To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 23 Oct 94 17:13 EDT Copyright 1994 Newspaper Publishing P
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sun, 23 Oct 94 17:13 EDT
Copyright 1994 Newspaper Publishing PLC; The Independent
October 17, 1994, Page 21
There'll be the devil to pay; The future of America's ' recovered
memory movement' is at stake in a $ 35m lawsuit.
By Rosie Waterhouse
Until November 1985, the Schwiderski family lived moderately
prosperous, God- fearing lives in Spring, an upper-middle-class
suburb in Houston, Texas.
Dennis Schwiderski was earning $ 100,000 ( pounds 67,000) a year
as a manager for a Texan oil company that he had been with for
almost 20 years. At weekends he enjoyed outdoor pursuits - golf,
fishing, hunting and bicycling. His wife, Kathryn, stayed at home
to raise their three children, Kelly, Kari and Dirk, who were
progressing well at school. The family regularly attended Lakewood
United Methodist Church, Harris County, of which they were founder
Today, the Schwiderski family is destroyed, persuaded by therapists
that they were victims and perpetrators of sexual and physical
abuse as members of a murderous, cannibalistic, satanic cult.
After seven years in therapy, in and out of hospital until February
1992, Kathryn Schwiderski is divorced and has no contact with her
husband, children, grandchildren, sister or parents. She was
subjected to criminal investigation and interrogation and reported
to the Child Protection Services, she says, without any evidence
She became convinced she was a member and victim of a satanic cult
since her childhood and that she sexually and physically abused
her own children; now she believes the memories were false, implanted
by therapists through hypnotism and drugs. She continues to experience
extreme emotional problems.
Kelly, now 23, has disappeared. She apparently still believes she
was a member and victim of the cult and is in hiding. While Kari,
now 21, has rejected the notion that she and her family were caught
up in a satanic conspiracy, her marriage in 1991 collapsed under
the strain of her mental anguish and a divorce action is pending.
She is still estranged from her parents. Dirk, now 15, was for two
years unable to face the father whom he once believed had molested
him. But now they are reunited. However, doctors fear that he, too,
will probably continue to suffer extreme mental anguish for the
rest of his life.
Dennis, 49, continues to suffer emotional distress. He was investigated
by a grand jury for allegedly abusing his son, but the case was
not pursued, he says, because there was no evidence against him.
He is now trying to find Kelly and to rebuild relations with Kari.
Ultimately, he hopes for a reconciliation between his children and
their mother, but his marriage is over. He managed to hang on to
his job but is $ 328,000 poorer after paying for treatment that
led to the break-up of his family.
Now, the family has alleged in a $ 35m civil lawsuit filed this
year that therapists created false memories as part of a scheme to
collect millions of dollars in fees for the treatment of non-existent
abuse at the hands of a satanic cult.
The case, which will go to trial next year, is set to rock the US
psychotherapy and psychiatric community. The defendants include
some of America's leading exponents of recovered memory techniques.
They include Judith Peterson, a psychologist from Houston, who
first treated the family; Roberta Sachs, a psychologist from
Illinois; and Bennett Braun, an Illinois doctor who specialises in
multiple personality disorder. The family members are also suing
the hospitals where they were treated. In total, there are 25
defendants. Not all face every allegation, but all are defending
At stake are the reputations of the therapists and the recovered
memory movement, which spread across the US in the late Eighties
and is now growing in Britain. Both could stand or fall by the
The story can be told only through documents filed in the District
Court of Harris County, Texas, since the judge has banned all
participants and lawyers from speaking to the media.
The beginning of the end of the Schwiderski family was in November
1985 when, feeling mildly depressed, Kathryn decided to seek help
from a therapist, Judith Peterson. After spending the next few
years in and out of hospital as her mental state deteriorated,
Kathryn claims she went into a long-term, uninterrupted commitment
at Gulf Pines Hospital, Houston, early in 1989. By this stage Ms
Peterson and three other therapists had diagnosed her as having
"multiple personality disorder, repressed memory syndrome and ritual
abuse". They said she was a member of a satanic cult and participated
in activitites that included rape, torture, electroshock, drugging,
human sacrifice, cult programming, organised crime, physical, mental
and sexual abuse, cannibalism, kidnapping, murder "and other
While committed, Kathryn says, she was often placed in restraints
and ordered to recall purported cult activities, and was punished
or threatened with, for example, restrictions of her hospital
privileges if she did not describe her alleged participation in
"cult" activities. Kathryn claims she was also told that the cult
would harm her if she was released from care; that she had killed
people in "cult" rituals but had repressed those memories; that
she sexually abused and tortured her children and others; and that
she had been sexually abused since her childhood. She claims that,
without producing any corroborating evidence, the therapists used
techniques that encouraged her to guess, speculate and "confabulate"
As a result, she came to believe her diagnosis of multiple personality
disorder, repressed memory syndrome and ritual abuse, and that she
had engaged in the satanic cult, ritual abuse, and sexual abuse.
Kathryn is now claiming up to $ 35m damages for the seven years
she alleges she was subjected to continued confinement and therapy
because of the therapists' erroneous diagnosis; their assurance
that the therapy would help her; and because of the fear implanted
by them that the cult was everywhere and she would not see her
family again unless she co-operated with the therapy.
In March 1989, aged 18, Kelly was admitted to Houston North West
medical centre after attending a "family conference" at which Ms
Peterson concluded that she, too, was involved in the cult and
joined in satanic orgies involving the abuse of her younger brother.
Little is known about what she endured, as she is still missing.
In August 1989, Kari, then 16, went into the same hospital where
she, too, had been called for a family conference. She had been a
normal teenager attending a Houston high school where she was an
excellent student and a flautist in the school band. After attending
the family conference, she claims, she was locked into the psychiatric
ward, rarely leaving the room for 21 months. She was diagnosed as
suffering from multiple personality disorder and, she says, was
told by Ms Peterson that she had killed babies in cult rituals and
that she was in danger of being kidnapped by the cult if she left
According to Dennis Schwiderski, his daughters were kept apart and
forced into one-to-one therapy where a person would be with them
every minute, watching them take showers and go to the bathroom.
They were allegedly strapped down for "so-called therapy sessions".
He has alleged the methods of treatment were "grossly negligent"
and the administration of drugs "improper".
Dirk was a normal 11-year-old and a good pupil when, in September
1989, he was called for a family conference and then allegedly
detained for two years at Gulf Pines Hospital. Ms Peterson diagnosed
that he was the victim of mental, physical and sexual abuse
attributable to the participation in a satanic cult by his mother
and two older sisters.
Over the years, Dennis was sent bills totalling $ 2m - health
insurance covered most of it, but when that ran out he had to pay
$ 328,000 - for treatment which persuaded his family they were
murderers and cannibals. Then he and his family decided to sue.
Dennis's claim alleges the therapists and hospitals "callously and
recklessly perpetrated fraud upon him. They selected his family
for treatment of satanic cult ritual abuse, not because his family
had been part of a cult, but rather based upon gross negligence in
the diagnosis and treatment of his family, as well as because they
knew that such treatment would be profitable to them.
"Braun and Sachs hold themselves out as experts in satanic cult
abuse and have offered for sale and profit videotapes on this topic.
All the defendants deserve to be made an example of by the imposition
of a large, punitive damages award."
Dennis explains: "I put the children in the hospital because of Dr
Peterson's recommendations and because she told me that they needed
to be there for their own protection from the cult."
All the defendants have filed a defence denying the allegations
without detailing their arguments, as is common in US courts. They
stand by the therapists' diagnosis that the Schwiderski family were
members of a satanic cult and therefore their treatment was justified.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank