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9:35 PM 9/29/1998

Ex-patient tells of bid to save son after cult diagnosis by therapists

Copyright 1998 Houston Chronicle

A former psychiatric patient described her desperate efforts to save her son after therapists in Illinois and at Houston's Spring Shadows Glen hospital concluded that she and the boy were involved with a satanic cult.

In her fourth day of testimony during the criminal trial of five Spring Shadows workers, Mary Shanley, 47, testified that she provided lists of colors, nicknames and toy animals she was told might be keys to deprogramming her then-9-year-old son, Ryan, from the influence of the cult.

Shanley also told her therapists about a scrapbook of poems from her grandmother and a children's book, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, that therapists feared had been used to program her and Ryan.

Four therapists and a hospital administrator are accused of fraudulently obtaining insurance payments by convincing patients that they suffered from multiple-personality disorder and other mental ailments caused by repressed memories of cult abuse.

Shanley said therapists told her that identifying her alternate personalities and recovering cult memories might save her son from continuing a life in a cult that practiced murder, cannibalism and torture.

"I couldn't give up on my son," said Shanley, a former Illinois schoolteacher.

Illinois therapists referred her and Ryan to Spring Shadows Glen in May 1991 for deprogramming under the direction of psychologist Judith Peterson. Within a few weeks, Ryan was transferred back to Illinois, but Shanley remained until June 1993.

Defendants in the federal trial are Peterson; former hospital administrator George Jerry Mueck; psychiatrists Richard Seward and Gloria Keraga; and therapist Sylvia Davis. The hospital is now under different ownership and is called Memorial Spring Shadows Glen.

Dozens of patients nationwide have won or settled civil cases, but the Houston trial is believed to be the first criminal trial involving allegations that therapists planted false memories.

Shanley, the first of several patients expected to testify, will resume her testimony Thursday after a one-day recess for the Yom Kippur Jewish holiday.

Defense attorneys have said that the defendants provided appropriate psychiatric care for patients who often had been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses before they ever came to Spring Shadows Glen.

Ryan eventually told therapists he remembered cult abuse by his mother, father and other family members.

When Shanley failed to recover corresponding memories of abusing her son, therapists accused her of resisting therapy, Shanley said. They prohibited her from writing or drawing for several months, saying those activities re-triggered her cult programming.

After finally recovering memories of cannibalism and human sacrifice, Shanley said, she had difficulty eating or smelling meat.

The jury heard an audio tape of a May 18, 1992, therapy session in which Peterson told Shanley that because of the abuse of her son, she would never teach or work with children again.

Shanley now denies any child abuse and she has never been charged with abuse.