********************************************************************** F M S F O U N D A T I O N N E W S L E T T E R May 21, 1992 (transliterated into ASCII for record purposes) ********************************************************************** 3508 Market Street suite 128, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215-387-1865) This address and the phone numbers have changed as of July 15, 2000 ********************************************************************** Dear Friends, Over one hundred families and almost as many professionals have called the 800 number in the past few weeks. In our wildest dreams, we did not predict such a large response in such a short time. The calls are the result of stories about FMS Foundation members that have appeared in Utah, Ohio and Toronto. In each case, the families sent their stories to local reporters. We thank the writers of those stories and the reporters who found them compelling enough to retell even when colleagues warned, "That's a politically sensitive issue. You're crazy to touch it," and "How do you know they're not guilty?" We appreciate the fact that these reporters were willing to ask in return, "How do you know they are guilty?" Over 400 families have now told us stories of their "adult-children" who have recovered memories during some sort of therapy, decided that they were incest victims, confronted parents and then cut off contact. Running through all these stories is the refusal of the therapists to consider evidence such as lie detector test results, childhood medical reports or the possibility that the memories might be confused. In most cases the therapists refuse even to meet the parents. In a huge number of cases, the book Courage to Heal has been mentioned. The stories we hear are amazingly similar. An example of how similar they are was brought home to us when a parent from Canada related that his sister had angrily accused him of going public because of the story that had appeared in the Toronto Star. This parent had never told his own family story to a reporter or anyone else. It is increasingly evident that the press, the mental health profession, the public are all terribly confused about issues of memory and repression. Many people have the mistaken notion that memories are stored like pictures or like data in a computer. That is simply not the case. MEMORY IS A CREATIVE PROCESS. MEMORY IS A PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION. MEMORIES ARE REINTERPRETED. People do "remember" unusual things, do have false memories. This week 100,000 mental health professionals received a booklet called, "Unusual Personal Experiences," in which Dr. John E. Mack, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard urges readers to believe patients who recover memories of abuse by space aliens. The booklet tells us that a survey by the Roper Organization indicates that over 2% of the American population now remembers being abused by space aliens. Where is the evidence? Memories can seem very real to the people who have them, but that does not mean that those memories are necessarily accurate. Questions that we are asked over and over again are, "Why would people have these memories if they were not true? Why would people make up memories that are obviously so painful to them?" We do not pretend to have an answer to the questions. We suggest, however, that the enclosed April 30 article from the Pittsburgh Press which describes the legal victory of a falsely-accused family in Pittsburgh sheds light on strongly held assumptions that some therapists bring to doctor-client relationships. It also describes processes that could lead a patient to believe in memories that are not true. This is a very important case. We trust you will have your own conclusions about why a patient might recover false memories after you read the article. Office News Your FMS Foundation office is about to go into full operation. Today we set up a computer system and next week we will transfer the 800 number to Philadelphia. Booklets of information are being printed. Parents have volunteered to prepare the packets for mailing. When these are ready, we will send out a press release to announce formally our existence. We thank each of you who has helped to make this possible. We thank all the families that have called and told us their stories because that is how we can document the scope of this phenomenon. We thank those of you who have received and completed the survey. (More will go out soon.) We thank each of you who has sent us dues and additional contributions to pay for the newsletter and the telephone and the office. We thank you for sending articles and keeping us informed of what is going on around the country so that we can share it with members. There are not words enough to thank Holly Wakefield and Ralph Underwager at the Institute of Psychological Therapies for the loving professional support that they have given to the FMS Foundation to help us become an independent organization. We would not exist without them. Their courage in speaking out, their willingness to use their resources to help us with the 800 number and with the survey have made it possible for us to do what we have done and what we must continue do to put an end to this phenomenon. PAMELA ______________________________SIDEBAR_______________________________ / \ | For Help Call 1-800-568-8882 | \____________________________________________________________________/ ********************************************************************** WHAT IF? One of our members wonders if the "adult-child incest survivor" phenomenon is undermining the very situation it purports to address -- namely trying to stop the sexual abuse of children. Desperately needed legal, financial and mental health resources are being drained in cases in which no children are in danger and in which it is highly probable no abuse ever existed -- given what is known about memory. She wonders if the motivation of the "adult incest survivor" movement as described in its bible, Courage to Heal, is not "misguided" rather than an effort to address the very real and very serious problem of child sexual abuse. Newspapers report that incidents of child abuse are ever increasing in spite of all the publicity. "Statistics on health care, day care, income level, and educational opportunities for children indicate that as a nation we really do abuse our children," said our parent. We deplore that and we deplore the fact that far too many children are also physically, sexually and emotionally abused. Our parent wondered what might be accomplished if instead of focusing on the "recovery of the repressed memories" of highly educated financially successful "adult-child victims," the resources of lawyers, judges and courts, the resources of law enforcement agencies, the resources of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors, and the resources of television talk-show hosts and reporters were focused on preventing abuse that is verified to be taking place to children in our country right now. "Is it because children can't pay for long-term psychotherapy or for lawyers?" the parent asked. We thought that the parent raised interesting points. ********************************************************************** REACHING OUT We welcome the assistance of all our members, but we ask that you please check with the office before taking action on our behalf. Not only is it important for us to know what is taking place, but we may also be able to help guide you in your efforts. At all times our collective efforts should reflect the dignity of our position. We know how important you feel that is to reach out to other families who may think that they are alone in this tragedy. It is FMS Foundation policy that this be done through appropriate media. A notice in a newsletter or a paper is appropriate. Flyers on personal property are not. Thank you. ********************************************************************** A MOTHER'S STORY My 26-year-old daughter, while attending a prestigious university several years ago, became very ill and was eventually diagnosed as having "chronic mononucleosis." A doctor associated with the university looked at her medical records and confirmed she did indeed have a severe case of chronic mono. As months went by, she did not return to her normal health and she had difficulty functioning. Refusing to accept what we were told, that she might never be better, we started seeking alternative cures. She was tested and found to have some food and other allergies. There was a slight improvement with her new diet. With limited activity my daughter managed to graduate and began her career in another part of the country. Her job was stressful and required extremely long hours. During this time she met her fiance but they had some difficulty getting along. My daughter called home almost every day, usually crying. I encouraged her to seek counseling, which she did. The therapist there suggested that some traumatic incident in her childhood must be the cause for her depression. She called home often asking about her past. Her condition became worse and we talked her into flying home. We took her to the hospital for tests to explore a chemical imbalance. She tested normal in everything. Her physician recommended a psychiatrist. Neither of the doctors believed that the chronic mono exists due to a lack of scientific evidence. In most of their patients, they explained, it turned out to be an emotional problem. In the following weeks the doctors prescribed Lithonate, Klonopin, Wellbutrin and Prozac all with extreme negative reactions. After the second week of outpatient care, the doctor called me into his office and informed me that he thought my daughter should be admitted to the hospital immediately. I visited her nightly and soon was met with anger and hate. Her fiance flew in each weekend. Through talks with him I learned that the doctor had advised my daughter that her condition was a result of how we had raised her. He said I supported her career because it fulfilled my needs and that I had used her. He said that she and I were codependent and should attend CODA meetings. It was suggested that if I didn't I might never get to have a relationship with her again. He told me I needed therapy. I asked him how did he know since he had never talked to me. The social worker at the hospital called me and told me I needed therapy. It was suggested I bring childhood pictures to the hospital for them to review since my daughter was having trouble remembering. The doctor told her he could tell by looking at the pictures that she had been a depressed child. My daughter told us "I didn't know what you guys were doing to me until it was explained." "I've gotta get tough with you guys." And regarding the mounds of bills we were paying.."they got me this way..they should pay for it." The doctor told me she could never get well if she stayed at our house and encouraged her to seek a place of her own. She found a room nearby the hospital but was desperate about how she was going to pay for it. She was unable to work and was scheduled to enter the hospital program. We were told not to call or contact her. Her fiance quit his job in another city and moved here to take care of my daughter. The doctor diagnosed her fiance as having the same problem as my daughter but said he would not need hospitalization. He gave them Bradshaw videos, had them attending CODA, Adult Children of Alcoholics (we don't drink) several times a week. Her fiance called his mother blaming her as they had me. He suggested that his mother had been too affectionate. Nearing the end of my daughter's hospitalization she appeared to be having drug withdrawal. The doctor and staff told her it was a result of repressed anger that she felt toward her mother. Only two weeks before she began therapy with the psychiatrist, she had written me a note telling me how much she loved me and that she considered me her best friend. She loved coming home between jobs. Her excitement at being home filled the house. For over a year now, my daughter has been estranged from her family. The family is devastated but that is not the utmost concern. Our concern is how confused our daughter must be to think her family, the ones who love and care for her, is the reason for her illness. My daughter was loved, protected and cared for properly. I want her to receive the proper medical treatment before it is too late. Recently she became depressed again. The psychiatrist is sending her to a hypnotherapist .. still searching for the traumatic event that his sodium amytal interview did not reveal. Who can help my daughter? A mother ********************************************************************** MORE SURVEY RESULTS What are the actual things that families have been accused of doing? The following information is based on 112 responses to the question "Please describe the specific accusations." Because this was an open ended question, the responses were coded. The coding categories were determined by a group of five adults. Two people then did the coding with interrater reliability of over 90%. Responses could have multiple codings. We ask that professionals who have worked with verified child abuse cases examine the accusations of the recovered memories of adult-child victims and compare them with what research has shown to be true about the behaviors and actions of child sexual abusers. VAGUE -- One third of the responses (N=37) were coded "vague." 33% of the people responding really didn't have much of an idea of what it was they were supposed to have done. * "We don't know - daughter will not see or talk with us until we admit we abused her. Her words over phone to mother "Until you stop your pattern of denial or divorce your husband, I will have no contact with you." * "Incest is claimed but our attempts to secure details have been denied. We do not know the specific accusations. She claims father threatened her to 'keep our secret.'" * "We have not been accused of abuse. In October '90, our daughter told us we could have no contact with her. She had a manic attack which she said was a result of our relationship with her. She stated we did not allow her to grow up." * "Tore up Christmas check "From your Little Girl" - a book on incest with chapter on father/daughter marked - a telephone call, "Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about - Ha Ha. YOU know - click." * "I have never been told who was abused, what was the abuse, where the abuse occurred or when the abuse occurred. I was just told to confess." SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE -- 15% of the responses (N=17) included accusations of ritual abuse. "She had flashbacks seeing father, mother, grandparents in hooded black robes. Blood letting, forcing her to drink blood and urine. Grandfather raped her while father put penis in her mouth and grandmother and mothers watched. Grandmother without underclothes sat on her face. Father kicked her with black boots and hung her by heels. Mentioned hot poker, furnace and freezer and washer-wringer. WITNESSES -- 13% of responses (N=14) mentioned that witnesses were present. This is in addition to the satanic accusations which are always group activities. More than 28% of the alleged abusive activity, then, involved more than one person seeing what was going on. * "Mother accused of abusing sister's children. Father and older brother of incest; Brother-in-law and uncle of rape; Aunt of observing and permitting; Sister of observing and permitting." * "Father and step-mother participating in group sex. Siblings participating in group sex. Father attempting to drown daughter. Step-father beating with bow and arrow and razorstrip, etc.. * "Father "choked and smothered..sodomized and raped" Mother "saw my obvious pain and terror and did nothing to protect me." PENETRATION - 31% of the responses (N=35) included penetration. * "Oral, vaginal and renal intercourse every Saturday in her room. Being tied to her bed so this could take place." * "Father had intercourse with accuser at age 2 with the violation continuing until age 10 with mother having full knowledge of what was going on." * "As therapy progressed, allegations became more violent - oral sex - choking - shaking - pulling hair - and eventually daughter decided her father was a pedophile" "As a result of being forced to have sex with neighbor's dog, she had a baby that was half dog. Forced to have sex with brother, bit part of father's penis off. Was touched or fondled by grandfather. Sexually abused by mother with husband." "Father had oral sex when she was 2 in her crib every night. Sisters fondled her constantly. Hazy - brother sexually violated her at 3 years." Other categories included fondling, masturbation, emotional abuse (having to have ballet instead of skating lessons) and pornography. After reading the vague, improbable, bizarre accusations our "incest surviving adult-children" are making, perhaps the responsible professional community will better understand why parents have been sufficiently alarmed to feel the need to form the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. There appears to be a mindset among avery large group of therapists and adult-children that classifies the world into those "in recovery" and those "in denial." There appears to be no rational middle ground for doubt or discussion. That alarms parents. ______________________________SIDEBAR_______________________________ / \ | Where do 413 families live? | | AK(1) AR(1) AZ(6) CA(32) CO(5) DE(1) FL(7) GA(4) | | IA(2) ID(2) IL(9) IN(8) LA(2) MA(4) MD(3) MI(15) | | MN(4) MS(1) MT(1) NC(4) NJ(18) NV(3) NY(15) OH(25) | | OK(5) OR(5) PA(96) SC(2) TX(11) UT 46) VA(2) VT(1) | | WA(12) WI(20) DC(1) Canada - ON 33) BC(5) ABROAD(1) | \____________________________________________________________________/ ********************************************************************** RECOMMENDED READING I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, by Wendy Kaminer, Addison-Wesley, 1992. ********************************************************************** SUPPORT IS NEEDED Your membership dues have gone a long way to get us up and running but our needs will continue to grow. If you know of anyone who would like to make a charitable donation -- perhaps your friends or extended family or interested professionals -- please ask them or let us know and we will send them information and extend the opportunity to donate. FMS has applied for non-profit organization status to which all contributions would be tax-deductible. False Memory Syndrome Foundation Annual Membership $100. Checks may be made to FMS Foundation 3508 Market Street This address and the phone numbers have changed as of July 15, 2000 Suite 128 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104 Philadelphia area - Volunteers Needed If you can help with basic office assistance in mailing, telephone, filing, copying, etc., please send us your name, address and phone number or call the office at 387-1865. Special help needed for preparing packets for new families, getting out the newsletter and working with all phases of the survey. ********************************************************************** MEETINGS SCHEDULED NEW YORK AREA May 28 , 1992 6:00 P.M. for information call Renee at 718-428-8583 SOUTHWEST AREA Saturday, June 27, 1992 1:00 P.M. Holidome Inn West Meridian and Highway # 40 Oklahoma City Persons may make own reservations 405-942-8511 Ask for FMS Foundation Southwest rooms ($49. outside of Holidome, $59 inside) Agenda being developed. Lynn, one of the young women who has restored her real memories, will share her experiences. TORONTO, CANADA AREA Meeting is being planned. For details call Paula, 705-522-2809 NORTHWEST AREA (WASHINGTON) Meeting is being planned For details call Chuck, 206-364-4711 UTAH AREA PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF DATE Thursday evening June 25 Speaker: Dr. Raskin Call Helen at 801-537-7401 for details PHILADELPHIA Saturday, June 13, 1992 1:00 P.M. Same location as past meetings. Call office if you need a map. 215-387-1865 Committee Updates Guest Speaker ********************************************************************** ADOLESCENT'S CHARGES SHAKE UP LIVES By Bill Moushey PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE April 30, 1992 Reprinted with permission Rick Althaus and George Stipetich met under the worst of circumstances. The first time they encountered each other, the two men say, was last August in the Mr. Lebanon Police Department, after both had been arrested on charges of sexually abusing Althaus' daughter Nicole. Stipetich, a self-made millionaire who lives off his fortune and spends much of his time throwing parties at his Upper St. Clair home, said he was dumbfounded at the charges. While freely admitting he has made videotapes of sexual activity involving him, his wife and other people, he said that child abuse is a crime he abhors, and he adamantly denies ever having met Nicole Althaus, who is now 17. He even wondered at first whether the Althauses were planning to try to blackmail him, something he later realized was untrue. Rick Althaus,42, seemed the antithesis of the free-wheeling Stipetich. Althaus was known as a hard-working government employee whose home life seemed much more like "Ozzie and Harriet" than the film "sex, lies and videotape." But on the night of February 21, 1991, Mt. Lebanon police got him out of bed and charged him with repeated, long-term sexual abuse of his daughter. By last summer, Nicole Althaus had accused her father, Rick; her mother, Cheryl Renee, 42; Stipetich, 48, and his wife Heidi, 32; and several others of having sex with her, forcing her to prostitute herself with strangers, and torturing her over a long period of time. But last week, the Allegheny County district attorney's office dropped all charges against Stipetich and the Althauses after Nicole Althaus said she would not take the stand to testify against them. The case fell apart, though, only after months of ever-more- grotesque stories of sexual abuse. By the time pretrial hearings began recently, Nicole Althaus had told prosecutors that she had given birth to three babies, that one had been killed in a demonic ritual, that she had undergone two abortions, and that she had seen her parents kill an elderly woman, dismember her and bury her in their back yard. Police and prosecutors did not believe many of these tales. But they decided to press ahead with the case anyway, District Attorney Bob Colville said because they had been told that sexual abuse victims often fantasize some instances of abuse, and because they felt there was enough independent evidence to proceed to trial. "No one in my office could convey to me that without a doubt we should pull the plug," Colville said last week. "They all told me that if we do, we're abandoning this kid." In the end, with Nicole Althaus unwilling to take the stand, Colville's office was forced to drop the case. But on that night eight months ago in the Mt. Lebanon police station, Rick Althaus and George Stipetich had no way of knowing that. Stipetich and Althaus say today that despite what happened to them, they agree with the law's goal of protecting children from sexual abuse. But in their case, they feel that the law and its agents marked them as guilty until proven innocent. "This whole mess is based on rumors," Stipetich said recently. "Rumors that I am a drug dealer. Rumors that I am into pornography. Rumors about why a guy can live in luxury without working. Nothing ever has been substantiated, but all of these rumors put me and my family and friends through hell," Stipetich said. Added Rick Althaus: "It is one of those cases, unfortunately, that you always hear about from others -- [but] this could happen to you." TRYING TO MOVE A FEW RUNGS UP LADDER OF SUCCESS Until their family was wracked by crisis in 1990, the Althauses seemed like a million other suburbanites - people who were trying to move a few rungs higher on the ladder of success than their parents had. Rick Althaus, a native of Riverdale, Md., was a career government employee. Through a willingness to relocate and hard work, he had risen to his present job of supervising support services for the U.S. Bureau of Mines Pittsburgh Research Center, near South Park. Althaus met his wife, Cheryl Renee of Natrona Heights, when the two were attending West Virginia Wesleyan University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They married shortly after she graduated in 1972. She has a degree in elementary education; he, a degree in history. Nicole, their first child, was born four ears later. A son, Bryan, was born in 1979. The Althauses said they lived a fairly staid life. Neither Rick nor Renee Althaus smokes, and Renee does not drink. Rick said he limits his drinking. The Althauses moved several times over the years as Rick was promoted by the federal government, eventually arriving at their two-story home in Mr. Lebanon in 1987. They liked Pittsburgh because it was close to both their families, and because it seemed like a good place to finally settle down. After moving here, Renee began working toward a master's degree in education at Duquesne University. After having worked several years as a substitute teacher, she won a full-time job in 1988 as an elementary teacher in the Mt. Lebanon School District. The children seemed active and happy before the crisis. Nicole, an excellent student, was active in school plays, singing, softball, swimming and track, She loved to read and go shopping. Bryan was not as good a student as Nicole but was also very active. He enjoyed soccer, baseball, collecting baseball cards, and ham radio. The routine of their lives was shattered in 1990. First, Rick's mother, who was one of the relatives closes to their daughter Nicole, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. She died later that year. Then, Renee developed breast cancer, and eventually, one breast was surgically removed. The illness, she now says, began to consume all her attention, and made her introspective and reclusive. One of the victims of her turning inward, Renee said, was Nicole, who already was upset over the death of her grandmother. The prospect of her mother possibly dying too may have become too much for her, Renee and Rick now theorize. Whatever triggered her problems, Nicole needed solace, and her mother said she was too enmeshed in her own battle with cancer to meet her daughter's needs. Nicole told her parents that she thought she would be the next one to die of cancer. She began to seek support elsewhere -- in particular from Priscilla Zappa, her World Cultures teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School. TEACHER SAID SHE HAD BEEN ABUSED AS CHILD According to court record in the Althaus case, Zappa was known to begin her class each year by informing her students that she had been a victim of child abuse. She didn't ask students if they were having problems themselves, the records indicate, but she made it clear that she was available to help anyone who needed it. Nicole was drawn to Zappa. As their friendship developed, Nicole spent more and more time with Zappa, who was married and had two children of her own. Nicole would spend time with the Zappas, dine there, go to movies and other events with them. She stayed overnight at their home occasionally and was soon treated as another member of the family. As Nicole and Zappa became closer, the Althauses became increasingly wary, but did little about it other than to start limiting how much time the two could spend together. She definitely overstepped her bounds," Renee now says of Zappa. but concedes she let it occur. "Call it poor parenting or whatever, but I felt at that point that Nicole needed attention and [Zappa] was giving Nicole attention. I trusted a fellow teacher. I knew her, and even though I started to limit the time with her, I could see her drawing close to my daughter," Renee said. To deal with her depression about her cancer and mastectomy, Renee Althaus began attending therapy sessions at Magee-Womens Hospital. A social worker named Constance Lappa ran the group. During one meeting, Renee related how she was having problems with her daughter because of the ordeal. At about the same time, Nicole, who knew her mother was seeing Lappa, began calling Lappa anonymously, saying that no one loved her and that her parents weren't physically affectionate toward her. As Nicole and her parents grew more estranged over the next several months, the Althauses suggested sending Nicole to a psychiatrist, but Lappa, who realized her anonymous caller had been Nicole, told them she thought she and Nicole could work out any problems that the girl had. It also was around this time that Priscilla Zappa began to provide Nicole with several books and other publications that dealt with child abuse and sexual abuse. DISOBEDIENCE PUZZLES MOTHER, IS TURNING POINT The Althaus lives were in jeopardy during 1990, but they really began to spin out of control rapidly on Feb. 16, 1991, when Nicole got into a confrontation with her parents over her first official date. Nicole was to attend the Mr. Lebanon High School Snowball Dance, and got into an argument with her father because she wanted to ride to the event with a high-school age friend on her date. The Althauses wanted an adult to drive them to and from the dance. The argument ended after Nicole lied to her parents. She told them an adult was driving her, but kept to the original plans, riding with young man to the dance. After that fight, Renee said she sensed a kind of "arrogant confidence" in Nicole, a willful disobedience she did not understand. She even wondered if Nicole might be taking drugs, but later decided that wasn't it. A few days later, Renee was summoned to the principal's office at Howe Elementary School, where she worked. She was told it concerned Nicole. Her first fearful thought was that Nicole may have attempted suicide. In the office, she was confronted by officials of the Allegheny County Children and Youth Services Agency. They told her they had reason to believe Nicole had been sexually abused by both Renee and Rick. Renee denied the accusation, then immediately called Rick who also emphatically denied any abuse. The CYS officials did not believe them. They gave the Althauses two options. They could agree to put Nicole either in a temporary shelter or with Zappa. After the Althauses objected to either alternative, Nicole was placed with Zappa. The next night, after the child welfare agency contacted the Mt. Lebanon police, Rick was roused from his bed at around midnight and charged with physical, verbal, moral and sexual abuse of his daughter. In this initial stage of the affair Nicole alleged only that her father had fondled her, looked at her when she was naked and made suggestive comments. But it wouldn't be long before Nicole Althaus' allegation would expand and grow ever-more shocking. And as she cast a wider net of charges, she entrapped George Stipetich as well -- a man whom police already had their eyes on. After Nicole had been placed in the custody of Priscilla Zappa, she began to talk regularly with Mary Eichinger, a detective from the Mt. Lebanon Police Department, Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Marianne Mulroy and Allegheny County Police Detectives Peter Kempton and David Fuchs. She also was enrolled in a child-abuse clinic at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, where she was treted by Dr. Judith Cohen, a psychiatrist. Over the next few months, her stories of abuse began to become more and more grotesque. She started by accusing her father of having abused her since she was 6. She then said her mother had done the same thing for several years. Nicole then said her parents had forced her to have sex with strange men, who afterwards gave her parents suitcases full of money. She said she had borne three babies, one by Caesarean section, and had undergone two abortions. One of the babies was killed in a demonic ritual, she said. Her father, she said had drugged her and prostituted her to his friends and to people in his office. She then accused Renee's mother of the same charges. Finally, George and Heidi Stipetich were drawn into the picture when Nicole began talking about "the pretty place" and "the bad place." The "pretty place," she said, was a large mansion-like dwelling in the South Hills. There, she said, she was drugged and forced to have sex with many people, including her mother, father, the "boss," his wife and several others. She could not identify any of the other people by name. She also said she witnessed the "boss" shoot a man 10 times and kill him in the home during a party. The "bad place," she said, was a North Side home where she said her 7 1/2-month-old baby was tortured and killed. Among other things, Nicole said she was forced to walk on hot coals and broken glass and was repeatedly raped by her father and others at this place, where she said demonic rituals were practiced. She also said her father once fondled her in front of a West Virginia Wesleyan College recruiter at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and that her father later raped her in the hallway of a downtown restaurant. As soon as these additional stories were related to police, Rich Althaus was re-arrested at his job in August and charged with much more serious crimes. George and Heidi Stipetich also were arrested. Rick Althaus remembers when Allegheny County police detectives came for him and told him he was being charged along with Stipetich. "I looked right at them and said 'Who the hell is George Stipetich?'" Althaus said. Stipetich was in a state of disbelief. He said the only thing he could think of was that he was being drawn into some kind of blackmail scheme. "I couldn't figure out what was going on," he remembered. Stipetich soon realized the Althauses were not shaking him down, though. LACK OF EVIDENCE STUNDS DETECTIVE HIRED BY ATTORNEY After interviewing several lawyers, Stipetich chose William Manifesto as his counsel. The Althauses originally contacted Al Odermatt, who was joined later by Charles Scarlata. The first thing Manifesto did was to hire Stephen Teresak, a former Pittsburgh police detective who is now a private investigator. The unassuming Teresak set out to document every one of the hundreds of allegations made against his clients that he could. As he worked to uncover the worst, though, Terscak found that he could not verify any of the charges. He also realized very quickly that no other agency had even asked some of the questions that he had. First, he looked for any association he could find between the Stipetiches and the Althauses. Surely, his detective's mind said, there had to be some kind of connection. He traced their property, vacations, relatives, friends, bars and restaurants. He said he found nothing then to connect the two families, and hasn't since. Then there was the identification of the "pretty" place and the "bad" place. When he checked to see how Nicole had identified the "pretty" place, Terscak found from police reports that Fuchs and Kempton had driven her to Stipetich's home. Defense attorneys planned to challenge that and suggested that the two detectives took her directly to the Stipetich house. This led to another dispute. Kempton, who had been present when Stipetich's home was raided in November 1990, said yesterday that he did not coach Nicole into identifying the Stipetich home, but that she identified the home when they drove past it. Once they ahd arrived at the Stipetich residence, Nicole Althaus told the detectives that she thought it was the right place, but that she would have to see the inside first. Defense attorneys said they believed that many of Nicole's later destriptions of the home's interior were based on nearly 90 photographs taken during the 1990 raid, photos that the detectives had showed her. But Kempton said yesterday that Nicole had provided an accurate description of the home without any coaching and before she was shown the photos. "I believe she was in that house at some point in time," he said. While Nicole could identify objects within the home, she was hazy about what rooms they were in and other striking features of the house. For instance, they said she could not identify large windows that fill an entire wall of the Jacuzzi room or the view out of them. She said the Jacuzzi room shower was a normal one, not the ornate shower area for four, with its nine nozzles and other special features. She identified artwork and statues in the house, but even though she claimed to have been abused at the home during the Christmas holidays in 1990, she could not remember the 64,000 holiday lights that Stipetich has had installed each year, or a large wreath hanging in the foyer. She said her father routinely walked her in via the home's back door, but she could not identify the 58-foot swimming pool in Stipetich's back yard. When Teresak, the private detective, went to the supposed "bad place" on the North Side, he found a perplexed resident who swore he had no knowledge of any sexual abuse of children. Teresak also was surprised that in several stages of his probe, he was the first person to interview people or check on many of the allegations. "Normally, when I go talk to a witness, the police or district attorney has already been there," he said. LACK OF TRUTH NO BAR TO TAKING WORD ON ABUSE The prosecution's case at this stage was being handled by Marianne Mulroy, then an Allegheny County assistant district attorney. Mulroy, who had worked in the district attorney's office for three years, had been handling child-abuse cases for 18 months when she got the Althaus matter. After interviewing Nicole several times, she firmly believed that she had been abused. Bolstering Mulroy's conviction about Nicole's veracity was psychiatrist Cohen, who was medical director of the child-abuse clinic at Western Psych. Cohen had been seeing Nicole since shortly after she reported her abuse charges to authorities. She testified during pretrial hearings that even though some of Nicole's stories, like those of most victims of child abuse, were not true, she had no reason to doubt Nicole's basic allegation that she had been abused. In the end. Mulroy decided to push ahead with the Althaus case because of four pieces of evidence. * Nicole had identified Stipetich from an array of photographs as the man in the "pretty place." The photo had been taken 15 years ago, but she said the man she knew was older, fatter and balder than in the photo. Police say she was not coached in any way before selecting the photo, but Manifesto said that if the case had gone to trial, he had planned to note that Stipetich's photo was the only older one of those shown to Nicole causing it to stand out. * Mulroy believed the allegations against Stipetich made by Susan Lacy. Again, though, Manifesto said that when he interviewed Lacy recently in a federal prison at Morgantown, W.Va, she denied or corrected police reports about her allegations. Lacy could not be reached for comment for this story. Manifesto also said the people whom Lacy identified as participants in child-pornography activities in Stipetich's home have denied the allegation, and that the two children who were identified as minors in Lacey's statements were actually young adults. * Mulroy also believed Nicole because her visual description of the woman in the "pretty place" matched that of Heidi Stipetich. She held to that position even after Nicole failed to identify Heidi Stipetich during a preliminary hearing to which defense attorneys brought look-alike models into the courtroom. The attorneys brought three women who resemble Heidi into the courtroom. Nicole identified the wrong person as Heidi even though she had said she engaged in sexual activity with Heidi Stipetich more than 50 times. * The final piece of evidence that caused Mulroy to push forward in the case was the teen's identification of many specific items in the Stipetich's home-items the defense said could have been first seen in the photos shown to Nicole. DESPITE DOUBT, COLVILLE GAVE OK TO PROCEED Defense attorneys have harshly criticized Mulroy for being overzealous in the Althaus case. Mulroy declined to be interviewed for this story, but her boss at the time, District Attorney Colville, said he still believed the evidence was sufficient to bring the case to trial, despite some of its shortcomings. "I jumped in at several points, asked people to take fresh looks at [the case] and talked to several people myself," Colville said. And even though some county detectives thought the case was weak, he said he decided to go ahead with it. He made that decision even though Marianne Mulroy left the DA's office to go into private practice in January, before the case was ready for trial. "These things unfortunately aren't nice and clean," Colville said after the case had been dropped last week. "We could not decide if [Nicole} was being easily manipulated or what. . . I don't know what I believe with this . . ., we figured to go forward and let this thing work itself out." He also noted that even though Nicole decided not to testify, she has never yet retracted her allegations. But many of Nicole's accusations -- particularly the ones in which she said she witnessed murders -- created conflicts within the county Police Department. Nicole claimed to have seen at least three murders; she told police she had seen Stipetich kill a man in his home; had watched her parents murder and dismember an elderly woman and then bury her in their home's back yard; and watched as people in the "bad place" killed her 7 1/2-month-old baby. Those charges brought county homicide detectives Robert Payne and Tom Fitzgerald into the case in September. Because she had made so many questionable allegations, Payne was assigned to interview Nicole Althaus, over the objections of Mulroy, who felt homicide police knew little about how to treat a child-abuse victim. Payne interviewed Nicole on Sept. 25, a day after she testified against her mother in a preliminary hearing. The transcripts make it clear that Payne did not believe many of Nicole's allegations. "There are no bodies buried in the yard, are there?" Payne asked. Nicole did not respond. "You never gave birth to a stillborn, did you? You never had an abortion, did you?" he asked. No response. "In fact, you were never sexually molested, were you?" Payne asked. Again, Nicold did not respond. Already skeptical, the homocide detectives decided to stake out the North Side "bad place" because of the seriousness of the allegations about what purportedly took place there. After seeing no unusual activity for more than a week, they went to see the occupant. As Tercsak had found several months earlier, the resident was outraged over the accusations, and readily allowed the detectives to search his home. DETECTIVE QUESTIONED CONTINUING CASE In a report he wrote on Oct 16, Lt. Michael Stowell of the county police questioned what was said. "When the tour of the apartment. . .was completed, these detectives agreed that there were no similarities between what the victim described and what was actually observed, leading to the suggested conclusion that Nicole Althaus had never been inside [the home], and it was not 'the bad place' as she described." Stowell, a 20-year police veteran, then went to Mulroy and questioned the merits of the case. Mulroy was unyielding in her support of Nicole's story, and the two had several angry confrontations. Mulroy, who is also a trained nurse, felt the homocide detectives were not familiar with child-abuse cases and did not understand that victims often fantasize about incidents. Soon Stowell and Mulroy no longer would speak to each other. Even before that point, county Detective Kempton said yesterday that he and his partner, Dave Fuchs, "thought this was a workable case, but we were never allowed to do what we know how to do to prove it or disprove it." A veteran of 13 years of work in child-abuse cases, Kempton said that once they had learned of Nicole's allegations about murders, he and Fuchs told Mulroy that they should immediately get a search warrant for the North Side "bad place" and for the Althaus back yard, where Nicole said her father buried the elderly woman she had seen killed. "That's when we started to say, 'Hey, let's slow down. If these babies [that were allegedly killed] and this old lady are buried, we'd better get a search warrant to either prove she's telling the truth or disprove it,'" he said. But he said Mulroy "said to leave those things go, that we'd deal with them later," he said. Then Kempton said that his superiors later ordered him not to do anything in the case unless specifically instructed to by Mulory. "We wanted to do a lot more than what we were allowed to do. If we could have disproved enough of this stuff, we could easily have put this to bed a lot sooner than it was," he said. "This could have possibly ended a long time before we made any arrests." Now that the case is over, George Stipetich said that even though he is relieved by the outcome, he is outraged at the heartache and embarrassment it has caused for him and his family. "I want to know why this was done, why I was ever put on trial," he said. "I don't think I can quit until I find out." Rick and Renee Althaus say they have looked at their ordeal as a three-step process. "We wanted to clear our names and we've done that," Rich Althaus said. "Now we want to get Nicole help." "Lastly, we want to see that this doesn't happen to others because we could not have a conscience if we didn't [try to ensure that]." Will they leave Pittsburgh? No, Rick Althaus said. "While this has been emotionally devastating, the people of our church, friends... precious friends have been great," he said. WHY DID NICOLE TELL SUCH FANTASTIC TALES? Even thought the case was dismissed last week, the Althaus investigation still contains many puzzling questions. And none is more puzzling than this one; Why would Nicole Althaus make up such fantastic stories about her parents and others -- stories not only of sexual abuse, but of demonic rituals, murders, dismemberments and burials? The Althauses said in interviews that they didn't know the answer to that question. Their defense attorneys have suggested that some of the raw material for Nicole's accusations come from her foster guardian, Priscilla Zappa, who declined to comment for this story. Nicole Althaus befriended Zappa at Mt. Lebanon High School where Zappa teaches a World Cultures course. Court records indicated that Zappa often told her students that she was a victim of child abuse, and that she was available to talk with them if they had problems. As Nicole Althaus became estranged from her parents in 1990 after her mother contracted breast cancer, she spent more and more time with Zappa, and once criminal charges were filed against Nicole's parents, she was placed in Zappa's care. Among the books Zappa gave Nicole to read was "The Confessions of Laura Palmer," a tale of a young woman who was abused and tortured by her parents and about 40 other men. The defense attorneys later asserted that there were more than 50 similarities between stories in the book and tales that Nicole told. While Nicole Althaus and Zappa had a close relationship, it was sometimes stormy. In fact, just his week, Nicole asked to leave Zappa's home, where she had been allowed to continue staying after the criminal case was dismissed last week. Nicole has since been moved to another foster care site. Dr. Marshall Schechter, a psychiatrist chosen by the prosecution to examine Nicole for the court case, did not talk about whether Zappa had played a role in some of the stories Nicole told police. But Schechter did diagnose Nicole has having a narcissistic disorder, in which he said extreme self-centeredness is coupled with serious problems in distinguishing fact form fiction. A person with this disorder, he said, is extremely open to suggestion. Based on that, he said, he believed she would not be mentally competent to testify. That conflicted with the opinion of Dr. Judith Cohen, medical director of the child abuse clinic at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic, who has been treating Nicole since she made the criminal charges. Cohen suggested the elderly Schechter was not up to date in the field of child sexual abuse. But Cohen herself caused controversy by stating repeatedly during pretrial hearings that it was not her job to determine whether the stories Nicole Althaus told were truthful. Saying that Nicole suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression, Cohen testified under cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Scarlata that her job in the case was not to determine whether Nicole had been abused, but to treat the child for her emotional problems. "It is not my job as her therapist to continually at this point confront her with the fact that some of her allegations cannot be true," Cohen said. "My job is to deal with her emotional functioning, her symptomatology, and certainly, eventually, down the line, with why and how these other allegations have come to pass," Cohen testified. Cohen said she basically believed Nicole's allegations that she had been abused after reading a report prepared by Western Psych's family intervention center. "You believe that she was sexually and physically abused because someone else told you that, right? You did nothing on you own to confirm whether that happened or not -- you have told us that 100 times, right?" Scarlata queried at the hearing. "I didn't investigate it," Cohen said. Common Pleas Judge Robert E. Dauer, who presided at the hearing, intervened at one point to ask Cohen about the lack of scarring on Nicole's body, despite Nicole's charge that she had been forced to walk on broken glass and hot coals at various times. Cohen told Dauer that Nicole could have done those things without incurring permanent scars. Neither Cohen nor any other official from Western Psych or the county's Children and Youth Services agency, which has supervision over Nicole, would comment for this story. The conflicting psychiatric reports on Nicole finally came to an end after Dauer granted a defense request to let Dr. Gary M. Glass, a psychiatrist from King of Prussia evaluate Nicole. It was after that meeting that Nicole decided not to testify in the case. Glass later testified that Nicole started by telling him that she knew he had been paid by the defense attorneys William Manifesto and Scarlata, and that she knew previous psychiatrists such as Schechter also were paid by the defense lawyers. Glass then asked Nicole to wait, and phoned Scarlata, He then informed Nicole that it was her own psychiatrist, Cohen, and the assistant district attorney handling the case at the time, Edward Borkowski, who had chosen Schechter from a list of psychiatrists to examine her. Glass testified that the revelation that Schechter had not been hired by the defense to discredit her seemed to convince Nicole that her parents were not against her, and eventually led to her decision not to testify. He also said the treatment Nicole had received from Cohen was "outrageous negligence," and caused him to be "embarrassed for my profession." And he strongly disagreed with Cohen's opinion that it was unnecessary to investigate the truthfulness of child sex abuse allegations. "When professionals do not exercise their responsibilities, people like Nicole become the greatest victims of these tragedies, and other victims will be less willing to come forward."