From CORNERSTONE magazine, volume 18, issue 90, pages 3-8: S A T A N ' S S I D E S H O W G
From CORNERSTONE magazine, volume 18, issue 90, pages 3-8:
S A T A N ' S S I D E S H O W
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_
 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
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
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.  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"  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  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." 
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,  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 
on August 18, 1941,  in St. Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma,
Washington.  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
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 _________  Church .... 
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.
In actuality, Frank left the family in 1950,  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." 
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."  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
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. 
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." 
Laurel graduated from King's Garden  and enrolled in what
was then called Seattle-Pacific College in September of 1959.
 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."  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. 
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. 
Enrolled in the University of Redlands, Laurel majored in
music.  She directed the choir at First Assembly of God
Church in Rialto, where she and her father were members. 
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
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.
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.  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. 
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.  On June 7, 1964, she graduated from Redlands with a
bachelor's in music, with a special secondary education teaching
credential in music.  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. 
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.  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.  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. 
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.
 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, 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
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.  Her picture in the
school yearbook shows her smiling next to the choir.  This
was the only public school teaching recorded for her, although
her renewed teaching credential is valid until 1991. 
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.  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.  She has lived in the Bakersfield area since
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. 
Ken stated that Laurel did talk about her mother sexually
abusing her and offering her to various men, abuse which had
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. 
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.  "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.  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
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
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." 
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_,  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
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.  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."  Ryan's office and the investigators found her
testimony useless. 
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
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
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. 
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
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
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. 
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.  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
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
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.
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
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. 
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
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
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.  (Johanna Michaelson, however,
told us that Hal was "bluffing" when he said this. ) Laurel
claimed she had passed the untold facts (e.g. Victor's name,
etc.) along to people like Johanna Michaelson and Ken Wooden.
 Harvest House told us they possessed documentation more than
sufficient to prove her story. 
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
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." 
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?" 
"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. 
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. 
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.  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." 
C O N T R A D I C T I O N S
* 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
leaders/and/or satanists. Actually three
people observed her cutting herself, others
told by Laurel her wounds were
* 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
* 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. 
---------- 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
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank