The day after Andi Higbee killed herself, her psychiatrist walked into the office of a police detective handling her case, closing the door behind him.
Kyle L. Stewart, at the time one of only a few psychiatrists working in Bartlesville, Okla., wanted the detective to understand some things about his deceased patient.
Andi’s parents, the doctor said, had sold her into satanic cults when she was a child. Cult members would hold rituals along the river in a park near her apartment, calling out to her during the night, he said. She also suffered from multiple personality disorder.
Stewart said he had other patients like Andi – three or four women with multiple personalities who he considered “satanic or demonized.”
They were witches, Stewart told the investigator, Jay Hastings.
That account came from a written report that the Bartlesville Police Department has declined to provide to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, the department allowed Andi’s widower, Geoff Higbee, to review the case file and make notes, which he shared with the newspaper.
Hastings told the AJC he was shocked to hear a doctor speak that way, but he didn’t know then what he had stumbled over. The department didn’t try to identify or check up on the other women Stewart spoke of. Nor did police alert the state medical board about such a bizarre prognosis by a medical professional.
That was in October 2003. Since then, two women have accused Stewart of sexually abusing them during appointments in his office, using religion and tales of the supernatural to manipulate them into sex acts. They say he convinced them they had multiple personalities that could seize control of their bodies, that their mothers had given them over to witchcraft as babies, and that they were powerful witches. The AJC revealed the extent of the case last month as part of its ongoing investigative series on doctors and sexual abuse.
“It scared me to death, and it devastated me,” one of the victims told the AJC. “It made me feel like I was a terrible human being. He would tell me on Friday the 13th to be extra careful.”
The two women are suing Stewart for medical malpractice. After the first victim came forward, Stewart surrendered his medical license to the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision in 2014. The state allowed him to quietly retire and declined to report him to law enforcement.
One of the women told the AJC that her abuse started in 2000, which means she may have been one of the patients Stewart was referring to that day in the detective’s office. The woman described the doctor taking her clothes off and climbing on top of her on a sofa in his office, while she cried.
She quoted Stewart as telling her once, “We have been having sex all this time because you’re a witch and you have been seducing me, because witches have no purpose for men.”
The two women, who the AJC is not identifying, are represented by Boston attorney Stan Spero, who has handled several high-profile cases involving both doctors and Catholic priests.
“Once the police learned that that a psychiatrist had a collection of people that are supposed witches or demonized or satanic,” Spero said, “that certainly should have initiated a further investigation, as far as what is going on here that we don’t know about in this town.”
But Hastings says there was nothing he could do about a psychiatrist assessing patients with medieval superstitions and the stuff of horror movies, despite one of his patients being dead.
For one, his job was to make sure Higbee hadn’t died of foul play. Any violations of medical practice standards would be under the purview of state regulators, Hastings said.
“We didn’t have enough to take any complaint to them over this incident,” Hastings said. “Again, it was not Dr. Stewart that we were investigating. We were investigating the actual death and how that occurred.”
There were other mitigating factors, he said. Higbee’s husband told police much the same thing as Stewart, that his wife had multiple personalities and seemed possessed.
Also, Stewart told him he was counseling the “witches” through his church. The detective said it was hard to tell where religion ended and psychiatry began.
“It did strike me as strange,” Hastings recalled. “But he threw it off as, ‘It’s through the church.’
“That somehow makes it sound a little bit more like they were trying to help her spiritually,” he said. “And that’s where I see the line.”
Even if police had dug into Stewart’s statements and discovered the alleged sexual abuse, that alone wouldn’t be enough to file charges. Unlike in Georgia and some other states, in Oklahoma it is not a crime for mental health professionals to have sex with their adult patients.
Stewart has not been accused of having an improper relationship with Higbee, and it’s not clear if her death was connected to her treatment.
Stewart did not respond to a message seeking comment. He has previously declined to discuss the abuse accusations in detail – saying they “had to do with my health” – and he asked the AJC not to contact him again.
Geoff Higbee said he doesn’t understand why police didn’t look into Stewart after his wife’s death. He said Stewart’s claim that he had several patients with multiple personalities, in a city of about 35,000 people, should have set off alarms.
“It’s Bartlesville,” Higbee said. “I mean, how many people are you going to have with multiple personalities?”