The new age may have dawned in the 1960s, but it would never fully shine. For many, spiritual awakening would lead to something of an existential crisis as the harsh realities of the following decade began to encroach on their lives. Some found refuge in communes, others turned to drugs or diet fads. And many would join the ranks of the New Religious Movement: a cluster of fringe Christian, Eastern mystic, neo-pagan, and various self-help groups that claimed to offer a path to self-discovery and higher purpose. The spirit of religious revival was in the air, but not everyone was celebrating.
The inevitable backlash to these often strange (and sometimes dangerous) new religious sects led to the rise of the “counter-cult movement.” Not surprisingly, Christian fundamentalists would play a leading role. The shock propaganda of these “counter-cultists” successfully tapped into the social anxieties of the day and found broad support among concerned parents. With more women joining the workforce and increasing numbers of teenagers left to their own devices, there was a new level of fear and uncertainty within the nuclear family unit. The threat of one’s children falling victim to some crazed cult seemed very real. Or so the public was led to believe.
From within this social context, a cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Satanic Panic’ was born. Fueled by religious fanatics, quack psychiatrists, and the tabloid media, it was claimed that a vast Satanic criminal network existed throughout the country. Organized devil-worshipers were responsible for any number of heinous acts – including kidnapping, child abuse, animal mutilation, rape, torture, human sacrifice, and cannibalism – all of which were taking place under our very noses.
At its height, ‘The Satanic Panic’ was akin to a modern-day witch hunt. Otherwise rational people got caught up in the hysteria and a number of lives were ruined, often based on nothing more than the twisted fantasies of the accusers themselves. Eventually, the leading “occult criminal experts” were discredited and public perceptions would shift in a more rational direction, but by then the damage had already been done.
Obviously, the idea of some grand Satanic criminal conspiracy is absurd. However, as it turns out, the claims weren’t entirely unfounded. Though isolated and few in number, there were indeed criminal “cults” comprised of self-styled Satanists active during this period. Including some that embodied – or, more likely, imitated – all of the worst scare stories that parents had been warned about.
THE DEVIL COMES TO FALL RIVER
By the late 1970s, the hope and promise of the prior decade seemed like a distant memory as the national landscape came to be defined by recession, unemployment, and rising crime rates. The once prosperous textile city of Fall River, Massachusetts was hit particularly hard. Factories closed, buildings were abandoned and the downtown area had become a total wasteland, leaving behind an economic void that provided fertile ground for a thriving trade in drugs and prostitution.
Amidst this urban decay, a series of murders took place between October 1979 and February 1980. Two young women, both local prostitutes, had been bound, raped, tortured, and bludgeoned to death. A third victim’s body would never be found beyond a skull fragment and clumps of hair left behind in a nearby forest. The investigation into the brutal killings resulted in a tabloid media frenzy, with headlines that seemed to confirm the most outlandish ‘Satanic Panic’ fear-mongering. In the end, ‘The Fall River Cult Murders’ became the most sensational criminal case to come out of the city since Lizzie Borden stood trial for butchering her parents nearly a century earlier.
The body of the first victim was found on October 13, 1979. Doreen Levesque, a 17-year old runaway from New Bedford, was discovered behind the Diman Vocational High School. Her wrists had been bound with fishing line and there were signs of sexual torture. She had also been stabbed in the head several times and suffered multiple skull fractures. Police discovered that the young girl had been prostituting herself and initially suspected one of her clients of committing the murder. However, the county medical examiner determined that the killing was likely committed by multiple people and the forensic evidence also suggested a ritual element to the crime – a possible death by stoning. The trail of blood left behind would soon lead the investigation in a different, much darker, direction…
As it turned out, Fall River’s criminal underworld was ruled by Satan at this time. Yes, that Satan. If the witness accounts of various drug addicts and low-level criminals are to be believed, the local vice trade was controlled by a cult of devil worshipers who took their directives from the Prince of Darkness himself – who, in turn, was paid off in sacrificial blood and human souls.
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT
A month after the discovery of Doreen Levesque’s battered corpse, a man named Andy Maltais visited the Fall River police station. He was there to file a missing persons report for his girlfriend, a 22-year old prostitute named Barbara Raposa who, like Levesque, worked the Bedford Street area. Maltais told police that he feared for the woman’s safety. He then mumbled something about a Satanic cult and claimed to have information relating to the Levesque murder. With no other leads in the case, they arranged for a formal interview to see what exactly the peculiar man knew.
By all accounts, Andy Maltais was a mentally unstable creep. He was a pedophile, a sexual sadist, a violent rapist and, as of a recent religious conversion, a devout Christian. “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior,” the 44-year old New Bedford man told police as he held up a small bible to prove his newfound faith. “Once I worshiped Satan, [but] now I worship Jesus.” It was an odd way to begin an interview.
According to his statements, Andy and his girlfriend Barbara were practicing Satanists at the time of her disappearance. Members of a local cult. Doreen Levesque was also involved with the group prior to her murder. He claimed to have no direct knowledge of the crime but told police that he believed the cult to be responsible. The story seemed far-fetched and was received with skepticism, but Maltais was insistent. He offered to arrange a meeting with two other cult members who, he was sure, had more direct information relating to the case. A few days later, police were introduced to Karen Marsden and Robin Murphy.
Karen Marsden was a 20-year old single mother. Like many of her peers who worked Fall River’s red light district, she was a runaway and drug addict. Police accounts describe her as nervous and emotional. Robin Murphy was the exact opposite: cold, deliberate, and calculated. The younger of the two, she was only 17 at the time. Both a prostitute and an aspiring pimp, Murphy was a tough street kid who was described as possessing a high degree of intelligence and a domineering personality.
The girls were open about their relationship as roommates and lovers. Their connection to Andy Maltais, however, was left vague. They knew him “from around” (according to later testimony, Murphy claimed that he had been molesting her since the age of 11). Throughout the interview Murphy remained silent, studying the officers and occasionally scowling at her friend. Karen Marsden did all of the talking. Rambling at various levels of coherency, she eventually broke down in tears and told police: “Carl Drew killed Doreen Levesque.”
Far from unknown to the local authorities, Carl Drew was a 26-year old pimp with a violent reputation who ran his business out of the Bedford Street district. Originally from New Hampshire, he had been raised on a small farm. In later interviews, he would speak about a childhood marked by hard labor and physical abuse. One cruel ‘coming of age’ story involved his alcoholic father tying a rope around the terrified boy’s ankles and lowering him down a well to remove a cluster of dead rats. Drew eventually ran away from home at the young age of fourteen and found his place among Fall River’s criminal underground, keeping company with bikers, drug addicts, and prostitutes.
Carl Drew certainly fits the profile of someone who was capable of the type of savagery unleashed on Doreen Levesque. He also had a direct connection to the victim: he was her pimp. Unfortunately, there was nothing to link him to the murder beyond the unsubstantiated claim of a young drug addict. Marsden was pressed for more details and even offered witness protection for her cooperation, but she gave no further information. Only a final statement, promising that if she were to turn up dead it would be Drew who was responsible.
Detectives from the Fall River Major Crimes Division would remain in contact with Karen Marsden in the weeks that followed, hoping to learn more about ‘The Fall River Cult’ – as this motley group of pimp and prostitute practitioners of the black arts came to be known.
“I’m a good person,” Marsden sobbed, “I believe in God.” Fearing for her life, she referred to Carl Drew as “The Devil” and told police of the consequences she expected for her betrayal. In a narrative that mirrored the Manson Family cult, she claimed that Drew organized his prostitution ring as a Satanic coven that he ruled with an iron fist. “Satan will take his toll,” he would threaten the girls. For the more Christian-fearful, like Marsden, this meant not only violent death. She also believed that her soul would be sacrificed and cast into the flaming pits of Hell for eternity.
Accompanied by Carol Fletcher, another young area prostitute with ties to the cult, Marsden took police to the nearby Freetown State Forest. It was here that the girls claimed that the cult held their nocturnal gatherings. As they passed by an algae-covered pool of water, Marsden cowered in fear. This is where she was told that Carl Drew would dump her body – after “injecting battery acid into her veins” and “offering her soul to Satan” – if she talked to the police.
When it came to threats of violence the feared pimp seemed to excel in morbid creativity. Another girl who worked for Drew named Cookie (aka Mildred Jukes) later told police of his planned retribution against a woman who had gotten her arrested for prostitution. “He said he was going to kill her for it,” she claimed, “tie her to a tree to be sacrificed and pour warm blood from a live goat all over her face.”
Carl Drew. Satanist. Bad man. If the stories were to be believed, it would seem that the detectives had their murder suspect. However, as they got Karen Marsden talking more, they came to find out that Drew was not the only dangerous individual in her life. As it turned out, Robin Murphy, her teenage friend, and lover, also had a dark side. A very dark side. Even before her introduction to the circle of Satanists based out of Bedford Street’s red light scene, the young girl had long been dabbling in the occult. She was also described by those around her as being psychologically unstable and prone to violence. Far from being an unwilling participant or minor player, the young girl would soon emerge as a – and possibly the – central figure involved in the ‘Fall River Cult Murders.’
As the detectives were becoming familiar with this murky cast of characters associated with ‘The Fall River Cult,’ another body had been discovered. On January 26, 1980, the frozen and bloodied corpse of Barbara Raposa was found in the woods behind an abandoned printing factory. Her wrists were tied together with fishing line, she had been sexually assaulted and her skull had been crushed with a rock. Another local prostitute and Satanist dabbler killed in (remarkably similar) cold blood.
The Levesque case had given police a glimpse into the strange and shadowy underworld that existed in their city. It also gave them a circle of potential suspects, some of who were already under investigation. It didn’t take long to connect the dots.
The first to be interviewed in connection with Raposa’s murder was Andy Maltais, the last known person to see her alive. A nervous Maltais denied any knowledge of the crime. However, a few days later he contacted police after receiving details of the murder in “a psychic dream.” Very specific details. Police played along and brought Maltais to the crime scene, allowing him to describe what he had seen in his “dream.” It turns out that he was quite the clairvoyant, knowing exactly where the woman’s body had been discovered, its positioning, time of death, method of killing, and various other details that were not made public at that time. His “psychic testimony” was indeed helpful to the investigation, although probably not in the way it was intended. A confused Maltais soon found himself in handcuffs and charged with murder.
In the days following his arrest the investigation received further assistance from an unexpected source: Robin Murphy contacted police and offered to testify against Andy Maltais as a witness to the murder. She also claimed to have been present for the killing of Doreen Levesque and agreed to turn state’s evidence in that case as well. In exchange for her cooperation, she brokered a deal where she was placed in protective custody and granted immunity in both murders. Shrewd girl.
The story she gave police, and later repeated in court, was that Andy Maltais had killed Barbara Raposa after discovering that she had been cheating on him with another man. Murphy claimed to have been with them both on the night of the murder. They had all been partying together while driving around the city and at some point, the couple started arguing. Maltais then parked his car behind the abandoned factory, dragged Raposa out, and raped her. She cried for help and he proceeded to beat her, first with his fists and then with a rock. Afterwards he drove off with Murphy, leaving his bloodied girlfriend to “crawl away” on her own.
Why didn’t Murphy go to the police sooner? She claimed that Maltais had threatened her with the same fate if she talked. It was only after he was behind bars that she felt safe enough to come forward with her story. It was a testimony full of holes, but, given his past history of violent sexual transgressions, it would be enough to put Andy Maltais away for the rest of his life. With rumors of Satanism and human sacrifice in the air, the more mundane jealous rage motive came as something of a media disappointment. Barely even worthy of a front-page headline. What about Carl Drew and his cult of murderous black-robed followers? Those details would come to light during Murphy’s recounting of the Doreen Levesque murder.
Although the forensic evidence was near-identical to the Raposa case, according to Murphy there was no direct connection between the two murders – except for the fact that she happened to be present for both. “The killing of Doreen Levesque was an offering of the soul [to] Satan,” she would tell police. And, as expected, Carl Drew was behind it.
Murphy claimed that the teenage prostitute had recently left Drew’s coven with the intention of working the streets on her own. Unfortunately, leaving the group wasn’t so easy. Satan had a toll that needed to be paid. Aiming to collect, Drew tracked down his former employee at a Bedford Street bar and forced her into his car. Robin Murphy, Karen Marsden, and a man named Willie Smith, who was Drew’s friend and a fellow Satanist, came along for the ride. Drew threatened Levesque, telling her that she “couldn’t afford to work the streets alone” and backhanded her across the face. They pulled behind the high school and the two men took the girl under some bleachers, out of sight. Murphy and Marsden stayed with the car. According to her initial statement, Murphy heard no screams and claimed to see nothing. After a while, the men returned without Levesque and the four of them drove away. When asked what happened to her, Drew replied, “You don’t want to know.”
Murphy’s version of events may have been plausible if Doreen Levesque had been, say, quietly smothered or strangled to death. But the testimony didn’t at all match up with the forensic evidence left behind, which painted an extremely violent picture of sexual assault, prolonged torture, and a very bloody death. It’s hard to believe that she heard no screams and saw no evidence of blood on either man. Also, according to her, the whole ordeal was over in a matter of minutes. In fact, she told police that she wasn’t even certain that Levesque had been murdered until she saw it in the newspapers a few days later. In time, her story evolved to include various gory details and Satanic embellishments, all of which had apparently slipped her mind during the initial interview.
THE SACRIFICE OF KAREN MARSDEN
Robin Murphy wasn’t the only cult member talking to the police at this time. Since her initial interview, Karen Marsden continued to stay in touch with detectives working on the case. It’s generally believed that she was present for both murders, though her recollections would sharply contrast with Murphy’s version of events. While she maintained that Carl Drew was the cult figurehead behind these killings, she pointed to Murphy as also playing a direct leading role. In particular, according to Marsden, she had instructed all those present to take part in the mutilation of Levesque and Raposa’s bodies – possibly for ritual purposes, but more likely to keep their silence by directly involving them in the crimes.
Unfortunately, Karen Marsden was considered an unreliable witness. Due to her drug use, erratic behavior, and unwillingness to testify in court, her statements were basically treated as gossip by police. That’s not to say that they doubted her claims, only that they were unable to do much with the information that she had provided them with. She also seemed to get worse with each meeting. By the time of her final interview she was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, convinced that she was going to be the next sacrificial murder. In the end, this paranoia would be well-founded. She was reported missing on February 9, 1980.
Two months later, a grisly discovery was made in the nearby beach town of Westport. While clearing a parcel of land near Devol Pond, a man stumbled across the top half of a human skull. Police arrived on the scene and conducted a more detailed search of the area. They turned up the decaying carcasses of three cats, sheep bones, and clumps of human hair. They also found some jewelry, a high-heeled shoe, and pieces torn from a woman’s sweater.
Forensics determined that the skull belonged to Karen Marsden. Soon after, a woman named Maureen (“Sonny”) Sparda contacted police and named Robin Murphy as Karen’s killer. The inter-cult killings had gone too far. Sonny was a former prostitute who lived in the Harbor Terrace housing projects near Fall River’s waterfront. She hosted a number of Satanic gatherings in her apartment and acted as something of a den mother figure to the young prostitutes, runaways and drug-users who hung out there. She was also Murphy’s ex-lover. According to her, Robin had admitted to the murder during a phone conversation.
Carol Fletcher, who accompanied Marsden when she took police on a tour of the Freetown State Forest a few months earlier, also came forward with information. She claimed that Robin Murphy and Carl Drew were responsible for the murder. Drew’s friend Carl Davis, a pimp who operated out of both Fall River and nearby Providence, Rhode Island was also present. Fletcher, herself, had driven the group out to the secluded wooded area where the Satanic sacrifice took place.
As part of her witness protection agreement in the Raposa case, Robin Murphy was relocated to Dallas, Texas, where she was staying with a friend until Maltais went to trial. Following the accusations that connected her to Karen Marsden’s murder, a warrant was issued for her arrest and she was immediately brought back to Fall River. Carl Drew and Carl Davis were also indicted and placed under arrest. They weren’t hard to track down as both of them were serving short sentences in county jail on unrelated assault charges.
During her interrogation, Robin Murphy broke down and told police “everything” (in truth, it is a story that would continually evolve throughout the trial and be recanted during parole hearings years later). Karen Marsden had become too much of a liability. She was a witness to the killing of Doreen Levesque and was rumored to have gone to the police. Carl Drew decided her fate. With the help of Carl Davis, he forced Murphy to take part in the murder as an act of loyalty to the cult.
According to her statements, Murphy was made to drag Marsden from the car and pull out her hair. This was followed by a ritual stoning by Drew, Murphy, Fletcher, and Davis. Drew then cut off one of Marsden’s fingers (“to make her feel pain”) and broke her neck with his bare hands. While in a “trance-like state” and under the direction of Drew, Murphy followed up by slitting Marsden’s throat with a knife that was handed to her by Davis. The two men then tore the girl’s head off and kicked it around the woods.
The frenzied postmortem defilement would reach its climax as homage was paid to Satan. Drew carved an “X” into Marsden’s torso and began to speak in tongues, offering her soul to the Dark Lord. He then dipped his thumb in her blood and made an “X” on Murphy’s forehead. To break one final moral taboo, Murphy was made to perform oral sex on the headless cadaver before it was dumped in the woods, doused in gasoline, and burned to ashes.
THE ANATOMY OF DEVIL WORSHIP
The more bizarre claims made during the ‘Fall River Cult Murder’ investigations – like much of the evidence associated with cult-related cases during ‘The Satanic Panic’ – are likely works of fiction. Many of the “facts” are, in fact, based on the word of a mentally unstable young woman who was known to manipulate those around her. It also eventually came to light that a fair bit of witness tampering, manipulation, and misconduct took place throughout the investigation by police, including detectives who may have helped frame the case based on their own strongly-held Catholic beliefs.
However, the fact remains that three women – all connected through their occupations and extracurricular occult activities – were brutally murdered under similar circumstances. It’s tempting to dismiss the cult as nothing more than a tool of fear used to control Fall River’s young and impressionable prostitutes (or else a diversion to conceal the true motives behind these violent crimes). But it appears that, at least in some form, a Satanic grouping existed in the area at this time and most of the people connected to the case had ties to it. Some by their own admission. It’s unlikely that all of them had imagined what they had seen or taken part in.
In fact, two detectives from Fall River’s Major Crimes Division even managed to witness one of the group’s black masses held in Sonny Sparda’s apartment firsthand as part of their investigation. “We pray to Satan. We chant. We try to conjure him,” she explained. In attendance that night were Carl Drew, Robin Murphy, Sparda, and a few other Bedford Street regulars. Assembled under a large mural of the Devil painted on the living room wall, congregants formed a circle and started to chant (“Hail. Satan. Hail. Satan.”). Leading the ceremony was a woman later identified as a prostitute from Providence, Rhode Island.
Although this particular meeting ended in anti-climax, Sparda described the more lively black mass gatherings that took place in the Freetown State Forest. She denied any knowledge of human sacrifice but admitted that goats or stray cats were occasionally used during the ceremonies. The warm blood would be used in mock baptisms and poured over the heads of the gathered congregants. During the course of these rituals, it’s claimed that participants lost consciousness or spoke in tongues. “[Satan appears] in a form where we feel his presence, or he takes possession of one of us,” Sparda claimed. “You can tell when Satan is there. Some people even let him speak through them, in his own language. It isn’t human speech; there’s no way anyone on earth could fake it.”
In a later court testimony, Robin Murphy made similar claims. In addition to the chanting and incomprehensible speech, she noted the use of a skull and a substance she believed to be human blood during the ceremonies. She claimed to have attended ten such cult gatherings between October 1979 and February 1980, including the two where Levesque and Marsden were killed.
The beliefs of ‘The Fall River Cult’ could best be described as a crude form of ‘theistic satanism’ – that is, literal Devil worship. “I worship Satan,” Carl Drew would tell police while under interrogation. “I worship him like you worship God.” “Satan” was not treated as some philosophical archetype or metaphor. He was the theistic embodiment of pure evil cast in the Christian tradition. For people like Drew, there is power in evil. A power that could be harnessed through Satanic devotion and used to control the city’s vice trade. As Burton Wolfe wrote in his introduction to Anton LeVay’s The Satanic Bible, “[Satanism] is based on the belief that human beings are inherently selfish, violent creatures, that life is a Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest, that only the strong survive and the earth will be ruled by those who fight to win the ceaseless competition that exists in all jungles – including those of urbanized society.”
The practices of the group were of a homegrown variety, with no known connection to any of the established Satanist organizations that existed at the time (such as ‘The Church of Satan’ or ‘Temple of Set’). If anything, the Cult’s nocturnal gatherings most closely resembled the type of worship associated with various Charismatic Christian sects – albeit an inverted version – with participants claiming to speak in tongues, conjure deities and achieve altered states of consciousness. Much of this was likely inspired by occult horror movies and the type of activities that the tabloid media attributed to “Satanists” during ‘The Satanic Panic’ era.
Blood sacrifice also played an important role in the group’s ritual practices. “They kill every thirty days or so – on the full moon,” cult member Cookie would tell police. “It’s always a ritual, that they offer up the victim as a sacrifice to Satan.” Like many of the claims made, it is unclear how much of this was based on reality and how much was based on rumor. At the very least, animal sacrifices did seem to take place based on the witness accounts. But it was never proven that the group performed collective acts of ritual murder on human victims. Although details of Satanic worship would come up repeatedly throughout the trials, the prosecution decided it would only complicate the proceedings if they explicitly connected the three murders to a broader conspiracy.
However, if the three murders were indeed self-styled sacrificial offerings to Satan, the details of sexual torment and prolonged torture do follow a certain logic. “In addition to satisfying sadistic urges,” psychologist Gail Feldman writes in her study of ritualized abuse, “torture is [used] to force the victim to a maximum state of emotional arousal, where it is believed that the greatest amount of life force is extracted at the moment of death.”
Throughout the investigation, police heard numerous references to the Freetown State Forest. This is where most of the group’s activity was centered. The forest has its own dark history, serving as the location for a number of violent crimes and tragic events over the years. Some say that the five-thousand-acre reservation is cursed land. It’s also known to be a hotbed of paranormal activity. Perhaps this is what draws occultists to meet here under the cover of darkness.
While searching the forest for clues relating to the three murders, police discovered an abandoned shack where it was claimed the group held orgies and prepared for their ritual activities. A number of “cult-related items” were discovered at the site, but no evidence that could be tied to any of the crimes. Gatherings were held deeper in the forest around “the altar” – a large, flat stone slab, where torch-lit ceremonies were performed over the bodies of naked prostitutes and animals were bled-out in Satan’s honor.
The Freetown State Forest would continue to be a gathering point for area Satanists and other dark-minded individuals, with evidence of ritual activities discovered long after the ‘Fall River Cult Murder’ trials. In November 1988, a hunter stumbled across a camouflaged bunker located off of one of the more remote hiking trails. Police were called out to investigate. Upon entering the structure they found an unsettling cache of items – dolls with their eyes gouged out, animal bones, a rusted butcher knife, a small wooden chair, and tattered children’s clothing. That same year, a dozen calves were found mutilated in the forest and the corpse of Elizabeth Gregory, buried in a remote forest cemetery in 1868, was dug up and taken from her grave. Cult activity was suspected in all three cases.
As expected, the court trials of Andy Maltais, Carl Drew, Robin Murphy, and Carl Davis were a media circus. Headlines screamed of Satanic rites, sexual torture, and cult murder. The public, in turn, remained unconvinced that these individuals had acted alone. Many believed that these four individuals were only the tip of the iceberg and a dangerous cult was still active in the area, providing fodder for sinister urban legends in the years that followed. Any time a rape, kidnapping or murder went unsolved in Bristol County it was work of this shadowy network – who, when not littering the local nature reserve with candles and mutilated animals, controlled the local drug and prostitution trade, a child pornography ring, human trafficking, and any number of other nefarious enterprises.
Andy Maltais was the first to stand trial. In January 1981, he was convicted in the first-degree murder of Barbara Raposa and given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Much of the case against him was based on the witness testimony of Robin Murphy. He was later considered to be a suspect in a few other unsolved area rapes dating back to the early 1970s, but no additional charges were ever brought against him. He eventually died of cancer in 1998.
With local media saturated by the sensational and horrific details of the ‘Fall River Cult Murders,’ it proved impossible to hold a fair trial for Murphy, Drew, and Davis anywhere in Bristol County. The case would be moved to Worcester County Superior Court in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
Robin Murphy’s lawyer convinced the court that his young client had been under the powerful influence of the Satanic cult at the time of the Marsden murder, allowing her to plea to the lesser charge of second-degree murder in exchange for her testimony against her co-defendants. Additionally, the immunity deal she struck up with the District Attorney’s office held and she received no additional charges in connection with the Levesque or Raposa killings. Murphy received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. After spending twenty-four years behind bars she was released on June 10, 2004. However, she violated her parole conditions and was returned to prison seven years later. She is currently serving her time in a maximum-security prison in Framingham, Massachusetts.
The case against Carl Davis fell apart completely. He never stood trial for his alleged role in the abduction and ritual slaughter of Karen Marsden. However, the following year he was arrested for assaulting Sonny Sparda with a deadly weapon. According to a statement made by Carl Drew on his personal blog, Davis beat the three-month pregnant Sparda and stabbed her in the head with a knife because she had information implicating both him and Robin Murphy (and absolving Drew) in Marsden’s murder. He served seven years and is now free.
Carl Drew would go down as the guiding hand of the ‘Fall River Cult Murders.’ Through numerous character witnesses, it was pretty well established that he was a man who was feared by basically everyone around him. He also had a felony record with past convictions for assault, weapons possession, and armed robbery. Robin Murphy’s testimony painted him as a violent, sadistic killer who acted as the ringleader in these ghastly murders and the jury was inclined to agree. Further damning testimony came from his ex-girlfriend, a woman named Leah Johnson, who claimed that Drew admitted to her that he had “killed a girl” along with Davis, Murphy, and another woman (presumably Carol Fletcher) while under the influence of drugs. He also allegedly gave Johnson a diamond ring that belonged to Marsden.
Despite his unwavering claims of innocence, Drew was convicted in the first-degree murder of Karen Marsden and is serving a life sentence at the MCI in Shirley, Massachusetts, with no possibility of parole. He has filed numerous appeals over the years seeking a new trial. His most recent, and final, was denied in 2006. Drew’s supporters are currently petitioning for the Massachusetts governor to review his case.
The case involving Doreen Levesque’s murder never went to trial. The District Attorney claimed it would be a costly exercise in futility that would, best case scenario, simply result in a second life sentence for Carl Drew. All charges against Drew and Willie Smith, the man who supposedly assisted him the night of her killing, were quietly dropped. There are no plans to reopen the case.
Far from closing this dark chapter in Fall River’s history, the convictions proved to be a legal nightmare that continues to haunt the city right to this day. Allegations of witness tampering, falsified information, insufficient counsel, legal rights violations, and police misconduct all loomed heavy as the now-closed cases against Maltais and Drew came apart following a shocking admission by Robin Murphy: she recanted her entire testimony in an unsuccessful bid for a new trial in 1984.
“I believe Carl Drew was guilty of killing Karen and many, many other women in the area,” Murphy later told a parole board. “I believed he belonged in jail, but also knew justice was not taking place. So I made the story up.” She also claimed that she was not actually present for the Raposa murder and admitted to fabricating the testimony that led to Andy Maltais’ conviction as retribution for sexually abusing her.
A number of other witnesses also recanted their trial statements, claiming that they were made under police pressure or else the influence of drugs. Carol Fletcher, a key witness who was allegedly present for Karen Marsden’s murder, maintains that she was threatened by police into making her false statements in order to convict Carl Drew. She now claims that the murder did not even take place in the woods of Westport. According to her revised version of events, Robin Murphy killed Marsden at the Harbor Terrace housing projects in Fall River and the body was dismembered and dumped at various locations. “They were fighting and Robin started pulling Karen’s hair out of her head,” Fletcher now claims. “I saw Robin put the knife toward Karen and I ran off. I was scared.”
Paul Carey, a detective from the Fall River Major Crimes Division who worked on the case, has his own theory: “I still believe that Murphy was the real ringleader, not Drew; that Levesque was murdered because Murphy was also in love with her and became jealous when Levesque started seeing Drew. I believe Murphy and Marsden were present when Levesque was killed. I think Murphy killed Raposa because Raposa was in love with Maltais. Murphy admitted that she and Raposa had previously been lovers. And, I believe Murphy killed Marsden because of the two previous murders. Marsden was at the scene of those murders, and I believe Murphy knew she was the weak link and might get them convicted.”
There are some who say ‘The Fall River Cult’ never really existed. It was simply a product of the ‘Satanic Panic’ era, made up entirely by the police and tabloid media to sensationalize the grisly slayings of three young prostitutes who may or may not have dabbled in the occult and connect them in a way that would capture the public’s imagination (and perhaps advance a few personal careers). Given the social climate of the time, these claims are not exactly out of the realm of possibility.
In fact, Carl Drew himself denies being involved in any such group. “I was [thrown] into the middle of a mass nightmare that involved macabre accusations of devil worship and human sacrifice,” Drew claims in an autobiographical retelling of his case. “Totally off the wall accusations that was right out of some thriller novel. None true as far as I was involved and nothing like what was being said.”
However, there are also those who claim that Murphy, Drew, and Maltais were only a small piece of the puzzle and that a much larger Satanic criminal organization remains deeply rooted in both Bristol County and neighboring Providence County, Rhode Island. Some people have even pointed to the locally famous Mary Lou Arruda murder and unsolved New Bedford Highway Killer cases as also potentially being tied to this diabolical network.
In the fall of 1978, the body of Mary Lou Arruda, a fifteen-year-old girl abducted from Raynham, Massachusetts, was discovered in the Freetown State Forest. Her hands were bound behind her back and she had been tied to an oak tree by the throat, dying of postural asphyxiation. A man named James Kater was eventually convicted of the crime. But not everyone is convinced of his guilt. Although it wasn’t reported at the time, a large cross was discovered near the body. The crime scene also happened to be in an area of the forest where ritual evidence would later be discovered during the ‘Fall River Cult Murder’ investigations.
Ten years later, a serial killer (or killers) murdered at least nine prostitutes by strangulation and left their bodies by the sides of various Bristol County highways. According to Alan Alves, a Freetown detective who worked on the case, a cross was nailed to a tree near the body of the first victim that was discovered. He further claims that small crosses or make-shift altars were found in the general area of some of the other victims as well. The case remains unsolved.
Of course, this is all speculation, fueled by residual ‘Satanic Panic’ conspiracy theories and local fears. No one can deny that a lot of strange and violent activity took place in a relatively small geographic area over a period of a decade, but officially there is nothing to connect these crimes.
‘The Fall River Cult,’ if it existed at all, seems to have been a relatively small and informal grouping that consisted of perhaps up to a dozen people. It may have been used by some people to connect with other street kids, runaways, outcasts, and others as a means to consolidate their small criminal fiefdoms. All seemed to have an interest in “practicing evil” through devil worship. The details of the three killings that were attributed to the group are murky at best, if not entirely unconvincing. Were these “cult murders” in the sense that they were collectively organized and carried out by the group as part of a broader Satanic agenda? Or were they committed by individuals from within this social circle who acted with their own personal motives?
Either way, it would not be wrong to conclude that the particular version of Satanism the group allegedly practiced, coupled with the criminal culture brought in by the participants themselves, provided fertile ground – or else, the perfect cover – for these brutal killings to take place.
1. Jeffrey Victor, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Chicago: Open Court, 1993)
2. Henry Scammell, Mortal Remains: A True Story of Ritual Murder (New York, HarperPaperbacks, 1992), 29.
3. COMMONWEALTH vs. ANDRE O. MALTAIS, 387 Mass. 79; May 4, 1982 – August 4, 1982, Bristol County, 82.
4. Scammell, 44.
5. Scammell, 53-54.
6. Scammell, 159.
7. Scammell, 54.
8. Moe Lauzier, “It Can’t Happen Here” Talk Radio, You’re on the Air, October 29, 2006.
9. Scammell, 148.
10. Scammell, 54-55.
11. Scammell, 62-63.
12. Scammell, 148.
13. Scammell, 63.
14. Scammell, 239.
15. COMMONWEALTH vs. ANDRE O. MALTAIS, 387 Mass. 79; May 4, 1982 – August 4, 1982, Bristol County, 86.
16. Scammell, 95
17. COMMONWEALTH vs. ANDRE O. MALTAIS, 81.
18. Marc Folco, “Looking Back: Murder, in Satan’s Name,” South Coast Today, October 6, 2013.
19. Scammell, 205-09.
20. Scammell, 211.
21. “Another Satanic Crime: Robin Murphy and the Fall River Satanic Cult,” Before Its News, July 10, 2014.
22. Scammell, 100-01.
23. Paul Carey, “Undercover in a Murderous Cult: A Case One Detective Will Never Forget,” APB News, March 23, 1999.
24. Scammell, 180-81.
25. Scammell, 186.
26. COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS v. CARL H. DREW, SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS, 489 N.E.2d 1233, Murder Conviction Affirmed; March 12, 1986.
27. “Satanist Cult Implicated in Prostitute Deaths,” The Michigan Daily, March 11, 1981.
28. Marc Folco, “Looking Back: Murder, in Satan’s Name,” South Coast Today, October 6, 2013.
29. Gregg Miliote, “Cult murders Haunt Retired City Detective,” The Herald News, May 1, 2003.
30. Gregg Miliote, “Former Detective Grilled at Cult Trial,” The Taunton Gazette, October 20, 2004.
31. Scammell, 122.
32. Scammell, 120.
33. Scammell, 120.
34. Marco Folco, “Looking Back: Murder, In Satan’s Name,” South Coast Today, October 6, 2013.
35. Scammell, 107.
36. Anton LeVay, The Satanic Bible (New York: Avon Books, 1969), 10.
37. Scammell, 148.
38. Gail Feldman, “Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Chapter in the History of Human Cruelty,” The Journal of Psychohistory, volume 22, no. 3 (Spring 1995): 343
39. Christopher Balzano, Dark Woods: Cults, Crime, and Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest (Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2008).
40. Balzano, 157.
41. Balzano, 148.
42. Marc Folco, “Looking Back: Murder in Satan’s Name,” South Coast Today, October 6, 2013.
43. Balzano, 160.
44. Scammell, 257.
45. Gloria Negri, “A Life Sentence in Marsden Case,” The Boston Globe, January 15, 1981.
46. “Parole Board Decision in the Matter of Robin Murphy (#F25652),” The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety – October 18, 2012, 4.
47. Carl Drew, “Again! The Bristol County Legal System Acts Blind When Carl Drew is Put Before Them,” Carl Drew’s Fight Blog
48. COMMONWEALTH VS. CARL H. DREW, 397 Mass. 65; November 4, 1985 – March 12, 1986, 68.
49. Scammell, 219.
50. Gregg Miliote, “Court Denies Carl Drew Appeal,” The Herald News; November 10, 2006.
52. Scammell, 257.
53. Kevin O’Connor, “Robin Murphy, Involved in Satanic Cult Murders, Back in Prison on Parole Violation,” The Herald News, September 2, 2011.
54. Gregg Miliote, “Cult killer Robin Murphy Says She Made up the Story,” The Herald News; March 24, 2004.
55. “Parole Board Decision in the Matter of Robin Murphy (#F25652),” The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety – October 18, 2012, 3.
56. Kevin O’Connor, “Parole Board Grills Convicted Fall River Murderer Robin Murphy,” Wicked Local Westport, March 13, 2012.
57. Gregg Miliote, “Court Denies Carl Drew Appeal,” The Herald News, November 10, 2006.
58. Gregg Miliote, “Cult Killer Story Takes a Turn,” The Herald News, October 22, 2004.
59. Paul Carey, “Undercover in a Murderous Cult,” APB News, March 23, 1999.
60. Carl Drew, “An Act of Injustice: The Carl Drew Story As Told By Carl Drew,” Web. http://theinjusticesystem.net/carldrew.html.
62. Carlton Smith, Killing Season: The Unsolved Case of New England’s Deadliest Serial Killer (New York: New American Library, 1994).
63. Balzano, 170-71.