Paul Ingram is among the most famous victims of the Satanic Panic, a modern witchhunt generated by certain wings of the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian movements, some extreme feminists, and several self-deluding therapists. Religiously-motivated individuals within police organizations and sensationalist talk show hosts (possibly, I realize, a redundancy) further inflamed the situation. What makes Ingram's case intriguing is that he confessed to perpetrating Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), and he went to jail, despite excellent evidence that the man, a former deputy sheriff and member of the Republican Party, is innocent.
Ingram's families belonged to the Pentecostal Church of Living Water in Olympia, Washington. In 1988, his daughters, Erika and Julie, then ages 21 and 18, attended a church-sponsored retreat called Heart to Heart. Karla Franko, a former actress turned evangelist, informed Erika that she had been sexually abused for years by her father. The information came, she claims, from a vision from the Lord. It is perhaps worth noting that Erika had made previous claims of sexual abuse, against a church counselor in 1983 and a neighbour in 1985. In both cases, no charges were filed, due to a lack of evidence.
Shortly after the retreat ended, the girls moved out of the home and made their accusations, claiming the abuse had lasted for years, ending (according to some accounts) in 1977 when their father became a Christian. Their pastor, John Brutan, then convinced of the reality of SRA, supported the girls' claims.
The sisters' extraordinary claims include recollections of 850-1000 Satanic rituals (though they can recall neither the chants nor many specific details), murder and cannibalism of babies, pregnancies, abortions, and beatings which left scars. These stories were repeated on television, to a sympathetic Sally Jesse Raphael. A medical examination of the young women found no evidence of past pregnancy or abortion, and no scars, save a small surgical scar on Julie, the result of a documented operation. Erika and Julie also indicated locations where the bodies of the victims had been buried; police searched and found neither bodies nor evidence of past digging. A single bone turned up; it belonged to an animal, and bore evidence of having been chewed on and buried by a dog.
Incredibly, Undersheriff Neil McClanahan said, in response to the lack of evidence, "If you were the devil would you leave any evidence?" (Grant). McClanahan would also tell TV audiences that both bones and evidence of digging were found, despite the fact that both statements are verifiably false.
Paul could not recall the abuse, but could not believe his daughters would lie. Brutan suggested experimental confession, telling Ingram that if he began to imagine details of the crimes, God would provide him with accurate information that would help him confess. He also suggested to Ingram that he was a victim of demonic possession. The process was aided by a therapist who believed in the reality of Satanic cults. He hypnotized Paul, while police provided both with details of the alleged crimes.
Under these circumstances, Paul confessed, although the details rarely matched the accusations of his daughters. He also claimed involvement with the Green River Murders, though investigators into that crime rejected his statements, as Ingram showed no knowledge of these crimes.
Richard Ofshe, an expert in memory, was called by the defense to assist in the case. Believing that Ingram was delusional, he confirmed with the children that they had never been forced to have sex with each other. He then told Ingram that his children had claimed to have been forced into sibling-sibling incest. Naturally, Ingram then recalled such incidents.
When first confronted with the story behind this latest claim, Ingram refused to accept that he had been misled. Later, still lacking any memory of the events he recalled when "guided," he retracted his confession. Nevertheless, he had already confessed, and was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Several other men, mostly police officers, were also accused by Erika and Julie; no evidence could be found to convict them. The sisters would not name the thirty or so other locals whom they claimed were part of the cult. Millions of tax dollars were spent on helicopter searches for cult activity at night. None was ever found, though the police did identify the location of several bonfires, wiener roasts, and bush bashes.
Unlike many other SRA cases of the time, the alleged victims have not since publicly recanted their claims. Ingram, however, has received a great deal of public support. Similar to the more famous case of the West Memphis Three, books, articles, and a TV movie have been created about the case, and a Spokane businessman, Daniel Brailey, created a support organization for Ingram.
Ingram was released Tuesday April 8, 2003. He was required to register as a sex offender; the Olympia sheriff continues to express the belief that Ingram committed these crimes, although many individual police officers believe he is innocent, perhaps prompted to that belief by the sisters' later unsupported claims that several officers were Satanists. The law currently forbids Ingram from contact with his daughters.
"If it was the sixteenth century," Carl Sagan writes in regards to this case, "...perhaps the whole family would have been burned at the stake-- along with a good fraction of the leading citizens of Olympia, Washington"(163).
Answers in Action (various articles)
Brailey, Daniel. "Prosecution of a False Memory." The Ingram Organization. http://members.aol.com/IngramOrg/
Grant, Tom. "Imagining Satan." The Local Planet March 13, 2003. http://www.thelocalplanet.com/Current_Issue/Cover_Story/Article.asp?ArticleID=3659
Ofshe, Richard and Ethan Watters. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria.. University of California P, 1996.
"The Paul Ingram Ritual Abuse Case in Olympia, Washington." Religious Tolerance.
Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine, 1997.
Shannon, Brad. "Man in notorius sex case finishes term." The Olympian Tues. Apr. 8, 2003.
Wright, Lawrence. Remembering Satan: A Case of Recovered Memory and the Shattering of an American Family. New York: Knopf, 1995.