Chapter 12
Home Up

VOLUME 1, 1995


A convert to Mormonism’s philosophies was a friend who stood like a rock for freedom of speech and puffing the needs of children first. Mary Snow Plourde of Yukon, Oklahoma, a pleasant, smiling blonde, is soft-spoken and humorous but she doesn’t mince words. She learned this technique, she said, while she was still in her teens. "While I was attending Los Angeles Community College, I was governess to Isabel and Paul Cohen’s family. Isabel, an attorney, taught me plenty about my own rights and insisted that I deserved an education. She had never lost a case; and one day I asked her about it. She said, ‘State and restate your case, calmly and politely, until you get results. Never back down.’ I’ve always found that excellent advice."

Mary remembers hearing stories of her paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Birch Snow, told in whispers lest the children hear, who was tarred and feathered and had "unmentionable things done to her" at the age of twelve to frighten her out of her headrights as an Indian. Her great-grandfather, Winston Snow, was on the Trail of Tears. Mary was born in Abilene in 1952, with six older brothers and two sisters and six younger sisters. Her mother, Louella Woodell Snow, was part Choctaw, and her father, James Irlon Snow, was part Cherokee. Later Mary learned that her father, always physically abusive to the boys, also sexually abused her two older sisters.

When Mary was eight, her anti-union father, an independent trucker, and fifteen-year-old brother were hit by a truck loaded with lead pipe. Mary’s brother, when he regained consciousness, found their father’s body stuffed under the hood of his truck, his right hand severed. No one was ever convicted. Mary’s mother was left with thirteen children and a thousand dollars to not press the matter. "What could possibly frighten me?" she demands. "The Mafia? No. Gangsters? No. The Mormon Church frightens me. Follow the leader and say nothing frightens me."

About seven months later, "Uncle John" Aldridge, a widower of five years with five children entered the picture as a suitor. Louella did not welcome his advances and explained, "I don’t want to marry anyone because I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder. I have so many little girls." Mary later realized that Louella feared the possibility right from the start that her daughters would be sexually abused. Aldridge and his five children moved in with them, then insisted that Louella marry him "or what will the neighbors think?" Louella bore him two children. Mary does not remember being sexually molested, but she knows that some of her sisters were. Aldridge had Louella committed to Big Spring State Hospital, authorized repeated shock treatments to make her forget, and always referred to her as "crazy" after that. "She came home not knowing our names anymore," said Mary. "Whenever she became aware of the abuse again, she’d become dysfunctional again." She was readmitted repeatedly for the next twenty years. "She had small burn scars on both sides of her forehead, and they caused something like an internal blister to form and fill with liquid until the pressure on her brain caused noticeable symptoms. In the spring of 1987, I had her admitted to Abilene Hendrix Hospital to draw off the moisture."

"It was when Leon Fulton called Roseanne ‘crazy’ that deafening alarms went off in every fiber of my being," she recalled. "It was like the clangor of a fire engine, or a runaway train. Roseanne was crazy. Merradyth was crazy. It was only a matter of time before President Fulton started calling me crazy too. Well, I hadn’t been able to protect my Mama from Aldridge, but I was old enough now to know that ‘crazy’ was another word for ‘knows too much.’ I wasn’t going to walk down that road again."

Mary lived in Abilene until her senior year, actively participating in both Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Then she moved to California where she completed high school, went to college, and worked three jobs simultaneously. She also read to her brother’s wife, Paula Zoellers Margeson, who suffers from a rare form of generational blindness, and worked in a Beverly Hills private kindergarten, from which she was drafted into Parents Anonymous, the first parent/child abuse program on the West Coast. It was a "heart-wrenching" program that also delivered therapeutic services to children, usually under age seven, who had been removed from their homes. "I’d pray and pray: ‘Lord, please help me give these children what they need."’ Every weekend consisted of a morning therapy group and an afternoon rap session. That’s where she learned about abuse. "I learned that abuse hurts everyone. No one goes unscarred. It causes intense pain with no names. And most of all, I learned that there are so many victims, so many victims." At age twenty-one, she and her sister-in-law spent the next year organizing a Blind and Handicapped Coalition that delivered three thousand demonstrators with various handicaps to a successful lobbying effort to enact access legislation.

The next year, at age twenty-two, she was having a comparatively restful year back in Abilene teaching kindergarten. There she met Nelson Plourde of Eagle Lake, Maine, who was in the same flying squadron as her sister’s husband. He was a business administrator, first for the Air Force, then for the U.S. Postal Service. They were married in August 1974 and began looking for a church. Nelson had been raised Catholic but didn’t want to go back. While they were searching, "the Mormon missionaries found us" and they were baptized. Their home teacher was Willard Hales, Roseanne’s father. "Keith, Roseanne’s brother, was about our age, so Willard treated us like his kids," recalled Mary. "I felt like I’d fallen into a Norman Rockwell painting. Our church experience was so sweet—the quilting bees, working on the stake farm. I fell head over heels in love with the whole concept."

Nelson’s next Air Force assignment moved them to the installation at Rhine/Main in Germany for three years (June 1975-June 1978) where he was a postal administrator. Their first child, Rama Suzanne, was born in October 1975 followed by Justin in August 1977. Mary and Nelson were endowed and sealed in the Swiss Temple in April 1976; then both were called as ordinance workers. Mary did initiatory ordinances and Nelson worked at the veil. This calling lasted from 1976 to 1978.

Their next assignment was at Lowery Air Force Base in Colorado, from June 1978 until Nelson finished his tour of duty in November 1980. Mary was Relief Society nursery leader for a day and evening session weekly in those pre-block-plan days. Mary gave birth to Jay in December 1978, to a stillborn preemie at Christmas in 1980, and to Laura Danielle in November 1981.

They moved to Oklahoma in 1982 where two more children completed their family: Emily Kristen, born in August 1983, and Nicole Rene, born in September 1991. Nelson asked the bishopric to have Mary do something besides nursery, her calling basically since baptism, and she taught Primary. Nelson launched into a business career managing an auto dealership, happy to be out of the military. Nelson was assigned to be Roseanne and Peter Campbell’s home teacher. Mary was delighted that they could repay the kindnesses that Willard and Maxine had offered to her and Nelson when they were a young married couple years before. "I’d go with Nelson to visit Roseanne and Peter," she recalled, "take them cookies, play with the kids, talk about Grandpa Hales’s farm. I noticed that Roseanne was strung out with having one baby right after another, but lots of us have done that."

In the fall of 1993 when this seemingly secure and happy world cracked, Mary’s children were eighteen-year-old Rama, seventeen-year-old Justin, fifteen-year-old Jay, thirteen-year-old Laura, eleven-year-old Emily, and two-year-old Nicole. The only dark cloud had come about three years earlier. Mary had taught Relief Society and Primary and had been serving in the Primary presidency when her mother died in 1990. Emotionally depleted from the death and a miscarriage, she asked to be released; but after Nicole was born, "everything was new again," and she was teaching Sunbeams.

Stan Powell was then bishop of the newly created Silver Ward, meeting in a brand-new meetinghouse in Surrey Hills. Mary had had a couple of run-ins with him. He had called her in once to say, "I don’t want you here, and I don’t want your kids here unless they’re attending a meeting." Mary found the instructions strange but had seen "a lot of strangeness" in the Church in twenty years and dismissed it as just Powell’s brand of quirkiness, or perhaps overprotectiveness about the new building. "I’d always bring all my kids whenever I had a meeting," she explained. "They didn’t drive, so they were either doing homework or playing outside, when I had meetings, taking care of each other. The gym was there right in the center; they played or, if there was a game going on, watched the older kids play basketball."

Bishop Powell was there "all the time." He attended the priesthood and Sunday School classes for the teenagers, and frequently taught them. He attended most of the midweek activities for the Scouts and Young Women. He insisted that the boys wear slacks, white shirts, and ties to Sunday meetings and embarrassed those who didn’t with a glare of disdain.

Mary was again willing to write it off as Powell’s personal hobby horse but became uneasy when he would not allow her to be present for any of the Scout meetings, scoffing, "We don’t need any mommies here,"

"I had already been a den mother for my sons and the children in the neighborhood. Powell didn’t want my children in the building at all." Nelson was swamped with his work at the dealership, but Mary was sufficiently uneasy that she insisted he volunteer with the Scout program. She also found it strange that Jay and Justin, who had been enthusiastic about Cub Scouts, hiking, and camping,

became progressively more adamant that they didn’t want to do anything with the Church Scouting program. There were lots of squabbles between us and the boys, and that’s another reason I thought it was important for my husband to volunteer as troop committee chairman. Whenever we told them to go to a Scouting overnight camp, they started to hassle. Neither one of us wanted them to be a mama’s boy, so we’d try and talk them into it. It puzzled us. We asked, "Do they starve you? Do they tease you?" I wondered if there was a Marine drill sergeant type who was bullying them.

I felt that the Scouting program was perhaps too competitive, and Powell would humiliate the boys who didn’t show up in their Scout shirts for the meetings. It was just very clear that certain kids were going to get their Eagles and others didn’t. Some kids were important—the leaders’ favorites—and others weren’t. For example, we filled out the paperwork three times for Rama’s Young Woman award and it got ‘lost’—not just once but three times. I know it was done because I setup the award-earning activities for her whole class—the teacher was a single working mother with four children and just didn’t have time. The third time, after we thought it was already sent, the ward clerk gave it to us months later and said, ‘Here. You might as well have this. I found it in a drawer.’ Once could have been an accident, but three times? So the other kids got their awards and my child didn’t. My children were omitted from some of the activities like plays and skits. It bothered me a lot to have the leaders playing favorites. Now, I realize what was probably happening to their favorites—to kids like Scott

In contrast, Powell’s son Randy, who received his Eagle at age thirteen, boastfully but angrily told the children that "my dad’s secretary typed up my Eagle." After a while, the Plourdes stepped back slightly. "Nelson was a great Scouting leader, but he just couldn’t devote the time that it took," concluded Mary. "We stopped trying to persuade the boys and switched to family camping trips." In retrospect, she thinks that she and Nelson were gullible. "My kids were very alert, and we should have listened better to them. We should have looked at the pattern over time and tracked developments better. But we’d learned to be good Mormon—groomed not to ask questions—and we were trying to force our kids into the same pattern."

Mary was caught off guard when trouble developed at the Campbells. It happened suddenly in July 1992, "Preston just disappeared from Primary—dropped out of sight."

Roseanne and the children were gone from the ward. Peter was there on his own, Mr. Single. My husband was the first one to ask, "Mary, do you think he molested his kids?" I think Nelson had a feeling. I was the one with the training, but Nelson sensed it first, maybe because he knew somehow about the violent streak in Peter. Nelson asked me to visit Peter with him, and we were sitting there chitchatting. I asked casually, "Well, when is Roseanne coming back?" I assumed she was at her mother’s, resting after the fifth baby. He wouldn’t answer the question—got this real tight-lipped look. I asked around the ward, wondering if they’d had a fight. No one had any answers.

Weeks went by. The Fourth of July wreath was still on their door. We kept visiting and Peter kept not saying anything. It must have been several months later [during the winter of 1992-93] when Peter told us about the divorce. He looked strained. He kept clenching his teeth, covering his mouth, had his lips pressed together tightly. He told Nelson, "They’re trying to make it sound like I’ve been abusing the kids. All I have to say is, if I’d been doing somethin’ like that, wouldn’t they ‘a said somethin’ before now?"

I felt a hollowness inside. It was a sick, slow realization that he wasn’t denying that he’d abused them. Then I thought, "He can’t deny it." Nelson and I exchanged a sickened glance. I wanted to run out of the room. Nelson got up, put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, and said, "Peter, if you’ve molested your children, you’re going to have to face up to it. You’ll have to turn yourself in and deal with the consequences. You’re going to have to get help and your children are especially going to need a lot of help. Your children need our help. They won’t be able to do this alone. We have a responsibility to your children. I’m their home teacher as well." Peter just sat there and looked down. That was an answer. He wouldn’t say anything more.

Finally, we left. When we got in the car, Nelson looked at me and said, "What do you think? Do you see what I see?" I was shaking all over, trying not to cry. I thought of Preston, my tiny frozen Sunbeam. I said, "Yes."

The next blow came a few months later in the summer of 1993. The Plourdes were friends with the McCallisters; their children were the same ages and had the same friends.

We saw them all the time. Our kids were either sleeping over there or they were having slumber parties over here. So when Scott told his parents about the sexual abuse in the summer of 1993, we knew within a couple of days. I could tell something was hurting them. "What’s happening?" I asked Merradyth. "It’s not good, not good," was all Merradyth could say at first.

When Merradyth told Mary that Scott had told them Stan Powell had sexually abused him, Mary’s first concern was for the McCallisters, then for her own sons.

I had no moment of disbelief, not an instant of disbelief. I’d seen Powell’s power-tripping and his hunger for control over everybody in the ward, not just the teenagers. Scott was Mr. Friendly and in all the plays, but it all fit so perfectly it was nauseating. All I could say was, "I’m so sorry." We cried together. Then I said, "What can I do?"

Justin was completely astonished when he found out about Scott. All he could say was, "How horrible! How awful!" He was stunned, like he couldn’t believe it. But Jay pointed a finger at Nelson and me and snapped, "We told you Stan Powell was a fag and you made us go to these fag camps anyway. Why did you make us go, Dad!" Jay was mad that we hadn’t believed him sooner.

It’s true that Jay had called Powell a fag, but we had figured that Jay was just searching around for the worst name he could think of. Both boys said they weren’t abused. They’d made themselves unpleasant by not "kissing up" to the leaders and that meant they’d untargeted themselves.

Nelson was just heartsick. He knew that Scott was telling the truth. He’d given Scott his first job at the dealership; they worked very well together, and it tore him up. He’d been approached by a homosexual in the military, and a teacher at school used to bother him a lot. He knew that people who looked very respectable could have a second life going on.

About four months later, the day before Veterans’ Day in 1993, Mary decided to show her daughter Emily what court archives looked like for genealogical purposes. Merradyth had asked her to find the Campbell vs. Campbell case, and after that last visit, Mary’s curiosity was piqued. Mary decided it would be an excellent project. They read until closing time. She told Merradyth in incredulous tones what she had found, and both of them prayed over the next day’s holiday that the records would be preserved. Mary was waiting on the courthouse steps as soon as it opened to get copies of her own.

My life changed. The Campbell children were pointing fingers at their dad, at the bishop, and a counselor in the bishopric. I had taught Preston and Charlotte. I’d been in and out of their home. Preston was in my class. I had no reason to disbelieve the children. I had no reason not to believe Roseanne. It all made a horrible kind of sense. Cult abuse really explained it. I’ve worked with child abuse before, but this was more horrible than anything I’d ever seen before. The testimony was there, and the lawyer hadn’t even wanted to cross examine. A therapist who had worked with hundreds of sexually abused children cried when he talked about what had happened to these children. The medical evidence was clear.

She was particularly distressed when she read that Preston was considered autistic. "He couldn’t speak very well, but it wasn’t a mental problem and it wasn’t a speech impediment," Mary remembers.

We played Sunbeam Talk Show—where I’d hand each child a pretend microphone and they could make little speeches or sing songs. When it was Preston’s turn, he would rattle off long sentences about his grandpa’s farm and riding the horses. He would color really well, hold up the right picture for a story, share toys and interact appropriately with the rest of the children, and pass out snacks. These are not typical behaviors for autistic children.

Mary believes that her own children were not victimized. "I think they were too wary, too uncooperative. I think that saved them." So her turmoil was not prompted by anguish over her own children. Rather, it took the lid off a cauldron of childhood memories when she was too little to do anything but watch and weep as her father thrashed one brother for saying something wrong, whipped another for spilling coffee on him, or beat a sister for not getting a spot off a glass. "Any little thing could turn into instant ugliness and brutality," she remembers.

I spent years wishing I could deflect some of the anger and torture inflicted on my older siblings on myself. Then I understood I couldn’t. Later, when I found out about the sexual abuse, I understood fully why Jesus Christ has atoned for our sins—even the ones we can’t name yet. And he has taken upon himself our pain—all of it. We either stand with Christ in bearing the suffering of others, or we stand with those who inflict it.

One of my children asked, in the middle of all this mess, "Mom, why are you doing this? We’ve got a good life. Why are you wrecking things for us? It’s too bad what happened to the McCallisters and the Campbells, but it didn’t happen to us.

My only answer was, "It did. It happened to my mother. It happened to my brothers and sisters. It happened to Jesus because he said that anything we do to one of the least happens to him. And it could have happened to you. I didn’t ask to know these families, but I do. I couldn’t help my mother. I couldn’t help my brothers and sisters. But I can stand here and hold the flashlight on what I see and what I know. If I walk away, what will that teach you about bearing each others’ burdens? If I walk away, what will happen to your children?"

When priesthood leaders say that Constitutional rights "out there" don’t apply to us "in here," that’s very scary. When the mechanics of the priesthood disengage freedom of speech through excommunication, it destroys and breaks down our Constitutional rights. Excommunication means "do not talk," but we have to preserve our freedom to speak. Excommunication removes the words of warning. If abused children are brave enough to go to their mothers or grandmothers, these women take it to their fathers and husbands and brothers, begging for help, crying out, "We have to do something." And the answer is: "That’s right, you have to do something. You have to hush up."

The children are disenfranchised and invalidated from the start. No one will ever believe them. They stop believing themselves. They turn numb. They stop believing their feelings. They can’t live their lives anymore. They surrender their lives to the façade, the mirage.