Michelle Remembers - Criticism and Debunking

Criticism and Debunking

By 1990, an article in The Mail on Sunday exposed further inconsistencies in Smith’s allegations. The Mail on Sunday conducted a two week investigation into the claims made in Michelle Remembers and found that other than Pazder and Smith, the people they interviewed described the events in Michelle Remembers as "the hysterical ravings of an uncontrolled imagination". In an interview with Jack Proby, Proby cited (as an example) "three specific points where … Michelle lied" in Michelle Remembers. Proby indicated that although he decided not to sue, he did file a Notice of Intent to sue against the book's publisher should they go beyond the literary contract; thereby preventing the book from being made into a movie. The Mail on Sunday also interviewed the Smith’s childhood family doctor: "I believe it was … an over-active imagination"; former neighbors of the Probys: "I dismissed the book as crazy. The mother was a nice, gracious lady. A little girl could not have been tortured without someone hearing"; a former childhood friend of Smith: "Virginia was like a second mother to me. I certainly never had a bad feeling about her"; and her ex-husband: "Not once during their marriage or the birth of their daughter did Michelle ever mention her experience".

The Mail on Sunday reported that the local Catholic Church and Bishop Remi De Roo were also attempting to distance themselves from the claims in Michelle Remembers: "He wants to distance himself from these people. More than ten years ago he asked the couple to provide him with details, but they never supplied all the information he required." The Mail on Sunday also reported the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stated that there had never been a single prosecution in Victoria for Satanic practices. During the interview, Pazder was questioned about the truth of the claims in the book:

asked Pazder: "Does it matter if it was true, or is the fact that Michelle believed it happened to her the most important thing?"

He replied: "Yes, that's right. It is a real experience. If you talk to Michelle today, she will say, 'That's what I remember'. We still leave the question open. For her it was very real. Every case I hear I have skepticism. You have to complete a long course of therapy before you can come to conclusions. We are all eager to prove or disprove what happened, but in the end it doesn't matter."

A 1995 book found further inconsistencies in Smith’s allegations; the authors found no newspaper record of the car crash that the book describes in the time frame described despite the fact that the local newspaper reported on all vehicle accidents at the time. Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book's authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith in the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.

A 2002 article by Kerr Cuhulain not only explored the inconsistencies in Smith’s allegations, but also their unlikeliness. Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith’s tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. Like other authors, Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith's recovered memories appear to have reflected elements in popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist) and Pazder's own religious beliefs and experiences from when he was living and working in Africa in the early 1960s. Finally, Cuhulain hypothesized that Smith's motivation for making the allegations may have come from her desire to spend time with Pazder; though both were initially married to other people, they divorced their spouses and re-married each other after the publication of the book.

James R. Lewis, in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, wrote that Michelle Remembers "must be treated with great skepticism, not least because literally all the charges involved seem drawn from accounts of West African secret societies from the 1950s, imported to Canada." Nichol Spanos has pointed out in addition to the lack of corroboration of Smith's memories, "skepticism appears warranted by the fact that some of these "memories" involve Michelle's encounters with supernatural beings." Spanos also mentions that Smith's father and unmentioned two siblings contradict the allegations made by Smith, as well as Pazder's time in West Africa during a time when there was widespread concern over secret, blood-drinking, cannibalistic cults.

Despite the lack of evidence and inconsistencies surrounding the allegations made in Michelle Remembers, there are still people who believe that Smith’s claims of abuse are the literal truth and that there is a vast, yet secretive worldwide conspiracy of inter-generational satanic worshipers abusing and murdering children and adults.

The book's contents have been unsubstantiated by any evidence beyond Smith's testimony. Despite this, the book inspired copy-cat accusations throughout the world, against in many cases members of the Church of Satan, non-satanic occultists, and others with no connection to the occult.

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