Explaining satanic panic: South Texas Crime Stories

“These groups trying to claim that Satanists are sort of seducing our children and taking over America.”

A look at how Satanic Panic played a role in two San Antonio cases that wrongfully convicted five people.

This season we explore what Satanic Panic is and how it affected people here in San Antonio.

In part one we look at what Satanic Panic is and how it changed the life of a man named Melvin Quinney and his family.

1989

It was 1989, Melvin Quinney, his wife and four children, John, Sarah, Tammy, and Matthew were living in San Antonio.

The marriage between Melvin and his wife wasn’t going well and divorce was looming.

It was something their kids didn’t know much about at the time.

Melvin’s son John recently spoke in court about his father, he’s in his 40s now but was 8 years old when the allegations started against his dad.

“Up until that point things as far as I knew were great. I know we had a Thanksgiving dinner,” John said. “The next day, we moved out and then sometime within the next couple of days is when I heard there was an allegation made against Sarah. Or somebody mentioned to me that Sarah may have been molested and that was the first time I had, to my knowledge, ever heard that word.”

Soon their world would be turned upside down when their father Melvin Quinney was arrested.

Melvin was accused of being in a satanic cult and of sexually assaulting his oldest son and daughter.

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1990

In 1990, Melvin was charged with indecency with a child and John became the center of the case.

During therapy sessions, John started saying he had been sexually assaulted by his father.

In June of 2022, John testified about this period of his childhood.

“I do know for at least a while I remember saying nothing happened, nothing happened and that wasn’t a good enough answer for them. And then at some point, I don’t know when it was, like I just started buying into it,” John said.

John and his mother would even tell police he had seen his father and his father’s friend murder two women.

No crime scene or bodies were ever found but Melvin went to trial in 1991 for the indecency with a child charge.

1991

John took the stand at 10 years old.

His testimony would ultimately convict his father and Melvin was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After more than 30 years, Melvin and his son were back in court, this time the story had changed.

“Did you testify truthfully and accurately in that proceeding?” a lawyer asked John.

“No,” John responded.

“Has your father ever sexually abused you?” the lawyer asked.

“No he hasn’t,” John responded.

What is Satanic Panic?

Joseph Laycock, an associate professor of religious studies at Texas State University, spoke with reporter Erica Hernandez about the term satanic panic.

“In the sixties, you began to have this concern about cults, that sort of cults had infiltrated America and were brainwashing people,” Laycock said. “And when I say cults, I’m talking about groups like the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishnas, and the Children of God, which was a Christian group that came out this time. But eventually, the fear shifted from these groups, which are actually not that dangerous to completely imaginary groups. Right, which were Satanists. Then these groups trying to claim that Satanists are sort of seducing our children and taking over America. The satanic cults in this conspiracy theory were allegedly killing thousands of people a year and somehow doing this without leaving any evidence. And when you asked, why is there no evidence? Who are all these people that are missing? They would say, well, the cops are saying this to the FBI or Satanists who and they’re covering it up. So it began as kind of a conspiracy theory in the 1970s. And by the 1980s, this had reached the point where people were actually being accused of crimes and actually being, in some cases, convicted for it.

Satanism was also prevalent when it came to pop culture during that time.

“The beginning of heavy metal was really this English band called Black Sabbath. And they named themselves after a horror movie. If you actually listen to a Black Sabbath album from the seventies, it’s actually very Christian, right? It’s saying Satan’s scary. You got to look out for Satan. However, it was interpreted as being an endorsement of Satanism, and then later bands in the eighties actually said, Oh, well, if there’s a market for bands that are truly satanic, then we’ll, we’ll play the part, you know. And we started to get more openly satanic albums with Pentagram on the cover,” Laycock said.

Even recently in the Netflix show “Stranger Things,” characters were looked down on and attacked for playing the board game Dungeons and Dragons.

Melvin Quinney’s conviction wasn’t unique, there were other cases that made headlines throughout the country.

WATCH: Reporter Erica Hernandez talks about Satanic Panic hysteria

This season we explore what Satanic Panic is and how it affected people here in San Antonio.

McMartin Preschool Trial

Members of the McMartin family who operated a preschool in California were charged with hundreds of acts of sexual abuse of children in their care.

Their case lasted seven years and their trials ran from 1987 to 1990.

The McMartin trial became the longest and most expensive series of criminal trials in American History at the time. In the end, nobody was convicted and all charges were dropped.

The Kellers in Austin - 1991

Dan and Fran Keller were accused of torturing three children at their daycare and performing satanic rituals. It was dubbed the “satanic daycare” case.

Children from their daycare center accused the couple of serving blood-laced Kool-Aid; wearing white robes; cutting the heart out of a baby; flying children to Mexico to be raped by soldiers; using Satan’s arm as a paintbrush; burying children alive with animals; throwing them in a swimming pool with sharks; shooting them, and resurrecting them after they had been shot.

The Kellers were sentenced and spent 21 years in prison before they were exonerated.

An emergency room doctor who had testified during the trial about wounds on a 3-year-old girl later recanted that testimony saying he had learned more about the female anatomy.

The state has to pay them 3.4 million dollars for wrongful convictions.

Occult crime seminars for police - the 1980s

“So what would happen is somebody would say, I know about Satanism, and usually this would just be some weirdo who had no actual credentials and they’d say, I know about Satanism, and for $1,000 I will run a seminar to train police,” Laycock said. “And they would set up a little altar with like, you know, a plastic skull and some black candles. They say this is what you’re probably going to see if you go into a, you know, a satanic crime scene. And they would always give out sort of these are satanic symbols to be on the lookout for. And it would always be, you know, like the ACDC logo or sort of different like heavy metal bands that people were interested in the eighties or even things like yin yangs or, you know, crescent moons and things like that. But the attitude of the police was kind of, well, this must be a serious problem, because why else am I spending my weekends, you know, listening to all of this? So that also was a factor that kind of amped up that satanic panic.”

We are not done yet talking about satanic panic, next week we hear what happened in court this summer between Melvin Quinney and his son who was now recanting his whole story.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast South Texas Crime Stories.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.