The Satanic Panic Returns To Mormon Country?

Background

The setting for the allegations in this case is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) community in Utah broadly, and one LDS ward in Bountiful, Utah in particular.  Amid the growing national narrative about widespread child sexual abuse, the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center (ISAT) was founded in 1982, with Marion B. Smith as its founding director.  Among the therapists working at ISAT was Dr. Barbara Snow.  In 1985-88, Dr. Snow was the therapist at the center of the Lehi abuse scandal, having unearthed extensive claims of sexual abuse in therapeutic sessions with many children in Lehi, Utah.  The claims ultimately led to the usual bizarre tales of organized Satanic ritual practice and grotesque sexual abuse. The allegations were met with general skepticism in Lehi, but Dr. Snow also had many supporters in the community and in the professional ranks, including Dr. Paul L. Whitehead.  Dr. Whitehead was then public-affairs representative for the Utah Psychiatric Association and testified along with Dr. Snow in the one criminal trial that came of the Lehi allegations.  Alan Hadfield would be convicted at this trial despite overwhelming community support.  Dr. Whitehead would later cite this support for Hadfeld as evidence that the community had indeed been controlled by a Satanic child sex ring.1

In January 1985, Eileen Carstensen (pseudonymous first name) took her eldest daughter to the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center (ISAT).  The motive for this cited in Doe v Doe is that Eileen learned that a neighbor’s child had alleged sexual abuse.  Not mentioned in the suit is that ISAT’s founding director, Marion Smith, is Eileen’s own mother.  Smith was naturally aware of intimate details surrounding the evolving abuse scandals, as many of the supposed victims were patients at her center.  In a clear breach of confidentiality, she claims to have informed her daughter Eileen that her 16-year-old babysitter had been implicated in a current case against Bountiful resident Arden Brett Bullock.2, 3

According to Smith, Eileen’s husband Bill Carstensen then insisted on having the children evaluated at ISAT, and arranged for his two daughters to see Dr. Snow, who initially found no problems with the children.  Upon hearing about the allegations against their babysitter, she decided to further interview the children for hours until the eldest daughter implicated the babysitter as well, alleging that she put crayons inside the kids when they were sleeping.  These allegations were further reinforced by statements from the children of Eileen’s sister (thus more of Smith’s grandchildren), who entered the care of Dr. Snow around this time as well.2

Many subsequent interviews with the grandchildren turned up additional allegations against two teenage boys that were friends with the babysitter, as well as Richard and Brenda Miles.  Brenda was among Eileen’s sister’s best friends.  Brenda’s father also happens to be Russell Nelson, who had recently been appointed to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, and is currently the church’s president and only living prophet.  Very shortly after the allegation against the Mileses, Apostle Nelson visited the ward (for the first time, according to Eileen).  Smith and the Mileses both claim that Police interest in the allegations seemed to dry up around this time, and question the role the apostle’s presence may have played.2, 3

Shortly after Apostle Nelson’s visit, the younger daughter spontaneously told her mother that the girls’ father had been conducting “marriage lessons” with the girls.  In sessions with Dr. Snow, these lessons were revealed to include exploration of the genitals of both the daughters and the father in order to “learn how to be a good wife and mommy” and so that “Heavenly Father will think you’re good.”  The daughter also reported having seen Bill kissing the 16-year-old babysitter.  In another display of questionable professional ethics, Smith sat in on some of the subsequent therapeutic sessions with her grandchildren at Dr. Snow’s request.  Some of the lurid details about Bill’s abuse were immediately corroborated by the elder daughter after Dr. Snow told her that her sister had bravely told some “important secrets.”  In a meeting with Dr. Snow, Eileen, and her parents, Bill claimed not to remember any of the abuse, but ultimately concluded that he must be sick and agreed to seek help.2, 3

At this point, Eileen and her parents took her kids to stay at a family condo in Hawaii.  Her sister’s children were now alleging to Dr. Snow violent and threatening behavior on the part of the Mileses.  They would soon join Eileen and their cousins in Hawaii, where Smith recorded  accusations of increasingly bizarre abusive behavior involving Bill, the Mileses, the babysitter, and other unnamed teenagers.  These acts include forced drinking of coffee (forbidden for LDS members), urine, and feces, making the children lick candy off each other’s genitals, animal torture and killing, and even forcing them to watch Bill have sex with his own mother.  Smith’s notes (and some children’s drawings deemed relevant) were submitted to the Bountiful Police upon their return to Utah.  The subsequent investigation into the babysitter and the Mileses turned up nothing, and they were effectively cleared of suspicion.2, 3

During this time, Bill had checked into the psychiatric ward at LDS Hospital under the care of Dr. Mason Redd.  Dr. Redd reported that Bill appeared so beaten down by life that he was likely to accept anything of which had was accused.  Upon his release, Bill came to believe in his own innocence until seeing his children’s artwork, and retrenched into his assumption of guilt, despite having no real memory of the abuse.  He then checked into a program for sexual perpetrators at Johns Hopkins, where he would, under sodium amytal, confess to remembering several inappropriate acts with his children as well as being sexually aroused by children.  Eileen visited Johns Hopkins during this time for some joint sessions with Bill at his therapist’s request.  Her parents accompanied her and participated in one of Bill’s therapeutic sessions, during which Smith directly questioned Bill about the abuse.  Despite the evident conflict of interests, she was allowed to do so presumably in her capacity as a therapist.  In light of her later remark that she “tried to ask questions Bill would not feel too trapped by and still get information we badly needed,” it’s not entirely clear what role she thought she was playing in this interrogation.  Throughout his stay, Bill’s statements at Johns Hopkins were always very vague and short of definitively implicating himself.  He was diagnosed with “pedophila” and discharged in June 1986.  He would subsequently recant all admissions made at Johns Hopkins.2

Meanwhile, in April 1986, Eileen had her kids medically evaluated for signs of sexual trauma at the request of the Bountiful Police as part of their investigation into Bill.  The examination by Dr. Martin Palmer of Primary Hospital revealed that both daughters had scarring on their vaginas and anuses, and the son had anal scarring as well.  Eileen’s children began to see  Dr. Whitehead at this point, and would do so until reaching adulthood.  Their cousins began to see Dr. Joanna McManimen.  Out of these sessions, a collective narrative emerged about the abuse, wherein the venue was a rotating “touching party” that would be held at the homes of one of the perpetrators, including that of Bill, Bill’s mother, and the Mileses.  These parties allegedly featured the abusive acts described above, as well as the viewing and filming of pornography.  The children also spoke of being given injections in order that the abuse would not hurt.  The shots were reported by the girls to have been administered in the upper-thigh, which means that they would have been systemic analgesics.  The effects of any such drug likely to be effective for this purpose would have been highly sedative on children, and there is no mention of any of such effects by either the children or their parents in the court documents or Smith’s account.2, 3

Eileen and her mother both approached the ward Bishop, Walt Gasser, about the abuse shortly after it was alleged.  He was initially very receptive, perhaps because his own son had been previously identified as a victim of Arden Brett Bullock.  Bishop Gasser’s son subsequently admitted this abuse in therapy, only to completely recant shortly thereafter.  Upon their return from Hawaii, Bishop Gasser’s tone on the matter had radically changed, and he told Eileen that Bill was the priesthood holder and that she was accordingly obliged to believe him over her children and nieces.2, 3

The family also reached out to Apostle Neal Maxwell, who had long been a close friend of Eileen’s parents.  Apostle Maxwell gave Eileen and her children a special apostolic blessing and reassured them that “the Lord will have his justice,” but did nothing to further the case with the church.  Bill also sought his counsel around this time, and received a blessing from the apostle as well.   Apostle Maxwell’s apparent unwillingness to take the matter further with the church effectively ended his friendship with the family.2, 3

The Lehi trial had been very difficult on the children involved, and Eileen and her sister decided that they would not let their own children testify should the case against Bill go to trial.  With no physical evidence implicating Bill and no testimony from his alleged victims, there was effectively no case, and indeed no formal charges were brought against Bill.  He and Eileen were legally divorced around this time.2

Bill remarried in 1988.  His new wife had two daughters from a previous marriage and would have two sons with Bill.  Both Eileen and Smith pleaded with Bill’s new wife to take the allegations against him seriously, but she angrily refused.  Her refusal was based largely on the fact that Bill was never excommunicated or even taken before church court.  Nonetheless, she knew that Eileen had been granted a sealing cancellation (something akin to an internal LDS divorce) by the church.  LDS procedure requires that both parties and their bishops are consulted to establish cause for such a cancellation, unless one party has been excommunicated.  Bill and his bishop were not contacted prior to the sealing, and this incongruity led his new wife to explore the matter with various church contacts.  After asking too many questions, she was essentially told that she was putting her Bishop in a difficult position and that continued exploration of the matter could jeopardize her church membership.2, 3

Interestingly, it was Apostle Maxwell who pressured her bishop to subdue her, as her deepening inquiries were putting him in a difficult position, presumably because of his relationship with Apostle Nelson and the tie-in with his daughter Brenda Miles.  It is also worth noting that this admonishment from the church was roughly concurrent with the release of the Pace memorandum.  This memorandum, written by Glenn L. Pace, counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, plainly acknowledges Satanic ritual abuse in the LDS community as a fact and alleges moreover that dissociation and multiple personalities are part of a conscious occult plot to maintain secrecy.  The memorandum was written at the request of the Strengthening Church Members Committee, whose charge is “to prevent members from making negative statements that hinder the progress of the Mormon church,” according to LDS spokesman Don LeFevre.3, 4

In 1995, Bill’s step-daughters accused him of years of sexual abuse, and implicated him further in the abuse of one of his sons beginning shortly after his first birthday.  The abuse described included forced penetration of the girls with fingers and household objects, watching dildo-centric all-female porn, and forcing them to perform oral sex on him in his temple garments.  In the lawsuit, one daughter reported having to undergo reconstructive surgery on her vagina at age 15 (which would have been around 1998) to remove scar tissue, which she believes resulted from one particularly painful episode in which Bill broke a pencil inside her and removed the pieces with some difficulty.  Both girls reported Bill’s violent behavior toward at least one of his sons and reported that the child would become hysterical if Bill tried to change his diaper.  They believe the sons were also targets of his sexual abuse, but have no specific memory thereof.  The elder step-daughter mentions in court documents that her mother was often distracted with work and suffered from some health problems and had several prescriptions.  The abuses often occurred after the mother would “take her pills and sleep.”3

None of the court documents, including records from a 1995 evaluation at the Utah Children’s Justice Center, make any mention of the children of Bill’s second marriage being in therapy at the time of their revelations.  The 1995 revelations were made to the mother, although the elder step-daughter reports in the court documents having revealed the abuse to her Bishop at age 12 (which would have been around 1993) to no apparent effect.3

Bill went to Arizona in mid-1995.  The circumstances surrounding this are unclear.  The court documents claim that he fled to Arizona after an arrest warrant was issued.  In Smith’s 2004 account, his second wife told Eileen that he left for work after being threatened with divorce and legal action.  In any case, he returned to Utah in October 1995 and committed suicide.  Court documents indicate that the babysitter is also deceased, and is believed to have died by suicide as well. 2, 3

Smith’s three youngest daughters were not yet teenagers when their older sister Eileen met Bill.  Smith was concerned and immediately questioned them when the allegations against Bill came to light, and they denied ever having been abused by him.  They would all develop psychological problems over the years, including severe eating disorders, panic attacks, and suicide attempts.  By roughly 1990, they all believed themselves to have been abused by Bill and that this abuse was the source of their problems.  The second-youngest daughter in particular had married around this time, and it was the feeling of her therapist that it is was the safety of her marriage that finally allowed the repressed memories of abuse to surface.2

The two youngest daughters sued Bill in civil court in 1993 and won a no-contest decision against Bill, who never answered the complaint.  They were awarded $2.5 million, though the judge deemed that Bill’s financial state was such that this was to be paid in monthly $125 increments to each daughter.2

Doe v Doe

Federal civil suit Doe v Doe was filed on October 3, 2018 by six of Bill’s children and step-children (listed as JANE DOE 1-4, JOHN DOE 1-2) against Richard and Brenda Miles (named DOE 1 MALE DEFENDANT and DOE 2 FEMALE DEFENDANT) and “a community.”   The filing explicitly reserves the plaintiff’s right to name additional defendants at a later time, and the timing of the filing has been noted to have come just three days before the semiannual LDS General Conference.3, 5

The allegations of the case are carefully denuded of any mention of Satanic or ritualistic practice, focusing on the sexual acts and videotaping alleged at the Mileses’ “touching parties.”  The Mileses are not alleged to have had any direct contact with the children of Bill’s second marriage (JANE DOE 3-4, JOHN DOE 2).  Intead, it is asserted that they are liable for Bill’s abuse under Utah Judicial Code 78B-2-308(6)(b), which in turn refers to Utah Criminal Code 76-2-202.  The first of these codes expands the statute of limitations in civil claims related to child sexual abuse, and the latter establishes criminal liability of a person  “... who solicits, requests, commands, encourages, or intentionally aids…” another party in the commission of a crime.3

The defense filed a motion to dismiss the case on statute of limitations grounds, which also includes a background section outlining the national Satanic panic and the role Dr. Snow played in it in Utah.  There has been a subsequent back-and-forth of motions, replies, and memoranda centering around statutes of limitations and timing of depositions.  The case was stayed August 2, 2019, pending a decision by the Utah Supreme Court on a materially unrelated statute of limitations case that is relevant to the arguments of Doe v Doe.3

To be crystal clear: We don't know the facts of the case, only what's alleged in the documents. We are not in a position to judge the legal issues involved. Childhood sexual abuse is an unfortunate reality. However, the players and the machinations involved in this particular suit, particularly given their ties to the early days of the Satanic Panic, piqued our interest. We'll be reporting back as more information becomes available.

References:

  1. A Rumor of Devils: Allegations of Satanic Child Abuse and Mormonism, 1985-1994
    This article contains general background about the Satanic Panic in mornom country, including the Lehi scare and the role of Drs. Snow and Whitehead.
  2. A Report of Child Sexual Abuse in LDS Neighborhoods.This is Marion Smith’s 2004 account of the circumstances surrounding her family’s roles in the child sexual abuse cases in Bountiful, Utah.
  3. Pacer Monitor Service Doe 1 et al. vs Miles 1 et al. This page contains the detailed case docket
  4. The Pace Memorandum The references at the bottom of this entry link to the memorandum.
  5. Decades-old Bountiful case alleges church connection to abuse allegations. This article came out the day of the filing of Doe v Doe, and focuses on the LDS involvement in the story.

 

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