The Anti-Cult Candidate

A mental patient who’s convinced her family has belonged to a satanic cult for 400 years talks about her case:

“As the doctors began to break the barriers of secrecy, revealed was the history of multigenerational satanic worship. Torturous human sacrifice, cannibalism, and brainwashing with sadistic child abuse. Before hospitalization the mother knew nothing of her child abuse or that of her children. She also knew nothing of the hidden terrors of her life that she endured from infancy to adulthood to reach the rank of high priestess in the family’s nine-state region.

“The mother, through alters [alternate personalities], began to remember severely torturous human sacrifices viewed at varying ages. Such sacrifices as cutting out the victims’ tongues so they choked in their blood and couldn’t scream while being dismembered and beheaded, torturously skinning people alive, breaking bones one at a time, and taking a pregnant woman and cutting out her child so they could be jointly immolated. These killings went on with such regularity and viciousness that when this patient would be buried alive it became a way for her to escape the craziness that was occurring above her.”

One of the doctors who helped this troubled woman “break the barriers of secrecy” is now running for mayor of Chicago. He’s Kimball Ladien, a psychiatrist who once sat on the Illinois State Task Force on Ritualistic Abuse. This body’s efforts led to the 1993 law that made a felon of anyone who commits any one of several grisly acts, among them placing ” a living child into a coffin or open grave containing a human corpse or remains.”

Ladien complains he’s been shortchanged in the coverage of this winter’s mayoral primaries. He sure has. The papers blew off Joe Gardner, the only Democrat challenging Mayor Daley, so what hope had Ladien, a Republican? Yet his concern for abused youth has not abated. Now he’s proposing a “bipartisan safe haven contract with Chicago.” Financed by Empowerment Zone funds, this initiative would provide for a wide range of after-school activities, job programs reminiscent of the Depression, drug-free group homes, and urban boot camps.

“If we could reduce gang crimes, drugs, and teen pregnancies by 10 percent we’d be saving over $400 million annually in Illinois, most of that in Chicago,” Ladien told me.

But although the safe-haven concept tops Ladien’s list of things to talk about, it was not at the top of mine. In 1987 Ladien was a medical resident in the dissociative-disorders unit of Rush-Presbyterian-Saint Luke’s Medical Center, a unit founded and run by a Dr. Bennett Braun. In 1987 the woman we heard from above was a patient there, a patient so celebrated for the light she threw on centuries of satanic abominations that her taped address was played at a professional conference Braun convened.

Want to know more about her? Pick up the new book Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria, by psychologist Richard Ofshe and magazine writer Ethan Watters, and read “Therapy of a High Priestess.” This chapter on the pseudonymous “Anne Stone” calls her treatment at Rush “as brutal as any that has yet been documented.”

Anne did not turn to Braun thinking she was a high priestess. She’d been devastated emotionally by the agonizing delivery of a baby born with a crippled arm, and Braun diagnosed his specialty–multiple personality disorder. Admitted to his unit, she remained hospitalized for 27 months. As a product of a home that Anne says was deemed “psycho-toxic,” her five-year-old son “Mark” also was hospitalized; and several months later, after the family’s satanic history was revealed, little “Steve,” not yet four, was admitted for his own protection. Mark would spend 39 months in the hospital, Steve 32 months, and Anne and her husband would have to go to court to free them.

The bill for all this “therapy,” says Anne, paid by the family’s insurance, exceeded $2.7 million.

Even after the family was reunited, states Making Monsters, Anne continued to believe “she was the High Priestess of an international satanic order” until she stopped taking the various drugs Braun had prescribed for her and her head cleared. Now she’s suing the hospital, Braun, and various other therapists. One of them is Kimball Ladien.

Anne’s suit alleges that Ladien’s “hypnotic sessions” helped persuade her that “she had over 300 alternate personalities as a result of extended and repeated sexual and other traumatic abuse as a child including the participation in ritual murders, cannibalism, satan worship, and torture by members of her family.”

“His specific job with me was to recover child-abuse memories,” she told me. “The hypnosis sessions went on for hours. If they had to do with my being tied to my dining-room table we would go to his apartment and sit at his dining-room table. If the abuse memories had to do with a basement we would go to his mother’s basement.”

Ladien regrets the suit. “I feel somewhat betrayed,” he said. “I spent a lot of personal time with [Anne] and the family doing my utmost to help them.” Besides, going to court is bad medicine. It’s denial. “It’s absolutely contrary to the therapeutic process. Going into the legal framework is an absolute guarantee you won’t make progress in the therapeutic sense. You have to ask, who benefits?”

Who does? I asked.

“Well, cults in general,” he explained. “Again, the best defense is a good offense. Scientology is a perfect example. They spend tons and tons of money suing people. My point is these groups on occasion can become extremely powerful and do unpleasant things. Hopefully we can get beyond them, but power is as power does. The Nazis in Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the drug cartels in South America, the Mafia in Italy. They like to use power in not very pleasant ways, and they like to maintain themselves.

“Look at Chicago. Greylord. Power here is the same as anywhere else in the world. I’ll give you a perfect example. If you do a Nexis search in the Tribune or Sun-Times what do you think you’ll find out about my safe-havens program? They have their minds made up, and who ever said it was a democratic process? You have the illusion of the democratic process, but the reality is it’s power groups.”

Satanism, said Ladien, “is just power in one more form.”

This sounded like a retreat under fire from the horrific revelations that illuminated Bennett Braun’s conference in 1987, and I asked Ladien what he’d make of Anne Stone’s testimony today. “My personal feeling would be that there are issues raised that are certainly consistent with other stories I’ve heard,” he said. “I think it’s probably best to say it is what it is. Like most other things it’s a snapshot in time.”

Precious Wax Drippings

The editor barged into his paper’s think tank and thrust the AP copy at his foremost pundit. “Give this a read,” he scowled, “and grab your chamois.”

The pundit glanced at the story. “So the president’s stepping in to settle the baseball strike,” he murmured. His gut reaction was “Good luck, buddy.” But something more magisterial was needed.

“Seeing how it’s the national pastime, there’s more than one way to buff up this one,” he reflected. “I could wax bucolic or wax patriotic or wax gently ironic.”

Pundits worth their salt live in fear of the day they lose their touch at waxing.

When that gift goes it’s time for old gasbags to retire. Even if these battered sages no longer care that every paper in America is waxing condescending while they gallantly wax compassionate, it’s damn certain their bosses will.

“Better wax indignant,” commanded the editor. “The broadsheet across the street’s going to hammer his ass. We need to sound as peevish as they do.”

The pundit started drawing up a list on the foolscap he kept in a drawer. “Bosnia. AIDS. Chechnya. The Mexican peso. Diabetes. Urban crime. The balance of payments. Welfare reform. Unemployment. The ozone layer. The international drug trade. Child abuse. Islamic fundamentalism.”

“This doesn’t begin to cover it,” the editor said. “What about the decaying infrastructure? Public education? A rational transportation policy? Tobacco subsidies? The future of NATO?”

The managing editor came up. “We stopped the presses,” the M.E. reported. “The boys said they’ll do whatever it takes to get this paper’s views in the home edition.”

“Going to mean some overtime,” the pundit muttered.

The editor shrugged. “Times like this are why we’re in the business.”

The M.E. studied the growing list of great issues left dangling in the wind by the chief executive. Not one would be settled by morning! What a fine mess.

“Don’t forget to say something about the Peruvian-Ecuadorean border war,” he told the pundit.

“Unlabeled milk containing bovine growth hormone is worth a mention,” added the editor, with an eye to attracting insufferable young readers.

The pundit and his bosses possessed the priceless gift of certainty. Whatever wax their paper ultimately slathered on was not the glop it seemed to careless readers, but revealed truth.

“When I was a boy I was second to none in my respect for the prestige of the Oval Office,” the editor remarked to the M.E. “Now it lies in tatters.”

“This is a bigger blunder than Vietnam,” said the M.E. “At least Vietnam made sense at the time.”

Sweat streamed from the pundit’s brow. As he grimly perused the long list of matters too vital to ignore, the editor peered over his shoulder.

“The ship of state founders in high seas,” the pundit had written in a stately hand. “The crew, the passengers, and this newspaper view with alarm the republic’s empty wheelhouse. Lash yourself to the rail and resist the siren song of vacuous millionaires. Balance the budget. Liberate Cuba. Do all the other stuff you’re supposed to. Sir, your conduct sickens us. Start humping or pack it in.”

“Better punch it up some,” the editor suggested.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Randy Tunnell.