If you were alive, kicking, and even a tiny bit aware during the 1980’s the odds are pretty high you vividly remember the Tigers cruising to a World Series, standing in line to see Ghostbusters or Back to the Future, and/or watching the ending of St. Elsewhere.

What you have probably forgotten – as it seems most of the country has – is the Great Satanic/Childcare Panic of the mid to late ‘80s. You are probably saying “What!” aloud right about now while questioning our sanity or headed to the Google machine . . . or both.

We’re not crazy and if you search ‘Satanic Child Care ‘80s’ Google will spit out 160,000 hits in less than a half a second. You can also click on the image to the left and watch a terrific recap from the New York Times Retro Report. They tell the story in 13 chilling minutes.

From around 1984 through the early half of the 1990s hundreds, perhaps thousands of childcare centers around the country were shut down on fears they were engaging in Satanic rituals with their charges. Hundreds of childcare workers were indicted; thousands of criminal charges were handed down; a score of people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms; the longest, most expensive criminal trial in American history was conducted over years until it ended in mistrial . . . after mistrial; prison sentences were eventually overturned; lives were destroyed.

Over the last few years a crop of books and podcasts have sprung up reviewing the era – and it certainly was an era – from fresh perspective and copious help from various Freedom of Information offices around the nation.

Two of the last three people incarcerated were finally released in 2013 after 21 years. The third is due for a parole hearing in Florida in 2134. That is not a misprint.

It can all be summed up, as it is in those books and podcasts, as “Imagine being wrongfully convicted for a crime that never happened.

The mantra of the day was “Children must be believed.” Those might have been the pre-social media days but no one, save criminal defense attorneys, dared go against that sentiment.

We’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as Shannon Smith works on an op-ed piece revolving around the sentiment that certain classes of accusers must always be believed. It’s antithetical to the criminal justice system, indeed the system, such as it is, cannot successfully operate if one party is always to be believed.

The criminal justice system did not work during the Childcare Panic. That’s what happens when one class of accusers cannot be questioned.

Skip to content