"McMartin" was one of the first Multi-Victim Multi Offender (MVMO) child abuse cases. 2,3 It lasted six years -- the longest US criminal trial in history. At a cost to the state of $15 million, it was also the most expensive. No convictions were obtained. The main evidence of abuse was based on what the children testified were memories of repeated, sadistic, ritual molestation. Years later, child psychologists realized that such memories can be easily implanted in children's minds by the interview techniques which were used at the time. Since psychologists and police investigators have changed their methods of interrogating young children, no more MVMO cases have surfaced in the U.S. and Canada. The children's testimony was supported by medical tests, which were believed at the time to be accurate. Years later, they were found to be useless.
The hoax adversely affected the lives of hundreds of children, who are now young adults. It has become the most famous MVMO case of its type. Many feminists and others still believe that the children were subjected to horrendous abuse at McMartin. Snippets from the McMartin case have been distributed around the world and incorporated into similar stories involving false memories. Underground tunnels are probably the most popular.
Events leading up to the trial:
The McMartin preschool was located in Manhattan Beach, CA. It was owned by Peggy McMartin Buckey and her mother, Virginia McMartin. Ms. Buckey's son, Ray, was a part-time school-aide at the school. On 1983-AUG-12, Judy Johnson complained to the police that her son had been molested by Ray at the school. Ms. Johnson was an alcoholic and had been diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia. She also claimed that her son had been molested and abused by her estranged husband. The latter claim appears to have been largely ignored by the prosecution; information about it was withheld from the defense attorneys. Although there was no physical evidence or confirmation from other children at the school, Ray was arrested on SEP-7. Because of lack of evidence, the DA decided to not prosecute.
The Chief of the Manhattan Beach Police then created a local panic by circulating a "strictly confidential" letter to about 200 parents of present or past McMartin students. The letter specified that Ray may have forced the children to engage in oral sex, fondling of genitals, buttocks or chest area and sodomy". The parents were urged to question their children, seeking confirmation. The community and surrounding area was panicked by an irresponsible media. A local TV station was first with the news; they reported that the preschool might be linked to child pornography rings and various sex industries in nearby Los Angeles.
In 2002-MAY, the Morning Call newspaper of Allentown, PA interviewed Paul Eberle. He is co-author of "The Abuse of Innocence," a book about the McMartin case. He said: "Almost all of the accusing families were practicing Catholics who attended the American Martyrs Church...What the Catholic Church did was to open its doors to all these witch-hunters." Eberle said rallies linked to the church demanded that "Ray [Buckley] must die!" He continued: "The [Martyrs] Church was marching with the accusers, and anybody with an ounce of brains knew these people were innocent. The church was very accommodating with the lynch mob." 4
Hundreds of children were later interviewed by the Children's Institute International (CII). By Spring of 1984, 360 kids had been diagnosed as having been abused. Medical exams were conducted on 150 children. There was a complete lack of the type of physical evidence that is normally seen with sexually abused children. However, the doctor performed some new tests which have since been shown to be useless as a predictor of abuse. The doctor concluded that about 120 had been sexually abused. The whole town, particularly the parents of the allegedly abused children, went ballistic. Stories of child abuse included other locations: St. Cross Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach, CA and 8 other Manhattan Beach schools. Teachers at the schools were said to belong to a Satanic cult and a child pornography ring. About 100 teachers "were accused of child molestation and/or Satanic rituals." 5 Children were pressured by parents; CII interviewers used leading, suggestive, and repeated questions. These are the precise techniques that almost guarantee the implantation of false memories in the minds of children.
The interviewers gave rewards to the kids for disclosing the "right" answers: These were that the children:
A 1986 survey of residents in Los Angeles County was taken before the first trial. It showed that 90% of the potential jurors believed that Raymond and Peggy were guilty. In spite of strong bias by the townsfolk, the judge refused the defense's request for a change of venue. Judy Johnson continued to make allegations of abuse; among other charges, she said that her ex-husband had sodomized their son and the family dog, that her son had been injured by a elephant and lion during a school field trip, that her son had been tortured by teachers who put staples in his ears, nipples and tongue, and had put scissors in his eye. There was, of course, no physical evidence of any of this trauma. She was later diagnosed as suffering from acute paranoid-schizophrenia, was hospitalized and died at home of alcohol related liver disease before the trial began. Information of her mental illness was kept from the defense.
Armed with search warrants, they police searched 10 schools and one church. They found nothing. Groups of parents searched the school yard for signs of tunnels, underground rooms and sacrificed infants or animals. They did find the remains of a sea turtle. A forensics exam showed that the sand inside the shell was foreign to the area. This indicated that the remains had probably been dug up on a beach and planted in the yard.
Was a witch hunt or hysteria involved?:
Some groups who believe that ritual abuse actually happened at the preschool have attacked both the defense attorneys and skeptics in this case:
Perhaps a more accurate theory is that:
With the possible exception of the lead prosecutor in the case, there is little evidence of hysteria or a witch hunt at McMartin. The prosecution was simply the result of sincere but misguided individuals working with the disclosures of young children which were unrelated to any real abusive events.
"Nothing about the McMartin case was simple, easy or fast. It cost taxpayers more than $13 million. The preliminary hearing alone took 18 months. The entire case took seven years to wind through the courts, and involved six judges, 17 attorneys and hundreds of witnesses, including nine of the 11 children alleged to have been molested...After the trial ended, Ray Buckey was retried on eight counts on which the first jury had deadlocked, but a mistrial was declared when the second jury also deadlocked" 8
In 1984-MAR, 208 counts of child abuse involving 40 children (some sources say 42) were laid against 7 adults: the owners of the school, Ray Buckey and 4 school teachers. After 20 months of preliminary hearings, the state's case appeared weak. They offered the defendants immunity from prosecution or leniency if they would be willing to testify against the other defendants. None took up the offer. The prosecution produced a pair of rabbit ears, black candles and a black cape during the trial. They presented these items as evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse. The defense lawyers were able to prove that this material was totally unrelated to the McMartin case.
In 1986-JAN, Ira Reiner was elected district attorney. He dropped all charges against 5 of the adults. Remaining were 52 charges against Ray Buckey and 20 counts against Peggy Buckey, plus a single count of conspiracy. An area telephone survey showed that:
Glenn Stevens, an assistant to the lead prosecutor, Lael Rubin, resigned his office in disgust after having worked for two years on the case. He revealed material that had been withheld from the trial, including claims by the original accuser, Judy Johnson, that people had flown through windows, killed lions, and had sexual encounters with giraffes. Ray Buckley was alleged to have beaten a giraffe to death with a baseball bat. 4
On 1990-JAN-18, after almost three years of trial testimony and 9 weeks of deliberation, the jury cleared Peggy Buckey of all 13 remaining counts. Ray was acquitted on 39 of 52 counts; the jury's vote was split on the remaining counts, with large majorities in favor of acquittal. Superior Court Judge William Pounders, said that the case had "poisoned everyone who had contact with it."
Ray was later retried on some of the 13 counts; the second jury delivered its verdict in 1990-AUG. They were also hung. The prosecution finally gave trying to obtain a conviction.
During and after the trials, such television programs as Geraldo, Oprah, and 20-20 ran exposé's on McMartin and similar MVMO cases across the U.S. This raised public consciousness and hysteria nationwide.
After the trial:
The events at McMartin caused extensive disruption:
Actions by the principals in the case included:
The first recantation:
The magazine section of the Los Angeles Times published the first retraction from a McMartin student in 2005-OCT-30. Kyle Sapp, now known as Kyle Zirpolo, was eight years of age when he made his accusations 21 years ago. He now wants to tell the truth and apologize to the defendants. He says that he made his accusations because of pressure from his family, the community and the social workers who interviewed him. It remains to be seen whether other students, now in their late 20s or early 30s will follow Zirpolo's lead.
Commenting on his experiences being extensively interviewed at Children's Institute International, now known as Children's Institute, Inc., Zirpolo said:
Later, he said, in part:
As of 2005-OCT, over two decades have passed since the McMartin case started. I'd really like to see an impact study done on the hundreds of children, now young adults, who were victimized by the child psychologists and police investigators of Manhattan Beach, CA. A ritual abuse disaster like "McMartin" is unlikely to happen again; we simply know too much about memory processes in the brain and interview techniques for young children. I suspect that the Wenatchee WA case will be the last of this type in the U.S. and the Martensville, SK the last in Canada. Still, it would seem that a study which measured the residual emotional damage done to the children of McMartin would be useful.
My guess, based on pure conjecture is that about 20% will be found to have been seriously affected, 10% significantly emotionally disabled, and 1% will eventually commit suicide because of their false memories. \
Another interesting study would be to determine the current beliefs of the principals involved in the prosecution and interviewing at McMartin. I suspect that most still believe that Satanists were at work in the early 1980s.
Society needs to know this information. If it is not done now, there will be incomplete data available to combat the next disaster of this general type. Three hundred years ago, Salem, MA became convinced that the area was infested with witches; about two dozen innocent people were killed. In the 1980's, seven people were tried for imaginary ritual abuse crimes against young children. The next calamity may be sooner than three centuries from now. We need to be on guard. The best defense is to fully understand the past.
Related essay at this web site:
References used in the above essay:
Other material on McMartin:
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