Dave Cawley: South Ogden police were on a literal witch hunt. It was the summer of 1990. An informant was telling detectives a satanic coven had killed Joyce Yost. Sgt. Terry Carpenter had heard a version of this story once already, a couple of years earlier, from an anonymous caller who’d asked to go by the false name “George.”
“George” (from March 28, 1998 police recording): And then her body was burned.
Terry Carpenter (from March 28, 1998 police recording): Her body was burned.
Dave Cawley: “George” had refused to reveal the source of her information about Joyce Yost’s death. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I shared much of this already in Cold season 2, episode 5. But there are parts I didn’t tell you, like how that informant in 1990 told police who “George” really was. The informant said “George” was actually a psychologist named Peggy who worked with victims of satanic ritual abuse.
“George” (from March 28, 1998 police recording): I think that both of us believe that folks that engage in that sort of activity ought not to be running loose.
Terry Carpenter (from March 28, 1998 police recording): Yes.
Dave Cawley: Police needed to verify this, so an officer called Peggy while posing as a concerned parent in order to prove “George” and Peggy were the same person.
Officer (from August 22, 1990 police recording): I’ve got a child that’s been involved, having some problems and they gave me your name that you might be someone I could look to to get some help for him.
Peggy (from August 22, 1990 police recording): Uh huh.
Officer (from August 22, 1990 police recording): Seems like there’s some strange things that I’ve heard a little about satanism and that’s kind of what I think what he’s involved in.
Peggy (from August 22, 1990 police recording): Uh huh.
Officer (from August 22, 1990 police recording): So, and I didn’t know if you handle anything like that or—
Peggy (from August 22, 1990 police recording): I have, I have worked with that—
Officer (from August 22, 1990 police recording): Uh huh.
Peggy (from August 22, 1990 police recording): —kind of a problem, actually quite a lot.
Officer (from August 22, 1990 police recording): Okay.
Dave Cawley: Police came to understand Peggy, in her anonymous phone call as “George”, had been relaying information provided by one of her patients, a woman named Barbara. Barbara had been undergoing therapy related to some severe childhood trauma. In the process, she’d recovered memories of a seeing woman raped and murdered by a satanic cult. Barbara at first believed that woman had been Joyce Yost.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording): And you believed that it happened and I believe that it—
Barbara (from undated police recording): I don’t believe that a murder occurred.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording): You did for a long time.
Dave Cawley: But by the time Terry Carpenter interviewed Barbara, she’d come to distrust her own memories.
Barbara (from undated police recording): Part of me would like to say ‘ok, it’s this person and this person and this person and this person’s involved and go find out what you can find out.’ But part of me just wants to, I don’t know.
Dave Cawley: Peggy had diagnosed Barbara as having multiple personalities. Because of this, Barbara’s credibility was compromised. But for Terry Carpenter, Barbara’s account was the only lead he had in a murder case that’d gone cold. And so he’d pushed her to name the members of the coven.
Barbara (from undated police recording): ‘Kay, I’ll give you some names but I want a statement made that I feel that it was a mind game and I don’t put much credence in it.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording): I agree a thousand percent and I will do that with you however you want to do it. We will write it down on a piece of paper if you want and have you put those names on that piece of paper. I, I have no problem with any agreement you want to make that way. Until we work them out and understand what they are. You feel good about that?
Barbara (from undated police recording): Yeah. But I want it made because I really feel like you’re going the wrong the direction.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording): Ok.
Dave Cawley: Terry took the list of names Barbara provided and started tracking down the suspected satanists. This next clip comes from an interview with one of them, a man named Dave, who was at the time incarcerated in the Utah State Prison.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): Dave, were you ever involved in anything associated with the occult?
Dave R. (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): No.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): Weren’t you?
Dave R. (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): No.
Terry Carpenter (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): Well, the information that we’ve got is that you were. You were involved in a—
Dave R. (from undated police recording at Utah State Prison): Well you better check your [expletive] sources because I’m just, I don’t even know, I don’t read science fiction. If it ain’t got something to do with auto mechanics, I don’t even read it.
Dave Cawley: Every effort to verify the existence of the coven had run into a roadblock but Terry hadn’t given up. He’d assembled a task force and pushed even harder, refusing to let his only lead die.
Mike King: And I remember the Yost case very well. I remember walking through fields with Terry Carpenter looking for pieces of bone fragment or something else that would somehow support this testimony that they had a ritual and they burned a sacrifice right here and buried ‘em over here.
Dave Cawley: That it is Mike King, who was at the time an investigator for the Weber County Attorney’s Office. Mike didn’t know it then, but his career was about to take a wild turn, thrusting him into the center of a national debate about satanism.
Mike King: And we found ourselves in the early days getting spun up, much like the public was, with the Satanic Panic. Umm, could this really be happening? Is Satan out there abusing children. Are there cults that are sacrificing and doing things? And if you look back in time, I mean the stories were horrendous.
Dave Cawley: This is a bonus episode of Cold, season 2: Satanic Panic. From KSL Podcasts, I’m Dave Cawley. Back with more right after this break.
Dick Nourse (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): The practice of devil worship has existed in various cultures for centuries but recently it has become a very real part of what psychologists are calling the adolescent or teenage subculture.
Lynn Bryson (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): We have become so uninformed that we are playing their music and their doctrines for our kids to dance to.
Dave Schmertz (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Lynn Bryson lives in Provo. He’s a songwriter and singer by trade. During the past 3 years, Bryson has been speaking at LDS churches across the nation. His message is clear: Satan is working overtime and our teenagers are his prey. We caught up with Bryson here in Champagne, Illinois.
Lynn Bryson (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): If we’re gonna talk about witchcraft, we have to talk about some of the doctrines and how they’re preaching them. And I know of no other way than to tell it like it is. You cannot practice witchcraft unless you practice murder, cannibalism and the like.
Dave Cawley: Widespread panic over the perceived dangers of satanism and all things occult ran rampant in America during the 1980s. Comic books, Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal music all made easy scapegoats for concerned parents of wayward teens.
Lynn Bryson (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): All you have to do is play the record backwards by recording it onto a reel-to-reel tape deck, turning the reels around and listening to it backwards and it says, right were it says ‘another one bites the dust’ it now says ‘start to smoke marijuana.’
Dave Schmertz (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): In Bryson’s view of satanism, the last front in the war against devil worship lies in the home.
Lynn Bryson (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Forbid it.
Dave Schmertz (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Who?
Lynn Bryson (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Forbid the youth from dabbling with it. Forbid it. In other words, parents have the strongest arm there. I can’t worry about the people who are calling me alarmist because I have seen too much.
Dave Cawley: The concern seems a bit parochial by today’s standards, but many people took this all very seriously back then, including obviously many news reporters and police officers.
Shelley Thomas (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Last March, Utah County police acting on a tip found evidence that a small bird had been killed on a granite stone as part of a sacrificial rite. Investigators also found several papers with handwritten symbols and a prayer.
Jim Tracy (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): The prayer states ‘our father who art in hell, hallowed be thy name. We place before thee this sacrament in appreciation and recognition of thou, the divine. Make pure this offering and sanctify our souls. Blessed be the blood of our enemies and make us one with thee. Amen.’
Dave Cawley: These news reports come from a series aired by KSL TV in 1986 called “Satanism in Utah: A Teenage Underworld.”
Shelley Thomas (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): There are people in Utah who practice satanic worship. Most of them are teenagers who’ve been drawn to the occult for a variety of reasons and for most it is only a passing fancy, a brief flirtation with morbid curiosity but for others satanism can be very real and very serious.
“Tina” (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): Satan rules and anybody that believes in god or has anything to do with god should be killed, should die.
Dave Cawley: The series aimed to be more educational than alarmist.
Con Psarras (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): While most teenagers are mildly amused by signs and references to Satan in the popular culture, others can be deeply intrigued. Some kids turn to devil worship as a way of seeking an identity, belonging to a group.
Richard Ferre (from May, 1986 KSL TV archive): When a group meets together for a special kind of rite or a special kind of involvement in something that’s very symbolic such as this, it’s like a club.
Dave Cawley: Adolescent experimentation with what you might call alternative religious ideologies is pretty normal and usually harmless. But there’s a darker side to the satanic panic scare of the ‘80s and early 90s than just this generational hand-wringing. It involved widespread reports similar to the one Barbara had provided in the Joyce Yost case: claims of secret cults that tortured and killed people without consequence.
Duane Cardall (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): The woman we call Jane remembers horrific things happening in this canyon near Kamas. She believes her father and others raped, tortured and killed people in their worship of Satan.
“Jane” (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): I know it happened because I was forced to commit murder. I committed several sacrifices myself and umm, I became very good at it.
Dave Cawley: These reports of satanic cult activity tended to take one of two forms: children confessing current satanic sexual abuse at the hands of adults, or adults recovering repressed memories of past satanic worship and human sacrifice. Both forms often arose in similar fashion.
Duane Cardall (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): Jane’s memory of ritual abuse came out during psychological therapy. One day she simply remembered bad people hiding in the trees.
Janice Marcus (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): I wasn’t going after that information. I had no clue that this had happened to her. I knew that she had been abused, that she was a victim of abuse and that’s all I knew.
Duane Cardall (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): Janice Marcus diagnosed in Jane a multiple personality disorder or MPD. She says the details surfaced naturally through Jane’s various personalities including a seven-year-old and a 12-year-old.
Dave Cawley: This comes from a January, 1992 KSL TV special called “Ritual Abuse – The Unthinkable.”
“Jane” (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): Oh god, they had a furnace here. They had a furnace here they put bodies in.
Duane Cardall (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): The memory of people dying and disposing of bodies in a furnace stunned Jane. This day there was no furnace and we don’t know if one ever existed there. Jane understands why stories of ritual abuse are hard to believe. She wishes it weren’t true.
Jane (from January 29, 1992 KSL TV archive): I feel like everything that I held dear, that I believed in has been ripped away. I’m not what I thought I was, my parents aren’t what I thought they were. I don’t want a witch-hunt to happen. I just want the abuse of the children to stop.
Dave Cawley: The more bizarre instances even involved claims these secrets satanists were grooming young women, raising them to be “breeders” who as adults could then be impregnated. The breeders would give birth, only to have their newborn babies taken away and killed in sacrificial ceremonies.
Covens were sometimes said to include hospital workers or morticians, professionals who knew how to cover up the disappearance of a human body. They conveniently left no evidence. Skeptics argued these memories were false, perhaps unintentionally so, a result of pressure or outright coercion employed by social workers and psychologists who were intent on rooting out satanic influences.
Dave Cawley: Let me briefly tell you about one such case. It centered around a social worker named Barbara Snow. Snow led an organization called the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. In ’85, she began interviewing several children from a neighborhood in the city of Lehi, Utah about possible sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter, who happened to be the daughter of a local church leader.
Tom Walsh (from December 18, 1987 KSL TV archive): State officials took bishop Keith Burnhams children from the home and LDS Church relieved Burnham of his duties.
Dave Cawley: The accounts started out simple — older children molesting younger children — but through repeated interviews with Snow, the accusations grew more severe. Snow elicited stories about adults in the neighborhood coordinating to prey on children, using costumes, masks and satanic imagery. These shocking stories weren’t supported by any other physical evidence. In fact, prosecutors declined to file charges and the bishop’s children were returned to him. But the accusations had already done tremendous damage. Soon, other parents from the neighborhood were bringing their children to see Snow, hoping to learn if their kids had been targeted by this secretive occult child sex ring. One of them was a man named Alan Hadfield.
Tom Walsh (from December 18, 1987 KSL TV archive): Hadfield testified he became an accuser when his daughter said members of his LDS bishop’s family had sexually abused her. Hadfield said he was upset and confused.
Dave Cawley: Snow repeatedly interviewed Hadfield’s 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. The daughter’s initial disclosure of abuse was narrow, but over time both kids would go on to say as many as 40 people in the neighborhood were involved in bizarre and grotesque instances of child sex abuse that included satanic ritual.
Tom Walsh (from December 18, 1987 KSL TV archive): Hadfield says therapist Barbara Snow told him this thing is really big. This case will draw national attention. But Hadfield says things just didn’t add up. ‘How could this happen without me knowing about it?’ He says Snow told him the abusers are sneaky. They’ll move through fields and crawl over fences at night. Ironically it was Hadfield who began pushing for the Attorney General’s Office to do an investigation. He then realized ‘I was the only man left in our neighborhood group who wasn’t accused.’ In May of 1986, Alan Hadfield turned from accuser to accused.
Dave Cawley: That’s when Hadfield’s children told Barbara Snow in graphic detail that their father had sexually abused them. In July of 1987, the state of Utah filed seven felony counts of sodomy and sex abuse of a child against Hadfield. He stood trial and his children both testified. So did Barbara Snow, whose methods came under attack.
Tom Walsh (from December 16, 1987 KSL TV archive): A Utah County detective says Snow’s questioning technique was aggressive and she would often ask leading questions of the children about possible abuse.
Dave Cawley: Alan Hadfield maintained his innocence. But the kids did not recant. So who was the jury to believe? In closing arguments, the prosecutor said the children had no motive to lie.
Tom Walsh (from December 18, 1987 KSL TV archive): Hadfield’s defense attorney Brad Rich countered by saying ‘children have been accusing parents falsely since the Salem Witch Trials.’
Dave Cawley: The jury found Hadfield guilty on all counts.
Joel Munson (from December 19, 1987 KSL TV archive): While Hadfield’s friends and family wandered in a state of shock, prosecutors voiced satisfaction with the verdict. They said the key to the case was the testimony of the children. But Hadfield’s supporters argued child therapist Barbara Snow coerced the youngsters into pointing the finger at their father. Defense attorneys said they’ll appeal the verdict while Hadfield’s family vowed to take Snow to court.
Hadfield supporter (from December 19, 1987 KSL TV archive): We are going to see that this man is innocent and we’re going to see that Barbara Snow is the one behind bars because she has abused these children. And we see that justice is done.
Dave Cawley: I don’t know the truth of whether Alan Hadfield abused his children or not. But no evidence ever surfaced to support the broader stories of a covert neighborhood child sex ring practicing satanic ritual abuse.
In his appeal, Hadfield noted Barbara Snow had brought forward strikingly similar stories in at least two other cases in different cities. The Utah Supreme Court overturned Hadfield’s conviction in 1990, due to lingering doubt about Snow’s techniques. In a separate but similar case, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later called Snow’s conduct “disturbing and irresponsible.”
Dave Cawley: Similar storylines were unfolding in communities across the U.S. during the ‘80s. One of the most famous cases occurred in Los Angeles, California, where the McMartin family operated a preschool. A therapist there uncovered claims of child sex abuse against the McMartins, some of which involved satanism. A sprawling investigation ensued, with more than 300 potential victims identified.
Members of the McMartin family were arrested in 1984 and charged with hundreds of criminal counts. The court case dragged on for years and concluded without a single conviction. Afterward, it came to light the statements of many potential child victims might’ve been coerced. Other people were accused, charged and even convicted on some pretty flimsy evidence in cases around the globe because of the panic surrounding satanism at the time.
I want to be clear here: child sex abuse is real. It does happen. And it’s important we not dismiss the disclosures of potential victims. At the same time, we need to recognize the fallibility of memory. Kids are impressionable and trauma can affect how they perceive the world. Child sex abuse cases can be notoriously difficult to prosecute for this reason. This is even more true when those cases include a ritual aspect.
Mike King: And ritualism isn’t satanism. Now, the Legislature, the media, the public want, every time you say ‘ritual’ even today, immediately think ‘satanism’ and it absolutely isn’t.
Dave Cawley: That again is Mike King, a former cop and an expert when it comes to the investigation of ritual abuse. He’s making an important point. Ritual abuse can mean different things to different people depending on how it’s defined. “Ritual” by itself doesn’t necessarily mean satanic or occult. It just means rites or ceremonies that are repeated. Those can be religious rites just easily as satanic ones.
Mike King: Never in the beginning did I think of the Zion Society as a ritual crime because I didn’t even know what that really was. We looked at it as child sex abuse.
Dave Cawley: The Zion Society. We’ll get into what that was in just a moment. First, let me set the stage. Mike King had spent the better part of a decade working as a cop in Ogden, Utah in the 1980s, before accepting a job as an investigator at the Weber County Attorney’s Office. In July of ’91, he was heading up an undercover operation aimed at busting car theft rings and chop shops.
Mike King: One day I walked into the county attorney’s office and the receptionist grabbed me and said ‘there’s a woman who’s been waiting to talk to an investigator but nobody’s available. Can you just talk to her for a moment?’ So I walked over. Just an attractive 20-year-old woman sitting there who stood up very confidently and introduced herself and the first words out of her mouth was ‘I’ve been involved in a cult that’s sexually abusing children. Do you have a minute to talk to me?’ And so I invited her back to the office where we could get a tape recorder out and start interviewing and my mind was racing. I’d never investigated sexual crimes other than as a patrol officer and then it was handed off to detectives. It was completely out of my wheelhouse and after that first interview I went into the county attorney and I laid it on the table and said ‘you’ve gotta get somebody.’ And he said ‘guess what, buddy? You’re gonna do this one.’
Dave Cawley: The informant had told Mike about a group of people called the Zion Society, who were practicing polygamy and child sex abuse as part of a religious philosophy. The county attorney, a man named Reed Richards, saw that Mike had managed to built a rapport with this informant.
Mike King: When I laid this out with the county attorney, I remember Mr. Richards’ first comment was ‘if this is true, we have to move quickly because children are being injured.’ And so the dictate from him was to drop everything, assemble a team that I needed to be successful and day-and-night investigate. And we were putting in 18, 20 hour days for a month just because we were so terrified that if it was true, children were being raped and sexually assaulted daily.
Dave Cawley: Mike conducted several follow-up interviews with the informant. She provided detailed information about the inner workings of the Zion Society and also described how she’d fallen into the orbit of its leader, a self-proclaimed prophet named Arvin Shreeve.
Mike King: The very first words out of her mouth were ‘I joined this group to get away from a failing marriage and I’d never planned on joining a cult.’ Once she got inside and realized that they were teaching polygamist practices which she didn’t believe in but frankly was saying, ‘y’know, if I’ve gotta live that way to have a safe place to live and a roof over my head, maybe I can do that.’ But as the doctrine perverted, she then got word and started witnessing that it wasn’t only women who were having relationships with the leader of the group, Arvin Shreeve, but that he was then dictating that they should have relations with each other, a same-sex relationship, all in what he believed was his god’s approval. And then it continued to pervert, as always it seems these sexual predations do, and it soon became ‘now the children need to be involved.’ And then she became involved in the instruction of how to prepare these children to have relationships with Arvin or the adult women and men in the group.
Dave Cawley: Shreeve didn’t outwardly appear like a suave, charismatic cult leader. He was short, double-chinned and had receding hair that was gray at the temples. He wore thick glasses. But he could talk the talk when it came to the language of Utah’s predominant religious culture. Arvin had grown up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith that back then embraced the nickname the Mormons.
But Arvin had been kicked out of the church for publicly advocating his personal beliefs favoring polygamy. It was then he’d taken his philosophy underground. He’d held “scripture study” meetings with friends and neighbors, perfecting his pitch that he’d received personal revelation about a pathway to exaltation. That’s how the Zion Society was born.
Mike King: Knowing that Shreeve was a Latter-day Saint in the early days of his life — he’d been excommunicated almost 30 years before his arrest — he was taking what he had learned as a youth and again, in my opinion, corrupting that and turning it into something else. And so that’s a term that he picked up and designed.
Dave Cawley: Arvin exerted extreme control over the lives of his flock. The women all had to wear dresses and heels. The men needed to keep their suburban yards meticulously landscaped. All of Arvin’s edicts tied back to his own personal gratification.
Mike King: He took seemingly intelligent people who had likeminded beliefs of wanting to just be a little better than anyone else, to have more light and knowledge than the next guy and slowly crafted and groomed them to the point that they believed that this, okay as distasteful as it might be, is my pathway to heaven. I guess I better do it.
Dave Cawley: Mike’s informant explained Zion Society members — who were said to number more than 100 — mostly lived together in a single subdivision.
Larry Lewis (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): Neighbors describe the people on this street as a tight-knit group. Some call them polygamists, an accusation they deny.
Stan Belnap (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): We don’t consider ourselves a cult, a church of any kind.
Mike King: We started looking at the neighborhood as a group. And there were up to 14 homes in this neighborhood that were all working together. They were interconnected by alarm systems. They were stockpiling semi-automatic weapons and food storage and medical supplies. … The thing that became so troubling to us is that two of the homes we identified as you enter the neighborhood were security residents. And their responsibility was to watch 24 hours a day. Any traffic, foot or vehicle, that came in through this narrow pipeway into the neighborhood. And if they saw something, they would then notify leadership. … We had that information, we had information from our informant that the members were being trained in anti-sniper and how to use weapons and that one day we’re going to have to defend our space. … And so as we started to put this doomsday belief system and the reality of what had been revealed by this informant, we realized that, that we had to get in there and serve search warrants.
Larry Lewis (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): According to court records, someone within that very group came forward complaining that the adults were showing children a pornographic video tape. The tape was described as sexually explicit and used as an instructional tool for the children.
Dave Cawley: The informant described how Shreeve and one of his lieutenants had created manuals for the others, instructing them on how to abuse children.
Mike King: In one case, a couple revealed that they witnessed probably 50,000 dollars worth of pornography that Shreeve had purchased over the years and then systematically cut out to be presentation material during his instruction of what to do. And so we knew that we could potentially find a treasure trove of evidence to support. … Along the way, we learned some odd things that really were troubling. And one of those was that an individual had been purchasing sex from children in the group and that the adult leaders in the group were, were in effect prostituting the children out to people that were not cult members. Well, this was so far beyond the belief system that they were purporting that we had to follow up. And I actually took the county attorney with me on this particular one and we went and found the individual in Logan who later confessed that yes, he was involved in this. So every time I would walk in and say ‘you’re not going to believe this one, Reed.’ We would be able to prove that it was true. And so the informant’s credibility continued to grow which made it much more easy to go into a judge and justify an affidavit.
Dave Cawley: Just weeks after his first encounter with the informant, Mike went to court to obtain a series of warrants. He sought permission not only to raid the Zion Society homes, but also to arrest Arvin Shreeve and to take up to 32 children into protective custody.
Mike King: We knew that we had to get in and go with a show of force so that we could quickly get control. But we knew that with that, there would be a price to pay because that would be traumatizing to children who we needed to take into custody. So we also reached out to the Utah Division of Family Services and got case workers on hand with vans so that we could immediately get the children into professionals to get help. And if you think back, this was July and August of 1991. We had just opened a brand new children’s justice center — the first one in the state of Utah. And it was in its first month of infancy. And we notified them ‘get ready. We’re not going to tell you why, but get ready.’
Dave Cawley: The Children’s Justice Center concept was a new invention, meant to avoid some of the pitfalls observed in cases like the Alan Hadfield prosecution a few years earlier. Staff there received special training in how to conduct forensic interviews with child victims of crime. They took great care to avoid tainting memories or coercing confessions.
Raiding the Zion Society compound took a lot of coordination and manpower. Mike arranged a strike team composed of roughly half the entire Ogden city police force. They executed the raid just before sunrise on August 2, 1991.
Larry Lewis (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): Police raided five homes in this North Ogden subdivision, removing four children from one home and five from another. The children range in age from four to 11 years old. Stan Belnap’s house was one of the five raided.
Stan Belnap (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): They took my kids a little before 8 o’clock. They were still in bed.
Mike King: I remember walking out of the judge’s office after getting the warrant signed, and uh, and I remember the judge saying ‘happy hunting.’ And as I walked out I thought ‘I’ve put my credibility on the line’ because this, this is kind of a big deal. And, and when I got inside the homes and started seeing the secret passageways, the food storage, the medical supplies which were incredible. They had been going into area hospitals, faking injuries and then stealing all of the supplies they could to, to build up their medical facility inside the cult. It was incredible. I was so troubled because we weren’t finding the weapons that they spoke about. And I remember sitting on the floor in the corner of one room with my map that my informant had drawn, saying ‘here’s where there are some guns’ and thinking ‘she missed the mark on this one. There are no guns here.’ And subconsciously I was tugging on the shag carpet and I felt the carpet give way and I heard a ripping of velcro and I peeled back the velcro and panels of uh, wood piled up, in there were stacked fully-loaded mini 14 semi-assault rifles. It was surreal.
Dave Cawley: No one fired a shot that morning. The children were whisked away to be interviewed. The parents, caught unprepared, stood aside as officers scoured their homes. But the search teams found no trace of the pornographic instruction manuals or training videos the informant had described.
Mike King: Yes, in fact what we believe happened is when this informant left the cult, uh it took her a couple of weeks until she got the courage to come into the county attorney’s office and confess that the cult was smart enough to realize that we might be into a little bit of trouble. And what they did, they burned boxes and boxes of pornography, according to the victims and the people who were later testifying. Uh, got rid of as much information as they possible could and so we did lose a treasure trove, even though we moved at breakneck speed.
Larry Lewis (from August 2, 1991 KSL TV archive): The children will remain in protective custody through the weekend. A hearing is scheduled for early next week to determine whether they’ll remain wards of the state or be returned to their parents.
Dave Cawley: The children were slow to open up to the investigators. police in time came to learn Zion Society members had coached them to instill a fear of police. During the raid Arvin Shreeve was nowhere to be found.
Mike King: We had warrants for Arvin. He was not there on the morning of the raid and was, we later learned was traveling, either in Arizona or California. Some of us — me — believe that he was hiding in a bunker that we couldn’t get a search warrant for.
Larry Lewis (from August 9, 1991 KSL TV archive): Wednesday, an Ogden judge issued an arrest warrant for Shreeve, charging him with aggravated sexual assault and sodomy on a child after two children told police Shreeve told them to perform a sex act. The accusations follow a lengthy investigation into Shreeve and others in his neighborhood who allegedly practice polygamy and have group sex.
Dave Cawley: Arvin surprised everyone by surrendering. A week after the raid, he walked into the police headquarters in Cedar City, Utah, nearly 300 miles to the south of Ogden.
Larry Lewis (from August 9, 1991 KSL TV archive): Shreeve walked into the police station, identified himself and told police he was wanted. A friend of Shreeve’s who was contacted by police apparently convinced him to give up.
Dave Cawley: Prosecutors waged a series of court battles against both Shreeve and a number of his adult followers, in the months that followed. The state lost custody of the children, most of whom were returned to the very parents who stood accused of facilitating their abuse. Time and again, the young victims were hauled into court to testify during preliminary hearings.
Mike King: We made a conscious decision that we can’t continue to force the children to testify because back then, if you remember, the courts required that the child testify in a preliminary hearing. Well, defense attorneys could get away with a whole lot more aggression in a prelim without a jury than they would ever dare try in front of a jury. And it was so distressing to us to see the children go through this badgering during the questioning phase.
Dave Cawley: The prosecutors believed they had evidence to support more than 700 felony counts of child sex abuse, but they filed only the most egregious. In the end, all but one of the people charged as a result of the Zion Society raid took plea deals and admitted to the abuse. Arvin Shreeve included.
Gary Gale (from December 23, 1991 KSL TV archive): What he was trying to avoid was a sentence of 15 years to life to run consecutively. That’s what he was trying to avoid, that’s what we were trying to avoid, that’s what we’ve avoided.
Dave Cawley: He spent the rest of his life in prison and died there in 2009, at the age of 79. Arvin had used zealotry and religious rituals to coerce his followers into doing the unthinkable. It was ritual abuse, but not satanic.
Mike King: They were using religion or a belief system as a guise for power. They were using it as a guise for intimidation and control. They were using it as a way to justify what was wrong and make it something special because we can’t really wrap our minds around deity or things like that. … I mean, I had some real struggles thinking of the horrors. It was impacting my own life. I had children the same age as these victims were at the time. And uh, for anyone to think that a police officer can just isolate the job is, is really unfair.
Dave Cawley: Mike recently published a memoir of his work on the Zion Society case. The book, titled “Deceived,” goes into more depth about the investigation and aftermath than I have time to explore here. And that’s because we still need to talk about the next phase of Mike’s career.
Mike King: It was way outside of normal police work to say we’re gonna pursue Satan.
Dave Cawley: That’s after the break.
Dave Cawley: In March of 1990, Utah’s governor established a task force to study to the issue of ritual abuse. Leading the task force was a psychologist named Noemi Mattis, herself a firm believer in the stories of secret satanic ritual abuse. The group included members from the fields of mental health, law enforcement, education, the courts and religion. The task force’s stated goal was to study ritual abuse and educate both professionals and the public about it.
At the same time, Utah’s predominant religion — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — was also conducting an internal study about claims of satanic ritual abuse. This comes from an October, 1991 KSL TV news report, after a confidential church memo validating the idea of widespread satanic activity became public.
Jane Clayson (from October 25, 1991 KSL TV archive): Jody is one of the victims LDS Church general authority Glenn Pace interviewed for the internal, confidential church memo printed in an anti-LDS Church newsletter yesterday. The year-old memo estimates up to 800 people may be involved in such abuse along the Wasatch Front. Church members, some church leaders. Jody says LDS doctrine was twisted and distorted in the ritual ceremonies.
“Jody” (from October 25, 1991 KSL TV archive): There was a lot of violence and sexual perversion that went along with different scriptural settings.
Dave Cawley: The task force issued a report in 1992. It acknowledged the members had at first differed about whether they believed widespread ritual abuse was taking place. Some were skeptics. But, the report said, all had read literature on the subject. A bibliography attached to the task force report showed among the reading was an article titled “Ritualistic Child Abuse in a Neighborhood Setting,” co-authored by none other than Barbara Snow, the social worker who as I described earlier in this episode had been accused of coercing Alan Hadfield’s children into making disclosures of ritualistic abuse.
I should note, the prosecutor from the Hadfield case, Robert Parrish, was also a member of the governor’s ritual abuse task force. A task force that spent a lot of time hearing from people who claimed to have been victims of satanists.
Robert Parrish (from October 25, 1991 KSL TV archive): With those reports, it’s very difficult, even though it’s currently happening, to find any corroborative evidence. If it’s happening, these people are extremely careful and maybe the best at keeping quiet about what they do.
Dave Cawley: There was no mention in the task force report of the very real ritual abuse that’d been exposed just a year earlier in the Zion Society case. It didn’t fit the mold because it hadn’t involved satanism.
The task force said groups that ritually abused children were typically satanists, pagans or practitioners of ceremonial magic. The report also said satanic abuse was sometimes carried out by secretive generational cults. These cults were said to have existed for centuries, with practitioners being born and raised into them. The report said “members are often well-known and respected within their larger communities” and “their continued existence as successful, prestigious and powerful persons in outer society depends upon absolute secrecy of the inner group activities.”
Noemi Mattis, the task force’s figurehead, explained away the lack of firm evidence backing this up when interviewed about the report.
Noemi Mattis (from May 20, 1991 KSL TV archive): Very difficult to prove any cases in a court of law which involve ritual abuse simply because the people who are involved with it have real expertise at hiding their tracks.
Dave Cawley: Mattis and the task force members were hardly alone. A January, 1992 public opinion poll showed a stunning fraction of Utah residents — 90 percent — believed satanic ritual abuse of children was occurring. The task force recommended the creation of a new unit within the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which would have statewide jurisdiction to root out ritual abuse and generational satanism.
Here’s where Mike King comes back into our story. He was at the tail end of the prosecutions in the Zion Society case when the governor’s task force made its recommendations.
Mike King: So, I was reached out to by the attorney general and invited to come to the Attorney General’s Office having what they considered to be probably one of the more robust backgrounds now in organized, cultic behavior.
Dave Cawley: The Utah Legislature allocated a quarter of a million dollars to the AG’s Office. The money came with a mandate: investigate these ritual abuse reports. If satanists were sacrificing babies and burning bodies, Mike was supposed to find the evidence.
Mike King: There was so much going on and there were allegations all across the state that the local police departments were, frankly, ill-equipped to manage.
Dave Cawley: Mike and his new partner at the AG’s Office spent the next two years digging into the reports.
Mike King: And I can’t tell you how many wild goose chases I went on. I can’t even tell you how many times I went into, into central Utah to look at cows that were dead because an alien or Satan or something else came down and, and dissected this cow and carefully removed its eyes or whatever else. And I remember on one occasion I was with a fish and game officer and I was getting sucked into this. I’m looking at this cow and it was surgically, perfect around the eyes where the eyeballs had been removed. … I was laser-focused on this and I’m going ‘what do you think here’ and the fish and game cop just bursts out laughing and he says ‘well, I think two things: number one, birds and predators go for the softer squishy parts’ and he said ‘all of this magpie mess around the fur by the eye should be an indication to you.’ And it was like, we all were getting so focused on the tree that we were missing a big forest.
Dave Cawley: Time and again, Mike went looking for hard evidence to support the accusations, only to return empty-handed.
Mike King: It took us awhile to figure out we need to pull back on the reins a little bit and we need to investigate these the way we know how to investigate. We need to investigate the child sexual abuse and then bring that ritualism in as an aggravating factor during sentencing or at the appropriate time during the trial. But quit allowing, uh, the courts and the public to drag us down into the weeds to talk about Satan when it really is about children being sexually assaulted.
Dave Cawley: This was something Mike had learned from the Zion Society case.
Mike King: So there were a number that resulted in prosecution for a number of different things as we identified the sexually assault. We were only able to truly get confessions where someone had used satanism or satanic beliefs or doctrine as part of their control mechanism in about three or four.
Dave Cawley: Three or four instances of satanism out of hundreds of reports. And even then, the form satanism in those cases wasn’t the generational kind, infiltrating through every facet of society. It wasn’t black masses or human sacrifices. It was instead a show: the use of scary imagery to terrify a victim into silence.
Mike King: It’s bunch of smoke and mirror and a bunch of terror.
Dave Cawley: Mike and his partner put together a report of their own, detailing their findings. They published it in 1995.
Duane Cardall (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): Mike King and another investigator have been looking into what some call the satanism scare. This governor’s task force wanted it done and the Legislature came up with $250,000 to support it.
Mike King (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): We started with about 225 cases over the course of that period.
Duane Cardall (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): Cases of alleged abuse of adults remembering horrific stories from their youth of mutilations, torture, even human sacrifice.
Mike King (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): We found sites all across the state, not in great numbers, but all across the state that support the fact that there are dabblers out there.
Dave Cawley: More than 25 years have passed since Mike’s report went public. You can still find it online — I’ve included links to it in the show notes and at thecoldpodcast.com — and it’s an interesting read.
Mike King: Because the Latter-day Saint population is so prominent here in Salt Lake and in Utah, many of the allegations were that this person would pray like a Latter-day Saint or something else. Well, what we found so interesting is that if we talked to our peer investigators in Chicago that were doing this, where the Catholic Church was strong, they prayed like Catholics. If they were down in the South they prayed like a Christian down there. And so we started to also recognize that this is geographically and historically going to be influenced. I don’t know why that wasn’t picked up on before but we felt like that was an incredibly important point.
Dave Cawley: Mike’s report walked a fine line. It didn’t call out the satanic hysteria, but it also didn’t validate it. At least, not much.
Duane Cardall (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): So what about all the people who have been coming forth in recent years with sudden memories of being involved in ritual abuse as children and recalling that Satan worship was involved?
Mike King (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): My personal belief is that we have pedophiles who are using this as one of the ways to keep their crimes secret.
Dave Cawley: Mike’s report invoked to the Zion Society case to make this point. Arvin Shreeve had used religious ritual to manipulate his victims.
Mike King: I mean it’s theatrics. It’s power, dominion and control and how am I going to accomplish that? For some people it’s brute force. For others its emotional pressure. I mean, we see it in domestic violence cases where we see people who stay in a relationship that others would walk away from screaming.
Dave Cawley: There’s a huge gulf though between the concept of secret generational satanic sex abuse cults and one-off abusers who simply use occult imagery to keep their victims quiet.
Duane Cardall (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): Yes, their 58-page report concludes there are isolated, verifiable accounts of people doing horrible things to others, sometimes in the name of Satan. But they also conclude it is not widespread.
Mike King (from April 25, 1995 KSL TV archive): We found absolutely no evidence that would support that there are generational cults or members of cults that have infiltrated every level of government or religious organizations or community organizations.
Dave Cawley: Let me underline that. No evidence of generational satanic cults. That part wasn’t real.
Mike King: Is it possible we missed a coven or a group of people that were dressing up in robes and, and worshipping Satan? Absolutely. But by focusing on the crime we were able to solve and make arrests and get help for children, umm, and then hopefully learn lessons along the way.
Dave Cawley: This was a tricky thing to communicate in the report, because Mike didn’t want to invalidate the experiences of child sex abuse victims who believed they’d witnessed or been a part of satanic ritual abuse. But the fact was, ritual abuse allegations involving human sacrifice, generational satanism and a widespread conspiracy could not be corroborated.
Mike concluded the report by writing “the investigation of ritual crimes may be in its infancy today, as child sexual abuse investigations were 25 years ago.” It seems to me this left the door open for true believers of the satanic abuse myth to say “just because you didn’t find evidence, doesn’t mean it’s not there.” But what we see from the Zion Society case — or even the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and other trusted organizations — is that child sex abuse rarely involves pentagrams, demons and blood sacrifice.
Mike King: Hopefully we took enough of a fact-based delivery into account that people see how we backed up what we said. But to a true believer for us to say ‘we didn’t find it’ is really troubling. And again, to me it goes back to that notion of if we believe something, we’re going to twist everything we can to make it look real.
Dave Cawley: That twisting had huge consequences for people who were accused on the basis of coerced confessions or implanted memories. With the satanic panic, investigators were often tasked with hunting for evidence that would support the public’s or even a psychologist’s pre-determined conclusion: that satanic ritual abuse was occurring, even if it wasn’t.
Mike King: And you don’t want to allow those things to drive the investigation. A police officer’s responsibility is to just gather facts.
Dave Cawley: Which takes us full circle back to the Joyce Yost case. The unfounded report that a satanic coven had killed Joyce came very near to knocking that investigation permanently off track. Had Rhonda Buttars not confessed the truth of her ex-husband Doug Lovell’s actions, Sgt. Terry Carpenter would’ve continued on searching for evidence to support the idea Joyce’d died in a ritual ceremony. That evidence, of course, didn’t exist because that’s not what’d happened. At some point, the trail would’ve gone cold and the truth of what Doug did to Joyce might never have come to light.
Mike King: The real wisdom that came from that ritual crime report, from looking at the Zion Society, looking at Joyce Yost’s case and the amount of tentacles that that case had, imagine how much more could have happened if we’d have focused on the elements of the crime rather than all the tertiary stuff that was just kind of sexy and needed to be chased.