COLUMN LEFT : Day Care, Satanism and ‘Therapy’ : Another case of secretive experts and vague indictments involving children in day care.


“For at least eight years American law enforcement has been aggressively investigating the allegations of victims of ritualistic abuse. There is little or no evidence for the portion of their allegations that deals with large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice and organized satanic conspiracies.”

--Kenneth V. Lanning, FBI investigator, Aug. 19, 1991

At the very moment that the FBI’s most experienced investigator of claims of ritual and satanic abuse was making these observations at a meeting of the American Psychological Assn., the Kelly family’s trial began in North Carolina. Bob Kelly and his wife are the former co-owners of the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton. After more than two years in prison, they and five others--four women and one man--are being tried on hundreds of counts of child abuse in a travesty of justice strongly reminiscent of California’s McMartin case.

The defense attorneys in the case have not been given access to transcripts or tapes of the interviews that the state’s “experts” conducted with the children who were allegedly abused. The prosecutors argued that the confidentiality of the relationship between the therapists and the children took precedence, and they were upheld on appeal. The defense has also objected to the form of the prosecution’s indictment, which gives no times or places for the alleged abuses. But local newspaper reports include accounts of baby killing and animal sacrifices in woods near the day-care center.


A PBS “Frontline” documentary, aired earlier this year, brought the connection between the secretive therapy and the vague indictments into the open. A mother in the case, Betty Ann Phillips, told Frontline that she was present when her son was being “evaluated” for symptoms of sexual abuse, and that “it wasn’t therapy, it was an investigation,” complete with rapid-fire questions. In one session, Phillips’ son was given anatomically correct dolls to play with. He put the male doll on top of the female doll. “Is that Mr. Bob?” he was asked. He agreed that it was Mr. Bob. And the female doll? The boy was asked several times and repeated that he didn’t know. Asked “is that Miss Dawn?” he said yes. The next day, Dist. Atty. H. P. Williams filed six indictments in the boy’s name, and Kathryn Dawn Wilson, a young part-time teacher at the day-care center, was arrested. She was separated from her 20-month-old infant, offered a plea-bargain that she refused and jailed for more than a year until she could make bail.

Similar indictments filed in the children’s names led to 19-year-old Robin Byrum’s arrest. Like Wilson, she worked part-time at the center for $3.80 an hour. She refused a plea-bargain, even though she couldn’t meet her bail and couldn’t see her 3-month-old child. After she’d been in prison for more than a year, her grandparents spent their life savings--$30,000, non-refundable--to pay a bail bondsman. As for the other defendants, Bob Kelly has been in prison for two years, without trial, his bail set at $1.5 million; Betsy Kelly has been in the Raleigh state penitentiary, her bail set at a flat million, as is that of another accused, Scott Privott.

As in the McMartin case, the North Carolina “experts” dismissed absurd elements of the children’s stories and fixated on the guilt of the caretakers. When a child in North Carolina put two dolls together, it counted as evidence; when he claimed that Miss Dawn cooked him in the microwave, he was taken to be speaking figuratively. Satan-mongering is an industry of sorts, served by repugnant legal stratagems and nourished by bogus experts. But with day-care panics in more than 100 cities, the scare seems to reflect something more than the preoccupations of shut-ins, pay-TV preachers and fundamentalists. Satan may be trying to subvert American families, but so is Washington.

Day care is so much in demand because of the rising number of families in which both parents must work. This is at least partly the consequence of the sharp increase in the ranks of the working poor that began with the Reagan era. Some states’ “workfare” legislation actually requires poor mothers to place their children in day-care centers while they work menial jobs. Their benefits are docked if they stay home with their own children, but if they hand their kids over to an institution, they can be paid to scrub floors by the state while the state pays the institution.

Lesson: Poor women raising their own kids are lazy welfare queens, but poor women raising somebody else’s kids are gainfully employed, at least until they get hit with the grotesque charges facing the Kellys and their helpers.