Sep 5, 2017

How Canada tricked the world into believing murderous Satanists were everywhere

Detail of the cover of Michelle Remembers, which kickstarted a global panic that scores of children were being murdered by underground Satanist cults.
Michelle Remembers
Michelle Remembers, published in 1980, temporarily convinced the world that society was in the grip of murderous Satanist cults.
Tristin Hopper
National Post
September 5, 2017

A two-decade nightmare just ended for Texas’ Dan and Fran Keller.

The couple, who owned a daycare, spent 22 years in prison on the utterly baseless charges that they had served blood to children under their care, forced them to witness infant murders and flown them to Mexico to be raped by soldiers.

Although they were released in 2013, only this week was the couple officially declared innocent and granted $3.4 million USD from a state fund.

“No more nightmares,” said Fran Keller, now 67.

And the Kellers’ case was not unique. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds if not thousands of other innocent people would fall to varying degrees of similar fates.

British Prime Minister Edward Heath was falsely accused of being a member of an underground cult that murdered and ate 16 children.

A California daycare was shut down and its staff arrested after police received false reports that children had been forced to witness ritualistic killings of animals and babies.

In the small town of Martensville, Saskatchewan, more than a dozen people were formally charged as the members of a Satanic cult that locked children in cages and forced them to witness brutal murders.

There wasn’t a lick of proof to back up any of this: No photos, no guilt-ridden former Satanists stepping forward to confess their crimes, no forensic evidence of the thousands of purported human sacrifices murdered by these cults.

It was, quite simply, a case of temporary global insanity. And it all started with a single lurid Canadian book.

“You never see him all at once—he’s always distorted and he’s not quite substantial, more like a vapor … It turns to look at me and it’s all uhhh l-l-l-like all black …I’m scared! Scared. I’m scared!” goes the passage in Michelle Remembers describing Michelle Smith’s encounter with Satan.

Published in 1980 and written by Smith’s psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, it is the purported “true story” of Smith’s childhood as the prisoner of a Satanic cult in Victoria in the mid-1950s.

The entire book comes from 600 hours of Smith’s testimony in Pazder’s office, delivered in the voice of a child while she was in a trance-like state.

In halting half-sentences, Smith told Pazder of being driven into a Satanic cult by her mother at five years old.

“You’re not mine anymore, Michelle. You belong to the Devil,” her mother reportedly says.

Over months of imprisonment, she is forced to drink urine, eat cannibalized flesh, bathe in the blood of dismembered babies, participate in ritual murders and endure a cage filled with snakes and spiders.

In the climax, Smith encounters Satan himself in a “Feast of the Beast” organized by her oppressors, but is ultimately saved by the direct intervention of the Virgin Mary.

The book even came complete with a statement from Remi De Roo, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Victoria.

“I do not question that for Michelle this experience was real,” wrote De Roo. But in a chilling warning, De Roo added “in such mysterious matters, hasty conclusions could prove unwise.”

Unfortunately, the world quickly decided not to take De Roo’s advice.

What followed is now known to history as the “satanic ritual abuse” panic.

Soon, hundreds of similar “Michelles” across the Western world were similarly recalling bone-chilling details of Satanic ritual murder and abuse. It would largely be the fault of a phenomenon known as “false memory syndrome,” in which patients under hypnosis can be led into fabricating elaborate false memories.

Parents. Daycare providers. Teachers. Police officers. Nobody was safe from the sudden accusation that they were guilty of unspeakable crimes.

A common investigative pattern emerged. Children suspected of being Satanic abuse victims would be interviewed and asked leading questions by investigators. As the number and intensity of the interviews progressed, children were led into delivering ever-more elaborate stories of witchcraft, blood-drinking, secret tunnels and ritual murder.

In one case in Rochdale, England, all it took was a small boy to tell his teachers he had been dreaming of ghosts. Soon, social service workers were taking children from their parents in the misguided belief that they were breaking up a Satanist abuse ring.

“One afternoon in 1990 I got a call from my wife telling me our three kids had been taken away because of witchcraft and satanic abuse … I still can’t believe this has happened,” one of the parents, John Herstell, told the Guardian in 2006.

Saskatoon police officer John Popowich was one of the adults falsely accused of running a Satanist underground in Martensville, Saskatchewan.

“Nobody can understand what we’ve gone through and what we’re going through — nobody can … One minute you’re well respected, the next minute, you’re an alleged molester,” he told CBC in 1994.

Geraldo Rivera hosted a late 1980s claiming that the United States was in the grip of a Satanist underground counting more than one million members. “The odds are it’s happening in your town,” Rivera told viewers.

Willi Gutowski, a psychiatrist with Chilliwack General Hospita told the Vancouver Sun in 1989 that Satanist abusers could be found in the ranks of “mayors, lawyers, police, church people – upstanding citizens.”

There was indeed no physical evidence of Satanic murders, but Gutowski brushed it off as a consequence of cults going to “extreme detail in covering up the remains of people that are murdered, especially of babies.”

Michelle Remembers includes accounts of a Satanic cult hosting rituals in Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery.

Victoria is a city of retirees; spotting suspicious behavior is one of its strong suits. And yet, Pazder never questions how crowds of cloaked figures ripping kittens apart in an urban graveyard didn’t attract a single call to the police.

Even as his book brutally defamed Smith’s dead mother, Pazder never appears to have contacted Smith’s surviving family, even though the family home was a short walk from his office.

The events of Michelle Remembers describe a teenage girl and an adult woman being murdered, as well as at least six stillborn babies being dismembered in rituals.

No records or press reports from the era describe any missing persons or stolen babies matching the description of the purported victims.

The book also claims that Satanic initiation required cult members to remove a finger. Here again, Pazder did not seem to care that Victoria wasn’t awash in people all missing the same finger.

When Pazder sent Smith for medical examinations to corroborate her tales of constant abuse, specialists found only that she’d likely banged a tooth as a child. A rash that Smith claimed had been caused by the “tail of Satan” was found by a dermatologist to be a reaction to a toxic weed likely aggravated by Lifebuoy soap.

“It simply wasn’t the kind of thing you fabricated if you were crazy or hysterical” was how Pazder justified his belief that a patient of his had met and defeated Satan.

Upon the publication of Michelle Remembers, Macleans’ magazine dispatched a writer to Victoria, who found childhood friends and family of Michelle who were shocked at the characterization.

Ten years later, just as the ritual abuse panic broke in England, Britain’s the Mail on Sunday similarly sent investigators to Victoria. There again, they found a family utterly embittered by the outlandish lies of Michelle Remembers.

“The book took me four months to read, and I cried all the time,” Smith’s father, Michelle’s father, Jack Proby, told them. “I kept saying to myself: ’Dear God, how could anyone do this to their dead mother?’”

There’s no telling how many lives Michelle Remembers damaged, or how much real abuse it precipitated.

In the wake of so many false accusations, law enforcement had to completely rewrite their procedures for identifying and investigating legitimate child abuse cases. No longer could the mere testimony of a child be trusted.

But if there’s one positive legacy of Michelle Remembers, it’s to serve as a guide to everything a psychiatrist should not do.

Faced with obvious delusions from a patient, Pazder embarked on a manic quest to corroborate them — alienating the patient from her family in the process.

Then, he published a lucrative book about it. As Macleans’ reported, Pazder earned a $342,000 USD advance for the book, a sum that is equal to $1.2 million CDN in 2017.

Throughout the pages of Michelle Remembers, Pazder frames himself as the benevolent saviour of a troubled woman. He describes himself as “lithe and athletic” and “warm, manly, soft-spoken.”

The book’s dedication, in fact, almost seems as if it’s an ode to himself. It credits “all who have the heart to hear the cries of children.”

And in a final breach of medical ethics, Pazder would go on to marry his psychiatric patient.

Although it’s never mentioned in Pazder’s account of the triumph of Biblical dogma over evil, Smith and her psychiatrist abandoned their respective families and got married.

When the Mail on Sunday found Michelle, she was now working as the front desk receptionist for Pazder, who had since become a highly sought-after consultant on satanic ritual abuse.

Before reporters could confront Michelle with the evidence that her Satanic past was false, however, Pazder quickly intervened.

“For Michelle to go on talking about these things is too painful. She is totally free of Satan today,” he told them.

• Email: | Twitter: TristinHopper

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