The first season of Gimlet’s Conviction podcast focused on Manny Gomez, a private eye in the Bronx, who’s search for truth in the face of entrenched corruption, turned the noir tradition of the hardboiled detective on its head. Now, with the second season, Conviction: American Panic, dropping on February 25, hosts Julia Marchesi and Sharon Shattuck tackle the Satanic Panic hysteria of the 1980’s and question the very notion of what “truth” means.
In 1989, 9-year-old John Quinney accused his father of being a cult leader who had ritually abused him. It was the height of the phenomenon known as the “Satanic Panic”, during which, in a post-Reagan America, a modern-day witch hunt began, stoked by a frenzied media eager to report on supposedly widespread Satanic cults who sacrificed babies, forced children to drink blood, and orchestrated bizarre sex rituals. The alleged leaders of these cults? Daycare workers, parents, your neighbors – it could be anyone, declared a parade of “experts” on daytime television.
Today, we know that Satanic Ritual Abuse didn’t happen as it was reported, if at all. And when Quinney, now an adult, received a shocking Facebook message, he set out to determine what was real.
Marchesi and Shattuck told Refinery29 that they were drawn to this story because “we wanted to explore the idea of mass hysteria—the way we sometimes let fear, emotion, and beliefs override facts and evidence. Then we heard from a man in Texas named John Quinney who revealed that he had accused his own father of abusing him in satanic cult rituals. His father Melvin had been sent to prison, and John had spent over two decades believing his father was guilty."
The reporters established a relationship with Quinney, and uncovered something new in the process. "As we got to know both Melvin and John, it became clear to us just how real and tragic a phenomenon the satanic panic was — how it devastated the lives of many innocent people and how they are still living with the impact today," the duo said. "What’s crazy is that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands of people who were caught up in the Satanic Panic — people like John and his father Melvin — whose stories have never been told.”
Listen to the first two episodes of Conviction: American Panic from Gimlet, a Spotify company, starting February 25.