+quot;THE GREAT OREGON WITCH HUNT+quot; A high school girl commits suicide and a small tow

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"THE GREAT OREGON WITCH HUNT" --------------------------- A high school girl commits suicide and a small town falls victim to fears and hysteria right out of the Middle Ages... By Stephanie Fox OAKRIDGE is a little town nestled in the green mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It's a typical small Oregon lumber town, the sort of place where people still talk about the day the town's brothel burned down back in 1928. In the spring of 1983, a politically ambitious police chief and a fundamenalist minister managed to stir up enough excitement to last the town through another 60 years. Durring the winter of 1982 a young girl named Ginny Walker* killed herself in a fit of adolescent despair, leaving behind two shocked parents. But the Walkers' grief was disturbed only a week after her death, when they were approached be police chief John Schurz who said he had evidence that Ginny had been involved with witches. These witches, Schurz claimed, were responsible for the girl's suicide. Before her death Ginny had told some friends how she had rescued the head of a childhood doll from a trash fire and how she found a coyote's skull in the forests surrounding Oakridge. In going through Ginny's possessions after her death, her parents found the scorched doll's head, the coyote's skull, an incense burner, and buttons of various rock groups. Her friends later recalled Ginny's mundane explanation of these items, but to the police chief they were proof of her involvement with witchcraft. The police began an investigation of the girl's friends and found that Ginny's best friends mother , Susan Newell,* was calling herself a witch. Newell actually knew nothing about modern-day Withcraft or Pagan beliefs. She was not aware of the basic tenets of modern Witches--that the earth is sacred,that everything is connected to everything else,and that each person is responsible for his own actions.** Newell had no notion of witchcraft's origins in the ancient nature-worshipping religions of pre-Christian Europe. All she knew she had learned on the late-late show and in cheap Gothic novels. But that was sufficient for the police. Newell was taken to the police station for interrogation, where for several hours police chief Schurz asked her questions. Schurz: "In my line of work, I work with alot of people. Sometimes I can tell alot about people. You know what I think? I think that you're a high priestess. Newell: "What?" Schurz: "You're a witch,aren't you?" Newell: "I guess you could call it that." When further questioned in the manner, Newell claimed that she was the high priestess of the Golden Dawn, the name of her coven, so Schurz related. That she was an actual member of the Golden Dawn is highly unlikely. This was a notorious group of early-20th-Century British occultists who included Aleister Crowley as well as the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. It disbanded in 1947. It may have been the only real occult group Newell had ever heard of and was probably the first name that came into her mind. Under the pressure of the interrogation Newell named six other witches residing in Oakridge. Several of these people had been friends of Ginny Walker. Selected portions of the tapes of Newell's interrogation were played to the city council and local ministers. Durring these selected playings only two of the accused witches' names were mentioned. The newly accused were two young women, Betty Taylor* and Jennifer Lindsay.* Both attributed the public relase of their names to Schurz's personal dislike of them. "I'm an uppity woman," said Taylor. "I live with my boyfriend and I don't wear a bra. I don't have church connections. I'm not one of them." She said that since the tapes were released publicly indicating that she was a witch, "grocery store people whisper and scurry away, pointing fingers." Lindsay left town to avoid the harassment to which she was subjected. Taylor continued to live in her Oakridge home, spied upon by neighbors. ------------- MEANWHILE, Dave Stewart, a minister and part-time police officer, took the doll's head and other "evidence" of witchcraft to show his and other congregations. Witchcraft had caused Ginny's death, the people were told. No other reasons were advanced as causes of her suicide. Never mentioned were the rumors of the Walkers' marital problems, Mr. Walker's failing health, of Ginny's possible lack of adult guidance. Public meetings were schedualed, led by Schurz and a fundamentalist minister, the Rev. C. E. Thomas. The first meeting attracted only a handful of people but the second drew nearly 40, quite a crowd for the small town. And the press was there in force. Although state law says that public meetings must be opened to all, announce- ments distributed in the churches contained this sentence:"Unwanted people will be excluded from the meeting." The meetings were advertised to "discuss witchcraft, sexual abuse, child abuse and pornography," but witchcraft was the only topic ever spoken of at the meetings. Dispite the "evidence," the Walkers doubted that witchcraft had any part to play in their daughter's suicide. "We'er not blaming anybody," they told the press. The Walkers' doubts notwithstanding, Thomas and Schurz were riding high on the wave of hysteria. They called a third meeting at the high school. Three hundred persons showed up. The press, too, arrived but television and tape recorders were banned from the auditorium in direct violation of state law. The meeting opened with a plea to bring Christianity and prayer back into the schools. Ministers told the crowds that the only protection they had against the evils of witchcraft was "to come to church." The ministers advised them that there would be counseling and classes taught by the ministers themselves. Another former Oakridge police officer, who claimed to have had ties with the occult but who recently had been "born again," testified. He, too, had a late-late-show view of witchcraft. Not everyone in the audience believed his stories about witchcraft. But most accepted what the ministers told them. One man asked Reverend Thomas for his credentials to discuss witchcraft. Thomas raised a Bible over his head. "This is my credentials!" he shouted. And the crowd cheered. "We used to be able to burn them or cut off their heads," said the reverend of witches. "We can't do that now, but we can sure stop them." Newspapers, television and radio all over the state were covering the story. Although Thomas wanted the public to be aware of the existence of witches, he was not happy with the media coverage. It had made the town the laughingstock of the state. Besides the public meetings, the city council, school board and police advisory board convened in secret. ------------- * All names with astericks are pseudonyms. **See Bjom Thorsson's "The Rebirth of Witchcraft," April-May 1988 FATE magazine. ---= Part 1 of 2 =---


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