Saskatchewan’s Devil Church
· 17 min. read
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The following article is about the sexual abuse of children. Reader discretion is advised.
It was late October of 1991 and it was bathtime.
It had been a long day, and a mother in Martensville, Saskatchewan, was undressing her child for a bath. However, as the child was getting in the bathtub, she noticed a red mark on the child's bottom. The child was pretty young and still wearing diapers. Absolutely anything could have caused the red mark, including a diaper rash or a careless tumble. However, the mother was still concerned and asked the child if anything had happened at the daycare. The child said, yes: "A stranger poked my bum with a pink rope."
The following morning, the mother contacted the Martensville RCMP detachment. She wasn't sure if this was an accident or a case of sexual assault, but she'd like the RCMP to investigate the matter. Her child had been attending a popular daycare in Martensville, run by Ron and Linda Sterling.
The constable on duty, Claudia Bryden, was new to the force when the call came in. She had just moved in from Saskatoon. Following the call, she collected a list of names of families that had children attending the daycare and called each of the parents individually. She asked the parents if their children had mentioned any possible physical or sexual assault at the daycare. None had. In fact, many had taken their children to daycare for years and were surprised to hear of the possible allegations.
Constable Bryden then thanked the parents for their time and told them to call her back if they remembered anything.
Bryden then began digging through records and found a previous report of sexual abuse allegations at the daycare ten years prior. This report, crumbled and forgotten at the back of a drawer, was about Travis Sterling, a then-teenage boy who lived at the daycare that had apparently groped one of the girls that were being babysat. This was enough evidence for Bryden to begin the investigation.
Within a few days of the investigation, the parents of the daycare started calling Bryden back. The parents had asked their children about anything suspicious at the daycare, and at first, the children didn't remember anything, but then slowly, stories started coming out.
The claims of the children were wild, varied, and very concerning. The police then asked to bring the children in for a formal interview. Once the children arrived, the stories solidified and horrified parents and police alike.
According to the kids, once they were dropped off by their parents, they were hooded, placed in a white van with blacked-out windows, and driven out into the country. Here, they said, they were taken to a blue shed where other people were waiting for them in dark robes. Inside the shed, children were placed in cages, in freezers, and others were stripped. Some of the children had their hands cut, were forced to drink blood and eat feces and some were sexually assaulted with an axe handle. Others even said they were forced to participate in sexual activity at gunpoint. One child even mentioned a waterbed.
If these claims were true, they would be nothing like what has ever happened in Martensville before. Constable Bryden was new to the force and new to the job and wasn't prepared to handle whatever this was. She asked another officer from Saskatoon to come up and help with the investigation. It was around this time that a connection was made between the claims of the children and a similar event that occurred in California in the 1960s. Those sexual assaults were part of a Satanic ritual abuse case by the notorious Brotherhood of The Ram. Could this be a spin-off of that same organization, all these years later?
That was a strong possibility, and from that point on, the blue shed where these atrocities occurred was nicknamed "The Devil Church."
Quickly, the main priority of the RCMP was to find and locate the blue shed where these actions were taking place. After several weeks, they found the shed matching the description of the children. It was an old blue shed, and upon looking through the windows, had cages, a freezer, and a mattress in it. The RCMP officers got a search warrant and entered the shed. Although all the items the children described were indeed in the shed, their descriptions were slightly off. Instead of a human-sized cage, it was a chicken cage. Instead of an empty freezer to lock children in, it was a freezer full of meat. Instead of a waterbed, it was just a regular bed. The police also searched for any kind of blood, fecal matter, semen, or hair, and they found nothing of the sort. If this had been the site of multiple sexual assaults, there should have been some kind of evidence, but there was nothing.
By now, the investigation has extended into May 1992, and the entire RCMP detachment was now involved in the investigation. A few weeks before Easter, the RCMP received a tip that something big was about to happen. Apparently, several busloads of Satanic occultists were planning to come to Martensville for an upcoming Satanic holiday. Their purpose was to kidnap and kill children and set fire to churches.
The chief then put out a message to all the officers. On the night the occultists would be arriving, the officers were asked to not only carry their licensed weapons on them but to carry any other weapon they own in their vehicle. The entire town was going into complete lockdown, and the police were on high alert.
The day came, and the night rolled in, but nothing happens. The next night, the officers remained on high alert, but still, nothing happened. Nothing happened the next night, or the next. One officer even said it was the quietest the town had ever been. How could such a blatant tip be so wrong?
Around this time, Constable Bryden was interviewing the children. She was placing pictures of faces before the kids to identify possible members of the cult. Outside of Ron, Linda, and Travis Sterling, nobody else had been identified. However, the children were able to pick out several people from the pictures that were involved in the Satanic cult, some of which were members in uniform.
Might it be possible that there were double agents among their ranks, and that officers had tipped off the occultists that they would be coming into a lion's den?
Members of the force began to suspect one another, and division began to grow between the ranks.
At the six-month mark into the investigation, nobody had been formally charged or arrested. The community was on edge and divided, and people were doubting the competence of the police department. The police then formally arrested and charged the Sterlings in connection to the Satanic ritual abuse. They also arrested several police officers, all of whom claimed to be innocent. This included John Popowich of the Saskatoon police force that was brought in to help with the investigation.
However, the biggest issue with this case was the lack of evidence. There is no evidence of sexual assault at the daycare, besides a report written ten years earlier. The blue shed was never used in any kind of ritualist abuse, all the people arrested claim to be innocent, and all the children who claim to have been cut or tortured show no signs of their injuries. The only evidence of any crimes being committed is the unified testimony of the children. Nevertheless, the community had sided with the children, and windows throughout Martensville boasted signs that read: "We Believe The Children."
The belief was that, if a crime was being committed, the best person to commit the crime would be a police officer. They know what other officers are looking for, they knew how to make false leads, and they know how to tamper with evidence. If the police were involved in a cover-up, that would explain why there was no evidence of the crimes to be found.
As the court process began, two people were charged with sexual assault. One was an 18-year-old woman from Martensville, whose identity was withheld due to her age, but was charged with only a single count of sexual assault. The other was Travis Sterling, who had committed sexual assault against a minor ten years prior. The other Sterling family members were declared not guilty due to a lack of evidence.
The courts then focused on charges against the police officers, and these cases had a similar problem, as there was no evidence.
In an attempt to solidify their case, investigators printed out pictures of charged officers and innocent civilians and presented them in front of the children to identify them individually. The children went through the photos and identified those who committed the crimes. Some said things like, "This is the man. I can never forget this face", or, "I believe this is the man."
However, none of the people the children identified were the same as the ones being charged.
This discrepancy caused whatever case they could muster against the officers to crumble. When asked why the children picked certain pictures over others, one of the children said they picked one of them because they "liked his tie." With this, the legitimacy of the children's testimony was brought into question. Even though they claimed they were participants in Satanic ritual abuse, there was simply no evidence any crime was or had been committed.
After the first officer's charges were dropped, the rest of them were dropped too, with the claim that this investigation was a waste of time, energy, and taxpayer dollars.
After the dust settled, Ron and Linda Sterling were forced to sell their daycare and move away. In 2004, they would receive $924,000 in damages caused by the false accusations. John Popowich, when he returned to work, was ostracized by his fellow officers. Although he was found not guilty, his name was tarnished forever. He was forced to resign from the police force. In 2002, the courts gave him $1.3 million for malicious prosecution.
So, how did things get things so wrong?
The leading theory is that Constable Claudia Bryden, along with several other Saskatoon police officers, had previously attended several conferences in the United States that focused on Satanic ritual abuse. The signs and these crimes matched what they were seeing at the daycare. Then, the mistake was made when Constable Bryden asked the parents about the potential abuse first. This planted a seed of concern in the parent's minds, and they would then ask the children before the officers had time to speak with them. The children might then also discuss it among themselves, and the seed of concern would grow into a tangible lie.
Additionally, when the officers were interviewing the children, they were praising and rewarded them for admitting to being sexually assaulted and acting dismissive or unhappy when the children said otherwise. This approach made the children more likely to fabricate wild claims and get rewarded for them rather than telling the truth.
This false testimony, plus the concerns of the police, led to a spiral of mass hysteria similar to the Salem Witch Trials. People were charged with crimes they never committed, and lives were destroyed, simply because children lied.
To conspiracy theorists, this story also leads to the belief that world governments and courts are controlled via a Satanic cult. It has similar traits to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Members of the Satanic cult will protect each other, either by destroying evidence, editing statements, or making investigations follow false leads to continue their nefarious plans. If a Satanic cabal was involved, this is exactly how they would do it.
If there is any good that came out of this story, it was that Travis Sterling was finally convicted of a sexual assault case ten years after it was committed. Justice finally came to Martensville, but it was a pyrrhic justice.
We covered this same story on Unsolved Canadian Mysteries and go into further discussion of the testimony of the children and offer our own unique theories on what happened in Martensville. If you're interested to hear more about the case, please check it out.
I know this article was pretty disturbing, and I've actually been hesitant to share it, but I felt it was perfect for this Creepy Canada series I am working on, so thank you for reading it. The rest of the stories are pretty messed up, but this one was especially rough.
But, what are your thoughts on this case? Have you ever heard of the "Martensville Nightmare" before? I'd love to hear them. Let me know in the comments below.
The real "Devil Church" in Martensville.
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Categories: Dark Tourism, General, Paranormal, Saskatchewan