Nightmare at the Day Care: The Wee Care Case

Oct 13, 2009 - by Lona Manning - 0 Comments

Updated January 14, 2007

Kelly Michaels

Kelly Michaels

The Wee Care case that sentenced Kelly Michaels to prison for 47 years was typical of the child-abuse hysteria that gripped the United States in the 1980s. At the peak of the frenzy of the great day-care witch hunt, it was the day-care workers, not the preschoolers, who were at risk. As the preschoolers, urged on by overzealous social workers, child therapists and prosecutors, told their incredible stories of sexual abuse and satanic rituals in courtrooms across the United States, scores of innocent people were sent off to prison. Some are still there.

by Lona Manning


"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters"


Kelly Michaels never intended to become a preschool teacher -- she had taken fine arts and drama in college -- but she wanted to live near New York City and was looking for something to pay the rent when she applied at Wee Care Day Care in Maplewood, N.J. Although Kelly doubted if she had the qualifications, the director, Arlene Spector, had been encouraging and had persuaded her to give it a try. Once hired, Kelly was quickly promoted from teacher's aide to preschool teacher.

Kelly, then 23 years old, found that the children responded well to her. She was the oldest child in a large family and she'd done a lot of babysitting. Even without special training, Kelly knew what little children liked, what songs and games made them laugh, how to soothe their upsets, and settle their quarrels. But Kelly grew dissatisfied with Wee Care and complained that the teachers were expected to do too much without enough support and supervision. She decided to look for another job.

Although she knew that it was upsetting for little children when their teachers -- with whom they'd formed a bond -- came and went, Kelly accepted a teacher's job at the Community Day Nursery in East Orange, N.J., where she shared an apartment with a roommate. Community Day Nursery was a nicer facility -- larger, lighter, airier -- than Wee Care where the kids were stuck in the basement of a stone church and had to traipse down a long hall and up a flight of stairs to go to the restrooms.

On May 6, 1985, as Kelly was getting ready for work, she must have felt that her life was beginning to take shape and direction. She had fallen into the other day-care job, but this one she had chosen.

Then came the knock on the door of her apartment. It was just after 7 a.m.

A police sergeant and an investigator, both men, stood in the doorway. They were looking for Margaret Kelly Michaels. Could she come down to the prosecutor's office for questioning? Bewildered and concerned, Kelly went to the prosecutor's office where she was told she was suspected of sexually touching three of the little boys at the Wee Care Day Care. Kelly was shocked and horrified and as the questioning continued, she began to cry:

"Did you sexually assault Jonathan Moore during naptime or any other time while you were at Wee Care?"


"Did you ever touch or attempt to touch Sean sexually?"


"Did you ever lock any of the pupils in a closet?"

"No --"

"Did you ever touch Paul on his penis with a spoon?"


"Are you sexually attracted to any of these pupils that we just talked about?"


The questioning went on for nine hours, and included a lie detector test, which Kelly passed. She was also repeatedly asked, "Why would the children say that you did these things?" It was up to Kelly to prove to her interrogators that she wasn't a monster.

Kelly racked her brain trying to think how this could have happened to her. ''I was a very trusting, naive person," she described herself later. "I loved life… I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a writer. I had never been in trouble with the law, not even a parking ticket, Catholic high school, Catholic college, drama club, president of my student council in high school.''

The whole thing had started, she learned, when one of the little boys that she used to supervise at naptime, Jonathan Moore, was at his doctor's office. He was being examined for a rash, but his mother was also worried about his hyperactive behavior, which was another added stress in her life, on top of her troubled marriage. The nurse was taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer and Jonathan had said that his teacher at day care took his temperature. He wasn't upset or angry or frightened when he mentioned it, and upon further questioning, explained that the teacher was named "Kelly." Jonathan added that Kelly also had taken the temperature of two other boys, Sean and Evan (the names of all the children and parents are not their real names and are the pseudonyms used in Nap Time, a book about the Wee Care case).

Jonathan's grandfather was a prominent local judge. Soon Jonathan was repeating his allegations to Sara McArdle, an assistant D.A. at the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. McArdle, an intense woman in her 30s, would become the lead prosecutor in the case. McArdle also interviewed the other two boys Jonathan had mentioned at the doctor's office. Evan Connors denied that Kelly had inserted anything in his bottom or abused him sexually in any way. But Sean, described as "agitated, hostile, rushing around the room, almost trapped," during questioning, came up with a new charge -- he alleged that Kelly Michaels had touched his penis. The wheels started to turn on what would become one of New Jersey's longest and most expensive crime trials.

Although the Wee Care parents were initially told only that "serious allegations" had been made against a "former employee," it wasn't long before all the parents knew that Kelly Michaels was the employee in question and the "allegations" became, at least in their minds, an established fact. Peg Foster of the Child Abuse Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Children's Hospital of New Jersey, in Newark, met with the parents the week after Kelly was first questioned. She provided the parents with a list of symptoms that children might be displaying if, in fact, they had been sexually abused. The list included tummy aches, fear of being separated from parents, and bedwetting. In addition Foster included a warning to be on the lookout for any sexual behavior or remarks, such as inappropriate sex play or touching.

None of the Wee Care parents had raised any complaints or alarms about Kelly during the seven months that she had cared for their children. None had mentioned suspected sexual abuse at the day care to the director, or to their doctors, or to the police. But after the meeting with Foster, the rumors and after-the-fact detection work began to spread like a virus in the Wee Care community. In retrospect, the parents remembered that many of the children had been refusing to take naps. Some had mysterious rashes on their bottoms. Another child had been stuttering. What about that time a little girl asked a teacher, "Do you want to see my vagina?" Parents, especially mothers, spent hours on the phone comparing symptoms and worries-- what if, what if? They were alternately reassured and horrified to learn that Lou Fonolleras, an investigator with the Department of Youth and Family Services, would be spending some time at the day care to interview the children.





Sometime in between Jonathan Moore's first remark that Kelly took his temperature and Kelly's arrest two months later on charges of multiple child abuse, the prosecution shifted from investigating to see if a crime had been committed, to building a case against Kelly Michaels, the sex pervert.


Nap Time, a book about the case that was based on interviews with the prosecution team, doesn't discuss any hard evidence or forensic findings that solidified doubt into certainty for the prosecution team; it only relates emotions and intuitive flashes. Peg Foster "was overwhelmed by a kinetic feeling of sudden conviction" when listening to the children's parents talk about how their kids weren't sleeping well and were refusing certain foods. Lou Fonolleras and Sara McArdle got that tingling feeling just by walking down the paneled hallways of the church in which the day care was located.

Thus the case against Michaels was driven by emotion, and conducted not with reference to logic or traditional crime detection techniques but in accordance with certain beliefs to which Foster, Fonolleras and McArdle subscribed and which they, in turn, preached to the parents.

One was that young children seldom, if ever, lie about sexual abuse. Even if some of the details were far-fetched, the basic charge of sexual abuse was true because children as young as 3 or 4 could not even conceive of such a thing on their own, therefore they had to be speaking from experience. Their rallying cry was, "Believe the Children."

Another was that if a child denied that anything had happened with his teacher, it wasn't because nothing had happened, it was because the child was afraid to tell. In fact, as Foster told her fellow investigators, "the more silent the child, the worse the abuse the child must have suffered."

Therefore, it was necessary to question and re-question and question again until the child did tell. This second point, that if a child said 'no,' he had to be lying, was in direct contradiction to point one, "Believe the Children."

Point three explained the discrepancy: The children were withholding the truth because they were afraid of Kelly. In addition to tormenting her young charges sexually, Kelly must also have terrorized them with threats for their own and their families' safety. Therefore the children had to be reassured that Kelly was a bad person who was now in jail.

When, after repeated urging, a child unlocked the dark secret that had been corroding his soul, it was known as "disclosure."

Imbedded in this belief system, however, was the classic Catch-22: Because "disclosure" meant the child had been abused, and refusal to disclose also meant the child had been abused and threatened to boot, there was no way for a child to demonstrate that he or she had not been abused.

Little Evan Connors is a case in point. When assistant D.A. McArdle first interviewed him he denied that anything bad had happened with Kelly. A few weeks later, Lou Fonolleras of the Department of Youth and Family Services came to Wee Care. Fonolleras interviewed Evan and again Evan denied that anything bad had happened. Fonolleras, however, had confidence in his ability to intuit when children were hiding the truth. "You can't go by what they say," he explained. Fonolleras suggested that Evan's mother read No More Secrets for Me, a child's book about sexual abuse, to him at bedtime. Fonolleras felt that if tales of body parts, touching, and secrets were Evan's nightly bedtime fare, he might be encouraged to "disclose." Soon, Mrs. Connors reported that Evan was misbehaving and acting out in the daytime, and haunted by nightmares at night. After two weeks of urgings from the grownups in his life, and scary bedtime stories, Evan was ready to "disclose." According to his mother, Evan said that his teacher Kelly had sucked his penis and scraped his nipples with a fork. He named other children as participants. He was interviewed once again by Fonolleras and this time he added new allegations -- the children had been made to undress and pile on top of one another. Kelly had inserted forks, knives and spoons in his private parts. (This interview and the other initial interviews – when the allegations were first made, were not recorded).

All the other friends I talked to told me everything that happened. Randy told me. Connie told me...And now it's your turn to tell. You don't want to be left out, do you?

(The following quotes in italics are taken from excerpts of the transcripts of the interviews held with the Wee Care children. For more excerpts, click here.)

The children Evan named were questioned in turn and they added yet more names to Fonolleras's list until practically every child who attended Wee Care was declared to have been a victim and the charges against Kelly Michaels became a mind-boggling catalog of sexual perversity.

Some of the allegations that the young children made -- such as claiming that Kelly forced them to play "duck, duck, goose" in the nude -- were improbable, but at least were physically possible. Other charges, such as the allegation that she had put cars on top of them and turned one child into a mouse, were not.

The investigators, suspecting that the young children lacked the vocabulary to explain the evils they had been subjected to, taught them the names of body parts with anatomically correct dolls.

Investigator: What are these things [pointing to a doll]? What we all have here? Breasts or boobies? What do you want to call them?

Child: You're teaching me.

Investigator: I'm not teaching you. I'm asking you. Come on. Don't go throwing stuff around like that.

Child: Stop teaching me this stuff.

Investigator: You got to learn somehow. . . .

The social workers believed that disclosure would bring psychic relief to the children.

That's why I need your help, especially you older kids...because you can talk better than the younger kids...and you will be helping to keep her in jail longer so that she doesn't hurt anybody. Not to mention that you'll also feel a lot better once you start.

But after talking to the investigators, the children didn't feel a lot better. They felt a lot worse and most went into therapy. They were upset, fearful, and started saying and doing sexually inappropriate things. "Pee on me!" one child exclaimed to her mother. Nightmares and stomachaches were common.

Investigator: And did you have to pee on her at all?…

Investigator: Well, what about licking the peanut butter?…

Investigator: Did you ever see Kelly locking any of the kids in the bathroom or closet?…

The children's suffering was carefully related in Nap Time, written by Lisa Manshel, a friend of Peg Foster. Again and again in Nap Time, Manshel records that after "disclosure," the children's behavior got worse, not better. One child started to masturbate openly, and invited her mother to "smell my vagina." In every instance, the social workers, the prosecutors (and Manshel, the author), believed that the children were acting up because they had been sexually assaulted and were wounded on a psychic level.

The prosecution was blind to the alternate explanation that the children were traumatized because they had been through a psychologically terrorizing interview process with grownups who wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

I'm here to help you, and I know you want to tell me something, and I'll stay here all day -- till you tell me.

Or the children were acting up because their world no longer made sense. All of the adults in their lives -- their parents, their remaining teachers, their doctor, and the man with the funny dolls -- were telling them that Kelly had done horrible things to them. They had liked Kelly and they were mad at her when she went away. The policeman said she was in jail. So she must have done something bad. Some of the children began speaking of a "good" Kelly and a "bad" Kelly, perhaps as a way of separating their memories of their pretty, smiling teacher from the mean person Mr. Fonolleras kept talking about. "Tears still come out of my eyes sometimes," Joey Gardner told his mother, "because I feel so bad because Kelly was my best friend."

Tell me what Kelly did to your hiney and then you can go. If you tell me what she did to your hiney, we'll let you go.

Although many of the children expressed affection for Kelly, and distaste for the questioning and the questioners, (Little Joey referred to McArdle as "Vomit," and spit at Fonolleras) the investigators were certain the terrorized tots were really in mortal fear of Kelly. For example, Jonathan "became inhibited around (McArdle)," but this was not because of his feelings toward the abrasive prosecutor, it was because of his feelings about his teacher: "(Jonathan) seemed to react negatively to women as a corollary to his feelings toward Kelly." Later analysis of the Fonolleras interviews showed that "16 of the 34 children never said they were afraid of (Kelly Michaels) and the remaining children never volunteered that information."

Furthermore, the prosecutors were never able to extract from the children's disjointed and contradictory answers a plausible scenario whereby the young preschool teacher could have kept so many children silent for so long. Three-and-4-year-olds, after all, are at a developmental stage where they are beginning to understand the concept of rules of behavior, and "I'm telling!" is their constant refrain, particularly among female children. But as Manshel records in Nap Time: "the team was certain, even without specifics, that somehow the children had been made to keep silent."

Investigator: You Wee Care kids seem so scared of her.

Child: I wasn't. I'm not even.

Investigator: But while you were there, were you real scared?

Child: I don't know

Investigator: What was so frightening about her, what was so scary about her?

Child: I don't know. Why don't you ask her?

In the following exchange, the investigators make little bribes and even plead for the child to cooperate At no time does the child say he is afraid, but the investigator supplies the reassurance that Kelly cannot harm him: The investigators are blindly pursuing their belief – ignoring, even contradicting what the child does say about his feelings, and interpreting his reluctance as fear.

Child: I hate you.

Investigator: No you don't...You just don't like talking about this, but you don't hate me.

Child: Yes, I do hate you.

Investigator: We can finish this real fast if you just show me real fast what you showed me last time.

Child: No.

Investigator: I will let you play my tape recorder....Come on, do you want to help us out? Do you want to help us keep her in jail, huh? ...Tell me what happened to (three other children). Tell me what happened to them. Come on...I need your help again, buddy. Come on.

Child: No.

Investigator: You told us everything once before. Do you want to undress my dolly?

Investigator (2): Let's get done with this real quick so we could go to Kings to get popsicles...Did Kelly ever tell you she could get out of jail?

The investigators believed the children needed more reassurance, which meant more discussions about the bad things Kelly had done to them, and how she was in jail now and couldn't hurt them any more. However, when the counselors told the children that Kelly had used her power over them but that she couldn't any more, the preschoolers, operating at the level of concrete thought, could only understand this as a reference to the only kind of powers they knew about – the superpowers of cartoon characters. Soon, the investigators were reporting that, according to the children, Kelly Michaels claimed she could walk through walls and turn herself into a monster. This must have been, the prosecution figured, one of the ways in which she terrorized them! They didn't realize they were hearing their own jargon, distorted by childish misunderstanding, turned back on them. They were hearing the echo of their own fears and reporting it as child abuse.

During the weeks Fonolleras was questioning the children, the Wee Care parents were actively involved, exchanging allegations and warning each other if one child mentioned another child's name in connection with the investigation. Some of the children continued to attend the day care (it closed permanently a few months after the allegations surfaced) and the remaining Wee Care teachers heard the children discussing the interviews with each other, and the strange dolls that had private parts on them.





Kelly Michaels, stuck in a county jail for six months because her family had trouble raising the $25,000 bail, felt as though she had fallen down Alice's rabbit hole. She thought that the impossibility of the charges -- their sheer number, variety and inconsistency, would make it obvious to any rational-minded person that the whole thing was a horrible mistake, a fantastic concoction of childish fears and fantasies, abetted by some sick-minded individuals on the prosecution side.

Sneaking off with her entire class to the choir room and playing "Jingle Bells" in the nude? Peeing on them? Engaging in group orgies with 3-and-4 year-olds? What child molester would take chances like that when footsteps in the hall meant being caught red-handed, with no time to clean up and dress the children. Feeding children a cake made of excrement? Most of them didn't want to eat their vegetables! A child forced to drink urine and eat excrement would probably throw up. How was that even sexual?

"If you don't help me, I'm going to tell your friends that you not only don't want to help me, but you won't help them."

Kelly's lawyers suspected that the "counseling" the children received was really just a way to reinforce the false stories of abuse that the investigators had planted. They asked the court for the right to have their own expert therapist interview the children. But the defense team was denied any access to the children before the trial.

Some parents, it is true, were at first reluctant or skeptical. Peg Foster and the other therapists in the case worked at persuading them that it was all too true. This was referred to as overcoming their "denial."


Nap Time also describes how Foster, searching for some physical evidence to back up the wild accusations, finds peanut butter in the day-care kitchen:

"She thought, 'Oh God, it's really here, I found it!" Peg was surprised at herself for not having expected success, stunned, even after all she had heard, to be reminded (by the jar of peanut butter) that the sexual activity had actually happened...."

If a jar of peanut butter, found where one might expect to find peanut butter, could be proof, to a trained professional, of sexual perversion -- then Kelly Michaels was facing a tough time when she came to trial, a year and a half after her arrest. Just as the investigators left no way for the children to demonstrate that they had not been abused, the prosecution left no way for Kelly Michaels to show that she was innocent.





By the time the trial began, Kelly was already well established as a monster in the media. Her lawyers had advised her to not give interviews. Unfortunately this strategy meant that anyone could project an image of a molester on the young woman they knew only as a stoic but forlorn figure wearing handcuffs and escorted to the courtroom by a full security detail. The security was to protect Kelly from the death threats she'd received, but it also created the impression that she was so dangerous that she might somehow, like an evil genie, escape from her captors and resume her rampage.

Kelly's family and friends mostly lived in Pennsylvania, while the relatives and friends of the children were close at hand. In Nap Time, Manshel only mentions Kelly's immediate family and an uninvited assortment of kooks and convicted sex perverts as sitting on Kelly's side of the courtroom.

Judge William Harth agreed to let the child witnesses, 19 of them, testify one after another from the judge's chambers on closed circuit TV, so that they didn't have to face their alleged abuser in court. He ruled that the defense could not discuss the children who were not testifying, thus cutting off another avenue of defense. Kelly and her lawyers could not show that, taken as a whole, the investigation was seriously flawed, and that if some of the allegations were obviously impossible, then all of the allegations were suspect. Even so, some fantastic tales were aired in the courtroom, such as the charge that Kelly had made a child stick a sword in her bottom, and some of the children appeared confused, answering the same essential question "yes" to the prosecution, "no" to the defense, and "yes" again to the prosecution on re-direct.

Some of the parents, alternating between simmering hatred for Michaels and grief for their children, testified that their little ones were frightened about going to day care, crying and begging not to go, and the parents didn't understand why until after the investigation began. But although this says a lot about the callous indifference of some Wee Care parents, it doesn't establish that their children were sexually abused at the day care.

One of the child witnesses was Joey, whose interviews with Fonolleras yielded some of the most shocking accusations ("We chopped our penises off") and the most vehement retractions ("It's all lies!") According to Nap Time, Joey loved the day care, "(Joey) insisted on going… Joey...attended Wee Care nine-to-five, four days a week, and he was fiercely attached. It was his life."

"Fiercely attached" to a place where he was allegedly being sexually tortured?





Whether the Wee Care children loved or hated day care, were outgoing or withdrawn, clowning it up or nervous, acting out sexually or wearing three layers of clothing, sucking their thumbs or sassing their parents, they were said to be exhibiting traits of sexual abuse. It could all be explained, said the prosecution's expert witness, Eileen Treacy, by the Child Abuse Syndrome, (the description given to the cluster of behaviors and emotions often displayed by young victims of sex abuse or incest, by a Dr. Suzanne Sgroi.) Treacy was an attractive and authoritative young woman who was eight years away from obtaining her Ph.D. in psychology but could quote the psychological literature chapter and verse. She was neither licensed as a therapist in New York, where she worked at a clinic for sexually abused children, nor in New Jersey. What she lacked in credentials, she covered over with bravado, substituting dogmatic certainty for scientific validity.

Despite Treacy's lack of academic or research credentials, she evaluated all the Wee Care families, calibrated the amounts of stress in each one, such as the stress brought on by a new baby or a pending divorce, and determined whether there were other "confounding variables" to explain the bedwetting and the stuttering. She concluded that all but one of the little child witnesses had no tensions in their lives, apart from Kelly Michaels, that could explain the degree of maladjustment they were showing. She spoke of the behaviors of the children, as reported by their anxious parents, as having a "high degree of correlation," (with sexual abuse) "over point six [.6] in numerical terms of probability," which gave her testimony a pseudoscientific gloss.

Treacy was on the stand for eight days, presenting the listed behaviors of the syndrome as though they were as reliable an indicator of sex abuse as rash and fever are indicators of measles. Using the syndrome label, Treacy was able to link a variety of child behaviors to the purported sex abuse, including the fact that one child had an aversion to eating tuna fish.

Treacy also reassured the jury that children didn't lie about sex abuse, and that they could not be pressured, coerced or coached -- as the defense claimed -- into making false accusations. "It is possible to suggest particular answers to children," Treacy confidently informed Kelly's attorney during cross-examination. "Whether they'll accept is another matter."

In Nap Time, Lisa Manshel quotes Treacy's assertion that the children could not be intimidated into speaking falsely, then two pages later she writes that "Children are taught, in no uncertain terms, to do what they are told... children should not be expected to have the strength of will to say no to an adult," by way of explaining how Kelly intimidated them into silence.

Many of the 19 children who testified on closed circuit television from the judge's chambers, where they yawned, fidgeted, ate potato chips, and spun in their chairs, behaved as though they could not be easily cowed by mere grown-ups. Little Lewis sassed the judge and the defense attorneys. "Objection overruled, buster!" the 6-year-old yelled at Kelly's lawyer.

Although the prosecution used an expert witness to testify that the Wee Care children acted like sex-abuse victims, the defense was not allowed to bring in an expert witness to testify that Kelly Michaels did not act like a pervert. She had no criminal past, no history of child molesting, no unusual episodes in her childhood. But sex perverts, as everyone knew, didn't have to be dirty old men in raincoats. They could be anyone, anywhere.

Day after day, for nine grueling months, Kelly heard herself described as a "grotesque liar," and a monster. "It was a long trial because they had to make something unbelievable – believable," she later explained. "And they piled on so much to wear the jury down. Really there was no credible evidence or plausibility. You keep beating the jury day after day after day and you get pseudo-experts – and you can get an expert to say anything, particularly in the psychological field."

When the jury looked at Kelly and saw a bright, attractive young person, it only demonstrated, as the prosecution said, how devious, how cunning she was! Was she kind and patient with the children? She was only trying to seduce them. Did she offer to help another teacher? She was just trying to get more time alone with her victims. Manshel enthusiastically took up this theme in her book. Kelly, for example, was a pretty woman with thick, curly dark hair and nice features, but she wasn't cute, she "seemed" cute. While Fonolleras and the other investigators were conducting their interviews with the children, Manshel sympathetically explained that they sometimes resorted to black humor to get through the horror of it all: "They joked about 'peanut butter and Kelly.'" But when Kelly, during her long trial for appalling sex crimes, sometimes laughed and joked with her family, Manshel records that the jury and the media were shocked by their demeanor.

As for physical evidence, the prosecution could offer nothing substantial. Some children claimed that Kelly had made them urinate in the piano bench in the church's music room. The bench was sent to the FBI laboratory to be tested for traces of urine, but the tests came back negative. Many of the children were examined, and although some had rashes, and one little girl had "notches" in her hymen, no child had lacerations consistent with being raped with a knife, or a perforated intestine from being repeatedly poked with a fork. And although Kelly was rumored to have taken pictures of the children, no pictures were found. But the lack of evidence didn't dampen McArdle's prosecutorial zeal. It only proved what a sly and cunning creature Kelly Michaels was. She was an unnatural monster, a succubus who preyed on little children. Kelly's seeming ordinariness was a compliment to the zeal and brilliance of the investigating team – they had hunted and trapped a rare creature and brought her in, in chains, to receive her punishment.

Kelly and her family kept hoping and expecting someone -- a juror who'd had lots of kids and who knew darn well that you couldn't dress and undress a dozen squirming children in the blink of an eye, or a journalist who wasn't overawed by the prosecution's expert witnesses -- that someone would stand with them and proclaim that the prosecution's case was ludicrous. But in the superheated atmosphere of the trial, to question the charges was to question that children could be or were, sexually abused. Dissension was denial. To add to Kelly's nightmare, one of the accusing parents was an editor at the local paper.

During his closing arguments, one of the prosecutors sang the Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now," the lyrics of which were found scribbled in Kelly's Wee Care attendance book, as further evidence that Kelly was hiding her sadistic character under her normal exterior:

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down
And still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall...

Kelly could only watch from the prisoner's dock. How do you defend yourself against the charge that you like Joni Mitchell? Surely that's only a misdemeanor in New Jersey, not a felony? What did it all prove?





After an extraordinary, unprecedented nine months of testimony, the case was sent to the jury. The jury deliberated for 13 days, during which time the jurors were allowed to replay some of the videos of the children's testimony. They found Kelly guilty. As she later said, "You're finished. Your life is over. You're dead. For all intents and purposes, you're dead. And I remember just looking at the jury and saying, "Why?"

"You have to understand," says psychiatrist Dr. Lee Coleman, "that these trials are not rational. You cannot try to explain what happens on the basis of the evidence, or the basis of reason, or anything like that."

Dr. Coleman has testified at dozens of sexual abuse trials as an expert witness on the reliability of child testimony and the use and misuse of psychiatry in the courtroom. He believes that jurors, asked to choose between sending an accused molester to jail on scanty evidence or possibly releasing a depraved monster into the community, are swayed by "fear of criticism, the fear if they don't bring in some kind of conviction," that they will be perceived as soft on child abuse. "They will acquit people on dozens and dozens of charges and bring back a few convictions when there's no possible way you could separate the evidence leading to some versus the evidence leading to the other."

"The prosecutors thought that 'we'll just keep throwing so much against the wall day after day after day,'" Kelly reflected years afterwards, so that the jury concluded "'even though we can't pinpoint one thing that's really concrete about any of it, there's so much of it that something has to be true.'" Kelly was indicted on 235 counts but eventually convicted of 115 counts of child abuse. Ironically, she was acquitted on the charge that she sexually abused Jonathan Moore by sticking a thermometer into his rear – the allegation that started the whole thing.

Kelly was sentenced to 47 years in prison and denied bail pending appeal. She spent the first 18 months in solitary confinement. She would have been treated better if she'd murdered somebody.





While Kelly and other day care workers like her in other towns and cities were marched off to prison, cognitive psychologists were investigating the question of young children as witnesses and if young children could be made to agree to, and eventually believe in, things that didn't happen.

This was understandably a difficult area to investigate without harming children. Obviously it would be unethical to try to persuade preschoolers that somebody had molested them. But some ingenious experiments, most notably by Stephen Ceci of Cornell University and Maggie Bruck of McGill University in Canada, showed that children could be influenced by adult questioning. In one experiment, children came to believe that someone had licked their knees and stuck marbles in their ears during a touching game -- intimate contact without the sexual overtones -- even though it hadn't happened. Children could even be persuaded that they had had the painful experience of catching their fingers in a mousetrap.

Children could also be brought to agree that someone else had done bad things, especially if the person they were questioned about was presented to them in a bad light. In the "Sam Stone" experiment, a man impersonating "Sam Stone," an acquaintance of the teacher, briefly visited with two groups of preschoolers. The second group was prepared for his visit by being told that he was clumsy and always breaking things. In interviews after Sam Stone's visit, many of the children in the second group agreed that Sam Stone had ripped a book and damaged a teddy bear, even though this had never happened.

In addition to clearly showing how easily young children can be swayed, the researchers investigated the investigators. They provided erroneous information to adults who were to interview children, and proved that the children's responses were influenced by the adults' expectations. According to Nap Time, during the Wee Care investigation, Peg Foster told the other investigators that if Kelly Michaels used peanut butter in sexual abuse, then she might have used excrement and urine as well. Immediately afterwards, the first allegations of that sort were recorded.

Lou Fonolleras, Peg Foster, Eileen Treacy and the other Wee Care investigators were confident of their ability to see into the children's souls and interpret the truth, no matter what the child was actually saying. Eileen Treacy, for example, told the children, "God gave me a special blessing. He did. You know how some big people can't talk to kids too good? You know, they don't seem to listen?… Well, you know what? God gave me the blessing that I am able to listen and I help kids with this stuff." But the cognitive psychologists showed that intuitive judgments, divinely inspired or not, were completely unreliable. In the "Sam Stone" experiment, videotaped interviews were made of the children from both groups of preschoolers -- those who accurately said that Sam hadn't torn up a book, and those who said he had. These interviews were shown to "approximately 1,000 researchers and clinicians who work on children's testimonial issues... They were asked to decide which of the events reported by the children actually transpired and then to rate the overall credibility of each child."

"The majority of the professionals were highly inaccurate," the researchers discovered. In other words, when watching a child who said that Sam Stone had ripped up a book, something that never happened, the child experts were as likely to say the child was telling the truth as not. The intuition and empathy of the experts turned out to be a fantasy of their own egos. Driving the point home, Ceci and Bruck wrote, "Experts who conduct research on the credibility of children's reports, who provide therapy to children suspected of having been abused, and who carry out law enforcement interviews with children, generally failed to detect which of the children's claims were accurate and which were not, despite being confident in their judgments." Ceci added that one could do as well or better by simply tossing a coin.

The use of "anatomically correct dolls" also came under fire. In the '80s, the only children who came near the special dolls, made with large, prominent genitals, were children who were suspected of having been abused.

In the Wee Care case, as Dorothy Rabinowitz reported in Harper's,

As a rule, children were given knives and forks and then asked to show -- on an anatomically correct doll -- where Kelly had hurt them. On the tapes that I heard, the child's first response more often than not was to poke the doll in the eye or the neck or a knee. Invariably, the listener then hears the voice of Fonolleras, urging, "Where else? Uh-huh, where else?" After a succession of "where else?" responses, the child winds up poking at a penis, or a vagina, or an anus. Here, the "where else's" stop. Later, Fonolleras's official report typically would note how a child "described" the penetration of her vagina or his anus.

The cognitive researchers gave the dolls to children who had never been suspected of being abused, and saw that many children, when given a doll with breasts, vaginal and anal openings, or a penis and testicles, will touch, poke, pull and insert things. Again, video tapes of the children at play were shown to experts and again, the experts could not tell, based on the way the children handled the dolls, which children had never been abused and which ones had.

Just as normal children had never been tested with the special dolls, so the shape and variation of normal little girls' hymens had never been established through large-scale examinations. This finally occurred after Kelly Michaels and hundreds of others were in prison and it was discovered that there was a great deal of variation in hymeneal openings among little girls and that bumps, notches and ridges were commonplace. Likewise, at the time of the day-care trials, it was widely believed that if a boy's anus dilated, or "winked," during examination, it indicated that he'd been abused, and suspected molesters were sent to prison for life because of testimony about anal "winking." But when examinations were conducted on a dozens of young males, it was discovered that anal "winking" was a typical response to the light touch of the examiner's gloved hand.

These discoveries played an important part in the vindication of some of those convicted of ritual child abuse.





When public opinion against Kelly Michaels was at its height in 1988, when she was "the most hated woman in all of New Jersey," an investigative reporter named Debbie Nathan who worked for a newspaper in El Paso, Tex. came to her aid. Nathan had investigated a similar case in Texas and Kelly's parents asked for her help. Nathan spent two intensive weeks in New Jersey examining the case. She says she was not surprised at the cold shoulder she got from the prosecution team, but she was surprised that even the local media people were reluctant to talk to her and were even hostile because of her skeptical attitude.

Kelly's nightmare, meanwhile, continued in prison. When she had to walk past her fellow prisoners, they cursed at her and threw garbage. She was sent to a treatment center for sex offenders for evaluation. "I had to leave in shackles – chains around my ankles and my hands cuffed down at my stomach," she told Nathan. "I walked by all (the other convicts) and there was total silence. They just totally stopped what they were doing. All these guys; sex offenders who probably have fantasies of women looking just like I did then. I came back to jail and cried all night."

Her family continued to travel to New Jersey to visit her almost weekly and brought her audio tapes of family conversations that she could listen to while she was alone and pretend that she was with them once again. She read, she wrote, she exercised, she prayed. But "there were times when I did want to bang my head against the wall and just become unconscious and stay that way forever."

Debbie Nathan wrote a series of critical articles for the Village Voice, slamming the whole day-care, witch-hunt crusade and challenging the pseudoscientific pretensions of those who were sending people to prison for life in the name of protecting children. Her interest in the subject led her to write other articles and to co-author the book, Satan's Silence.

Another journalist, Dorothy Rabinowitz, who worked at a New Jersey television station at the time of the trial, wanted to present an on-air editorial criticizing the prosecution and the media coverage of the case, but her station manager demurred. Angry at being censored, Rabinowitz reviewed the case and interviewed Kelly, her parents, the prosecutors and defense team, and some of the parents. She came away convinced that Kelly was innocent and wrote a stinging article that exposed the way the child interviews had been conducted. It's a measure of the atmosphere in which Nathan and Rabinowitz worked that Rabinowitz's article, which was originally for Vanity Fair, was not published there and was finally published by Harper's Magazine in 1990.

After Rabinowitz's article came out, Kelly decided to leave the solitude of protective custody and try her luck among the general prison population, although she knew that many of her fellow inmates were victims of child abuse themselves and could well decide to dish out some rough justice. She began to serve as tutor in the prison's literacy program and gradually convinced some of the inmates and guards of her innocence.

Essex County still wasn't through with her, however. "I had been (in prison) a couple of years," she recalled recently, "and a bill arrived, literally a bill, from the Public Defender's Office for over $800,000.00. (I was) just walking down to my cell, and I'm saying, 'I'm innocent, I didn't do any of these things, yet I have to pay for the pleasure of having been prosecuted wrongfully and serving a 47-year-sentence for it.'"





Thanks to journalists Nathan and Rabinowitz's second look at the Wee Care case, an eminent attorney, Morton J. Stavis, was persuaded to come to Kelly's aid in early 1990. He was in his 70s and had had a long and illustrious career as a civil-rights crusader. He met with Kelly and reviewed her case. She recalls his indignation when he returned to prison to tell her that he would defend her: "He came back… and he was slamming his fist on the table and he was saying, 'there was no way these things happened, we're going to defend you,' and I said, 'but you know what, my parents are all out of money, we have no money to give you.' And he said, 'We'll get the money somehow.'"

Stavis devoted two years to preparing her case for appeal. In the 33,000 pages of the trial transcript, he found plenty to dispute -- the defense's hands had been tied from the start, while the prosecution had free rein with the child witnesses. The use of Eileen Treacy had been grossly inappropriate. She had helped to choose which children would testify, but she also served as the independent expert vouching for their credibility.

Then there were the damning tapes of the interviews with the Wee Care children. Robert Rosenthal, a young lawyer who joined the defense team, contacted the researchers Ceci and Bruck and asked them to file an amicus (friend of the court) brief (( which was endorsed and signed by no fewer than 45 other researchers. This lengthy report outlined the many ways the investigators had misled, coerced, frightened, bullied, and bribed the Wee Care children and how as a result, the children's testimony was hopelessly tainted. The researchers pulled no punches in their estimate of the work of Lou Fonolleras and Co.: "The interviews with the children in the Michaels case are some of the worst I have ever heard..." Ceci told a reporter. "The children were undoubtedly abused, but probably not until they met the investigators."

Finally, a court date was set for the spring of 1993 to argue the appeal. In December of 1992, Stavis and his wife were vacationing in California but he made time to pick up and sign the final papers in the case, checking them over one last time before sending them back East. Then he prepared to take his wife Esther out to dinner.

Back in her prison cell, Kelly learned that while Stavis was walking outside, he stumbled and fell down an embankment and hit his head. He was dead.

"When my father came to prison to visit me and told me – I still said, 'Dad, we're going to win.' Even though it was personally devastating…. I still felt it was going to be all right. It turned out that the work (Stavis) had done was completed, it was just the oral arguments hadn't been heard… I really believed – and maybe this is youth and naivete -- that the truth would win, it was stronger than the hysteria and the lies and the craziness."

Out of respect for his longtime friend Stavis, flamboyant, civil-rights lawyer William Kunstler agreed to take over the oral arguments for the Michaels case.

Finally, came the day that Kelly and the Michaels family had hoped for, dreamed of -- the state appellate panel overturned the conviction. The appeal judges singled out Eileen Treacy's testimony as being inappropriate, because she was, in effect, used by McArdle to tell the jury to believe the children, when it was the jury's job to decide which witnesses to believe. The judges were especially critical about the child interviews, describing them as coercive, highly suggestive, and inept.

Kelly's lawyers moved quickly to get her released on bail. Understandably, the Michaels family saw the verdict as a vindication of their daughter's innocence, although technically all that had happened was that the appellate court had ruled that Kelly's trial was unfair. The Star Ledger reported:

Tears were streaming down Michaels's mother's face as she rushed out of the courtroom surrounded by family and close friends after the hearing concluded. One woman gave the white-haired Marilyn Michaels a bouquet of flowers in congratulations.

As Mrs. Michaels pushed through the crowded courtroom, filled with an entourage of reporters and onlookers, she said the family was ecstatic about the judge's decision.

''My daughter is innocent. She has always been,'' Mrs. Michaels said, overcome with emotion. ''The whole world knows it now. This means the truth has come out.''

Parents of the children were stunned at the reversal. Essex County vowed to retry the case, with the same prosecution team. As the months passed, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office continued to defend its prosecution of Kelly, but not as vehemently. By 1997, the office was conceding that the interviews of the children were "horrible," but that no one knew, way back in 1985, how to interview small children. "It was a completely gray area back in that time," claimed the lawyer for McArdle, as though common sense didn't exist 15 years ago.

Investigator: Just tell me -- show me what happened with the wooden spoon. Let's go.

Child: I forgot.

Investigator: No, you didn't. I'll tell you what, let's just go to the doll, we won't waste any time.

Investigator (2): Now listen, you have to behave.

Investigator: Do you want me to tell him to behave?

Investigator (2): Are you going to be a good boy? Huh? You have to be good. Yes or no?

Child: Yes.





The appellate court had ruled that the children's testimony was so corrupted by the leading questions asked by the investigators that a "taint hearing" had to be held to determine if any of the children's testimony could be considered valid, or if it was too tainted. This would be akin to unscrambling an egg, and Essex County appealed the decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court. In June 1994, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court's ruling – no new trial without a taint hearing.

The problem of bringing back the child witnesses, after so much doubt had been cast on their testimony, proved to be insurmountable for the prosecution team. After spending over $3 million to prosecute her, Essex County dropped the indictment against Kelly Michaels in December 1994. The $800,000 bill for her defense was not officially withdrawn, but she has not been pursued for the money.

Kelly, by then 32, was free. But, "being technically not guilty is not the same as being completely innocent," she reflected. "You cling to that difference when you walk into a courtroom and people spit at you, or when you're sitting in a cell and all around you people are screaming filthy names at you. That difference, it's everything."

After her release from prison, Kelly Michaels was staying with Morton Stavis's widow in New York, when she agreed to give an interview to a freelance journalist who was also a lawyer. Partway through the interview, he was so moved by her story and so convinced of her sincerity, that he turned off his tape recorder. Soon afterwards, he asked her for a date.

They are now married and have four children. She says that she doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the past, but "the prayer I have is that someone will come to me…maybe a parent or a child all grown up, and say 'we got sucked into this horrible madness, and looking back we see that it just didn't happen, and I was led by these experts to believe… and I'm really sorry.'"

In May 1999, the District Court dismissed Michaels' lawsuit to hold Essex County, McArdle, Lou Fonolleras, Eileen Treacy, Peg Foster, and others responsible for the harm and the horror they visited on her and the financial ruin they brought to her parents. She adds that she and her family are not the only victims of the Wee Care case, there are the deluded parents and children as well, and the millions wasted on prosecuting her case, "taxpayer's money…(that) could have been used to help children."

Sara McArdle is now deputy assistant prosecutor at Essex County. In Nap Time, she is reported as wondering, "Why are people afraid to show children normal affection? It makes me so sad that people think hugging a child is going to make him accuse them of sexual abuse." She was apparently oblivious to the answer -- the reason people are afraid to hug children is because of people like McArdle. Although she discussed the investigation with Lisa Manshel while Nap Time was being written, she declines interviews about Wee Care today.

Eileen Treacy is now a professor at Lehmann College in New York City. She has continued her second career as a trial expert who trains others in "how to recognize, treat and prevent occurrences of sexual abuse."

Peg Foster is still with Children's Hospital in Newark working in the field of child abuse diagnosis and prevention. She still believes that Kelly Michaels tortured dozens of children with cutlery and peanut butter, but feels the court battle has led to improved child-interviewing techniques. She is in what she used to like to call "denial."

Lou Fonolleras, whose interviews of the Wee Care children completely corrupted the case, is still an employee of the Department of Youth and Family Services. He declined to be interviewed. A spokesman for DYFS says that Fonolleras has been working at an office job, not with children, for the past nine years.

Lisa Manshel, the author of Nap Time, became a lawyer. She declined to be interviewed.

The Wee Care children are now young adults. Many have been in therapy for years. To date, no Wee Care parents have publicly retracted their accusations against their child's former teacher. Some of the families have received financial settlements from the day care's insurance company. The last of these suits was settled in June 2001. The amounts paid to the families is undisclosed.





Kelly Michaels's case, in its broad outlines, followed the same pattern as other infamous day-care cases of the '80s – McMartin, Fells Acres, Country Walk.

During the 1980s many people came to believe that as soon as the parents' taillights disappeared over the hill at the neighborhood day care, the staff -- people with ordinary names like Peggy and Brenda, Bernie and Chip -- dropped their friendly poses and preyed on their young charges with every type of perversion known to man and some no one could have imagined. Children spoke of having their heads dunked in buckets of blood, of being tied naked to trees, being forced to mutilate animals and kill babies, of being transported through underground tunnels, or spirited away by airplane, of being brutally assaulted sexually and used in child pornography. And to ensure the children's silence, they said they were threatened that Mommy and Daddy would be killed, their house would be burned down, that they must never, ever tell.

According to some true believers – social workers, police detectives and prosecutors -- these macabre scenes were playing out in dozens of day cares – and had been for years. Some leaders of the crusade against child abuse believed that there was, in fact, a coordinated conspiracy going on – that sex rings had infiltrated the day cares and were using children to produce child pornography or even recruiting the kids in Satanism. Their campaign was, quite literally, a witch hunt.

According to investigative journalist Debbie Nathan, "research shows that between 1984 and 1995, at least 185 adults nationwide, about half of them women, were charged with ritualized sexual abuse. Of those, 113 were convicted, mainly on the word of young children." (Not all of the accused were day-care workers, some were bus drivers, some were parents and grandparents, some, like Patrick Figured of North Carolina, currently serving a life sentence, simply knew someone who owned a day care.)

The ritual abuse day-care cases usually start with one suspicious parent. Thefirst ritual abuse case was the infamous McMartin School case in California. There, the initial accusations were made by a mother, later diagnosed as a schizophrenic, who was convinced that someone was abusing her 2-year-old son because his bottom was red. Her son started attending McMartin after she had dropped him off unannounced in front of the school, and drove away. The staff looked after him and later allowed the mother to enroll him, out of pity for the child. Later, her paranoid accusations against the Buckey family who owned and operated the day care led to the longest and most expensive trial in U.S. history, in which the Buckeys were eventually acquitted, but not before spending years in prison.

Once parental suspicion is aroused, for whatever reason, the anxious parents –naturally enough -- contact the authorities. In ritual-abuse cases, a familiar scenario begins. The authorities warn all the parents to be on the look out for signs of sexual abuse. Panic ensues. The children are questioned and re-questioned by parents and counselors. Denials are ignored. The children, pressured to "disclose," start to make allegations that range from the bizarre to the impossible.

Whether charges were laid or not doesn't seem to depend on the credibility of the allegations but upon the credulity of the investigators: Parents in both Roseburg, Ore., and Cape Cod, Mass., for example, believed their children had participated in satanic rituals that included murdering people. In Roseburg, three people were convicted and sent to prison; but in Cape Cod, the prosecutor's office refused to press charges and concluded that the children's stories were a "hoax," a fantasy. (No dead people were found in either case.)

But although children were questioned about masks, candles, chanting, and upside down crosses, these elements were not always introduced into the courtroom and juries were asked to pass judgment on comparatively straightfoward cases of molestation and rape. The prosecutor in the Gallup Christian Day Care case openly admitted that Mr. and Mrs. Gallup and their son Chip were prosecuted not as Satanists but as child molesters, although he believed that Mrs. Gallup, a white haired minister's wife, had been torturing children in satanic rituals for 20 years. He believed that "the Gallups and some of the workers were sexually interacting amongst themselves and with the small children…they watched reruns of these videos and they were fed popcorn and (there were) incidents of animal torture and so we had to decide how we were doing to deal with that aspect of the case and so we focused our first two cases in particular on simple cases because we knew that the jury was going to have a terrible time of believing that kind of a situation."

The children in the Wee Care case were also questioned about robes and crucifixes. It appears that juries were not always given the opportunity to judge the investigation in its entirety and understand the context in which the allegations were gathered.

Not only were juries kept in the dark about fantastical allegations and impossible and conflicting testimony, so were the defendants. Jenny Wilcox and Robert Aldridge of Ohio spent 11 years in prison before their conviction was overturned. According to the Ohio Observer, Wilcox's lawyer "said evidence suggested that (in the original trial) prosecutors had received a 29- page report from police on the case but only provided defense attorneys with a sanitized eight-page report that left out details of…wildly varying statements by other children and denials by others." Like Kelly Michaels, Wilcox and Aldridge have not been allowed to sue for wrongful prosecution and false imprisonment. In neither case has the state admitted it made a mistake in prosecuting them, and even if mistakes were made in collecting evidence, the prosecution has immunity from being sued for errors.





While the verdict of the court, labeling the unfortunate accused as sick child molesters, still stands in many cases, the verdict of history is slowly changing. More and more people now believe that the Great Day-Care Witch Hunt was a collective fantasy of prosecutors, social workers and frightened parents.

Historians of the day-care witch hunt have pointed to several factors that led to the panic: the mass exodus of mothers from the home to the workplace in the '70s and '80s, which gave rise to a lot of stress and free-floating guilt and, in some quarters, condemnation; then there were the pioneering child- protection crusaders, flush with new federal dollars to ferret out abuse; and the vulnerability of minimum-wage child care providers who found themselves cast in the role of the bogeyman in the closet. At the same time the country was enjoying frightening itself with titillating stories of human sacrifice and child torture in books such as Michelle Remembers, which spelled out in graphic detail how Satanists would go to any extreme to get children and do horrible things to them.


Michelle Remembers and several other supposed memoirs of life in the coven have been exposed as hoaxes. No child pornography involving children from any of the suspect day cares has ever been found. And there's no physical evidence that any of the day-care centers were turned into torture chambers at all. No corpses of slaughtered animals and babies. No cages. No tunnels.

When the controversy was at its height, Dr. Roland Summit, an advocate for the belief that satanic sex rings were operating all over the country, said that although the claims made by the child witnesses were fantastic, it was impossible to suppose that the little ones could make the stories up out of whole cloth:

There's been a great effort to understand… how it couldn't be true. And the best answer people seem to come up with is the notion that therapists or police investigators are brainwashing the children into telling crazy stories. Why these people would want children to tell unbelievable stories that make them look stupid, make the investigators look stupid, has never been explained in that theory. But, there is a great willingness to believe that children will say anything in order to please adults… I think if we look at the coalition of data as it comes together, there's no way children have made these things up.

No one has searched more diligently for evidence of satanic ritual abuse than Ken Lanning of the FBI. He looked into over 12,000 allegations of ritual abuse and concluded there was no hidden satanic network. (( As he put it, in his 1992 report:

The large number of people telling the same story is, in fact, the biggest reason to doubt these stories. It is simply too difficult for that many people to commit so many horrendous crimes as part of an organized conspiracy. Two or three people murder a couple of children in a few communities as part of a ritual, and nobody finds out? Possible. Thousands of people do the same thing to tens of thousands of victims over many years? Not likely. Hundreds of communities all over America are run by mayors, police departments, and community leaders who are practicing Satanists and who regularly murder and eat people? Not likely.

But Lanning did find a group of people who were assiduously trading how-to information about satanic rituals coast-to-coast. It was the investigators and social workers themselves. The Los Angeles Ritual Abuse Task Force, for example, distributed thousands of copies of a pamphlet with the warning signs of satanic abuse including "fear of death," or "aversion to attending church." The author, therapist Catherine Gould, and her fellow committee members later became convinced that the evil Satanists were trying to poison them.

Lanning concluded, "until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public should not be frightened into believing that babies are being bred and eaten, that 50,000 missing children are being murdered in human sacrifices, or that Satanists are taking over America's day-care centers or institutions. No one can prove with absolute certainty that such activity has not occurred. The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a criminal prosecution, is on those who claim that it has occurred."





If the diligent hunt for satanic ritual abusers has come up empty, why are there, by one estimate, over a dozen convicted ritual abusers still in prison?

Gerald Amirault is in prison in Massachusetts where his legal battle to overturn his conviction has ground to a halt. His conviction was based on children's testimony collected by the same kinds of interviewing techniques used in the Michaels case. He has asked the governor of Massachusetts for a pardon and a commutation of his sentence to time served, 15 years so far. His mother and sister were also convicted of abuse and released from prison after serving eight years, maintaining their innocence throughout. Violet Amirault, Gerald's mother, died in 1997, hoping to the last that her son would be freed.

Update: Since this article was written, Gerald Amirault has been paroled from prison after serving 18 years. He lives with his wife and children.

Bernard Baran was arrested in 1984 and convicted for allegedly molesting three preschoolers at the day care where he worked. He was only 19 years old. The initial accusation against him came from the parent of a little boy who accused Baran of touching her son. She was a drug addict who periodically lost custody of her child. The other accusations against Baran arose after the other parents learned about the first accusation. The medical evidence against Baran was similar to that brought against Kelly Michaels – that is, it was non-existent. Baran's mother had no money to mount a proper legal defense for him. Baran is still in prison, also in Massachusetts, a victim of prejudice and hysteria.

Update: Since this article was written, Bernard Baran's conviction was overturned in June, 2006 ( on the grounds that the portions of the interviews with the children were not shown to the jury. The remaining videotapes of the interviews showed that the children denied "Bernie" hurt them until repeatedly prompted. Baran spent 22 years in prison.

Patrick Figured was sentenced to prison for life for allegedly abusing three toddlers at his girlfriend's mother's day care. The allegations against him and his girlfriend, Sonja Hill, were preposterous and included burning bibles and forcing the children to drink blood. Jurors ignored testimony that Figured, an electronics company executive, was never alone with the children and had very little to do with them. The anal "winking" test helped sentence Figured to three life terms. He is currently incarcerated in North Carolina's Nash Correctional Institution.

Frances and Dan Keller: If you were accused of burying children alive with animals, painting pictures with bones dipped in blood, digging up and dismembering bodies, torturing animals, running a child brothel and sacrificing infants to Satan, what would you do? Frances and Dan Keller of Austin, Texas, decided to flee to Las Vegas, which didn't help them when they came to trial.

Fran Keller ran a daycare out of their home, complete with a pony in the backyard. She and her husband were accused of sexually assaulting all of the babies and toddlers in their care. The accusations started with one little girl who had been seeing a therapist for behavior problems before she attended the daycare. The Travis County Sheriff's Office investigated. Soon the children were accusing deputy sheriffs of being abusers as well. (Two were charged but the charges were eventually dropped.) Some of the children went to a therapist who believed that Satanic Ritual Abuse was a secret network devised by the CIA and Nazi scientists. Dan Keller's lawyer suggested that the children got their horror stories from the movie Pet Sematary.

In 1992, The Kellers were sentenced to 48 years in prison each and are still in prison today.



Debbie Nathan and lawyer Michael Snedeker's book: Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, is available through


The Witch-hunt information page, is a collection of information and links on the day-care-abuse trials;

The Religious Tolerance web site tracks the ritual abuse cases, the fates of those accused, andincludes a good discussion of how children might be led by anxious parents and zealous social workers, to believe in horrible things that never happened:

The parallels between the day-care witch hunt and the Salem Witch Trials ( are striking.

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