Saving Sarah: Satan worship, sex abuse, and Dr. Martin Stein
The little girl's memories were vivid and horrifying: being raped by her father at age two, watching her father and stepmother bury animals alive in satanic rituals, and seeing babies boiling in a cauldron while adults stirred the pot. But were they true?
The Albemarle County Department of Social Services believed enough of them to rule against her father and put his name in the central registry of child abusers. While the child was clearly tortured by those memories, she wasn't the only one in pain. Today, that little girl's father, Tom Manuel, and his wife, Kathleen, know firsthand what hell is like, but it's not because they worship Satan. They say the instrument of their suffering resides right here on earth and goes by the name Dr. Martin Stein.
The trouble starts
Tom Manuel remembers exactly when his nightmare began: 1993, three days before he was due to pick up his then-12-year-old daughter, Sarah, for Christmas vacation. With no warning, Tom and his new wife, Kathleen, received a letter from his ex-wife's attorney denying them all visitation with Sarah. For months, Tom and Kathleen– whose son, Jack, was then just seven months old– fought to learn why his visits had been terminated. In April 1994, they got a terrifying answer: Sarah had memories of the couple participating in grotesque satanic rituals. Even worse, she claimed her father had sexually abused her from her earliest years.
Three-year-old Sarah, years before the trouble started.
Things hadn't always been bad between Sarah and her father, however.
Tom and Sarah's mother divorced when Sarah was four, but for two years all three continued to reside in Charlottesville. Tom and Sarah, by both of their accounts, continued to enjoy a close relationship and did so for several years after the divorce, even after Sarah and her mother moved out of town.
Sarah, now a woman finishing college in northern Virginia, says the serious problems began after her mother remarried.
Sarah became depressed and her mother sought psychiatric treatment for her. At age 10, Sarah was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and soon after was hospitalized for an emotional disturbance. Though her mother divorced her second husband, Sarah's troubles weren't over.
When Sarah was released from inpatient treatment at Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, her mother, Susan Jones, switched her daughter's treatment to Martin Stein, a well known psychiatrist who, according to the Virginia Board of Medicine's records, has a medical degree from Yale.
Things quickly went from bad to worse.
According to Sarah, Stein told Susan that Sarah's problems were serious. But he could help.
After diagnosing Sarah with progressively more serious disorders– depression, anxiety, separation anxiety, epilepsy, and finally Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder)– he placed Sarah in his treatment program, with sessions conducted in a space attached to his office. Sarah says the goal of the program was to elicit repressed memories of incest and abuse.
"He was really grotesque about what he would talk about," she says. Sarah claims that Stein showed her and the other patients pictures of adults engaging in explicit acts of oral and anal sex, animals copulating, and in one instance, a woman having sex with a dog.
Although she was only 11, she says that didn't stop Stein from behaving inappropriately with her. "He was obsessed with me," she says. "He was constantly touching me, massaging me, and talking about my breasts." Though she says he never attempted to have sex with her, on one occasion, she says, he placed his hand on her developing chest.
Anyone who thinks her claims sound farfetched need look no further than the Sunday, September 28, edition of The Washington Post. In an extensive cover story, Stein's impact on several families is described in horrifying detail.
In one case, Stein was separately treating several members of one family– a clear breach of ethics, according to the Post and a report by the Virginia Board of Medicine.
After years of taking heavy doses of multiple drugs, one of his patients, 49-year-old Anita Kratzke, was found dead in her bed. According to the Post story, Stein signed the death certificate without an autopsy, preventing any investigation into the cause of her death. Her husband, Robert Kratzke, has permanent brain damage and has had to relinquish his high-paying government job as an engineer. Doctors now attribute his problems to years of heavy and inappropriate medication prescribed by Stein. The Kratzkes' youngest son, Chris, just seven when he began treatment with Stein, lost years of his childhood to hospitalizations and alleged over-medication. All of this was reported by the Washington Post and is verified by the medical board report.
According to the Board of Medicine's report, Stein's treatment of at least 10 patients was "contrary to sound medical advice." A layman might put it more bluntly.
In addition to the Kratzke case, the Board reported that Stein prescribed the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin to several patients, including a heroin addict. He prescribed 30 different medications to another patient without considering possible drug interactions, failed to keep "complete and accurate records," and encouraged that patient to sell her home and allow him to oversee her considerable financial holdings.
Stein had sexual relations with that adult female patient and used "hypnosis, suggestion, massage, and psychotropic medicines to evoke memories of childhood abuse. Said memories are not corroborated and have, in at least one instance, been disproved by objective evidence," the report reads.
The latter behavior corresponds closely to Sarah's description of Stein's "program." Over the course of two years, Sarah was placed in the program, often "from morning until night." During that time, Stein also prescribed heavy medication for her, she says. Sarah and her father report that under hypnosis and the simultaneous influence of as many as 10 or 12 different prescription medicines– including Ritalin, Ativan, Valium, Lithium, and an epilepsy drug, Tegretol– Sarah's "memories" emerged.
Her mother, now living in northern Virginia, and who declined to be interviewed for this story, was also being treated by Stein, Sarah says, and believed in his treatment methods.
"He had my mom totally convinced of it," she says.
A loving father
While Sarah was miles away and under Stein's care, Tom and Kathleen were getting information, little by little, about her situation. The stress, Tom recalls as he recounts his experience, became nearly unbearable. One afternoon, after hearing a new accusation– that he and Kathleen had been burying animals in their yard– they arrived home to find that a large hole had been dug and then filled in.
"We were shaking," says Kathleen, who explains they worried that someone was trying to frame them. Though an explanation was forthcoming– the cable company had been digging on their property– their fear didn't subside. And Sarah's accusations became ever more bizarre.
"At one point, she said that I had worn a nursing bra and made her nurse from me," Tom says.
In addition to recalling witnessing her grandmother having sex with cats, Sarah said Tom and Kathleen's 1993 wedding had been a satanic ritual, with a fire, and cult members dancing and pointing at her while singing, "Roses are red, violets are corny, I look at you and I get horny."
There had been a fire at their wedding, Kathleen says, but they took the idea from a midsummer celebration at Ash Lawn in which participants burned small bundles of straw as a symbol of putting cares and worries behind them and starting fresh– not quite an homage to Lucifer.
"It was obvious to us and everyone else we knew that these allegations couldn't be true," Kathleen says.
Unfortunately, several people believed Sarah's accusations.
"State of abject terror"
As Tom and Kathleen continued to fight for visitation, Dr. Stein took Sarah's claims to the authorities: Albemarle County's Child Protective Services.
The case was assigned to a social worker named Carol Goodpasture, who went to Fairfax to interview Sarah and Susan. Though Sarah says she refused to talk during two initial visits, the third time she broke down.
Under hypnosis, and in front of Goodpasture and Albemarle County Detective James Bunch, Tom says Sarah repeated her ghastly claims against him. Goodpasture labeled Sarah's case a "'founded' Level 1 disposition of sexual abuse," the most serious type.
In a May 10, 1994, letter, Goodpasture informed Tom that his and Sarah's names had been entered into the Virginia Department of Social Services' "Central Registry" where they would remain on file for "the longest retention time," 18 years. The letter says this listing is not meant to be a "punitive measure," but "serves simply as a tracking system and is strictly confidential."
Sarah's father, Goodpasture wrote, could appeal the decision.
Convinced that it would be only a matter of time before his name was cleared, he offered to take a polygraph, or lie detector, test.
"You'll take drugs to pass it," Goodpasture allegedly replied. When Tom offered to simultaneously take a drug test and the polygraph, he says, Goodpasture's response was equally quick: "You'll train to pass it." At his lawyer's behest, Tom withdrew his offer to submit to the test.
"I couldn't win," he explains.
Goodpasture's supervisor, Judy Randle, says no one at the agency can comment specifically on the case, citing confidentiality.
And though Tom agreed to have his CPS records released to The Hook, the agency declined to turn them over by press time because the request was being reviewed by the County attorney's office.
Randle did agree to speak generally, however. A CPS case worker, Randle says, must perform "collateral interviews" with anyone relevant to a child in question. That would include psychiatrists, teachers, spouses, and anyone else who might have information material to the case. Failure to perform such necessary interviews before labeling a disposition "founded" would constitute negligence, Randle says, and would negate the offending case worker's immunity at trial.
Tom says the investigation was not thorough. Kathleen says if Goodpasture had conducted such interviews in their case, they would have raised at least reasonable doubt.
"A lot of [Sarah's] claims would be difficult to prove or disprove," says Kathleen, but some, such as the couple's supposedly "satanic" wedding, could easily have been checked.
"It was a beautiful ceremony," says Keith Stevens, a guitar teacher who once worked with Kathleen, a piano teacher. Stevens, who performed the music at the Manuels' wedding, recalls nearly 100 people gathering at a friend's Earlysville home for the ceremony, which was performed by a minister from Unity Church, a Christian denomination.
CPS did, however, investigate one of Sarah's allegations.
In the course of her interview with Goodpasture, Sarah alleged that her father had also molested her first cousin, Ashley, one year older than Sarah, and who lived in Chesapeake.
According to Ashley and her mother, a Chesapeake social worker suddenly appeared at Ashley's middle school accompanied by a police officer and took the eighth grader out of class without her parents' knowledge or consent.
Despite interrogation from the social worker, which occurred in May 1994, Ashley held fast to her answer: Her uncle had never touched her in any inappropriate way.
"They kept pushing and pushing for the answer they wanted to hear," said Ashley when she spoke about the situation a year later in testimony before the Virginia General Assembly. Her mother, Tom's older sister, Kim Nozzarella, also spoke.
"I was very angry to find that in America my child could be removed from class and then be interrogated and coerced by strangers for alleged abuse that did not even presumably occur in my home," Nozzarella told lawmakers. "I feel that my rights as well as those of my daughter were violated."
Other family efforts to clear their name included making contact with a weekly Charlottesville newspaper, which– circa 1995, when Sarah was still making her abuse claims– chose not to publish the story.
Today, Kim Nozzarella says it's been terrible to watch her younger brother, whom she describes as a "gentle, docile man," suffer over these past 10 years. And she says she's still outraged by the methods Child Protective Services used in gathering information against him.
Indeed, CPS does have broad discretion, and– as Tom points out– its officers have immunity from prosecution– unless, as Randle says, negligence can be proven.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, sponsored by then-Iowa Senator Walter Mondale in 1974, gives public agencies broad discretion.
"They can come into your house and take your children away without a warrant," says Tom. "You'd have to go to court to get them back."
Tom says Detective Bunch told him he could be arrested at any time because there was enough "evidence" to indict him.
"We were in a state of abject terror," says Kathleen. "We were sleeping in our clothes."
The arrest never came.
Battle for a child
As their fears of immediate prosecution abated, Tom and Kathleen focused their energy on re-establishing visitation with Sarah. It would not be an easy battle.
"We were in court every couple of weeks at times," says Kathleen.
In the spring of 1995, a year and a half after Tom's last visit with his daughter, a judge ordered psychiatric evaluations of Tom, Susan, and Sarah.
Harrisonburg-based clinical psychologist Mario Dennis performed the evaluation. He spoke to The Hook with Tom's consent.
"Some of the allegations were so fantastic that they– even if true– would have been difficult to believe," says Dennis. Most importantly, he adds, "There was simply no evidence of any psychological disturbance that would correlate with the allegations against him."
Sarah, age 10, with Tom and Kathleen.
Though Tom says all three were eventually given a clean bill of mental health, it was clear to him the problems were far from over.
This time, postage stamps were the clue. Tom had sent Sarah two cards– one for Valentine's Day, and one for her birthday in mid-March. Kathleen had purchased stamps with a picture of a hand signing "I love you" in American Sign Language. "They thought we were sending more Satanic messages," Tom says incredulously.
October 1995 found Tom at his wits' end. "We were emotionally and financially drained," he says, noting that he and his wife had spent $60,000 on legal bills in just two years.
On October 11, recalls Tom, "I prayed to God for Sarah and said, 'She's in your hands now.'"
The very next night, the phone rang.
"Sarah called," he remembers, smiling. "Both of us were crying. She'd been trying to say, 'None of this ever happened,' but Stein had been threatening her with more hospitalizations."
Sarah still remembers those threats.
"When I would say, 'My dad never touched me,' Stein would tell me that if I couldn't remember, I'd be put into a hospital where I'd be raped every day," she says. When she tested Stein's resolve by refusing to "remember," she says he followed through on the threat and put her in a hospital isolation unit for 48 hours.
After Sarah's call, Tom and Kathleen hoped that the nightmare would soon be behind them. In 1995, the couple filed a complaint against Stein with the Virginia Board of Medicine, but it languished until 1998, when the Board finally dismissed it without any action against the psychiatrist. Tom still wonders what would have happened if they'd treated his complaint differently.
"Nine of the 10 people in the recent complaint started treatment with Stein after 1995," he points out.
As it was, Stein was free to continue practicing. And his influence on Sarah's mother and her relatives ran deep– they still believed that Tom had victimized his daughter.
The tide was turning for Tom, however. With Sarah's testimony absolving Tom– and the recommendation of a court-appointed guardian, a lawyer working solely for the child– Judge Jannene Shannon restored Tom's visitation with his daughter in December 1995.
Susan quickly appealed the decision.
Out of money, Tom decided to handle his defense in the appeal himself. For more than a year, starting in October 1996, he was a man obsessed.
"I'd get up every morning," he recalls, "and figure out 'What motion can I file today?'"
In addition to handling the appeal, Tom and Kathleen filed a third-party malpractice suit against Dr. Stein in October 1997. Although he was planning to represent himself in that case as well, Tom says, the constant trips to Fairfax courts, the costs of hiring expert witnesses, and the fact that such a case had never been won in Virginia led him to drop the suit.
As for the custody appeal, he stayed on task.
An engineer by trade, Tom set to work learning the law, and his hard work paid off. In December 1997, exactly four years after the ordeal began, he won the appeal and was able to start rebuilding his relationship with his daughter. Sarah was nearly 17.
Hope for the future
Although her past is unlike most young women's, Sarah says she is living a "normal" life. Now 22, she's finishing her degree in sociology and is engaged to be married. But getting to this place has been– and continues to be– difficult.
Fortunately, she has found a counselor whom she trusts.
"I was having a lot of problems with flashbacks," she says.
She's also burdened with guilt about the suffering her family has been through. "I feel terrible about it," she says. "He's been through so much with this too," she says of her father.
Tom and Kathleen, however, don't hold her responsible.
Nine-year-old Sarah (middle right) says of her cousin Ashley Nozzarella (middle left), "I was really close to her as a kid. I'd really like to be close to her again." Also pictured: Sarah's cousins Chris Nozzarella (top) and Jennifer Nozzarella (bottom) holding Andrew Long.
"She was a child," says Kathleen, "and she was no match for Stein." Their relationship with Sarah, all three agree, grows stronger every day.
The same cannot be said for Tom and Kathleen's relationship with Sarah's mother, Susan, with whom they have had no contact for years. Sarah says that despite the revelations about Stein, Susan still believes that Tom did something untoward.
Tom, having battled colon cancer for the past 14 months, would like to put the whole situation behind him. A week after the Post story appeared, Tom sent a letter to Susan's father, who had supported Susan in the custody dispute. In it, Tom requests "healing for Sarah's sake."
"There will come a day when Sarah gets married," he wrote. "Sarah deserves the support of both sides of her family, and I hope and pray that you and your family members will be supportive and respectful of those wishes and at a minimum be civil towards her and my family."
Tom also sent a letter to Stein.
"I do not call you a doctor, because as a doctor you are called to first do no harm," Tom wrote. "You have caused harm to many, if not all, of your patients... I pray that you seek the help you need, not from a doctor like you but from one who follows sound medical principles."
It's unlikely that Stein will practice medicine again.
"The conduct that was described in that report is horrendous, inexcusable," says Bob Nebiker, director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions, the umbrella organization of the Virginia Board of Medicine.
A September 28 cover story in The Washington Post detailed Stein's alleged misdeeds.
Last October 11, Stein's license was suspended for one year following the Board's findings. However, Nebiker insists that there was no harsher penalty available at the time.
"It was the same effect as revocation," says Nebiker. "In either case, the physician could apply to have his license reinstated after one year." That policy has now been modified to distinguish clearly between suspension and revocation, Nebiker says.
Through his attorney, Rockville, Maryland-based Geoffrey Gavett, Stein declined all comment on the allegations.
Nebiker says there is no record at this time of an application from Stein for reinstatement of his medical license.
And though Fairfax County police opened an investigation into the death of Stein's patient Anita Kratzke, that case has been closed, according to Fairfax police spokesperson Courtney Young. "That's a civil matter now," she says. The Washington Post reported that Fairfax detective Robert Murphy told Kratzke's husband, Robert, in an email, "I believe the only way we could have known the truth was with an autopsy, which Dr. Stein thwarted when he signed the death certificate."
Sarah says she'd like to see Stein punished. "I think he's a danger to other people," she says. "Losing his license isn't enough."
Vengeance, however, doesn't seem to run in the Manuel family. Like her father, Sarah would like to put the past behind her and to see her family heal.
"I'm really okay," she says.
Sarah, age 2.
"It was obvious to us and everyone else we knew that these allegations couldn't be true," says Kathleen Manuel.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Two corrections have been made to the online version of this story:
* the alleged statement made to Tom Manuel that he could be arrested at "any time" was originally misattributed, and
* an attorney's last name was misspelled.