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'Fall River' identifies another victim of the Satanic Panic

Television

‘Fall River’ identifies another victim of the Satanic Panic

True crime can exonerate the innocent, too.

Before QAnon spread online conspiracy theories about satanic pedophile elites drinking children’s blood, credulous TV talk show hosts and journalists were causing mass hysteria with stories about child abuse, murder, and animal sacrifice during a period of time often called the “Satanic Panic.” One of these sensational cases is the subject of the latest true crime docuseries from Blumhouse Productions, Fall River. Based on a pair of murders that occurred in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1979, the series follows director James Buddy Day’s attempts to unravel mysteries behind the case, which cast doubt on the conviction of Carl Drew.

The body of the first victim, 17-year-old Doreen Levesque, was discovered on the night of October 13, 1979, beneath the bleachers of the Diman Vocational High School. Karen Marsden, 20, was later reported missing and her partial remains were discovered on April 13, 1980, with detectives believing the murder to have occurred on February 8. The victims were sex workers who knew each other and associated with local pimps Robin Murphy and Carl Drew, both of whom would later be charged for the murder of Marsden.

'Fall River' identifies another victim of the Satanic Panic

The Fall River Murders are gruesome and tragic, but they probably wouldn’t continue to inspire interest if it not for the fantastic story that was presented to the public — that the murders were ritualistic in nature and tied to a satanic cult popular among sex workers. According to former Freetown Police detective, Alan Silvia, when he interviewed Marsden about Levesque’s murder, “We started hearing Satan; we started hearing cult,” and, “Karen and other women that we talked to who were involved with Carl Drew and Robin often said that Carl would take them to the Freetown State Forest where they would worship Satan.”

Fellow former detective Alan Alves, who claims in the series to have been “involved in investigating Satanic crime for two decades in the Freetown State Forest,” explains:

What they’d do, they’d have a pentagram, Satan would come out of the center of it. We’d find animals with absolutely no blood in them, at all; they would drain the blood right out of them. They would be opposite of the Catholic Church and would drink blood instead of wine, and so forth, and usually the High Priest of the cult, it would be mixed with either his urine or semen.

I reached out to Alves, and he clarified that his experience in cult crimes came not just from the state forest investigations, but also as a member of the Cult Awareness Network. The Cult Awareness Network was an organization that sent low-ranking deputies and detectives across the country, lecturing to small-town police departments about the dangers of the occult and Satanism. Local cops would attend a few seminars and emerge declaring themselves to be “experts” in the subjects.

“I never saw a real, live ritual; I saw the aftermath of it, and I was advised by what went on by some of the people who were in a cult,” Alves admits in Fall River. In reality, no one has ever seen a real live Satanic abuse ritual, or caught clandestine cult members “red-handed.” Law enforcement would receive tips of cult activity in an area and would rush out to investigate, interpreting just about anything as evidence of cult activity, like the presence of animal carcasses or spray-painted graffiti such as “666” or “NEMA NATAS.”

“I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but a lot of important people were involved, even today,” Alves says in Fall River. “They’re doctors, lawyers, police officers, molesting kids and stuff.” Despite the gravity of such a possible situation, Alves chose to not speak with me about it more.

Day tells me that after Fall River was released, Alves expressed he wasn’t happy with how he’d been portrayed. Given what he himself has stated on record, and the fact he’s shared videos of thoroughly debunked “ghost orbs” and a “Satanic Cow Ritual” on his YouTube Channel, it’s probably fair to say Alves is operating from a “believer” mindset, and no amount of counter-argument or evidence to the contrary is likely to change his mind. In the year 2000, Alves was stripped of his rank as detective by the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, who found he had violated conflict of interest laws in 1996.

fall river alan alves

Ultimately, the Fall River Murders were just one of many examples of alleged cult crimes which have never been substantiated. This isn’t to say that, in some cases, singularly disturbed individuals never commit crimes with ritualistic tableau, but there’s never been any evidence to suggest any kind of organized, underground cult activity. Real Satanism, as codified by Anton LaVey, has nothing to do with murder or animal sacrifice.

Drew was granted a motion for a new trial in 2004. Key witnesses for the prosecution, including Murphy, recanted their testimony, claiming they’d been coerced and threatened by the DA’s office to testify against Drew. On January 27, 2005, Judge John P. Connor Jr. denied the motion. Drew continues to serve his life sentence, although the Innocence Project has taken an interest in getting Drew a new trial, partly because of Fall River. Murphy has served 34 years and will be eligible for parole in 2022.

Fall River is available on Epix.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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