The Satanic Panic of the 80’s-90’s

In 1980, psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient-turned-wife Michelle Smith wrote Michelle Remembers, an “autobiographical” account of Smith’s counseling related to the Satanic cult her mother, Virginia Proby, was a part of. The accounts were generated through 600 hours of hypnosis therapy, carried out over 14 months and conducted by Pazder himself. Smith recalled being tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in Satanic rituals, witnessing murders and being rubbed in the blood and body parts of sacrificial children.


Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, M.D.

Following the book’s publication, Pazder retracted statements that the Church of Satan was responsible for Smith’s childhood abuse after Anton Szandor LaVey threatened to sue him for libel.

On October 27, 1980, Paul Grescoe interviewed Smith’s father, Jack Proby, about the allegations, which he denied unanimously. (Virginia was not available for comment, as she had passed away in 1964.) It wasn’t until 1995, when Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, written by Debbie Nathan and Michael R. Snedeker, pointed out major inconsistencies in Pazder’s narrative, that Michelle Remembers was officially debunked. However, Grescoe’s interview garnered little attention, and most were convinced that Pazder’s book was authentic, resulting in widespread allegations of Satanic ritual abuse.

The only scandal resulting in a trial occurred in 1983, when Judy Johnson, the mother of one of the students at McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, filed a report with the police accusing her estranged husband and Ray Buckey, a teacher at the preschool, of sodomizing her son. Johnson also accused other preschool faculty members of sexual relations with animals, and Buckey of being able to fly on command. No evidence surfaced to confirm her story.

Later, Johnson was diagnosed and hospitalized with acute paranoid schizophrenia. She died in 1986 of complications related to her chronic alcoholism, before the preliminary hearing of her trial concluded.

The story would’ve ended there as the ramblings of a madwoman in her death throes, had Children’s Institute International (CII), an abuse therapy clinic for children run by Kee MacFarlane in Los Angeles, not subsequently interviewed several hundred children related to the incident.

The children were both current and former students of the preschool, and were coerced through suggestive interview techniques into corroborating even more wild accusations against various employees of the school. Among these bizarre claims included a secret array of tunnels under the school in which the abuse was conducted, the existence of which was categorically denied (and confirmed to never have existed); orgies supposedly conducted in car washes and airports; disturbing games of “Naked Movie Star” in which the children were forcefully photographed nude; and, as before, assertions that Buckey could fly.

Pazder, still nursing off the fame of his best-selling book, was consulted by the prosecution as an expert of Satanic ritual abuse. His testimony was used in court to corroborate the claims the children made.

Suffice it to say, after formal review, all parties were acquitted of all charges in 1990.

In 1988, David Finkelhor, a sociologist, published a report following an investigation on child abuse in daycares in the United States. The report found 270 cases of sexual abuse, 36 of which were classified as “substantiated cases of ritual abuse.” “Substantiated” here means “required only that one agency had decided that abuse had occurred, even if no action was taken, no arrests made, and no operating licenses suspended.” In many cases, multiple agencies may have been involved (including the FBI, local police, social services agencies and childhood protective services), with wide and contradictory differences in suspicion and confirmation among them.

By the late 1990’s, the “Satanic Panic” – as it was later betokened – finally died down.


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