During the 1970s and 1980s through the 1990s, stories of satanic ritual abuse were widely reported in the popular media. This moral panic caused by stories of satanic rituals, cults, child abuse, murder, satanic love rituals, incest and sexual deviancy became commonplace. There was something for everybody.

Devil worship in South AmericaCredit: Casper Platuisus

Satanic Ritual Abuse Stories

Satanic ritual abuse stories of physical, sexual and physical abuse are truly horrific. They center on Satan worship with the practitioners wearing Devil symbols and garb of goat and rams horns and associated satanic symbols. Various versions of stories of girls and young women being impregnated so the babies could be ritualistically killed and eaten as part of Satanic rituals were common at this time and reported as fact.

CloseupCredit: Caspar Plautius

Michelle Remembers by Dr. Lawrence Pazder and Michelle Smith was a book that brought Satanism and ritual abuse to the forefront. Doctor Pazder was a Canadian psychiatrist and Smith his patient. During Smith’s treatment, Pazder divorced his wife and married Smith. Smith recalled for Doctor Pazder repressed memories of murder, Satanic abuse, sexual abuse and atrocities such as being rubbed with blood and body parts of victims that happened when she was five. The claims didn’t receive much critical examination. People Magazine and The National Enquirer first covered the book. Oprah Winfrey had a program with the authors and presented the book as fact. It became a best seller and optioned for a movie. Pazder became an instant expert on Satanic cults, appeared on television news programs and testified in cases such as the McMartin Preschooland other trials.



Michelle Remembers
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Investigators found some factual errors when they examined the allegations in Michelle Remembers. They found no record of a car crash mentioned in the book. Smith claimed to have missed school for days, but teachers and school records didn’t match the claims of her absence. The book wasn’t made into a movie because the publisher lost a libel suit with Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan. Part of the settlement with LaVey prevented the book being made into a movie. Some investigators have suggested the Satanic ritual and practices described in the book were taken from the popular fictional literature and movies of the time.

The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial
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Newspapers and television news regularly carried Satanic ritual abuse stories in the 1970s and 1980s. Mutilated farm or other animals seemed to be a frequent occurrence at the time. Interviews with police or owners of the animals speculated that the deaths and mutilations were due to Satanic cult practices. Experts such as Pazder appeared on television magazine programs to explain how these mutilations related to Satanic child abuse rituals.

Movies, Books and Songs

Devil worship and Satanism was a popular literary subject in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Amnityville Horror were popular books that dealt with the Devil and Devil worship and made into movies. Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist were fiction, but The Amityville Horror was marketed as fact. Some have suggested that these and other books and movies increased the possible awareness of Satanic ritual abuse stories to give the impression the abuse was everywhere.

Rosemary's Baby (Criterion Collection)
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The Amityville Horror
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The Exorcist: Director's Cut (Extended Edition)
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The Led Zeppelin song, Stairway To Heaven, was one of the first of several rock and roll songs which was said to have a Satanic message when played backwards. It’s hard to imagine the amount of time spent playing records backwards to find which songs contained Satanic messages.

McMartin Preschool

The McMartin Preschool trial in California was the longest criminal trial in U. S. history. It lasted six years and cost 15 million dollars. It was one of several preschool trials at the time associated with Satanic cults.  

Judy Johnson complained to police in August of 1983, that her son said he was being sexually molested at the McMartin Preschool. She also complained her estranged husband had also molested her son, but the prosecution suppressed that statement.

The Chief of Police created a panic by circulating a letter to all the parents of the McMartin Preschool children detailing the abuse the children may have suffered. A TV station got a copy of the letter and reported the school may be involved with child pornography rings and various sex industries in the LA area.

After interviewing the children, interviewers concluded that as many as 360 children were abused. They gave 150 medical exams that were negative for evidence of physical signs for sexual abuse. Television stories of teachers belonging to Satanic cults spread to include other area schools and preschools.

The interviewers believed the Satanic cult stories and used standard techniques at that time. The techniques they used implanted suggestions in young people. The abuse stories grew to include tunnels, criminal acts involving various politicians and movie stars, molestations in various ways and places, and murder rituals.

The prosecution didn’t have any real evidence of any crimes. Some evidence not used in the trial were such things as people flying through windows and killing lions. Law enforcement authorities dug up the school grounds and examined the buildings to find the tunnels, but found no evidence of them. The trials drug on and none of the accused agreed to testify against the others for leniency. Oprah, 20-20, Geraldo and similar programs did stories on Satanic cults which poisoned the jury pool, and fueled Satanic child abuse hysteria nationwide. Judy Johnson died from liver disease aggravated by alcoholism before the trial started. She had been diagnosed with acute-schizophrenia.

The poisoned jury pool from national and local television coverage resulted in hung juries. Some of the students involved later said interviewers coached and led them about what to say. As adults they say none of what they said happened.

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis 3 is a famous case covered by film documentaries, books, and university courses. Other sources have additional detail on the case.

The West Memphis 3 in Arkansas is another crime with ritual Satanic abuse as its basis. Three boys, Steven Branch, Christopher Bryers and Michael Moore, were eight year old boys found naked and murdered in the Robin Hood woods area of West Memphis, Arkansas in May, 1993.

The community was outraged and screaming for justice. Rumors of Satanic rituals began to circulate. One of the murdered boy’s playmates said Satanists speaking Spanish had murdered the boys. The prosecution convicted three teenagers of the murders in May, 1994. The investigation was the subject of a documentary, Paradise Lost was filmed during the investigation and trial.

Damien Echols is the oldest of the three, and considered the ringleader of those convicted. Echols wore black clothes, listened to the band Metallica, disrespected authority and was an outsider at school. He and two younger boys, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. had been seen near the area about the time of the murders.
Misskelly had been a special education student and considered mildly retarded. The police questioned him for 12 straight hours without his parent’s consent, and recorded 46 minutes. Eventually he confessed, but got the details wrong. The police coached him to a satisfactory confession that matched the facts. He implicated Echols and Baldwin.

The prosecution had no real evidence that linked the three with the victims. They also ignored reports of a black male with blood on him in a restaurant restroom approximately the time of the murder. The restaurant owner notified police when he heard of the killings. The police lost the blood samples taken at the restaurant.

The prosecution brought in Dale W. Griffis, an expert on the occult for the Echols and Baldwin trial. The supposed occult signs and marks were later determined to be animal bites and one of the boys spanked with a belt. The buckle had left marks on his back.

DNA evidence at the scene proved to be from none of the convicted. One of the hairs found at the scene was from an unidentified black male. The three were released in August, 2011. The murderer wasn’t apprehended. The police and prosecution maintain they convicted the murderers. Some of the locals think they are guilty.

The Satanic Process

At the time, Satanic cults were thought to brainwash their victims to prevent them from remembering the abuse. Psychiatrists used hypnotism and repressed memory techniques brought these forgotten thoughts into the foreground. These techniques aren’t as validated now as they were at the time. Even though the techniques are discredited, and no evidence found, some people believe in a massive cover up by authorities involved in ritual abuse exists. People still believe they are victims of Satanic rituals, and aware of it because of recovered memory.

This article doesn’t say child abuse doesn’t occur. It does. Abuse caused by organized ritual Satanic abuse is questionable. Much of the evidence from children for this type of abuse is recognized as implanted memories. Evidence of widespread Satanic cults haven’t been found. At the time, every strange animal death was considered to be ritual Satanic abuse. Thousands of cases were reported at the time, and if true, the murder and missing count would approach numbers of the Nazi holocaust. That many missing persons would have caused a national outrage. The problem of hiding and disposing of the bodies would be immense. It was a time of hysteria on a grand scale.