Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Family Divided

An unhappy ending to 1989 abductions motivated by Satanic ritual abuse panic

Twenty years ago, Marvin Maple and his wife Sandra somehow got it into their heads that their two grandchildren were being ritually abused by their parents (the Maples' daughter, Debbie Baskin, and her husband Mark). The Maples alleged that Debbie and Mark belonged to a Satanic cult in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which practiced murder, child molestation, animal sacrifice, and other atrocities. So they sought, and were granted, temporary custody of 8-year-old Christie and 7-year-old Bobby. When a yearlong investigation failed to turn up even one indication of Satanic ritual abuse, a court ordered the children returned to their home. At the time, far from being a Satanist, Mark Baskin was pursuing a degree in theology.

Just before the Baskins were scheduled to regain custody of their children in March 1989, the Maples disappeared with the kids. For 20 years, they lived as the "Bunting" family; Christie was renamed Jennifer, and Bobby went by the name Jonathan.

Meanwhile, the Baskins never gave up on their missing children. They distributed fliers far and wide, gave interviews and made media appearances whenever possible, and appealed to the Maples to do the right thing. Their answering machine always contained a message for Bobby and Christie.

Then it happened. Early last month, a patron in a cafe in San Jose, California, overheard 73-year-old "John Bunting" recounting the abduction of his grandchildren. He was annoyed that a newspaper story about the children had described him as a kidnapper.

Police soon located Christie and Bobby. Christie, 28, was working as a nurse in San Jose, while Bobby is married with children of his own. The Baskins eagerly awaited a reunion, but feared that the kids might not feel the same way after being told for 20 years that their parents were abusive Satanists. Unfortunately, their fears manifested when they traveled to San Jose; both children refused to respond to phone calls or visits.

Sandra Maple died in 2006. Marvin faces kidnapping charges in Tennessee. He, too, refuses to speak with the Baskins. He says he is innocent. According to the report below, Debbie's two sisters seem to be supporting their father.

The Baskin abduction bears a striking similarity to a 1990 grandparent abduction in Hobbes, New Mexico. This case has a happier ending, and the underhanded method used to induce stories of Satanic ritual abuse is transparent:

As described in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, Ladonna Morrow had a strained relationship with her mom, Pat Farmer, but needed her to help care for her 4-year-old son, Jared Peters, after she divorced Jared's father. Pat disapproved of the divorce, so using televangelist-produced videotapes and coaching, she taught Jared to describe being molested and ritually abused by members of a Satanic cult. Then she encouraged Jared to report this abuse, and sought sole custody of her grandson.

Two months after custody was granted to Pat Farmer, Jared's father and the authorities came to the conclusion that there was no Satanic cult and no abuse. Ladonna regained custody of Jared, but Pat was allowed monthly, unsupervised visits. She simply didn't return Jared after one of these visits.

Pat was caught in Salt Lake City two years later, and Jared was reunited with his mother.

There may be no such reunion for the Baskins. They remain a family divided and ruined by the spectre of Satanic panic.


Anonymous said...

Thank your for your blog about the Baskin case. One correction, Marvin Maple was not a Minister, Mark Baskin is. Thank you.

SME said...

Thanks very much; I'll correct that.

Anonymous said...

You are presenting a pretty simplistic account of this case.

You appear to be claiming that the two siblings have no reason to refuse contact with their parents, except some kind of "brainwashing" from their grandparents.

We have no evidence that the parents abused the kids, but nor do we have evidence that the grandparents brainwashed the kids.

Seems like there is a lot we don't know about this case, and you are jumping to a lot of conclusions.

SME said...

I didn't use the word "brainwashing" at all. For all I know, the Maples truly believe their daughter worships Satan. Given the ages of the children when abducted, however, it is extremely unlikely that the Maples did not give the children some information about why they were being taken away from their parents, moved to a different state, and made to adopt different names. And if they lied to the kids, is that any better than telling them their parents were Satanists? Either way you look at this, the grandparents are in the wrong here. Remember, no abuse of any kind was found after a thorough investigation and the parents legally had custody.

Anonymous said...

So, you were there to hear what the Maple's told their grand kids?

Did you read through the original case and the transcript of the original trial that lead to the alleged kidnapping?

How thoroughly was the case investigated? Did you follow all of the accusations and evidence?

Seems pretty one sided to me.

Ever hear of Sandra Kantu

Since nothing like that could ever happen in Rutherford County in a Baptist Church.

SME said...

Clerical abuse has been a major concern for me in the past decade; I strongly supported the U.S. baptists' plan for dealing with abuse allegations, and was extremely disappointed when the Vatican rejected it. I also know that child abuse happens within every denomination, and I believe that it must be dealt with by church members and the community just like any other abuse; it must not be handled internally, covered up/ignored, or minimized in any way. It must be reported immediately to the proper authorities. I deal with such issues more on another blog,

That said, the Baskin case did go through all the proper legal channels and was thoroughly investigated over an extended period of time. No evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either parent was uncovered. If they were guilty of anything, they hid it extraordinarily well. And while I know that things like abuse, alcoholism, and even murder can occur even within the most "normal" churches, I don't believe that Satanism has ever been a problem among mainstream Christian ministers. I realize that if the Baskins were the kind of people who could worship the devil (which very few Satanists actually do) and abuse their own children, their instability would be apparent in every other area of their lives. That does not appear to be the case at all. I give the Maples the benefit of the doubt - that they really did believe their daughter was abusing their grandchildren - but believing something does not make it so. If I had to guess, I would say the Maples entered into a folie a deux brought on by social hysteria, mental illness, or emotional instability. That's how most of the Satanic ritual abuse allegations surfaced. They certainly didn't come from any objective reality.

IF the accused woman is found guilty (and I have my doubts - there's something very fishy about that case), the murder of Sandra Cantu shows that bad things can happen in the Christian community (and that women, on rare occasions, can be every bit as dangerous as male sex offenders). It does not prove that the Baskins were unfit parents.

Anonymous said...

Grandpa takes plea deal.

Anonymous said...

"Remember, no abuse of any kind was found after a thorough investigation and the parents legally had custody."

Your sudden faith in child protection investigations in heartening, although a little confusing - don't "satanic panic" proponents usually argue that child protection services are incompetent? That was the thrust of Jeffrey Victor's original book.

Nonetheless, some protective parents (and grandparents) have found themselves in a situation where a child has disclosed sexual abuse, and their disclosure has been investigated and not substantiated - and yet the child continues to disclose ongoing abuse.

It is quite possible that these grandparents found themselves in precisely this situation - their grandchildren were continuing to disclose abuse that had not been substantiated by investigators.

Certainly, the fact that these children (now adults) refuse contact with their parents indicates that they support their grandparents efforts to remove them from their parents, even if the courts would not.

Anonymous said...

"I don't believe that Satanism has ever been a problem among mainstream Christian ministers."

Actually, "satanic" forms of ritualistic abuse are reported by a minority of survivors of clergy abuse. Take a look at the accounts of ritual abuse-torture published in "Survivor's Lullaby", which was written by survivors of clergy abuse in Boston.

In fact, survivors of "satanic ritual abuse" have consistently reported Christian clergy participating in their abuse. In Margaret Smith's 1993 book "Ritual Abuse", 17% of 53 adults reporting ritualistic abuse identified that a Christian priest had been part of their abuse.

SME said...


don't "satanic panic" proponents usually argue that child protection services are incompetent?

Social work is like any other job: Some are better at it than others. If you whisk kids away from their parents without sufficient evidence, or leave kids in the care of abusive and neglectful people even after documented abuse has occurred time and time again, you're not not so great at it. I don't generalize about CPS; I look at cases individually.
In this case, I would say that the CPS workers acted with due caution, neither overreacted nor under-reacted to the accusations, and did a thorough job of investigating.

Re: Ministers and Satanism, I was referring to documented instances of ministers practicing or converting to Satanism, not to unverified allegations of such.