A TALE FROM A NEW AGE WITCH HUNT
An epidemic of false accusations gripped American society through the mid -1990s, wreaking havoc in the lives of individuals and families-people trapped by the missionary zeal of helping professionals trying to save children. In 1990 and 1991, 15-year-old Nicole Althaus accused her father, mother, and a couple she had never met of molesting her in bizarre ritual circumstances. Filmed over five years, Hungry for Monsters examines the story of a Pittsburgh family's ordeal when accusations of satanic ritual abuse are made by a daughter who believes she has recovered memories of heinous crimes. The film traces the personal experiences of Nicole Althaus, her parents, and other participants in the saga, through arrests and trials to eventual reconciliation. In the end there are some disturbing questions that may never be resolved.
Renee and Rick Althaus, both 53 years old, live outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1990 their 15-year-old daughter Nicole accused her father of molesting her, and Rick was arrested. Earlier, Nicole had developed a close friendship with Priscilla Zappa, her World Cultures teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School, and together they explored the realms of witchcraft, satanic abuse, and David Lynch movies. When Nicole was removed from her home, she was placed in foster care with Mrs. Zappa.
Following treatment by Dr. Judith Cohen, a psychiatrist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Nicole claimed that Rick had abused her since she was six years old and forced her to have sex with strangers in exchange for large amounts of money, and that she had given birth by C-section and had aborted two other fetuses. One was sacrificed in a satanic ritual and fed to a pack of dogs. An old lady had been murdered and buried in the back yard. She had witnessed another murder after being forced to participate in a sex orgy at a mansion she called "the pretty place." Nicole even identified the house where the orgies and murder had occurred, and George and Heidi Stipetich, its owners, were promptly arrested. Rick Althaus was arrested again. This time, Renee, Nicole's mother, was also arrested-led from the classroom where she was teaching in the middle of the school day and handcuffed.
The Stipetiches had never met Nicole or her parents. They soon discovered that Renee and Rick Althaus were just as baffled about how they fit into the story. Later they learned that a county investigator with a beef against Stipetich had driven Nicole by the Stipetich house and prompted her to identify it as the house where she had been forced to participate in various sex acts.
An exuberant media began speculating about additional arrests as lurid details of a satanic cult's activities around the Pittsburgh area were revealed. But the prosecution's case unraveled as private detectives produced evidence that contradicted nearly every claim in the long list of accusations. The lack of evidence, however, did not impress assistant district attorney Marianne Mulroy, who had befriended Nicole, and continued to champion the case, including its most bizarre elements, even after homicide investigators concluded that Nicole's accusations lacked substance: there were no bodies buried in the backyard, no suitcases full of money in Rick's attic, and Nicole had never been pregnant. The case was about to go to trial when Nicole's competency was challenged at pre-trial hearings. A duel of three psychiatrists ensued.