This last month, a young twenty-year-old woman named Sarah Croak was reported missing in Ballwin, Missouri.
In a sea of people who vanish every day, the disappearance of Sarah Croak on September 25th might not raise any eyebrows to the common person, tragically indifferent as that might make us. Yet there is indeed something all the more noteworthy about just where she disappeared from. Sarah Croak disappeared from the Castlewood Treatment Center.
For those not in the know, the Castlewood Treatment Center is a small – in patient size, if not in scale – residential eating disorder rehab center. Comprised of two separate but nearby facilities stocked with therapists, nurses and nutrition experts from across the country, Castlewood boasts of its reputation as one of the nation’s best resources for eating disorder sufferers at the end of their rope. It is decidedly less prideful and public about the four separate lawsuits filed against it over the span of two years by former patients Leslie Thompson, Lisa Nasseff, Brooke Taylor and Colette Travers.
Altogether, the four women, under the same legal representation, accuse Castlewood – and in two of the complaints, co-founder and psychologist Mark Schwartz himself – of misusing therapy to help create false memories of past sexual abuse and multiple personalities during their visits there. In the suits directly naming Schwartz as a defendant, Lisa Nasseff and Leslie Thompson claim these faux memories involved Satanic rituals and even the occasional infant sacrifice.
The current lawsuits echo those filed throughout the 90′s; former patients stepping forward to allege their therapists prodded and coerced them into believing they were the victims of childhood abuse, abuse long repressed into the subconscious and the memories of which could only be recovered through their professional expertise. Pointedly enough, one of these lawsuits included the patient of a past St. Louis clinic Mark Schwartz ran alongside his wife and Castlewood co-founder, Lori Galperin, in 1998 (A settlement was reached with the patient).
Locked in litigation over these past two years, Thompson’s case appears to be the first to be moving ahead to trial late next year, provided no settlement is reached beforehand.
It’s perhaps with that looming threat of discovery that the Castlewood Board of Directors saw fit to sever most of its ties to both Schwartz and Galperin, removing them this last May from any active role with either Castlewood facility as well as their recently launched West Coast offshoot, the Monarch Cove Treatment Center in Pacific Grove, California (They now have several other affiliate centers in Alabama as well as other parts of St. Louis).
Though still honorary board members, it’s hard to see the departure of Schwartz and Galperin, alongside the replacement of staff members purportedly close to the two, as anything other than a stronghanded attempt by the board to distance themselves away from the ten-year legacy of Schwartz’s management of Castlewood. To what degree any of this has resulted in actual changes in the treatment of their clients or in the use of therapy to recover long-repressed memories is anyone’s guess. Under the direction of CEO Nancy Albus, the Center still promises to help its clients with unresolved childhood traumas. Many in the mental health field explicitly disavow the practice of recovering repressed memories as dangerous and unscientific.
Does any of this have anything to do with Sarah Croak’s disappearance? I have no idea. And from the little provided to the media, there’s little way to figure out otherwise. What is known to us is that Croak has a reported history of suicide attempts and cutting, that she walked away from the Center under her own power and that she is currently labeled an endangered person by Missouri police, a designation that allows law enforcement to release identifying information to the greater public, skirting any possible confidentiality concerns.
The online trail is relatively cold as well, with a possible Facebook account belonging to a Sarah Croak of similar age living in nearby Illinois but with no physical photo. On a talent agency database, the brunette-haired Croak describes herself as an aspiring model/actress with “a very high appreciation for darker beauty and music” and who hopes to be an alternative model someday.
Is it disingenuous to bring up the not-so-long -ago history of the Castlewood Treatment Center in relation to this ongoing and undoubtedly horrifying story? I hope not. If anything, I see it as a disservice not to. We’re not talking about forgotten court settlements whose records only exist in the archives of the local district court, we’re talking about serious – and repeated – claims that, if true, raises questions about the ethical practices of a facility that now finds itself having lost one of its patients.
That said, there hardly needs to be a giant conspiracy about therapists harming their patients to explain why a young woman clearly suffering might want to disappear from the world. Important as it might be to report on the continuing Castlewood cases, the most important thing right now is to hope for the safety and health of Sarah Croak.
Boston journo Doug Mesner with more on Castlewood.
Update: According to a personal friend of Croak and YouTuber, Sarah Croak has been safe and in the company of family members in Florida.
Corrections: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated Leslie Thompson’s trial date as November 2013. The trial is actually set for November of next year.