Between 1983 and 1991, over 100 day care centres across America were investigated for satanic ritual abuse of children. These bizarre cases were widely reported in Great Britain as well as other countries around the world, where American experts played a significant role in disseminating material about the cases in workshops and seminars. Using news articles, investigative reports, interview transcripts, legal briefs and court transcripts, this paper analyses a sample of 12 of those cases. It examines the nature of the allegations, the victims, the perpetrators, the criminal trials and the outcome of the cases. The major finding of this analysis is that these day care cases actually contribute little to the debate about whether satanic ritual abuse is real or rumour, but they do set an agenda for the international child abuse professional community for research, practice and discussion. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.