Fake Teens Part VII: The Messiah

Before moving on to 2011, I have one last fake teen tale for you. I’ve saved the most unsettling one for last, probably because I don’t even like thinking about it. Please proceed with caution.

Place: Kurim, Czech Republic
Time: May 10, 2007

In some ways, Moravia is the perfect setting for a tale of Gothic horror. The ancient cities of the South Moravian Region are still dominated by the dark architecture of the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries. In Brno, not far from Kurim, the Gothic Revival spires of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul pierce the sky like black daggers, and icons representing the legendary beast that once terrorized the city loom everywhere.

But the South Moravian Region is also modern and ambitious, with glassy business districts and stunning functionalist architecture like Brno’s Exhibition Centre. City-dwellers are predominantly middle-class, and the crime rates are respectably low. All in all, today’s Moravia is not a place you would expect to find the macabre.

In a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Kurim, a man installed a CCTV baby monitor to keep an eye on his sleeping newborn son. These devices sometimes snag signals from other monitors nearby, but the new father was certainly not prepared for what he saw. Instead of his child’s crib, another image appeared on the screen: A small boy, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, huddled on a cement floor in a confined space. He was nude, dirty, and bound.

Police conducted a door-to-door search to find this little boy. Most neighborhood residents were cooperative, even helpful. Then officers reached a cheerful yellow house with a red roof, occupied by two attractive sisters. Klara Mauerova, a 31-year-old blonde somewhat resembling Renee Zellweger, was a single mother of three children. Her dark-haired sister, 33-year-old Katerina Mauerova, lived with her.

The Mauerova sisters allowed police, led by officer Miroslav Gregor, to search their home, but vehemently balked at opening a locked closet door. The investigators summoned firemen to bust the lock. In a cramped space, they found the boy: Klara’s younger son, 8-year-old Ondrej. Trapped in the windowless space in his own excrement and vomit, the boy was suffering dehydration.

Needless to say, Klara was arrested and all three of her children were immediately taken into custody.
was two years older than Ondrej. The boys told police and social workers that their mother and their Aunt Katerina had been abusing them since the previous July. Abuse isn’t really the right word, though. Jakob and Ondrej had been tortured. Klara and Katerina sexually abused them, beat them with belts, confined them in dog cages, burned them with cigarettes, chained them to furniture, dunked their heads underwater until they thought they would drown, and locked them in closets without food or clothing. The boys had also been forced to cut themselves with knives, and Ondrej’s skin had been sliced off in strips. The adults then consumed his raw flesh.
The two boys insisted they had deserved to be punished for bad behaviour, and anxiously protected their abusers. As it turned out, their mother and aunt had not been the only adults involved.
The only child in the household who escaped this malevolence was 13-year-old Anicka, or Anna, a tiny, shy girl who seemed very young for her age. Her owl-eyed face was dominated by enormous granny glasses, and she clutched a teddy bear as officers questioned her. In the only known photo of the entire family, taken on a canoe trip, Anna looks down at her feet instead of at the camera while a smiling Klara hugs her tightly. She seemed so socially inept that Officer Gregor referred to her in his report as a “wild girl”.
But it turned out that Anicka wasn’t Klara’s natural child. The young mother explained that Anicka had been abandoned on her late grandmother’s doorstep by drug addicts as an infant. After her grandmother’s death, Klara raised the child her as her own. She had legally adopted the girl just two months earlier.
The three Mauerova children were placed in a children’s home.

Disturbingly, Katerina Mauerova was employed by a youth centre called Paprsek. And Klara has a university degree in pedagogy.

The abuse seemed incomprehensible – the Mauerovas had no known history of violence or child abuse – but investigators soon discovered what they believed to be the explanation for it: Katerina belonged to an offshoot of a little-known religious organization known as the Grail Movement.
On May 19, the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta DNES siezed on this connection, sparking lurid media stories about the “Grail Movement cult” and its child-abusing, flesh-eating members.
But Grail Movement members do not eat human flesh, nor do they typically turn their homes into torture chambers. The cult Katerina joined was, at most, a mutant offspring of the Grail Movement. In 2009, the Grail Movement Foundation in the Czech Republic successfully sued Mlada Fronta DNES for libel, forcing the paper to print a retraction.

The case became more troubling and sinister when little Anicka went missing from the Klokanek children’s home. During her short time in care, she had lost a lot of weight and appeared to be more confused and troubled than her little brothers. She told a doctor who examined her that she was actually a boy, which was clearly not the case in any physical sense. She was already developing breasts.

The police were beginning to learn that despite the adoption proceedings, Klara hadn’t really treated the girl like one of her own children. Anicka had never attended school like the boys and had no medical records, which indicated she had lived in seclusion for much – if not all – of her young life. Klara claimed Anicka suffered a “social disorder” that made traditional schooling impossible, but given Klara’s track record… well, she wasn’t the most reliable mother in the Czech Republic, was she?
Police couldn’t locate Anicka’s biological parents, nor were they able to find any documents to confirm her identity. Her father, Viktor Skala, had appeared in court to relinquish his rights to the girl back in March, but there was no proof that he was Anicka’s real father.
Stranger still, neighbors of Klara’s late grandmother couldn’t recall ever seeing a young child around her house.

Klara Mauerova, 2008

A nationwide search for the girl commenced immediately. It seemed almost certain that Klara, and/or one of her cohorts, had abducted Anicka when she was younger. And that someone had abducted her from the children’s home to prevent her from disclosing more of the family’s secrets.
In late May, letters from Anicka were received by President Václav Klaus, a state official, and a national newspaper. The girl begged for clemency for her adoptive mother.

Norway, Winter 2007

Adam Fahrner, the 13-year-old son of Czech theater manager Martin Fahrner, was placed in an emergency youth shelter in Oslo. His teachers and psychologists believed his family, recently emigrated from the Czech Republic, had been abusing him in odd and sadistic ways. He talked of being beaten, burned with cigarettes, and sold into child prostitution by his own father from a young age.
Since his enrollment in the autumn, it had been obvious to staff at the Marienlyst school in Oslo that Adam was troubled in some way. Though his work was decent, he seemed skittish and uneasy all the time. He didn’t socialize much, and flat-out refused to take part in any sports activities.

In mid-December, Adam disappeared from the youth home in Oslo.
Missing child posters went up all over Norway. The boy usually had a shaved head and wore a black watchcap, but if he had run away and didn’t want to be found, he could change his appearance easily.
Fortunately, he didn’t. Adam was spotted in the northern city of Tromsoe, by someone who had glimpsed him on a missing child poster.
He had appeared in Tromsoe immediately after his disappearance, in the company of an adult friend named Michal Riha, and was placed in a youth home there.
Adam was returned to Oslo, where the police somehow learned that the real Adam Fahrner was still in the Czech Republic. This Adam was a 33-year-old woman named Barbora Skrlova, wanted in Kurim for abusing two little boys named Jakub and Ondrej Mauerova.

You see, Barbora Skrlova was also “Anicka“. To my knowledge, she is the only teen imposter to successfully pass as a girl and a boy.

As I mentioned earlier, the Mauerova sisters hadn’t been Ondrej and Jakub’s only abusers. Their other tormentors included their “adopted sister” Barbora Skrlova, Barbora’s 25-year-old brother Jan Skrla, 28-year-old Hana Basova , and 25-year-old Jan Turek. All worked at the Brno youth centre Paprsek with Katerina, and all were reportedly connected to a Grail Movement offshoot led by Barbora’s 75-year-old father, Josef Skrla. The old man had apparently crafted a hiking club into his personal religious group. Because his club was known as “The Ants“, some reports refer to the cult members by the same name.
In 2005, the Mauerova sisters took Barbora into their home. That’s when Barbora began instructing Klara on how to break the will of her sons. She enlisted other members of the cult to assist in this effort, and beginning in July 2006 the group operated its own torture chamber in the little yellow house in Kurim. Barbora and Klara supposedly took orders to “train” the Mauerova children from a mysterious doctor who sent detailed instructions via text messages. We do not know if such a person exists.

What we do know for certain is that there were many “Ants” involved in the Mauerova case. In addition to the elderly Josef Skrla (who has not been charged with any crime in relation to the case), they are: Viktor Skala, a Czech actor who posed as “Anicka’s” father in court during the adoption proceedings; Martin Fahrner and his wife; and Michal Riha, the man who brought “Adam” to Tromsoe.

Martin Farhner and his wife were such loyal members of the group that they agreed to let Barbora impersonate their 13-year-old son, using the boy’s passport to smuggle her into Denmark and then Norway. She was already a fugitive by that time, because in late May one of Katerina’s friends had revealed that little “Anicka” was really a grown woman. Just why cult members helped her pass herself off as a teenager is still unclear. There have been suggestions that Skrla and/or some of his Ants were attempting to present Barbora as a child messiah like Krishnamurti or Sai Baba, to draw more followers. Barbora herself has said she created the Anicka persona as a way to cope with reality, a familiar refrain in the world of fake teens.

Josef Skrla remains a murky but persistent presence in the case. According to one report in the South African Independent, he has gone missing. Though the media and a few anonymous sources have painted him as the unseen puppetmaster of the whole affair, no one actually knows if Skrla himself had any involvement in his children’s bizarre activities in Kurim – or if he even knew about them. It’s possible that Barbora and/or her brother Jan crafted their own little cult in Kurim.

Barbora was returned to the Czech Republic to face fraud charges. On the plane, she clasped a teddy bear and other toys.
To this day, not much is known of this strange little woman. She reportedly studied music at Brno’s Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, and wanted to be a composer. For a time she shared an apartment with Katerina (she may also have worked with her), and feigned being a cancer patient. She had Katerina tell classmates that she had died of leukemia, then resurfaced (with the help of Katerina and others) as a Norwegian orphan named Anna Jervinen. “Anna” first began visiting Klara’s house in 2005, in the company of Katerina. Klara told the Czech magazine Tyden that Anna had some of the characteristics of a feral child at that time; she still drank from baby bottles, and played with baby rattles, though she could converse in three languages (Norwegian, Czech, and English).

Klara claims she was duped into believing Anicka was an abused orphan from Norway, then manipulated into torturing her sons by Anicka, her sister, and that elusive doctor. (She gave investigators the name of a man from Azerbaijan. Neither Czech police nor Interpol could find a person by that name. This brings to mind “Avery” in the Rose Turford/Joyce Stevens case.)
It’s entirely possible that Klara was duped to some extent. Police determined that those text messages originated not from Azerbaijan, but from her sister’s cell phone.
The only problem with Klara’s version of the story is that when “Anicka” was scheduled to appear in court during the adoption proceedings in 2007, the daughter of another cult member (perhaps Viktor Skala) was brought in to play the part.

Barbora Skrlova pled innocence, as well. She said the Mauerova sisters and Hana Basova tortured her just as they did Ondrej and Jakub, and were plotting to sell her and the boys into child sex slavery. They drugged her, beat her, and sexually assaulted her with sharp objects (the latter allegation is particularly unlikely; a physical exam showed Skrlova to be a virgin).
Oddly, she is indignant that Ondrej exaggerated the extent of his abuse. (He actually downplayed it dramatically at first, shielding Barbora and the others.)
What Barbora hasn’t fully explained is just how she came to be adopted, at the age of 33, by a former roommate’s sister. She told the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny she befriended Ondrej and Jakub Mauer at a scout camp. She already knew their aunt Katerina, she said, because they had worked together at a children’s home in Brno.

Some of the faces of Barbora Skrlova

On June 16, 2008, the trial of the six defendants opened at the City Court in Brno. Some of the testimony only deepened the mysteries of the case. For instance, Mauerova family friend Jirí Hlavácek described how, in the autumn of 2005, Klara asked him to pick up Anna at a remote location. Katerina gave Klara directions over the phone as Hlavácek drove. When they arrived at their destination, a wooded area, they discovered Anna with a bag over her head and her wrists bound.
Klara urged Hlavácek not to call the police, saying this would only put the girl in more danger.

Klara, sobbing continuously throughout the proceedings, admitted to the court that she had willfully tortured her own children. But she had been brainwashed by a 13-year-old girl, her sister, and her own cell phone. Not the strongest defense the judges had ever heard, I’m sure.

Katerina’s testimony didn’t clear the waters, either. Looking frazzled and gaunt, she stated simply, “Whatever my sister Klara said yesterday is a lie.” It was Barbora and Klara, she declared, who got out of control.

Jan Turek would admit only to loaning Klara the two dog cages in which her sons were often confined during their year of torture. He didn’t participate in the abuse himself, he insisted, and wasn’t even aware that the cages were being used for such a purpose.

Hana Basova, the most elusive figure in the case next to Josef Skrla, declined to appear in court at all. She denied any wrongdoing.

With the potent evidence of abuse and the weird, contradictory accounts of the defendants, it’s not shocking that all six were found guilty.
Klara was convicted of repeated abuse with severe cruelty, grievous bodily harm and depriving the boys of their freedom, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Katerina received a ten-year sentence for repeated abuse with severe cruelty, grievous bodily harm, depriving the boys of their freedom and giving false testimony.
Barbora was acquitted of fraud charges in relation to her escapades in Norway, but convicted of repeated abuse with severe cruelty. She was sentenced to five years in prison, as was Jan Turek.
Hana Basova and Barbora’s brother Jan received seven years.

Jan Skrla, Barbora’s brother, 2008

Like everyone else, I can only look at the Kurim case and say “WTF?“. But I’m going to venture now into Maybe territory, and propose a possible scenario that could have led Klara (inarguably the most contrite of the abusers) to do the things she did.

In 2005, Klara is presented by her sister with a vulnerable young girl, molested and abused in a Norwegian orphanage to such a degree that she still has some of the traits of an infant. On the other hand, her linguistic abilities show her to be a blazingly intelligent child.
Perhaps she has an air of serenity and innocence about her – a touch of the holy. Katerina and Katerina’s friends are protective of this child, treating her almost like a little idol.

Though they encourage Klara to adopt Anicka into her little family, they begin to disparage her parenting skills. Look how well-behaved Anicka is despite all she has suffered, they point out. And yet your boys are always rough-housing and back-talking and behaving like ruffians.
Being a single parent with insecurities, Klara takes this chiding to heart. She feels she must whip her boys into shape. She devises new, harsher punishments for them, and allows Anicka and her sister to do the same. She accepts the advice of Anicka’s doctor, who obviously cares a great deal for the girl. How many physicians will text-message their patients’ guardian to offer guidance?
This guidance is laden with an aura of the spiritual, even the mystical. Klara senses great holiness in these people surrounding her. They seem to have elevated themselves above the demands of the flesh; they are selfless and serene.
To purify the boys, Klara is told, they must be brought to a state of contrition and submission so that new values can be taught. They must be made to overcome the weaknesses of their flesh so the spirit can be strong.
The Doctor suggests a new regiment of punishment, far harsher than anything Anna and Klara have done. If the boys bicker, talk disrespectfully, or show ingratitude, they will be: Locked in dog cages, deprived of meals, slapped with belts, etc.

Klara, fearing deeply for her boys’ spirits, is grateful for the help. She begins doling out the punishments, and the other adults are kind enough to assist her at every opportunity. With a whole community teaching them, they tell Klara, the boys will know they are loved and cherished even as they suffer. They will come to realize that everyone has made sacrifices for them, and will accept that they must make sacrficies of their own. The ultimate sacrifice, of course, is their own flesh.

When it’s time for Anicka to appear in court to be adopted by Klara, her crippling social phobia incapacitates her. Katerina persuades Klara that it would be best to let another little girl, a friend’s daughter, “stand in” for Anicka so that she doesn’t have to go through the ordeal of appearing before a judge.

By the time Klara realizes that Anicka is older than she is, and that her sister’s friends are lunatics, she’s standing trial for some of the most atrocious child abuse ever seen in the Czech Republic.

This scenario, of course, doesn’t justify a thing. In my opinion, Klara Mauerova and her cohorts got off lightly and should not be permitted within spitting distance of children for the remainder of their messed-up lives.

Fake Teens Part III: Predatory Fake Teens

Our next four fake teens had darker motives than just recapturing their lost youth.

Two-Time Mormon

In 1994, a young Mormon known (by request) only as Jessica was serving her church mission in Santa Monica when she met a sad and bedraggled homeless boy, 15-year-old Scott Davion. He said he had left his home state, New York, to travel the country. Someone in the Dakotas had advised him to go to L.A., he said.
Jessica’s family in had taken in needy people before, as good LDS members are wont to do, so Jessica told her new friend Scott to go to SLC and call on her mother, Charmayne.
Charmayne and her husband became surrogate parents to the boy, enrolling him Cottonwood High. He was an excellent student, as well as a popular one. He dated several girls and went to the prom. He was also baptized into the LDS church. His foster family helped him procure a Social Security card so he could get a job, and in 1998 he got his own apartment and began work at a computer company called Elite Systems. By the middle of 2000 he had worked his way up to the sales floor. He had a steady girlfriend.

This is where Scott’s life went off the rails. Before the end of the year, everyone in his circle of adopted family and friends knew he was really 32-year-old Kenneth Lickiss from Lethbridge, Alberta. He had already been a Mormon long before meeting Jessica; he served his own mission in Poland.
Elite Systems employees had discovered that computers were being sold out of the shop on the sly, and it didn’t take them long to figure out that Scott was the likeliest culprit. As soon as the police caught on, “Scott” convinced his girlfriend to move with him to his parents’ home in Lethbridge. Needless to say, she figured out he was a lot older than 19 and that his name was not Scott Davion. She returned to SLC solo.

Kenneth remained on the run for a year. Then, in 2001, he confessed his entire scam to a co-worker at a tire store in Mason County, Washington. He was hastily extradited back to Utah to face an array of theft and forgery charges, but there were no charges for posing as a teenager for four years.
In the comments section of this post, someone identifying herself as Lickiss’ sister-in-law informs me that Lickiss never worked at a tire store in Mason County. Rather, he turned himself in after spending time with his family in Canada. A Deseret News story of December 8, 2004 states that Lickiss was arrested in Mason County and was “reportedly” employed at a tire store there.

A Sweet Boy

In 2003, 16-year-old Pia Marcelo of Renton, Washington, began chatting online with an 18-year-old boy named Mark Villaneuva. He was sweet. He had soulful dark eyes and pouty lips. He cried over sad songs and seemed a lot more sensitive than your average teenage boy. Maybe that was because he had suffered so much in his short life; his dad had killed himself, his mom died of cancer. In 2005, Pia convinced her mother to let him live with the Marcelo family, and he became like a brother to Pia and her siblings. Everyone teased him about how shy, modest, and awkward he could be. Then they saw a less cuddly side of Mark. He never seemed to repay loans, and even stole some blank checks. Finally, the Marcelos tired of his scamming and turfed him.

In late 2005, a 13-year-old girl in Everett, Washington began dating a cute older boy. He was cool. He liked hip-hop and was a mall rat. He said he was all alone in the world, without a home; his dad killed himself, and his mom died of cancer. So the girl convinced her mother to let him live in their duplex. He shared a room with her younger brother.
The relationship quickly turned violent. Mark was jealous and abusive, hitting or biting his girlfriend on a routine basis. Perhaps to make sure she didn’t spend time with any other guys, he showed up at her middle school every afternoon and waited patiently for her in the office so he could drive her home in his secondhand car.
Mark was charged with fourth-degree domestic assault for biting and punching her, but the charges were dismissed when he agreed to undergo domestic violence treatment.
The young couple had unprotected sex.
In April 2005, when they had been dating for about 18 months, Mark was pulled over by a police officer at a gas station. Sgt. Robert Goetz peered into the car and asked the girl, who was in the passenger seat, why she was with “this woman”.
“That’s my boyfriend,” the 14-year-old replied.

“Mark” was promptly arrested. Not only was he driving on a suspended license, which is why Goetz pulled him over, but he was not actually a 19-year-old boy. He was Lorelei Corpuz, a 29-year-old woman who drifted from household to household, writing bad checks and mooching cash. (She also received handouts from her mother, who was alive and well.)

The Duke

At the start of the 2005-06 school year at Stillwater Area High School in the small town of Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, a strange English kid visited the school several times. He said he was the Fifth Duke of Cleveland, Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, resident of Falkland Castle and personal friend of the royal family. Princess Di used to babysit him. He spoke of hobknobbing with Josh Hartnett and Hilary Duff, and breezily mentioned that he was considering joining the plebes by transferring to Stillwater, presumably from some posh UK boarding school.
You might think think this kid’s Google finger was broken, because Wikipedia clearly states that the Fourth Duke of Cleveland’s titles “went extinct upon his death without issue” in 1891. But skeptical student reporters for Stillwater High’s Pony Express newspaper found that someone had created a Wikipedia page for Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, and that person was Joshua Gardner.
Joshua Gardner, it turned out, was a 22-year-old who had been convicted of criminal sexual conduct with an underage girl two years earlier, and was still on parole.
In jail, Gardner told The Today Show, “Becoming Caspian, I was given respect, and people… don’t look at you in that way that they would look at a sex offender.”
Clearly, Gardner doesn’t have the mental agility to successfully impersonate…well, anyone. The most disturbing aspect of the incident is that Stillwater High staff accepted his story at face value and gave him tours of the school, introducing him to students as a 17-year-old duke. Apparently their Google fingers were broken.

The Bait

One of the most complex and disturbing fake teen cases is that of Neil Rodreick II. Unlike every other “teen” you’ll see in this series, he did not act alone.

In January 2007, staff at Mingus Springs Charter School in Chino Valley, Arizona, were growing deeply alarmed about the transcripts of a new student, 12-year-old Casey Price. On some of the documents provided by his grandfather, Lonnie Stiffler, his name was misspelled “Casy”, and much of the information about his educational background had been fabricated. Though his birth certificiate was supposedly German, it didn’t feature metric measurements. Stiffler had listed his attorney as W.A. Drew Edmondson, then Attorney General of Oklahoma. And he had misspelled the name.
Though Casey spoke and behaved like any other seventh grader, everyone at Mingus Springs thought he looked much older than 12.
Fearing that Casey could be an older, abducted child, the school notified the sheriff’s department. Casey was taken out of class by a deputy.

Casey lived with his grandfather, uncle, and cousin in a three-bedroom trailer home in Chino Valley, where he set up a ramp for skateboarding and rode his bike up and down the street. Before enrolling at Mingus Springs, he attended Imagine Charter School in nearby Surprise for four months, and was expelled for poor attendance. His schoolwork had been mediocre, his manner shy and withdrawn.

Detectives Ross Diskin and Tom Buvik of the Chino Valley Police promptly paid a visit to the trailer home on Del Rio Drive, accompanied by Yavapai sheriff’s deputies. Cousin Brian, Uncle Robert, and Grandpa Lonnie were all at home, watching porn together.
Though the men lived in modest circumstances, Casey’s room was stocked with a flat-screen TV, DVD player, game system, and personal computer. He looked like one spoiled kid.
Lonnie Stiffler explained he had legal custody of his youngest grandson, Casey. His oldest grandson, Brian, was 34. Robert Snow was his nephew. He awkwardly insisted that the documents he handed over to the school were authentic, even when the investigators pointed out misspellings and the names of nonexistent people.
“Uncle Robert”, 43, gave confused and confusing answers to questions. He said he wasn’t sure if he ever had custody of his nephew Casey or not. “I have been told that I have and I’ve also seen paperwork that looks just like that indicating that I supposedly had custody of him,” he told the investigators, who were already aware Snow was an unregistered sex offender. They were planning to arrest him.
Snow explained, in a vague and rambling manner, that Linda Price (living in Germany) had handed custody of her son over to the family to protect him from a “large group of sexual predators”, a “special group of people” who had apparently been pursuing Casey since he was a young child. For this reason, Casey had been enrolled at one Arizona school under the name “Casey Rodreick”.
The story gradually meandered into even weirder territory. Snow admitted that he and Lonnie Stiffler weren’t related to the boy at all. They had met Casey online while Casey and Linda were living in Oklahoma, and offered to take care of him when Linda decided to move back to Germany two years earlier. The custody changeover had been facilitated, bizarrely, by a U.S. Marshall named Mike Masters, described by Snow as “a friend of Casey”. Stiffler and Snow never met Linda or Casey’s brothers.
Stiffler then admitted Casey was not his grandson. He was, indeed, an Oklahoma boy he and Robert Snow had met online, and Linda Price had given him permission to visit his “friends” in Arizona.
Ultimately, both Snow and Stiffler confessed to committing sexual acts with 12-year-old Casey.

“Cousin Brian’s” story was much different. He claimed he began taking care of Casey three or four years earlier, while he was attending college in Oklahoma. The boy’s father, Neil Rodreick, had abandoned him. In 2004, Casey ran away from their home in El Mirage to live with Stiffler and Snow. Brian followed.
Brian Nellis, too, was an unregistered sex offender, convicted of molesting a 7-year-old, but denied molesting Casey.

Meanwhile, Casey confided to a deputy he felt uncomfortable around Snow because “he acts gay around me”. He feared that Robert was taking advantage of him sexually while he was asleep. Child Protective Services was summoned to the trailer.
That’s when Brian Nellis blurted out that Casey wasn’t a boy at all – he was a 29-year-old man.

It sounded like the stupidest story yet, but it was true. The investigators learned that “Casey Price” was Neil Rodreick II, a 29-year-old ex-con from Oklahoma. He was released from prison in 2002, having served 7 years of a 10-year sentence for making lewd and indecent proposals to two 6-year-old boys when he was 18.

Rodreick lived rootlessly after his release, drifting from Oklahoma to his an aunt’s home in California. She kicked him out after just two months because, she said, he used her computer to access child porn. He returned to Oklahoma and became roomies with another ex-con a few years older than himself, Brian Nellis. Nellis had done 3 years for lewd molestation. The two pedophiles allegedly worked as a team to observe and attract little boys, lurking around playgrounds and schools in their spare time. At some point, one or both men came up with the idea of having the youthful-looking Neil, then in his mid-20s, pose as a kid.
Rodreick first tested this out at a church in El Reno, Oklahoma, pretending to be a 12-year-old named Casey. The ruse was successful; he befriended at least two young boys, spending the night at one child’s house and taking a trip to the Grand Canyon with an 11-year-old under the supervision of his “Uncle Brian”. He allegedly molested this boy.

In 2005, the duo came under investigation by El Reno police when their computer was repossessed and the new owner found a huge cache of child pornography on the hard drive; 150 videos and over 1,000 images were recovered.
By the time Lieutenant Van Gillock learned about the church imposture, Rodreick and Nellis were already on the road. They had convinced Lonnie Stiffler to take them in. Rodreick had been communicating online with Stiffler and his companion, Robert Snow, for a couple of years. They had been trolling for young boys on the ‘Net, and Rodreick presented himself to them as a preteen boy. Stiffler sent money to Rodreick on several occasions.

To this day, it isn’t known if Stiffler and Snow realized the “boy” they lured to Arizona with his “cousin Brian” was really a grown man, or if they were fully aware of his age and planned to use him as bait to lure actual kids. Though Stiffler had no record of sex offenses, Snow had one conviction in California.
Rodreick and Nellis set up housekeeping with the two older men, and they all agreed to pose as a family. Neil entered into a sexual threesome with Stiffler and Snow.
Shortly after their arrival, Neil enrolled as Casey Price at the Shelby School in Payson. He was a student there for 21 days. He tried to enter a Prescott Valley school before being enrolled at Imagine Charter School by an “uncle”. He would later be charged with assaulting one girl at this school.
After his expulsion, someone made the fateful decision to enroll him in the Chino Valley school, where his smooth face didn’t pass muster and his wonky transcripts immediately raised suspicions.

When they were arrested, Stiffler and Snow both expressed outrage and shock that Neil wasn’t really a kid. They professed to believe he was a parentless boy.

Little is known of Neil Rodreick’s real background. His California aunt has told reporters he was molested as a child, and his mother died when he was 14.

All four men were arrested and slapped with numerous charges, including fraud and failing to register as sex offenders. Child porn was found in the house they shared.
Rodreick pled guilty to child exploitation, assault, failure to register as a sexual offender, and fraud. Last year, he received the maximum sentence of 70.5 years. Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg commented that he should have been given an even longer one.

Hoaxes From Space: The Montauk Project

Continued from The Philadelphia Experiment Part II: Along Came Bielek

Meet Me in Montauk

When Al Bielek was recruited into the Montauk Project (then called the Phoenix Project) in the ’50s, it had just been transferred from the Navy to the Air Force and divided into two separate, but loosely connected, programs: Electromagnetic mind control experiments, and time travel experiments. A third, unofficial, program consisted of basically cooking human guinea pigs with radar beams of 100 million watts. A few planes were accidentally shot down during these experiments, so in the ’70s air traffic was restricted over the Montauk base.

Bielek and Duncan Cameron were both aware of the murders of test subjects, but at the time they did nothing to stop them or alert the public to what was happening at Montauk. Just one of the many flaws in their story. To be true heroes (or even just whistleblowers), they would’ve had to tell these horrifying tales decades earlier than they actually did. The way they tell it, it seems like they were every bit as evil as they would like us to believe John Von Neumann and the military officers in charge of the project were.

The civilian head of the project was still John von Neumann, who faked his death in 1957. Bielek claims he is the “Dr. Reinhard” in Moore and Berlitz’s book about the Philly Experiment. He was in charge of the Phoenix Project until 1977, when a split personality he’d developed became a problem. A Dr. Herman C. Unterman took over. Von Neumann’s alter ego, Howard E. Decker, moved to New York and became a surplus electronics dealer.

The Montauk Boys

In the ’70s, Bielek was put in charge of the young men and boys involved in the Montauk Project, directing all the operations of the mind control program during his evening shift. During the day, he conducted ELF research in Los Angeles. In the early ’80s, he gave presentations on his work at the annual conferences of the U.S. Psychotronics Association, and claims he shared research results with William Bice, the “first person to detect the Russian Woodpecker signal“. (As this signal was picked up by amateur radio operators in numerous locations, I seriously doubt that anyone knows who noticed it first.)

It’s worth noting that ELF research was very popular among mentally disturbed, science-minded conspiracy theorists in the ’70s. Among them were Philip K. Dick and Ira Einhorn, who still insists the FBI framed him for the murder of his girlfriend because he knew too much about psychotronic mind control – even though the woman’s putrefying, reeking corpse was found in his bedroom closet after body fluids leaked into the apartment below his.

The Montauk Boys, as the Montauk test subjects are called by Bielek and company, were brought in beginning in the ’60s and housed in a bunker on the base. Most of these boys were blonde and blue-eyed, ranging in age from 10 to 16. Most were street kids or foster children. All were physically, sexually, and emotionally brutalized, to break them down for mental reconditioning (why anyone would publicly claim to be part of a project like this, I do not understand). Using alien technology, the scientists then eradicated the boys’ thoughts and memories and replaced them with “new”, fully indoctrinated minds. Just what they were reconditioned to do is unclear. Some of the boys were also subjected to genetic experiments.

Preston Nichols and Duncan Cameron have explained that part of the Montauk Boys’ new psyches were somehow copied from Duncan’s, so they had to be genetically similar to him (blonde and blue-eyed) in order for the process to work. This makes about as much sense as saying that a wall clock has to look like a grandfather clock in order to keep the correct time.

To date, only one of the Montauk Boys has come forward to discuss the torture and mind control carried out at Montauk, and that man is Stewart Swerdlow. Preston Nichols has claimed to have deprogrammed several survivors, but none of them have publicly discussed the project under their real names. Today, Swerdlow conducts workshops and seminars on the history of covert government mind control.

The Cameron Boys

Throughout the ’70s and most of the ’80s, Duncan Cameron and Al Bielek worked together at Montauk without realizing they had once been half-brothers, or that they had taken part in the Philadelphia Experiment (though Bielek admitted to a fascination with it). Bielek had no inkling that he had been age-regressed and adopted; Cameron had no clue that he was the reincarnation of his own dead brother, also named Duncan, born in Germany in 1917. Cameron says that in 1963, his soul was transplanted into the body it now occupies (which belonged to a child born to his parents in 1951). This “explains” why he is technically far too young to have served on the Eldridge during WWII. I wonder what happened to the soul of the child Duncan Cameron? That part hasn’t been explained. Not that the explanation would make much sense.

The Camerons’ father, Alexander Cameron, came out of retirement after WWII to participate in Project Paperclip (smuggling Nazis into the U.S. and South American countries). Peter Moon (real name Vince Barbarick), who wrote three books about Montauk with Preston Nichols, draws links between Dr. Mengele’s genetic experiments and the Montauk Project. It’s very interesting to note that Peter Moon also co-wrote Ong’s Hat: The Beginning with Joseph Matheny.

Alexander also had some role in training the crew of the Eldridge for the Philly Experiment. He was selected to instruct 33 volunteers at the Coast Guard Academy in Groton, Connecticut. As the story goes, most of these men disappeared, burst into flames, or were driven insane by the experiment.

Bielek possesses a photo that supposedly shows “his” father standing on the deck of the ship with some sailors, the only physical proof he has ever presented in support of his stories. But even Duncan Cameron seems to doubt whether this is really his father. At any rate, in 1939 Alexander pressured his two sons, Edward (born to a mistress in 1916 ) and Duncan (born to Alexander’s wife in 1917), into joining the Navy and becoming part of Project Rainbow. They had the perfect qualifications. Duncan had a physics degree from the University of Edinburgh, and Edward had a Masters from Princeton and a doctorate from Harvard. As with Bob Lazar, the government apparently scrubbed their academic backgrounds, because there is no record of the Cameron brothers at any of these schools.

The Cameron brothers’ first Navy assignment, in early 1940, was to observe the Project Rainbow operations at the Institute for Advanced Study and explain them to Navy and government officials who couldn’t possibly understand them. For most of 1941, they served at sea on the Pennsylvania. On December 5th, they were returning to Pearl Harbor from a short furlough when they were summoned to see Admiral Hal Bowen, chief of the Office of Naval Engineering. He informed them that Pearl Harbor would soon be attacked by Japan, so they were being reassigned to San Francisco. At the start of 1943 they were shipped back to the Institute to resume their observations of Project Rainbow. They crunched some numbers and realized that Tesla’s concerns about “personnel problems” related to invisibility were valid. Reluctantly, Von Neumann tried to avert catastrophe by adding a third generator to the ship. However, it was removed after it arced and put a technician into a coma for four months. Tesla didn’t want to use crew members during the big test, but the Navy wouldn’t budge from its March 1943 deadline. Finally, Tesla secretly sabotaged the equipment and bowed out of the project. Von Neumann took over. T. Townsend Brown, alleged antigravity pioneer, was also on the project at this time, designing the antennas that would be used on the Eldridge. By January 1943, the ship was outfitted with the two generators, the motor drive, the diesel electrical system to power it all, four RF transmitters, the two tower-mounted antennas designed by Brown, and Tesla’s Zero Time Reference Generator. According to Preston Nichols, this was a vastly important piece of equipment. Zero Time Reference is the geocentric centre of our galaxy; everything has to be referenced to it. Though it was ingeniously designed by Tesla, the generator apparently didn’t function as intended, and that’s why many of the sailors ended up deranged. The power on the Eldridge disrupted the sailors’ time references; they had been unmoored from the only reality they had ever known, ripped from their time locks without warning. To combat these and other problems, Von Neumann later developed the first all-electric computer. By 1953 a Dr. Goldston had perfected the new system, and another test with a different ship was fully successful.

On July 22, 1943 the first test with crew aboard was conducted, with a Captain Hangle in charge. At 0900 hours the Cameron brothers threw the switches, and the ship vanished for 15-20 minutes. The sailors on deck were severely nauseated and disoriented afterward, but suffered none of the dramatic effects that would mar the August 12th test. The Navy bigwigs decided that the goal of this test would be radar invisibility only, since optical invisibilty was too risky. Doy.

On August 12th, everything went as planned for the first minute or so. When the Camerons threw the switches, the Eldgridge vanished from radar while remaining visible.

Then there was a flash of blue light, and the Eldridge vanished. The time tunnel to Montauk opened, swallowing up the Camerons and one of the three UFOs that were apparently observing the Philly Experiment. There’s a big fat paradox here, because while a sodden Edward Cameron was chatting with a not-dead John Von Neumann in 1983 Long Island, the exact same man – Alfred Bielek – was obliviously working at his day job in Los Angeles. That evening, he took a secret, magnetic levitation train to Montauk without ever knowing that he had visited the facility earlier in the day. Add this to the other paradoxes that have already piled up. For instance, while Edward Cameron was studying at Harvard, he was also (in the form of Al Bielek) attending high school in New York. Bielek says these paradoxes were explained by the theories of MIT prof Norman or Henry Levinson (the name varies in Bielek’s speeches), but the scientific establishment has ensured that Levinson’s work remains buried and unknown. He supposedly died in 1974. Needless to say, I can’t find a trace of him.

Another invisibility test, sans crew, was conducted in October. It failed utterly. Equipment was missing when the ship reappeared, and the control room had been mysteriously destroyed by fire. In 1948 or ’49, according to Bielek, the military rendered an F-80 invisible, but the pilot vanished in mid-air and the plane crashed with its helpless passenger.

Though he would later insist he had no interest in the paranormal or the unexplained aside from the Philly Experiment, Bielek was already on the scene in the ’50s. He met Ivan Sanderson and confirmed for him the authenticity of some “rod” photos taken by Trevor James Constable. This is extremely interesting, because (as previously mentioned) Sanderson was a good friend of Morris K. Jessup – the man at the centre of the original Philly Experiment hoax.

Back to Montauk

While Nichols and Bielek worked on technical aspects of the Montauk Project, maintaining equipment and supervising the Montauk Boys, Duncan Cameron became the project’s star psychic. The researchers had already learned how to enter human minds, and were eager to use an alien chair that would employ a human-computer interface to transmit messages from one human brain to another. Duncan became the project’s primary sender of telepathic messages, creating a virtual reality scenario in his mind and sending it to a Cray 1 computer. From there, the scenario would be sent to the radio transmitter and beamed to the intended recipient(s). Duncan could virtually recreate any time and place in history, and it could be projected anywhere in the world. Thoughtforms could actually be materialized through this method; cans of beer, which you could really drink, were routinely beamed to the commander’s desk. But the thoughtforms wouldn’t materialize on any reliable schedule, so the techs were put to work on the task of fully mastering time. Soon, they had a functioning time tunnel on the base.

In the ’80s, time travel experiments commenced at Montauk, and Al participated in some of them. Both he and Duncan traveled to Mars on several occasions. With other team members, Al also traveled to a research station set up in 10,000 B.C., to the year 6037, and to several distant planets. On some of these other worlds, researchers collected “light” and “dark” energy in canisters.

But Wait, There’s More!

Everybody knows that stories about invisible ships and time travel and mad scientists faking their own deaths would be boring as hell without some aliens, right? That’s probably why Preston Nichols and Duncan Cameron added a few. Nichols says that in ’75 or ’76, a flying saucer that was not of manmade origin suddenly appeared in the magnetite deposits beneath the Montauk facility, materializing out of nowhere. He assumes it was one of the three saucers glimpsed by Duncan as the Eldridge was sucked into hyperspace; for some reason, it had taken a few decades to fully materialize. Soon, Bielek and Nichols were working alongside aliens. A 7-foot-tall reptoid named “His Highness Draco Something-or-Other” used the office adjacent to Preston’s. He somewhat resembled the Gorn from Star Trek. He liked to sip Drano.
Gray aliens were also running around the base, and they reeked because they excrete through their skin. Project members made a habit of grabbing the ugly little guys and flinging them into the shower, until one enterprising employee came up with the idea of dousing a Gray with Lysol. This is how they learned that Lysol is an intoxicant to Gray aliens; from that point on, the Grays got smashed on the stuff at every opportunity, while His Highness Draco enjoyed his Drano.

The Beginning of the End

On August 12, 1983, the Montauk scientists opened the tunnel between 1943 and 1983. Back in 1943, the Cameron brothers leapt from the deck of the Eldridge in Philadelphia only to end up at Camp Hero in 1983. Duncan recalls seeing three vast UFOs hovering in the vicinity of the wormhole when the ship vanished, and one of these craft slipped into the wormhole along with the Camerons. Years later, in 1975 or ’76, it would spontaneously materialize in the underground facility at Montauk. The aliens had telepathically influenced the scientists to conduct the Philly Experiment and the opening of the Montauk time tunnel on these specific dates so they could enter our world from another dimension. Nichols says the earth’s biocycle makes August 12th a significant date every 20 years, energetically speaking.

Von Neumann and the other Montauk researchers had finally realized they were playing a very dangerous game (never mind torturing young boys, frying homeless people, or subjecting sailors to time travel). They wanted to call the whole thing off, but they couldn’t; the time tunnel they had opened was “locked in” to the equipment on the Eldridge. Someone would have to travel back in time and destroy it, or else the “bubble” that surrounded the ship could expand and swallow up the entire planet. Von Neumann ordered the Cameron brothers to do this, and both men have taken credit for dismantling the equipment with axes – but both insist they did this without the other’s help. At any rate, the equipment was trashed and both projects were shut down (Rainbow temporarily, Montauk permanently). A section of the Montauk facility that had been floating in hyperspace as the result of an experiment spontaneously returned to Long Island, and the Eldridge rematerialized in Philly with its crew deranged or embedded in the ship.

At least, that’s one version of the story. The other version, told by Duncan Cameron and Preston Nichols, is that renegade workers on the Montauk Project (themselves included) had decided to sabotage the project by having Duncan summon a ravenous and angry monster from another dimension while he was seated in the alien chair. This plan worked. The monster, nicknamed “Junior, rampaged through the Montauk facility, terrifying scientists and technicians. The project director ordered a powerdown. Nichols cut wires to the transmitter with an acelatylene torch, but the transmitter kept going. He had to venture into the transmitter building itself to pull more wires. Again, nothing happened. Finally, he made his way to the master controls on the second floor and succeeded in shutting down the transmitter. Junior returned to his own dimension, or to Duncan’s brain, or whatever, and the facility was saved. The project, on the other hand, was promptly shut down. But Bielek and company have hinted that it probably continued, maybe even to this very day, in some other form at some other location.

Back (Foward?) to Philly

After the Philly Experiment, Edward Cameron was assigned to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, then to Camp Hale in Colorado around the same time that Dr. Vannevar Bush was directing the recovery of a crashed UFO at Aztec, New Mexico. (As you may know, the Aztec UFO crash was one of the stupidest and most poorly executed hoaxes in the history of ufology, and it was thoroughly exposed years before Bielek made this statement. But this hasn’t stopped the more credulous ufologists from fixating on it.) Bielek also describes a small alien recovered from a ’49 UFO crash. It had chlorophyll instead of blood, communicated telepathically, and could walk through walls. The military kept him in a Faraday cage for about two years, until he died. This alien gave Von Neumann some tips on how to improve the technology used in the Philly Experiment, and Von Neumann also dipped into metaphysics and the occult in search of help. From his studies he learned that each person has a “time lock” from conception, that we live in a 5-D universe, and that time flows. His findings would be incorporated into the Montauk Project.

By 1947 the Navy apparently had no further use for Edward Cameron. Von Neumann ordered that he be age-regressed to the age of one and placed in the care of Albertina and Arthur Bielek of New York in the year 1928. Meanwhile, Duncan Cameron had returned to the year 1983. The loss of his time lock caused him to age and die within days, despite the Navy’s best efforts to save him. It was up to Al Bielek to convince “his” aging parents to have another child so that Duncan’s soul, stored in a Navy facility, could be transplanted into the child. The new Duncan Cameron was born in 1951. In 1963, the old Duncan’s soul was placed in the new Duncan’s body. Both Cameron brothers lived out their new lives without any conscious awareness of their previous existence. Then, in 1988, the memories of Edward Cameron surfaced in Al Bielek’s mind as he watched The Philadelphia Experiment on HBO.

Bielek and Preston Nichols have a silly story about how the movie came to be made. It was produced by EMI-Thorn, the merger of EMI and Thorn Industries, a maker of scientific instruments established around 1820 and inherited by the Wilson brothers in 1850. This much is factual. But Preston Nichols claims that in July of ’89, the “chief archivist” of EMI-Thorn showed up at his lab unannounced to tell him that the company had been searching for him for a long time. He presented a group photo featuring the Wilson brothers, Aleister Crowley, and Preston Nichols. It was taken in 1890. Apparently, Nichols had been sent back to this year and had told Crowley and his pals all about the wonders of time travel. Then his memory of the trip was erased. It seems someone with EMI-Thorn had recognized Nichols from the photo while he was attending a U.S. Psychotronics Association conference in New York, and knew they had finally found the man Crowley described as “not of this time”. Back in 1890, the archivist explained, Nichols had given the Wilsons all the details of the Philly Experiment. They were recorded and stored away until, in the ’80s, EMI-Thorn decided to turn them into a shitty B movie.

Preston Nichols, whose memories of the Montauk Project were artificially repressed by the military, regained them while working on a time transducer in his personal lab.

Bielek’s handlers must have realized something was up, because Bielek was quietly removed from government contract employment. In ’89 he began giving public lectures on his part in the Philly Experiment. He made a big splash among ufologists with his January 13, 1990 MUFON presentation in Dallas. He may have met Nichols at the February 1989 Psychotronics Association conference in New York, where they both gave presentations unrelated to the Philly Experiment.

The reason the government didn’t try to silence him, Bielek explains, is that he and his “half-brother” Duncan had something of a special, protected status within the Montauk Project. Their bodies were “locked in” with a biorhythm stabilization cycle that would be complete on August 12, 2003 – exactly 60 years after the Philadelphia Experiment. If either man was harmed before that date, time would go all wonky. Or something. This doesn’t explain why the government still hasn’t shown any interest in Bielek and company, of course. They’ve been promoting their tales through lectures, interviews, and books for over 20 years without the slightest impediment, convincing hundreds (perhaps thousands) of very credulous people that the government knows all about telepathy, teleportation, thoughtforms, time travel, total thought control, age regression, soul transference, and at least two species of intelligent extraterrestrial or ultradimensional entities.

Part II: Lingering Questions

Perils of Paranoia: Remember the Alamo

Perhaps you have run across the website Spiritually Smart in your online travels. It was a sprawling and exhaustive archive of Jesuit perfidy, Catholic misdeeds, and general paranoia, established and maintained by a young Long Island native who renounced his Catholic upbringing after reading some Chick tracts and the outrageously bogus stories of Alberto Rivera. Thomas Richards believes that the Holocaust was engineered (not just enabled) by the Vatican, that Alex Jones and other alternative media figures are Jesuit agents (or, as he calls them, “temporal coadjutors”), that Jim Jones was a really nice guy and that Vatican-affiliated government agents colluded with Timothy and Grace Stoen to destroy his beautiful commune, and a lot of other things that really don’t make much sense. Richards is gullible in a big way, but he seems like an earnest, likable person who’s just trying to make the world a better place in his own special way.

So I was surprised to learn that he threw in the towel on Sunday. As he explains in his parting message, Spiritually Smart was established not just to share Christ’s message, nor only to expose the Catholic Church and the Jesuit order, but to defend a minister named Tony Alamo.

You see, Richards believed that the Catholic Church tried to destroy the ministry of Tony Alamo by falsely implicating him as a child molester.

Bernie LaZar Hoffman converted to evangelical Christianity from Judaism in the late ’60s, changed his name to Tony Alamo, and founded Tony Alamo Christian Ministries with his second wife. They created an outreach program for alcoholics, drug addicts, and the homeless.
Based in Hollywood, the couple also launched a line of sequined jean jackets. Alamo also claims he was a top talent agent during his time in California, and has said he possesses a never-released album recorded by the Beatles when Pete Best was still the drummer.

In the ’70s, Susan Alamo became a televangelist, with Tony as her sidekick. Her death in 1982 left an opening for Tony to become a full-time preacher for the first time in his life, and he got off to a shaky start by proclaiming that Susan would be resurrected. Thirteen years later, her lifeless body was still enshrined in his ministry compound, and Susan’s daughter had to sue Alamo to get it back for proper burial. Despite this booboo, Alamo became a successful evangelist. He also married a woman who worked in clothing design and manufacturing and built up his retail clothing business. He re-established himself in Arkansas.

Alamo’s preaching relied heavily on conspiracy theories: depopulation, Reagan as an antichrist figure, the Vatican as a seat of great evil, the government assassination of JFK, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as false flag operations, etc. He also said he and his second wife were swarmed by UFOs while driving near Vegas; he took these to be angelic visitations, another sign of the endtimes. Many of his teachings were published as tracts that Alamo’s followers handed out on street corners.

In the ’80s and ’90s he had a few setbacks relating to his reluctance to pay income tax. His property was siezed, and he served most of 1994 to 1998 in federal prison. In 2006 he told a reporter that the tax evasion charges were totally false, created by a cabal of drug-addicted and sexually immoral church members who resented his rebukes. And Vatican agents, of course.

By 2008, Alamo’s kingdom was restored. He had a small but devoted corps of followers, and a large ministry compound in Fouke, Arkansas. Then local law enforcement began to receive reports of strange behaviour on the part of Tony Alamo: “Marriages” to underage girls, sexual molestation, physical abuse. Federal and state law enforcement agents served a search warrant on the compound in September 2008. Alamo was arrested a week later and charged with violating the Mann Act with two little girls. Later, charges involving four more little girls were added.

Just as he did when charged with income tax evasion, Alamo chalked up the allegations to a complex conspiracy involving those who wanted to silence his godly truth-speaking. Namely, Catholics and the government. Alamo’s website message of July 17th declared, “My trial is government vs. the Bible. The five young women who are falsely testifying against me have all been convinced to do so by the FBI”, which is “against the Bible, Christianity, God, and all Christian churches.” Never mind that a huge percentage of FBI agents are Christians.
Weirdly, Alamo didn’t attempt to deny all the charges against him. Instead, he quibbled over the age of consent, arguing that the Bible says a girl has reached sexual maturity when she begins to menstruate. Nor does the Bible condemn polygamy, he points out.
Way to be innocent, guy.

Another page at the Alamo Ministries website lays out all the reasons why he was framed.

Alamo’s trial began on the 13th of this month and concluded on the 24th, with Alamo being found guilty of all charges. Young women testified about being forced to “marry” the preacher when they were children or teens. One 18-year-old woman described how she was “married” at the age of 8, then sexually assaulted by Alamo from the age of 9 until her escape from the compound in 2006. He was already “married” to a 15-year-old when he took the third-grader as his wife. A 25-year-old woman testified that she “married” Alamo while he was serving his tax-evasion sentence. No parents have been charged in connection to these crimes, though numerous young girls were removed from their families during the investigation. Many of them have not been returned.

It was this testimony that finally convinced Thomas Richards that Tony Alamo wasn’t framed. In his farewell message, he wrote, ” I am embarrassed now that I EVER even mentioned ‘Tony Alamo’ and I’m sorry to all my readers for this… I probably wont even come back to spirituallysmart.com after this. And I gladly suffer the reproach in public for my errors in the past.”

He is at the end of the road that paranoia leads you down; mistrusting everyone except for the people you should trust least, blaming shadowy conspirators for personal failures, enabling deeply troubled people to do the same, and generally wasting your life looking for the bad guys. Far too late, he realized that Tony Alamo’s conspiracy theories were completely untenable smokescreens for his own evil plot: To sexually assault as many little girls as he could.

Ghostbusters Part IV: Ed and Lorraine Warrens’ Other Notable Cases

Dolls, wolves, and perverts. Oh my.

At long last, this is the final post of the psychic detectives/ghostbusters series (you can read the other posts by clicking on Psychic Detectives or Ghostbusters in the sidebar menu). Enjoy!

The Smurl Haunting

The following information comes primarily from The Haunted, a 1988 book written by Scrantonian Herald reporter Robert Curran. The Smurl family and the Warrens collaborated with Curran.

Jack and Janet Smurl were a hard-working, straight-laced young couple just starting out. Both raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, both devoutly Catholic, they had met at a Christmas party for the candy company where they both worked and married just one year later, in 1968. They moved in with Jack’s parents, John and Mary.
Life went smoothly for them until 1972, when the Smurl home was flooded during Hurricane Agnes. The entire family reluctantly relocated to the small town of West Pittston, where the elder Smurls purchased an old duplex at 328-330 Chase Street, a working-class neighorhood full of similar duplexes and single-family homes. The house had been constructed in 1863, but seemed to be in decent shape. John and Mary lived in the 330 half, and sold Jack the other for a fraction of its worth.
Janet was delighted to have her own home at last. She promptly decorated it with statues of the Virgin and chintz curtains. Jack’s touch was added, too; a German Shepherd roamed the yard, and a portrait of John Wayne squinted down from the living room wall.
They quickly became active in the community, joining the Lions and Lionesses clubs and coaching girls’ softball. John, a welder, settled into middle management at his company. They had four daughters: Heather, Dawn, and twins Carin and Shannon.

Reno work unleashes hell, literally

Nothing of any significance occurred until two years later. When Jack and Janet replaced the old carpeting in their half of the duplex, a “mystery stain” appeared on the new carpeting so many times that they finally got rid of it. Then animal-claw marks appeared on brand-new porcelain bathroom fixtures and on freshly painted woodwork. The plumbing leaked. For the next eleven years, faucets and radios sometimes turned themselves on, empty chairs creaked, and bad smells permeated the house. The smells made the Smurls fear the house was subsiding, a common occurrence in an area riddled with old coal mines.

In the mid-’80s, these minor annoyances started to truly frighten the family. One day in 1985, Janet heard a soft female voice calling to her in the basement. She headed straight for her rosary beads. In February of that year, she glimpsed the first physical manifestation of the presence in the house as she ironed in the kitchen. A tall, human figure made of “black, roiling smoke” (much like the “man” on the ceiling of the Snedecker house) floated soundlessly past her, only to vanish in the living room.
Simultaneously, Mary Smurl saw an identical shadow person float through her living room wall on the other side of the duplex.
Janet began reading everything she could find about ghosts and demons.

The haunting escalated rapidly. On the evening 13-year-old Heather Smurl was confirmed into the Catholic church, a light fixture crashed to the floor, narrowly missing one of the 7-year-old twins. Janet attributed this to a demon, because she had read that demons are outraged by sacred rituals and objects.
Later that year, Jack and his mother experienced levitation while lying in bed, just like Kathleen Lutz in the Amityville House. Mary claimed her entire mattress floated close to the ceiling and refused to descend, forcing her to jump to the floor. She injured both knees.
Janet was dragged across her bedroom by an invisible force.
John and Mary heard “foul, abusive” language coming from Jack and Janet’s side of the duplex even though the couple swore they hadn’t been home at the time.
Mary watched a “headless puppy” race across her living room and disappear beneath the sofa. Rather than say, “Maybe it’s time to take Gran to the doctor”, the Smurls declared this another demonic manifestation.
All this time, the house continued to stink.

Guess who?

Janet finally decided to seek professional help in the summer of ’85. She phoned up parapsychology departments at various colleges, without success. Finally, a professor at Marywood College in Scranton referred her to the Warrens.

Once inside 328 Chase Street, the Warrens gave the Smurls their standard lecture about the very real dangers of tampering with witchcraft, ouija boards, and Satanism. The Smurls assured them they hadn’t experimented with anything of that nature.
It was time for Lorraine to do her sniff test. She quickly detected the presence of four entities: A senile old woman, an insane young woman, a man with a mustache, and a demon. Note, please, that Jack Smurl had a mustache.

As for the demon, it resided in the master bedroom closet. According to Lorraine, it had extraordinary powers; it could manipulate the other three spirits, put people into a state of “telepathic hypnosis”, and implant frightening images in the human mind. It might have been dormant in the duplex for a long time, but the adolescence of 16-year-old Dawn and 13-year-old Heather provided energy for the demon. Its goal was to keep the Smurls in a state of confusion, always doubting their own and each other’s sanity.

Immediately after warning the Smurls never to acknowledge or challenge a demon, the Warrens ordered the entire family to troop into the master bedroom while they attempted to flush out and challenge the demon. After taking infrared photos of the closet for no apparent reason, they used the time-tested method of turning out all the lights and playing Ave Maria on a tape recorder. Ed sprinkled holy water and prayed.
The demon reacted fiercely. The unplugged TV set glowed, dresser drawers trembled, mirrors swayed. Later that night, spirits slapped Janet awake and tickled Jack’s feet – not playful tickling, but what Curran described as the kind of tickling that can cause “weakness and even madness” if continued for a long time, whatever that means. Quake-like vibrations shook the entire house.

The house was blessed by priests on three separate occasions, but the Catholic church rebuffed all requests for an official exorcism. It was up to the Smurls and the Warrens to oust the spirits. The Warrens provided phone support throughout February 1986, as the infestation steadily worsened. Jack began seeing two transparent women hanging around the bedroom at night, wearing old-fashioned dresses and bonnets. Small objects like makeup vanished continuously, causing the girls to bicker. Lorraine pointed to this as another example of the demon causing strife; she didn’t suggest that perhaps the girls really were filching cosmetics from each other.
To aid them, the Warrens assembled a large, eclectic team of witnesses and researchers to spend time in the house. Members included police officer Roger Coyle and Ed and Lorraine’s grandson, Chris McKinnel (who also helped them investigate the Snedecker haunting). Every member of the team reported witnessing strange phenomena in the house, but McKinnell and Coyle saw and heard more than anyone. Chris heard pigs’ squeals on a tape recording.
Lorraine saw the shadow-man scratching on a bedroom window, and identified him as the demon. Ed claimed the demon tried to strangle him when he performed the “very dangerous” rite of provocation (calling forth a demon, then banishing it in the name of Christ). Writing appeared on a mirror: “You filthy bastard. Get out of this house”, an incident that echoes the scene from Jay Anson’s Amityville Horror in which a priest is ordered out of the house by a demon.


The creepiest revelation by any of the Smurls (and remember, these are people who saw headless puppies and leapt from floating mattresses) came from Curran’s interview with Jack. He related how on the night of June 21, 1987, he was sexually assaulted by a succubus in the form of a hag disguised as a young woman. The entity had red eyes and green gums. Janet didn’t witness this episode – she was sleeping on the couch at the time – but she accepted her husband’s story as factual, and again attempted to enlist the church’s help.

Another odd incident occurred the next day, when Janet phoned the diocese. She spoke with a Father O’Leary, who, to her relief, expressed sympathetic concern. He even promised to speak with the chancellor on her behalf. Later, however, a friend informed the Smurls there was no Father O’Leary in the diocese. Sure enough, when Janet called back, a Father Mullally (sounds a bit like O’Leary…) confirmed this. He was patient but uncooperative. Curran and the Warrens rejected the possibly that Janet had simply misheard a name over the phone, concluding instead that the demon had infiltrated the phone line to impersonate a friendly, compassionate priest just to humiliate Janet.

The Warrens soon called in Father McKenna to perform an exorcism. McKenna was defrocked in the ’60s for refusing to recognize the reforms of Vatican II. He then became a traditional Roman Catholic in the Dominican Order of Preachers, and was later declared a “bishop”. He worked with the Warrens several times, performing exorcisms at his own discretion (like that of Maurice Theriault, which we’ll examine later). In fact, at the time of the Smurl haunting he claimed to have performed 50 exorcisms – about 20 of them successful.
This one was not successful. Within a few weeks, Dawn had to fight off an invisible incubus in the shower, Janet saw a slimy 3-foot-tall creature in the bathtub, and horrible odours became routine. The family decided to load up the Smurlmobile and go camping in the Poconos to get some peace and quiet. Things went fine until Jack, alone by the campfire one evening, spotted a teenage girl in Colonial dress lurking in the bushes, smiling at him. She vanished before his eyes. Later, they all watched a metal trash can spinning in circles. This convinced them the demon had followed them, and would probably follow them wherever they went.

No Exit

Predictably, the Warrens urged the Smurls to go public with their story on the pretext that someone who could help would contact them. They arranged for themselves to appear with Jack and Janet on an exploitative Philadelphia talkshow hosted by Richard Bey. But Jack and Janet protected their identity, appearing behind screens as Jack described being raped by the succubus. The Warrens, of course, did not.

In the months that followed the broadcast, no one with helpful information stepped forward, and the demon retaliated against the Smurls for appearing on Bey’s show (having seen it a few times myself, I can’t say I blame him).
Ed warned that the demon was struggling to physically possess one of the Smurls, and was frustrated because they were too resilient and godly to be overtaken.
The horrors increased: Jack saw a hairy pig-creature that walked on two legs (two legs good), and Janet spied the mustachioed spirit (he had horns).
In desperation, the Smurls decided to publicly reveal their names. Perhaps that would shame the Scranton diocese into helping them. Instead, rowdy gawkers camped out on their lawn, and reporters made the haunting a local legend.
Robert McKenna performed two more exorcisms, both unsuccessful. All-night prayer vigils were ineffective. Finally, in the late ’80s, the Smurls sold the old duplex and returned to Wilkes-Barre. Though they have remained mum on the haunting for many years, the Warrens have claimed the demon followed them to their new home and may never leave.

If the incidents in The Haunted really occurred, then the Chase Street haunting would be one of the nastiest and most bizarre on record. But the Warrens’ involvement casts a shadow on the entire affair. Aside from the shadow man, the elder Smurls didn’t see or hear anything unusual at first; it was only after Janet began to tell frightening stories that they started to have strange experiences. The Haunted states there were 28 witnesses to the events, but virtually all of them “wished to remain anonymous”, and the ones who did permit their names to be used didn’t witness anything that couldn’t be easily explained as non-paranormal in nature. None of the photos taken in the house showed anything unusual. The tape recordings that featured mysterious pig squeals were not examined or preserved. In the end, there is no compelling evidence that the Smurl haunting was truly as horrendous as The Haunted or the 1991 TV movie of the same name would have us believe. It’s simply another notch on the Warrens’ very strange belt.

The Ultimate Frivolous Lawsuit

In a 1989 court case, according to Ed, the Warrens proved that a woman and her son had been driven out of their Hebron, Connecticut home by ghosts. “The Realtor that leased her the house was suing her for $2,000. She begged us to go into the house and to get some evidence that would prove that there really were ghosts,” Ed told Jeff Belanger (“50 Years of Ghost Hunting and Research With the Warrens”, Ghostvillage.com).
Strangely, this isn’t listed among the Warrens’ famous cases on their website (nor is the Snedeker case, nor the Arne Johnson case). And I can’t find any information on the lawsuit. However, a very similar judgement handed down by the New York Supreme Court in 1991 made it possible for new property owners to sue the sellers if they were not told the property was previously advertised as haunted.

Raggedy Rampage

The Warrens actually highlighted this case on their website, and it was featured in Gerald Brittle’s book The Demonologist. More than any other case in their careers, this one indicates that the Warrens were not dealing with the full deck of cards. It reads like a script treatment for Bride of Chucky: In the ’70s, two young nurses named Donna and Angie turned to the Warrens for help. A large Raggedy Ann doll given to Donna by her mother was changing position and moving around their apartment of its own volition when they weren’t looking. Then childishly scrawled notes with the unsettling messages “HELP US” and “HELP LOU” (their roommate) began to appear.
A medium told the nurses that the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle had entered the doll. She had died in their apartment when she was just seven years old, and was desperate for human playmates. So, rather than burning the thing or laughing themselves into a coma, the women started calling the doll Annabelle and treating it like a real child. Lou, on the other hand, was convinced Annabelle was a “voodoo doll” that was “taking advantage” of Angie and Donna. He had nightmares of the doll crawling up his leg to strangle him, and on one occasion a deep claw mark mysteriously appeared on his chest. The doll only moved when Angie and Donna weren’t around, but there’s no mention of where Lou was during these times. Both women insisted there were no signs of entry by an intruder. Now, any half-sensible person would wonder what role Lou might have played in all this.
Ed, on the other hand, immediately concurred with Lou: The doll was possessed, and not by some sweet little dead girl. The nurses had inadvertently welcomed a demonic entity into their home. It caught their attention by teleporting the doll around, which made them acknowledge the presence of a spirit (their first mistake). Then they consulted a medium to find out more about the supposed ghost (their second mistake; while self-proclaimed demonologists like Ed and self-proclaimed psychics like Lorraine are able to diagnose supernatural problems, self-proclaimed mediums are not). He immediately summoned an Episcopal priest, Father Cooke, to perform a blessing of the apartment.

Rather than burn Annabelle, Ed and Lorraine decided to take the doll home with them. But Ed “decided it was safer to avoid traveling on the interstate, in case the entity had not been separated from the rag doll. His hunch was correct. In no time at all, Ed and Lorraine felt themselves the object of vicious hatred. Then, at each dangerous curve in the road, their new car began to stall, causing the power steering and breaks to fail. Repeatedly the car verged on collision. Of course, it would have been easy to stop and throw the doll into the woods. But if the item didn’t simply ‘teleport‘ back to the girls’ apartment, at the least it would place anyone who found it in jeopardy.”

Um. Okay.

The third time the car stalled along the road, Ed reached into his black bag, took out a vial, and threw a sprinkling of holy water on the rag doll, making the sign of the cross over it. The disturbance in the car stopped immediately, allowing the Warrens to reach home safely“.


In Ed’s office, the doll repeatedly levitated before his eyes (remember, the nurses didn’t see it move at all). Lorraine heard growling sounds throughout the house. She warned an exorcist named Jason Branford to be careful driving home after he casually picked up Annabelle and said, “You’re just a doll.” Sure enough, his brakes failed that day.

The doll is now safely ensconced in a glass cabinet in The Warren Occult Museum, behind a warning sign: “Positively do not open.” The museum also houses a haunted organ, a cursed string of pearls, a vampire’s coffin, and a portrait painted by the ghost of a witch. Price of admission? A mere $35 a head.

A London Werewolf in America

The Warrens branched out from ghosts and demons with the case of Bill Ramsey, an unassuming London carpenter/cabdriver who, one night in 1983, felt searing chest pains on his way to work. He drove himself to Southend Hospital, where he viciously attacked two ER nurses. A police officer happened by at the right moment, and with an intern’s help wrestled wild-eyed Bill onto a gurney. At some point, the cabbie confessed that he couldn’t remember anything about the incident except “changing into a wolf”, and this enraged wolf persona must have attacked the nurses. This made him a minor tabloid celebrity in the UK. The Warrens heard about him and offered to ship him to Connecticut to be exorcised by Father McKenna. Bill accepted. He told the Warrens that he had experienced intense, unfocused rage as a teenager and often saw mental images of himself as a wolf.

McKenna, in all seriousness, touched Bill’s forehead and attempted to “banish the werewolf” in front of numerous onlookers. Bill growled, drooled, and even charged McKenna at the altar, but the exorcism was ultimately successful. Bill returned to his wife and kids a wolf-free man. The Warrens wrote a book, Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession.

Bill Ramsey probably suffered lycanthropy, a rare delusional disorder that gave rise to epidemics of werewolf hysteria in the Middle Ages (along with tarantism, the delusion that one is being attacked by spiders or has been injected with a tarantula’s venom). Sufferers genuinely believed, as did Bill, that they were possessed by the spirits of wolves or had become wolves, and behaved like wolves for short periods of time. The symptoms usually subsided on their own, leaving sufferers confused but essentially unharmed. They often couldn’t remember what transpired while they were “under attack”, a common symptom of delirium. In other words, altthough the exorcism evidently helped Ramsey cope psychologically with his experience by placing it in a context that was more acceptable to him than believing he was delusional, it was not at all necessary.

Frenchy Theriault

Next to the Arne Johnson murder case, the possession of Massachusetts tomato farmer Maurice “Frenchy” Theriault is the most disturbing one ever handled by the Warrens. At best, the Warrens helped a deeply troubled man overcome his guilt. At worst, they aided and abetted a child molester by providing supernatural excuses for his behaviour.

It began in the summer of 1985. Maurice was experiencing blackouts, bleeding from his eyes, and accomplishing feats of what he considered to be paranormal strength. For some reason, he considered himself a danger to others and voluntarily relinquished all his firearms to the local police (note that this is something George Lutz reportedly did while living in the Amityville house, though Lutz himself denied it during a Coast to Coast AM interview with Art Bell shortly before his death).
Like all of the Warrens’ clients, Theriault was devoutly Catholic. So his wife, Nancy, appealed to the parish priest, Father Boyer, who in turn got in touch with the Warrens. They sent assistant Paul Walukiewicz to the farm to observe Theriault overnight.

Though Maurice’s primary complaint was the bleeding, no one thought to take him to a doctor. Ed, when asked by a young assistant if there might be a medical rason for the bleeding, sadly informed her there couldn’t be – Mr. Theriault was clearly possessed.
Nice try, but numerous conditions and diseases can cause blood to seep from the tear ducts, including thrombosis of the sinuses, brain tumours, adult onset hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), and syphilis. Some of these can also cause delirium.

Only Mrs. Theriault had actually witnessed anything “demonic” about Frenchy. The Boston archdiocese recommended he see a psychiatrist, but as soon as the psychiatrist ruled out demonic possession as a possible source of his problems, Maruice stomped out of his office. Ed gave the shrink a tongue-lashing, hinting that he wished the doctor would become possessed just like the man he “refused to help”.
Ed came up with his own diagnosis: Theriault had become possessed in his sixties because his father had practiced Satanism on him when he was a child. Needless to say, the senior Theriault was not around to defend himself against these allegations in 1990, when they were published in the book Satan’s Harvest, by Boston Herald reporters Michael Lasalandra and Mark Merenda.

The archdiocese refused to push for an exorcism, so the Warrens again called in “Bishop” McKenna. McKenna would perform three exorcisms on Theriault, the final and most dramatic of which was successful. The video of this event, portions of which are still available on YouTube, is disturbing. In the opening interview, Theriault seems to be a calm and ordinary man in farmer’s clothes, but as soon as McKenna begins to speak Latin, Maurice’s skin blisters, he drools blood, and his staring eyes become filmy and blank. A split appears to form in his forehead, though this could be just a deep furrow.

Though the demon was successfully expelled, Maurice’s troubles weren’t over. Shortly after the exorcism he was arrested and charged with molesting his stepdaughter over a period of several years. The charges were dropped not because the girl or Theriault denied they were true, but because the district attorney was reportedly reluctant to deal with a bizarre insanity plea involving possession. Theriault relocated to another New England town, still bleeding occasionally.

The Warrens didn’t try to convince anyone that the molestation occurred only because Theriault was demonically possessed at the time, unable to control his actions. No, that would be too simple. Instead, Ed actually declared that Maurice didn’t molest his stepdaughter – an incubus in his image did. Maurice, he stated, simply wasn’t capable of such actions.

Yeah, right.

As for evidence, there is none. Maurice’s preternatural strength was demonstrated by a single photo of him lifting a concrete statuette of the Virgin, roughly 3 feet tall, a few inches off the ground. Maurice was a farmer who had done hard physical work all his life – it would be remarkable only if he couldn’t pick up Mary.

Ghostbusters: The Next Generation

With cases like this, you would think that Lorraine Warren would be living in obscure semi-retirement, known only to a handful of the most credulous ghosthunters, supernatural enthusiasts, and lovers of ’70s horror paperbacks.

You’d be so wrong.

Lorraine Warren is currently a consultant to Pennsylvania State University’s Paranormal Research Society, the subject of A&E’s popular program Paranormal State. The founder and head of the society, Ryan Buell, is also a psychic who has had terrifying encounters with ghosts and demons (which he calls bunnies, to disempower them) since he was a small child. Lorraine is his mentor, and she appears on the show whenever Buell feels compelled to call in the big guns. That is, whenever a case is suspected to involve malevolent entities or bunnies.

In one case, a woman was compulsively using Electronic Voice Phenomena to contact her dead son. Lorraine firmly told Buell that this must be stopped; the woman was bringing spirits into her home with this activity (which consists of turning on recording devices in empty rooms). In another case, a deeply distressed woman reported hearing a disembodied voice in her home say “Malthus”. A member of Buell’s team looked up the name on Wikipedia and found an entry for a demon known as “the Earl of Hell”. Seeing it, Lorraine expressed shock and horror, a rather dramatic reaction for a seasoned ghostbuster.

Buell, taking the Warrens’ cue, believes that supernatural activity is heaviest around 3:00 AM. He refers to this witching hour as the Dead Time, and schedules his team’s activities to coincide with it. The hour features prominently in The Amityville Horror, The Haunting in Connecticut, and other movies inspired by the Warrens’ investigations.

Psychic medium Chip Coffey also serves as a consultant for the Paranormal State ghostbusters. He and Carmen Reed are writing a book about the haunting in Connecticut.

Two Cases of Satanic Ritual Abuse, 20 Years Later

How have claims of Satanic ritual abuse held up over the past two decades? Generally, not well. There have been retractions, apologies, and debunkings in many of the high-profile cases of the ’80s and ’90s. And I think we can learn a lot from how the accusations were handled then, compared with how they look now.

Vicki Polin

Let’s start with the case of Vicki Polin. In 1989, 29-year-old Vicki and her therapist appeared on Oprah to discuss the horrific abuse Vicki allegedly suffered at the hands of a “Satanic cult” to which her Jewish parents belonged. An excerpt from this broadcast is one of the first things you’ll find if you search for “ritual abuse” on YouTube or Google Video; anti-Semites love it.

Vicki (using the name “Rachel”) said she witnessed human sacrifices, suffered sexual abuse, and developed Multiple Personality Disorder because her family’s sect had involved her in their time-honoured rituals from a young age. Outwardly, the family was Jewish, upstanding, and traditional. Her mother even served on a human rights commission in their Illinois town. But some of the women in the family were “breeders” who offered their babies as human sacrifices (Vicki explained that they were overweight enough to conceal secret pregnancies). She was forced to murder an infant herself. According to Vicki, her mother’s family had practiced Satanism as far back as the seventeenth century. Periods of normality would be brutally interrupted by nights of depravity; “what was bad, was good”. This dual existence traumatized Vicki further, making it easier for her family to create MPD in her.

Vicki seemed strangely relaxed as she described these things. She laughed easily when Oprah cracked jokes to lighten the mood. She had remarkably little insight into why her family chose to practice violent Satanism alongside Judaism. “Power” was her only answer.
Vicki “recovered” her memories of these events as an adult.

At the time Vicki appeared on Oprah, FBI agent Kenneth Lanning’s investigation into Satanic ritual abuse was still three years in the future. Satan’s Underground author “Lauren Stratford” had not yet been exposed as a hoaxer (in fact, her story was also featured on the show). Stories of covert Satanism were still uncommon enough to be startling and confounding to TV audiences. Just what is going on here? they wondered. Are Satanists really abducting children, killing babies, and ritually sacrificing people in large numbers?

As time went on and compelling evidence failed to surface, the subject died a natural death in the mainstream media. Only a handful of SRA victims and their advocates carried the torch into the 21st century. Most accounts of ritual abuse and human sacrifice debunked themselves by being packed with implausible, utterly unbelievable details.

In the ’80s, however, watchers of Oprah and Geraldo weren’t exposed to full accounts of SRA. They heard only capsule accounts, squeezed in between commercials. What would they have thought if the stories were told in all their bizarre detail, I wonder?

I had assumed Vicki Polin melted back into obscurity like the other SRA victims of the ’80s, but I recently learned that she’s still actively sharing her story. Henry Makow posted a profile of her at his site which reveals details not seen in the Oprah clip…

  • Vicki’s family belonged to the Illuminati, which evolved from the heretical Frankist Movement of the 18th century (not the 17th).
  • Many rabbis brought Satanism to the U.S. from Europe.
  • Vicki’s rabbi was a Satanist, and some of her abuse occurred in the synagogue. She was sexually abused on top of Torah scrolls laid on the floor.

If these things had been included in the ’89 Oprah broadcast, would people (other than anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists like Makow) still have bought into Vicki’s story? I like to think the answer is no. And Vicki evidently feels the same way, because a presentation she gave in 2008 covers the sexual and emotional abuse she suffered, without mentioning Satanism at all. While her Awareness Center, Inc., website contains some information on ritual abuse and the Frankist movement, Satanism is not directly mentioned there either.

Susan Polk

Today Susan Polk is known as the woman who brutally murdered her 70-year-old husband, California therapist Frank “Felix” Polk, in the midst of a contentious divorce in 2002, leaving his body for their 15-year-old son to discover.

But in 1987, Susan and Felix were just starting out. They had married five years earlier, shortly after Susan discontinued therapy with Felix, whom she had been seeing since she was a troubled 15-year-old. They had three sons, the oldest being 4-year-old Adam. After the birth of the youngest boy in January, Adam began spending three days a week in a babysitting service run by a respectable, middle-class woman in her fifties. The daycare didn’t have any kids in it aside from Adam and the woman’s own child.

One morning, Adam told Susan he didn’t want to go to daycare. She automatically asked if someone had touched him, and he said, “Yeah, that’s it.” Years later, at his mother’s murder trial, Adam would testify that he didn’t even know what his mom meant by “touched.” He just didn’t feel like going to daycare that day.

In therapy, Adam supposedly gave vivid, detailed descriptions of atrocities he had suffered and witnessed, and was diagnosed as having MPD. He said that each day, after being dropped off at daycare, he was driven to a local warehouse in a schoolbus. Other kids were picked up along the way, some of them possibly developmentally disabled. The warehouse was equipped with professional filming equipment, a stage, and seats for a large audience. Numerous adults dressed in red robes and triangular masks raped, tortured, and even murdered children onstage. Adam was sometimes dressed as a girl. There were arcane rituals and grotesque feasts of urine, vomit, feces, blood, and human flesh. Once, a baby was placed in a bag and hammered to death.

A police investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by the daycare provider. Felix Polk was outraged by this, so he became a vocal defender of the notion that Satanic cults were victimizing children. He and one of his female patients (also an SRA victim) spoke about ritual abuse at the 4th annual conference of the Consortium of Child Abuse Counsels, held in Berkeley. At other events, Felix actually took Adam onstage with him. Some of his colleagues, not to mention his own daughter, criticized him for exploiting his son, saying he was using the ritual abuse allegations to promote his private practice or to fulfill his need for a cause. Felix strenuously, indignantly denied this.

Nonetheless, Adam and Susan Polk later said the abuse never happened. The only violence Adam witnessed as a child were the vicious fights between his parents. Like so many other kids in the ’80s, he was coaxed into believing he suffered ritual abuse by an overzealous therapist and his concerned parents. Felix’s reasons for believing his son was brutalized by Satanists will probably never be known, but the bizarre and disturbing allegations made by the Polks were not unique where Susan Polk is concerned.

In 1997, while on vacation at Disneyland, Susan spontaneously “recovered” memories of her father raping her, and of her parents murdering a policeman and burying his body beneath their house. There is no evidence that either event occurred.

During her murder trial, Susan declared she had psychic abilities and that Felix routinely drugged and hypnotized her in order to obtain accurate forecasts of world events. In this way, he found out about 9/11 in advance and warned Israel’s Mossad about it. You see, Susan insisted her husband was a Mossad agent even though he had no known connections to the intelligence agency, never worked in a government capacity, and had never even been to Israel. She also accused him of bribing a judge to send one of their sons to a juvenile detention facility.

While on trial, she baselessly accused the family who had generously taken in her youngest son of trying to steal her dead husband’s estate. She accused a deputy of breaking her arm with a blackjack, even though her arm was not broken. Worst of all, she insisted that a former patient of Felix had organized her neighbors to frame her for her husband’s murder. Two years later, she stopped denying that she had murdered Felix Polk.

Adam warned his mother’s lawyer, Daniel Horowitz, that his mother gained control over situations by “contriving fantasies”. Horowitz learned this firsthand a short time later, when Susan accused him of murdering his own wife (a neighbor boy was convicted of this crime).

We don’t have to rely on Susan Polk’s fantasies and delusions to debunk the claim that Adam was ritually abused, however. She did that herself, in court. While representing herself and questioning Adam on the witness stand, she acknowledged that the allegations were completely untrue, and tried to persuade her son to tell the court that Felix had fabricated them. He refused. Both of his parents had supported the allegations, he said.

After reading a transcript of Felix Polk’s SRA presentation, I have no doubt that he seemed sincere, reasonable, and believable to everyone who heard him speak. Who wouldn’t believe a father who tells you he feels crushing guilt for failing to protect his son from predatory, vicious pedophiles and killers? It was a horrifying story that probably seemed a little too weird not to be true.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see with crystal clarity that the story came largely from the imaginations of two deeply troubled, volatile people – at least one of whom had a habit of spinning dark, outlandish tales of conspiracy and intrigue.

If the seemingly credible SRA stories of Vicki Polin, “Lauren Stratford”, and the Polks were fabrications, what does that say about the stories being told today of murderous Satanic cults and ritual child abuse?

Pants Afire Award: Casey Anthony

The year’s first Pants Afire Award goes to Casey Anthony, the mother of murdered 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, for telling the most (and most easily discovered) lies in the shortest amount of time.
I don’t usually pay attention to these high-profile missing child cases, because they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Every year, thousands of children go missing. Some are never found. Others, like Caylee, are found dead.
However, the Anthony case is worthy of mention because Casey Anthony – whether she’s guilty of harming her daughter or not – seems to be a whole new kind of stupid. I’m talking her-mother-should-have-kept-the-placenta-and-used-her-for-stem-cell-research stupid. I don’t mean that literally, of course. But Casey Anthony is stupid.

The following is gleaned from police interviews and a timeline of the Anthony case, available at the Investigation Discovery website.

On the afternoon of June 16, 2008, 22-year-old Casey left her parents’ house in Orlando, Florida, where she usually lived with her daughter, to go “to work” at Universal Studios. She planned to drop off Caylee at a nanny’s house. She told her parents she would be working late and spending the night at “the nanny’s house”, and would be home the following night. Later, over the phone, Casey told her mother a complex story about having to go to Tampa for a work event. While there, she said, the nanny had a car accident. Her injuries were supposedly being treated at Tampa General.

Casey didn’t return to her parents’ home for a month, at least not for long. In late June, she did sneak home long enough to borrow her mother’s truck and steal some gas from her father. She told her dad that Caylee was staying with the nanny, in Tampa.
This did not comfort Cindy Anthony at all; by July 3, she was so concerned about the lack of communication with Caylee that she posted this message on her MySpace page: “My Caylee is missing.” She suspected that Casey had been jealous of her closeness with the little girl, and took her away out of spite.

Casey’s car was found abandoned on June 30. The Anthonys learned about this on July 12. When the worried Anthonys finally located their daughter on July 15, Caylee was not with her. Cindy Anthony demanded to be taken to the little girl. At first Casey insisted that Caylee was safe in the care of her nanny, but she refused to take her mother to the nanny’s house even after Cindy threatened to call the police. Finally, after repeated confrontations with her older brother and Cindy, Casey revealed that Caylee was missing. The nanny had disappeared with her on June 9. Clearly, Casey couldn’t even remember when she left her parents’ home with Caylee for the last time, because the date she gave for Caylee’s supposed abduction was a full week before Caylee’s disappearance. This is the calibre of duuuuuh we’re dealing with, here.
Casey begged her mother not to report Caylee’s abduction to the police. Cindy, in one of the last smart moves she would make, did so anyway. Then the lies really began…

– Casey told Orange County detectives she was making every possible effort to find her daughter, though she had never even mentioned Caylee’s abduction to her boyfriend, friends, parents, or anyone else for a full month. She was not in Tampa at any time during that month. She had spent much of June and July living and partying with friends as though nothing was wrong, flashing a toothy grin while she posed for photos at nightclubs and get-togethers. She told detectives she hung out in bars to “get information” about her daughter’s abduction.
Casey also got a tattoo and bought lingerie while Caylee was missing, paying for them with checks stolen from a friend and money stolen from her mother. She seemed completely unaware that surveillance videos, receipts, photos, and eyewitnesses could reveal her activities.

Casey’s mother and father have also tried to make excuses for Casey’s partying. George Anthony said the photos were taken at least a year prior to Caylee’s disappearance, even though Casey’s current boyfriend (whom she met in early ’08) appears in some of the party photos. Cindy Anthony says the photos taken at Fusion nightclub were promotional photos for which Casey was paid. There is no evidence to support this. Friends of Casey told police she made numerous trips to nightclubs, bars, and parties between mid-June and mid-July, and that she drank heavily and enjoyed herself during these outings.

– She told Orange County detectives she was employed as an events planner at Universal Studios, with her own office. She was actually unemployed. She had been let go from Kodak, which had a contract with Universal, in 2006. Yet she went so far as to give detectives a bogus phone extension number, and named a fictional supervisor. She even agreed to lead detectives to her office. Partway down a hallway, she admitted she was no longer employed at Universal, but insisted she really wanted to check out Universal because it was one of the places Caylee had visited with her. Why would Caylee’s abductors take the child to Universal Studios? Casey had no explanation for her bizarre statement.

George Anthony had suspected for two years that his daughter wasn’t really working. The route she supposedly took to work every day wasn’t the easiest one.

– Casey said the only people who knew about Caylee’s disappearance were her former co-workers Jeff Hopkins and Juliette Lewis. She said Hopkins introduced her to Caylee’s nanny, Zenaida Gonzales. But Hopkins denied knowing the nanny, and made it clear that Casey mentioned nothing about a missing daughter when he bumped into her on July 2. There is no evidence that “Juliette Lewis” even exists.

– For two years Casey had been telling her parents, friends, and everyone else that she still worked at Universal. During May and early June she slept overnight at friends’ houses on several occasions, telling her parents she was staying late at work.

– She claimed she last saw her daughter on the morning of June 9, when she dropped her off at the babysitter’s home (apartment 210 at Sawgrass Apartments). The babysitter was Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, a woman who also babysat for Jeff Hopkins. “Zanny” had also worked at Universal for a time, Casey said.
Casey obviously forgot that she had taken her daughter to visit numerous relatives on July 15, Father’s Day. Her parents had last seen Caylee on the morning of July 16.
A woman named Zenaida Gonzalez had checked out an apartment at the Sawgrass complex earlier in the summer and signed a guestbook that was visible to other visitors, but never lived there. 210 had been unoccupied and under renovation since February. The woman apparently has no connection to Casey, and says she has never worked as a babysitter. Nor did she ever work at Universal. It seems Casey didn’t have a nanny at all. She lifted a name at random from the guest register of a friend’s apartment complex, without making sure that person actually lived in the complex.

The Anthony family says police questioned the wrong Zenaida Gonzalez. Cindy Anthony, Casey’s mother, claims she first heard Casey mention Zenaida two years ago, but never met nor even saw the woman.

– When the Sawgrass story started to unravel, Casey supplied an entirely different one: Caylee had actually been abducted from a park by Zenaida and Zenaida’s sister. They gave Casey instructions on what she should tell the police if she wanted her daughter to remain safe, then drove away in an SUV.

– Told a friend that her father had suffered a stroke during the summer. George Anthony had suffered a stroke… years earlier.

– When first questioned on July 15, Casey said she had received a brief phone call from Caylee earlier in the day. The little girl happily talked about books and toys. Casey says she immediately dialed the number from which Caylee had called, only to find that the phone had already been disconnected.

It is now known that Caylee’s body had been in the woods since August, at the latest.
– She searched for “how to make chloroform” on her personal computer.

– She stole checks from the friend with whoms she was living, a credit card from her mother, and gas from her father.

– Casey abandoned her car (actually owned by her parents) in a conspicuous spot. The towtruck driver who removed it detected a corpse-like odour in the car, as did Casey’s mother, father, and brother when they reclaimed the car. The Anthonys feared their daughter or granddaughter had been killed and left in the trunk.
Casey said she ditched the car only because it ran out of gas.
On December 11, 2008, Caylee’s body was found half a mile from her grandparents’ home.
Casey Anthony had a month in which to craft a convincing explanation for her daughter’s disappearance. This was the best she could do.

Did False Reports Trigger the Raid on the Texas Polygamists?

This month, over 400 infants, children, and teens were removed from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) community in Eldorado, Texas, by Child Protective Services. There had been reports of underaged girls being forced to marry much older men. Specifically, a 16-year-old girl named Sarah phoned a Texas women’s shelter to report that she was being held captive in Eldorado by her new husband.

The Eldorado children and adult members of the community are currently undergoing DNA testing to determine parentage. The children will be placed in temporary foster care until the testing and investigation are complete.

For two weeks beginning on March 30, ex-FLDS member Flora Jessop (who helps teen girls leave FLDS communities) received alarming phone calls from Sarah’s twin sister, Laura, who claimed to be in the FLDS community in Colorado City, Arizona. She told Jessop she was being molested by her father.
Jessop and the Texas Rangers have now tentatively identified “Sarah” and “Laura” as Rozita Swinton, a 33-year-old black woman from Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is not a member of the FLDS church. She was arrested for making unrelated false reports, posing as an abused 13-year-old. Three years ago, Swinton was caught pretending to be an abused, suicidal 16-year-old girl with a newborn baby.

A CPS spokeswoman says she believes Sarah exists, but to date the girl has not been found.

Anthony Godby Johnson, the Invisible Boy


Boy Wonder

Tony Johnson was a dreamchild: A kid who excelled effortlessly in school, never accepted handouts, and was determined to better himself, despite having a childhood that might have made Dickens blanch. What follows is Anthony Godby Johnson’s story as he told it in his 1993 memoir, A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy’s Triumphant Story, and as experienced by some of the literary luminaries he befriended.

By his twelfth birthday, Tony had already been to hell and back. Born to outwardly average parents in New York City sometime in 1978, he was brutally beaten and pimped out to his policeman father’s friends on a routine basis from the age of four. He was deliberately deprived of food, a proper bed, and even minimal affection. By rights, Tony should have suffered psychological damage that would make Harry Harlow’s monkeys look as calm as monks, but Tony had the fortune to be an infinitely old soul with a blazing intellect. He mothered himself with episodes of Mr. Rogers and aspirin, and took such solace in study that he was transferred to a Brooklyn school for gifted children. Even a spell of suicidal depression at age 11 couldn’t keep him down, for he found unexpected salvation in the form of a suicide-hotline worker. This man, Mr. Johnson (a pseudonym), immediately dispatched a social worker named Vicki to rescue Tony. Finally freed from the pedophile ring in 1989, Tony was diagnosed with several serious ailments, including untreated syphilis that had reached such an advanced stage it caused permanent damage to his lungs. He would spend most of his teen years in and out of hospital, always on the verge of death.

Tony was not destined to become the sum of his setbacks, but a magnetic force. People of all ages were drawn to his humor, his resilience, his astonishing strength of character. In many ways he was a typical teenager, swearing like a sea captain and talking baseball and girls, yet he radiated the inner peace of a lama, He was a lot like his heroes, Mr. Rogers and Kermit the Frog. The miraculous touched every corner of his life and spread to those around him. The man who talked him out of committing suicide, Mr. Johnson, was so taken with Tony that he called him his son, and traveled to New York to meet him. Johnson instantly fell in love with Tony and his new mom, Vicki. Vicki and Johnson married and adopted Tony, relocating to a town in the Midwest where the New York pedophiles couldn’t find them.

Tony flourished. Despite continual bouts of pneumonia that required lung draining, a stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed and a coma, Tony graduated from high school at fourteen with the help of private tutors. Good colleges courted him. Then he tested positive for AIDS, sending his new family into a tailspin.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation supplied 14-year-old Tony with a computer so he could begin writing his life story. This would not be the story of his near-destruction at the hands of his parents and their buddies, but the story of his salvation, and the blooming of love and compassion that followed. Vicki, Johnson, and a coterie of new friends relentlessly encouraged Tony to fulfill his destiny. To do that, he would need some mentors. One of them was AIDS counselor Jack L. Godby, a gay black man from Arkansas who got to know Tony through correspondence and phone conversations. Godby formed such a close bond with Tony that Godby became his “Pops” (Johnson was “Dad”). Tony collected several such “moms” and “dads” in his teen years, as though overcompensating for the absence of his biological family.

Tony was drawn to the stories of other survivors, writers like Paul Monette and Armistead Maupin, both of whom had both been touched by AIDS. (Maupin had lost friends and lovers to AIDS, and Monette had been diagnosed in 1991). At thirteen, Tony was such a devoted fan of Monette that he swapped sports magazines for copies of his novels Love Alone and Borrowed Time during one of his many hospital stays. He raptly listened to radio installments of Maupin’s Tales of the City, the bittersweet adventures of a group of gays and lesbians in ’70s and ’80s San Francisco. Though he was a typically girl-crazy teenager, Tony was extremely sympathetic to the persecution suffered by gays and lesbians.
Vicki encouraged her son to write to some of his heroes, and he did. He penned fan letters to Mr. Rogers, Monette and Maupin, Mickey Mantle, Tom Robbins, Bob Paris, Jermaine Jackson and Keith Olbermann, among others. He entered into correspondence with most of these men, but others developed an even stronger bond with the boy through marathon phone conversations. These worldly older men were invariably charmed and awed by Tony’s disarming combination of childlike simplicity (he still loved coloring books), wisdom, and grit.

Monette, Maupin, and Mr. Rogers all provided blurbs for A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy’s Triumphant Story. Maupin wrote, “I want to be like this young man when I grow up.” Monette and Jack Godby provided introductions for the book, Fred Rogers the afterword. Crown Publishers released the book in 1993, when Tony was just fifteen years old. He wasn’t expected to live long.

Armistead Maupin became more closely involved with Tony than any of the boy’s other mentors soon after his editor, David Groff of Crown Publishers, sent him a copy of Tony’s manuscript for perusal. A warm but unfawning phone call from Tony reinforced his impression that this boy had a unique voice. Maupin became one of the many adults to phone Tony at his new home in the Midwest to offer him ongoing support and encouragement. Like the others, he discovered that Tony, laid up in bed most the time and too weak to do anything that other 14-year-olds do, gave far more than he took. He could relate to adults on an entirely mature level, and he radiated humor. In a string of late-night phone conversations that were often interrupted by Tony’s violent fits of coughing, the celebrated gay author and the tough-talking teenager formed such a tight bond that Maupin tentatively began referring to Tony as his son. Tony called him Dad.

In his fourteenth and fifteenth years, Tony lost a leg and a testicle to AIDS and contracted TB. Death seemed so imminent that his loved ones lived in fear of it, but Tony focused only on living. By all accounts, he rarely (if ever) slid into depression or self-pity. Everyone connected to him took courage from this precocious strength, and when it was published, A Rock and a Hard Place deeply affected readers across the U.S., from clinical social workers to grade-school teachers. Vicki set up a Geocities website, Tony’s World, through which her son could update fans on his condition and post articles on child abuse issues. His story was a wake-up call to all adults: Horrific child happens right around the corner from where you live. But love can bring trampled children to their feet.


Vicki Johnson was Tony’s primary caregiver while Mr. Johnson worked, and she protected him fiercely. The family’s real identity was concealed to prevent his former abusers from locating him, since most of them had not even been investigated for molestation. Everyone who knew Tony through phone conversations, including Maupin and Monette, were eager to meet Tony. He was open to the idea, and so was Vicki, but due to his health and safety concerns, face-to-face meetings never took place. Maupin once made it all the way to the Midwest only to be told that Tony was too sick to receive visitors (he later told ABC News the same thing happened to a rabbi who traveled all the way from Israel to see Tony). Finally, Vicki Johnson politely insisted that phone friends refrain from attempting to visit. She explained that Tony was lurching from one medical crisis to the next, always on the precipice of death, and any excitement could undo him. Vicki even began to change her phone number frequently, presumably to prevent Tony’s fans from interrupting his recovery with their late-night calls. Gradually, Tony’s friends began to wonder why no one had met face-to-face with Tony. Not even his editors at Crown Publishers in New York nor his agent, Ron Bernstein, had ever met with the young man. Anthony Godby Johnson was the Invisible Boy, always a phone call away, but forever out of reach.

Before the end of 1993, suspicions were cropping up in the literary world. Armistaud Maupin’s partner, Terry Anderson, felt certain that Tony and Vicki Johnson were the same person. He pointed out to Maupin that their voices were nearly identical over the phone (Tony, embarrassed by his high voice, told callers he hadn’t gone through all the changes of puberty due to his illnesses). After his aborted visit to the Johnson household, Maupin began to have his suspicions, too.

They were not alone in their doubts. Gay author John Preston openly declared A Rock and a Hard Place a hoax. Ron Bernstein, Tony’s agent, had almost struck a deal with HBO to make a film about Tony when Vicki declared that no one from HBO would be allowed to see Tony in person, causing the deal to collapse. This incident stirred the first serious doubts in Bernstein’s mind.

It was Keith Olbermann who first did some detective work. He had been so moved by A Rock and a Hard Place that he contacted Tony, and quickly become a supporter and “brother” to the boy. They were collaborating on a book about baseball when Olbermann’s doubts surfaced. He had been having phone chats with Vicki and one of Tony’s doctors, and gradually noticed that all three voices sounded extremely similar. Also, there were never any background noises on the line – no other voices, no rummaging sounds, no indication that Tony was in a busy household or a hospital.

The private investigator Olbermann hired to check into Vicki and Tony found that Vicki used the surname Fraginals. She did not live in the Midwest. She lived in her hometown of Union City, New Jersey, with two adult women presumed to be her daughters (it is now known she didn’t have daughters). There was no sign of Mr. Johnson or Tony, and the second-story apartment the three women shared was not suitable for a sick boy. It was not even wheelchair-accessible.

Olbermann had given a thousand dollars to Vicki to help her pay for “black market” medication she claimed Tony desperately needed, and according to Maupin, Vicki had solicited donations from other supporters, too.

Newsweek reporter Michele Ingrassia was the first person to investigate Tony’s background thoroughly. She interviewed his editor at Crown, his publicist, some of his penpals, the Make-a-Wish worker who arranged for Tony to receive his computer, and the head of an HIV/AIDS group who was in contact with Tony and Vicki. None of these people had ever laid eyes on Tony. Ingrassia next tried to find any record of a NYC policeman and his wife being convicted of the sexual abuse of their son in the late ’80s or early ’90s. She found nothing. Her May 30, 1993 story on Tony was titled “The Author Nobody’s Met.”
The article should have ended there, since Ingrassia hadn’t been able to suss out any concrete information about Tony or his family, but Ingrassia then waded into borderline libelous speculation by hinting that Paul Monette had invented Tony and penned his memoir, perhaps in a misguided effort to raise AIDS awareness. This idea was picked up by other media outlets, then quietly dropped when supporting evidence failed to surface. Monette stated that while he had acted as Tony’s writing mentor over the phone, he had no part in the writing of A Rock and a Hard Place. He had never actually met Tony. Up to his death in 1995, Monette was uncertain whether Tony was a real person or not.

No one fitting the description of the man known as Earnist Johnson was ever located, though his service as an Air Force sergeant should have made him traceable. He had never appeared in public. Vicki Johnson was the sole spokesperson for Tony. As suspicions mounted, she became even more aggressive in her defense of him. She was quick to verbally attack anyone who questioned her adopted son’s motives, much less his existence.

To everyone’s astonishment, Tony continued to survive and thrive. In 1994, at just 16 years old, he penned a regular column for a Hawaiian AIDS publication. He also maintained a Geocities website to update fans on his health and share articles about child abuse. It was through his online posting that people learned his father had been murdered by vengeful pedophiles in prison.

In 1997, his story was told in the ABC documentary About Us: The Dignity of Children, hosted by Oprah Winfrey (Winfrey, as you probably know, has been at the centre of a great many literary hoaxes over the years). An actor portrayed the younger Tony, and his voice and identity were disguised. Strangely, reports surfaced that Tony was living with the documentary’s producer, Lesley Karsten, as her “son” during this time. In phone calls, emails and letters Ms. Karsten confirmed that she was now the primary caregiver for Tony. He was an adult by this time, but still required constant care.

Karsten also announced that she was marrying a longtime Johnson family friend, Jerry DiNicola. In online postings, Karsten and Tony expressed fears of being attacked by the pedophiles who had abused Tony and killed his father, and seemed grateful that DiNicola was a tough guy who could protect them. He had fought in VIetnam and was even a POW.

Vicki and Earnist faded into the background. According to Tony, they had divorced and Vicki had moved to Illinois with her new husband.

Interest in Tony waned after this point. The questions surrounding his existence, A Rock and a Hard Place, and the mysterious Ms. Karsten were left unresolved.

Then, in 2000, at the end of a painful period of reflection and investigation, Maupin published his thinly fictionalized account of his experience with the Invisible Boy, The Night Listener. He had been talking to Tony for over six years at this point, and though he had never confronted Tony or Vicki about his suspicions for fear he could be wrong, the time had come to deal with his nagging inner voice. In 1997 Maupin told Tony and Vicki that he was writing the novel. Amazingly, Tony accepted this with quiet grace. “I’m a big boy,” he told his friend. “I know the difference between fact and fiction.” Maupin even asked Vicki to name the boy character in the book, and she chose “Pete.” Vicki became “Donna”.
After the novel was released, however, Maupin received an angry call from Vicki. She was incensed that he had “trashed” Tony, and broke off all contact with him.

The novel sparked fresh interest in the mystery of the Invisible Boy, leading journalist Tad Friend to investigate. His story, “Virtual Love“, appeared in the November 22, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. Like Ingrassia, Friend concluded that no one but Vicki Johnson was willing to admit seeing Tony Johnson with her own eyes, though Maupin and perhaps other friends had received snapshots of an adorable preteen boy with light-brown hair, big brown (or green) eyes, and a radiant smile. This boy remained unidentified for many years.

Friend revealed that “Vicki Johnson” was most likely Joanne Victoria Fraginals, a single woman in her forties then residing in Union City, New Jersey. A former schoolteacher, she may have worked as a social worker, but there was no sign of a husband or ex-husband who fit the description of Johnson. Earlier, Michele Ingrassia had visited the pharmacy below Vicki’s apartment and learned that no one there knew of Tony.

Karsten continued to insist that her “son” was very real, alive, and unwell, still guarding his identity to protect him from the rogue New York cops that were out to get him. Tony’s website remained online, though it became inactive shortly after Friend’s article appeared and was never updated again.


Sometime in the late ’90s, as Friend was conducting his investigation of the Invisible Boy, Vicki Fraginals married Dr. Marc Zackheim, a psychotherapist who worked with Indiana group homes for toubled teen boys and also maintained a private practice in Illinois. If there was a “Mr. Johnson”, he had divorced Vicki without ever living with her in New Jersey, because no one Ingrassia and Friend questioned had any knowledge of him, and the P.I. hired by Olbermann described Vicki as a single mother.
The Zackheims settled in Illinois. In 1999 they adopted four brothers, ages 1-6. In 2004, Dr. Zackheim was accused of molesting boys in the group home where he worked. He was acquitted.
Marc Zackheim acted as the family spokesman whenever someone inquired about Tony. He accused Maupin of inventing the hoax scenario to exploit Tony’s story for profit. This still wouldn’t explain why so many people “close” to Tony also doubted that he ever existed, nor why the same voice analysis expert who identified Osama bin Laden’s voice on tape, Tom Owen, determined that the recorded voices of Vicki and “Tony” issued from the same person. Nor would it explain why “Tony” and the Zackheims continued to hide his identity from the world, when the threat from the pedophiles was long past (surely, they would have realized by the mid’-90s that Tony was not going to out them).
Since Vicki and Mark apparently met after Tony came of age, it’s possible Dr. Zackheim believed his wife’s stories of having raised an AIDS-afflicted teenager. But that’s unlikely. He threatened legal action against people attempting to investigate Tony’s background, a threat so empty one has to wonder why he felt desperate enough to utter it. Perhaps he knew how unstable his wife is, and was only trying to protect her from further humiliation. He passed away in 2009.


The Karsten/DiNicola period of Tony’s life is perhaps the strangest one in this saga. Lesley Karsten is a real person. However, there is no evidence of a former Vietnam POW named Jerry DiNicola. Like “Earnist Johnson”, Jerry probably existed only in the imagination of Vicki Zackheim. Why would a professional woman such as Karsten perpetuate the Tony hoax by taking it to the next stage? Why would she pretend to be married to a man invented by a woman she barely knew, and why did she take on the challenge of protecting the reputation of a non-existent young man at a time when most of his supporters had fled?
Jack L. Godby, the AIDS counselor who wrote an introduction for A Rock and a Hard Place, was a notable exception; he still received phone calls and letters from Tony on occasion, and seemed to believe his “godson” was real. If he was, he truly was a miracle. He contracted AIDS no later than 1989, yet somehow survived bouts of pneumonia, TB, a stroke, a coma, and the losses of his leg, spleen, and one testicle. Medical researchers would be knocking down his door, if they knew where to find it.
This spiritual and medical marvel has gone silent. He didn’t even surface long enough to rebut The Night Listener or Tad Friend‘s “Virtual Love.” The Invisible Boy is now the Invisible Man, lost in the shadows of Vicki Zackheim and Lesley Karsten, the Invisible Women.


Since A Rock and a Hard Place was released in 1993, several eerily similar (and equally mysterious) hoaxes have been perpetrated. In the late ‘90s, an online community rallied around 19-year-old Kansan Kaycee Nicole Swenson, a cancer patient. Her supporters were devastated when she died of a brain aneurysm in 2001. Then a group of suspicious Metafilter friends looked into Kaycee’s story and discovered that Kaycee was the invention of a middle-aged mother named Debbie Swenson, who did not have cancer. Swenson feebly explained that she created Kaycee to tell the stories of real cancer patients she had known.

Then there’s the case of “J.T. LeRoy”, an HIV-positive cross-dresser who wrote darkly comic fiction about his life as a boy prostitute. San Francisco musician Geoffrey Knoop finally confessed – under pressure from suspicious reporters – that J.T. was the invention of his 40-year-old girlfriend, Laura Albert. He/she was played in public by Albert or by Knoop’s younger sister, Savannah, sporting dark sunglasses and blonde wigs.

Scarcely a week after the James Frey and J.T. LeRoy scandals erupted, Navajo author Nasdijj was unmasked as well. Nasdijj had written three acclaimed memoirs. In The Blood Flows Like a River Through My Dreams (2000), he described the life and death of his adopted son, “Tommy Nothing Fancy”, who suffered severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Geronimo’s Bones (2004) was about his own childhood on a reservation and in migrant-worker camps. The Dog and the Boy are Sleeping (2003) was about the life and death of his second adopted son, an AIDS-afflicted 12-year-old boy named Awee, and the difficulties of obtaining adequate AIDS care on the reservation. Other Navajos had their doubts about Nasdiij, but that didn’t stop the New York Times and other prestigious publications from giving his memoirs rave reviews. Then reporter Matthew Fleischer of the LA Times revealed that Nasdijj was really Tim Barrus, a middle-class white man from New Jersey whose first career, as an author of gay erotica, had failed. Barrus isn’t Native, wasn’t raised by migrant workers, and never adopted children. [Correction: Barrus and his wife, who divorced sometime in the ’70s, adopted and briefly cared for a boy reportedly suffering from autism. He survived to adulthood.]

Commenting on the James Frey/J.T. LeRoy scandals, Armistead Maupin told ABC News, “I assumed the publishing industry would be embarrassed. But the problem is that the publishing industry salivates a little too hard over the Jerry Springeresque stories.”

2007: The Boy in the Photos Has Been Identified

Thanks to ABC’s 20/20, which aired a story on the questions surrounding “Tony” around the time the film The Night Listener was released, the little boy in the photos sent to Maupin and others has been identified. A New Jersey woman named Cary Riecken, watching the program, recognized him as Steve Tarabokija, a grade-school classmate of her son at Sacred Heart Grade School in North Bergen, New Jersey (two other viewers recognized him, as well). Cary Riecken and the Tarabokija family appeared on a 20/20 update on January 12, 2007.

Vicki Fraginals had been Steve’s fourth-grade teacher at Sacred Heart. She was remembered as a very involved teacher who threw herself into activities like school plays and frequently took photos of her students. Cary Riecken characterized her as a woman who craved attention and pity.

Steve, a 26-year-old traffic engineer, was completely unaware of the Tony controversy and Vicki’s use of his photos. He recalled her as one of the “nicest” grammar-school teachers he had, but his family felt Mrs. Zackheim owed him an apology.

In lieu of an explanation, the Zackheims’ lawyer sent a 140-page document to 20/20, with sworn statements from the Zackheims and three other people who claim to have met Tony in person. The document didn’t address the photos at all.

The blurry image of “Tony” on the front cover of A Rock and a Hard Place was also a photo of Steve Tarabokija.