After being drugged, hypnotized and bound by restraints, the patients of Judith Peterson say they came to believe they had multiple personalities or had belonged to satanic cults. So, apparently, did their therapist.

That episode came to the attention of the Texas Department of Health, which dispatched Dr. George T. Nicolaou to investigate. In his September 23, 1992, report on the incident, Nicolaou said he couldn't determine the validity of the allegations, then added: "There is apparently a lot of tension among the staff concerning the Multiple Personality Disorder Unit and the methods of treatment employed, particularly the application of voluntary restraints and abreaction therapy .... The nursing staff, particularly those that are not on the MPD Unit, are having a difficult time accepting some of the controversial therapy techniques utilized at this facility."

As tension continued to build between the nurses and Peterson, Medicare inspectors arrived at the hospital in February 1993 to perform a routine inspection. But they ended up requesting that the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation investigate the dissociative disorders unit. In March 1993, the state of Texas closed the unit after determining that it had violated state regulations by overusing physical restraints on patients, by censoring patients' mail and phone calls and, in one case, by making a patient's discharge contingent upon safety from a satanic cult.

In 1991, Peterson had reported suspected abuse in the Schwiderski case to Children's Protective Service. William Tabor, a detective with the Harris County Sheriff's Department, investigated the report. In a deposition taken last year for the Schwiderskis' suit, Tabor says Peterson informed him that 20 other children of locally prominent citizens were cult members and were being abused by parents and other cultists.

Peterson told Tabor the Schwiderskis had opened up to her about the inner workings of the cult, Tabor recalled in his deposition. She insisted on talking to Tabor in person. The following is Tabor's account of their meeting:

"Well, when she first got there, she sat down, and she stared at me a minute, and says, 'You're cult.'

"And I asked her, 'What are you talking about?'
"And she says, 'I want to see your identification. You're cult.'
"So I showed her my Sheriff's Department identification.

"Eventually she said, 'Okay, I'll talk to you, but I still believe you are cult.'"

Tabor says in his deposition that his investigation, which included interviews with 25 people and out-of-state travel, didn't uncover any evidence of ritualistic satanic cult activity in Houston.

That has been the typical experience of authorities who've investigated such allegations.

Special Agent Kenneth Lanning with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit has been probing reports of ritualistic satanic activity for a decade. In 1984, he first began to hear stories of satanic ritual abuse of children. He tended to believe them at first. The number of alleged cases began to grow significantly, he wrote in a 1992 report, and he continued to investigate. "We now have hundreds of victims alleging that thousands of offenders are abusing and even murdering tens of thousands of people as part of organized satanic cults, and there is little or no corroborative evidence," Lanning reported. He noted that believers in the cults had accused him of being a "Satanist" who infiltrated the FBI to engineer a cover-up.

Susan Robbins, an associate professor in the University of Houston's school of social work who has studied and written on the topic, says that is typical of the argument mounted by true believers.

"If you try to tell believers that the transgenerational satanic ritual abuse cults don't exist, there is no evidence, they will say the fact there is no evidence is the proof they exist. Because the cult is so clever they make sure there is no evidence," she says.

Lanning says one of the oldest theories of crime is demonology, or "the devil makes you do it." For some, Lanning believes, demonology is a simple, clear-cut explanation for what in actuality is a complex problem: the sexual victimization of children.

These days, Judith Peterson views herself as a victim.
In Mark Pendergrast's book she claimed that she was only trying to help people who came to her depressed and overwhelmed. "Yet here I am so viciously attacked," she said. "Basically, these patients are sociopathic...

"Those I tried to help sadistically turned on the very person who reached out to help. The shame and guilt were then transferred to me, the therapist. Kill the messenger. Lie. This client relived the trauma by victimizing me. Suddenly the therapist is the victim."

On the advice of her attorney, Judith Peterson declined a request for an interview for this story. But in a 1993 article in the Houston Chronicle she denied responsibility for any of the violations cited in the MHMR investigation that led to the shuttering of Spring Shadows Glen's dissociative disorders unit. She also denied threatening patients with restraints or planting memories of satanic ritual abuse in them, and she disavowed any belief in mind-controlling cults.

Instead of having repressed memories of ritual abuse, Peterson told the Chronicle, her patients may have been victimized by several layers of memory implanted in them by organized crime to sidetrack therapists and law enforcement.

"I think organized crime could use people in child prostitution and drug running and then through memory layering disguise or cover it," she explained.

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