Pedophiles, Cults and a Cult Leader

Pedophiles, Cults and a Cult Leader

I want to talk about three different types of groups that I discovered in Wilmington, NC.  To clarify, I was living in Wilmington, NC at the time and the groups are not the same.  They are all evil and have created victims with similar problems or have exploited the same vulnerable people.  In other places, I described my experiences and gave the impression that I was describing the same person or persons as well as the same groups.  My knowledge of these groups began in the late 1990s.  I was working in the mental health field and on different jobs, I would travel either to Sampson County or to Jacksonville, NC.  The job in Sampson County was at the public mental health center and that was inland, north and west of Wilmington about one hour's drive by car.  My previous job was at the inpatient psychiatric hospital called Brynn Marr Psychiatric Hospital in Jacksonville, NC, which is near the coast north and east of Wilmington, NC.

I first heard about a group of pedophiles when a woman told me about her fairly recent rape.  She had been raped a few months previous and so I didn't expect to learn about pedophiles since she was very much an adult.  Prosecuting the pedophiles I heard about was not possible because the crimes happened long ago and there was a belief that adults don't have the best memories about events from their childhood.   Alternatively, there is a theory that therapists plant false memories.  This concern was so well known back in the 1990s that most therapists or social workers are extra careful not to make the alleged mistakes.  The stories about therapists asking leading questions, rewarding the answers they want, making suggestions about what happened or insisting they should tell the story were false stories, in my experiences, with the exceptions getting the headlines and encouraging distrust.   

At Brynn Marr, I was one of two therapists in the adult unit.  Both of us were Clinical Social Workers.  My colleague, she had been on the job longer and would remain there after me.  The inpatient facility has since changed and now focuses more on children.  This was my first job in this field and did not allow for the most in-depth learning since treatment stays were so short and the pool of people that could be admitted to the facility was very limited based on the target population in the area around Jacksonville.  The rape survivor told me about childhood sexual abuse after we had done some work to help her process her rape and just before she left the hospital.  I did help male survivors of combat since the hospital was near the Camp Lejeune Marine base in the area.   Some men talked about childhood abuse but no one went into any details.  Women came in following suicide attempts, for medical complications related to eating disorders, and with diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and etc.  Some of them came to describe groups of pedophiles who had hurt them when they were growing up.  It didn't stop when they reached the teenage years so false memories were not an issue in these instances.  I did see some of them privately after they left the hospital.

It was later, while employed at Sampson County Mental Health Center that I learned about cults and I met the first person I independently verified to have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), i.e. she had different personalities.  It's important to point out that the person who had DID did not tell me she had been a part of a cult or that she was a victim of a cult.  A very mysterious woman came in for mental health services and met with me.  She had dark glasses and tried to hide her identity.  She did that because this was a small community and her brother, Johnathan Street Parker was on death row for murdering a man in the area.  It was a grizzly murder where he cut off the victim's testicles and penis.  Very few murders occur in that area, as the population is small and rural.  A primary job industry for the area is pig slaughtering and processing.  The smell could get rather disgusting.  

Pigs blood is useful in Satanic cults as is killing gay men who are feared to represent evil in backward rural communities.  The influence of religious fears is stronger in that area of North Carolina than in any other area in the state to the best of my knowledge.  One can almost understand how the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts happened hundreds of years earlier.  I remember one African-American client who had some superstitions and was dealing with psychosomatic symptoms that bordered on the psychotic.  I felt her reality testing was good enough for the use of hypnosis but she feared she would be vulnerable to Satan if she entered a trance state.  My training in this field of hypnosis was more advanced than while at Brynn Marr or even my earlier studies.  In fact, as stated elsewhere, earlier in my career I learned that some of the experiential therapy techniques are not appropriate for people with Schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.  To be clear, this woman did not contribute to my understanding of cults or even Satanic cults.  I just mention the fact that religious superstition was more common in Sampson County than in other places where I lived.  

The idea of good versus evil was a theme that was embraced by people living there more than something I was recognizing at this earlier stage in my career.  I don't mean to say I didn't consider the actions of people like Johnathan Street Parker to be evil but I just didn't think in such black and white terms.  I was trying to help people not find out why bad things happen to people.  I trusted the police and the state to sort such things out.  In fact, that never changed for me.  For the most part, I didn't see a role for myself to help catch the bad guys.  I have always focused on the survivors and what they needed.  Also, black and white thinking might cause one to think that someone's experience is not really all that bad.  However, at that time, I did learn about the overlap between "cults" and "Satan," e.g. "Satanic Cults."  This is the superstition where religious fears overlap with popular culture and people glamorize the devil and literally commit crimes that are inspired by these ideas.  The use of drugs is also an important ingredient in these stories.  For example, the Parker murder only focused on his interest in acquiring drugs or money for drugs because that's all you can prove in court even if the people of Sampson County are looking for a link between murder and Satan.  

The cult or cults were not organized in any fashion, at least the ones about which I was told.  They might have an interest in the occult and try to create Satanic ceremonies but there was no guidebook.  They weren't linked to a cult in Wilmington, New Bern or elsewhere as far as I can tell.  Any evidence that would try to tie together a group in one place with a group in another place likely would cause people to reject this entire story as just another chance to prove a conspiracy that was part of the allegedly disproven "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and later.  This is described on Wikipedia in an article on "Ritual Abuse" ( see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse if you find that interesting).  The word cult has a perjorative connotation despite the fact that some mainstream religions in the United States were once considered cults, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, even Catholics, and Pentecostals.  I use it here to refer to a group who acts in secret to worship Satan because in Sampson County that is what seemed to be a common element of the cults.  They engage in ceremonies which can be called "rituals."  My later exposure to cults would inspire me to drop the use of the word "Satanic" in most cases.  It is too simplistic or charged with meaning that makes me feel like I would be discounted as a fraud.  People insist that if you cannot find a common thread that puts a real "Satan" in the center of it all then it is just conspiracy nonsense.  

Fast forward to the year 1999.  I was a Clinical Social Worker and organizer for the North Carolina chapter of Clinical Social Workers.  I organized a training course or training workshop for professionals to be held in Wilmington.  It was to focus on Ritual Abuse and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  Louise Coggins was going to bring down a client who was a survivor of Ritual Abuse and had multiple personalities.  This was in the Wilmington Star-News so  I'm not disclosing anything secret or confidential about anyone.  I don't know what Louise thinks about the topic now.  I reached out to her in 2018 and got no response.  I don't know if she feared that I would go down a rabbit hole again or what.  I attempted to assure her that years have passed on my mind is full of a very healthy dose of skepticism.  Her public profile shows nothing of that past interest of hers.  The reluctance to find people willing to talk about this now contributes toward a feeling of excessive suspicion about such matters.  When a conspiracy theory gets out of hand the reaction is to avoid any topic related to the matter as a societal rule.  

Anyway, I did get a referral for a client as a result of being featured in that article.  I was given a referral by a man named John Freifeld.  Over time, I became concerned that he felt he could provide therapy online and have people visit his "treatment facility" in Virginia despite the fact that he had no college degree and no education in the field.  I began to hear more nefarious stories about him.  I heard he had lied about having a license to practice as a psychotherapist.  He would have one believe I had it out for him from the start but that was far from the truth.  Nearly a year passed before I learned that he had moved multiple times and that law enforcement (police and state bureau of investigators) were seeking to build a case against him in 4 different states.  During 1999 and early 2000, I thought he was overly confident and a bit egotistical about his competencies.  A professional (such as myself) doesn't take short cuts no matter how good you feel about your abilities.  I got a degree, postgraduate training, supervision, passed an examination, and I went through psychoanalysis so as to avoid counter-transference.  Not everything Freud theorized was proven but the idea of transference and countertransference are important concepts for any good therapist to understand.  To ignore such would put clients at risk due to one's own blindspots of vulnerability in the therapeutic relationships.  Everyone has some psychological baggage and should understand these things before trying to help others.

So, Freifeld was a person who insisted to people that he was special and he had inborn talents that allowed him to avoid the need for all the steps I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  He was like a cult-leader in that he had a charismatic personality that survivors of his crimes later would describe.  They said that they doubted reality and what their own senses were telling them at times.  Someone said that if he said the sky was pink she would have believed that and saw that, not in a purely metaphorical way, she really saw that.  Think about how at sunset or sunrise the sky does take on different colors.  It was like that but it was a distortion of the real color of the sky at the moment.   I think I did and still do have talents and empathy that qualify me to be of value in this field but I also understand the need for education, hard work, and self-examination to be most effective with others.  My passion has always been to do the right thing and to be of value to others.  That is what provides its own rewards to a person.  Knowing you helped a person is very rewarding.  It can give meaning to one's life.  It is far too risky to take chances.  Even if one's intention is to help others if you inadvertently hurt someone in their healing journey you feel varying degrees of pain.  At the same time, leaving behind someone who you could not help at the time is also painful. 

I had a friend or two in Wilmington that I started to help but then I had to move from the area and I was overburdened with my own problems so I couldn't help her as much as I had wanted.  I still wonder how one of those friends is.  I think of her and have an idea where she is but I know that she isn't living up to her potential.  I know why and I know who is to blame.  Anyway, Freifeld was not associated with a cult to the best of my knowledge, at the time I knew him.  That was later.  It can be very confusing but if you are looking for a single thread to all of these people, groups and to my interests, you won't find it.  That can cause a great deal of frustration for me.  Some people would like to believe that it was all about me and one bad man.  That bad man is dead.  The story is much more complicated.  Not all the cults are connected.  They aren't all "Satanic" in a literal sense unless you are calling all dangerous cults to be acting in the service of the devil indirectly.   That is more of a way to structure one's thinking and understanding of good and evil.  Not everything that people call a cult is evil.  The pedophile and sex trafficking groups are not necessarily affiliated with the cults.  

The impact of evil on my life has been traumatic and serious.  My understanding of evil is very complex and involves a complicated study conducted over the past few decades.  I have studied the human personality, human behavior and how to predict human behaviors both good and evil.  I have also studied psychopaths and extreme narcissists because of the damage they do to people and to society.  Their lack of empathy and what they do is the closest and best way to understand evil.  Ironically, some of the characteristics of a psychopath can be good for society, which might sound crazy.  It doesn't mean that a full-blown psychopath has anything useful to contribute to society.  However, a surgeon doesn't need to be empathetic while doing his job, as it can cause him to lose focus.  Not caring about what others think of you at times can help a president.  An astronaut can benefit from a laser-sharp focus that is devoid of fear when attempting a lunar landing.  They are the fearless explorers.  Sometimes, the heroes journey requires some of the abilities that a psychopath has in the extreme.  Too much of a good thing makes one not a hero but a villain.