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Freeing the San Antonio Four

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Anna Vasquez planned on attending nursing school when she was arrested at age 19; Cassandra "Cassie" Rivera was raising two young children when arrested at age 19; Elizabeth Ramirez was 20 years old and pregnant when arrested; Kristie Mayhuh, arrested at age 21, was studying to become a veterinarian.

The four women, whom advocates have come to call the San Antonio Four, all recall the visit by Ramirez's young nieces as uneventful, involving things like swimming, basketball, and trips to Walmart. While Vasquez was released on parole early this month, after serving nearly 13 years of her 15-year sentence, the other three remain in prison. Rivera and Mayhugh have served almost their entire prison terms. Ramirez, considered the ringleader, isn't projected to be released until 2034.


Local officials often call Nancy Kellogg the state's foremost authority on physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of children, an expert widely published in the field's top academic journals. Just three years after graduating from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Kellogg joined Child Safe, then known as Alamo Children's Advocacy Center, which acts as a local clearinghouse for child abuse cases where doctors and nurses work closely with child protection workers, police investigators, and prosecutors. Kellogg declined multiple requests for an interview with the Current.

As director of Child Safe, Kellogg has in the past claimed to review as many as seven child abuse cases daily, and she has evaluated more than 10,000 children for abuse. She's currently Division Chief for Child Pediatrics at UTHSC. Testifying in court in the late 1990s, Kellogg explained she's routinely called on by local authorities to testify in criminal cases, some three to four times a month. She couldn't recall ever having testified for the defense.

Though a leader in her field, when testifying outside the presence of the jury in Elizabeth Ramirez's 1997 trial, Kellogg suggested Ramirez and her friends sexually assaulted her nieces as part of some "satanic or cult based" scheme. It was a notion that had already been widely discredited. A flood of child sex abuse cases alleging Satanic or ritual abuse hit courts across the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The headlines and hysteria fueled cases like the now-infamous McMartin Pre-School allegations in the Los Angeles suburb of Manhattan Beach in the 1980s, where parents accused pre-school workers of dark kiddie-porn photo shoots, twisted rituals in below-ground tunnels, and orgies involving infants and mutilated corpses. McMartin eventually became the face of ritual abuse hysteria, mushrooming into the longest, costliest criminal trial in U.S. history.

Debbie Nathan, one of the country's first journalists to critically examine ritual abuse cases, calls Kellogg's findings in the San Antonio Four case one of the last gasps of the Satanic ritual abuse panic. Nathan describes how the frenzy and institutional zeal to prosecute such Devil-inspired monsters, accused of crimes that often defied logic and reason, locked up innocents in the comprehensive 1995 book Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, which she co-authored.

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