In the past few years, recovered-memory syndrome has become a staple of daytime talk TV. Its most famous victim, Roseanne Arnold, went public in 1991 with alleged memories of sexual abuse by her parents from infancy to age 17. But one of the most bizarre recent cases (which was, in fact, fodder for the Sally Jessy Raphael show) is that of the Ingram family, in which an Olympia, Wash., father of six-a deputy sheriff and chairman of the local Republican party-was accused by his family of 15 years of incest, gang rape, baby killing, brutal mutilation, and satanic ritual abuse. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright makes brilliant use of this mind-boggling story to cast grave doubts on the whole notion of recovered-memory syndrome in Remembering Satan: A Case of Recovered Memory and The Shattering of an American Family.
The case originated with 22-year-old Erika Ingram’s vague accusations of incest but snowballed into a modern-day witch-hunt on the basis of the recovered memories of her father, Paul Ingram. Incredibly, Paul would provide ; the prosecution with its only evidence in the case, recovered memories in which he and two poker buddies, along with other members of a local satanic cult, routinely raped and mutilated his own wife, two of his three daughters, and two of his three sons.
Were there real incidents of abuse in this family? Even the accused man, now serving a 20-year jail sentence, can’t seem to answer that question with certainty. Instead of unequivocally denying Erika’s initial charges-he couldn’t believe his daughter capable of fabricating them-Ingram maintained that he couldn’t ”see himself doing this.” Only after investigators, a minister, and a psychologist assured him that he would remember if he confessed did Ingram begin to manufacture increasingly monstrous events from the depths of a prayer-induced trance. Admirably, Wright delivers a coolheaded, meticulous account of the case, downplaying the gory details in favor of a thoughtful assessment of the psychological and social forces that collided with a seemingly normal American family to create this sad fiasco. His conclusions are ultimately more troubling than conspiracy theories of widespread satanic ritual abuse are, suggesting that the Ingram family’s ”memories” were fantasies exacerbated by fundamentalist religion, inflamed by the satanic-ritual hysteria being played out on TV by the likes of Geraldo Rivera, and engendered by society’s willingness to embrace the recovered-memory phenomenon.