Verdict: Not Guilty 

Page 2 of 4

Of course, during the final years Susan was sounding like a sick puppy, making wild accusations against her husband. She claims she began having disturbing "flashbacks" in which she remembered for the first time what really went on during her first visits to Felix. She recalled that the sessions would begin with him giving her tea, which was drugged. Then he'd hypnotize her and force her to have sex with him. In a July interview, Susan Polk told the Express, "Did I fall in love with my husband? No. He doped me up and hypnotized me."

This sounds weird, Horowitz conceded in court last month. Then again, the psychologist's past behavior, and medical records from his military service, suggest he indeed may have been crazy enough to rationalize such a stunt.

During the mid-to-late '80s, a national hysteria erupted over the dubious phenomenon of ritualistic child abuse by satanic cults. The panic had been set off earlier in the decade when parents with children at a Southern California preschool run by the McMartin family accused the clan of not just molesting their kids, but conducting animal sacrifices and Satanic rituals.

None of the McMartins was ever convicted, and critics have likened the frenzy over satanic ritual abuse to a modern-day witchhunt. In the McMartin case, it later surfaced that the first parent to make child-abuse allegations was a paranoid schizophrenic. But it wasn't only mentally ill mothers accusing daycare workers around the country of engaging in child sacrifice and forcing kids to eat feces (a common allegation). Lending the movement credibility was the supportive presence of respectable professionals, particularly psychologists -- including Felix Polk.

During a 1988 Bay Area conference on ritualistic child abuse, Felix Polk publicly shared horrifying stories about what "Satanists" supposedly had done to his oldest child. Adam had been in daycare for four months, and the boy, not even two yet, had started acting strangely, Felix said -- for instance, the toddler bit the family dog. Eventually, Felix told his audience, Adam began revealing what happened after he was dropped off at daycare. Felix recounted these horrors for the conference attendees:

"He [Adam] was, and other children, were raped onstage, raped in every form imaginable. But there were other performances too. Children were killed. He describes the one that has been hardest for me -- was his description of a baby put in a plastic bag and hammered to death. He remembers the blood. There were other ceremonies -- if that's what they're called -- there were blood-drinking ceremonies, urine, feces eating, eating of throw-up, he says."

As with other cases alleging ritualistic abuse, police were never able to substantiate any of the Polks' incredible allegations. During the question-and-answer session at the 1988 conference -- which was audiotaped by the Berkeley-based Conference Recording Service -- Polk was asked to address why so little physical evidence had been turned up in such cases. He responded that Satanists had infiltrated law enforcement and the judiciary. "Cases are mysteriously closed down, evidence disappears," he explained. "That is not a random matter."

At the time, Susan Polk backed up her husband in his denouncing of Satanists. Together, they formed Enough!, a support group for ritualistic-abuse victims and parents. Horowitz now says the whole satanic-abuse episode was a fiction, the product of a paranoid and delusional mind -- that of Susan's late husband.

According to the defense lawyer, Felix' mental illness was first documented following a failed suicide attempt in 1955 while he was in the Navy. Military records show that Felix, then 23 and on leave, was found unconscious in his parents' enclosed garage, where he'd been sitting with a car motor running. His suicide note said: "My mind is so heavy with wretchedness, with utter loneliness, with an unknown past, a frightening future, and an intolerable present that no choice remains. I don't fear death at all. What it is [sic] but non-life and what is life but a continuous torture?"

Felix later told a military investigator that he couldn't remember the moments leading up to starting the car or even writing the suicide note. He was hospitalized for more than a year and diagnosed as schizophrenic. The military medical records also mention that Felix was burdened by sexual problems and had been preoccupied by incest fantasies about his older sister since his adolescence. Susan's lawyer argues that Felix' mental illness was a chronic, lifelong affliction -- one that made him prone to delusions and bouts of rage, especially when things didn't go his way.

Felix took anti-anxiety medication to control his illness, but Horowitz told the jury in October that toxicology reports from the autopsy show that Felix wasn't taking his meds around the time of his death. Without his pills to chill him out on the evening in question, Felix got into an argument with his wife and snapped.


During the psychologist's final weeks of life, friends and patients noticed that he was agitated and preoccupied. They knew his marriage was on the rocks. Felix didn't want to get divorced, and he admitted as much to a court mediator. Susan Polk says her husband could never accept the idea of her breaking away and leaving him. By early October 2002, however, it was getting harder to deny that their twenty-year marriage was finished. Susan had been in Big Sky, Montana, looking for a condo where she could start her life over. She cut her trip short after she learned Felix had gone behind her back and obtained a court order that gave him custody of Gabe and exclusive use of their home. The judge also slashed her alimony, so she drove back to Orinda to get things straightened out.

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