Cult of Madness
In a small, nondescript room in Charter Hospital in Plano, a disheveled, glassy-eyed woman rocks in a chair as she speaks in a little girl's voice to her therapist. At this moment, 33-year-old Martha Hurt believes she is a 12-year-old girl named Mawsa, whose parents made her do unspeakable things.
In this therapy session, captured on videotape in February 1992, psychologist Stephen Ash asks Hurt to re-enact one of the times she murdered and mutilated a baby as part of a satanic cult ritual -- one of several babies she supposedly gave birth to for the cult.
"Did you love all the babies?" Ash asks.
"Will my babies go to heaven?" a wide-eyed Hurt replies.
"I think so," he says.
"My babies were little bitty, and I was little. The baby came out, and I was so tired. Daddy gave me a knife. He didn't ever get to have his eyes open. Does Jesus want me to talk about this?" Hurt asks meekly.
"It's so you can forget about it," Ash reassures his patient.
Hurt wrings her hands as she describes a roomful of robed people celebrating. Ash asks her whether she has something on her hands.
"Blood is on my hands, because I killed my babies," she says, sobbing.
"With a big knife. I stuck it in the baby's chest."
"You had to do it," Ash says.
"My daddy said I had to do it. I had to get the stuff out of the baby and give it to my daddy. I don't like to talk about it 'cause my babies was killed and they didn't let me love them for a minute."
"You have to," Ash insists, "to get over it."
As Ash holds his patient's hand, an obviously distraught Hurt talks about cutting out the baby's heart and eating it, how they cut up the baby and put it in a pot to burn it up, and how a machine sucked up the blood.
"And you can't cry, or they'll kill you," Hurt says.
"That was true," Ash says, "but it is not true anymore."
But it wasn't true. There were no babies, no satanic cult, no ritual murders. There was only Martha Poe Hurt, an Arlington wife and mother of three, who initially sought assistance from therapists for marital problems and depression only to be led on a seven-year descent into madness that she now believes was caused by the very professionals she turned to for help.
Martha Hurt's journey from depression to full-blown insanity is a case study in the damage done by specialists in multiple personality disorder and recovered memories -- widespread and widely discredited fads that swept through the mental-health profession in the last two decades. Within months of her seeking their assistance, her therapists convinced her that she had suffered satanic ritual abuse so traumatizing that it caused her to splinter into more than a dozen separate personalities.
That Hurt had no memory of the abuse and that no one detected these disparate personae before she entered therapy didn't seem to matter. In fact, when Hurt challenged the diagnosis, her therapists told her she was in denial. During the years she was in therapy, she became sicker. She was hospitalized three times, attempted suicide on numerous occasions, and mutilated her body with a cigarette lighter.
The sicker she got, the more isolated she became. Convinced her family was trying to draw her back into the murderous cult, she refused to have anything to do with them. She withdrew from her husband and children until they wanted nothing to do with her.
But slowly, painfully, Hurt came to believe that it was her therapy that had driven her mad.
"This is a cult about a cult," she says. "...It was clear these doctors did to me exactly what they said my family did. They isolated me, fed me lies, and made me crazy."
Hurt is far from alone. Thousands of people, most of them white, middle-class women from North America, sought treatment for relatively conventional psychological problems only to be convinced they had been victims of terrible abuse. Many of them, like Hurt, eventually came to understand that the lunatic fringe of the mental-health world had taken them in.
In the last five years, several hundred of these women have sued their therapists for malpractice and in the process accomplished what the mental-health field did not, or could not, do -- restrain an industry out of control.
Last year, as Hurt began to reclaim her life, she filed suit against her doctors and therapists. Last week, the parties met for their first court-ordered mediation session.
None of the defendants named in this story would comment. Lawyer Rock Grundman, the husband of counselor Mary Ellen Grundman, who treated Hurt at Charter, claims lawyers interested solely in financial gain cooked up Hurt's case. "You've seen a few cases over the years that have come down with enormous verdicts, and that leads to many lawyers trying to imitate them," says Grundman, who is representing his wife. "And that has led to testimony from people who appear to have qualifications who are willing to talk for large fees about something which they have no or little knowledge."
Chris Barden, a Minnesota psychologist and Harvard-educated lawyer, has made a career of successfully suing therapists in multiple personality disorder cases and is helping Hurt pursue her case. He says experts believe Hurt's is one of the worst cases of abuse they have seen, for in the course of losing her mind, she lost her parents, her husband, and her children.
"What these therapists tell people is that they have no free will, that something that might have happened 30 years ago is controlling their lives today," Barden says. "They destroy families, and that is not just junk science, it's evil."
In late 1990, Martha Hurt was a 32-year-old Arlington homemaker with marital problems. Bobby Gene Hurt, her high school sweetheart and husband of 12 years, was growing distant from her and their three adopted children. A maintenance manager at Vought Grumman, Bobby had an explosive temper, lashing out at his family over seemingly inconsequential things.
The Hurts attended marital counseling, but progress was slow. Depressed and overwhelmed by raising three children, ages 3, 9, and 10, with little support, Hurt, who also worked proofreading legal transcripts at home, could not dig herself out of the emotional hole in which she found herself.
The marriage counselor suggested she try an antidepressant and referred her to Dr. Kathleen Stanley, an Arlington psychiatrist. In the course of treating her, Stanley helped convince Hurt that her troubles stemmed not from marital discord, but from a history of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by her parents -- memories of which she had buried. With Stanley's help, Hurt suddenly dredged up in amazing and damning detail those long-forgotten memories.
Under Stanley's care, Hurt's condition rapidly deteriorated. Hospitalized in a psychiatric unit with incest survivors, Hurt began recalling even more lurid episodes of childhood sexual abuse. After confronting her parents and several of her siblings with the details of her newly recovered memories, which they emphatically denied, Hurt attempted suicide twice.
Matters soon became more sinister -- and more improbable. Richardson psychologist Stephen Ash concluded that Hurt was not just an incest survivor, but had also been the victim of her family's satanic cult. Ash also concluded that Hurt suffered from multiple personality disorder.
The treatment for MPD, Ash explained, was draconian and protracted -- typically seven to 10 years of intensive work, during which the therapist, using hypnosis, would help call forth as many of her various personalities -- or alters -- as possible and get them to divulge the abuse they had suffered or perpetrated. To aid in her supposed recovery, Ash devoted sessions to having Hurt re-enact such gruesome scenes as stabbing her newborn baby in the chest, carving out its heart, and eating it.
When Hurt balked at the treatment, Ash told her, "You have to remember in order to forget." This was a variation on the theme she would hear repeatedly over the years from all her therapists -- "You will get worse before you get better."
And worse she got. In January 1992, she again became suicidal and was hospitalized, this time at Charter Hospital in Plano, which had recently opened a special unit for the treatment of multiple personalities. During two months-long hospitalizations there, she mutilated her body and tried to take her life.
Hurt's life was in shambles, her sleep disrupted by nightmares, her waking hours consumed by her illness. Zoned out on a powerful stew of medications, she spent most of her days mapping her alternate personalities -- even her husband learned how to call them out. Under Ash, Hurt discovered about 12 different alters including Mawsa, her inner child who was ordered to do the devil's work; 13-year-old Marty, a tough cookie who took no guff from anyone; Augustus, the high priestess of the cult; and Stephen, the alter that was responsible for mutilating Hurt's body.
Though her life was careening out of control, she at least believed she was getting the best care available. The head of her treatment -- in fact, the head of the entire MPD unit at Charter -- was Dr. Colin Ross, an internationally known expert in the field of multiple personalities. Originally from Canada, Ross was president and one of the founding members of the International Society of the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation. He wrote and lectured widely on the subject.
By the time Hurt entered treatment with Ross, he began touting the theory that the CIA, not satanists, was responsible for the legion of MPD cases. He claimed to have secret documents proving that the CIA conducted mind-control studies on children in the 1950s to create an army of MPD victims it could control.
Under Ross' care, Hurt's alters multiplied -- at one point she believed she had almost 200 of them. And, not coincidentally, she suddenly began remembering times in her youth when she had been programmed by government operatives.
The history of the mental-health field is littered with fad treatments, from rolfing and primal-scream therapy to lobotomies, but experts say few have been as pernicious as the MPD movement. Its practitioners took troubled, vulnerable people and used dubious diagnostic tools and scientifically unproven theories and treatments and made them sicker.
Before 1980, MPD was considered one of the rarest of psychological illnesses. In the first half of the century, researchers found fewer than 100 cases that met their definition of MPD. Between 1985 and 1995, 40,000 cases were diagnosed.
The illness first came to the general public's attention in the 1950s with the release of the movie The Three Faces of Eve. Based on the true story of Chris Sizemore, Eve White was a shy housewife by day and Eve Black, a barhopping vixen, by night. Neither personality was aware of the other.
In the early 1970s, the book Sybil popularized the subject again. The best seller, which later became a TV movie, chronicled the life of a Columbia University art student who had been sadistically sexually abused by her mother. Sybil had 16 alters, two of whom had English accents and two of whom were boys. But years later, as the MPD movement began to spin out of control, a psychiatrist who treated her when her regular therapist was on vacation went public with the allegation that Sybil's alters were created by a combination of self-hypnosis and her therapist's leading questions.
The popularization of MPD coincided with the advent of another dubious movement -- recovered memories. In the early 1970s, therapists learned that childhood sexual abuse was much more prevalent than previously believed, though exact numbers were difficult to pin down, as was proving it in all but the most severe cases.
Feminists latched onto the issue of childhood molestation -- and the lack of serious attention society previously paid to it -- as further proof of the evil power of the patriarchal society. To help women overcome the damage of childhood molestation, a slew of self-help manuals and support groups sprung up guiding women on how to recover their long-lost memories.
The problem was that the majority of mental-health practitioners doubted that people actually forget significant episodes of trauma and abuse, much less unearth them intact decades later. "There is no credible scientific evidence proving the existence of a process called repression," according to the affidavit of Minnesota psychologist William Grove, an expert witness in Martha Hurt's case.
The theory that "neurologically intact victims of repeated, horrifying childhood abuse tend to 'repress' or 'dissociate' all memory of the abuse and can later recover 'memories' of such abuse with any degree of reliable accuracy has never...been accepted by the relevant scientific community," according to the affidavit of Richard Ofshe, a Stanford-educated social psychologist who specializes in coercion and techniques promoting changes in beliefs.
What credible scientific studies have shown is that molested and traumatized children tend not to forget abuse, but rather to suffer from repeated, unwanted, and painful intrusive thoughts and memories about the abuse, according to Grove. What has also been scientifically proven for decades is that hypnosis can create false memories.
Regardless, the MPD true believers took it as an article of faith that memories could be successfully repressed and recovered, and on this rather shaky foundation the theory of MPD took hold and flourished. That the protracted treatment of recovering and re-enacting memories and endlessly mapping alters was not backed by peer-reviewed, scientifically valid research did not faze MPD therapists. A large part of the public and profession considered psychotherapy more art than science anyway.
In 1980, a small group of interested therapists successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to have MPD included as a primary-level diagnosis. In 1984, the MPD proponents formed an organization and launched their own scientific journal, Dissociation. Hundreds of hospitals opened special MPD units.
Colin Ross claimed that MPD occurred in 1 percent of the population, making it as common as schizophrenia. He predicted that once mental-health professionals saw the light, MPD would be understood as the root cause of most mental illnesses.
The movement was helped along by the media -- recovered memories of childhood abuse and multiple personalities became a staple of talk shows, TV newsmagazines, and newspaper lifestyle sections -- and by the sudden appearance of satanic ritual abuse, yet another improbable trend. In trying to discover the origin of the satanic cult phenomenon, experts again seized on the publication of a popular book, Michelle Remembers. Published in 1980, the book was written by a Canadian homemaker and her psychiatrist, who helped the woman recall being tortured at age 5 by a satanic cult.
Shortly after the book's publication, other women began reporting similar atrocities to their therapists. Clusters of parents around the country told police that satanic cults had horribly abused their children in day-care centers. So many people came forward claiming to have been victims of satanic cults that the FBI launched an investigation into more than 300 alleged crimes by organized cults. In 1993, the FBI announced that it found no corroborating evidence for any of the allegations.
To true believers, this was further proof that the government was in on the MPD conspiracy. Those mental-health experts who did speak out were branded anti-woman, anti-child, or a part of the cult conspiracy themselves.
Beginning in 1995, the MPD field began to retrench, no doubt because of the torrent of malpractice suits and multimillion-dollar settlements and the advent of managed care, which made a treatment requiring sometimes as many as 200 sessions a year financially infeasible.
In the last five years, the MPD society has lost two-thirds of its members. Several of its most prominent members have fallen into disrepute. One founding member was discovered to have fabricated research data; another lost his license for having sex with his patients and videotaping it; a former president lost his medical license in Illinois last week; another, who lectured society members that the MPD epidemic was actually created by Nazi mind-control experiments conducted by a Jewish doctor who went on to work with the CIA, simply disappeared from the scene.
In 1994, The American Psychiatric Association changed the name of the MPD diagnosis to dissociative identity disorder, a condition in which patients are considered to have a fragile sense of identity. The majority of mental-health professionals believe that if MPD occurs at all, it rarely occurs spontaneously, and that it is usually accompanied by one or more conventional psychiatric illnesses. Only a handful of special MPD units remain around the country.
By all reliable accounts, Martha Hurt's upbringing was numbingly ordinary. The seventh of eight children born into a Catholic family, Hurt spent the first seven years of her life in Abilene, where her father owned a rental-equipment business. In 1965, the family moved to Arlington. Faded snapshots show a typical suburban family that Hurt now recalls as close and loving.
Hurt was a straight-laced child, a Camp Fire Girl, a member of the Texas Girls' Choir, and an honor student. Friends were surprised when she fell for Bobby Gene Hurt, a remedial student who was rough around the edges. She dropped out of the University of Dallas to marry Bobby Gene in 1978 and settled in Arlington, where he was a plumber and she a secretary in a tax office. Money problems and Bobby's temper made the nascent marriage rocky, but they worked through their problems. Yet by the early '80s, Martha was beginning to suffer bouts of depression. For four years, she had unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant, and her doctor said that her prospects were bleak.
Hurt recalls that whenever she saw a pregnant woman, she would start crying. The couple decided to adopt.
Shortly after the first adoption, Hurt's doctor recommended she have a hysterectomy. Soon after, the Hurts adopted their second baby. The surgery, coupled with the physical exhaustion of dealing with two children, sent her into an emotional tailspin. She eventually was hospitalized for a month in 1984 at Millwood Hospital in Arlington. In addition to depression, doctors diagnosed her with having a dependent personality disorder. "It meant I was a people-pleaser," says Hurt. "I had trouble expressing my anger, and I wanted other people's approval."
If any of the doctors who treated her saw evidence of alternate personalities or symptoms of latent sexual abuse, they failed to note it in their charts. Hurt made a full recovery -- so much so, the Hurts went on to adopt a third child. For the next five years, life was good. Bobby had a good job at Vought. Hurt planned to become a court stenographer.
But their relationship began to fray sometime in 1990 as Bobby grew more irritable. When marriage counseling didn't seem to help, Hurt became more despondent. That's when the counselor referred her to Dr. Kathleen Stanley for antidepressants. In the course of taking Hurt's medical and personal history, Stanley asked her whether she ever recalled being inappropriately touched by any member of her family.
Several men, including a brother-in-law, had taken liberties with Hurt in the past. When she was in high school, a teacher groped her and a neighbor had been found peeping through her bedroom window. After she married, one of her brothers-in-law raped her. She talked with Stanley about these events, but the doctor was more interested in probing Hurt's past.
When Hurt said there was much of her childhood that she could not remember, Stanley told her that was often an indication of childhood sexual abuse.
To assist in filling in the lapses in Hurt's memory, Stanley had her write with her nondominant hand, ostensibly to help her access various childhood memories, and guided her through the hypnotic process of age regression, wherein a patient is put into a trancelike state and is verbally walked through her life beginning with infancy. She also helped her get in touch with her inner child, who, at the therapist's urging, Hurt named Mawsa.
"She would tell me to close my eyes and picture myself in my bedroom at night when I was 5," Hurt recalls. "Then she would ask, 'Do you see someone, a man, in your bedroom? Is he coming toward you?'"
After several weeks of sessions with Stanley, Hurt convinced herself that her mother and father had sexually molested her throughout her childhood. "I'm not very proud of this," Hurt says now, "but I'm a people-pleaser, especially with authority figures, and I'm a very suggestible person. She's leading me, and I'm going where she wants me to go."
In the spring of 1991, Hurt spent a month in the psychiatric unit at Millwood Hospital, where Stanley headed the women's treatment program, which she also designed. Here Hurt's memories of childhood trauma grew exponentially; she now recounted episodes of abuse by 32 different people. Her records say she recalled first being raped by her father at age 2. Although Stanley admitted under oath that children's memories before age 4 are highly unreliable, she said she assumed Hurt just got her age wrong.
According to the affidavits of the experts in Hurt's case, they believe a combination of drugs -- she was prescribed Xanax, Prozac, and a sleeping pill -- hypnosis, contamination from the other patients, and assorted questionable therapeutic techniques primed Hurt to recall false memories of abuse.
During her hospital stay, Hurt was encouraged to read The Courage to Heal, a workbook that helps people recover childhood memories of sexual abuse and that was considered the bible of the recovered-memory movement. The book was written in 1988 by two laymen who claimed without any evidence that one-third of American women were sexually abused as girls and that many of them not only did not recall it, but also dealt with the trauma by developing different personalities.
Instead of focusing on problems with her husband or undergoing conventional therapy for depression, Hurt was lost in the past -- or some semblance of what she thought was her past.
"They said I couldn't get well until I remembered," Hurt says. "They convinced me that getting my bra fitted at the department store was sexual abuse if it had made me feel uncomfortable. They told me every boy who ever hugged or kissed me sexually abused me if the contact wasn't wanted."
Why couldn't Hurt see that her discoveries from therapy seemed, on the surface, dubious? "These people were broken-down and defenseless," psychologist and lawyer Chris Barden says. "We might get up and leave, but we're not desperate to get well. It is like what a chemotherapy patient is willing to put up with, because they want to get well. They believe the doctors that this is the way."
As early as 1985, the American Medical Association warned doctors of the risks of using hypnosis to help patients retrieve memories. It cautioned that subjects in hypnosis are more vulnerable to the effects of leading questions, that hypnosis can lead to confabulations and false memories, and that memories appear to be less reliable than non-hypnotic recall.
In her deposition in Hurt's case, Stanley denied using hypnosis on Hurt during her treatment. Although she destroyed Hurt's records a month before the suit against her was filed in May 1998, Hurt's Millwood Hospital records corroborate that she underwent hypnosis on numerous occasions. Furthermore, hypnosis experts claim that techniques such as age regression and guided imagery, which Stanley employed, can also induce a trancelike state that makes patients vulnerable to suggestion.
Stanley, who stopped working with sexually abused patients in 1994, admitted in her deposition that Hurt had no recollection of being sexually abused before Stanley treated her. Asked whether she believed her patient's memories of being victimized by 32 perpetrators were credible, she said, "Well, they were her memories; whether they were factual or not, I don't know." Stanley said she probably did not discuss with Hurt the veracity of the memories, because it "can be very damaging to the therapeutic relationship to doubt the patient."
If confronting a patient about the truth of her memories was damaging, not challenging them was equally traumatic. While hospitalized, Hurt twice attempted to cut herself, with her watch and with a paper cutter.
While hospitalized at Millwood, Hurt confronted her parents and several of her siblings with her memories of sexual abuse, specifically that her father used to rape her in the bathtub while they played a game called horsey.
"Dr. Stanley told me what to say, and I regurgitated it," Hurt says. "She had me write out the information, a list of all the memories and how I expected them to support me. I was shaking and crying while I was reading it. One of my sisters started yelling that it wasn't true. My other siblings told me that someone was putting this in my head. My parents were in shock. They had no idea what I was talking about. All they could think was that this wasn't Martha."
Hurt says Stanley had prepared her for her family's response: "She said they would either accept it or they were in denial. There was no third option -- that it might not be true." The therapist, says Hurt, convinced her she should not have contact with her family members if they remained in denial.
After Hurt was released from Millwood, she attended a weekly incest survivors' group at Stanley's office, an individual therapy session with Stanley, and marital counseling. Isolated from her family and depressed about her past, she lost her proofreading job and withdrew from friends.
Then, in early fall 1991, a woman in Hurt's incest survivors' group started talking about how her children were involved in a cult that handled snakes. Each session ended with a relaxation exercise in which patients were encouraged to close their eyes and envision themselves in a safe place. When Hurt did this, she suddenly had a memory of being in a pit of snakes.
She told Stanley about the memory and about a letter with a picture of a snake on it that she had sent her grandparents when she was a child. Stanley suspected that Hurt may have been involved in satanic ritual abuse, and the letter, she hypothesized, may have been Hurt's attempt to reach out and tell her grandparents what was happening, Hurt says.
Hurt also told her of a memory in which she was a girl and watched as another girl was killed and her heart was cut out. Although a scene almost identical to this is described in The Courage to Heal, Stanley was alarmed by the possibility that Hurt had been abused by a cult.
Stanley referred Hurt to Stephen Ash, a Richardson therapist who had more experience dealing with the issue of satanic cults.
In their first session in late 1991, Ash suspected that Hurt suffered from multiple personality disorder, because both Hurt and her inner child, Mawsa, answered questions during the therapy session. Ash had Hurt complete several diagnostic tests, which he claimed confirmed the diagnosis.
Other experts in Hurt's case allege that there is no scientifically valid test for MPD. Moreover, psychologist William Grove claims that Ash misinterpreted the test results. When he re-evaluated the test, Grove concluded that Hurt suffered from "major depressive disorder," not MPD. Grove goes on to say that her depression could likely have been treated successfully using established techniques in a short time.
Ash told Hurt it would take years of work to unlock all the memories held by the different alters.
"I was kind of in shock," says Hurt. "I didn't know how to tell my husband the prognosis. I didn't feel in control of anything. I didn't know from one minute to the next whether I was going to be dead or alive. If you aren't depressed before, you are now. You put all your trust in doctors, because that's all you have."
Ash quoted Scripture to her to provoke what he believed were demon alters and tried to cast the demons out. This terrified Hurt, a Catholic. She started feeling suicidal, and Ash had her admitted to Charter Hospital in January 1992. Ash told her about Colin Ross, an expert in MPD who had just opened a unit there. "Dr. Ash said it would be an excellent opportunity to go and get help," says Hurt.
During the three months Hurt was hospitalized at Charter, she tried to run away. She carved an upside-down cross on her breast, burned her ankle and wrist with a lighter, and beat a belt against her back.
"You just would rather hurt physically than deal with the emotional pain," Hurt says. "You just can't handle it."
At Charter, Hurt was given a copy of a satanic calendar that listed important satanic holidays. If Hurt was having a particularly bad day, she was told that it might be because the date corresponded with a specific satanic holiday during which she had, in the past, been violated. If there was no specific holiday that matched her mood, she was told it might be a holiday that was peculiar to her family's own cult.
Perhaps the hardest thing for her to cope with was the belief that she had killed her own babies. Her therapist's records say she recalled giving birth to six babies, starting at age 9. Had her doctors bothered to check her medical records, they would have learned she didn't reach puberty until age 12.
But it was all painfully real to Hurt. "All my life, I wanted to have a baby. The most devastating thing you could tell me was that I had a baby and killed it, ate it, and drank the baby's blood. I thought I was the most evil thing on the face of the earth and didn't deserve to live."
Now a psychologist in Greensboro, North Carolina, Ash said in a deposition he believed there was a chance -- between zero and 50 percent -- that Hurt's memories of ritual abuse were delusional. But at the time, when Hurt was attempting to qualify for Medicare as 100 percent disabled, he sent a letter to a federal disability examiner saying he had "no doubt" that Hurt was a multiple personality disorder with a satanic-abuse and incest-abuse background.
In the MPD unit, Hurt discovered from other patients that it was not typical for a therapist to quote the Bible or cast out demons. She spoke to Ross, whom she considered "a god."
Handsome and charismatic, Ross had written several textbooks on MPD. Hurt was aware of Ross' standing in the MPD world, but she had no idea his work -- and the entire concept of MPD being more prevalent than previously believed -- was highly controversial in the mental-health field.
Born and educated in Canada, Ross set up an MPD practice in Winnipeg. Suddenly the number of MPD cases mushroomed and with it the number of women accusing their parents of having abused them decades earlier. In the 1980s, Ross sent research students into the community and concluded on the basis of two-hour interviews that one in 100 people in North America suffered MPD. But by the early 1990s, Ross told the Canadian Broadcast Company that the numbers were anywhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 500.
At the time he was treating Hurt, he was facing two lawsuits accusing him of malpractice, according to his deposition in Hurt's case. In one, a government official whose wife and sister-in-law had been treated by one of Ross' acolytes claimed Ross had been indirectly responsible for his divorce and his sister-in-law's suicide. The suit against Ross was eventually dismissed. In the other suit, which is still pending, one of his Canadian patients claimed that her MPD was created in therapy and that Ross implanted false memories.
All Hurt knew about Ross was that he created the MPD unit at Charter and that everyone there looked up to him. Hurt complained to Ross about her discomfort with Ash casting out demons. Ross told her that the practice troubled him because other alters might fear the therapist was trying to kill them and they would retreat, which would hinder recovery. He talked to Ash about the problem and warned him only to persist if he was sure he was dealing with a demon and not just an alter that was masquerading as a demon, according to Ross' deposition.
Hurt still had problems with Ash's therapy. "That's when I fired Ash or, rather, Marty did," Hurt says. "Marty was a rebellious 13-year-old who didn't take crap off anybody. Now I wish he had come out more often."
Hurt began seeing Ross and counselor Mary Ellen Grundman. Hurt was having doubts about whether she was, in fact, a multiple. Ross assured her from looking at her record and talking with her that she did, in fact, suffer from MPD.
During her therapy with Ross, he did not try to destroy demon alters, but he called them forth and challenged them verbally. Grundman's therapy consisted of trying to get the alters to "shed their jobsuits" -- her own description of getting rid of their evil intent. For example, she told the alter Augustus, a cult high priestess, that there was not much future for women in the cult, according to Grundman's deposition.
If Hurt questioned the validity of her memories, Grundman told her she was in denial, according to the therapist's notes. At one point, Grundman wrote that a phone call from Hurt's sister sent her "back into denial." She also told Hurt that if she wouldn't do the work mapping alters, she would drop her as a patient.
Although Hurt was still suicidal at the end of her three-month hospitalization in March 1992, she was discharged. She was nervous about going home, and Grundman advised her to put her 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, into day care so she could focus on her therapy at home in between her three therapy sessions a week -- one with Ross and two with Grundman. Hurt complied, but throughout the spring and summer, she was barely able to function. "Between the meds and the memories, I was tranced-out all the time," she says.
In the fall, she and her husband were barely speaking, and he moved out. But over Thanksgiving, he was hospitalized with kidney failure, which, unbeknownst to him, he had been experiencing for some time. Finally, Hurt had a reasonable explanation for her husband's volatile behavior, which had sent her into therapy in the first place two years earlier. But by the time she learned this, it was too late to save her marriage. It was almost too late to save herself.
Hurt stayed by her husband's side while he was hospitalized, but the experience zapped what little emotional resources she had left. In January, she tried to overdose on her medications. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, where they pumped her stomach. She spent the next three months back in Charter.
During Hurt's stay, Grundman, according to the counselor's notes, told Hurt that the cult had programmed her to kill herself for revealing the family's secrets. Ross told her about the book he was writing about CIA mind-control studies. During her therapy sessions, Hurt began having memories that a college trip to Rome was actually organized by the CIA. She remembered being put in a darkened flotation tank, where sounds of guns, bombs, and attack dogs were piped in. "If you didn't do what they tell you, they put you on a table and shock you," she told Grundman, according to the therapist's notes. "Some die."
So convinced by her therapists that her family was evil, Hurt didn't attend the funeral for her oldest sister, who had suffered a heart attack after surgery.
By now Hurt's husband was fed up with her. Her children weren't coming to visit either, which Hurt thought was just as well. She figured the less exposure her children had to her, the better their chances of staving off the cult's influence. More isolated than ever at Charter, Hurt began having an affair with a married medical technician there named Larry Tyo.
When she returned home at the end of March, Bobby threw her out of the house. Broke and broken, and afraid the cult was everywhere, Hurt moved in with a woman she had met in the unit at Charter. Grundman convinced Hurt that it would be safer for the children if she relinquished her parental rights, according to Tyo's deposition. She applied for food stamps and welfare and found a government-subsidized efficiency apartment. Her therapists helped her secure Medicare by claiming she was 100 percent disabled by MPD, which they said she had at least since 1984 -- the time of her first hospitalization.
Although Grundman was not happy about the relationship between Hurt and a hospital employee, she began incorporating him into her weekly therapy sessions immediately after Hurt was released from Charter. He left his wife and moved in with Hurt in the fall of 1993 and began helping with her therapy at home.
Hurt and her husband divorced in 1994, and she relinquished her parental rights. Her ex-husband won a restraining order against her. She and Tyo moved to East Texas. She drove to Plano for her weekly therapy sessions with Grundman and four yearly sessions with Ross, who was still prescribing medication for her and was listed on insurance records as Grundman's supervisor.
In 1995, Grundman moved to Scroggins, Texas, with her husband and went into real estate. Although the counselor let her therapy license lapse, Hurt says she still conducted therapy sessions with her over the phone. In her deposition, Grundman says that they talked on the phone, but that she did not do therapy. When Hurt received a birthday card from her parents in the spring of 1996, Grundman told her that her parents were trying to bring her back into the cult.
That fall, Hurt spent Thanksgiving with her parents and siblings. Hurt missed her family terribly, but worried that being with them was detrimental. In spring 1997, she met with Ross and told him about her Thanksgiving with her family.
Ross did not seem alarmed. "I told him it was really hard to maintain contact with the family and have to go along with the denial that anything happened," Hurt says. "He said it was probably best to go along with their denial. He said it so flippantly. It was the opposite of everything he was saying before -- that I would end up back in the cult or be dead."
At this session, Ross wrote a letter releasing her from therapy. He stated that she was in the early pre-integration phase of MPD, in which the alters eventually coalesce into one healthy personality. She and Tyo continued to work on her therapy at home.
In March 1998, an ad in The Dallas Morning News caught Hurt's eye:
"ATTENTION: VICTIMS OF IMPROPER COUNSELING OR THERAPY
Has your psychiatrist, psychologist, or professional counselor ever told you that you suffered or may have suffered sexual and/or physical abuse in your past that you did not remember until 'uncovered' in therapy? Do you doubt the reliability of these 'memories'?..."
The Dallas law firm of Stanley, Mandel & Iola placed the ad after one of its associates, Michelle Galindo, worked on a case similar to Martha Hurt's. Galindo was convinced there were other patients out there who had been subjected to improper counseling. She knew that hundreds of patients had been treated at Charter Hospital in Plano, but reaching them was tricky. Some were humiliated, others so indoctrinated by their therapy that they still trusted what their therapists had told them.
Hurt contacted Galindo, tearfully telling the lawyer that she questioned whether her memories were real. "I trusted the doctors and believed in them," Hurt says. "When I talked to Shelley [Galindo] and found out this therapy wasn't the norm and wasn't accepted by everyone, I was pretty upset. I was reluctant to sue anybody. [Galindo] encouraged me to check things out. Slowly things started to fall apart."
Shortly after her first meeting with an attorney, Hurt attended a Dallas meeting of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a Philadelphia-based group started by a college professor and his wife whose adult daughter accused her father of sexually abusing her. She listened as parents -- more than 40 of them -- recounted losing their daughters after they began therapy and started uncovering memories of unspeakable abuse.
"It was a roomful of moms and dads just like my own," Hurt says. "When I got up and told my story, they said therapists had said almost the exact same things to their children. I thought, maybe there is something else to this. Maybe what my own family said was true. One man stood up and said how much he missed his daughter, but he didn't know what to do to get her back.
"I told him not to give up, that she was lost and didn't know how to get home. He started crying. When you see that many people in the same situation, it makes you start to wonder."
Hurt's two worlds began colliding. At home with Tyo, she still suffered from alternative personalities, which he talked to on a regular basis. But after spending more time with her family, she came to believe she had never been abused. "They made me see that things didn't make sense," Hurt says. "I shared a bedroom my whole life. We only had one bathroom. How could I have been abused and no one else know about it?"
Looking at her medical and school records further convinced her. She could not have suffered such horrible sexual abuse and have it escape a pediatrician's attention. No one ever noticed that she had alternate personalities until she was in therapy.
Hurt left Tyo and moved in with her parents. She began conventional therapy for depression with a Dallas psychologist and began to see what had happened to her. She finally decided to file suit against her therapists and Charter and Millwood Hospitals, alleging, among other things, gross negligence and fraud. She is asking for an unspecified amount of compensation for past and future counseling, pain and suffering, mental anguish, past and future loss of relationship with her children, plus exemplary damages.
In the course of filing suit, she was alarmed to learn that Charter had lost all of her hospital records. And she became utterly convinced that her former therapists had made her sicker, not better.
When Hurt's attorney Chris Barden asked Grundman in her deposition whether she believed that Hurt's memories, particularly of satanic abuse, were delusions, she said that was a possibility. But she believed they would deal with that later in therapy, which they never did.
"If you treated a patient who thought he was Napoleon, would you write down in great detail all his battle plans and how he made his uniforms and where he stored the horses, and would you fill up dozens and dozens and dozens of pages of what Napoleon planned to do with his men?" Barden asked Grundman. She said she would not.
In his deposition, Ross says that he believed Hurt's memories could have been delusions but that to confront his patient with that possibility would have been too traumatic.
Colin Ross is now head of trauma programs at Timberlawn Mental Health System of Dallas. Last year, he told an interviewer for the A&E cable channel show The Unexplained that patients could get worse in therapy if they are led to believe they suffered trauma that didn't happen. He discussed an MPD patient who, before coming to Charter, had believed she was victimized by a satanic cult. He said she had been a victim of false memories that had been cooked up in therapy and that made her worse.
The lawsuit has not been easy on Hurt. Several defense lawyers have brought up the ad as proof that she didn't have problems with her therapists until she saw the chance to make a profit.
"Even after I came to see [Galindo], there were still parts I believed," Hurt says. "I'm still hanging on to parts. You don't just drop it. I lost my husband, my kids, myself. I thought I was one person. No, you're this person. No you're these people -- 200 people. And then you realize you're not that person. It's a slap in the face."
Hurt's older children, now 19 and 20, have had a hard time re-establishing a close relationship with their mother. But this summer, her youngest daughter, who is 11, came to live with her. She and her ex-husband have even discussed getting back together, but he needs more time to be sure she is well.
"We have talked about reconciliation," says Bobby Hurt. "But there is so much water under the bridge. I do still love her, though. She's a wonderful lady. It's hard to fathom how seriously those therapists destroyed our lives. It has been devastating. It wrecked everything -- my marriage, my children's lives, the relationship I had with my in-laws. My poor children had no mother to speak of since 1993 -- and even before that when she began losing touch with reality."
Hurt can't stop blaming herself for what happened. "I'm flabbergasted," she says. "Why couldn't I say enough's enough? Why did I let someone allow me to lose my whole life? I went from having a loving, loving family and three kids to having nothing, to being on food stamps and welfare. That's quite a change. No matter what, I can't ever get these years back with my family and kids. Things will never be the same."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- Houston vs Dallas: How Super Bowl Performers Stack Up
Thu., Feb. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Feb. 12, 8:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 2:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 7:00pm
- A Texas Doctor Again Puts on His Hat as Virus Hunter
- Why the Crackdown on K2 Among Downtown's Homeless Won't Work