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Satan's Sideshow The real story of Lauren Stra...

Written by: Passantino, Gretchen and Bob/ Trott, Jon    Posted on: 05/01/2003

Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics

Source: CCN

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

  Gretchen & 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.


  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_.


  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.


  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]


  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]


  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.


  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."


  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.


  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.

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