AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Bruce McLaughlin had his world turned upside down amid divorce proceedings. Accusations of abuse made by his former wife landed him in jail, even being convicted of sexually abusing three out of four of their children. Wrongly accused and jailed, a story of injustice, a story of redemption, and a story of how he really, ever since this all happened, has dedicated his life to helping others. All of this chronicled in Bruce’s book, “He said, She SAID” and you see there on your screen, the “SAID” is S-A-I-D, Sexual Allegations In Divorce.
Brad Means: Bruce, thank you so much for writing this book a few years back and thanks for taking the time to talk about it today, we appreciate it.
Bruce McLaughlin: Brad, Good morning, and thank you for taking the time to read the book. A lot of people who do publications such as yours or podcasts, don’t do that, and that shows real investment of your time and energy, not only in your own program but in those guests that you have, thank you.
Brad Means: Well, thank you, Bruce. It was a pleasure to read and I mean parts of it certainly were not a pleasure to read but I found the entire book fascinating, as a whole. So, let’s just kind of, set the scene for the viewers here and let them know, how we got to this point. It’s been about 26 years, give or take, to the day since police busted into your house in the middle of the night, yanked you out of bed and arrested you. And we’ll explain to the viewers, why all that happened, but that traumatic moment, does it seem like a distant memory at this point 26 or so years later?
Bruce McLaughlin: Fortunately, it does Brad, but I don’t wish it on anyone.
Brad Means: No, it was disturbing to read, especially with a child in the room witnessing all of this, allegedly, for grabbing your wife during an argument. So, your marriage with your wife is starting to show some cracks, she accuses you of grabbing her wrist during an argument. What about the history with your wife? I know a lot of husbands and wives have issues, a lot of them are watching right now, but when you grabbed her wrist, was that the first time that happened? Did you all have a history of arguments that turned physical? Where did things stand?
Bruce McLaughlin: You know, there were some cracks that were developing at that time. This is 1996, take you back a bit, but you you know, I… This, as in most marital situations, your viewers know that it’s not one sided. I was a very busy speaker, engaged in traveling all over the country, invested a good deal of time with my children when I was home and didn’t spend that quality time with my wife, as I should have. Her name is Robin. And Robin, in addition to being somewhat alienated by me, suffered from postpartum depression. Our four children were the the cause of, I believe three pregnancies that resulted in her suffering from severe depression and she was on anxiety medication. Spent a lot of time in her room in bed, unfortunately, and I had to hire an nanny and a housekeeper and so forth, in order to be able to run the house and look after the children while I was not home. But to answer your question, there was one other incident, a physical incident, it was me sort of, pushing Robin in front of the children, that stupid mistake on my part, the arm twisting was nothing more than, you know, a 45 degree twist. And she took 48 hours to report it, with the help of a friend and two pastors encouraging her to leave me, and as a result, I was arrested in the middle of the night because in Virginia, it just takes literally, one victim to report you and some evidence of a physical injury, which was internal, nothing external on her wrist.
Brad Means: Let me ask you this right now, and we’ll find out about the role that you say those pastors played in this entire situation, but so go back to maybe after the birth of your first child, when you first started to notice the difficulties that Robin was having, the postpartum depression. Is there any advice you can give right now, to especially, new parents out there, who may notice some similarities in their household, something they could do to nip this in the bud and maybe change the course of their marriage or put their partner on a healthier path?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, I’m not a psychologist, and honestly I did, you know, hire a psychologist and a psychiatrist to look into Robin’s concerns and try to address them. And you know, that that has its limits, a talk therapy has its limits. She did not necessarily respond as well. The psychiatry industry today prescribes medications in hopes that we can cover up or mask honestly, some of the internal conflicts that we have. My current wife is a hypnotherapist, and in fact, she is trying to address, once and for all, issues that come to plague us and as a result, nip some of our psychological issues in the bud.
Brad Means: Let me ask you this. When it comes to the situation with your marriage and we are getting to a very dark moment, eventually in your life, which is serious prison time. You probably had no idea that was coming when you got arrested that night but this marriage sadly continued to deteriorate and within a couple of years it was almost over and she was accusing you of sexually abusing three of your four children. I know you say, you didn’t do that, I know the court system agrees with you, but Bruce, how do you think the marriage counseling, because y’all did try that, how do you think marriage counseling may have played a role in Robin coming up with those accusations?
Bruce McLaughlin: I don’t know. I know it didn’t happen with my marriage counseling with her, which was limited. We had some counseling, but I think most of it occurred outside of my presence with her psychiatrist, who she had a very close relationship with, and I think was encouraging her to dissolve the marriage. Unbeknownst to me, it did catch me blindsided, of course, with these allegations of sexual improprieties against, by the way, all four of my children, the courts threw out one of the cases involving one of my twin girls. I had two older boys separated by two years each, they were nine and seven at the time of these allegations. Remembering back to when two and three years prior to this, their mother was telling them this all happened, by the way Robin was abused as a child, so this was a dysfunctional way for her to connect with her children-
Brad Means: Right and these children were little, they were little when these accusations were levied and forgive me, four of the children, they were real young, right?
Bruce McLaughlin: They were real young. My girls were only five, twin beautiful redheaded, blue-eyed twins, identical twins, and they were five at the time, they were trying to recall these things that never happened, about what Robin was telling them occurred at age three. So, they are still trying to get over the trauma associated with being lied to by their mother, all four of my children have received some counseling and some therapy and are back in the saddle. My two older boys are certainly more able to deal with the situation, and have nicely gotten their own families and their own children. My girls are just now starting to break free of the hold that their mother had on them, I should say, and are starting to live their lives, as well, but it’s taken a long time, as you point out, 20 some odd years.
Brad Means: Why did you agree to, and a couple more questions in this segment, Bruce, why did you agree to supervised visits, back during this period in your life, with those children, if you disagreed with the abuse allegations? Why not say, “No, I’m gonna continue to be alone with my children or I won’t see them at all.” Was that the only way you could see them?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, here’s the thing, I was trying to reconcile with my wife, with Robin, I was blinded somewhat by the love I had for her, and I wanted to keep the marriage together. Remember, she had not made it through the children allegations of sexual abuse until I was two years under supervised visits, and I think it sent the wrong message to the kids that something is wrong with Bruce. And so, when they did finally, get suggested to this whole business of instilled memory, is very real in children, causing them to believe certain things through repetition, in this case, by a power adult their mother, caused them to believe as true, issues of sexual abuse that did not happen. And I didn’t have the ability to confront them ever about it. I only found out about it after the court ordered me separated from the children and then I had to wait for trial, and that first trial was inhabited by quite a few problems.
Brad Means: Last question for this segment, Bruce, you were an experienced attorney during all of this, criminal defense background, still, you went through the court system, got convicted, got sentenced to 13 years. How did you lose? I mean, you’re the picture perfect profile of somebody who should be able to win these kinds of cases because you lived these kinds of cases. How’d you get beat?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, I didn’t have very good attorneys, and I did not know the legal community that well. I only began to practice trial law after I got acquitted and got my Bar license restored by the Virginia Supreme Court and was able to practice trial law in the very jurisdiction that put me behind bars. I was able to do that, it provided great therapy for me and gave me an opportunity to earn a living but also to help other people in the legal system there, negotiate their shores of the legal system in Loudoun county. So, to some extent, that’s what happened. I was an international speaker, traveling around the country and I had no idea about false allegations of abuse and the crimes associated with child abuse, and honestly, I should say that yet, I was a lawyer. And you know, if this can happen to a lawyer, who should know better and be more careful perhaps, I had no idea my wife was this far gone, it can happen to anyone. And one of the reasons I wrote the book is, Brad, that 80% of these kinds of cases in divorce situations are manipulated by one or the other part, typically, and they tend to be false. Whereas, in typical child abuse cases, we know full well with some of these church cases and so forth, that 80% of those cases are true.
Brad Means: Yeah.
Bruce McLaughlin: So I wanna try and educate the public and the juries and judges, that there is this niche of cases, the “said” cases, as you pointed out in your introduction, sexual allegations in divorce, that we need to be mindful of, that can mislead a jury to falsely convict, not only me, but others who are behind bars today. I’m trying to get them a voice, so that perhaps, we can turn these situations around for them as well.
Brad Means: When we come back on “The Means Report” our conversation continues with Author and Attorney, Bruce McLaughlin, his road to freedom, and as he mentioned, how he is giving a voice to the voiceless who are in the prison system right now, when we come back.
Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report”, our conversation continues with Bruce McLaughlin, author and attorney. He wrote the book, “He said, She SAID”, Sexual Allegations And Divorce, That’s what that “SAID” stands for. And then he went to jail, he spent four years of a 13 year sentence in jail, before he was acquitted and regained his freedom. And ever since, on a mission to help those who also may be falsely accused. And it’s a decent number of people, the internet will tell you that anywhere between 1% and 10% of the people who are locked up are innocent, but Bruce, my question for you is, when you’re seeking out somebody to help, somebody for whom to advocate, how do you make your choices because everybody is innocent in jail?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, that’s what they say, isn’t it? This particular type of case is a unique species of cases because it pits typically, a parent against another parent, and children are used or manipulated by the power adult in their lives, and often time the court system, unknowingly, excludes the other parent from being able to set the record straight with the children. And one of the parts of my book, I’ve recommended that the Virginia system change the the system in certain respects, and if there is an allegation made by one parent against another parent involving the children, the children should be separated from that parent who is instilling, perhaps, false allegations. Child Protective Services should take over and should be the objective party to make that decision. Sometimes CPS doesn’t do that, but it’s certainly more effective than the at fault parent.
Brad Means: Bruce, do you think your story will make some people stay in bad marriages, just out of fear? I was reading it, thinking, you know, if my marriage started to go down the tubes I don’t want what happened to Bruce to happen to me, maybe I’ll just keep my head down and stay in this thing. Might that happen?
Bruce McLaughlin: I think some people do that, honestly, they’re afraid of what could happen. Not only with respect to potential child allegations, that’s probably furthest from their mind, honestly, because you know, this doesn’t, you don’t think about this as a healthy parent with your children. You would not think that your significant other would instill these false memories in her own children or his own children. This happens to fathers who make false allegations, as well. But the thing you think of is financially and my living situation and the children, and how they’re going to have to fare in a separation. Honestly, I think you should communicate with your spouse and do the best to try and work out something, and a lot of people do this, where it is not going to affect the children, keeping them out of it.
Brad Means: What can we do, what can people do then, to keep their reputations and their character beyond reproach, beyond the reproach of their spouse, if things start to go south? Could it be as simple as keeping a daily diary, “Robin and I argue today. I grabbed her wrist, but not very hard.” Should there be that kind of documentation?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, honestly, you know how a documentation goes. We start off with the best of intentions, it doesn’t always happen every day, given the certitude of life. Brad, I would just, I would communicate, I think it’s so important to, you know, talk about how you all are going in separate directions, and if we’re going to divorce, here’s what we should do. My wife, not only… My ex-wife, not only had some mental issues with severe depression and even paranoid, but she was from New Zealand, she was a native New Zealander. So, this was her way of being able to extricate the kids back to New Zealand and punish me, supposedly, by providing that avenue for the children to live in her native country. Not a lot of parents have that dynamic, so this was a unique set of circumstances.
Brad Means: I know this is probably a question that’s too broad to answer in a 30 minute broadcast, but how do you get the court system’s attention now, when you’re trying to advocate for others and say, “Okay folks, I’m trying to help this person who’s been falsely accused” or is it more just teaching those in the legal system to be aware of the warning signs that might let them know, okay, be careful here, these don’t sound like legitimate accusations, how do you help?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, you’re asking me to comment now as an attorney who has handled some of these types of false allegation cases. And if I’m an attorney, the first thing I do is typically, go to the prosecutor who’s assigned to the case, and I point out the weaknesses in the said case that show that the children are being manipulated, typically, and there is an expert science in this area now called suggestibility, and recently The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual five which classifies all medical syndromes and conditions, has recognized parental alienation as even such a science that for which there can be expert testimony offered. One of the key areas is, are the children changing their tune? Are they saying one thing on the one hand and one thing on the other? And who is giving them this input, is it one parent where the other parent is separated? I point these kinds of things out to a prosecutor in the hopes that I can get the prosecutor on the side of the defendant, because oftentimes a prosecutor thinks, “Wow, it’s child abuse, they must be guilty.” So you have to turn the mind of the proc… In my case, I couldn’t do that because I’m the defendant, my attorneys should have done that, but I had a prosecutor, a Commonwealth Attorney, in Loudoun county, his name is Bob Anderson, he’s still practicing some law today, he lost the election, ’cause I went door-to-door telling people about this man. He wanted to win an election and in Virginia we unfortunately, call our prosecutors to run for public office, which is a mistake, they should be appointed, because then they have a political agenda as opposed to a legal agenda, which is what they should have, predominantly, for all defendants that they decide, that they should bring a case against.
Brad Means: Let me ask you this, probably my last question, and it’s just, why? Why did you write this book? You begin with a disclaimer, pretty much apologizing to anybody whose recollection of these events many years ago might be different than yours or who may be hurt by the revival of these recollections. Secondly, you dedicate the book to your children who were just, I’m sure crushed by all of this, and even though they’re grownups, why dredge all this up? Why do interviews like you’re doing with me when it just brings it all back?
Bruce McLaughlin: Well, that’s the easy fix, isn’t it? Just forget about it, sweep it under the rug, but it doesn’t make it go away, and my girls are experiencing that now, is they’re having to pull back the dust from under the rug and I don’t want them to do that. I want them to be healthy and whole and there’s nothing like the truth to set you free. And in in fact, I went to my boys and I asked them do you mind if I use your names in this book? Do you mind if I publicize the truth and they each thought about it and they said, “No dad, we want you to do that.” And, so that’s the first reason I wrote this book, was for the children to understand that they are healthy, they are innocent, and that they can live in freedom in their lives. The second reason that I wrote this book was to educate the public, because of the this very specific area of legal cases called “Said cases”. I have a website, www.hesaidshesaidauthor.com and honestly, people are getting in touch with me from time to time saying, “I have a relative or I have a friend who has been wrongfully convicted. How can you help them?” And I try my best to steer them to experts, I steer them to a lawyer who has some experience in the various jurisdictions that I’m being asked to weigh-in on. One is right now in Alaska, in a prison for a year and a half.
Brad Means: Yeah. No, I appreciate that, and I appreciate your input today, no question about it. Bruce McLaughlin’s book is “He said, She SAID”, read it, find out about his trip through the court system and his trip out of it, his attempted escape from jail, I’ll let you read about that. And certainly, the mission as you just described, Bruce, that you’ve been on ever since. Please take care and thank you so much for being with me today.
Bruce McLaughlin: Brad, thank you for having me, I appreciate you doing that.
Brad Means: Absolutely.