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
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 children. 
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
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." 
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:
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
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
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 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 _________ 
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
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 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.  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
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 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. 
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 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
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." 
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 stories. 
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 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
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 medicine.
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 "testimony."
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 knowledge.
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 went on.
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 verified.
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 falsified?
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 them!
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
"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
"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
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
* SATANISM: 1985 first mentioned involvement with satanism, after two major
satanic ritual abuse cases became news. This contradicts all her previous
* HER SCARS: Blamed on mother/pornography/prostitution leaders/and/or
satanists. Actually three people observed her cutting herself, others told by
Laurel her wounds were self-inflicted.
* 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 ever pregnant.
* 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. 
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 Young.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank