Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"...They continued to do this for a long time sometimes even after it was dead."

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On November 22nd, 1988, Paul Ingram–a high-ranking
deputy in the Olympia, Washington sheriff’s office and the
chairman of his local Republican party–was arrested by his
colleagues for molesting two of his daughters, Julie and
Erika. After first claiming that he could remember nothing
of the crimes he was accused to, Ingram eventually confess-
ed, telling his interrogators that " girls know me. They
wouldn’t lie about something like this," and that "I really
believe that the allegations did occur and that I did violate
them and probably for a long period of time".

The charges first arose when Erika, 22 years old at the
time, was acting as a counselor and sign-language inter-
preter at a retreat sponsored by the Ingrams’ funda-
mentalist church. There, a guest speaker named Karla
Franco gave an emotional presentation in which she
claimed that the Holy Spirit had revealed to her that
someone in her audience had been sexually abused as a
small child. Later, as the retreat was ending, Erika tear-
fully announced that she had been molested by her father.

Soon Erica and Julie, then 18, moved out of their parent’s
home and went to the authorities with their charges. In-
vestigators quickly located a letter Julie had written to a
teacher of hers five or six weeks before the arrest. In it,
she wrote:

I can remember when I was 4 yr old he would
have poker game at our house and alot of men
would come over and play poker w/my dad, and
they would all get drunk and one or two at a time
would come in to my room and have sex with me
they would be in and out all night laughing and

The revelation of other adults being involved in the abuse
greatly changed the course of the investigation. Ingram’s
poker games were attended by many high-ranking sheriff’s
officers and various well-known Olympians, so these
charges were nothing short of explosive. When questioned,
Ingram reluctantly gave up the names of two men he had
worked with in the past and both were promptly appre-
hended. His daughters also accused the men, yet both ve-
hemently denied any guilt. As this was happening, Ingram’s
wife, Sandy, and the rest of her children were being
interrogated by the sheriff’s office. When pressed, all
of them failed to deny that sexual abuse had occurred in
their home. Often, and especially with Sandy, the
horrific memories were recalled in discussions with the
family pastor. Observers and interrogators alike noted
how, prior to the emergence of a new recollection, the
Ingrams would appear to fall into a "trance", as though
the misdeeds and traumas of the past had to force
themselves through everyday consciousness. By this
time, Ingram had confessed to participating in the filmed
rape and torture of his daughters.

From here, the story becomes very strange. This is
from a statement Erika gave on December 30th of
that year:

There were many men there & some
women. They chanted as I was carried
out. It was cold out middle of the night
and all I wore was a nightgown. My
mother walked with us to the barn from
the time I was taken from my bed until
the time I we were in the barn. There
was a table inside the barn. There was
also a fire. All the people around the table
including my mom & dad wore a gown & a
hat resembling a viking hat with horns.
There was a lot of blood everywhere. There
was pitchforks in the ground–that was
also used to threaten us with. The sacrifice.
They would lay it first on the table then
the high priestess would say words then

the baby would be put on the table & all
of the people including my mother & father
circling the table would stab it with knives
until it died. They continued to do this for
a long time sometimes even after it was dead.
Then they would all walk to the pit and
chant and the high priestess would carry

the baby and put the baby in something
white then put it in the ground. Then they
would bury it. The baby was a human baby
about 6-8 months old. Sometimes they
would use aborted babies. They would tell
me this is what would happen to me also. They
also would say you should not remember this.
They would say it over & over again like a

At around this time, Julie was claiming that her father
and his accomplices had forced her to get an abortion
when she was 15 years old and had also cut her body
repeatedly with a knife. However, a medical examin-
ation arranged at the investigator’s request revealed
that she had no scars at all. The same proved true of
Erika, who was making similar statements about forced
abortions and violent physical abuse. As the charges
grew more perverse and nightmarish--eventually encom-
passing sex with farm animals, multiple infant sacrifices,
and encounters where defendants urinated and defecat-
ed on their victims–the prosecutor’s case against the
accused men began to fall apart. Ingram himself had
confessed, but the other men had refused to and–as
their court dates drew nearer–the state had little to
no evidence against them besides these steadily
escalating statements.

A social psychologist, Dr. Richard Ofshe, was brought in
by the desperate investigators to buttress their case. Ofshe
is a specialist in cults and mind-control, and the police
believed that the phenomenon of brainwashing could help
explain how someone could be an upstanding, Christian
Republican sheriff’s officer by day and the leader of a
murderous, depraved Satanic coven by night. Instead of
an answer to this question, Ofshe found that Ingram was
incredibly suggestible. He made-up a crime that fit in with
the general run of the man’s confessions–that he had once
forced one of his sons to have sex with his daughter–and
asked Ingram if he remembered such an episode. At first,
Ingram claimed not to but, after a modest amount of direc-
tion, he wound up writing out a detailed statement confess-
ing to the suggested episode.

With curious phenomena like this, and without any sort of
physical evidence to be found, the prosecutor was forced
to drop all charges against the two men Ingram and his
daughters had accused. However, Ingram himself wasn’t
so lucky. When he attempted to retract his previous con-
fessions it was too late: he was sentenced to twenty years
in prison.

* * *

Lawrence Wright’s book about this case is one of the most
fascinating things I have ever read. It is a penetrating
study of American credulousness. This is, under it all, a
story about believers. The Ingram family believed that
God and Satan walk the earth, doing good and doing evil.
Paul and Sandy Ingram believed their daughters, so much
so that confessing to sick and murderous acts seemed
easier than calling them liars. The daughters, for their
part, probably came to believe the wild charges they were
making. After all, the police believed them, their counse-
lors and psychologists believed them, their pastor believed
them. In the rabbit hole that the case became, believing
became synonymous with innocence, salvation and truth,
while disbelieving became, at best, simple denial and, at
worst, a sinister and cruel cover-up.

This episode took place as large parts of the therapeutic
community were encouraging their clients to "recover"
supposedly dormant memories of abuse. The emotional
difficulties of a great many people, mostly women, were
being attributed to unresolved issues connected to abuse
that they didn’t know they suffered. Various techniques
and processes were used in order to help these people
remember this alleged abuse, and–for the suggestible
or unlucky–this resulted in vague feelings of unhappi-
ness becoming vivid scenes of torture and incest. These
scenes were then treated as real happenings, even if
they couldn’t have possibly occurred, even if this ap-
proach would further harm the patient.

This trend among counselors dovetailed with a growing
obsession among the nation’s evangelical Christians:
Satanism. Self-proclaimed experts traveled from church
to church, delivering hair-raising lectures on the ubiquity
and deadliness of Satanic cults. They were often said to
include the wealthy and powerful, who maintained their
high status in legitimate society by making frequent
sacrifices to the devil. One "authority" on the matter
estimated that these rituals–in the United States alone--
claim 50-60,000 innocent victims per year, a number
that more than doubles the nation’s actual murder rate.
With Communism quickly becoming moribund and Al-
Qaeda far away on the horizon, large swaths of the pop-
ulace apparently needed something secret and fright-
ening to menace them: organized Satanists filled that
role nicely for a couple of years. That they didn’t exist
wasn’t the important thing.

From these two related phenomena came the concept
of "Satanic Ritual Abuse", which for awhile was a charge
bandied around so often it even got its own acronym, SRA.
The most famous example of this was the McMartin pre-
school debacle in southern California. You’ll remember
that here a group of child-care workers were charged
with 360 counts of molestation, based largely on the
accounts of impressionable children, all of whom were
thoroughly coached by the investigators in what they
were supposed to say. Closer to my home, the Jordan,
Minnesota affair was similar, without the devil-worshiping
business. There an actual sexual predator attempted to
lighten his sentence by naming various citizens as accom-
plices in his crime. Hysteria followed, naturally enough, and
even these days it’s not uncommon to find people around
here who steadfastly believe that there was some sort of
kiddie-rape ring on the loose down there.

This brings me back to our peculiar American gullibility. In
a lot of ways, we are a country of suckers. This has been
manipulated by authorities from various areas–religious,
political, and medical/psychological–who have found that
the best way to maintain and enhance their authority is
by exploiting this credulousness to keep us terrified.
"Satan is real," they say, "The enemy is at your doorstep."
We believe them again and again. As a nation, we’re the
suburbanite who drives through the inner city with his
heart pounding, the doors locked, and the windows roll-
ed up all the way. We know that terror well and we pre-
fer it, this frightful Other that’s out to get us should we
ever fall from grace, should we ever wander into the
wrong neighborhood. The things we should be afraid
of, however, we gamely ignore: our lives being poison-
ed from a thousand subtle sources, our happiness frit-
tered away in favor of empty comfort, an existence of
slowly diminishing opportunity. Better to be in a panic
about Islamists establishing Sharia law in North Dakota
than to worry about the world leaving you behind. Easier
to fret about lurking Satanists or the incestuous father
that never was than to confront the quieter nightmare
that your life has become. A scared populace is a docile
populace. In a complex, corrupt world, we prove time
and time again how much we prefer to stay shivering in
the corner while our futures spin further and further
out of our control.