance ooze from the walls, and wreaked emotional havoc on the entire family. He claims that his sons had to undergo psychological treatment to recover from the events of 2003-2006, and he has hinted that the demon infestation played a role in the family violence that erupted. What’s particularly odd about this demon is that the Cranmers had already been living in the house for 15 years when it became an “evil, evil entity” (to quote Cranmer).
    Sadly, this spirit-blaming business isn’t a new thing, either. When tomato farmer Maurice Theriault was charged with molesting his stepdaughter, professional ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to pin the blame on an incubus (even after Theriault admitted to his crime). Perhaps keep that in mind if you watch the latest blockbuster inspired by the Warrens’ legacy.

 

Somaly Mam and the Dark Side of Charity

Since 1996, a non-governmental organization known as AFESIP (from the French, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) has been working to rescue and aid young female victims of human trafficking, operating three centres in Cambodia where the young women are housed and educated.
The guiding light of this effort is co-founder Somaly Mam, a Cambodian-born woman who claims to have been a child prostitute in the ’80s. She has become one of the world’s most prominent anti-trafficking activists, racking up prestigious awards and honours. According to Mam, over 4000 girls and women have been rescued from forced prostitution thanks to AFESIP’s efforts. AFESIP’s fundraising arm, the Somaly Mam Foundation, has raised millions since its inception in 2007.
So it came as a nasty surprise to many supporters when Mam stepped down as the head of her own foundation in May, amid allegations that she fabricated not only the stories of two of her spokespeople, but also her own life story. To hear other media outlets tell it, Mam’s downfall was brought about by a single Newsweek cover story penned by Simon Marks.

newsweek

A Distressing Situation

The Newsweek article is shocking, but here’s something even more shocking: Nothing in the Newsweek story is breaking news. Not one thing.

Back in October 2012, Simon Marks, along with Khy Sovuthy, published a piece in Cambodia Daily, “Questions Raised Over Symbol’s Slavery Story“, probing the accuracy of the horrifc story of sexual slavery and mutilation told by Mam’s most high-profile spokesperson, Long Pros (AKA Somana Long). This was just one of several articles Marks has written about Mam and AFESIP over the past two years.

Also in 2012, Cat Barton wrote several articles like this one, questioning the wisdom of the high-profile brothel raids engineered by Somaly Mam.  AFESIP has received a considerable amount of criticism from other anti-trafficking orgs for allowing journalist Nicholas Kristof to “live-tweet” a brothel raid in the northern Cambodian town of Anlong Veng in November 2011, as this violated the privacy of the young women removed from the brothel.
Barton also reported concerns that not all of the women and girls housed by AFESIP centres were there voluntarily; some had been dropped off by police following raids.

In November 2013, Lindsay Murdoch raised further questions about Somana Long’s  account and the integrity of Somaly Mam in a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Dark Truths or Fiction?

Another Marks article, published in El Mundo last year, exposed the same lies that Marks revealed in the Newsweek piece. In fact, there are few significant differences between the two articles. It’s disappointing that the world’s major media outlets ignored such an important investigative piece published by one of the largest newspapers in Spain.

In March, AFESIP launched an inquiry into the allegations raised by journalists over the years. Staffers knew that Marks was working on the Newsweek piece, and apparently realized it was time to deal with the issue head-on. The details of the independent, third-party investigation conducted by Goodwin Proctor LLP have not been divulged, but a statement posted on the website of the Somaly Mam Foundation makes it clear that the investigation results were the direct cause of Mam’s resignation. In other words, Goodwin Proctor discovered that aspects of her story were fraudulent.

With so many people raising the alarm about her, why has Somaly Mam been bulletproof for all these years?

The Long Con

One reason is the compelling stories told by young women she has rescued.

The first of these “pretty victims”, as Daily Beast* writer Amanda Marcotte has dubbed them, was Meas Ratha. Ratha, 14 years old at the time, appeared with Mam on the French TV programme Envoyé Spécial in 1998, only a couple of years after AFESIP was formed. This broadcast drew international attention to Mam’s work, winning Mam the endorsement of Queen Sofia of Spain and the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. She was subsequently able to gain some U.S. government funding, and donations began to flow into AFESIP.

Ratha spoke of being imprisoned in a Phnom Penh brothel, lured there by traffickers who promised her a job as a waitress. She said her father had abandoned his large family, leaving her mother destitute.
Last year, however, she admitted that she and her sister, Meas Sokha, were sent to the AFESIP center in 1997 by both of their parents, not because she had been a child prostitute, but because the couple was unable to provide for all eight of their children. Meas Sokha confirmed this, as did Marie Christine Uguen, a woman who was caring for Ratha at the time of her Envoyé Spécial appearance. Ratha confessed to Uguen, shortly after the TV show aired, that Somaly Mam had selected her to tell a scripted story on television.
Prior to their TV appearance, Mam told Ratha that the trafficking story had really happened to another AFESIP resident, Sokha, who was too traumatized to discuss the events publicly. Ratha was stunned to discover, last year, that Sokha had been featured on the same Envoyé Spécial broadcast, relating a completely different story of forced prostitution.

It was Ratha’s story that won the world’s interest in Somaly Mam’s work, but the young woman known as Long Pros became her most visible success story, and a haunting symbol of human trafficking in Cambodia.

When she first spoke out about her ordeal in a Phnom Penh brothel, Long Pros (Somana Long) said she was 13 in 2005, the year a young woman kidnapped her and sold her to the brothel. The teenager was twice impregnated by rapists and subjected to home abortions. She refused to service the brothel’s clients on the day of her second abortion, and this so angered the brothel owner that the woman seized a chunk of jagged metal and gouged out Long’s eye. She threw the girl out into the streets when the infected, oozing eye socket began to displease customers. Her own parents refused to take her in. Somana was then rescued by Mam’s organization.

An entirely different account appears in Traffik, a 2008 book by photographer Norman Jean Roy. In this version of the story, Somana’s eye became infected after she was kicked in the face by a pimp, and it was surgically removed in hospital. Roy has worked closely with Somaly Mam, photographing girls at AFESIP centres.
Long herself told Josephine Lim, in a 2012 interview for the Australian website Our World Today, that people at the brothel had taken out her eye with a piece of steel and that she was rescued by a police raid.
Asking if Mam had perhaps exaggerated the stories of survivors, Lindsay Murdoch pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald that Somana’s story changed over time, becoming increasingly gruesome and awful.

Two years ago, Cambodia Daily reported that Somana actually had her eye removed by surgeon Dr. Pok Thorn at the Takeo Eye Hospital in November 2005, because of a benign tumour that had been growing for years. Her parents, Long Hon and Sok Hang, confirmed this. They have since refused to discuss the surgery, worried that their daughter could lose her job if they do (she worked for an Australian nonprofit program affiliated with Somaly Mam’s organization).
Te Sereybonn, who was the director of the Takeo Eye Hospital in 2005, says his staff was responsible for Long’s placement in the AFESIP centre. She was not an abused child or a prostitute, but the staffers could see that her family was in financial straits, so they contacted AFESIP to see if she could be enrolled in one of their vocational training programs.
Goodwin Proctor also investigated Somana Long’s story, and it seems they found it to be untrue. The Somaly Mam Foundation has announced it is breaking all ties with her.

The pressing question is, why did Mam fabricate sex-trafficking tales? If her organization has, indeed, saved thousands of girls from forced prostitution, then surely a few of them would be willing to share their true stories. Even if the stories Ratha and Long told were 100% true, though, Mam’s use of these young women as spokespeople for her organization would be questionable. Having to relive their trauma over and over again in front of strangers could delay their own healing.

The Star Factor

Mam would not be where she is today – disgraced and unemployed – without the support of powerful people in business, entertainment, and journalism. She carefully courted these people, going to red-carpet and black-tie events in lovely gowns. She received endorsements from Queen Sofia of Spain, Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Meg Ryan. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Susan Sarandon are advisory members of the Somaly Mam Foundation board of directors. Mam worked closely with Pulitzer-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife. Her 2005 memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, received dustjacket endorsements from Mariane Pearl and Ayann Hirsi Ali, two women who have survived very real hardship and tragedy.

These people are not fools. Who among us, looking into the earnest, anguished faces of young girls as they recount abduction, rape, and torture, would ask questions like, “Is she putting me on?” In the end, journalists like Marks were the ones to ask the hard questions and dig up the hard, disappointing answers.
One of these journalists should have been Nicholas Kristof. He had observed the sex trafficking situation in Cambodia up close. In 2004, he spent $350 to buy two young girls out of a Cambodian brothel. Kristof is a good journalist, but even the best journalists are human. His emotional response to the plight of women in the Third World blinded him to the reality of the NGOs working with those women. In a 2009 New York Times article, he expressed admiration for the work of Greg Mortenson, the author of the New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson founded a nonprofit to educate girls in Middle Eastern countries, achieving worldwide renown for his efforts, but a 2012 investigation concluded that he had misspent $6 million that should have gone to his charity, and Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million. Like Somaly Mam, Mortenson had also fabricated portions of his life story to help promote his organization. When his lies were exposed by 60 Minutes, Mortenson hit back with angry denials; today, he thanks his detractors for putting him back on the straight and narrow. Sadly, his remorse came far too late to save the life of his co-author, David Oliver Relin. Relin committed suicide when the veracity of Three Cups of Tea was challenged.

Kristof embraced Somaly Mam’s work in the same manner that people had approached Mortenson’s accomplishments – with an uncritical eye and a deep willingness to believe in the strength of the human spirit. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, co-wrote the 2009 bestseller Half the Sky, a passionate call to justice for women in developing countries. This became a PBS documentary of the same name in 2012. Both book and film featured Somana Long telling her story in her own words. She subsequently appeared on Oprah, and her story is still posted on Oprah.com.
It would be difficult to underestimate the amount of credibility that Mam gained by her affiliation with Kristof. His New York Times pieces, his book, and the PBS doc boosted her already thriving NGO into the upper echelons of nonprofit stardom.

Based on a Lie

The fake trafficking victims are bad enough. Then there is the issue of Mam’s own distortions.

On December 7, 2004, police and AFESIP raided a Phnom Penh hotel called the Chai Hour II, removing 83 women and girls to the local AFESIP center. The next day, a group of about 30 men forced their way into the center and removed the females.
In a speech she gave before the UN General Assembly in April 2012, Mam stated that the Cambodian army had killed eight of these girls. This bizarre claim was immediately challenged, and Mam had to  admit that she did not have any firsthand knowledge of events following the raid; she had relied upon secondhand information (from a “reliable source) that eight girls and women had died after the raid in a “series of accidents that may have had something to do with their pimps and traffickers.”

That could be chalked up to a mistaken assumption, but the story of her daughter’s abduction is not so ambiguous. In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam wrote that in 2006 her 14-year-old adopted daughter, Ning, was kidnapped and gang-raped by traffickers in retaliation for the Chai Hour II raid. When the police found Ning, she was in the company of a “boy she knew”, who acted as a lure for the traffickers.
Mariane Pearl wrote about Ning’s abduction in a piece for Glamour.
However, Mam’s ex-husband and Ning’s father, Pierre Legros, told Lindsay Murdoch that Ning was not kidnapped. She ran away with her then boyfriend. Legros’ version of the story is supported by Aarti Kapoor, who worked as a legal adviser to AFESIP from 2003 to 2006. No police report was ever filed in connection with Ning’s “abduction”.
The creation of false enemies and phony “brushes with death” is something we’ve seen over and over on this blog, among “former Satanists“, conspiracy peddlers, and fraudsters. If you have powerful foes, you must have a powerful message, right? Disturbingly, Kapoor told Simon Marks that other AFESIP employees knew the story was a fabrication, yet elected to remain silent.

Finally, there is Mam’s own chilling tale of survival.
As she tells it in her memoir, Mam was essentially a feral child, living out her earliest years in the forests of northeastern Cambodia with no one to look after her. Her parents and maternal grandmother abandoned her in the village of Bou Sra sometime in the late ’70s, when she was not yet 10 years old. As she repeatedly laments, she grew up without a mother.
Bou Sra was in a remote, forested area that had not been heavily affected by Vietnam or the Pol Pot regime, and Mam was sheltered from modern life. By the time she left the village around 1980, she had never seen a car, hot running water, or a pair of shoes. She had to forage for food and sleep in the open.
Around age 10 she was taken away to a far-off village, Thloc Chhroy, by a man who called himself her grandfather. She was subjected to daily beatings and forced to work in the rice fields. The Khmer villagers treated her like a slave, with the exception of a schoolteacher named Mam Khon and his wife, Pen Navy. This couple took her in, though they had six children of their own. Khon told her he was her paternal uncle, but Mam didn’t believe this. She was just grateful to be unofficially adopted by the family. “Grandfather” exploited Mam until she was approximately 14, then forced her to marry an abusive soldier. Without any medical training, she worked as a nurse in the military hospital at Chup, watching helplessly as soldiers and villagers died terrible deaths at the hands of untrained medical workers.
When her husband failed to return to Chup, Grandfather sold her to a brothel in Phnom Penh, where she was forced to have sex with half a dozen clients per day. She was “about 16 years old.” She remained captive there for about 3 years. She witnessed a brothel owner fatally shoot her best friend. She was subjected to brutal beatings, rape, and electric shocks.

By the time she was in her late teens, however, the brothel owners no longer held Mam captive. She admits she worked for them voluntarily, on and off, up until she decided to leave prostitution in 1991, having met future husband Pierre Legros, a young French biologist working in Phnom Penh.

At least, that’s one version of her story. Speaking at the White House in February 2012, Mam said she was trafficked at age 9 or 10 and spent a decade in the brothel. Sitting beside Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks Show in 2008, she said she was sold to the brothel at 13 or 14 and remained there for 4 or 5 years. Legros has stated that when he met his ex-wife in 1991, she was working freely as a prostitute, not in a brothel but in an upscale hotel bar. Some biographies of Mam, such as this one at Women’s Conference.org, would lead you to believe that she met Legros in France.

Simon Marks probed these discrepancies by interviewing villagers in Thloc Chhroy who had known Mam as a child. These people say that Mam was not an abandoned child. She was the biological daughter of the kindly couple she mentions in her memoir, Mam Khon and Pen Navy.
According to residents who were there at the time, the family arrived in the village in 1981 from a nearby community. Prior to that, Mam Khon had been assigned to teach in a remote part of northeastern Cambodia – the same area where Mam supposedly lived as an urchin of the forest for the first 10 years of her life. Furthermore, she attended school in the village from 1981 right up to graduation from Khchao High School in 1987, the period when she was supposedly being prostituted in Phnom Penh. After graduation, she and a friend both sat for a teachers’ exam in Kompong Cham. Then, around 1987, Mam left her family home voluntarily. Never, at any time prior to age 18 or 19, was she homeless or abandoned. She was not married off at the age of 14. She was not pushed out into the streets to sell herself. There was no abusive old man posing as her grandfather. She did not sleep beside the body of a dead mother in the military hospital. There simply wasn’t time for Mam to have been prostituted as a child. Again, this “not enough time” issue is a problem we’ve seen many times in Satanic ritual abuse accounts and self-glorifying autobiographies.

Many of the other stories in Mam’s memoir have yet to be verified, like soldiers decapitating a small boy in Thloc Chhroy, and another little boy being fatally wounded by a hand grenade during military training in the schoolyard, and another little boy (Mam’s best friend) being torn apart in an accidental rocket blast.

But She’s Helping Trafficked Girls, Right?

At this point, an estimated 150 women and girls are living in AFESIP centres. We have no way of knowing how many of them were trafficking victims, and how many are simply young women seeking an education because their families cannot provide for them.

As mentioned, AFESIP has been criticized for taking in sex workers picked up in police raids. One former prostitute told Simon Marks she was taken to an AFESIP center by police on two separate occasions, and fled both times because the centre insisted she learn to sew.
This raises the question of what, exactly, the centres do to help women overcome their tough financial circumstances. In the interview below, Mam enthused that her girls may be doctors and lawyers in 10 years. In reality, the young women in her facilities are taught sewing, hairdressing, weaving, and other traditionally female skills that will allow them to eke out only the smallest incomes. Last fall, Estee Lauder announced it will be training sex trafficking survivors at a Somaly Mam beauty salon in Siem Reap.

It would not be out of line to call Mam’s behaviour predatory. She has been exploiting and manipulating vulnerable Cambodian girls to promote her cause. She has brazenly, outrageously lied to millions of people about ordeals that never occurred, which undermines real victims of trafficking and sexual assault. She has collected millions from donors under false pretenses. She has seized a heroine status that isn’t hers to claim. In a 2013 Daily Beast article, she actually likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave. I think we’ve gone well past exaggeration, here. This is cold-blooded deception on a frightening scale. We could be dealing with a sociopath.

Most NGOs struggle. It isn’t easy to raise funds and effectively operate a charitable organization at the same time, especially if that organization is anchored in a remote area of a developing country. So when a relatively tiny operation like AFESIP achieves dazzling success and brings in millions, attracting some of the most influential people on the planet to its cause, one has to wonder if the money and prestige have become more important than the cause. AFESIP seems to have a lot of both; the SMF regularly ran full-colour, full-page ads in TIME. The ads didn’t show trafficking victims, but a glamour shot of Mam herself.

Sex tourism has long been a problem in Southeast Asia, but now sex trafficking survivors are drawing in tourist money. Last November, U.S. travel company OmLuxe took 20 people to Cambodia to meet with Mam. They were promised they would be able to spend time with sex-trafficking victims. What if anti-trafficking is becoming the new trafficking? This year’s trip, scheduled for November, includes a lunch with Mam.

The Problem Doesn’t End Here

The Somaly Mam debacle is not an isolated incident. Charity-related fraud is widespread, and it’s very easy to be taken in by slick, professional-looking campaigns that want your donations. A few of the problems in the NGO world include:

  1. Fake Charities/Charities that aren’t actually charitable
    One example of a bogus charity is Pink Pagoda, an organization that claims to have rescued 50,000 Chinese girls from infanticide and is trying to raise $1 billion to rescue a million more. While it has the outward appearance of an NGO, a legal disclaimer in teeny-tiny print on the bottom of its website states that it is not a charitable organization. It is a for-profit enterprise, and an extremely dodgy one. Its founder/director, Jim Garrow, appears to be engaged in the buying and selling of babies. I’ve covered Pink Pagoda in a recent post about Garrow at Leaving Alex Jonestown.
  2. NGOs that aren’t actually doing anything
    Many orgs have good intentions, yet suffer from mismanagement, poor planning, or misguided goals.  NGOs dedicated to ending malaria in Africa (Roll Back Malaria, Malaria No More, etc.) tout mosquito netting treated with chrysanthemum-derived insecticides as the most effective method of stopping the disease. Unfortunately, a 2003 study found that an average of 55% of African households given treated bed nets actually used them over sleeping children. This amounts to roughly 20 million children – an impressive number, but far from enough to make an impact.
  3. Trafficking Activists who may be mistaken or lying
    In Argentina, Susana Trimarco is receiving the same accolades Somaly Mam did. Trimarco became an anti-trafficking activist after the disappearance of her 23-year-old daughter, Marita, in 2002. She insists her daughter was abducted and sold into prostitution, though the evidence seems thin, and has implicated everyone from hospital staffers to the governor of her province. She began to disguise herself as a prostitute to infiltrate brothels, piecing together stray bits of gossip in an attempt to track down her daughter. By some accounts, she has now rescued about 150 South American and Spanish girls from sexual slavery. She has millions convinced that some of the highest officials in South America are complicit in human trafficking, but how much of her story is accurate?
  4. The crying wolf effect
    Charity frauds like Mam and Garrow harden people, making them less likely to donate time or volunteer hours to worthy causes.

* It should be noted that Daily Beast made Mam one of its “Women of the World” just three years ago. Last November, it published Mam’s firsthand account of her time as a child prostitute, in which she likened herself to the protagonist of 12 Years a Slave.

A Note to Readers

Because several posts in the Prodigal Witch series touched on child abuse issues, I have been receiving many emails and comments informing me that So-and-So in Such-and-Such County is a pedophile and is actively molesting and/or abducting children.

I cannot possibly stress strongly enough that this is not the place to air such complaints. If you are aware of child abuse, human trafficking, or any other form of child exploitation being committed by a certain person or group of persons, report this to the proper authorities immediately.

Comments that contain unsubstantiated allegations against specific persons will be removed.

The Prodigal Witch XIV: Linda Blood

Seriously, hell hath no fury…

Linda Blood is quite different from all the former Satanists we’ve seen so far. She actually was involved (very briefly) with an organized Satanic church, the Temple of Set (ToS), and after leaving it she did not become a born again Christian.
She frankly admits that her time as a Satanist revolved around her love affair (requited or unrequited, depending on who you ask) with Michael Aquino, founder of the Temple of Set and a favourite target of anti-occult conspiranoids.
In the ’80s she jumped into the Satanic panic fray, armed with what she believed was damning information about Satanism and occultism, and continued her campaign well into the ’90s with the publication of her influential (but misinformation-packed) book The New Satanists.

Aquino as he appeared on Geraldo’s Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground in 1989. “Former Satanist” Lauren Stratford also appeared on this program.


She Said

Blood’s romance with Aquino is not exactly chick flick material. By all accounts, it began with a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a piece of Star Wars fanfiction.

According to Blood, in 1978 she was 34 years old and had just relocated from Greenwich Village to a New York suburb with her husband of 9 years. She had a successful career as a designer of something-or-other (the details are sketchy). In August of that year, she picked up the latest issue of Famous Monsters at her local grocery store and read one of Michael Aquino’s Star Wars stories. She was entranced by its “mysterious and romantic aura” (is it just me, or is that the nerdiest thing you’ve ever read?).
She began a correspondence with Aquino, and was surprised to learn he was a Satanist serving in the U.S. Army. She was a bit put off by what she calls his “authoritarian politics” and his love of German philosophers like Hegel, but she appreciated his imagination and intelligence. By his third letter, she was “halfway in love with him.”

Now let’s hold it right here. I don’t mean to insult afficionados of fanfiction (well, maybe I do), but who writes to a fanfiction author out of the blue and then becomes infatuated with that person after three letters? This indicates, at the very least, some emotional issues.
These issues become even more apparent when Blood describes the effect her correspondence with Aquino had on her life. She claims it led her into the “confused and agitated state common to those who become involved with cults.” How does writing letters to a Satanist equate to cult involvement? She hadn’t yet joined the Temple of Set, and to sever her ties to Aquino (who lived in Colorado at the time), all she had to do was avoid licking a stamp.
I suggest it was not “cult involvement”, but Blood’s own actions and conflicted emotions that were causing this turmoil to herself and those close to her. She admits her husband, family, and friends were “bewildered and alarmed” by her behaviour during this time.

Her decision to join the the Temple of Set was voluntary. Aquino had told her she would have to join to learn more about it, and she did. There was no pressure to join, no cultish recruitment tactics like love-bombing. In its 3 years of existence, the ToS had never been identified as a cult by ex-members or cult watchdog groups.
In fact, Blood offers no evidence that the ToS was a cult. She writes instead of the “clannish and condescending” attitude of some members, likening the temple to an exclusive club. This may be true, but exclusivity does not a cult make. In fact, in their early phases of development, cults will take just about anyone they can get so the leader(s) can establish a power base.
She makes much of the fact that Aquino was a psychological warfare specialist for the army, without documenting any crossover from his working life to his spiritual life (by all accounts, Aquino was professional enough to separate the two).

Blood, who claims she had no prior interest in the occult, immersed herself in the ToS. In June 1979 she attended one of its annual conclaves with about 30 other Setians, and met Aquino in person for the first time.

Blood’s marriage ended that year. She claims she and Aquino became lovers during a trip to Washington, and his refusal to leave his soon-to-be wife Lillith caused her great emotional distress.

Michael and Lillith Aquino

Since her love object kept his distance from her, Blood directed her frustration and anger at other Setians. In response, they “emotionally abused” her and ejected her from the ToS.
Her relationship with Aquino continued until early 1981. This was followed by four years of depression. She would phone Aquino and his wife and scream into their answering machine.
To indulge in a little armchair psychology for a moment, I believe what we see here is not a cult victim at all. This is an emotionally unstable woman struggling with unrequited love and rejection, bad choices, and a divorce. She projected her feelings onto Aquino and his group, branding it a cult. This excused all her own mistakes: She didn’t emotionally abandon her husband for a gloomy geek – she was lured into a cult by a psy warfare specialist!

In the mid-’80s, years after her ToS experience, Blood was still out for blood. She joined the American Family Foundation (now known as the International Cultic Studies Association)*, which worked closely with the Cult Awareness Network (before the Scientologists took it over), becoming assistant editor of the two organizations’ newsletters. Her contacts with other former Satanists, “ritual abuse” victims, and their support networks convinced her that certain forms of occultism pose “long-term dangers” to society. This view culminated in her 1994 book The New Satanists, which we’ll examine at the end of this post.

He Said

Aquino’s take on the matter is, quite frankly, more believable than Blood’s. He contends that Blood became infatuated with him after reading his fiction, initiated a correspondence with him, and proceeded to pursue him aggressively for the next ten years. When he made it clear that her affection for him was not mutual, she began to leave bizarre, obscene, and abusive messages on his answering machine. Not one of them is suitable for a PG-13 blog like this one, if Aquino’s transcriptions are accurate. She even heaped verbal abuse upon Aquino’s elderly mother, referring to her as a “Nazi bitch”.

Aquino points out that in letters Blood sent to him during her time with the Temple of Set (a few excerpts are here), she expressed delight with the ToS and wrote fondly of her fellow Setians.

At some point in the early ’90s, Blood finally stopped leaving nasty phone messages. Aquino assumed she had moved on, until he learned she was working with anti-cult organizations that promoted belief in Satanic crime and Satanic ritual abuse. Then, in 1994, a subsidiary of Warner Books published The New Satanists.

The New Satanists

There isn’t room here for a detailed analysis of Blood’s book. Let’s just say it is rather typical of earlier books on the same topic. Satanic ritual abuse is real, Satanists are dangerous criminals, yadda yadda yadda. The only thing missing is the Christian bias, though Blood’s moralizing does veer awfully close to piety at times. She even argues that “occult” crime must be placed into the wider context of warfare, genocide, and terrorism. “Perhaps then we will take effective steps to combat this ancient and persistent form of evil.” (34)

Unlike most authors in this genre, Blood is actually knowledgeable about various Satanic groups in Europe and the U.S., and she makes a few valid points about the creepy links between certain Satanists and neo-Nazi/white supremacist beliefs. However, she goes seriously awry when it comes to that “occult crime”. Among the absurdities she gives us:

  • “According to law enforcement officials, in addition to child and adult pornography and prostitution, they [Satanists] are involved in drug and arms trafficking and serious forms of while collar crime such as computer scams and insurance fraud.” No sources. No examples. People who self-identify as Christians have engaged in all these crimes, so should we also worry about a wave of “Christian crime”? (21)
  • Listing examples of weird S&M porn involving dead animals, gore, etc., she asks, “Where does porn end and satanic ritual begin?”. (21)
  • She attacks skepticism, essentially saying that because of it, guilty men like Robert Kelly and Paul Ingram are being considered falsely convicted. Sadly for her, these are textbook examples of false conviction.
  • “In the West Memphis case, the local Crittendon County authorities had been forewarned.” Librarians had reported books with sacrifice/cannibalism passages underlined, and there was suspicion of rituals and animal sacrifices in the area. I don’t understand how this in any way constitutes “forewarning” of a triple child murder. Does this woman honestly believe such a crime may have been averted by arresting kids who scribble in library books? Should the police have staked out wooded areas to prevent Satanists from legally gathering? The more you think about her statement, the more ridiculous it becomes. (Keep in mind that this book was written before the trials even commenced.)

Blood makes her distaste for Satanism clear, calling it one of many “philosophical hazardous waste dumps” and a “sophomoric junk-food substitute for serious intellectual challenge to dogmas”. After covering its history and its tenuous connection to crimes ranging from graffiti-spraying to cannibal holocausts, she zeroes in on Aquino. Specifically, the Presidio affair and its aftermath.

Hysteria, Hoax, or Cover-up?

In 1986, California parents were seriously concerned about their daycare centres. And you can’t really blame them. For the first time in the history of daycare, toddlers were complaining of bizarre forms of abuse involving costumes, movie cameras, the Devil, dungeons and secret tunnels, even murder. In Manhattan Beach, a grandmother and several members of her family stood trial for allegedly molesting and satanically abusing kids, using a secret tunnel beneath their daycare centre to access a specially-constructed ritual chamber. In Berkeley, a psychiatrist and his mentally ill wife were informing anyone who would listen that their son and countless other children had been raped and tortured by a large group of adults wearing robes and masks. It took the boy’s mother 20 years to admit the abuse never occurred.

And in San Francisco, a 3-year-old boy informed his mother that “Mr. Gary” had touched his penis and sodomized him with a pencil at the Childhood Development Center, an Army-run daycare located on the Presidio Army base. He was referring to Gary Hambright, a 34-year-old substitute teacher who worked at the centre. Hambright had been substitute teaching in Bay Area schools since the late ’70s, without any complaints lodged against him.

Joyce and Mike Tobin did not report the suspected abuse, but an army chaplain who heard the story from Mike relayed it to the base’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). An investigation was immediately launched.
Using an “anal wink” test, now discredited as a tool for diagnosing sexual abuse, Dr. Kevin Coulter of the Child Adolescent Sexual Abuse Referral Center at San Francisco General Hospital determined the Tobin boy had been sodomized.
In early December, about two weeks after the CID investigation began, a strategy group was formed to address the possibility of multiple victims, though there had been no other complaints against Hambright. This may have been prudent, but the CID’s next move was not. Just as police did in the McMartin case, the Army mailed letters to every parent who had a child in Hambright’s care at the Childhood Development Center – 242 people. This letter may have sparked hysteria among parents, causing them to see warning signs that didn’t really exist. Presidio parents began to see nightmares, bedwetting, masturbation, and other normal childhood events as evidence of sexual abuse.

Five of the roughly 60 preschoolers who may have been molested tested positive for chlamydia at Letterman Army Medical Center. However, it later emerged that the wrong kind of culture was taken and the tests were invalid.
The stories told by the children included bizarre, “ritual” elements. One child alleged that Hambright dressed up as a “bad lobster”. Another claimed Hambright murdered and resurrected him. Others spoke of guns being fired, animals being slaughtered, and sex acts being filmed by Hambright and other adults at the CDC. Yet no physical evidence was uncovered during the course of four separate investigations (by the CID, San Francisco police, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco).
Nonetheless, Gary Hambright was arrested in late ’86 and charged with abusing the Tobin child. The charges were dropped three months later, after Judge William Schwarzer refused to allow hearseay statements from parents to be used at trial. The U.S. Attorney’s office decided that without this inadmissable hearsay evidence, the case against Hambright was simply too weak to take to trial.

I’ll note here that Blood gets many basic facts of the case wrong. She tells us that Hambright was arrested and charged in January ’87, when this actually occurred in December ’86.

That should have ended the matter, but things were about to get far stranger at the Presidio. After Hambright’s arrest, Army chaplain Larry Adams-Thompson reported that his 3-year-old stepdaughter (real name Kinsey, here called “Lisa”) was wetting the bed and having nightmares. She had been under Hambright’s supervision four or five times in ’86.
Questioned by the FBI, Kinsey denied that anyone had touched her inappropriately. However, a therapist at Letterman Army Medical Center said she spoke of being abused by Hambright, a man named “Mikey”, and a woman named “Shamby”, on several occasions.

On August 12, 1987, 4-year-old Kinsey spotted Lt. Col. Michael Aquino at the Presidio Post Exchange and hid behind her stepfather. Larry and his wife, Michelle, asked her if she knew the man. “Yes, that’s Mikey,” she reportedly replied. In the parking lot, Larry Adams-Thompson saw Lillith Aquino, pointed her out to Kinsey, and asked if she recognized her. “Yes, that’s Shamby,” Kinsey allegedly told him.

Kinsey was re-interviewed by FBI Special Agent Clyde Foreman the following day. This time she described being abused by the three adults in “Mr. Gary’s house”, which had black walls and a “plastic lion’s foot tub”.  She was taken to the 2400 block of Leavenworth Street to see if she would recognize the Aquinos’ house, and she did indeed point out the residence, calling it “Mr. Gary’s house.”
When San Francisco police searched the Aquinos’ house, they found that the living room was painted black. Despite a yearlong investigation by the SFPD, however, no evidence of wrongdoing by either Aquino was found. The case was closed in April of ’88.

Michael Aquino was re-assigned to Missouri because of the adverse publicity the investigation attracted. In its November 16, 1987 issue, Newsweek ran a story on Aquino headlined “THE SECOND BEAST OF REVELATION”. For the first time, Aquino appeared on TV to discuss his religion, in an effort to allay fears that Satanists like to abuse, torture, abduct, and eat children. This is when several preschoolers supposedly recognized him and told their parents he was one of the adults who ritually abused them in various daycare centres throughout the U.S. (what Blood doesn’t mention is that no criminal charges were filed in these cases, due to lack of evidence. They include allegations against sisters Barbara and Sharon Orr at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.)

Hambright was rearrested and once again faced federal charges (because the alleged abuse occurred on a military base). This second set of charges was dropped six months later for lack of evidence. The federal investigation into the Presidio allegations was shut down in September of ’88. By that time, a group of Presidio parents led by Larry Adams-Thompson were loudly crying cover-up. In June, some of them filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army, seeking $55 million in damages. A settlement was reached, and the family of Kinsey Adams-Thompson received over $300,000.

It’s not unheard of for the military to hush up deviant behaviour on the part of officers. For instance, the prime suspect in the 1959 murder of Lynne Harper should have been Royal Canadian Air Force Sgt. Alexander Kalichuk, but civilian police were not informed of his arrest for attempting to entice preteen girls into his vehicle. The army kept a lid on that, allowing a 14-year-old boy to be falsely convicted and sentenced to death.
But was there a military cover-up in the case of the accusations against Aquino? Probably not. Here are a few factors militating in favour of Aquino’s innocence:

  • Aside from Kinsey Adams-Thompson, the kids identified him only after seeing him on TV. They did not give descriptions of him prior to that time – and let’s face it, anyone who sees this guy is going to remember him.
  • His alibi has never been challenged. He was all the way across the country when the abuse supposedly occurred. During the time that Kinsey Adams-Thompson was in daycare (September 1 – October 31, 1986) he was attending daily classes at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
  • Is it likely that Aquino and his alleged cohorts could usher screaming, crying children in and out of Aquino’s house without being noticed? The Aquinos lived in a fairly quiet neighbourhood, and did not have children of their own.
  • Prior to the ’80s, no one complained of sexual misconduct on Aquino’s part. He had no known interest in children at all, much less sexual interest. This would be quite unusual for a pedophile.
  • There is absolutely no evidence that Aquino was acquainted with Gary Hambright, nor anyone else at the Child Development Center. One has to wonder how a civilian Baptist and an Army Satanist would even meet.
  • Because the alleged abuse occurred off-base, in the Aquinos’ home, it was a civilian matter. For a military cover-up to occur, the Army would have had to effectively interfere with the SFPD and the FBI. Not likely.
  • As the events below demonstrate, the Army itself was suspicious of Aquino and wanted to get rid of him.

The Aftermath

Again, this should have ended the matter. But the accusations of cover-up, together with public outrage over Aquino’s religious affiliation, left the Army feeling uneasy. In late 1988, CID investigators reviewed documents related to the Aquino investigation and picked out what they felt were the six strongest allegations against him. Investigators assembled “lineups” using Oprah footage and footage of Aquino lookalikes/soundalikes, and the children (number not given by Blood) unerringly picked out the real Aquino.
For this reason, the Army “titled” Aquino for indecent acts with a child, sodomy, conspiracy, kidnapping, indecent acts, and false swearing.

There are no easy answers in the Presidio case. Because most of the children were too young to remember their daycare experiences as adults, even they don’t know for certain if they were abused.
But I do have a theory about what may have happened here. I suspect that Hambright’s homosexual orientation terrified several parents at the Presidio. Giving in to fears that gay men who look after children could be pedophiles, some of these parents looked too hard for evidence of sexual molestation – and of course they found it. Everything from temper tantrums to bad dreams could be chalked up to abuse-related trauma. Once the CID investigation began, hysteria took over.

The allegations against Aquino may have been of a very different nature, though. Aquino maintained from the start that Larry Adams-Thompson fabricated Kinsey’s allegations, and the later behaviour of the Adams-Thompsons unfortunately points in that direction.
After receiving their $300,000 settlement from the government, they placed half the money in trust for Kinsey, stipulating that she would become a co-trustee when she turned 18.
Kinsey moved in with her biological father at the age of 13. When she turned 18, the lawyer retained by her mother and stepfather assured her she would be given a copy of the trust documents to review before she signed on as a co-trustee. She had one month to sign. If she did not sign in that time, the money would default to the Adams-Thompsons.
Larry Adams-Thompson promptly filed a lawsuit against his teenage stepdaughter in an attempt to delay the signing process and secure the trust fund for himself. Luckily for Kinsey, a probate court terminated the trust. She was given not only her share of the trust monies, but compensation for her legal expenses, as well. This is documented in an appeal stemming from the lawsuit Kinsey filed against her stepdad’s lawyer.
It is my opinion that any man who would attempt to screw his teen stepdaughter out of her trust fund is the same kind of man who would fabricate abuse allegations in order to sue the government.
Aquino was an easy target, because his Satanism was known beyond his inner circle of superiors and peers. Who would the authorities believe: An Army chaplain, or a devil worshiper?

After his Satanism became a subject of nationwide interest, more “ritual abuse victims” crawled out of the woodwork to accuse Aquino. In the early ’90s, a young male prostitute named Paul Bonacci even accused him of purchasing Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old boy abducted in Iowa in 1982. That allegation was too groundless to warrant investigation, and Bonacci was never charged with his supposed role in the Gosch abduction. But the story continues to be propagated by numerous conspiracy researchers (and Johnny’s own mother) as part of the “Franklin cover-up”.

Linda Blood’s book, though now outdated and discredited, remains influential. It is often cited as a source in other anti-occult literature.

* Some of Blood’s work, such as this 1991 paper co-written with deprogrammer Kevin Garvey, is available on the ICSA website.

The Prodigal Witch XIII: Eric Pryor

The writers at Cornerstone magazine, in exposing the make-believe story of Lauren Stratford, referred to the hoax as “Satan’s sideshow”. If Stratford was the sideshow, the late Eric Pryor was the whole circus.

Eric Pryor in 1990

The late Eric Pryor appears to have literally crawled out of some woodwork. Suddenly, on Halloween 1990, this strange, gawky man with bleached-blonde hair and weird blue eyes appears in front of the San Francisco Civic Auditorium with an eclectic mob of neo-Pagans, gays, and Satanists from the Bay area.

Pryor loudly announces they’re going to perform a “public binding” against Texas televangelist Larry Lea, a vocal opponent of all things occult and gay who is holding one of his “Prayer Breakthrough” rallies at the Auditorium that night. Pryor dramatically burns and hacks up a candle representing Lea, to the amusement of onlookers and TV cameramen. Then the protesters return to their usual lives, and Pryor gets a full-time job preaching the gospel at Jubilee Christian Center, a Pentacostal megachurch in San Jose.

A sample of Larry Lea’s work

Really. It seems that sometime in between the chanting and the effigy-torching, Pryor decided Bible-thumping wasn’t so bad after all.

The day after his protest, he appeared on the San Francisco TV show People are Talking alongside Dick Bernal, head of Jubilee Christian Center. He identified himself as a Wiccan who wanted to prevent witch hunts from breaking out in the Bay area, and was ostensibly trying to prove that neo-Pagans are just like any other socially conscious citizens, worthy of respect and tolerance. But then he screwed the pooch re-enacting a “Wiccan ceremony” he performed on a young woman (his girlfriend Cassandra, as it turned out). In what appeared to be an exorcism, Pryor crouched over Cassandra, making repeated stabbing motions with his athame while chanting something in Hebrew. Public response to the video was less than enthusiastic. Pagans were annoyed, and Christians were appalled. (4)

But the Christians were soon rejoicing, because after the TV appearance, Pryor agreed to meet with Dick Bernal and attend Lea’s service at Jubilee, all expenses paid. On November 17, he was saved. He even allowed his new brothers and sisters in Christ to clear his apartment temple of witchcraft paraphernalia and burn it in a bonfire.

By the end of the year he was in the pulpit as yet another “witch who switched”.

As a Wiccan, Pryor had called himself Lord Gandalf. He claimed to have been the head of the Wiccan New Earth Temple in San Francisco, but no one in the Pagan subculture seemed to know him before his Larry Lea protest, and the “temple” was located in Pryor’s apartment.
At first, he claimed to have had about 75 local followers. In 1991 he claimed “tens of thousands” of followers. (3)  On a January 1992 broadcast of his TV show Change Your Life,
Larry Lea said he had led 50,000 Pagans. (4)

But he revealed that he was more than just a born again neo-Pagan; in New York, he had been a prostitute and belonged to a Satanic cult that delighted in luring strangers to their temple to brutalize and torture. They didn’t actually sacrifice anyone, but they came pretty close.

Weirdly, Pryor also said he had been born again once before (a notion that most Christians reject – you’re born again once, period, and any reversion to your former ways is merely backsliding). This was around 1977, when he was still a teenager.

Further underscoring the supposedly violent nature of occultism, Pryor told Larry Lea that if he hadn’t realized Lea was an okay guy, he might have ended up shooting him. He claimed he had a gun stuffed into his cowboy boot during the protest. Later, he claimed he and the other Pagans were equipped with an entire arsenal: automatic weapons, grenades, dynamite. (4)
As we will see, Pryor was not allowed to possess firearms, yet prominently displayed guns in his apartment and bragged of carrying a shotgun everywhere for protection against Pagan assassins. With his avowed history of violence and homicidal intentions, this should have alarmed his Christian friends. But it did not. They apparently chalked it up to his charming eccentricity. Pryor liked to dress all in black with a Stetson, snakeskin boots, and a duster coat, like some kind of spaghetti Western vigilante. At other times he would don Army fatigues and call himself a “Christian soldier”.

Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, CA

As an evangelist, Pryor specialized in slaying in the spirit” (sending people into an ecstatic state, knocking them to the ground with a light touch or a spoken command). His services somewhat resembled mass exorcisms, with people flopping into the arms of Pryor’s assistants or onto the floor as he hollered invectives against the Devil. A transcript of one of his services shows that by early ’91 he was already well-schooled in the evangelistic style, knowing just when to fire up the audience and when to pluck their heartstrings. He used just the right combination of humorous patter and earthy spirituality.

Bernal seemed delighted with his catch, referring to Pryor as “the Chief Wiccan of the Wicca cult”. (4)  As a former witch, a former Satanist, and a former prostitute, Pryor was the ideal evangelistic tool for a gay-friendly, Pagan-friendly region. If he had some faults, they could be politely overlooked.

The exact nature of Pryor’s position at Jubilee Christian Center has remained murky, as Dick Bernal gave inconsistent statements about it. He told ABC’s Primetime Live in November 1991 that Pryor received an income of $1000 per month. One month later he told the San Jose Mercury News that Pryor received $500 per month, and had his own office. (3)  In 1996 he told the Metro newspaper that Pryor did not get a salary from Jubilee and was not on staff, but admitted that Pryor got to pocket the donations for all the services he held at Jubilee (though Bernal didn’t mention it, Pryor also made money from videotapes that sold for $12-$45 per copy). (5)
The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Herb Caen reported Pryor made $100,000 in his first year of preaching. Pryor refuted this, insisting he was nearly broke. But he was wearing a Rolex as he said it. (3)
Whatever Pryor’s actual income and position in the church, he did not have any other employment during the 7 years he spent there. His evangelistic roadshow, Christian Gladiator Ministries, operated out of Jubilee. By 1996, he was charging $1300-$1700 per show. (5)

In addition to his preaching, Pryor also became one in a long line of “occult crime experts” who attributed every pentacle spray-painted on an underpass to Satanic criminal gangs. Absurdly, he declared in 1996, “I’m the only one I know of in the country who does this type of investigation.” (3)
His only major gig in this capacity was a “Satanic crime” seminar held on July 26, 1991 at a church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He told the assembled law enforcement officers that Pagans usually act as front-people for Satanic organizations that are involved in criminal enterprises, and urged them to do undercover work against Pagans to expose their “real” activities. He even provided phone numbers of Pagans to get them started.

To bolster his contention that all Pagans and Satanists are bad news, he admitted to committing all sorts of crimes as a Satanist in New York and San Francisco: stockpiling weapons, robbing graves and churches, blackmailing other occultists. He said, “The occult community encompasses murder, drugs and homosexuality. The stuff I share with you could easily get me killed. New Age and Occult practices are becoming more popular and as it becomes more popular it is a cover for criminality.”
He even hinted that Freemasons were part of this occult criminal underworld, claiming his temple had been located inside a Masonic hall (as we know, it was located only in his apartment). He said Satanists commit ritual sacrifices several times a year, breed babies for sacrifice and sale, abduct teenagers, and provide young children to pedophiles (he libelously claimed that the Temple of Set supplies young boys to NAMBLA).

Like ex-Satanists John Todd, Mike Warnke, and Doc Marquis, he claimed the Pagans would have murdered him for defecting. It was all the publicity that attended his conversion to Christianity that scared them away, he said. Nonetheless, he carried a shotgun with him at all times for protection. (4)

Law enforcement agencies were obviously not keen to enlist Pryor’s help, so he resorted to handing out a “Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults” videotape instead. In the video, as in his British Columbia presentation, he placed peculiar emphasis on the link between Paganism (Satanic crime) and homosexuality. This was not an accident. In June 1991, he told a church audience in Cameron Park, “My goal is to destroy Satanism, humanism, paganism, druidism and the practice of homosexuality in our lifetime.” (3)

In November 1991 he wed his girlfriend, Cassandra, in a Jubilee ceremony at which Dick Bernal officiated. Sandra had converted to Christianity, too.

Cassandra and Eric Pryor “marry” (Primetime Live)

The witch who switched” garnered considerable mainstream media attention, much of it negative. In November 1991 ABC’s Primetime Live looked into Pryor as part of its investigation into the ministries of Larry Lea and other televangelists. Diane Sawyer said, “We discovered right away Eric Pryor was never a major leader of the Pagans.” Primetime also learned his first marriage had never been dissolved, and the ceremony with Cassandra was just for show (Bernal even admitted he knew Pryor was already married). The man who filmed the ceremony, Eric Marsh, claims he saw Bernal and Pryor “signing what appeared to be a wedding license. Pryor started to ask me if I would like to witness it but Bernal cut him off.”
There is no doubt that Pryor tried to pass this off as a legal union. Lea proudly told Diane Sawyer that Eric had married his live-in girlfriend, and Pryor himself announced to a Denver audience that he was a married man (which was true enough, but the woman he named wasn’t his wife). (6)
Also, despite the fact that donations were pouring in during his spectacular church services, Pryor had not resumed child support payments for his two children from his first marriage (a warrant was issued against him for nonsupport in 1993).
Diane Sawyer also revealed that Larry Lea’s ministry had been giving Pryor money. (2)
The Mercury News reported that Jubilee moved Pryor out of his Tenderloin hovel, buying him a golf course condo in Santa Clara. Bernal claimed the move was strictly a safety precaution, as San Francisco Pagans were gunning for Pryor. (3)  (Pryor complained that Pagans were attacking and menacing him, but he was the only one throwing around unsubstantiated accusations and behaving in a threatening manner. He continually warned Christian audiences that Pagans and Satanists are child-stealing, murderous perverts. He also encouraged the police to harass them and interfered with their ceremonies.)

There has been speculation that Larry Lea, Dick Bernal, and/or someone in their ministries hired Eric Pryor to fake a miraculous conversion as a publicity stunt, and there is a lot of circumstantial evidence for that. It’s also possible that Pryor engineered the stunt himself: One former Pagan who met Pryor shortly before the anti-Lea demonstration, Eric Marsh, claims Pryor discussed “putting on ‘an act’ of going over to the Christians so that he could go undercover and get the dirt’ on them.”
Lea is certainly not above suspicion. Like so many televangelists before and after him, he has a history of scamming. The same year he saved Pryor, he held a fund drive to build the first Christian church at Auschwitz. However, the church had already existed for two years and was paid for entirely by Polish Pentacostals. Lea gave the church a $30,000 donation, but his ministry had nothing to do with its creation. (2)

Eric’s Prior Life

Details of Pryor’s early life are sketchy, and the information he gave about his background varied over time.

He was born in 1959. He said his childhood in Woodstock, New York, was marred by neglect and abuse. He was often in foster care due to his mother’s mental illness. He spent much of his time studying occult books at the public library. (5) He was attracted to occultism, in part, because one of his grandfathers was a founding member of the American Nazi party and practiced mystical Nazism (Pryor stated, incorrectly, that Hitler himself was an initiate of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis). When he was 10 years old, the neo-Nazis burned some sort of insignia onto young Eric’s right arm to mark him as one of their own (he never displayed it publicly). (4)
Like several of the people we’ve seen in this series, Pryor claimed a childhood devotion to God that paved the way for salvation later in life. Just as Lauren Stratford described asking Jesus to be her daddy when she was 4 years old, Pryor said he knelt down at the age of 4 and asked God to be his daddy. (6) Pardon my cynicism, but I suspect he had a copy of Satan’s Underground in that Santa Clara condo.

Because of the abuse, Eric ran away from home and became a child prostitute in New York City at the age of 12. He met Herman Slater, owner of the city’s most famous occult bookstore, Magickal Childe. It was Slater, he said, who initiated him into Wicca and tutored him in the occult. Eric was such a quick study that Slater commissioned him to write sections of the two-volume Book of Pagan Rituals (1974-75) when he was just 14 years old. By the time he was 15, he said, “People were already starting to name babies after me! I was like a Mozart of the occult community, the prodigal child!” (6)
As a Christian, Pryor viciously (but ridiculously) slandered Slater by stating that Magickal Child sold snuff videos via its mail-order catalogues, and that Slater and other Pagans used him as a teenage temple prostitute.

He went on to study under Lady Sabrina of the Wiccan school Our Lady of Enchantment and Carol Bulzone, a witch of the Welsh tradition. For a time he worked at Bulzone’s occult bookshop, Enchantments. He was later granted a certificate of ordination by Gavin and Yvonne Frost’s Church of Wicca, and reached the third level of Gardnerian Wicca under priestess Rolla Nordic. He referred to himself as a Welsh High Priest and a reverend. He worked with prominent witch Laurie Cabot and Pagan musicians Kenny and Tzipora Klein.

Prior to being born again, he was also a Satanist thug, a parapsychologist with an honorary doctorate from the American Parapsychology Research Association, and a licensed funeral director and mortician (which enabled him to procure bodies and body parts for necromancy).
There’s no evidence that Pryor had any sort of honorary doctorate, nor that he ever possessed a mortician’s license, but we do know he made the abrupt leap from Wicca to Satanism sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s. Just as he would later do in California, he tried to draw teenagers into his orbit. We also know that he had a rather lengthy criminal record. (4)

In 1982 he wed his first wife, Nichole, in a prison ceremony. He was serving time for a drunken assault, and fighting extradition to Texas on armed robbery charges of which he would ultimately be convicted.
The Pryors had two children. Though he never mentioned this part of his past to his born again friends, the marriage was volatile. Pryor was once arrested for shooting out the windows of his house while Nichole and their son were inside. She left him around 1987.

In 1988, Eric sought the greener pastures of California. He established his New Earth Temple in his San Francisco apartment and joined the Bay Area Pagan Assemblies. He later claimed, falsely, that he was a board member of BAPA.

Two years later, he found Jesus.
Pryor established a somewhat respectable Christian life for himself, or so it seemed at first. After his “marriage” to Sandra ended, he wed a young Christian mother, Shelly Kolt, in July 1994.
Sadly, while Eric’s zeal for devil worship may have faded, his penchant for violence had not. Just one month after his wedding he was charged with spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon (a knife). During his arrest by Mountain View police, he lashed out drunkenly and had to be placed in restraints. He later insisted that Shelly was the real aggressor, though she had no record of domestic assault, and complained the police “failed to protect” him.
So did a judge, apparently. Pryor spent several months of 1995 in jail.
According to Shelly, Eric assaulted her and threatened to kill her because she was considering leaving him. At that time, according to court records, Pryor was negotiating a six-figure book and TV deal with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the deal required him to remain married (to one woman at a time, of course). (5)

Pryor soon married his assistant, another young Christian mother named Renee.

The Witch Who Switched and Then Switched Again and Then Switched Again and Then Switched Again

The story so far is that Eric Pryor was a witch who briefly became a Christian in the late ’70s, then returned to Wicca, then became a Satanist simultaneously (though Wicca and Satanism are incompatible belief systems), then became a Christian again.

Exactly 7 years after being born again, Pryor parted ways with Jubilee and Christ. He grumbled about the church’s “money-grubbing” and “hypocrisy”.
The following year, he and a small gaggle of New Age followers rented a 38-room mansion Pryor claimed was once owned by Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery and set up the Serene Foundation to endorse a peculiar mix of Christianity, Satanism and shamanism. Pryor pledged to cure drug addiction and other disorders with natural healing and faith healing, claiming to possess potent gifts, and announced his intention to train a team of “shamanic prophets” to perform the same feats. His decision to become a full-time healer is unnerving in light of what he told a Christian audience in Salem, Massachusetts, back in 1992: As a Wiccan, he said, he charged clients “a thousand dollars to put a piece of quartz crystal on their heads and burn enough incense to kill a thousand mosquitoes.” (4)

The Serene Foundation’s grand opening was held on Halloween, with teenagers invited to join a “healing circle” at the mansion.
Pryor cultivated a new, kookier image and excitedly courted the small amount of media attention his return to Satanism attracted. He took to wearing leopard-print robes and colourful Satanic vestments embroidered with crosses.

Though he boasted of commanding $20,000 per public appearance as an evangelist, the truth was much sadder. The money he had earned with Jubilee Christian Center and Christian Gladiator Ministries was mostly gone by the end of the 1998. He could no longer afford the rent on the Bewitched mansion and had to relocate his temple of healing to a jumble of ramshackle buildings on Vine Hill Road, optimistically named Happy Valley Estates. He tried to establish a halfway rehab house for teens, and held healing services on a cement “healing table” in the yard of the Happy Valley mansion. Various priests, priestesses, and spiritual seekers found their way to the Foundation to take shrooms and grab some enlightenment, but it never drew the kind of attention or funds Pryor seemed to crave.
His spirituality seemed to consist of a melange of Satanism, Native American traditions, and Wicca. He made his teenage stepdaughter a “high priestess”. In short, he was probably the only person in this series to have a real life every bit as weird as his fantasy life.

And now things get just a little stranger. According to an obituary published by the Christian magazine Charisma in 2009, Pryor resumed Christian preaching. After moving to Carson City, Nevada, in the late ’90s, he and Renee founded a Christian ministry called Peculiar Nation, and Pryor preached occasionally at churches and Christian events until the time of his death.
It’s quite possible that Peculiar Nation was a Pagan or Satanic effort that Charisma mistook for a Christian ministry (the author doesn’t even mention Pryor’s defection from the church), but given Pryor’s erratic nature, I wouldn’t be shocked if he tried to return to the fold.

And stranger still, Pryor reinvented himself as a pop artist.
Now, instead of being a teen prostitute and a wicked Satanist during his New York years, he was an assistant to Andy Warhol at the Factory, studied advertising and design at New York University’s Center for the Media Arts and worked as an illustrator at Dentsu Advertising. He later earned a degree from the California College of Fine art and pioneered what he called the “neobyzentine-pop” [sic] art style.
Needless to say, not one of these things actually happened. And the artist’s bio, apparently written by Pryor himself, sheds a very bright light on his years as a witch/former witch/former former witch: “Both classically trained and self taught, Mr. Pryor’s work has become very successful and his ‘antics’ & ‘episodes’ have become fodder for many national and international news stories both in print and on air.”

What Was Eric Pryor, Exactly?

A witch? A Satanist? A Christian pretending to be a former Satanist? A Former Satanist pretending to be a Christian? An attention whore? A performance artist? A very confused man?

Damned if I know.

It’s quite possible that Pryor’s 1990 conversion was a PR stunt. In addition to the statements made by Pagans he knew (see below) and the statement in his artist’s bio, the Primetime Live investigation discovered that Larry Lea’s ministry gave Pryor cash after his conversion.
What is obvious is that despite all his alleged instruction from prominent East Coast Wiccans, Pryor had an incredibly weak understanding of Paganism, Satanism, and the occult. In a video presentation produced by Jubilee Christian Center shortly after his conversion, From Pagan to Pentacost, Pryor referred to a paperback copy of the Simon Necronomicon as an ancient and evil tome. He called temples “covendoms” and Pagan grottoes “groves”. He declared that only Wiccans can become Satanists (false), said Hitler was an OTO and Golden Dawn member (false), and performed an exorcism (something Pagans and Satanists generally don’t do; they seldom believe in literal demons).

Since evangelical Christians tend to embrace former witches and ex-Satanists without any sort of background checks, sorting out the facts and factoids of Pryor’s many claims fell to the Pagan community. Investigations were undertaken by BAPA (to which Pryor had belonged only briefly, never serving on the board), Covenant of the Goddess, and Kerr Cuhulain. Their findings revealed that Pryor may have associated with at least one Satanist in New York (a guy named Pete Colon), but his stellar Wiccan credentials were b.s.:

  • Pryor did meet Herman Slater as a youth, but he was 17, not 12. This would have been around 1977, the exact same time Pryor was supposedly born again. If that date is correct, Pryor could not possibly have helped Slater compile A Book of Pagan Rituals. Slater vaguely recalled that Lady Rhea, his high priestess, may have initiated Eric into the Welsh tradition.
  • Carol Bulzone never met Pryor. And as a participant in all the initiation rituals done by Lady Rhea since 1975, she was certain Lady Rhea never initiated Pryor.
  • Lady Sabrina said she never heard of Pryor, and could find no record of Pryor taking the correspondence course offered by Our Lady of Enchantment.
  • Gavin and Yvonne Frost didn’t know Pryor, have no record of him as one of their mail order students, and did not ordain him.
  • Rolla Nordic also said she had never met Pryor, and couldn’t have initiated him into a Gardnerian tradition because she was a practitioner of the Welsh tradition. In January 1991, after Pryor’s conversion to Christianity, he sent Rolla Nordic an initiation certificate he created himself, asking Nordic to sign it. It stated Pryor was initiated by Nordic in 1977. Clearly, he was hoping Nordic would sign the thing without question. She didn’t.
  • Laurie Cabot stated she did not know Pryor, and he had no involvement with her Witches’ League for Public Awareness.
  • In the early ’80s, Kenny and Tzipora Klein gave Pryor and his first wife a place to shower when they were homeless in New York, and that was all. They didn’t work together. In September 1990, Kenny and Tzipora ran into Eric at a benefit concert in Oakland, California. He told them that he’d just come into large amount of money and was organizing a benefit concert for the homeless for Jubilee Christian Center (there was no such concert). He also mentioned he was organizing the demonstration against Larry Lea. Now that’s odd. By all accounts, Eric had no affiliation with Jubilee prior to the Lea protest. This lends some support to the theory that the entire Lea affair was a mock-protest, designed to hype Lea’s crusade and introduce a Satanist-turned-Christian to Jubilee (as we have seen, evangelical and Pentacostal churches love to have their own in-house former Satanists). Kerr Cuhulain learned from the Kleins that Larry Lea may have been the chaplain of the Texas prison where Pryor served his sentence for armed robbery, and speculates the two men could have met at that time. Eric’s attempt to establish Wiccan credentials for himself after becoming a Christian also hints at something funky about his dramatic conversion. Is it possible that Larry Lea persuaded a prison inmate to stage a mock-protest and a mock-conversion? Or did Pryor, knowing about Lea from his time in Texas, simply decide to protest his presence in a city that is, for the most part, friendly to gays and Pagans? We’ll probably never know. (4)

Eric’s account of his childhood may be more legit than his Wiccan credentials. An uncle told the Wiccan researchers that Eric left home at the age of 14 and became a prostitute, developing drug and alcohol problems. In California, he finally sought psychiatric and medical treatment for his substance abuse issues. After being born again, however, he went off his meds and discontinued therapy, falling back into his old patterns of drinking, drugs, and violent behaviour.

On June 7, 2009, Pryor was hit by a truck while crossing a street in Carson City, Nevada, and died of his injuries.

Sources:

1. 6500 Christians Attend S.F. ‘Exorcism‘” by Don Lattin and David Tuller. San Francisco Chronicle. November 1, 1990.
2. Primetime Live report “The Apple of God’s Eye.” Broadcast November 21, 1991. (available on YouTube)
3.Reborn Again?” by Dave O’Brien. San Jose Mercury News. December 14, 1991.
4. “Eric Pryor” by Kerr Cuhulain @ Witchvox
5. Prophet Seeking” by Bob Hansen. 1996 Metro article @ Metroactive.com.
6. Transcript of testimony given by Eric Pryor at Victory in Jesus Church in Denver, Colorado, on February 4, 1991
7.
The Witch Who Switched Back” by Traci Hukill. October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro @ Metroactive.com.

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

The Prodigal Witch Part V: Irene Park, Another Witch Who Switched


The late Irene Park is unique among the Christian converts in this series because she claimed to have been a witch for four decades, over twice as long as Doreen Irvine, before becoming a Christian minister. Her story is nearly identical to Irvine’s in most key aspects, but it is far more bizarre and disturbing. You see, when Irene was a child of 3 she had an imaginary playmate. At least, she thought she did. This playmate was actually very real, and he was a demon.
He led her into Satanism, sexual abuse, “perversion” (lesbianism), and heroin addiction.
She became the “High Wicked Witch of Florida”. She offered blood sacrifices to the Devil. She smuggled and sold drugs.
Then she was saved, and branded herself “the most evil woman in the world” and “the witch that switched”.

Follow the Evil Brick Road

Born in 1924 to an itinerant laborer and his wife, Irene had a hard life. At the age of 3 she witnessed police officers beating her father. Filled with rage, she sat beneath a tree to brood. That’s when a strange man approached her and introduced himself as her new imaginary friend, Red Horse. He promptly took her to a nearby house to take part in her first Satanic orgy.

Red Horse sounds like a flesh-and-blood sexual predator, but Irene insisted she was the only person who could see him. Not even the other orgy participants were aware of his existence. They simply accepted a toddler wandering into their sex parties on a regular basis, because that (according to “former Satanists”) is the kind of thing that Satanists do.

The story Irene later gave to her stepson, Jeff Park, was a bit different. As he told Spy magazine in 1989, her demonic friend was named Indian Joe and she met him at the age of 5. By accepting his friendship, Jeff said, his stepmother unwittingly made a pact with the Devil. Let’s just ignore the racist overtones, here, because frankly there’s little to be gained from overanalyzing something so profoundly weird.


When she was a bit older, a witch in Lake Wales, Florida, began giving Irene witchcraft lessons in a local cemetery (Satanists and witches love to hang out in cemeteries). This unnamed teacher rubbed foul unguents on the girl’s body, chanted incantations, mixed up magical potions, and summoned demons. Little Irene was determined to learn as much black magic as she could, so she could get even with the cops who beat her daddy. As she tells it, her magical revenge campaign was mostly successful; several of the cops, and even members of their families, died terrible deaths. She even boasted to Spy magazineafter becoming a Christian – that the law couldn’t pin these deaths on her. You would think that if a faithful Christian felt responsible for several deaths, she would turn herself in to police, or at least express some serious remorse.

At 14 Irene ran away from home. This echoes the story of Doreen Irvine, who ran away at 13.
Irene ended up in Tampa and fell in with a band of gypsies who taught her “mind control using a crystal ball”, whatever the hell that means. Crystal balls are using for scrying, not for gaining psychic influence over others.
Just like Irvine, Irene Park turned to prostitution and heroin abuse. She also became a thief, smuggler, and drug dealer. She joined a witch coven. Like Doreen Irvine’s cult of “black witches”, these people focused more energy on defiling and mocking Christianity than on their own beliefs and rituals, which is unusual in the extreme. This would be like a Catholic spending 99% of his time bitching about witches and only 1% of his time going to Mass and confession. It just doesn’t compute
Irene told pastor John Osteen that when she was practicing witchcraft she would take blood from a sacrificed chicken, use a syringe to empty the contents of a gel capsule, then fill the capsule with blood. On Sundays, she would go to a Catholic church in Key West and stand up during the service, squeezing the capsule in her hand until it burst. Believing she was a stigmatic, some of the Catholics would “bow and worship her”.

As an adult, Irene divorced three times. She apparently didn’t have any children of her own, but she claims she carried on the tradition of inducting children into the occult by adopting an Indian orphan named Richard in 1956 and training him to practice “voodoo” and witchcraft. A few years later she adopted a little girl she called Hope.

Despite her alleged devotion to occult perversion, Park realized at some level that Red Horse’s Satanic brand of pedophilia wasn’t so great, and tried to keep Hope out of his clutches. Sadly, she didn’t succeed. She later learned that Red Horse had “seduced” Hope when she was very young.

That protective, motherly impulse didn’t last long. In 1960, Park purchased a Tampa bar and forced 2-year-old Hope to become a “go-go dancer”. Apparently, no one intervened or alerted the authorities. Irene herself never reported her daughter’s molestation. Maybe even she realized that telling police your daughter has been molested by your imaginary friend will win you a ticket to the state mental hospital.

I think it’s safe to assume that Red Horse or Indian Joe was a figment of Irene Park’s very active imagination, or perhaps the product of a troubled mind. But was Park really a witch?
I doubt it. Park betrays her ignorance of the occult again and again. She conflates witchcraft with Satanism, and Satanism with “voodoo”. Park’s teachings on Halloween are eerily similar to the nonsense spewed by John Todd, with a few weird variations: Each October 31, Irish Druids went door to door wearing grotesque masks, collecting offerings for Satan (rather than sacrificial victims, as Todd said). They carried pointed walking sticks known as “leprechaun staffs” or “fairies’ wands”, which brings to mind the “elfin fire” mentioned by Todd. If an offering was not to their liking, the Druids would castrate the man of the house with a walking stick. The history of Halloween as told by “former Satanists” is mostly fantasy (for a more accurate view of how Halloween began and what it means to Pagans today, check out this guest post by Schwarherz of the Heathen Ramblings blog).
At some point, Irene was christened the “High Wicked Witch” of Florida, a nonsensical title that doesn’t exist in any of the pagan, Wiccan, or Satanic traditions of the 20th century. If Park belonged to any coven, it was a small and highly idiosyncratic one that has left no mark on history.

From Wicked Witch to Reverend

Just like Doreen Irvine, Irene suffered severe, unspecified maladies that brought her to the brink of death, supposedly caused by her heavy drug use, drinking, and sexual promiscuity. Around 1970, she was admitted to Tampa General as a “vegetable”, and doctors informed her she would certainly be dead soon.
Irene checked herself out of the hospital and went home to die. But she didn’t die. Two Christian women who were looking after her obeyed God’s injunction to pray over her and fast for 40 days.( It is extremely dangerous – even idiotic – to fast for this length of time. I don’t care who tells you to do it: DON’T.)
Fortunately, the women – if they existed – didn’t die. And Park was spontaneously filled with the love and healing power of Jesus. The Wicked Witch of Florida became a born again Christian.

Her fourth and final marriage to a man she called “Pappa” (Jim Park) lasted until his death in 1986.
Though never ordained as a minister, Irene established herself as a preacher in the Tampa area and founded Christ’s Deliverance Ministries, Inc. She called herself a reverend.
CDM sold small pamphlets on the dangers and evils of the occult, Halloween, fantasy role-playing games, etc.

In 1980 Park published her memoir, The Witch That Switched. It is still available from Christ Deliverance Ministries, an online ministry started by Herb Pohlmeyer to spread Park’s work. His unintentionally hilarious website contains a bio of Park with this description of her legacy: “Irene knew that the enemy of our faith will use any means possible to deceive those that are enticed to learn about any mystical powers, through board games, roll playing, or witchcraft.

Roll-playing: It’s just wrong

Irene sometimes preached at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, headed by the late John Osteen (father of Lakewood’s current pastor, Joel Osteen). This was a coveted venue for any preacher, and she was not above playing dirty to knock out the competition. When Kenneth Copeland introduced a stigmatic named Lucy Rael to Lakewood, she became a wildly popular attraction at the church. Park immediately denounced her as a fraud, telling Osteen how she used to fake stigmata herself.
Osteen brushed her aside, so Irene rented a conference room near his church and invited his parishioners to attend a sermon about Lucy Rael’s fakery.

Now don’t get me wrong; Lucy Rael was probably a fraud. She manifested “holy feathers” and diamonds, and performed other common magic tricks that have been used by fraudulent mediums and gurus the world over for generations. But Park was clearly acting out of jealousy. Here we have a fake Satanic witch trying to ruin the reputation of a (possibly) fake stigmatic. Just like Mike Warnke speaking out against John Todd before he himself was exposed as a liar.

Park wasn’t above spreading rumours and falsehoods that served her purpose, as well. She actively propagated the legend that Sybil Leek, the world’s best-known witch (and somewhat of a fraud in her own right) had been converted to Christianity on her deathbed. There is no evidence that such a thing occurred.

Later in life, Park branched into conspiracy theories. For instance, she speculated that Pat Robertson’s ’88 presidential campaign was thwarted by a black magician in the George H.W. Bush camp.

Park died in 2007. The fate of her two adopted children, Richard and Hope, is unknown. There is, of course, a strong possibility that they were as phantasmal as Red Horse/Indian Joe.

Irene’s Legacy

Irene Park’s books and pamphlets are still widely disseminated among certain Christians, and her misinformation about the origins of Halloween is frequently cited by anti-Halloween preachers like Pastor David L. Brown.
Her testimony added more “evidence” to the growing fundamentalist belief that all forms of occultism lead to depravity, criminal behaviour, drug addiction, and even child molestation. The latter issue would soon become very prominent in the stories told by “former Satanists” and their alleged victims.

The same year The Witch That Switched was published, an imaginary friend made an appearance in the first account of Satanic ritual abuse, Michelle Remembers. Michelle Smith, in the course of therapy with the late Dr. Lawrence Pazder, vividly “recalled” Satanists murdering and dismembering her imaginary playmate. Despite this and other implausibilities in the book, Michelle Remembers was embraced by many as an accurate account of modern Satanism. Irene Park’s story helped pave the way for it.

The Man Who Slew Leviathan in a Hotel Bathtub


And the other morons who slew innocent children

Today my brother brought to my attention a site called Fundies Say the Darndest Things, which – as you can guess – is a compendium of quotes culled from Christian fundamentalist forums, blogs, and whatnot. I normally avoid this kind of thing. I’ve had many fundie friends over the years, and I’ve had quite my fill of being told things like:

  • Putrefying basking shark corpses are actually plesiosaurs.
  • Jesus led So-and-So to a sale at Kohl’s because he wanted her to have a nicer coat.
  • I’ll go to hell if I don’t stop listening to the Beatles.

After years of hearing this sort of malarkey, I thought I was far beyond being troubled, annoyed, or even amused by the loopy notions that religious extremists of the evangelical/Pentacostal/charismatic variety can get into their heads.

But I was so wrong.

The #1 rated quote on Fundies Say the Darndest Things comes from an Illinois plumber who goes by the screen name “nautical999”. It’s a story posted to the Ministering Deliverance forum, of which Nautical is actually a moderator, in August 1999.
Basically, Nautical and his wife were chit-chatting with an angel at a fast food joint while on vacation. We’re not told if this angel had a fleshly form, or if they were just talking to an empty seat, or what. I guess it doesn’t really matter once you reach this level of WTFery.
Anyway, the spirit of Leviathan showed up to join the party.
In the Bible, Leviathan is an unspecified aquatic beast that defies capture. In Job 41, God tells Job, “Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse him.” In other passages, Leviathan is a many-headed snake or serpent. Explanations of just what this creature might have been range from crocodiles and hippos to plesiosaurs and giant octopi, but aside from the literal animal in Job, the Leviathan references in the Bible all seem to be metaphors for a powerful foe, like the seven-headed beast of Revelations.

Whatever Leviathan is, Mr. Nautical decided to kick its ass. He asked the McAngel to bring the spirit to a “predestinated” location. Specifically, his hotel room.
The angel and a companion obliged. For half an hour, Nautical engaged in sword battle with the spirit of Leviathan in his hotel room bathroom, an exhausting but highly gratifying experience that he saw fit to share with his community of demon-fighters.

The Leviathan-in-the-bathtub tale is weird enough, but the rest of the forum thread is equally absurd and far more disturbing. Commenters exchange information about various snake demons they have expelled, blame ADD/ADHD on demons, and inform a confused young woman that “deaf and dumb” demons can cause autism. On another Ministering Deliverance thread, Mr. Nautical tells us that all disease originates from sin, and “Elijah2” tells us that his brother’s 9-month-old child has autism because a cell phone “cooked his brain” (he goes on to explain that while not all diseases are the result of the sufferer being “demonised”, many childhood conditions like autism can be caused by “masonic spirits” and other demons).

Now my concern here is not that people believe this kind of hooey. Stupidity is a right, not a privilege. Sometimes it’s even unavoidable. But I am very, very concerned that this particular community of superstitious, scientifically illiterate folks is engaged in casting out demons (“deliverance” is the fundie term for exorcism). Not only are they teaching their children that evil spirits cause illness, they’re probably performing improvised deliverance rites on “demonised” children. Without proper training and guidance, such DIY exorcisms can be a highly dangerous undertaking. Take a look at this (short) list of the children who have died during unsupervised exorcisms:

  • Guyana, 2005: 15-year-old Roger Bosse was severely beaten for three days, then crucified, by members of the Celestial Church of Christ. Roger’s mother believed the boy’s epilepsy was caused by demons.
  • Wisconsin, 2003: 8-year-old Terrance Cottrell, Jr. was suffocated to death in an unlicensed storefront church by Ray Hemphill, a high school janitor who had recently been ordained as an evangelical minister. In accordance with James 5: 14-16, Hemphill and several church members, including Terrance’s mom, were attempting to exorcise the demons that supposedly caused Terrance’s autism. Hemphill pinned the boy to the floor with his knee while a grown woman laid on top of his chest. To their great surprise, Terrance couldn’t breathe. Under Wisconsin law, ministers and caregivers cannot be prosecuted for an injury or death resulting from “treatment by spiritual means through prayer”, so Hemphill was charged only with child abuse. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
  • Ontario, 1995: 2-year-old Kira Canhoto died of water intoxication after her parents and grandmother forced her to drink massive quantities of water. They were attempting to expel demons from the toddler.
  • New Zealand, 1994: Like Terrance Cottrell, 12-year-old Dane Gibson was restrained during an exorcism, beaten on the head with a brick, and suffocated to death. His parents were in the grips of religious mania and had been torturing their three children for several days.

I would advise Nautical999 and his cohorts to read their Bibles more carefully before proceeding with any more deliverances or bathtub battles. Jesus and his followers expelled demons from people without actually touching them, and did not engage with spirits or demons unless it was absolutely necessary. Even within your own belief system, you guys are way out of line.
Also, please learn to spell “Leviathan”.