OPINION: Faye Yager returns with Satanic fears of 1980s - ones that never really left

Credit: FX

Credit: FX

Faye Yager is back on the scene due to a five-part docuseries running on FX. And with that comes memories of a strange time when the devil was in every closet.

“Children of the Underground” focuses on the Atlanta area woman who created a modern underground railroad, a network where children who allegedly had been molested could disappear with their mothers or grandparents and start new anonymous lives.

The story conjures up images of the Reagan and Bush I eras, complete with the much-televised Yager in her floral print dresses, her perfectly coiffed hairdo and a defiant iron will that verged on fanaticism.

The failings of a 1970s Cobb County court created Faye Yager, the Fearless and Zealous Crusader. She accused her ex-husband of molesting their toddler daughter and he was given custody. Later, in the late 1980s, he was put on FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list for different child molestation accusations. He was later convicted.

Yager was performing the Lord’s work, protecting society’s most helpless when the justice system wouldn’t. At one time, she figured she had helped 2,000 families go on the lam and found herself extolling her operation to Geraldo, Oprah and any other breathless daytime TV host who wanted to fill an hour of compelling TV.

What made her narrative all the more sensational was her insistence that most of her cases involved Satanic ritualistic abuse. About 70% of them did, she once told this newspaper.

The Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s was an era where we now look back and wonder “what in heaven were people thinking?” Countless cases of sexual child abuse in the 1980s were tied to Satanism, and police departments and prosecutors were informed by “experts” who told them what to look out for.

And it was not just in molestation cases, it was everywhere.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When I was a reporter back in Chicago in the late 1980s, a suburban police chief invited me on a midnight bust. It was going to be big. The cops hauled in two dozen young people and excitedly told me they had busted a Satanic ring. Who knows what kind of crazy, evil stuff they were up to? an officer told me. However, it was just a bunch of Goth kids and some of their heavy metal buds gathering under a bridge doing what teens do on a summer night.

A real evil of the 1980s’ great moral alarm were the bogus cases that were created. Most infamous was the McMartin daycare case in California where it was initially believed that hundreds of kids were molested. Bizarre stories of flying witches and secret tunnels abounded. Prosecutors and the press largely gobbled it up with little suspicion. Ultimately, the criminal charges melted away, and after a couple of trials, there were no convictions. Also, most of the convictions in other such cases across the nation were overturned.

Faye Yager was one of the first people I interviewed when I came to Atlanta in 1990. (Actually, it was my second bylined story out of 3,343) Mark and Debbie Baskin, who lived in Rome, had two of their young children snatched away by the kids’ grandparents a year earlier. The grandparents had spoken to Yager several times before disappearing. Yager told me they were not hiding in her underground, although she was proud they had followed her advice and vanished so thoroughly.

A detective told me, “The children’s stories were inconsistent and got increasingly bizarre, like they were repeating something someone told them.” Stories of Satanism were involved, of course.

The grandfather was later found in California in 2009. His wife had died earlier. The children, by then in their late 20s, did not want to speak with their parents. The Baskins said they were brainwashed. I could not reach the couple, who now live near Vidalia.

At the time I spoke with her, Yager was facing kidnapping charges in Cobb County so she might have been a bit reticent to say much about the Baskin case. She beat those charges in a much-publicized trial in 1992.

Yager and her husband, Howard, a semi-retired doctor, have for decades operated an inn in a 19th Century home Brevard, N.C. near the Pisgah National Forest. Howard told me his wife was not feeling up to talking, having just come home from the hospital. He said they had nothing to do with the FX documentary, adding she’s no longer in the child-saving business.

Whether Faye Yager actually believed all that Satanism business was certainly one of the questions I wanted to ask her.

Satan was an effective tool at the time. When you are crafting a morality tale of good and evil, what is more diabolical than tying your foes to the Prince of Darkness?

He still is effective. Delineations of good and evil are still being drawn and stories of the devil and molesters are still being employed. However, it has taken root in American politics, making them meaner and more crazy than ever.

Polls in the past couple years show 16% to 18% of Americans think “Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.”

The farther we move forward, the more our minds lag behind.