As the Utah primary draws near, the investigation into “ritualized child sexual abuse” has garnered more than 120 tips related to claims of ritualistic sex rings. Let’s examine the history of these allegations in Utah.
In the nearly 4 weeks since the Utah County Sheriff’s Office announced an investigation into allegations of “ritualized child sexual abuse” in three Utah counties, they have received more than 120 tips in the form of phone calls, texts, and emails. UCSO Public Information Officer Sgt. Spencer Cannon told the Salt Lake Tribune that the office has “pulled in” sergeants with experience in sex assault cases to help review the information.
The Last American Vagabond (TLAV) has been following the unusual situation since May 31st when the Utah County Sheriff’s Office announced they were working with multiple county and federal agencies investigating reports of ritualistic child sexual abuse from as far back as 1990. The Sheriff’s Office said the investigation began in April 2021. The investigation subsequently discovered previous reports alleging “similar forms of ritualistic sexual abuse and trafficking” that occurred in Utah County, Juab County, and Sanpete County during the time between 1990 and 2010.
Following the announcement of this investigation by Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt held a press conference where he shared a 151-page document titled “victim statement” related to a 2012 case involving allegations of sexual abuse of children. Leavitt and several other people are named in the statement as being involved with a group practicing ritual child sex abuse. He claimed the Sheriff’s investigation was a political attack on him related to the June 28th primary elections in Utah.
As TLAV reported last week, courtroom records revealed that Utah County Attorney David Leavitt lied when he said the 2012 case was dismissed by his predecessor because it was “unbelievable”, lacking evidence, and the story of a “tragically mentally ill” woman.
The Salt Lake Tribune has also reported that USCO Sgt. Cannon said the report that Leavitt was referencing was not what started the sheriff’s investigation last year. “We had a victim come forward and disclose abuse of this nature,” Cannon told the SLT. “And so that’s what started our investigation. The case that David Leavitt spoke about is not the case we initially started investigating. It’s not the case that we became aware of in April of last year.”
Cannon did acknowledge that the detectives became aware of the 2012 case and the allegations against therapist David Lee Hamblin, but did not say if the case was part of the current investigation.
As Utahans prepare to vote in the primary on June 28th — a race in which both Sheriff Mike Smith and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt are both up for re-election — we wait to see if there will be any additional announcements, indictments, subpoenas or any official action taken.
To better understand this current investigation, we have examined hundreds of pages of Utah government documents, articles, and allegations of ritualized sexual abuse to paint a picture of this history.
The 1990’s and Ritualized Sexual Abuse
In March 1990, the Utah Governor’s Commission for Women and Families created the Utah Task Force on Ritual Abuse to investigate a rise in claims of ritualized sexual abuse of children and educate the public and professionals about the issue. The Task Force was co-chaired by psychologist Noemi Mattis, Ph.D., who was a believer in the idea that alleged victims can “recover” their memories of abuse over time.
In 1992, the task force issued their report, Report of Utah State Task Force on Ritual Abuse, concluding that ritual abuse was occurring in Utah. The report described what it called “generational” cults operating in secret, sometimes using the cover of traditional religious organizations and practices.
“Some scholars are convinced that such groups have existed for centuries. Their abusive cult activities may co-exist side by side with traditional worship; that is, members may publicly practice an established, respected religion. The members are often well-known and respected within their larger communities.”
When questioned about the lack of corroborative evidence to support the claims of the report and the alleged victims, Mattis said it is “very difficult to prove any cases in a court of law which involve ritual abuse simply because the people who are involved with it have real expertise at hiding their tracks“.
The Task Force’s report also made recommendations for the legislature to appropriate $250,000 to the Attorney General’s office to hire four investigators for a year. The Attorney General’s office eventually would hire two investigators to pursue the claims.
The Zion Society Cult
One of the investigators hired by the Utah Attorney General’s Office was Mike King. However, prior to his role in the AG investigation, King cut his teeth tracking down the Zion Society cult.
In 1991, Arvin Shreeve of Ogden, Utah and 10 members of the Zion Society were arrested as part of a sex ring involved in ritualistic sexual abuse. At the time Mike King was working as an investigator for the Weber County Attorney’s Office. King was approached by a woman who claimed she had been involved in a cult that was sexually abusing children.
The woman told King she was running away from a bad marriage when she became involved with the group’s leader, a man named Arvin Shreeve who had developed a group of followers. Shreeve told his followers he knew how to help them achieve happiness in the afterlife. His instructions often involved lesbian relationships and sexual abuse.
“He was then dictating that they should have relations with each other, a same-sex relationship, all in what he believed was his God’s approval,” Mike King said in an interview with the Cold Podcast. “It continued to pervert, as always it seems these sexual predations do, and it soon became ‘now the children need to be involved.’”
King called the Zion Society’s abuse of children “ritual abuse” despite it not being “satanic” or “occult”. He said the rituals Shreeve employed were a perversion of Christian theology. “Ritual abuse is happening. I don’t believe ritual abuse means satanic abuse,” King said.
When the Ogden police raided the neighborhood where the Zion Society was based, Mike King supervised the operation and the criminal prosecution of Shreeve and other members of the Zion Society.
The Utah Attorney General’s Ritual Abuse Crime Unit
In 1992, following the recommendation of the Utah Task Force on Ritual Abuse report, the Utah Attorney General’s office hired Mike King and Mark Jacobson to further investigate the claims of ritualistic sexual abuse that had grown so loudly that one poll from 1992 shows that 90% of the people polled believed Satanic abuse was real.
In late February 1995, the Utah Attorney General’s office closed the two-and-a-half-year investigation. King and Jacobson had investigated over 125 cases of alleged ritual crime. The investigators met with hundreds of citizens who claim to be victims of satanic, religious, physical or sexually motivated ritual crimes.
King and his partner summarized their findings in a 1995 report Ritual Crime in the State of Utah: Investigation, Analysis & A Look Forward. “Allegations of organized satanists, even groups of satanists who have permeated every level of government and religion were unsubstantiated,” the report read.
King did conclude that it is possible there were isolated instances of child sex abusers using satanic or occult imagery to scare victims into silence. The investigators concluded:
“Utah’s police officers and their departments have dedicated thousands of hours as they followed up on allegations, searched hillsides for ritual sites, ‘staked out’ potential ceremonies, etc. Their combined efforts were unable to uncover any physical evidence to support the claims of the existence of organized cults.
Evidence has been uncovered to support the thought that individuals have in the past, and are now committing crime in the name of Satan or other deity. The allegations of organized satanists, even groups of satanists who have permeated every level of government and religion were unsubstantiated.
Clearly, crimes involving sexual and physical abuse are occurring. Evidence in the state supports the notion that ritual crime can exist, even on a large scale as in the Zion Society case in Ogden. Police agencies from across the state have the burden of evaluating and investigating all allegations that come to their attention. There is absolutely no evidence to support that any police agency is refusing to investigate allegations of ritual crime when those allegations involve criminal activity.”
Satanic Panic or Something More?
Unfortunately, the research around these and other historical investigations into “ritualized” or “satanic” child sexual abuse is often rife with biases. Those who wholeheartedly believe these accounts are factual tend to dismiss any evidence to the contrary. Those who think it all sounds too outlandish or insane often focus on claims of false memories and the moral panic of the 1980’s.
However, the Jeffrey Epstein saga, as well as my work on The Finders cult, show that these types of organized sexual rings do exist. Whether or not there is an occult or ritualistic element is often harder to prove, and, perhaps, even a distraction from the very real abuse of children that is happening. This is, of course, not to say that ritualistic abuse does not happen and that accounts of such abuse should be ignored.
Although the Utah sexual abuse investigations of the 1990’s are often dismissed as another “Satanic Panic”, a September 1991 Deseret News article titled Tales Are Bizarre But True, Deputy Says raises important and disturbing questions. The article states:
“Deputy Dennis Howard of the Utah County Sheriff’s Department is one of them. He took 42 reports alleging ritualistic animal or child abuse in 1989. ‘Victims will tell you stories that are so bizarre it’s difficult to believe them,’ says Howard. ‘But I have no trouble believing it. It’s happening in Utah County and in every other county of the state.’
He says he is uncomfortable with child abuse laws, because people can be put in prison even if there is no physical evidence of the crime. He also says he can name people who are guilty of ritualistic crimes, but ‘I can’t touch them. They are too good at what they do and learn from court testimony in other cases about how to get away with their crimes.'”
If Deputy Howard elaborated on his claim that he can name the guilty parties, the Deseret News did not report it. TLAV has reached out to Howard for clarification and will update if he responds.
Howard goes on to say that he believes “transgenerational satanist groups” are operating in Utah and are well-organized.
“These people are very mobile and have the ability to pack up and set up anywhere,” he told the Deseret News. “I don’t care which deity they claim to worship. They are into this (ritualistic crime) to satisfy their own psychological needs.”
This history of allegations of ritualized sexual abuse does not end in the 1990’s. Recall that the accusations against David Lee Hamblin were in 1999, and again in 2012. Hamblin is accused by at least 8 victims of being involved in a cult performing ritual sexual abuse of children, as well as murder. Utah County Attorney David Leavitt was also accused of participating in these actions by one of the alleged victims of Hamblin. And, of course, we have the ongoing investigation by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office that was started in April 2021 based on new reports.
Clearly, the claims of cults being involved in various forms of ritual sexual abuse of children has not ended.
For the 4th part of the investigation in this series, we will focus on the elephant in the room: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church, and accusations of ritual sexual abuse.