False memory can lead to baseless accusations, mass hysteria

[Note: This was a sidebar to the "Satanic Scare" article. It discusses the Paul Ingram case with greater detail.]

[Note: Since this was first written, I found a lengthier account of the case in a recent issue of Mother Jones magazine. I'll provide a biblio reference later on. BTW, the same magazine is readying another article, by Ethan Watters, about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.]

One of the more intriguing examples of how false memory can lead to baseless accusations, mass hysteria and ruined lives was reported by psychologist Richard Ofshe in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Paul Ingram was the county Republican Party Chairman of Thurston County, Washington and the Chief Civil Deputy of the Sheriff's department. By all accounts, Ingram was extremely religious, and attended church several times a week. He is currently serving twenty years in prison for rape-- and it's possible that his guilty plea may be based on false memories.

The story begins in September of 1988. When Ingram's 22-year-old daughter Ericka attended a Christian retreat, intended to encourage women to reveal abuse, she claimed that Ingram had raped her when she was five years old. Within a few weeks, Ericka's story had changed slightly; she now accused her father of having raped her nearly every night for the past seventeen years. Her younger sister Julie, also at the retreat, began a similar series of accusations-- that Ingram and his poker buddies would creep into the daughters' bedroom on Saturday nights and rape her every week. (However, according to Julie, Ericka slept soundly in the upper bunk bed while this happened.)

When confronted with the accusations, Ingram maintained his innocence. . . at first. But, in keeping with his church's doctines on "Satanic deception," Ingram acknowledged to the interrogators that his memories of the events might have been blocked. During his interrogation session (the first of 23 over a five-month period), Ingram was maneuvered into agreeing that his daughters were honest. He was repeatedly told that sex offenders frequently repress their memories, and the interrogators promised him that, if he admitted his guilt on the matter, his memories would return.

The records of subsequent interrogations demonstrated how those memories eventually did 'come back.' A psychologist whom Ofshe calls "Dr. Smith" participated in the interrogations; Dr. Smith led Ingram

through a series of relaxation techniques that, in Ofshe's estimate, "dramatically heightened suggestibility and trance logic." While Ingram was in this dissociative state, the interrogators made helpful suggestions to visualize the poker game events. During the second day's interrogation, Dr. Smith asked Ingram if he'd ever had any involvement in black magic. Over the next five months, Ingram was able to 'recall' a variety of depraved, Satan-related crimes. Ingram's dissociative state and fragmented memories also contributed to his being misdiagnosed as having Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)-- not surprisingly, a syndrome that is often 'diagnosed' among Satanic cult members and survivors to explain their failure to recall their evil deeds.

During this time, Ericka Ingram-- prompted by a reading of -- was claiming that 25 babies had been murdered by Satanic cults, and identified locations where the bodies could be found. (None were.) Julie, on the other hand, was talking about having nails driven through her flesh and arms of dead babies being inserted into her vagina. (Physical examinations found no scars on either daughter.) Both daughters claimed that they'd been forced to attend hundreds of Satanic coven meetings where these horrible events took place. (Ingram's two sons denied that these meetings took place.) But Paul Ingram had no trouble 'visualizing' these events under Dr. Smith's interrogation. By September of 1991, Ericka had filed a lawsuit against Thurston County alleging that, because the Sheriff's department was controlled by Satanists, no action was taken to prevent her 'brutalization.'

Ofshe was brought in to assist the prosecution's case. However, when it became apparent that Ingram's memories were manufactured during the interrogation process, Ofshe tried an experiment; he invented a false allegation of Ingram's forcing his son and daughter to have sex. Sure enough; when Ingram was asked to relax and try to visualize the scene, Ingram was able to 'recall' an event that even his daughters said hadn't happened.

When it became apparent that Ofshe's report on Ingram's interrogation was going to be released to the defense attorneys, the prosecutor handling the case gave Ingram an ultimatum to plead guilty to something, or be charged with additional crimes. In May of 1989, Ingram, pleaded guilty to six counts of rape. (The 25 babies allegedly killed by the cult suddenly became a non-issue.) The visits by the interrogators and psychologists stopped, Ingram's confidence in his pseudo-memories had evaporated. As of this writing, Ingram was attempting to have his guilty plea set aside, and to obtain a court trial.

Source: Ofshe, Richard J. (1992) Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: false confession due to dissociative state; misidentified multiple personality and the satanic cult hypothesis. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Vol. XL, No. 3., 125-156.

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