Feature - June 3, 2004
Teen Death Diary
Jay's Journal is the bizarre diary of a Utah Mormon teen caught in a web of satanism, sex and suicide. But is it true?
by Ben Dieterle
Rest Without Peace
Beside a defaced tombstone, 80-year-old Marcella Barrett tries to stand tall for a photograph on a tranquil day in Pleasant Grove Cemetery. Her stiff hand on a cane steadies her weighty posture.
With her white hair combed back old style, her unassuming gritty smile and the snow-capped mountains behind her, she looks the part of stalwart pioneer stock. But this devout Mormon didn’t arrive here in a wagon cart.
Her first husband died too soon. The second one, Doyle, left her for another woman. One son, Alden, committed suicide. Another one, Scott, disowned her and left her cherished religion. Many men in her life have disappointed her. Even after all that, she served two LDS missions for her Heavenly Father.
However, one woman has tested Barrett’s faith in an unfathomable way. With her troubled adolescent son Alden dead from a self-inflicted gun wound in 1971, Barrett found herself a distraught mother with a story to tell. She wanted that story told so as to find some peace following the loss of her son. And she was willing to reveal what she thought were her son’s ignominious indiscretions, from his anti-government sentiments during America’s years in Vietnam to his criticism of the LDS Church and the Mormon religion. She also wanted to end local speculation about Alden’s suicide. At the time, rumors were so rampant that she eventually moved away from Pleasant Grove. She now lives in Orem.
It was in 1973 that Barrett read a newspaper article about Dr. Beatrice Sparks, a Utah adolescent psychologist who’d found a successful career as an editor of adolescent books after the publication of Go Ask Alice in 1970. Barrett was convinced Sparks was “an answer to her prayers.” Perhaps on an unconscious level, Barrett wanted simply to keep her son Alden’s memory alive.
Even today, she remembers that her son had the IQ of Einstein. Yet he killed himself before that potential could be realized. “He could have been a doctor or a lawyer,” she said. In an unexpected way, she did receive an “answer to her prayers.” Alden’s memory lives on today, albeit in an unflattering and mysterious way, in readers’ minds around the world.
Hoping that Sparks would produce an account of her son’s life as a cautionary tale to other teenagers wandering perhaps too far from mainstream society and family tradition, Barrett handed her son Alden’s diary over to the Provo editor and adolescent psychologist. But when Sparks’ next book was published in 1979, the result was so startling that it shook the Barrett family apart. In fact, they hardly recognized their son and brother in its pages and not just because his name was changed.
Titled Jay’s Journal: The shocking diary of a 16-year-old helplessly drawn into a world of witchcraft and evil … the book changed Alden from a sensitive, questioning young man with a high school girlfriend and sympathies toward Eastern religion to a curious teenager who unwittingly finds himself participating in vile satanic rituals, crazed sex with a girlfriend named Tina and outrageous acts of supernatural black magic. The book remains true to Alden’s fate, however. By book’s end, Jay kills himself.
In a house furnished with old furniture from the Salt Lake City LDS Temple, Sparks still lives in Provo today. She contends her book is true to Alden’s life, even if, at her elderly age, she’s a little fuzzy about the details of her research. She does recall, however, that she interviewed Alden’s friends to fill out the story. She admits to changing some of the facts to protect the family’s identity.
She “edited” rather than wrote the book, a description that would lead the reader to believe she took little artistic license with it.
She also wrote this disclaimer at the beginning of the book: “Times, places, names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy and identity of Jay’s family members and friends.”
Disclaimer or no, the book didn’t set well at all with the Barrett family. The book is still popular today, especially in Mormon circles, as the story of just how easily even a Utah County Mormon boy can fall into the dark side. Twenty-five years after its publication, it holds a respectable sales rank on amazon.com, where reader reviews include an account of how Alden’s grave in Pleasant Grove Cemetery occasionally glows an “eerie green.”
And that poses a problem for the Barrett family. Even if the name of the central character was changed to Jay from Alden, the book has taken on a legendary life of its own, and the connection between the real-life Alden and Sparks’ “Jay” is well-known to many. Today, the book could serve as a textbook case for anyone interested in the ethics of alleged fictional embellishment upon a foundation of a “true story” involving “real people.”
At the very least, the book has sparked a curious irony in and around the Pleasant Grove area. Few people who’ve lived there long enough remember finding traces of satanic ritual. Years after the book’s publication, however, police have found occasional evidence of satanic activity around the area. And the fact that most of the friends Alden knew in real life are now dead might spook even readers who question the book’s hold on reality.
The tombstone that Barrett stands by features a clay portrait of her son, Alden, that vandals smashed. Barrett wishes she’d never given Sparks her son’s diary to publish as Jay’s Journal.
“My attorney said, ‘Just don’t say anything,’” Sparks said about her controversial book, which still haunts the local community.
Even Utah County band Grain composed a 1997 rock opera inspired by Jay’s Journal which declared the book a fake, and that Alden was a troubled kid misrepresented by Sparks’ book.
Unfortunately for the faithful like Marcella Barrett, revelation usually comes after the wrong choice is made, not before. Her desire to tell Alden’s story created a cascade of events that pitted her against her son, Scott. He was so infuriated with the twisting of his brother’s memory that he left the LDS Church and distanced himself from his family. Such is the burden of this elderly woman, now arching tall and dignified, next to her own child’s grave.
Below the broken picture of Alden, she reads a poem he wrote for her. Titled “Portrait of a Child,” it’s full of typical teenage angst, cryptic with self-fulfilling prophecy. Alden lies buried beneath his own epitaph.
Barrett reads from her son’s poem, inscribed on the tombstone: “The child was innocent. Not knowing how well his life was spent, might find himself only too soon old, bent. If he had known the changes, the wrong decisions made in youthful haste, might the small smile, visible in his eyes, have been displaced? Even erased,” she recited, trailing off at the end. “It’s beautiful,” she declared.
It’s eerie too. Lost innocence, early demise, mournful mistakes and emotions erased. Heavy stuff from a 16-year-old good student whose five close friends all died prematurely and violently.
Friends and Neighbors
“I don’t want to be a friend of Satan,” said Sparks. Of the 19 books she’s written, Jay’s Journal stands as the most soul-wrenching cautionary tale in her adolescent literary oeuvre. She didn’t even really want to write it but felt duty-bound to save young people from the clutches of occultism.
She felt sinister vibrations while researching and writing the book. “I didn’t write after the sun went down,” she said. “I don’t know much about what Satan does. … I don’t want to know. … [It] was very, very hard for me to write.”
She explained that she could not have imagined nor fabricated the sordid details in her book. “The bad things, I got directly from [Alden’s friends]. I took [them] down word for word.”
About Alden’s occult activities, she said, “They [his friends] knew that he was in.”
What she produced was the story of a bright teenage boy who was popular, on the debate team, played sports, hung out at the local burger joint, The Purple Turtle, and was obsessed with his girlfriend—all the usual high school stuff.
But there was another story. An underground satanic cult was seething in sleepy Pleasant Grove, echoed in the David Lynch film Blue Velvet. In that film, a picturesque town conceals an underground world of worms devouring the filth and decay.
According to Jay’s Journal, he (Alden) joins a cult with his two best pals and his bewitched girlfriend, Tina. They chant, play with a Ouija board, mutilate animals and drink blood—the usual occult stuff.
“[After kidnapping a cow] … each of us took turns drinking the warm blood directly from the female animal. It was hard to get down because it came out in such great spurts, and was so hot, so much hotter than I had expected … [It] was supposed to have given us the strength of the animal … Flesh is cheap!” read several passages from the book.
But then it gets freaky when they levitate coins and objects. Tina even rigs a high-school election with the help of a voodoo doll. They learn secrets with crystal balls, have out-of-body experiences and participate in sadistic sex orgies.
“[Tina invites Jay to a spooky house with a group where they take off their clothes and drink a foul-smelling liquid.] … Torrents of rain beat on the window and … lightning shot and exploded through the sky,” reads another passage. “I hit her and kicked her and mauled her, sex was not enough, I wanted to hurt her! … Tina … gathered blood from her cuts on her fingers [and placed them] in my mouth. … ‘Let’s get out of this hell hole,’ I gagged.”
All hell erupts when Jay, his buddies and Tina make a pact with the devil where upon breach of contract, each forfeits their life by death through their right temples. “[After filling a bathtub with blood], one by one we were baptized in it. … Our heads were anointed with a few drops of the urine we had milked out of the bull’s dingy … [After a nasty potion and some funky droning], I felt my spirit drifting out of my … earthly tabernacle. … I wanted to scream, tried to scream, but no audible sound came out. However my body was speaking! Saying things I would not have said. … Our Father which art in Hell, Hallowed be thy name. …”
Jay’s [Alden’s] two pals each die in auto-related accidents when they decide to confess to their LDS bishop. The fatal blow for both of them strikes through their right temples. Jay, who becomes possessed with a demon named “Raul,” shoots himself through the right temple. Moral of the story? Obey your parents’ counsel, stay close to Heavenly Father, stay away from drugs and forsake all ungodliness.
The Barrett family was shocked by the journal that was published. Alden’s journal never mentioned anything about the occult, Barrett said.
“After I’d given [Sparks] his journal, we met a couple of times. … She didn’t say to me ever that she was going to write about devil worship,” she said. “It’s not Alden’s story.”
In fact, Alden’s journal is significantly shorter in its length and timetable than Jay’s Journal. Alden’s actual journal has less than 100 entries covering August 1970 to January 1971, and never mentions the occult or any strange and supernatural events. Jay’s Journal consists of more than 200 entries over a period of one and a half years. And while Alden’s journal never explains his reasons for suicide, his mother and younger brother Scott agree it had more to do with his troubles with his girlfriend than any demonic possession. Sparks claimed she got the additional information, which she wrote as journal entries, from Alden’s personal letters and interviews with his friends.
Perhaps so. Few of Alden’s old friends can be found to prove otherwise, but even a cursory read through Alden’s real journal reveals nothing “occultish” at all. As a flower child in the Vietnam War era, he wrote passionately about anti-establishment ideas. His entries go on about the Vietnam War, his girlfriends, his debate team, his drug use, his struggles for independence and a few mentions of his disenchantment with Mormonism. In Alden’s own words:
“Man, did I blow it; a victim of the occupying army and my own stupidity. So, flash, all of the sudden, I was a criminal ... a dope fiend. … In a way it helped carry out my plans of going straight for school, brought me (strangely enough) closer to my family.”
Alden loved one young woman he eventually wanted to make his wife, even if her parents didn’t approve. “When I see [her], I feel her when, she touches me, I begin to listen.”
His anti-war rhetoric veers toward environmentalist sentiments, and he characterizes Mormonism as a joke, just another opiate for the masses. “Yes, you say you have peace, but look at the land, all the [hating] and fighting is more [than] I can stand. The concrete gets hard, without any trees, and trouble is all I can see,” he wrote. “I live in a world of filthy air and water, war, revolution (violent and non-violent), John Birch (fascism), Mormonism (and other assorted bullshit), people who are beautiful and real. … I really am glad for debate. … [It’s hard] trying to be liberal in an ultraconservative atmosphere.”
Contrast those thoughts with those of Jay’s Journal, which constructs a strong conflict between his fascination with the occult and frequent Mormon moralizing. He constantly frets about free agency and eternal consequences. He always plans to confess to his LDS bishop but never does.
In Jay’s Journal, he and his friends return to the LDS Church to rededicate themselves “to things we understand and, deep down inside, always have believed and respected.” Unfortunately in this modern morality play, it’s already too late for Jay.
Shocked at what he saw as Sparks’ outlandish, even posthumously libelous treatment of his brother’s character, Scott Barrett embarked on a meticulous, side-by-side comparison of his brother Alden’s journal and Sparks’ book. He even published a book on his own, titled A Place in the Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal. While not for sale at your corner bookstore, it is available by contacting Scott by e-mail at email@example.com.
Scott contrasts the religious rhetoric in each book as “exploration” in Alden’s journal, and “obsessive” in Jay’s Journal. It’s evidence, in his mind, of Sparks’ distortion of the truth.
Of the 212 entries in Jay’s Journal, only 21 come directly from Alden’s journal, Scott said. That means only 10 percent are bona fide entries, and the rest came from altered entries, letters, interviews or the editor’s imagination. Some entries discuss real characteristics in Alden’s life but were changed for the book. These included facts like his academic and dating prowess, his involvement in debate team and drama, his father’s medical practice, and his drug abuse and house arrest.
“I read all his letters and interviewed his friends,” said Scott. “Nowhere could I find evidence of the things mentioned in Jay’s Journal. Alden studied Hinduism. Maybe that is the same as the occult to Beatrice,” he said.
According to Scott and Marcella Barrett, Sparks changed her claims about the origin of Jay’s Journal several times. At one point, according to the Barretts, Sparks said she “edited” her book from a compilation of three journals, then changed her account to using Alden’s journal and interviews from three of his “closest” friends. Her explanations didn’t add up, they said.
“Why can’t she make up her mind about things?” Marcella huffed. “What did she really do?”
Sparks paused thoughtfully before giving her response. “I talked to people who were friends, maybe they were not friends of Alden,” she said. She didn’t elaborate on whether that meant she had interviewed people who had lied about Alden or were simply a bad influence on him.
She expressed great sympathy for the family, however. Meanwhile, the printing presses roll on and the royalty checks roll in.
“I was heartbroken, sorry for the whole family [when Alden’s headstone was desecrated],” she said. “I would never hurt anyone,” she said, adding that she felt sorry for the mother and father.
While Sparks maintains her books are factual and true, she admits changing some facts to protect the family’s identity, as per the book’s disclaimer. “I tried to make it different enough that people wouldn’t know [who the real author was],” she said.
At times she said Jay’s Journal was “true,” but later described it as “a semi-true story.”
She refused to release names of her sources in order to protect their privacy and regrets that the true identities in the journal were discovered. “I never felt good about that book,” she said. Yet if it has, or will, save any young lives from the snares of evil, she defends its purpose.
In Jay’s Journal, an entry describes in detail a harrowing cemetery wedding between Jay (Alden) and his girlfriend, named in the book as Tina.
“When I found out Tina was having our wedding in the cemetery, by the big tomb, I about died. … By the single little black candle, we went through the ritual of eternal slavery to each other. … Then we cut our tongues and let the blood pour into each other’s mouths. It was Nirvana. … Martin brought in a teensy meowing kitten. With one twist, he wrung its little neck. … [We tried and failed] to bring it back to life.”
Barrett said Alden wanted to marry his high school girlfriend, and they performed a mock ceremony at the cemetery. In Scott’s book, an interview with the “bride” (known in the book as Tina) described a less insidious wedding at the cemetery.
“When I was a little girl … there was this statue of Jesus in the cemetery. … That statue [was] a great comfort to me. … I wanted to get married in front of it. … We went there, and he had this prayer rug, and we both knelt there holding hands for several minutes. Then we kissed each other and left. There was nothing satanic about it,” she said.
Alden’s journal does not describe the wedding at all, but merely reflects fondly on his new “wife” in a poem: “Well [she’s] the one with the lovely brown Hair. And [she’s] the one makes me feel I don’t care/’Bout all those people who aren’t totally free/’bout all of those people who’d crucify me/And [she’s] the one with the big redwood eyes/And [she’s] the one that disables my mind/’with touches and glances that vibrate the sky, and puts us together on a natural high.”
In a lesser case of creative writing, Jay’s Journal said he (Alden) replaced medications from his father’s medical practice with powdered milk, so he and his friends could get high. He gets busted in the act and ends up under house arrest.
In reality, Alden was busted for possession of illegal drugs—“reds” and “lids” of pot—not stolen prescription drugs. He lived under house arrest for a while. His father Doyle suspected Alden might also be taking some drug samples from his medical practice but never found any evidence of it, Barrett said.
Curse or Coincidence?
While no occult activities were mentioned in Alden’s journal, he did dabble in Ouija-board games with friends. In Jay’s Journal, he frequently consults the board.
In Scott’s book, Alden’s friend Kim Lewis recounts one séance in an interview. The group of six friends asked the Ouija board three times if they would have long, or short, lives.
“All three times, it indicated that they would not live long,” said Lewis.
There is a cosmic twist of coincidence concerning the quorum of six friends. “They’re all dead, except for myself,” said Lewis. “I almost died myself. I had carbon monoxide poisoning.”
In Jay’s Journal, demonic entities overpower two separate vehicles, resulting in the deaths of two of Jay’s friends. In reality, two of Alden’s friends—Mike Wade and John Lundgren—died in car-related accidents, but Scott believes there was nothing supernatural about it. Another two of the group died in unrelated suicides: Renee Richards, who drowned herself in a sink, and Alden; the fifth, Jono Mason, died on a motorcycle. All died around the 1970s, in their youth. Alden’s high school girlfriend is believed to have moved to the East Coast and married, according to Scott.
She Said, He Said
Barrett feels the woman she trusted with her son’s story “cheated” and disgraced her family. “I let her know we didn’t appreciate it,” said Barrett.
Most remarkable to Barrett was Sparks’ insistence that Jay’s Journal was the true story, and any attempt to revise it would be a fabrication.
“She didn’t come let us read it [before it was published],” said Barrett. “She promised faithfully she would do that. … Our friends said, ‘Oh, you’ve come out with a book.’ That’s how we found out about it.”
After Jay’s Journal went on sale, everyone in Pleasant Grove was reading it and figuring out the identity of “Jay.” Later, Alden’s headstone was damaged and briefly stolen, then returned, facing the wrong way.
Scott, almost five years younger than Alden, received the brunt of the family’s “satanic” stigma. “It was in my face all the time,” he said.
And despite Sparks’ belief that the book deters people from the dark side, Scott knows differently. “I knew a teenage boy who had been to Alden’s grave site several times and had taken the time to draw a likeness of Alden from the rendering on the headstone. He made a shrine in his room, complete with satanic symbols and blood. Some of my old friends had witnessed him praying to Alden,” he said.
“Another boy became immersed in Satan worship for over two years after reading Jay’s Journal,” Scott remembers. Black-and-white candle wax and blood were found at the grave as well, he said.
The family became the object of cruel pranks. “My mother went out to check the mail and found a dead animal in the mailbox,” he said.
But oddly enough, Scott said he met his second wife when she asked him about Jay’s Journal.
While he believes Sparks’ intentions were to help young people avoid drug abuse, premarital sex and the occult, her driving force was “fame and fortune,” he said.
Sparks remembers Scott demanding money from her, almost threatening her, a charge he denies. He asked for her help in publishing his rebuttal book, A Place in the Sun, but she refused. Later, she sent the family a check for $75, and that was the end of it, Scott remembers. Marcella Barrett never pursued a libel case against Sparks, because she doesn’t believe in suing people, she said.
“That’s the only book, really, that I felt that I’m sorry I wrote,” said Sparks.
Despite the Barrett family’s pleas, publication of this popular story hasn’t ceased. “I don’t think that one is selling,” Sparks reasoned, dismissing its popularity.
Spreading the word
Hundreds of calls and letters have come to Sparks over the years thanking her for Jay’s Journal and her other books, she said. “Lots of kids from this area that knew me [called and said] ‘I’m so glad I didn’t [get into the occult]’,” she said.
Even the executive director of a national drug abuse prevention organization said that Sparks’ teen runaway book, Go Ask Alice, “was the greatest deterrent to drug abuse in the nation,” she said.
“I worked with a lot of kids who got themselves into problems and were not able to get out,” Sparks said. Her books address these problems with a “scared straight” style and she believes Jay’s Journal scared kids away from witchcraft and Satan worship.
In Aug. 7, 1985, Provo’s Daily Herald hitched a ride on the Styx ferryboat with a series of articles, ominously titled “Satanism In Zion.” One article linked Jay’s Journal with Alden Barrett, even showing two photographs, one of his tombstone and the other of a ring with a pentagram.
Upset that the newspaper presented Jay’s Journal as fact and also that the newspaper never contacted the family for its side of the story, the Barrett family sent a letter to the paper asking for a retraction.
Among the article’s alleged egregious observations was a description of Alden’s graveside portrait as “eyes piercing and unblinking.” If the clay photograph had actually blinked, then the Herald would really have had a ghost story. The paper stood by its reporting, Barrett said.
“Well, I haven’t heard that name in quite a while,” said Captain Cody Cullimore, referring to Alden Barrett. Officer Cullimore has worked for the Pleasant Grove Police Department for 23 years. Though Alden killed himself in 1971, and Jay’s Journal was published in 1979, Cullimore is well informed about his town’s favorite folklore.
“I think the book was sensationalized,” he said. “Very little occult” activity has ever been reported in Pleasant Grove, he said.
However, ever since the book’s publication, police noticed an increase in occult-like activities, he said. “Usually, it’s just groups of guys who have read the book and want to scare their girlfriends.”
Even a favorite local landmark, The Purple Turtle diner—Blue Moo in Jay’s Journal—played a role in the book. Jay (Alden) and his friends would grab a burger, move utensils with “mental magnetism” and discuss their satanic soirées.
In Jay’s Journal, this conservative community is teeming with adolescent occultists. Jay even warns of “underground kid movements in nice little [Pleasant Grove] and Salt Lake and Denver. … [The occult] is big and ever growing everywhere … a kind of Pied Piper sort of thing.” This dark force has infiltrated his high school’s student government, basketball, debate and drama, Jay wrote.
Each of Sparks’ books focuses on a particular angle, be it runaways, drug abuse, suicide, the occult, AIDS or teen pregnancy.
Even before Sparks got ahold of his older brother’s journal, Scott believes she already knew the story she would tell. When Marcella Barrett approached Sparks with Alden’s journal, Sparks then had a face for her next book idea. For her part, Sparks thinks the family is in denial about their wayward boy.
Both women have come to regret their collaboration. Sparks has published books on safer topics like teen pregnancy since Jay’s Journal and said the past “is over.” Marcella Barrett has healed the rift with both her sons, Alden and Scott. She also made peace with her adulterous ex-husband, Doyle, now buried next to Alden.
As for Alden’s suicide and happiness in the afterlife, she said he was a troubled boy who could not get the counseling and antidepressants now available today.
“I feel very good about Alden,” she said . "I was very concerned about his eternal progress. But I'm not anymore, becasue I know for a fact that Alden is OK."
In some miraculous way, she's seen and felt his presence. "He has even been in my bedroom, running around the bed… patting us on the cheek and saying he was sorry and he didn't mean to hurt us, " she said.
As for Scott, his own book has been a way for him to deal with demons of his past. "Scott and I felt very good about the book," his mother said.
He even sees a sly irony in Jay's Journal. "Sparks used lies to discredit the devel, the father of lies." he said. "but, instead of discrediting him, she was really perpetuating him."
Today, Deseret Book sells jay's Journal online, but refused to sell Scott's book becasue it contains some profanity, he said. No pther publisher or distributor has expressed interest in Alden's journal.
Jay and Alden are now urban legends in Utah, not to be purged from the cultural consciousness anytime soon. The moral indulgence and ceaseless titilation of Jay's Journal still resonates with many people, while Scott struggles for a venue to share Alden's story. A new look at an old adage may clarify the reason. While fact may be stranger than fiction, perhaps the truth about Alen was never strange enough.