Idaho Gothic : Other American Towns Have Been Haunted by Rumors of Rampant Satanism and Human Sacrifice. But Rupert, Idaho, Is Different. Rupert, Idaho, Has the Body of Baby X.

AT FIRST, THOSE FEW WHO PASSED BY were not even certain what they were seeing. A trapper, checking his lines in the remote sand dunes just south of the Minidoka County Landfill, not far from the rural southeast Idaho hamlet of Rupert, thought he glimpsed a burned monkey when he peered inside the round metal cylinder. Days later, a group of teen-agers out four-wheeling dismissed it as junk--a washing machine tub--blown over from the landfill. Hours after that, Robert Boesiger and his young son, who live a mile from the landfill, detoured around the metal drum on their way to pull those teen-agers' truck out of the mud.

That was at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17, 1989. Minutes later, Boesiger's own pickup became stuck, so he and his son started walking home, past rises of wet, soft sand and clumps of rabbit bones and the rim of a dark, empty reservoir.

The boy reached the metal drum first. Boesiger, coming up from behind, aimed his flashlight. He could make out only the outlines, for his light was dim. But not all that dim. He waited until his son went to bed before calling the sheriff's office.

Sheriff Ray Jarvis needed the autopsy report to tell him exactly what he had. It was an infant girl about 3 weeks old, the pathologist advised. An infant girl who'd been dead for no more than five days. An infant girl who'd been dismembered, disemboweled, possibly skinned, and burned. Both hands were missing. So was the right arm, at the shoulder. The abdominal organs had been cut out, leaving only the lungs and a portion of the upper heart chamber. The body had been placed in the metal drum on its back, clothed, before being torched with gasoline.

Jarvis was not unaware of what he might have here. The dismemberment, the metal drum, the burned body--they were all telling. At early press conferences, he and Minidoka County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Creason Jr. allowed that they "couldn't rule out" satanic ritualism.

Nor could they rule it in, though. It could have been an unwanted birth, they reasoned. The autopsy showed clear signs of pneumonia in the lungs. The coroner, calling the infant "Baby X," had listed "indeterminate" for cause of death. Possibly the baby died a natural death and the family, panicking, tried to get rid of it quickly. Couldn't predators have gnawed at the body? Any way you looked at it, the whole thing just didn't make sense. If it was a satanic ritual, why not call attention, draw a pentagram, make a statement? On the other hand, if it was a scared couple getting rid of a dead infant, why leave it by a dirt road regularly used by four-wheelers?

We'll solve this case, Jarvis told himself. With such a close-knit community, someone knows. Someone will come forward.

Matters haven't played out quite that way, however. Instead of a solution, over the past 2 1/2 years this remote wedge of southeast Idaho known as the Mini-Cassia area has endured repeated waves of agitated rumors, waves that grow rather than abate with time. In letters, petitions, telephone calls and an emotional candlelight vigil staged one chilly Friday night last November, anxious citizens have been demanding action against the satanists who, they are convinced, riddle their community. What to Jarvis is an "unexplained death" is to others unmistakable evidence of evil run rampant. At its core, this troubled discord pits those who see affirmation of their world view in Baby X against those who see merely an enigma.

It is a type of situation unfolding with growing frequency across the country. Over the past five years, some 50 communities have become convinced that they are in the grip of organized satanists who abuse and sacrifice humans during ritual ceremonies. "Epidemics of concern," some say; "rumor panics" others call them. Most occur in rural areas with largely white populations and a good many fundamentalist churches, particularly during times of stress. Most find some support from therapists and some attention from daytime talk shows. Most are fueled by vividly persuasive testimony from people claiming to be survivors or eyewitnesses to rituals. Yet all are flatly debunked by the great majority of national academic experts who study these events. Where is the evidence, these skeptics ask. Where are the bodies?

If what's happening around Rupert is in most ways a textbook example of this phenomenon, it is in one critical way also a vexatious exception. We do have proof, people here are able to say, right off our town square. For two years after its discovery, Baby X's body lay unburied and unnamed, stored as potential evidence at Hansen's Mortuary on the corner of 6th and G streets. To many, Baby X's presence at Hansen's has been a disturbingly unavoidable taunt, but to some, it also has been a welcome answer to all the doubters.

"The difference here," the Rev. Stephen Oglevie points out with undisguised relish, "is we have a body."

IT WOULD BE MISLEADING TO SAY that the Mini-Cassia area was entirely unaware of satanism before the discovery of Baby X's body.

Minidoka County, after all, was settled largely by people who are particularly sensitive to intimations of evil. A uniquely diverse ethnic mix came streaming out of the Midwest into southern Idaho at the turn of the century, and again after World War II, when sprawling reclamation projects and generous homesteading acts turned this barren high desert into irrigated farmland. They brought with them a polyglot of potent faiths: A third of Minidoka County is Mormon, but the telephone book for the Rupert-Burley area, which has a combined population of about 13,000, lists 50 other churches as well, many of them fundamentalist--Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Baptist American, Baptist Conservative, Centro Christiano, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ, Foursquare Gospel, Jehovah's Witnesses, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist. These are people equally inclined to bust a living out of sagebrush and raise their voices in prayer.

Harvest dinners, where 12-year-olds get up to sing while old gents play the fiddle, are commonplace at most churches and open to everyone. An applicant for a job can expect to hear a few blunt questions about his religious affiliation. A fellow who too regularly occupies a stool over at the Drift Inn, particularly before 5 p.m., will be quickly noticed. So will a fellow who has a girlfriend as well as a wife. It is not uncommon to hear talk about "all the garbage out there," a comment that can refer to everything from premarital sex and lurid movies to sophisticated narcotics trafficking.

On certain rare occasions that comment can also refer to satanic rituals. Over the years, the Minidoka County sheriff and the Rupert police chief occasionally have received reports of mutilated animals rotting in abandoned barns and robed figures dancing around campfires on the banks of the nearby Snake River. For a good long time, though, reports were just about all the officers received. They never saw anything when they went to investigate. If there were those who regularly sensed Satan's presence in Minidoka County, there were none who could provide tangible evidence.

That is, there were none until the night Baby X's body was found.

The gruesome discovery at the landfill encouraged those who'd always nurtured suspicions. Soon dozens of phone calls and letters were flowing into the investigators' office. So and so is into cult worship. So and so wears black robes. Our cat's disappeared. Our neighbor's trying to get his wife pregnant so they can have an infant to sacrifice.

Following up these leads, Minidoka County Sheriff's Lt. Randy White and Sgt. Tim Hatcher on a handful of mornings found themselves standing at the doors of people who flat out admitted they were Satan worshipers. We do have ceremonies, but we don't kill babies for sacrifice, they'd say. "We only kill people if they need to be killed" is how one particularly blunt fellow put it. One day a haunting, anonymous letter arrived from eastern Idaho. "Stop looking at hospital records and assuming that the mother was aware of what happened to her baby," the writer advised. "I was a victim many times of satanists in the Burley, Rupert and Murtaugh area. Know that in many cases women were used as breeders for the seed of Satan. . . . Babies were born in the compound and no records were ever kept. Many times the mothers only lived in a nightmare world and cannot tell you about their child. . . . Babies were not dead before disemboweling."

There was no evidence at all for these claims, and of course it is not a crime either to worship the devil or to talk big to a deputy sheriff standing at your door. Moreover, apart from the few ominous-sounding encounters, most citizens simply shrugged when White or Hatcher came calling. "Yeah, I wear black robes--so?" they'd say. Or, "Yeah, my wife's pregnant--so?" Another anonymous letter named 116 area residents, including the prosecutor and judges, as members of a satanic cult masquerading as a Baptist church, but it turned out that every name on the list had been typed directly from the telephone book, right down to the misspellings and typographical errors.

All the same, plenty of responsible folks--the sheriff, the police chief, the mayor, the prosecutor, ministers, teachers--in time felt compelled to do some reading about satanism. That reading generated various insights. Four months after Baby X's death, a therapist in Burley and a sheriff's deputy in adjoining Cassia County began warning that local satanic cult activity was growing at "an alarming rate." Reports surfaced of grave desecration at the Rupert cemetery. Investigators were said to have come across altars, candle drippings, ashes, small bones, capes, daggers. Prosecuting Attorney Creason, addressing the Rupert Rotary one day at lunch, spoke about the history and characteristics of satanic worship. The state Legislature, watching from Boise, was inspired to adopt a new law making it a felony to commit certain acts "with, upon, or in the presence of a child as part of a ceremony, rite or any similar observance."

Nothing in this cascade of dead animals, anonymous letters and enigmatic reports, however, shed much light on the fate of Baby X. The truth is, by the spring of 1990, the entire investigation had slowed to a crawl. Detectives could not even find hospital records of the infant's birth. The whole matter might soon have fallen from public attention, in fact, but for a phone call received by Creason one morning in July of 1990.

A child protection official in San Bernardino County, Calif., was on the line. It seemed a 9-year-old boy in Barstow, being questioned as a possible child abuse victim, had told authorities he'd seen a baby sacrificed, a baby who'd been burned. The boy had also drawn some pictures, including one involving a barrel, a fire and a baby. This boy's family, as it happened, was from Idaho. More precisely, the family was from the Rupert area.

THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER AND FALL of 1990, Timothy--the pseudonym given the 9-year-old boy to protect his privacy--told his story to various authorities. Creason and Hatcher heard it in July when they flew to California. A Minidoka County schoolteacher heard it in September, after Timothy's family moved back to the Rupert area. Sgt. Terry Quinn of the Rupert Police Department and Noel Croft, supervisor of special services for the Minidoka County School District, heard it around Labor Day, when the principal called them to the school.

The day Quinn came to interview Timothy, he found the small boy sitting on his teacher's lap, clinging tight. It took 40 minutes to get him to talk.

"They put me on a table with a Bible," the boy finally began. "The devil is there. They pray to the devil. The devil makes these people hurt me. They hurt me so bad. They hurt me in the private parts. . . . They sacrifice all animals. They even sacrifice babies."

Where do they get the babies? Quinn asked.

"I don't know. The babies don't have any clothes on. They just put them on the table and pretty soon the devil makes a fire and they are on fire. . . . It's a sacrifice. It's in the real Bible. . . ."

What does the sacrifice mean?

"It means you burn them and pray with the Bible and give them to the devil."

Quinn asked the boy to draw for him.

Blank-faced, sad, frowning characters soon filled five pages, along with a fair share of altars and penises. In one drawing, a crowd was gathered around a table on which a figure lay with exposed male sex organs. Another showed two people on a table, hearts exposed. "Oh, that's when the baby was cut open and his heart taken out," the boy explained.

There were, among those listening to Timothy, a good number who thought the boy utterly believable. In fact, the drawings alone were sufficient to convince some who didn't know of Timothy directly. A Twin Falls psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Worst, diagnosed ritual abuse as soon as a reporter showed him the drawings, without benefit of explanation or context. And school official Noel Croft, who supervises programs for children with special needs, couldn't avoid wondering whether Timothy had seen Baby X being sacrificed. "The boy gave very believable, accurate information," Croft said. "You can't have a kid look up to you, hang on to you, clutch your leg, beg you not to send him home, without it affecting you." That Timothy's family lived in a ramshackle former schoolhouse and kept pet rats did little to alter these judgments. Nor did the fact that Timothy's father, Val Solosabal, was a tall, thin, bearded 43-year-old with missing teeth who apparently spent much of his time writing strange poetry and playing his guitar.

There were, all the same, those who saw problems with Timothy's story.

The details varied each time he told it. Sometimes the sacrifices happened in Rupert, sometimes a hundred miles to the north. Sometimes only his parents were practicing the rituals, sometimes many others. Precise names were offered at one session, then changed at the next. The boy, who is emotionally troubled and suffers from learning disabilities, was often incoherent and difficult to follow. Timothy's father denied everything. "We are being crucified. . . . They have ruined my life in this town," Solosabal told a reporter in the fall of 1990.

More practically, Timothy's testimony apparently wasn't convincing to those with the power to act. California juvenile authorities had been unable to persuade a hearing judge to remove the boy from his family, and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare authorities did not even try. In truth, some in the Idaho agency came to regard Noel Croft as a fanatic; some accused Croft of holding up pictures for Timothy to copy. ("If we get a complaint like that we would be obligated to investigate," is all Anne McNevin, regional manager of family and children's services, would tell a Twin Falls reporter about Timothy's case last fall, because of confidentiality laws. "We would be involved extensively. If we thought a child was in danger, we would notify legal authorities.")

Could this be a disturbed boy, seeking attention, some wondered. Could this boy have been led by overzealous questioners?

More to the underlying point: Could people really sacrifice infants?

Creason and others were confronting a perplexity that has troubled dozens of communities across the country in the past few years. For days in May of 1989, news helicopters skipped across Mason County, Wash., in search of satanic victims' graves; in 1988, parents in Breathitt County, N.Y., kept their children home from school amid rumors that satanists planned to kidnap blond, blue-eyed children; in May of 1988, in Jamestown, N.Y., dozens of citizens armed themselves with clubs and searched the forests for a band of imagined satanists. Wherever such stories sprout, there are always passionate differences over what to make of them.

A good number of therapists, mental health workers, task forces and mainstream churches have started to take seriously the accounts they've been hearing from a growing number of self-described "survivors." When Twin Falls psychiatrist Worst quickly saw evidence of ritual abuse in Timothy's drawings, it was because he'd seen similar evidence before. "I'm a more conservative psychiatrist than most," he says. "When I first began to hear hoopla about satanic stuff, I was skeptical. But in the last five years, I've started to come into contact with patients who have been victims of and participated in ritualistic sacrifices. They've participated in the abduction of children, they've participated in the sacrifice of children. I have had more than one patient describe human sacrifice in a way that I believe."

Others, though, are not nearly as accepting. A host of academic and law enforcement experts insist that stories of organized satanists committing blood sacrifices and sexual abuse are nothing more than myth and public hysteria perpetuated by Christian fundamentalists and the mentally ill. Therapists who believe people claiming to have survived satanic abuse need "to get in touch with reality," says David Raskin, a University of Utah psychologist who has studied reports of ritual abuse. "These are the claims of disturbed individuals. . . . I don't think there is any doubt that there are people who practice satanic rites. The issue is: Are children and others being abused and sacrificed? As far as I know there is no concrete evidence."

It is an intriguing and puzzling debate, and one that provides the underlying context for the Baby X conflict. It does not, however, precisely reflect the question facing Minidoka County prosecutor Charles Creason in late 1990. The question facing Creason was particular, not general. The question facing Creason was what to make of a 9-year-old boy's stories.

Timothy knows something, the boy has seen something, the boy has been exposed to something traumatic, Creason figured. Boys that age just don't talk about sacrificing babies. But the more he talks, the less credible he sounds. Maybe his experience was firsthand, but maybe it was something he saw on TV or was told. Whatever, the drawings and testimony won't play in a courtroom. They don't have forensic value. They just don't amount to legal evidence.

Creason, 39, is a discreet, careful Minidoka County native. His granddad came to the Rupert area in 1919, and his mother's family homesteaded here. His father and grandfather before him each served terms as the Minidoka County prosecuting attorney, a position he's now held for 10 years. "I don't know," he says, shrugging, when asked about Timothy. "I just don't know."

For a while after Minidoka County and Idaho state authorities decided not to act, Timothy and his family continued to live on the outskirts of Rupert in the run-down schoolhouse across from a sugar beet field. Junk cluttered the front yard, along with a battered white school bus, the family's means of transportation. From time to time, teen-agers would drive by to peer at the house, and occasionally someone would call in the middle of the night and hang up. Then one day Timothy and his family packed up, piled into the school bus, and moved on.

Such an unsettled ending held little appeal to those in the Mini-Cassia area hungry for resolution. Certain citizens began to stir--and no longer was the agitation simply about Timothy or Baby X.

"People want to know what in Sam Hill is going on in their community," the Rev. Oglevie took to saying in his rolling, resonant baritone. "There's just a deep sense in the community that a bunch of garbage is going on here. A sense that we want to know about it and have it cleaned out." Be it at Oglevie's Church of the Nazarene pulpit or a radio talk show, the pastor's sentences soon acquired a certain lilting rhythm. "This community wants to be clean," Oglevie would say, over and over. "This community wants a clean town."

STEPHEN OGLEVIE IS AN AFFABLE 41-year-old with a spreading waistline, a wife, two children and a basement full of articles, books and tapes about satanism. His research has led him to certain precise understandings. He cannot help but chuckle, for example, while listening to Sgt. Tim Hatcher say it was a "significant" satanic sign that Baby X's cylinder was pointing north. "He's not done his homework," Oglevie observes, shaking his head. "I've never heard anything about the head pointing north. No. It's always west."

Oglevie thought he was finally settling in a clean town when he moved to Rupert in 1986. Cleaner, certainly, than places he'd been before.

It was in the state of Washington, in 1977, that he'd first brushed up against what he understood to be satanic ritualism. A 19-year-old woman arrived one day at the Church of the Nazarene in Wenatchee. I'm married to a warlock, she said. I've been up to the altar. I've suffered physical and sexual abuse. I can't get away.

The lady's eyes appeared demonic and possessed, and she sometimes spoke in a deep man's voice, but what most unsettled Oglevie were the precise details in her stories about prostitution. Earning $4,000 a night at $10 per man--why, that was 400 men. Oglevie laughs nervously as he recollects. "I had a great trouble dealing with that," he says. "She liked to be graphic about her drugs and promiscuity. . . . I was kind of glad when that segment of my life was over."

Oglevie's move to Idaho came because "the Lord wanted me here," a wish revealed by means of a job offer to replace a departing pastor. "I thought this was a clean place, if any place was," he says. "I thought I was getting away from all that junk. I really thought that chapter of my life was over with."

Oglevie maintains that he held to this belief even after he attended a five-day seminar in Boise offered by the Cult Crime Impact Network, a privately funded clearinghouse on satanic crimes. He took copious notes at the 1988 seminar, and upon his return to Rupert began sharing his insights with others, but still, "I was not convinced it was happening here. Because this region is so religious."

Then came Baby X. As much as Oglevie was dismayed by the disturbing discovery of an infant's body, it's fair to say he was also somewhat inspired. Here was proof, after all, of his world view. Satan did exist; the adversary was finally showing his hand. "As a pastor, I believe in spiritual battles," is how Oglevie puts it. "There is a battle for the soul being fought on a daily basis."

In this sentiment he had allies, and not just among his fellow fundamentalists. Noel Croft, the school official, for example, is a Mormon who has done missionary work in Upstate New York; Rupert Mayor Bill Whittom, publisher of a multistate trade journal called the Farm Times, belongs to no particular religion at all. What they and others shared were a heartfelt concern over Timothy, a general sense that "something was going on," and a longing for answers.

Answers, in time, were precisely what they conjured.

THE PRECISE CHRONOLOGYis hard to assemble, and the causes risky to suggest. There are those, though, who believe it was just about when Timothy's family left town that established community figures such as Oglevie and Croft privately began using the word "complicity" to explain why law enforcement officials weren't taking action against Baby X's killer and Timothy's abuser.

Usually the suggestions were oblique and casual. For those who didn't understand what they meant by "complicity," though, Croft and Oglevie occasionally were a little more pointed and forthcoming. By complicity, they meant "connections." The sheriff and the prosecutor, in other words, might have "ties" to the ritual satanists.

Over a family dinner, while passing the baked ham and the mashed potatoes, is the moment when Oglevie first mentions to an out-of-town reporter that the "rug has been pulled" on several local investigations. From there, the suggestions multiply in a series of subsequent conversations with Oglevie, Croft and a few others.

There is a "particular power" wielded by Creason. The prosecuting attorney's interests "go beyond his office." Creason doesn't have a "strong record" of prosecuting,particularly narcotics cases. Which is significant, because Timothy's father is "connected" to a "sophisticated major narcotics ring." Look at a map--we're at a major crossroads for trafficking. And didn't those who went camping with Creason say he sat at a campfire, talking at length about how you could use the inner metal drum from a dryer as an incinerator? There's been trouble with narcotics response from the sheriff as well. The sheriff, as a matter of fact, has been spotted guarding the road leading to sites of known rituals. Isn't it curious that the sheriff's wife died on the 23rd of December, which is the very date when Satan is to return to Earth in 1999, and the date when Christ was to be killed in the Bible? Yes, the sheriff's wife's death was ruled a suicide. But suicide can be induced.

Here is where satanic ritual controversies turn wiggy and start encouraging recollection of the Salem witch hunts. That some people conduct satanic ceremonies appears undeniable--the psychiatrists will tell you that for every force such as a powerful fundamentalist church, there's a counterforce, a kind of spinoff. That particular, isolated incidents of abuse occur under the cloak of satanic activity also appears undeniable. There is a point, though, where the earnest concern for abuse victims ends and outlandish conspiracy theories begin. When a woman comes forth, as one did recently in Rupert, to say she's witnessed the sacrifices of five children--"I know. I was there for all of them"--it is dubious but disturbing. When Croft ominously reports that someone has spotted "a dagger with a goat's head" in the house of local newspaper publisher Douglas Jones, it is just plain balmy.

The experts say that some of the more extravagant responses to satanism arise from the universal human fears it evokes--fears of blood rituals, murder, cannibalism, vampirism and death. But at least a few of the responses appear to arise from more calculated human impulses. "Some are using this for other agendas," is how the psychiatrist Worst puts it. "I don't believe in Satan. I believe in sociopaths. I believe in clever, manipulative sociopaths who have found another way to get victims, to break vulnerable, inadequate people's defenses, to manipulate them, usually for sex. There are those who do believe in Satan, though, and for them, here it is. This is a tool. This raises them up, enlarges them. This gives them a cause, a crusade."

If the battle against Satan in Rupert be a crusade, it is one that displays no overt hint of fervor or fanaticism. Oglevie and his confreres speak calmly, with an air of serene certitude. Even when asked for proof of indefensible assertions--"Baby X was alive at the time of the sacrifice"--they respond with unruffled suggestions that you "check with someone in forensics." For them, the specter of Satan in the Mini-Cassia area has served to sharply define good and evil in an otherwise muddied, bewildering universe. Theirs now is a world of unblemished clarity, high purpose, intricate structure and more than a little intrigue. No wonder they welcome inquiring outsiders with open arms, readily supplying dinners, tours, documents and tapes. They have a reassuring and inspiring story to tell.

By contrast, those targeted by this campaign against satanism--those more full of doubt and confusion--tend to cringe when approached. Eyes are averted, calls avoided. The story for them is one to quell, not out of guilt but because any attention paid gives validity to their critics. "How about next June?" Lt. Randy White suggests to a reporter who, in the dead of winter, asks when they might get together. "I have a trial all this week," Creason claims. Only reluctantly, after a few polite suggestions that journalists are "blowing this up," do they and their allies offer a response.

Much is ascribed to "politics" and "the price you pay" for being a political figure. "You're in a strange place," it is pointed out. This area, so insulated and far from everywhere, has always had a "proclivity for the fringe stuff." People here "want to think theirs is a safe community."

Creason just rolls his eyes when the whispers about him are brought up. "You've got to understand the dynamics," he says. "This is a rural, conservative, religious community. . . . I think you've got all the ingredients for arousing extraordinary concern. . . . The fundamentalists tend to want and need answers. When the answers are not there, it sets people up to take hold of one. It sets people up to accept the idea of devil worshipers, of satanism. It provides an answer. I understand the frustration, and where the beliefs come from. My problem is, it doesn't change anything. I'm stuck with the rules. I need proof."

Creason's reluctance to offer these words is understandable. They tend to inflame rather than mollify.

"This isn't an organized religious thing," snaps Rupert's mayor, Bill Whittom. "You've got Catholics, Protestants and LDS (Latter-day Saints) working together, trying to answer some questions that haven't been answered. The community is asking: Why was this botched? Why has this not been solved? When you find a burned, dismembered body of an infant, people are going to question it until they have an answer."

Last summer, with that answer still not forthcoming, certain citizens in the Mini-Cassia area finally decided they'd waited long enough.

IN JULY OF 1991, NOEL CROFT CALLED local journalist Christopher Clark and invited him to a meeting. Present with Croft when Clark arrived were Oglevie, Rupert Police Chief Paul Fries, the coroner-mortician Arvin Hansen, and the local forensic pathologist, Kerry Patterson.

Here was an intriguing group. All in the room no doubt felt genuine concern for Timothy, but beyond that, motives surely differed. To Croft, for example, those handling the Baby X case shared a possible "complicity" with satanists and needed to be stopped. To Fries, the case investigators included his political opponent; the police chief is running for Sheriff Jarvis' office.

So it is not entirely surprising that those present, looking back now, offer somewhat varying recollections about the nature of this meeting.

"I was the person who got the local newspaper involved," Noel Croft says. "I talked to Chris first. I put him in touch with Hansen and Fries."

"I was not the one doing the inviting and I was not one of the main players," says Fries. "I went there to see if there was something we should be doing."

"They said they had a ritualistic killing with eyewitnesses," Clark recalls. "The Health and Welfare Department had put a lid on it, they said. The prosecuting attorney was unwilling to pursue it."

At this meeting or sometime soon after, Clark was provided with certain documents, including the anonymous letter from eastern Idaho, copies of Timothy's drawings, and a transcript of the Rupert Police Department's interview with Timothy. Clark (and other local journalists) also were provided with quotes. Fries, saying he was "disturbed" by Timothy's drawings and convinced there was satanic activity in the region, thought it "wouldn't hurt" to seek outside investigative help. Arvin Hansen, "leaning toward" the conclusion that Baby X was the victim of a ritualistic murder, also thought it "couldn't hurt" to invite in qualified experts.

The resulting series of articles by Clark--revealing details of the Timothy case and its possible connection to Baby X--sparked a barrage of response when it ran in the South Idaho Press last September.

"If Baby X was found on Nov. 16 and our coroner figured out she was 1 to 2 weeks old, was she sacrificed on Satan's holiday--Halloween?" asked Gordon and Vicki Stewart of Rupert in a letter to the editor. "It is time for the Minidoka County sheriff and the Minidoka County prosecuting attorney to step forward and tell us what they plan to do. We say ENOUGH!! We want answers now."

"Have we as humans put a veil on our eyes so that we can't see what Satan is doing? When will we open our eyes . . . and see the truth of what our community has turned into?" wondered Lisa Pozernick of Burley.

"We have a pretty good knowledge it's going on in this community," Mayor Whittom told a reporter. "It's like a drunk driver who drives drunk for five years, but because he doesn't crash, we don't think about it. Same here. It went on before, but it wasn't noticed--until Baby X."

In response, a few began trying to calm the waters.

"Enough is enough," wrote Doug Jones, publisher of the weekly News Journal. "In any community with 40,000 people, there will always be those who say they know of devil worship, have seen UFO's or have sighted Elvis. But it doesn't meant that it is true. . . . If I saw campfires on an island in the middle of the Snake River, I'd know what it was, because I went to them in high school. They're called keggers."

"I don't question the fact that there's some in this community who are practitioners of satanism," said the Rev. Bill Lineberry at Rupert's United Methodist Church. "But I don't think the group is very large. I do not think satanists are riddling the community."

"We don't have hard facts or evidence," Sgt. Hatcher told an interviewer. "We have received information that is just totally off the mark. . . . They are trying to start some vicious rumor about full-grown satanism in Minidoka County, and that is just not the case."

Not one of these comments worked, however. There just was no stopping the momentum. Late last year, one couple reported that every full moon, they regularly watched a group of robed men and women dance around a campfire on the bank of the Snake River. Speculation arose over a year-old local suicide by an emotionally disturbed 39-year-old man, mainly because he left a bloodstained note that talked of demons, torture and death. A young mother came forward to talk publicly of childhood memories involving human sacrifices; another woman with similar memories called Mayor Whittom to say, over and over, "I need help. I need help."

The climax came in the form of a candlelight vigil last Nov. 8 sponsored by the Mini-Cassia Ministerial Assn. Some 500 people turned out in Rupert's town square on a dark, chilly Friday night, along with a cadre of newspaper reporters and an array of lights and cameras from no fewer than five television stations.

The purpose of the vigil, its organizers explained, was "not to point fingers at law enforcement or criticize anyone," but to "demonstrate support for those who have been ritually abused." It's fair to say, though, that other agendas were also at play.

There were announcements of a "Baby X memorial fund." There was the presentation of an award to the journalist Chris Clark, "the man who opened our eyes and brought this shocking story to us." There was, over at the refreshment stand, a letter and petition asking Idaho's Gov. Cecil D. Andrus to investigate the Timothy case. There was plenty of prayer: "Oh God, we are here tonight because we are increasingly becoming aware of something evil in our midst. . . . Oh God, Satan is being worshiped. Human beings are being abused in the course of that worship." There was testimony from survivors: "I am here standing before you saying yes, this is real, yes it is happening." There were gracious bows to the visiting journalists: "We want to welcome the news media from all around the West that's here tonight," Whittom said. There was, in fact, slavish accommodation of the news media: At the television stations' request, a candle-lighting ceremony was staged early in the evening, out of sequence, before the cameras left.

The raw wind did not cooperate--amid much fumbling most flames were blown out--but all in all the sizable gathering was considered a singular success in such a small town. "If it's true . . . that there's a large, organized criminal group," the Rev. Oglevie told the crowd, "we want them to know that the good people of Rupert at least are willing to say we care enough to live in a clean community and a clean town. And that's why we're here tonight."

IT WAS AN OFFHAND QUESTION that finally yielded the conclusion to the Baby X case.

Talking to Timothy's mother one February morning during the course of a marathon series of interviews, Randy Everitt, an investigator for the Idaho attorney general's office, thought to ask: What kind of stories do you read to your boy?

I've only read one story to him since he was a baby, she replied. There's only one book I read to him.

The family's book, Everitt discovered, is a Jehovah's Witness children's bible that--as part of the story of King Solomon threatening to split a child in half--includes pictures of a baby being sacrificed and torn apart.

Until then, Everitt had not been sure just what he was investigating. At the invitation of the country prosecutor--an invitation Creason says was extended "in response to all the hue and cry"--the Idaho attorney general had taken over the Baby X investigation late last year. A five-person state team had thoroughly re-examined Minidoka County's box full of evidence. Timelines were built, people once more interviewed, statements catalogued, a new autopsy conducted.

For a while, Timothy's father, Val Solosabal, had been considered a suspect, and his wife and children had been kept under "voluntary protection," where they underwent hours of questioning. But like the Minidoka County prosecutor, the attorney general's investigators had found themselves perplexed and fettered by murky testimony from young and deeply troubled witnesses. It grew apparent to them that neither the boy nor the mother was much in touch with reality.

Then Everitt had thought to ask his question about the family's reading habits. Soon after, in mid-March, he sent Timothy to a medical expert in childhood and satanic disorders, who concluded that the child had not been present at any satanic sacrifices. By late April, the attorney general's office had all but concluded its investigation.

"We are fairly well convinced that the little boy didn't see anything," Everitt says now. "We believe the boy jumbled what he's been read, and other folks interpreted that as they wanted. Probably the next step will be to give a clean bill of health to the father as well. We can't connect him to anything."

Baby X, Everitt adds, most likely was an infant who died of pneumonia and then was discarded and set on fire by a scared family illegally in the country to work the Idaho crops. Predatory animals could have mutilated the body. "That's a very realistic interpretation," he says. "It has taken us seven or eight nasty months of jumping through hoops to get to the same conclusion as the local prosecuting attorney. . . . There is no evidence of widespread satanic activity in that region. If we thought a cult was out there burning babies, we'd send an army."

It would no longer be accurate to say that the Baby X case dominates discourse in the Mini-Cassia area. Farming and food processing once again claim much attention. There's also a lot of hunter talk these days; anyone pulling up a chair at a local coffee shop will be obliged to hear, more than once, precisely how some fellow dragged a deer up from the ravine. Sitting in the privacy of his downtown Rupert office, prosecutor Charles Creason now goes so far as to venture a thought he's long held but not dared previously to voice. "I wouldn't place this case at the top of my priorities," he confesses. "We have much worse problems here--drugs, poverty, illiteracy. Baby X is not something I ignore. But I can't spend all my resources on it."

Those in Rupert who long for clarity and purpose, of course, do not find this outcome entirely satisfying. Desiring not a contraction but an inflation of the story, they faithfully await an alternative ending. The Rev. Oglevie continues to explain that the Baby X situation is "only a small microcosm" of what's going on "all over the country." Coroner Hansen now officially classifies Baby X's death as a "homicide." Not long ago, Chris Clark welcomed a psychic from California named Bernadette Schultz, who soon after arriving announced that she'd beheld images of rituals while visiting the Minidoka landfill, then produced two computer composite drawings of possible witnesses to Baby X's death. And on a gray overcast Monday in mid-March, some half dozen citizens--among them Noel Croft, Steve Oglevie, Arvin Hansen, Chris Clark and a self-described ritual-abuse survivor named Patty--gathered at the Rupert Cemetery to finally lay Baby X to rest.

Those present prayed briefly, placed a single yellow flower on the grave, and--in homage to the Christ child, angels and a passage from the book of James ("If any of you lack in wisdom, let him ask of God. . .")--conferred a name upon Baby X: Kristina Angelica James. The ceremony was private, and the casket was wrapped in a two-yard-thick steel-and-concrete cocoon, for those involved were worried about the possibility of grave desecration. There'd been quite a problem recently with that sort of thing, they reminded each other.

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