|November 1, 1980|
Michelle Remembers is a 1980 book co-written by Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his psychiatric patient (and eventual wife) Michelle Smith. A best-seller, Michelle Remembers was the first book written on the subject of Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) and is an important part of the controversies beginning during the 1980s regarding SRA and recovered memory. Several investigators have subsequently been unable to corroborate many of the book's events despite extensive searches. According to these investigators, the events described by the book were very unlikely and in some cases seemingly impossible.
Michelle Remembers chronicles Pazder's therapy during the late 1970s with his long-time patient Smith. In 1973 Pazder first started treating Smith at his private psychiatric practice in Victoria, British Columbia. In 1976 when Pazder was treating Smith for depression (related to her having had a miscarriage), Smith confided she felt that she had something important to tell him, but could not remember what it was. Soon thereafter, Pazder and Smith had a session where Smith purportedly screamed for 25 minutes non-stop and eventually started speaking in the voice of a five-year-old. According to Pazder, during the next 14 months he spent more than 600 hours using hypnosis to help Smith recover seeming memories of Satanic ritual abuse that occurred when she was five years old in 1954 and 1955 at the hands of her mother (Virginia Proby) and others, all of whom Smith said were members of a "satanic cult" in Victoria.
The book documents Smith's memory of events recovered during therapy, documenting the many Satanic rituals she believed that she was forced to attend (Pazder stated that Smith was abused by the "Church of Satan," which he states is a worldwide organization predating the Christian church). The first alleged ritual attended by Smith occurred during 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented by the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that supposedly summoned Satan himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and blocked memories of the events "until the time was right". During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to participate with various rituals, witnessed several human sacrifices, and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various sacrificed infants and adults.
Michelle Remembers was first publicized with articles in People magazine and the National Enquirer. During 1980, Pazder and Smith toured the United States to promote the book. Ultimately a publishing success, the book earned Pazder and Smith a $100,000 hard-cover advance, $242,000 for paperback rights, royalties, and a potential movie deal. In 1989, almost 10 years after the publication of Michelle Remembers, Oprah Winfrey featured Smith as a guest on her show alongside Laurel Rose Willson, author of the equally fictitious Satanic ritual abuse survival memoir Satan's Underground, which was published using the pseudonym Lauren Stratford. Both women's experiences were presented by Winfrey as incontrovertible fact, and not once did she question the authenticity of any claim in either book. 
Pazder was a credentialed psychiatrist and fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the book states that its source material (therapy tapes) were scrutinized. However, soon after the book was published the accuracy of the allegations in Michelle Remembers were questioned. Soon after the book's publication, Pazder withdrew his assertion that it was the Church of Satan that had abused Smith when Anton LaVey (who founded the church years after the alleged events of Michelle Remembers) threatened to sue for libel.
In an October 27, 1980 article in the magazine Maclean's, Paul Grescoe interviewed Smith's father, Jack Proby, who denied the allegations against Smith's mother, Virginia (who died in 1964), and claimed he could refute all the allegations in the book. Grescoe also noted that the book failed to make any mention of Smith's two sisters, Charyl (younger) and Tertia (older), or that Pazder and Smith (both Catholics) had divorced their spouses and married each other. The book also fails to mention any police investigations or any attempt Pazder made to involve the police in verifying any of the book's accusations.
By 1990, an article in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday conducted a two-week investigation into the claims made in Michelle Remembers and found that other than Pazder and Smith, the people they interviewed described the events in Michelle Remembers as "the hysterical ravings of an uncontrolled imagination". In an interview with Jack Proby, Proby cited (as an example) "three specific points where ... Michelle lied" in Michelle Remembers. Proby indicated that although he decided not to sue, he did file a Notice of Intent to sue against the book's publisher should they go beyond the literary contract; thereby preventing the book from being made into a movie. The Mail on Sunday also interviewed the Smith's childhood family doctor: "I believe it was ... an over-active imagination"; former neighbors of the Probys: "I dismissed the book as crazy. The mother was a nice, gracious lady. A little girl could not have been tortured without someone hearing"; a former childhood friend of Smith: "Virginia was like a second mother to me. I certainly never had a bad feeling about her"; and her ex-husband: "Not once during their marriage or the birth of their daughter did Michelle ever mention her experience".
The Mail on Sunday reported that the local Catholic Church and Bishop Remi De Roo were also attempting to disassociate themselves from the claims in Michelle Remembers: "He [De Roo] wants to distance himself from these people. More than ten years ago he asked the couple to provide him with details, but they never supplied all the information he required." The Mail on Sunday also reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stated that there had never been a single prosecution in Victoria for satanic practices. During the interview, Pazder was questioned about the truth of the claims in the book:
[The Mail on Sunday] asked Pazder: "Does it matter if it was true, or is the fact that Michelle believed it happened to her the most important thing?" He replied: "Yes, that's right. It is a real experience. If you talk to Michelle today, she will say, 'That's what I remember'. We still leave the question open. For her it was very real. Every case I hear I have skepticism. You have to complete a long course of therapy before you can come to conclusions. We are all eager to prove or disprove what happened, but in the end it doesn't matter."
The authors of a 1995 book found no newspaper record of the car crash that the book describes in the time frame described despite the fact that the local newspaper reported on all vehicle accidents at the time. Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith's elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book's authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith during the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.
A 2002 article by Kerr Cuhulain explored what Cuhulain considered the unlikeliness of Smith's allegations. Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith's tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. He also notes that during the alleged 81-day ritual, Michelle was confirmed to be attending school, with no remarkable absences and no apparent signs that she was being abused. Like other authors, Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith's so-called recovered memories appear to have represented elements of popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist) and Pazder's own religious beliefs and experiences from when he was living and working in Africa during the early 1960s. He noted it odd that Pazder didn't report any of the sexual abuse to police that Michelle allegedly had endured. Finally, Cuhulain hypothesized that Smith's motivation for making the allegations may have come from her desire to spend time with Pazder; though both were initially married to other people, they divorced their spouses and remarried each other after the publication of the book.
James R. Lewis, in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, wrote that Michelle Remembers "must be treated with great skepticism, not least because literally all the charges involved seem drawn from accounts of West African secret societies from the 1950s, imported to Canada." Nichol Spanos has stated that in addition to the lack of corroboration of Smith's alleged memories, "skepticism appears warranted by the fact that some of these 'memories' involve Michelle's encounters with supernatural beings". Spanos also mentions that Smith's father and unmentioned two siblings deny the allegations made by Smith, as well as Pazder's time in West Africa during a time when there was widespread concern about secret, blood-drinking, cannibalistic cults.
Despite the lack of evidence and criticism concerning the allegations made in Michelle Remembers, there are still people who believe that Smith's claims of abuse are true, and are evidence of a worldwide intergenerational satanic conspiracy to abuse and sacrifice human beings.
The book's contents have not been substantiated by any evidence beyond Smith's testimony. Despite this, the book allegedly inspired imitative accusations throughout the world, against members of the Church of Satan, other occultists, and others who seemed to have no association with the occult.
The appendix to Michelle Remembers contains the reprint of the article "'Witchcraft in City' Claim" by Paul Jeune, as the article was referenced by Smith in the book concerning the alleged black magic practiced in Victoria. An evangelist named Len Olsen claimed on television evangelist David Mainse's talk show 100 Huntley Street that he and his wife were nearly sacrificed in a satanic ritual by Mark Fedoruk, also known as Lion Serpent Sun. Sun sued for defamation, and in court it was ascertained that Olsen had been delusional, apparently due to drug use and guilt; Sun was awarded $10,000 and an appeal was denied. The lawsuit and result were not reported in the book, only the original false allegations by Olsen.
The Grescoe article did not garner much attention and the allegations in Michelle Remembers were still considered by many during the early 1980s to be true. As a result, Pazder was considered to be an expert in the topic of Satanic ritual abuse. With the sudden emergence of Satanic ritual abuse cases during the 1980s (likely due in part to the publication of Michelle Remembers) Pazder's expertise was requested. In 1984, Pazder acted as a consultant in the McMartin preschool trial which featured allegations of Satanic ritual abuse. Pazder also appeared on the first major news report concerning Satanism (broadcast on May 16, 1985), by ABC's television series 20/20. Pazder was part of the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about Satanic ritual abuse during the late 1980s. By 1987 Pazder reported that he was spending a third of his time consulting on Satanic ritual abuse cases. By September 1990, Pazder had been consulted "in more than 1,000 ritual abuse cases". With people suddenly being prosecuted for Satanic ritual abuse, prosecutors used the book as a guide when preparing cases against alleged Satanists. Prior to the start of the Kern County child abuse cases several local social workers had attended a training seminar that listed Satanic ritual abuse as a major element of child sexual abuse and used Michelle Remembers as training material.