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Satan’s Sideshow The real story of Lauren Stra…
AUTHOR: Passantino, Gretchen and Bob/ Trott, Jon
PUBLISHED ON: May 1, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN

OCC:Satan’s Sideshow  The real story of Lauren Stratford

  Gretchen and Bob Passantino and Jon Trott

  Step right up! It’s Satan’s Underground! A hundred thousand copies
in print! Featured on radio and TV, from “Geraldo” to the “700 Club”!
Stories of satanic rituals, snuff films, and human sacrifice! Author
Lauren Stratford survived to tell us all about it! Now judge for
yourself ….

  THIS article is the extraordinary chronicle of how one woman’s
gruesome fantasy was twisted into seeming fact. Perhaps the people who
believed her tale felt the illusion of evidence she offered was due to
the desperate times in which we live, times when little children are
horribly abused and yet seem to find no rescue or protection from the
authorities or the courts.

  But we believe these child victims can be protected from further
harm and exploitation only if those who work on their behalf do so with
absolute integrity, honesty, and responsibility. Sensational stories
may sell more books, generate more television appearances, and provide
more visibility to one’s cause, and one may believe them because
“they’re too bizarre not to be true,” but they should never be
substituted for careful, accurate, and truthful reporting.

  In the course of our research into the _Satan’s Underground_ [1]
story, we talked with parents of children who had been ritually abused
and who had reason to believe Lauren Stratford’s testimony was not
true. We asked them why they were willing to tell us what they knew,
when, after all, her story supported their children’s statements. One
parent spoke for them all:

  We’re so afraid that no one will believe our children. If this story
were true, it would be invaluable. But we know it’s not, and the only
testimony worse for our children than no testimony is a testimony
that’s not true. If we can’t find the courage to speak out and tell
what we know about Lauren Stratford’s story, then we’re sitting ducks
for the people we know who are guilty and who are just looking for a
way to discredit our children. [2]

  The hard evidence we have uncovered and which we present here speaks
for itself. The story of _Satan’s Underground_ is not true. And the
same exploited children it may have been designed to help have been
cheated of the truth.

  SATAN’S UNDERGROUND

  A synopsis of the story told in _Satan’s Underground_ is very
difficult to produce. The book is missing dates, places, outside
events, and even the true names of the principal characters necessary
for placing the story in an historical and geographical context.
Stratford says, “In part this is for my own protection, but it also
serves to remind you that what I’ve endured is not limited to one city
or region. I have also changed names and descriptions of many key
figures in order to protect the victims.” [3]

  According to _Satan’s Underground_, Stratford was born
illegitimately and adopted at birth by a “professional” couple. Her
adoptive father left when Lauren was four because of his wife’s
explosive temper and physical abuse toward him. At six Lauren was raped
in her basement by a day laborer. [4] The rape was the mother’s idea of
a “fair wage” for the laborer’s work. The rapes continued by various
“smelly” men, and under her mother’s authority child pornography
pictures and bestiality were added when she was eight. Throughout
childhood, Lauren received the physical abuse her mother had previously
heaped on her husband. Several times Lauren tried to tell adults what
was happening, but neither her school counselor, pastor, youth group
leader, nor a woman sent by the police believed her.

  At fifteen, after a particularly brutal physical altercation with
her mother, Lauren collected bus fare donations from her school friends
and escaped to a city two hundred miles away. She ended up in juvenile
hall and was picked up by her father, whom she had not seen in eleven
years. She moved “across the country” with him rather than returning to
live with her mother.

  Lauren had only lived with her father for a short time when her
mother called, insisting he allow “them” to come and get Lauren to
continue the pornographic abuse. She then realized the multistate
extent of the pornography ring her mother had inducted her into as a
child.

  By the time she turned twenty, Lauren had been living a “dual life”
[5] at home (with her father, at church, and in school) and at the
pornographer’s studio (mostly on weekends). It was then she met the
leader of the ring: Victor.

  She learned that Victor’s empire included pornography, prostitution,
drugs, sadomasochism, and child prostitution and pornography. Victor
wanted her to be his “woman,” but she had to pass a test first. For
several weekends in a row she had to properly pleasure his best
customers, no matter what their perversions, demands, or tortures.

  She passed the test. Victor had his assistant hold her while he used
a razor blade on her forehead to initiate her as his “woman.” The
sexual perversion didn’t end, she just responded to Victor’s whims
instead of any and all customers’. She managed to continue her college
studies despite the drugs and the torturous weekends with Victor. But
Victor got bored. What was left to excite and thrill him?

  Satanism. It was, he told Lauren, the ultimate path to power and
sexual gratification. At first he forced her to attend satanic rituals
[6] where he and others sexually abused her. Then he demanded she
participate in a child sacrifice ritual. She refused and underwent
brainwashing and torture for an unspecified time. Finally Victor
threatened he would ritually kill a baby each week that she continued
to refuse. After holding out for four weeks, she was locked in a metal
drum with the dead bodies of four babies who had been sacrified. She
finally gave in and evidently participated in an infant sacrifice
ritual on Halloween night. She says, “It was the last time I ever
participated in a satanic ritual.” [7]

  A later chapter in the book tells that sometime during her late
teens and early twenties she gave birth to three children. The first
two were killed shortly after birth in snuff films and the third, a son
she calls “Joey,” was sacrificed in her presence at a ritual.

  When Lauren’s father unexpectedly died, she realized she had no real
reason to stay in the area. Thus began her frantic flight from Victor
and his conspiratorial enforcers. She moved to many cities over the
next few years, [8] but Victor’s men always found her and continued
periodic threats to ensure her silence. Her emotional and physical
health deteriorated as a consequence of the extreme abuse she had
suffered. During one eight-year period she was hospitalized more than
forty times.

  Her “breakthrough,” enabling her to begin the “healing process,”
began with some sensitive hospital therapists. She learned that she
didn’t have to be a victim any longer. But she was far from well.

  Then she saw Johanna Michaelson on television. Somehow Lauren knew
that her physical and spiritual healing would be accomplished through
her. But it was another eighteen months before she and Johanna met.

  After their first meeting, Lauren moved in with Johanna. Johanna and
her entire family, including her husband, sister Kim, and
brother-in-law Hal Lindsey, ministered healing to Lauren. In a number
of months a new Lauren and a new book emerged from a fierce spiritual
battle. The victim is beginning to be left behind, the victorious
counselor appears. The stage is set for the counselor’s handbook, _I
Know You’re Hurting_. Such is the story of _Satan’s Underground_.

  WHO IS LAUREN STRATFORD?

  LAUREN Stratford doesn’t exist, except as the pen name of Laurel
Rose Wilson, and _Satan’s Underground_ is only one of the stories she’s
told about her life.

  Laurel Wilson was born prematurely to Marrian E. Disbrow [9] on
August 18, 1941, [10] in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington.
[11] She was brought home after forty-four days in the hospital by her
adoptive parents, physician Frank Cole Wilson and schoolteacher Rose
Gray Wilson, to a little town called Buckley. The littlest Wilson
joined her big sister Willow Nell, who was five years older. Laurel’s
adoption by the Wilsons was finalized on February 17, 1942, before her
first birthday.

  In a signed statement Willow prepared for us, she described her
parents:

  My parents were devout Christians. They were both active members of
the Bible Presbyterian Church in Tacoma. Both of them were fully
committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. My sister and I were raised in a
very sheltered, strict Christian home. There was no place in our home
for anything remotely occult or pornographic. My mother continues as a
dedicated Christian, for many years now a member of _________ [12]
Church …. [13]

  One assumes from _Satan’s Underground that its author is an only
child. There is no mention of any sibling. The average reader would
also assume that Stratford’s mother is probably dead, which would
explain why Stratford neither confronted nor reconciled with her mother
as part of her spiritual and emotional healing. Neither assumption is
true.

  LAUREL’S EARLY CHILDHOOD

  THE Wilson home at 1624 “A” Street was not peaceful. Rose had an
unpredictable temper, and Frank, with an explosive temper of his own,
was often the brunt of her outbursts. His health was precarious, the
result of a heart attack, and the stress on him was taxing. Willow was
Laurel’s protector and comforter, and many Saturday and Sunday
afternoons were spent in the park together, hiking or riding bikes.
Willow remembers life for her and Laurel during this time was very
unpredictable. They never knew if Mother would be in one of her rages
or would take them to the beach for the day. But even the anger Willow
remembers is nothing like what _Satan’s Underground_ describes:

  My mother did have a temper. And she did have problems. But she
loved us. My mother was never involved with pornography. No, no. No,
no, NO! Mother would be absolutely appalled…. She’s _very_
straightlaced. [14]

  In actuality, Frank left the family in 1950, [15] when Laurel was
nine years old, not when she was four as _Satan’s Underground_
describes. This was after the family had moved from Buckley to 805
North “C” in nearby Tacoma. Both Frank and Willow were living with
Laurel and her mother during the time period that Laurel wrote in her
book she was being repeatedly raped and used in child pornography and
bestiality. “I was never part of a porno empire,” Willow explains
wryly. “And let me tell you, I was a very inquisitive little kid, with
my ear to the door. If there had been any sort of business going on
like that, believe me, I would have known about it.” [16]

  Laurel was very musically gifted. Her adoptive parents plied her
with music lessons, including voice, piano, clarinet, and flute. One of
her singing competition judges wrote when Laurel was eight,
“Outstanding accomplishment for length of study. This must be a very
intelligent and musical girl.” [17] Her report cards reflect almost
straight A’s. Her attendance and grades precluded long absences from
school such as would have seemed necessary from the extreme sexual
abuse described in _Satan’s Underground_. [18]

  HER LATER CHILDHOOD

  DURING Laurel’s high school years, she was active in school clubs
and extracurricular activities. Returning from a singing engagement,
Laurel and two friends were involved in an auto accident. Laurel had a
minor ankle injury, and both members of the trio recall that she was
extremely distraught in the car and in the hospital, continually
calling for her father. She seemed bitterly disappointed that he didn’t
come. [19]

  Laurel ran away shortly after the accident. She stayed within the
city of Tacoma, at Raymond Juvenile Hall, until arrangements were made
for her to stay with her father in California. Not liking San
Bernardino schools, she returned to her mother, but soon moved in with
her sister. By then, Willow was married with two young children and
living in Seattle.

  When Laurel was seventeen, she told a friend at King’s Garden High
School that she had been sexually molested by her brother-in-law,
Willow’s husband. She sounded at the time as though that were the only
sexual abuse she had ever suffered. Her allegations were disproven and
Willow contacted their dad and received permission for Laurel to get
psychiatric counseling. Willow and her husband were told by the
psychiatrist not to continue allowing Laurel to live with them: “She’s
a danger to your children.” [20]

  Laurel graduated from King’s Garden [21] and enrolled in what was
then called Seattle-Pacific College in September of 1959. [22] Marie
Hollowell, the school’s dean of women who had been a special friend to
Willow, also took an interest in “trying to draw Laurel out.” [23]
Laurel soon told a classmate that she had been molested sexually,
perhaps by members of the college staff, and that her mother had driven
her to “the bad side of town” to be a prostitute. In a meeting with
Marie Hollowell, Willow, and a psychiatrist, Laurel admitted she had
made the stories up to “impress” her new friend. Because of this
controversy, the school recommended psychiatric care for Laurel. Soon
after, she attempted suicide by cutting her wrists. [24]

  YOUNG ADULTHOOD

  BY September of 1960 Laurel was living in Southern California with
her father, Frank. He was a physician for the Santa Fe Railroad and had
a private practice in San Bernardino. When Laurel was nineteen, she
wrote some of her old friends that her father was sexually abusing her.
[25]

  Enrolled in the University of Redlands, Laurel majored in music.
[26] She directed the choir at First Assembly of God Church in Rialto,
where she and her father were members. [27] Though she gained
acceptance through her musical talent and skill, her emotional troubles
were not resolved. Her pastor, Eugene Boone, was called in numerous
times because Laurel had cut her arms in apparent suicide attempts.
This went on over the six years Revered Boone knew her.

  While still in college, during 1962, she met a Pentecostal
evangelist couple, Norman and Billie Gordon. Billie described her
relationship with Laurel this way:

  I like to help people, that’s what I’m about. But Laurel was a
hopeless case…. We met her after a service we testified at. A car
pulled up in our driveway. I opened my door and invited her in, but she
didn’t come in. I closed my door. I heard her voice, so I opened my
door again. She said, “Please, come out and help me. I heard you
testify tonight. Please come and talk because I’m not the kind of
person you want in your house.”

  Laurel ended up practically living with the Gordons for most of
1962. During that time the stress was so intense that Billie went from
140 to 100 pounds. Her children begged her to ask Laurel to leave
because Laurel was consuming all of Billie’s time and attention. There
was nothing left for anyone but Laurel. [28]

  Laurel told a series of stories to Billie and Norman Gordon. She
told them that Frank Cole Wilson was her natural father, and that her
natural mother had died when she was very small. Her father had quickly
remarried, and her stepmother had physically and sexually abused her
ever since. The Gordons assumed that Laurel was living with her father
and stepmother. (In reality, Frank and Laurel lived alone at 1580 North
Vista in Rialto.)

  Laurel also “became blind” while with them, and they prayed
frequently for her healing. However, they began to suspect she wasn’t
really blind. One day when they were driving past the University of
Redlands, Laurel pointed out a landmark. Confronted, Laurel tried to
say she’d felt a familiar bump in the road, but finally admitted she
had faked her blindness to obtain sympathy and attention. Billie told
us that one afternoon Laurel showed up with a huge red bump and bruises
on her forehead. She asked Billie to protect her–her stepmother had
hit her on the head with a can of peaches. [29] Again, confronted by an
unbelieving Billie, she confessed that she had hit herself with the can
to gain sympathy.

  Laurel’s break with the Gordons was precipitated by an incident that
took place in their home while Norman was out. Laurel, locking herself
in the bathroom, broke a glass vase and proceeded to cut her face in
three places. She then charged out of the room with the broken vase,
straight for Billie’s neck. Billie’s grown son wrestled the glass away
from her. [30]

  Shortly after this, Laurel returned home to her father. A Woman who
was a member of the Hemet First Assembly of God church befriended her
and attempted to help Laurel, whom she considered troubled and
emotionally depressed. (This woman is the first of three of Laurel’s
closest acquaintances who asked to have their names withheld. We have
labeled them “Friend One,” “Friend Two,” and “Friend Three.”) Friend
One confirmed that Laurel cut her own arms several different times.

  When Laurel was twenty-two (1963), she told Friend One that she had
been seduced into a lesbian relationship with two church women. [31] On
June 7, 1964, she graduated from Redlands with a bachelor’s in music,
with a special secondary education teaching credential in music. [32]
Soon after this, Laurel disappeared from home. Later she told Friend
One that she had run away to Teen Challenge in Los Angeles and gone
through their drug abuse program, then had become a drug counselor. Her
friend angrily pointed out that Laurel’s drug use was a lie. According
to Friend One, Laurel admitted she had never had a drug problem, but
had made the story up for Teen Challenge. [33]

  Laurel was still living with her father when he died of a heart
attack at home. Dr. Frank Cole Wilson was pronounced dead at 8:45 a.m.
on January 4, 1965. [34] Willow and Rose, their mother, came from
Washington for the services. Rose stayed on for a while, signing a
probate paper with Laurel on February 5 and attending Sunday services
at the same First Assembly of God in Rialto where Laurel was the choir
director. Probate on Dr. Wilson’s estate took almost two years and
wasn’t finally settled until the end of 1967.

  MID TO LATE TWENTIES

  LAUREL met Frank Austin at church while she was living for a time at
208 Valley View in Hemet. He was almost one and a half years younger
than Laurel and was the son of a Pentecostal Holiness minister. [35]
They dated three or four times and then, Frank told us, she suggested
marriage. “She seemed like a nice Christian girl and it seemed like a
good thing to do, so we did.” They were married on March 11, 1966, with
Friend Two and Frank’s father as witnesses. [36]

  At that point, what one wishes could have been the beginning of a
happy story instead led to only more pain and failure. Within a week
the troubled couple, their marriage still unconsummated, sought counsel
from Friend One and her husband. [37] Here we reluctantly include
comments from Frank which are very private. We do so only because
_Satan’s Underground_ claims that Laurel had been raped and abused
since childhood, had been involved in hard-core prostitution for at
least five years for at least five years, and had borne three children
by this time. Frank told us the marriage was eventually consummated,
and that Laurel “was a virgin until then.” Frank and Laurel agreed to
an annulment, granted on May 17, 1966.

  Laurel’s desperate need for attention was described by Friend Two:

  I felt sorry for Laurel…. She called me one night at midnight. I
went over and found her cutting her arm with a paring knife. She had
made several cuts already…. She so desperately needed someone to say
they loved her, in Christian love. Laurel didn’t have anybody, because
she would turn them against her by wearing them down. She would go from
one friend to the next, knowing they wouldn’t be her friends for long.
That’s sad…. There were a lot of times I had to be with her when I
wanted to be with my kids. I’ve apologized to my kids for that. I will
never allow anybody, ever again, to suck me in the way she did.

  Laurel turned twenty-five in August of 1966. She taught music at
Hemet Junior High School for one and one-half years, from September
1966 through January 1968. [38] Her picture in the school yearbook
shows her smiling next to the choir. [39] This was the only public
school teaching recorded for her, although her renewed teaching
credential is valid until 1991. [40]

  Laurel appears to have been employed at the California Institute for
Women in Chino, probably from 1969 to 1971. She says she was a
correctional counselor on her alumni report. She gave the same
information to Willow and others throughout the years. She told yet
another friend that she had been a guard. However, we have been unable
to confirm either job with the Prison Personnel Office or with the
California Penal System Office of Past Employment.

  During this time she was still active in various Assemblies of God
churches and gained a small popularity as a Christian singer in
different churches. [41] She joined a singing group led by Delpha
Nichols called “Delpha and the Witnesses.” The male singer, Ken
Sanders, and his wife invited her to live with them in Bakersfield.
[42] She has lived in the Bakersfield area since 1971.

  Delpha, Ken, and Laurel sang at many churches and toured on a
limited basis. Ken remembers Laurel as a nice Christian woman with good
values, but who was also emotionally troubled. Though “The Witnesses”
stayed with nearby church people’s homes while touring, Laurel insisted
she needed a private hotel room. One time, Ken related, she became
frantic when told they would be staying with nearby church people.
Laurel attacked Delpha so violently “she nearly clawed Delpha’s dress
off.” Laurel got a hotel room. [43]

  Ken stated that Laurel did talk about her mother sexually abusing
her and offering her to various men, abuse which had church-related
overtones:

  One night, when Laurel was still living with us, I took out the
Bible for our family devotions. She jumped up and ran off into her room
and locked the door behind her. Later, she said it was because when
they used to do these perversions to her, that’s how it would begin.
“It was in the name of Jesus they did this stuff.”

  HER THIRTIES

  DELPHA and her husband Willie loved Laurel. They felt sorry for the
girl nobody seemed to love, and though she was an adult of thirty or
so, they legally adopted her and she called them her family. One of the
many stories Laurel told Delpha was that her mother had abused her so
horribly she was sterile and could never have children. [44]

  Laurel wrote many stories of her childhood and family in letters to
Delpha. Delpha saved them until Laurel contacted her more recently and
requested she burn them all. We asked Delpha why Laurel had wanted them
burned. “She didn’t want anybody to see them, I guess…. She was
telling me about her past.” Delpha continued, “There’s a lot of things
I don’t understand. I’m mixed up about a lot of things about Laurel
like that.”

  By 1973, Laurel had written and copyrighted some Christian songs
while with the group. [45] “Delpha and the Witnesses” broke up in 1974.
Ken calmly observed, “It was because of Laurel, of course.” Laurel and
the Sanders continued to go to the same church in 1974, pastored by
David Joiner. [46] Laurel was living at 1405 White Lane in Bakersfield.
Though she still sang some with Delpha, she also accompanied other
Christian singers both at her own church and others. During this time
she gave private piano lessons.

  Ken Sanders and Pastor Joiner both recalled Laurel and another
church member, Friend Three, leaving the church some time in 1975. (Ken
didn’t see Laurel again until 1984, when he saw her at a special church
service in honor of Delpha and Willie.) Laurel told a number of stories
to Friend Three, who lived with her for a time. Among other things,
Laurel told her that her scars were from her mother’s abuse. The friend
explained to us what she how believes to be the stories’ real source:

  Have you read the book _Sybil_? I didn’t read it until I started
taking my psychology classes. I realized that most of the stories
Laurel had told me about her mom’s abuse were taken literally from
_Sybil_. You know, the torture with enemas, the piano, the whole bit.
Even the part about the mom’s abuse with small sharp objects that
rendered her incapable of having children…. Laurel took that directly
out of the book.

  Friend Three explained to us Laurel’s claim that the physical and
sexual abuse continued until she went to live with her father, and then
it all stopped. As the friend talked with us, she shared the
destructive influence Laurel had on her own life:

  At that time I was pretty vulnerable. There were problems in my
church, my father had just been brain-damaged in a severe accident. My
brother was going through a very traumatic time, and my husband and I
were having trouble in our marriage. I had two small children, and I
was extremely unhappy. For me, I’m very interested in music. She
accompanied me when I sang. She was giving my daughter piano lessons,
and we started being friends. She was very happy, always laughing,
always very up. And gradually … manipulation is what it is. Where I
was the weakest, that’s where she worked her way in, and I was so
involved. She tried to separate me from my mom and dad, and at one
point actually told them I didn’t need them anymore, she’d take care of
me. She began to manipulate things so I was really putting distance
between myself and my husband, more and more and more. And then I felt
trapped. How could I extricate myself from this awful mess I’d gotten
into? For me, it got so bad that my way out was, “I cannot deal with
any of this anymore, I’m never going to get free.” The scariest part
about it was that it seemed so normal, “I’ll just go to sleep and never
wake up again.” I took every pill in the house. I had a bottle of
sleeping pills, I had a bottle full of pain tablets, another of valium,
and I took them all. My family discovered me in time. I had to spend
some time in a mental hospital, but the Lord saw me through. I think
she was scary fifteen years ago … and she still scares me. She does
not, she really doesn’t know the truth. I suspected there were others
she used like me. Thank you, Lord, because I did find out in time.

  Through the latter part of the 1970s Laurel’s physical and emotional
health deteriorated, incapacitating her from full-time work. She was
able to live on the small amount state disability paid plus offering
private music lessons. Laurel spent much of her time hospitalized. When
Friend One from the Hemet Assembly of God church visited her in the
hospital in the late 1970s, Laurel seemed helpless, physically and
emotionally. She told her friend she had a “rare blood disease shared
by only nine people in the world.” [48]

  In 1978, Willow and her family visited Laurel at 2401 Christmas Tree
Lane in Bakersfield. Willow described the meeting as short and
strained. Laurel was distant and explained she had been very ill and in
and out of the hospital. She kept repeating that she had a new family
now. “I got the feeling she was telling us she didn’t need me or
Mother,” Willow recalled. This was the last time Willow saw or heard
from her sister.

  THE YEARS BEFORE _SATAN’S UNDERGROUND_

  LAUREL read _Stormie_, [49] a book chronicling author Stormie
Omartian’s abuse as a child, and contacted Omartian. Laurel and a close
friend, Sherry DeLynn Williams, began a support group for women called
Victims Against Sexual Abuse. The local Bakersfield press covered the
group’s activities, and author Joyce Landorf Heatherly invited Laurel
to be a guest on her radio program. Laurel talked about child and
spouse abuse and related her own stories. [50]

  In 1985 the Bakersfield area was rocked by charges concerning a
large ritualistic child abuse ring operating in Bakersfield. The story
received national media attention. At that time, Laurel was giving
private piano lessons to the child of one of the Bakersfield
investigators, Sgt. Bob Fields. [51] At one point she contacted Colleen
Ryan, the District Attorney handling prosecution of the case. Ryan told
us, “She called me a couple times …. I don’t really remember what her
link was, except she was somehow entwined with the two women
[defendants] in the case.” [52] Ryan’s office and the investigators
found her testimony useless. [53]

  Laurel then met Pat Thornton, a foster mother caring for some of the
children whose family members were implicated in the child abuse case.
Laurel told Pat she had personal knowledge of what was going on and was
afraid for her life. Pat told us:

  For a short period of time, I was like Laurel’s mother. She would
call me at all hours of the day or night, hysterical, and I had to drop
everything I was doing to go to her or at least talk her through her
hysteria on the phone. She almost consumed my life. It was very
difficult for me, because I was trying to help the children I was
caring for, too. It was like she was another one of the kids.

  During this time Laurel _first_ began mentioning satanism as part of
her story. According to Laurel, she was still being harassed and
threatened by satanists (this would have been in 1985 and 1986). In
fact, she claimed they were still picking her up late at night and
forcing her to watch their rituals, including ritual child abuse. She
told Pat this as the basis for her inside knowledge of the Bakersfield
cases. There was no Victor in Laurel’s stories to Pat. Instead there
were two men, “Elliot,” who was the leader of this massive ritualistic
abuse and pornography ring; and “Jonathan,” to whom she had been a
“love slave” for many years.

  Laurel told Pat that Jonathan had branded her forehead with a
circular red hot brand so everyone would know she was his love slave.
That’s why, Laurel said, she always wore bangs to cover her
forehead–even though Pat couldn’t tell the scar from typical forehead
wrinkles. One night, Laurel called Pat hysterically claiming that
Jonathan had run her off the road in a murder attempt. [54]

  One of the most macabre stories Laurel told Pat was that she had a
cassette tape of her son Joey’s death screams during the satanic ritual
in which he was killed, and a black-and-white photograph of baby Joey
that had been taken after his death. Laurel never showed Pat the
picture or let her hear the tape, explaining they would upset Pat’s
sensitive nature.

  Concerning Laurel’s own history, Laurel claimed she had become
pregnant for the first time when she was fourteen, and that the many
scars on her arms were caused by the pornographers and satanists
torturing her. Laurel said her father had died in 1983, and his death
had freed her from the hold the ring had on her–but it took almost
three years for her to realize it and finally try to break away. [55]

  Laurel said she also had personal knowledge of the McMartin
Preschool ritual child abuse case in Manhattan Beach, California, near
Los Angeles. She wondered if Pat knew anyone associated with that case.
In the spring of 1986 Pat introduced Laurel to Judy Hanson, an
investigator who was working with some of the parents in the McMartin
case. Judy described her first meeting with Laurel:

  She told me she was terminally ill and in very great pain. She had a
wheelchair in the back of her car and she was using oxygen. Her
apartment was immaculate. During our conversation, she told me the pain
was too much for her to continue. She had me get a bottle filled with
thick white liquid out of the refrigerator for her. She told me it was
morphine for her pain. I didn’t notice any difference in her speech or
actions after the medicine. Laurel claimed she’d been abused as a
child, and had been trapped in this ritual child abuse ring, both in
Bakersfield and with the McMartin group in Los Angeles. She said she
could give us names, places, dates, and events, but that she was afraid
of physical harm or even death at the hands of the ring if they
suspected she was talking. [56]

  Laurel gave Judy a manuscript containing her stories, and a tape of
two Joyce Landorf Heatherly shows she appeared on. According to Judy,
she arranged for Laurel to record her experiences in a video tape done
by Bob Currie. [57] Bob, one of the parents whose children were
involved in the McMartin abuse case, had been looking for a credible
adult witness or victim to give support to the children’s testimonies.
The video was made in multiple sessions at a Bakersfield motel.
Respecting Laurel’s concerns about her own safety, Bob never revealed
more than her mouth and chin in the video.

  After the taping was completed, Bob took the video home. But he
never used it. Other McMartin parents who saw the video or who were
present during the taping told us they agreed with Bob: “Laurel’s story
wasn’t credible.” We asked parent Leslie Floberg why she distrusted
Laurel’s story concerning the Manhattan Beach activities. She replied:

  That’s just it. She seemed to be telling us exactly what we wanted
to hear. Whatever we thought was happening, she said she had witnessed
it. She described most things in very general terms. The only things
she described in detail were incidents that had already been described
in detail on a recently aired CNN television special about our case.
Somebody who knew nothing about the case, but who had watched that
television program, could have given us as credible a “testimony.”

  We asked Pat Thornton, who was present during the taping, why she
didn’t believe Laurel’s video:

  She didn’t give concrete, specific, testable details that hadn’t
been reported in the news. It was almost like she felt safe in
repeating what we already knew from other sources, but she didn’t want
to say something new we could test. I got the feeling that she didn’t
really have any firsthand knowledge.

  The stories Laurel told on the video for the McMartin parents are
very different from the stories in _Satan’s Underground_. In the video
she said that both of her parents, mother and father, were involved in
pornography and satanism. She told how, when she was a child, even
after her father left home, the three of them would meet at the satanic
abuse rituals. She said that she lived in the basement of a farmhouse
with farm animals (the same animals she was forced to pose with for the
pornographic pictures). Laurel explained her many scars by saying that
her mother forced her to pleasure her sexually, and that if she did not
do so quickly enough, her mother would take razor blades and slice her
arms and legs to punish her. Laurel also explained that she had spent
two years of her life in a warehouse on Wilshire Boulevard in Los
Angeles with other “baby breeders,” where she had two children killed
in ritualistic snuff films. [58]

  All six parents who witnessed the video and/or its filming attested
to us that she said she had participated in an ongoing lesbian
relationship with Virginia McMartin, then the star defendant in the
McMartin preschool case. They also agree that she claimed to have been
present while ritual abuse of children went on.

  According to Bob Currie, he provided the access Laurel wanted to
Johanna Michaelson, Christian author of _The Beautiful Side of Evil_.
(Michaelson had talked briefly with a few of the McMartin parents.)
After Laurel became close to Johanna, she asked for her video back from
Bob.. Bob hand-delivered the original video to Johanna. Laurel then
broke off all communication with Judy Hanson, Pat Thornton, Bob Currie,
and the other McMartin parents involved. Only a few months later,
Laurel’s story of _Satan’s Underground_ was published by Harvest House
with Johanna Michaelson’s strong encouragement.

  Johanna Michaelson admitted to us that she had viewed the video,
including the segment concerning Virginia McMartin. She first explained
to us that the legal ramifications of the McMartin story were too
complex to deal with, but when we asked point-blank if she believed the
lesbianism story, she replied, “I don’t know.” We asked if it seemed
odd to be unsure if Laurel’s McMartin story was true, yet believe
totally in and help publish another equally fantastic tale from the
same source. Johanna did not answer the question. [59]

  Parent Leslie Floberg concluded our conversation in an angry
outburst. “Put this in your magazine; I feel raped by the so-called
Christians who’ve promoted Lauren Stratford as a victim just like our
children.”

  WHAT PROOF EXISTS OF LAUREL’S TESTIMONY?

  OUR inclination has always been to give Laurel the benefit of the
doubt, to presume her story was true until proven otherwise. If
Laurel’s story were true, many people would be wholly ignorant of the
torment she had lived through. There would also be details which could
never be verified on paper or other documentaton. Yet at the same time,
there would be a number of mundane details that couldn’t escape outside
notice. As we proceeded, we used this basic principle: if a person
proves trustworthy in the “normal” details of their lives, it is easier
to trust them when they make claims about events which cannot be
verified.

  There were two considerations: First, what evidence exists or would
exist if Laurel’s story is true? In other words, can her story be
verified? Second, are there any evidences or facts which contradict or
cast doubt on her story? Can her story be falsified?

  One more thing must be said. We believe that when extreme or
extraordinary claims are presented as objective truth, the burden of
proof lies on the claimant to give evidence of what he or she affirms.
This should especially hold true for Christian authors and publishers.
In our opinion, _Satan’s Underground_ manifestly falls into such a
category.

  From the beginning, we were led to believe that substantial
validation of Laurel’s testimony exists. Laurel’s book contains a
moving portrayal of how safe she felt when Hal Lindsey publicly warned
satanists to stay away from her because he had the goods on anyone who
might retaliate. [60] (Johanna Michaelson, however, told us that Hal
was “bluffing” when he said this. [61]) Laurel claimed she had passed
the untold facts (e.g. Victor’s name, etc.) along to people like
Johanna Michaelson and Ken Wooden. [62] Harvest House told us they
possessed documentation more than sufficient to prove her story. [63]

  However, the most stunning element of the true Laurel Wilson story
is that no one even checked out the main details. When we contacted
Laurel’s mother, sister, brother-in-law, cousin, church friends–in
fact, anyone who would have known Laurel during the book’s most crucial
years–we were shocked to discover that, in nearly every case, we were
the first people to have contacted them! [64]

  We had a lengthy conversation with Laurel, asking for any
documentation of her story. She told us that many parties, including
Johanna Michaelson and ohters “from the U.S. Justice Department on
down,” had advised her not to give us anything. She then warned us that
further research on our part would be futile. “The trail’s been cold
for over twenty-five years,” she said. “You can’t hope to find
confirmation now.” [65]

  In our conversation, Laurel said John Rayben was one of her advisers
and implied he was from the Justice Department. Johanna Michaelson and
Lyn Laboriel (a kind woman who believes Laurel’s story) also used
Rayben’s name as a defense for Laurel’s story. So we called him. Rayben
actually represents the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, a respected organization which is not an agency of the U.S.
Department of Justice, nor any federal office. Raybe also disavows
being on any advisory board, much less Lauren Stratford’s.

  “I have never seen any objective documentation for Lauren’s story,”
he stated, and “I do not consider her story credible.” He told us
Laurel had called him in September, asking his advice on whether she
should provide us with documentation. Rayben asked her what kind of
documentation she would provide. She said the problem was that “she
didn’t have names, dates, places, etc.” Rayben’s reply was, “Well, you
can’t very well give it to them, can you?” [66]

  “PLEASE SHOW US THE EVIDENCE”

  SINCE we had already (twice) attempted to confront Laurel with our
questions, we felt our only remaining Christian duty was to Harvest
House, Laurel’s publisher. Upon contacting them, we explained that the
evidence we had collected was virtually overwhelming, and asked them as
responsible publishers to carry the burden of proof. “Please show us
the evidence which led you to publish _Satan’s Underground_.”

  For instance, we asked them if it was possible to produce an
eyewitness to any of Laurel’s pregnancies. If we accept that Laurel had
three children by brutal rape, whose births were unrecorded and who had
been secretly killed, she still had a “public” life which included
attending high school and college, church attendance, and playing
concert piano. Since her pregnancy would have to have been “showing”
during her high school and college years, there should have been an
abundance of witnesses. After all, first one should have proof that a
child existed before asking others to believe that the child was
murdered. Eileen Mason, editor-in-chief at Harvest House, informed us
that Laurel “could not produce such a witness.”

  It strains one’s credulity to think that no one would notice a
teenager who was pregnant three times, yet never ended up with a baby.
Remember, this all supposedly took place in the late 1950s or early
1960s, while she was singing with Pentecostal church groups, attending
Christian schools, and living with family members other than her
mother. In reality, at least ten people who knew her quite well during
that time are emphatic: Laurel was never pregnant during her teens or
early twenties.

  Harvest House explained what they felt constituted proof of her
testimony. They had a three-part test: (1) several staff members talked
with Laurel at different times and got the same stories from her, and
all of the staff members were impressed with her sincerity; (2) they
talked with “experts” who confirmed that such things have happened to
others; and (3) they gathered character references for her from her
supporters. [67]

  These tests can establish consistency and plausibility, but they are
not tests to establish the validity of actual historical events. Over
the past ten years, we have heard stories from several “victim
impersonators” that paralleled those of real drug dealers and cult
members, but this similarity was not proof that the victim
impersonator’s particular story was true. [68]

  On the other hand, we know that Laurel’s book conflicts with known
history, and over the past twenty years, she has not only given
contradictory stories, but those who knew her testify that she has been
disturbed and manipulative. If genuine evidence for the major facets of
Laurel’s testimony exists anywhere, we are still willing to examine it.
In light of the inability of those supporting Laurel’s story to provide
such evidence, the overwhelming weight of our evidence must stand.

  As believers, our concepts of ethics and truth should be higher, not
lower, than those of the secular press. When a publisher issues a
testimony which he knows is likely to be sensationalistic, we believe
he is obligated to ask what constitutes verification of that testimony.
Certain claims and assertions require greater validation than others.
This is not to lay all the blame at the doors of Harvest House. Other
Christian publishers have recently released equally sensationalistic
“survivor stories.”

  Though publishers have the responsibility to test a story before
offering it to the public, we as readers are also accountable. If we
exercised the gift of discernment more often, publishers would be
persuaded to offer books that can stand the test. As individual
Christian readers, we cannot investigate every questionable testimony.
However, we should encourage the publishers whose books we buy to do
that job for us. It is not wrong to question a story which initially
seems fantastic and offers no corroboration or documentation.

  This article is not a condemnation of Laurel Wilson. Though we don’t
know, and may never know, the true causes of her problems, Laurel
evidently has been emotionally disturbed for most of her life.
Emotionally disturbed people should receive compassion and empathy from
their friends and other Christians, and constructive, biblical therapy
from Christians whose special gifts are conuseling. [69] Laurel Wilson
needs her Christian friends to comfort her in her distress, to love her
enough to commit themselves to helping her resolve her problems
according to biblical principles. The story of _Satan’s Underground_ is
not true, but Laurel’s emotional distress is real. Our prayer is that
she gets the help she needs.

  However, when Laurel Wilson wrote _Satan’s Underground_ and Johanna
Michaelson and Harvest House promoted it, the story stepped from the
world of therapy to the world of testimony. _Satan’s Underground_ has
become the basis, the foundation, for Lauren Stratford’s authority as
an expert on ritualistic abuse and as a counselor of other victims.
Because the story is not true, the foundation is illusory, and her
expertise and counseling qualifications are nonexistent.

  That is why this investigation had to be conducted, and this article
had to be written. As Laurel’s old friend who nearly ended her own life
told us, “I don’t want to see her counseling anyone. If she counsels
other people as she did me, there are going to be a lot of people in
real trouble.” [70]

  Sidebar:

  CONTRADICTIONS

  * HER FATHER: Variations in stories … Frank Cole Wilson was her
natural father/left home when she was four/she didn’t see him again
until she was fifteen/he was present at satanic rituals she attended
throughout childhood/ had an incestuous relationship with her/was part
of the satanic and pornographic ring/died in 1983. The truth is, he was
her adoptive father, left when she was eight or nine, and saw her many
times in the intervening years, during vacations and holidays.
Christian doctor who died in 1965.

  * HER MOTHER: Often called stepmother. Stories of mother’s abusive
behavior have varied from physical only to sexual/selling Laurel into
pornography/ prostitution/satanism. In truth, mother adoptive, strict
Christian woman who sometimes had temper.

  * HER SISTER: Laurel has claimed to be an only child/in 1975 claimed
sister named Betty “wants to either put me in a mental institution or
kill me.” Real sister, Willow, a missionary. Laurel raised with Willow,
lived with her, her husband, and family during high school.

  * ABUSE: Laurel says 1985 first time able to admit she was abused.
Yet multiple accusations of abuse over thirty years against
mother/father/brother- in-law/school personnel/lesbian church
members/pornography and prostitution rings.

  * SATANISM: 1985 first mentioned involvement with satanism, after
two major satanic ritual abuse cases became news. This contradicts all
her previous abuse stories.

  * HER SCARS: Blamed on mother/pornography/prostitution
leaders/and/or satanists. Actually three people observed her cutting
herself, others told by Laurel her wounds were self-inflicted.

  * HER “CHILDREN”: Various stories: she’s sterile/had two children
killed in snuff films/three children killed, two in snuff films, one in
satanic ritual/ says she had children during teenage years/her
twenties/lived two years in a breeder warehouse. In reality, no
evidence she was ever pregnant.

  * RITUAL INVOLVEMENT: States in _Satan’s Underground_ ritual
involvement ended after her father’s death (1965)/vs. story of
involvement in satanic rituals through 1985-86 (McMartin ring and
others). Truth is no proof found for any involvement.

  * CHILD PORN: States in _Satan’s Underground_ she was involved in
child porn films and magazines during the forties and fifties.
According to FBI expert, child porn films and magazines were all but
nonexistent during this time. [71]

  Photo captions:

  1. Frank, Laurel, Rose, and Willow Wilson. 2. Infant Laurel and
Rose. 3. Laurel at 14 years (1955). 4. Willow’s 11th birthday (Laurel
second from right). 5. Car license dated 1947, two years after _Satan’s
Underground_ says her father left Laurel behind. 6. Laurel in her late
teens, Laurel’s birth certificate.

  Endnotes: 1. Lauren Stratford, _Satan’s Underground_ (Eugene, Oreg.:
Harvest House Publishers, 1988). 2. Bob Currie, in conversation with
us. Note: we interviewed dozens of persons in the course of research
for this article. In most cases, we talked with people several times,
and double-checked our quotes. To avoid confusion, we do not list the
exact dates of conversations in this article. The reader is safe to
assume that the conversations took place between 7 September and 10
November 1989. 3. Stratford, _Satan’s Underground_, 17. 4. _Satan’s
Underground_ is one of the most sexually explicit and violently graphic
contemporary Christian books we know. Those descriptions are not
necessary in this synopsis. 5. Including being drugged almost
continually. 6. Lauren says she was never a satanist because she had
become a Christian as a young child and was only at the rituals because
she was forced to be. 7. Stratford, _Satan’s Undergound_, 114. 8. And
managed to finish her college education. 9. According to Pierce County
adoption records, on file. Marriage records show that Marrian Disbrow
married Carl H— one month later. 10. According to Pierce County birth
certificate, on file. 11. According to hospital records, on file. 12.
Some non-crucial details have been omitted to protect certain persons’
privacy. 13. Statement dated 9 September 1989, on file. 14. Willow, in
conversation with us. 15. Years resident in Calif., listed on his death
certificate, on file. Frank and Rose never divorced, and Frank left a
substantial portion of his estate to Rose as his wife. 16. Willow, in
conversation with us. 17. Washington State Music Teachers Association
Auditions, Spring 1949, on file. 18. Copies of her grade school, junior
high, and high school report cards are on file. 19. Her father had
moved to Calif. six years earlier. 20. Willow and Willow’s husband, in
conversation with us. 21. Documentation on file. 22. Enrollment
confirmed by Seattle-Pacific. 23. Willow and Marie Hollowell, in
conversation with us. 24. Willow and Billie Gordon, in conversation
with us. 25. Laurel’s mother, Rose, in conversation with us. 26.
Enrollment confirmed by Redlands. 27. Reverend Boone, formerly of First
AG Church, Rialto, in conversation with us. 28. Billie Gordon, in
conversation with us. 29. She told the same story to “Friend Two.” 30.
Billie Gordon, in conversation with us. 31. “Friend One,” in
conversation with us. 32. Record confirmed by University of Redlands
Registrar and Alumni Office, on file. 33. “Friend One,” in conversation
with us. 34. San Bernardino County death certificate and probate
record, on file. 35. Confirmed by Riverside County marriage certificate
record, on file. 36. Information supplied by Frank Austin, “Friend
One,” and “Friend Two.” 37. “Friend One,” in conversation with us. 38.
Confirmed by the Hemet School District Personnel Office. 39. Picture on
file. 40. Confirmed by the California Commission on Teacher
Credentialing. 41. Confirmed by “Friend One,” “Friend Two,” and the
Archers, a couple involved at the Hemet AG Church. 42. Ken Sanders,
Willie and Delpha Nichols, in conversation with us. 43. Ken Sanders, in
conversation with us. 44. Delpha Nichols, in conversation with us. 45.
“You’ve Done So Much For Me Lord” and “Beholding His Beauty,” copyright
1972; “He Owes Me Nothing,” copyright 1973. On file. 46. Information
supplied by Ken Sanders, Reverend David Joiner, and “Friend Three.”
According to her church membership card, Laurel had previously been a
member of Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Mira Loma, Calif., near San
Bernardino. 47. Flora Rheta Schreiber, _Sybil_ (New York: Warner
Communications Company, 1973). 48. “Friend One,” in conversation with
us. 49. Stormie Omartian, _Stormie_ (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House
Publishers, 1984). 50. Information supplied by a tape of Joyce Landorf
Heatherly Programs, and from additional comments Laurel taped at home
concerning statements she made during the program which were not aired.
51. Confirmed by Bakersfield Sheriff’s Dept. Lt. Brad Darling and Sgt.
Fields in conversation with us. 52. Bakersfield District Attorney
Colleen Ryan, in conversation with us. 53. Information provided by Brad
Darling and Colleen Ryan. 54. Pat didn’t get out of bed. 55. Pat
Thornton, in conversation with us. 56. Judy Hanson, in conversation
with us. 57. Our conversation with Bob covered a lengthy meeting in
person as well as by telephone. 58. Information from video corroborated
by a number of McMartin parents and (partly) Johanna Michaelson. 59.
Information supplied from two and one-half hour phone conversation
involving Randolf and Johanna Michaelson, Jon Trott, and Bob
Passantino, on 20 October 1989. 60. On his television program, as
quoted in _Satan’s Underground_, 166. 61. Johanna Michaelson, in
conversation with us. 62. Laurel Wilson, in conversation with us. 63.
Eileen Mason, in conversation with us. She told the skeptical John
Stewart of KKLA (30 March 1988), “We have plenty of evidence in many
places.” 64. Apparently no one considered the fact that, if Laurel is
not telling the truth, her mother and family become the abused. 65.
Laurel Wilson, in conversation with us, 22 September 1989. 66.
Chuckling, John Rayben concluded, “I would have liked to see that
documentation myself!” 67. Eileen Mason, in conversation with us. 68.
One such impersonator was “escaping the Moonies.” She lived with us,
and her story was so good it took us a month to discover she was not 16
years old, but 30, and had never been a Moonie. Later, she appeared on
_Oprah Winfrey_ as a victim of Multiple Personality Disorder. More
recently, we ran across her while she was trying to convince a church
group that she was an adult survivor from a satanic cult! 69. The
therapist doesn’t initially have to know whether or not the story is
true, only that the person is hurting and needs help. 70. “Friend
Three,” in conversation with us. 71. (See “Contradictions” sidebar.)
Information supplied (enough for an article in its own right) by FBI
experts Ken Lanning and Homer Young.

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