Lehi, Utah, is somewhat familiar to those who have seen the movie Footloose. The small Mormon community provided Hollywood with the perfect setting for a tale of adolescent rebellion against parental and religious authority. Yet shortly after the movie’s release Lehi’s pious image was ruptured by a child abuse scandal.

One morning in the summer of 1985, Lehi president Shelia Bowers left her three children with their aunt. When she returned for them, the aunt expressed concern that the children had been “playing dirty”—they seemed a bit too sexually inquisitive. She suggested that the mother take them to the Intermountain Sexual Abuse Treatment Center (ISATC), where they were examined by therapist Barbara Snow. It took Snow little time to diagnose the children as victims of sexual abuse. According to her, the children had named their babysitter as the abuser.

At the time, the Bowers’ regular babysitter was the teenage daughter of Keith Burnham, a local Mormon bishop. Other parents who employed the Burnham girl as a sitter took their children to be examined, and accusations began to multiply. Some of the children accused Burnham himself, as well as his wife, of “touching” them. Snow contacted Robert Smith, a psychologist who served as a counselor to Burnham’s LDS congregation. Snow informed Smith that children had been molested in Lehi and that the Burnham girl was the chief suspect. Smith was told to get a confession from the Burnham girl without telling her parents, as the parents were also under suspicion. When Smith was reluctant to follow Snow’s instructions, the therapist threatened to call in the local print and television media, the sheriff, and the ACLU.

In testimony given later on the witness stand. Smith recalled, “I did not want to do what Snow asked. I realized I had no permission or authority to talk to the children either in my professional or ecclesiastical position.” Snow instructed Smith to disclose the accusation to a friend of the Burnhams, thus avoiding a direct confrontation with the parents. Smith ignored Snow’s imperious directives and spoke directly to Bishop Burnham. When Burnham was informed of the accusations against his daughter, he readily agreed to let both of his children speak with Snow.

But Snow was not satisfied with Burnham’s cooperation. She contacted Smith again, upbraided him as a “fool” and thundered, “You have just blown this ease.” Shortly after Burnham agreed to send his children for examination, officials from the State Division of Family Services pulled up to his driveway and collected his kids. The children were placed in a foster home, where they were subjected to a three-week regimen of examinations. Burnham had not been informed that his agreement would be construed by the state as a license to abduct his children. He recalls his frustration as his children were seized by the state: “What do you do? They take your children away. They put them in foster homes. You can’t see them. There is no wav to fight back.”

After a three-week ordeal of separation and scrutiny, the state sent the Burnham children back to their parents with a perfunctory written apology. No evidence had been found of any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; in fact, the children appeared to be products of an exemplary home. But despite the elimination of its primary suspects, the state’s investigation of Lehi continued.

The Lehi Eighth Ward, in which the Burnhams’ LDS congregation is located, had been riven into factions by the scandal; accusations lit up ward meetings like tracer fire. Rumors of a Satanic child sexual abuse ring ran rampant. Several families who believed that the state had not done enough to investigate the allegations formed a small therapy group under Snow’s direction. Within that group was the family of Alan Hadfield, a steelworker in his mid-30’s. Snow had told Hadfield that his children were among those abused by the Burnham children.

After the Burnhams were cleared by the state, accusations began to proliferate within the therapy group, hi a matter of months every family represented in the group—with the exception of the Hadfields—found itself implicated in child sexual abuse. More than forty adults were accused of molestation, and nearly every house on Hadfield’s block was identified as the site of an “incident.” At one point Hadfield jocularly asked his wife, “When am I going to be next?”

Two weeks after Hadfield’s remark, his ten-year-old daughter accused him of molesting her. In a private session with Snow, the Hadfield girl had been asked to “give herself a grade” regarding various aspects of her life. The girl offered generous grades for her schoolwork and her social life, but a low grade regarding her own personal safety. Asked by Snow to specify the source of the perceived danger, the Hadfield girl said, “There’s only one in my family,” and wrote “Cod, my dad has touched me” on a slip of paper.

This disclosure was made after nine months of intensive therapy. For the better part of a year the Hadfield child, along with her friends, had been relentlessly indoctrinated regarding “good” and “bad” parental touches. It is quite difficult for a parent to avoid a “bad” touch, since it is defined as any kind of touch that makes a child uncomfortable; one commentator referred to this as the “hug your child, go to jail” syndrome.

Gay Hadfield initially refused to believe her daughter’s accusations; the mother called Snow and insisted that a terrible mistake had been made. Snow arranged a meeting for the next day. Under Snow’s guidance the girl repeated the accusations. Another of Hadfield’s children, an eleven-year-old boy, was asked if he had been abused. After an initial denial, the boy broke down into tears and said that the charges were true. The session with Snow was enough to convince Gay Hadfield that her husband was an abuser. That very day she took the children and left Alan Hadfield for good. Shortly thereafter, Alan Hadfield was arrested.

As the government investigation of Lehi continued. Gay Hadfield filed for divorce. As custody issues were raised, accusations were levied against Alan Hadfield’s family: Hadfield’s parents and 16 of his male cousins were named as abusers. In a second Lehi divorce proceeding that arose from this abuse scandal, charges were also filed against the male relatives of that embattled father.

Some in the community began to suspect that Snow was manipulating the children under her supervision. One Lehi father sent his children to Snow with the stipulation that another adult be present to observe the therapy sessions. The father was told that an independent observer would be an unnecessary intrusion because Snow had a “good way” with children. After one session the skeptical father withdrew his children from therapy; within a week he was named as an abuser by children still under Snow’s care.

Suspicions that Snow was manipulating the Lehi children were not confined to the community; similar misgivings were expressed by law enforcement officials and some of Snow’s professional peers. Utah County Chief Deputy Attorney Wayne Watson recalls, “I went up and witnessed one of Barbara Snow’s sessions with one of the Lehi kids. . . . I was appalled. I had deep reservations about whether the ideas expressed by the child[ren] related to what had actually happened to them or whether they were the product of ideas placed in their minds by Barbara Snow.” According to Watson, the therapist would sit with a child on the floor of a room filled with toys and stuffed animals. “If the child reacted negatively to [Snow’s] questions she would remain very formal and stiff. If the child reacted positively, and indicated something had happened, she would become very warm and loving, and hold the child in her lap and tell the child what a good child she is. I found that totally unacceptable for a criminal investigation.”

Owen Quarterberg, chief investigator for the Utah County Sheriff’s Department, witnessed one of Snow’s sessions and offered a report similar to Watson’s: “The interview wasn’t going anywhere so she sat the boy on her lap with her arms around him, then some responses began to occur.” Snow would ask the same questions until she received satisfactory responses. Dr. Stephen Golding, an expert in forensic investigation, examined video and audio tapes of Snow’s sessions and found her technique leading and suggestive: “She doesn’t know what role she’s in. Professionally, it is the most ill-advised thing she could do.” During one session reviewed by Golding, Snow drew a set of stickmen on a chalkboard and told the children, “Here are the perverts, and they are smiling because they are getting away with it.”

Snow protested that her approach was “therapeutic” rather than “forensic”—that she sought to “heal” abused children rather than to collect legal evidence. But why would a “healer” command another therapist to obtain confessions? Furthermore, Snow’s approach to “healing” occasionally skirted abuse. Utah Counts Sheriff’s detective Mike MeConnell considered Snow’s api^roach to be “aggressive and confrontational.” Describing a session he had witnessed, VlcConnell reported, “At one time she embraced a child and the child tried to get away. She asked leading questions. The child was playing with dolls and those were taken away.”

Judy Pugh, one of Snow’s colleagues at ISATC, had been told by one of the Lehi children that the entire child abuse scandal was a “fairy tale” concocted to satisfy Snow. One child who had been under Snow’s care later testified under oath that she had been intimidated by Snow into offering an accusation. Accumulated misgivings about Snow’s reliability, coupled with an utter paucity of physical evidence, led the Utah County Sheriff’s office to conclude that no abuse had taken place in Lehi.

But the state investigation ground on, propelled by political considerations. Associate Deputy Attorney General Paul Warner explained that “When we took over the case [from Utah County law enforcement] we had to start from ground level. We found that the Utah County Attorney’s office had neither the political will nor the experience to do the job that needed to be done.” The task at hand, according to Warner, had less to do with justice than with the proper “message”: “If we had backed off, it would have sent a message to child abusers that it was now open season on the kids.” Utah County officials were just as anxious for the safety of children, but they had neither the experience nor the “political will” to create a child abuse case ex nihilo.

Hadfield went on trial in Provo, Utah, in December 1987. The courtroom was packed with Hadfield’s supporters; among them was Bishop Keith Burnham. The prosecution’s case was essentially built upon the testimony of the Hadfield children and the recollections of Barbara Snow. Two physical examinations of the children had failed to provide reliable physical evidence of sexual abuse (which would have been easily obtained in the case of the young girl). Furthermore, there were no taped or handwritten notes of the crucial therapy sessions in which the Hadfield children had disclosed the abuse. Snow explained that she had taken “key notes” for the purpose of aiding her memory; she once again insisted that her role was that of a therapist, rather than an investigator. But by the time the trial began. Snow had been acting as the state’s chief investigator for nearly two years. In order for her testimony to be considered relevant, the court would have to assume that the Hadfield children had been abused by their father—which was precisely the question the trial was meant to address!

Brad Rich, Hadfield’s attorney, was caught in a dilemma familiar to defense attorneys in child abuse eases: how could he impeach the child witnesses without coming off as a desperate bully? The testimony of the Hadfield children was shot through with implausibilities and contradictions. Neither of the children was aware of a birthmark on Alan Hadfield’s groin that would have been visible during a sexual assault. The Hadfield boy claimed that his father had threatened to harm both the children and their mother if they spoke to any one of the abuse and had coupled his warning with a bribe, in the form of a “three-wheeler” recreational vehicle. But Rich was able to provide the court with a receipt proving that the vehicle had been purchased by Hadfield as an Easter gift for the family long before it would have been needed as a bribe.

The most significant contradiction in the prosecution’s case involved the events of April 9, 1986. During the evening hours of that date, Hadfield had been alone in his house with his children. His wife was in Salt Lake City visiting the Lehi woman who was involved in the other abuse-related divorce. According to his children, Hadfield molested them while they watched television. But Hadfield testified that he had been alone in his bedroom watching Dynasty when he received a phone call from none other than Barbara Snow. Thus at the very hour Hadfield was supposedly abusing his children, he was patiently listening to Barbara Snow complain about the treatment she had received from her critics. Hadfield’s testimony was confirmed by phone records presented to the court by Rich.

During his closing arguments in Hadfield’s trial, prosecutor Robert Schwendiman declared that the defense had misrepresented the contents of the phone record; he referred to both Hadfield and Rich as liars. The jury was sent to deliberate—only to be brought back by the judge when Rich protested. Upon reexamination the phone record confirmed the defense’s account, and Schwendiman was compelled to apologize. The jury was then sent back to continue its deliberations. Brad Rich did not request a mistrial because it seemed obvious that the prosecution’s case had been so badly perforated that it would not withstand scrutiny—especially when the prosecution’s last remark was, in effect, “We goofed.” Furthermore, Hadfield was neither emotionally nor financially prepared to endure another trial. But Hadfield’s trials were far from finished: 11 hours after hearing the prosecution’s apology, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty on all counts.

The guilty verdict provoked gratitude from the state child abuse bureaucracy and incredulity from Hadfield’s neighbors. Shortly after the verdict was delivered a group of eight hundred Lehi residents held a rally at Lehi High School in order to raise money for Hadfield’s defense fees. Cullen J. Christensen, the judge who had presided at Hadfield’s trial, received hundreds of letters from Hadfield’s supporters urging leniency in sentencing. The abiding support for Hadfield was used by some to indict the entire town. Child psychiatrist Paul Whitehead, who had examined the Hadfield children at the state’s request and served as an “expert witness” for the prosecution, gave an interview to the Deseret News (Utah’s largest daily paper) in which he explained that a satanic ritual abuse ring in Lehi was responsible for the rally and the letter campaign: “It’s a close community and that might explain in part the community reaction. But if one accepts the fact, as I do, that there are a lot of people involved, then some of them have a major vested interest. To protect one is to protect all.”

According to Whitehead, the response of Hadfield’s supporters was “a natural reaction assuming many people arc involved. If many were not involved, it’s very unusual that people would come to the response to this degree [on behalf of] one individual who has been convicted by eight impartial people. I would think the community would be upset at that individual.”

Whitehead had only his febrile imagination to justify his accusations. But Lehi could document abuses committed by the state. Whitehead declared that “the one common thing that seems to run through all these groups is secret-keeping—collusion.” The discipline of child abuse rings, according to Whitehead, prevents abused children from speaking out; it can even compel children to recant accusations once they have been made. “There arc lots of forces that keep kids from disclosing, so that’s why you don’t get many kids telling. The studies show that false retractions of true statements are much more common than false accusations.” This standard would lead us out of the empirical realm. Silence could serve as testimony of abuse; an accusation of abuse would be considered self-validating; and a retraction of a previous accusation would be the best evidence of all.

Whitehead’s collusion theory was better applied to the actions of the state and its allies among child abuse professionals. Every criticism directed at Snow or the state investigators ran up against a barricade of begged questions. Whitehead and other child abuse “experts” quickly joined ranks to protect Snow against criticism—perhaps acting upon the proposition that “to protect one is to protect all.” Both the “experts” and the state repeatedly emphasized the supposedly transcendent importance of sending the proper “message.” The transmission of that message required the services of Alan Hadfield, the Indispensable Defendant.

In early 1988 Hadfield was sentenced to ten-years probation and six months in jail on a work-release program; he was also required to undergo treatment as a sex offender. In delivering this sentence Judge Christensen ignored the mandatory sentencing guidelines—which call for a minimum of ten years in prison for such eases—and applied a little-used incest exception in Utah State law, which was designed to keep a troubled family together. But the Hadfield family had already been dissolved through divorce. Furthermore, the treatment programs recognized by the state require that an offender admit his guilt before treatment can begin, Hadfield has never conceded his guilt. Dr. Robert Card, the therapist appointed to preside over Hadfield’s treatment, had already administered several tests to Hadfield and had found him to be vibrantly normal.

The state Attorney General’s office sought a writ that would compel Judge Christensen to send Hadfield to prison. The state’s petition was denied by the state Supreme Court; shortly thereafter the state discontinued its investigation of Lehi. Some Lehi residents established a committee to examine Snow’s record and to collect testimonies from those who felt abused by the state. The examination of Snow’s record by private investigators revealed that she had been involved in child abuse scandals in two other Utah communities. In each of the scandals children were sent to Snow for treatment, and after several months of “therapy” they would ventilate accusations against their fathers, hi each of the scandals, the children’s stories would be first wildly contradictory and then homogenized. When an individual was named as an “abuser” by one child, other children would quickly mimic the accusation.

Snow had participated in the investigation leading to the conviction of Arden Brent Bullock, who was found guilty of three counts of child sodomy in 1986. Bullock appealed his conviction, claiming that Snow had suborned false accusations from deluded children. The Utah State Supreme Court upheld Bullock’s conviction in 1989, but Justice I. Daniel Stewart offered a significant dissent: “I am aware that child sex abuse crimes are heinous. They often leave lifetime scars . . . but in the natural rush to protect children from abuse, it is essential that judicial procedures designed to sift truth from error not be compromised or perverted.” According to Stewart, reliable studies had documented that 55 percent of all child abuse reports are false. But Stewart’s comments merely ricocheted off Snow’s impregnable sense of moral superiority. Addressing Stewart’s dissent during a Salt Lake City meeting of child abuse professionals. Snow said that the opinion reflected “ignorance” about the issue of child sex abuse and remarked, “Justice Stewart’s comments reflect a position for which there is no professional consensus . . . his comments display the belief that children can be made to make false allegations when questioned in a therapeutic atmosphere of support [in which the therapist] shows sympathy, encouragement and compassion. Those displays of support do not constitute contamination.” But the proper question—one which Snow reflexively avoided—is this: should therapists be allowed to act as criminal investigators?

Last year, Utah public television presented a “documentary” entitled “Promise Not to Tell,” which could be considered the “official history” of the Lehi episode. The film was soggy with social purpose: “expert” after “expert” was called upon to sustain Snow’s labors with professional opinions. No new facts were disclosed, and Hadfield’s supporters shown in the film were used only as polemical clay pigeons to be shot down by the “experts.”

Alan Hadfield has remarried and acquired stepchildren. He continues with his probation and his efforts to obtain a new trial. Gilbert Athay, Hadfield’s present attorney, believes that the state is in possession of documents that will exonerate Hadfield. Those documents—which include affidavits regarding Snow’s techniques and professional history—are being reviewed by Judge Christensen. As reopening the Hadfield case would leave the state vulnerable to criticism for its handling of the episode, there is little hope that a new trial will occur any time soon.

Barbara Snow continues to work as a “therapist” in Utah, although her professional standing was considerably damaged by the Lehi scandal. No new allegations of sexual abuse have come from Lehi since Hadfield’s conviction; the state may consider this to be a vindication of its efforts to “send a message” to abusers. But the conviction of Alan Hadfield has sent a tragically useful message of a different variety: once the state has committed itself to a child abuse investigation, its prestige requires that somebody be punished.