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USA v. Peterson, et al.

The Case of Mary Shanley

September 17, 1998.

The trial, which until now had primarily concerned accounting matters and insurance policies, began to take on a more human face when testimony concerning the case of Mary Shanley began. Shanley’s friend, Meredith Schreiner took the stand first to testify to the deterioration she witnessed in Shanley and in Shanley’s marriage over the course of her treatment. Schreiner, who approached the stand with a cane, was a compelling witness and the courtroom was silent throughout her testimony. Mary Shanley herself took the stand after Schreiner.

Mary Shanley, 47, is a small, attractive woman. As she took the stand, defendant Judith Peterson pulled her chair into the aisle up close to the witness stand. Throughout Shanley’s testimony, Peterson glared at Shanley with a fixed, hard, cold stare. "That’s some stare!" remarked one court watcher. Until now, Peterson has sat at the defense desk taking copious notes. Her back has generally been to the jurors.

Mary Shanley is one of six children raised in Colorado by two alcoholic parents. She received her B.A. degree in elementary education and, in 1979, married Joe Shanley. In 1981, she gave birth to Ryan, her son and only child. Shanley took a maternity leave to care for her son immediately following the birth. Also following the birth, Shanley began to experience what she referred to as "blackouts." She was subsequently diagnosed with seizure disorder. She had a toxic reaction to the first drugs prescribed.

Shanley’ s husband, Joe was an alcoholic. In 1984, the Shanleys joined a Marriage Encounter Group comprised of other couples dealing with alcoholism. Here they met William and Meredith Schreiner. According to Schreiner’s testimony, both Shanleys were wonderful parents. Shanley was teaching elementary school and Joe was working for Motorola at the time. Despite their difficulties, Schreiner testified that the Shanleys had a close relationship. They lived in a Chicago suburb. The Shanleys and the Schreiners generally met at least once a week.

In 1987, Shanley had a hysterectomy. Shortly after the hysterectomy, Shanley was attacked in a hallway by one of the parents at her school, her face scratched. Joe Shanley was not supportive to his wife after the attack. And he was unhappy that the couple had lost the capacity to have more children. Shanley began to fall into a depression that deepened noticeably and rapidly, according to Schreiner. Some of the depression seemed to be related to the hysterectomy, and to the fact that Mary had been contacted by the lawyer for a daughter she had given up for adoption. The pregnancy was the result of a violent rape when Shanley was nineteen.

In 1989, Shanley re-established a prior relationship with a therapist associated with Alexian Brothers Hospital outside Chicago. She sought treatment for depression, anxiety, and panic attacks from the therapist, who was in training. As part of her treatment, Shanley was put in group therapy. In the group. there were frequent reports of physical and sexual abuse. Shanley began to have nightmares about abuse which her therapist insisted were memories of real abuse though Shanley said she could remember no such events from her childhood. In addition, Shanley began to have episodes which her therapist said were symptoms of "dissociation," probably the result of having been severely abused in a satanic cult. Despite the fact that the therapist ought to have been aware of Mary’s seizure disorder and that several physicians had diagnosed the seizure disorder as "reactivated" in 1989, no additional medical tests were administered. Furthermore, Shanley’s real life problems received little attention in the therapy.

At one time, the therapist shared these beliefs that Shanley had been abused in a cult with a psychiatrist at Alexian. The psychiatrist disagreed and refused to participate in treatment that proceeded from this assumption. The psychiatrist, however, made no further attempt to interfere with Shanley’s treatment.

In 1990, the therapist made arrangements for Shanley to enter Forest Hospital, though Shanley’s first therapist was also involved in her continuing treatment. Again without adequate medical testing, and despite the fact that Shanley’s seizure disorder was entered on her admission chart, Shanley’s treaters diagnosed her as "dissociative." Over time, as Schreiner testified, Mary’s condition worsened. Shanley was eventually diagnosed as suffering from MPD and told she had been a member of "satanic cult." Shanley’s husband, Joe, also became utterly convinced by the treaters that his wife was a member of a satanic cult.

Shanley’s treaters referred her to the Dissociative Disorders Unit of Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital on the grounds that the staff there were recognized experts in the treatment of satanic cult victims. Shanley’s therapist in particular referred Shanley to Roberta Sachs, one those named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Houston trials. In the first five minutes of the intake interview, Sachs diagnosed Shanley as suffering MPD as a result of cult abuse. She justified this diagnosis on the basis of "finger signals." The Dissociative Disorders Unit at Rush was filled to capacity, but Shanley was hospitalized at Old Orchard, Though under separate management, Old Orchard was in the same building as Rush-Presbyterian and Shanley was treated by unindicted co-conspirators Dr. Bennett Braun and Roberta Sachs until she could be admitted to Rush-Presbyterian. The facilities were so close that when Shanley was admitted to Rush-Presbyterian it was simply a matter of taking an elevator to another floor.

According to Schreiner’s testimony, Shanley called her friend from Rush in April of 1990 to ask for help in getting out of the facility. Schreiner contacted Joe Shanley who informed her that, under her doctor’s orders, no one was to contact Mary. Schreiner did not follow up and she did not hear from Shanley again until Thanksgiving of 1993. Schreiner testified that she wondered if Shanley had died.

Shanley remained at Rush-Presbyterian until February of 1991. She was given high dosages of medications prescribed by Braun, including high dosages of Inderal, a heart medication. Sachs’s therapy with Shanley consisted of thrusting upon her the diagnosis of MPD and encouraging Shanley to get in touch with her alters. Sachs hypnotized Shanley and urged her to get in touch with her alters by reacting to photographs from magazines. In addition. both Braun and Sachs had numerous sessions with Shanley in which Shanley was encouraged to name other contacts from the cult. These included friends, other teachers, people from her church and her social life, Shanley testified. Braun had little interest in her or her case except when she was forthcoming with these names or he wanted to prescribe additional medication, according to Shanley. Little or no attention was paid to Shanley’s seizure disorder or to any of her real life issues such as the impact of her hysterectomy or contact from her daughter’s attorney, the attack in a school hallway, her husband’s drinking or the impact of these upon Shanley’s marriage.

In February of 1991, Sachs asked Shanley to meet with Dr. Corydon Hammond who was in Chicago to attend a conference. Hammond asked Shanley a number of questions that absolutely mystified her, including a series of questions about the Greek alphabet. He asked her, for instance, if she knew any letters of the Greek alphabet. When Shanley named "Gamma" Hammond diagnosed her as having a cult alter that was a danger to herself, her therapists, and other patients. Shanley was flown to Spring Shadows Glen to be "deprogammed" without knowing her destination and without an opportunity to say good-bye to her husband.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation has a bibliography on the subject of satanic ritual abuse.

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