The Salem witch trials, (June 1692–May 1693) which occurred from June 1692 through May 1693, is a series of investigations that caused 19 convicted “witches” to be hanged and many other suspects to be put in prison in Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (which is now Danvers, Massachusetts). The process of identifying witches began with suspicions or rumors. Accusations followed, often escalating to convictions and executions. This all came about as the result of a combination of church politics, family feuds, and hysterical children, all of which unfolded in a vacuum of political authority.*
Our laws and due process in court have been changed as a result of these trials...or at least it's presumed that we've learned from them. Even though our hope is that we continue to grow and learn from our historical mistakes, sometimes our own culture and human nature get in the way.
Maybe after listening to the details of the McMartin case, you can come up with your own theories about what happened, and if you believe that cases such as this can happen again in the future.
Transcribed Episode / S3 EP35: McMartin Preschool Trials
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If you have children, at some point in time you may choose to put your child’s care into the hands of a school, a daycare, or even a babysitter. This is not an easy task as many parents can attest to…it makes you nervous, makes you hesitant and scared…who are these strangers that I’m going to allow to take care of my child, and can I trust them?
In today’s world, we hear about more and more cases of abuse happening with caretakers. Sometimes the abusers are caught on camera or sometimes the children themselves will tell their parents what happened to them.
Maybe you’re a parent, or maybe you’re not…but for this moment, put yourself in the shoes of a parent….what would you do if your child, who you trust, who you know through and through, comes to you and tells you that they’ve been touched inappropriately by a person that was supposed to care for them? Would you believe them? That’s a silly question, of course you would, you’d have zero reason not to, and your first course of action would be to make sure that those responsible are held accountable and punished.
That’s exactly what happened in 1983 when hundreds of children came forward and accused multiple staff members of the McMartin Preschool of child abuse. What ensued is a cautionary tale, and would go down as one of the longest and most expensive criminal investigations in American history.
What may become one of the biggest child molesting cases ever on record. Seven nursery school teachers were arraigned today on more than 100 counts of child molestation.
The accused include the preschool owner, 76-year-old Virginia McMartin, her daughter and two grandchildren.
Finding out just what happened to the McMartin Preschoolers in Manhattan beach California, would spark a national media obsession.
A case which has shocked much of southern California and caused a lot of parents to worry about the safety of their children.
Setting off a panic around the country.
In alarming numbers, preschoolers have been exploited.
Could it be your child?
The media blitz demonstrated unstinting belief that this happened.
It was sensational, and lured and seemed to always be expanding.
1400 children in this community have been ritualistically abused.
But were they? Decades later while the McMartin case has been largely forgotten its impact lives on.
In 1956 49 year old Virginia McMartin opened up the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California and opened a second location in 1966. Manhattan Beach is an upscale beach community that’s about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles and has a population of about 35,000 people. The city is known as the “Pearl of LA’s South Bay'' and was made famous by the Beach Boys song “Surfin USA.” Modern mansions line the 2 miles of the Manhattan Beach coastline and the area is considered one of the most affluent cities in the South Bay area.
Virginia would run both schools for the next 10 years until she ended up closing down the first school. She employed her family members to help run the school; her daughter, Peggy McMartin Buckey acted as the school administrator and Peggy’s son Raymond, worked as a teacher at the school.
As Virginia got older, she started to transition the running of the school over to her family. Peggy, who was now 63 years old, took over the management of the school and her son, Ray, who was now 25, continued as a teacher with the help of his sister Peggy Ann Buckey who would work at the school part time.
Over a 20 year span, the McMartin Preschool had taught more than 5,300 children and employed 30 instructors. Virginia’s family won numerous honors for their work in the community, and the school never had any legal issues. The only family issue they had was when Ray, a Mira Costa High School 1976 graduate, got a DUI and was arrested for drunk driving.
Judy Johnson, a 39 year old divorced mother of two boys, had enrolled her 2 ½ year old son Mitchell at the McMartin Preschool. Mitchell began complaining to his mother about having painful bowel movements. When she found blood in his diaper, he told her that he’d been sodomized by a teacher at the preschool, Raymond Buckey.
On Friday August 12, 1983, Johnson contacted police and spoke with Detective Jane Hoag, an 11 year Manhattan Beach police veteran. She told the detective that her son had a persistent redness on his bottom and made a claim that he’d been sexually abused by the McMartin Preschool teacher Ray Buckey. She added that Ray had dressed her son in women’s clothing and played “doctor” with him. She also said that she’d heard other claims of abuse involving other children at the preschool.
Ray was questioned about the allegations and his home was searched. Authorities found a rubber duck, a graduation robe, a Teddy bear, and Playboy magazines at his home and believed that was good enough to arrest him and took him into custody on September 7, 1983. But the evidence found in his home was not enough to corroborate Johnson’s claims of abuse, and he was released.
But Johnson didn’t stop there - she then sent a letter to the Los Angeles District Attorney saying that the teachers at the McMartin Preschool were abusing her son and other children and that “Ray flew in the air” and that one of the female teachers had "drilled a child under the arms" and taken her son to meet a "goatman."
Over time, Johnson's claims to authorities got more and more bizarre. She would claim that Peggy Buckey was involved in satanic rituals, and that she took Mitchell to a church where he was made to watch a baby being beheaded, and was then forced to drink the blood. She insisted that Ray had sodomized her son while his head was in the toilet, and had taken him to a car wash and locked him in the trunk. She claimed that Ray pranced around the preschool in a cape and a Santa Claus costume, and that teachers at the school would chop up rabbits and that they placed "some sort of star" on her son's bottom.
After the District Attorney received the letter from Johnson on September 8, 1983, Los Angeles Police Chief Harry Kuhlmeyer sent a form letter to the families of about 200 current and former students of McMartin Preschool.
This is what the letter stated verbatim:
This Department is conducting a criminal investigation involving child molestation (288 P.C.).Ray Buckey, an employee of Virginia McMartin's Pre-School, was arrested September 7, 1983 by this Department.
The following procedure is obviously an unpleasant one, but to protect the rights of your children as well as the rights of the accused, this inquiry is necessary for a complete investigation.
Records indicate that your child has been or is currently a student at the pre-school. We are asking your assistance in this continuing investigation. Please question your child to see if he or she has been a witness to any crime or if he or she has been a victim. Our investigation indicates that possible criminal acts include: oral sex, fondling of genitals, buttock or chest area, and sodomy, possibly committed under the pretense of "taking the child's temperature." Also photos may have been taken of children without their clothing. Any information from your child regarding having ever observed Ray Buckey to leave a classroom alone with a child during any nap period, or if they have ever observed Ray Buckey tie up a child, is important.
Please complete the enclosed information form and return it to this Department in the enclosed stamped return envelope as soon as possible. We will contact you if circumstances dictate same.
We ask you to please keep this investigation strictly confidential because of the nature of the charges and the highly emotional effect it could have on our community. Please do not discuss this investigation with anyone outside your immediate family. Do not contact or discuss the investigation with Raymond Buckey, any member of the accused defendant's family, or employees connected with the McMartin Pre-School.
The chief’s letter led to new accusations and by the spring of 1984, it was claimed that 360 children had been abused in relation to the McMartin preschool. Parents were pushing for a full-scale investigation as their children were describing being abused, and put into strange and outrageous situations involving human sacrifice that involved satanic rituals and child pornography.
Those parents who claimed that they believed their child had been abused by members of the Preschool, were asked if they would voluntarily consider taking their child to be medically examined by a doctor. That assigned doctor to the task was Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger, a pediatrician who directed the University of Southern California Medical Center's child sexual abuse program.
150 children were taken in for examinations. Heger took photos of what she believed to be minute scarring, which she stated was caused by anal penetration. Her findings weren’t based mainly on physical evidence but also the medical histories of the children. Her initial set of exams showed physical evidence of sexual assault in only six cases - and there was no way to determine if the assaults happened at home or elsewhere.
Following the examinations, on March 22, 1984, McMartin Preschool staff members, Virginia McMartin, Peggy McMartin Buckey, Ray Buckey, Peggy Ann Buckey and teachers Mary Ann Jackson, Betty Raidor, and Babette Spitler were arrested and charged with 115 counts of child abuse involving 48 children. Two months later, that number would be increased to a whopping 321 counts by District Attorney Robert Philobosian. The excessive filed charges were interesting timing, as Philobosian was in the process of running for re-election as L.A. District Attorney against Ira Reiner, a race he would ultimately lose.
Investigators would go on to interview 400 children connected to the abuse claims. The case was media gold, and the media took full advantage of the opportunity to report on any strange or bizarre allegations that would be leaked out from the case, and among the McMartin Preschool allegations were the following:
That Raymond Buckey “flew” at the school and that he took one child to meet a “goat man,” and took another child to a house where he let lions out to roam free.
That children were flushed down toilets to sewer rooms so they could be abused
One child identified the actor Chuck Norris from a photo, and claimed that he’d been present for most of the abuse
The teachers took the children to visit a cemetery to dig up bodies
The teachers took children to orgies at a car wash and an airport
That animal sacrifices were committed that involved a horse, rabbits, and other classroom pets; in one instance a child claimed that Ray cut off a rabbit’s ears; another child said he was made to drink rabbit’s blood, and yet another child claimed that he saw Ray beat a horse to death with a baseball bat
That Children were transported to off-site locations by a hot air balloon to be abused
And that a series of tunnels that had been dug underneath the school were connected to secret chambers where the children were taken for sex rituals and other abuse.
Children were molested by groups of men and women in public bathrooms
Children talked of a game called "naked movie star" and suggested they were forced to be photographed nude.
As outlandish and absurd as some of those claims seem to be, detectives believed them, and even went so far as to excavate the schoolyard, but found only some plywood boxes that the children crawled through during playtime.
Some of the parents weren’t satisfied with the excavation efforts and they descended on the school’s property with shovels and backhoes to dig for evidence themselves. They found the remains of a tortoise and some broken toys so they felt that those corroborated the claims of animal sacrifice.
In addition to the interviews and excavations, a total of 37 cars were searched, 7 businesses, 11 residences (including those of the McMartin staff), 3 churches, 2 airports and a farm. At each location, they found no child pornography, no nude photos of the children, no evidence of the “secret rooms” where the alleged abuse occurred, or any physical evidence to back up the claims….but they still pursued charges against the McMartin staff members.
Public outcry over the case continued to get more and more extreme, and there were even bumper stickers made that said “We Believe the Children.”
As the public pressure to investigate increased, the DA’s office consulted with the Children’s Institute International - a Los Angeles based organization dedicated to helping abused children - to help authorities with getting the children to talk about the alleged abuses.
Kee MacFarlane, a social worker with the institution who was not a licensed therapist, along with other therapists, conducted interviews with 400 children, using controversial techniques that involved puppets she’d named Mr. Alligator, Mr. Snake, Detective Dog, and Mr. Sparky.
MacFarlane would also use stuffed animals, and anatomically correct dolls when interviewing the children, telling them that she wanted them to share “yucky secrets.” She’d press the children using leading questions and offer rewards in order to elicit instances of abuse that happened at McMartin Preschool. At first the children would deny seeing or experiencing any abuse, but after being pressured, they would tell MacFarlane stories that they thought she wanted to hear. Her techniques were highly suggestive and encouraged the children to “pretend” or speculate about what had actually happened. MacFarlane would then tell the parents that the children had been abused and describe to them in graphic detail what the children had told her. By March 1984, 384 former McMartin students were diagnosed as sexually abused.
But in 1986, Ira Reiner called the evidence against Virginia McMartin, Peggy Ann Buckey, Mary Ann Jackson, Betty Raidor and Babette Spitler "incredibly weak" and dropped all charges against them. Peggy McMartin Buckey and Ray Buckey would be the only staff members heading to trial.
From 1984 to 1987, the pre-trial investigations and preliminary hearings would be conducted in preparation for the upcoming trials.
During the preliminary hearing, the defense aggressively attacked the prosecution’s witnesses, which included the alleged abused children and their parents, therapists and medical experts. The defense’s main objective was not only to discredit the witnesses, including the children’s testimonies, but also to ask how abuse on that large of a scale could go unnoticed and undetected for years.
Kee MacFarlane testified as well, had an answer for the defense’s question. She stated that the abuse was able to go on for years because the children either suffered from "denial syndrome" or they were afraid that if they uncovered the dark secrets that were going on at the preschool, that either they or their families would die. She said that she was able to bring out those dark secrets with the help of her friendly puppets. Videotapes of the children’s interviews were played during the hearing, and showed that MacFarlane and other therapists used leading questions and subtle pressure on the children. Some of the interviews showed therapist Shawn Connerly telling a child that 183 kids had already told "yucky secrets" and that all the McMartin teachers were "sick in the head" and they deserved to be beaten up.
41 of the original 360 children involved in the case testified in the grand jury and pretrial hearings. One child talked about playing a nude version of “Cowboys and Indians’” where the Indians would sexually assault the cowboys and visa versa. The children would say that the sexual assaults took place in circus houses, on farms, in car washes, in the houses of strangers, in store rooms and in “secret rooms” at the preschool that were only accessible by tunnels. One boy said that he witnessed animal sacrifices being performed by the McMartin teachers who were wearing robes and masks in a candle-lit ceremony at St. Cross Episcopal Church. He said that the children were forced to drink the blood of the animals. Another boy talked about the cemetery trips, saying that the teachers would take some students to a cemetery where the kids were forced to use shovels to dig up coffins. Once the coffins were dug up from the ground, the McMartin teachers would open them and begin hacking at the bodies with knives.
About a year into the preliminary hearing, some members of the prosecution team began to have their doubts about the truthfulness of some of the witnesses' testimonies. One prosecutor was quoted as saying "Kee MacFarlane could make a sixth month old baby say he was molested."
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Once the preliminary hearings were finally concluded, two trials that would last for another three years were conducted for Peggy and Ray Buckey. The first lasted from July 1987 to January 1990, and the second lasted from May 1990 to July 1990. The prosecution team was led by L.A. county district attorney, Lael Rubin and on the Defense side, Dean Gits was the attorney for Peggy and Daniel Davis was the attorney for Ray.
During the first trial, the prosecution presented seven medical witnesses. When the defense tried to rebut them with several witnesses, the judge allowed them to choose only one in order to save time. In their closing, the prosecution then used that situation to their advantage, saying that they presented seven experts while the defense only had one expert.
Lael Rubin argued that there’d been widespread sexual abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of the staff of the McMartin preschool. The defense attorneys argued that the allegations were essentially a witch hunt. That they were drummed up by an overzealous prosecution and also from the suggestive and controversial interview techniques of the therapists at Children's Institute International. They noted to the jury that the McMartin Preschool had been open for over 20 years with zero complaints and that despite extensive searches of the property, no evidence of any kind of abuse or tunnel system or anything else, was ever found.
The prosecution presented 52 witnesses, 9 children, a jailhouse informant, parents of the children, medical experts and therapists. When the parents would testify, they would recount that they didn’t suspect their children had been molested and abused until after receiving the letter from Chief Kuhlmeyer, and after their children were interviewed with Kee MacFarlane and her team.
The believed that because their children were having nightmares, bladder infections, were masturbating or drawing anatomically correct artwork, that that was all evidence of abuse. A couple of parents believed that the abuse occurred during nap time when they were told that they couldn't pick up their children during that time.
Peggy Buckey took the stand and when asked whether "she ever molested those children," she said “NEVER.” Ray also took the stand, denying every charge against him, and stated that he was not even teaching at the school during many of the times that he was accused of abusing the children. During cross-examination, Lael Rubin hammered Ray with questions - most of them totally irrelevant. She finally got him to admit that he sometimes didn’t wear underwear and that he owned several adult magazines. She also accused him of “fabricating” his sexual relationship with a woman - who also testified - in order to hide that he was attracted to children.
Fewer than a dozen children, aged from eight to fifteen years old, would testify at the two trials, but their testimonies were inconsistent with those told at the preliminary hearing. Many repeated the stories that they’d told at the preliminary hearing, but when the defense cross examined them, they referred to the recorded interviews, and their testimonies were filled with contradictions. In some of the interviews the children flat out denied that they were molested, and when they did, MacFarlane would coach them and “reward” them for giving the “right” answers. Some explained that in regards to the “naked movie star” game, that it was actually not a game, but a rhyming taunt used to teach other kids: "What you say is what you are, you're a naked movie star" and had nothing to do with naked photos being taken.
A jailhouse informant named George Freeman also testified for the prosecution and claimed that he and Ray Buckey shared a cell, and that Ray confessed to him that he abused the children. This witness was discredited by the defense as they confirmed that Freeman had attempted to flee the country and confessed to perjury in several other criminal cases in which he manufactured or fabricated testimony in exchange for favors from the prosecution.
The defense brought Michael P. Maloney, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at University of Southern California, to testify in regards to the videotapes of the children's interviews. He was extremely critical of the techniques used, referring to them as improper, coercive, directive, problematic and adult-directed in a way that forced the children to follow a rigid script. He stated that "many of the kids' statements in the interviews were “generated by the examiner."
During the interviews, it was clear that the adults spoke much more often than the children, showing that the children were resistant to the interview’s attempts to elicit information from them.
And to rebut the prosecution's medical witness Dr. Astrid Heger, who testified that she found scarring on the children consistent with rape, they brought Dr. David Paul to testify, stating that his review of the medical evidence turned up no evidence of molestation. In nine of the eleven alleged victims, Paul found the body parts to be "perfectly normal."
Then on January 18, 1990, After 3 years of pretrial hearings and 3 years of trials, the jury in the McMartin Preschool trial had finally reached a verdict. The jury had deliberated for a little over 2 months, when the verdict against Peggy and Ray was read in court:
[McMartin Trial: Jury Verdict]
We the jury in the above entitled action, find the very defendants, not guilty.
Peggy McMartin Buckey was acquitted on all counts and Ray Buckey was cleared on 52 of the 65 counts, and freed on bail. By this time he’d already spent more than five years in jail.
Although Ray was acquitted on 52 counts, jurors were undecided on the 13 other charges, claiming that they believed the children had been molested but that prosecutors hadn’t successfully proved who had committed the abuse beyond a reasonable doubt.
According to some of the jurors' statements, the recorded interviews of the children played a huge role in their decision. It showed to them how easily children could be coerced into giving vivid and dramatic testimonies without having experienced actual abuse.
But it didn’t end there. Parents and child protection groups pressured prosecutors to retry Ray Buckey. 500 people, including many McMartin parents, marched through the streets of Manhattan Beach holding signs that said "We believe the children.” Ray Buckey was retried on 6 of the 13 counts in May 1990, but again that ended in a hung jury. The judge declared a mistrial and the prosecution finally decided to drop all charges against Ray and he was set free.
After the acquittals, some of the parents still believed that the members of the preschool were guilty, and hired archaeologist E. Gary Stickel to investigate the school site. In May 1990, Stickel claimed he found evidence of tunnels under the McMartin Preschool using ground-penetrating radar.
Many disagreed with Stickel’s conclusions. John Earl, a freelance journalist, wrote in 1995 that the concrete slab floor on the property was undisturbed except for where the sewer line was tapped into it. He said once the slab was removed, there was no sign of any materials that would’ve held up or created the tunnels. In 2002 W. Joseph Wyatt, a Professor of Psychology at Martin university in West Virginia, wrote a report that concluded that the tunnels under the school were more likely explained as a series of adjacent rubbish pits used by the owners of the site before the school's construction in 1966. Some materials found during excavation included bottles dated to the 1930s and '40s, as well as tin-can fragments, plywood, innertubes, professionally-butchered livestock bones, small containers of trash, and a former owner's old mailbox. In conclusion, there were no tunnels under the school.
The interview tactics used during the investigation also started to come to light. Research was conducted on the interview methods used with the children, and it was found that the questioning was extremely suggestive, which led to false accusations. Others believe that the questioning could have led to false memory syndrome, a condition in which a person's identity and relationships are affected by false memories and recollections that are factually incorrect yet strongly believed.
According to experts, every once in a while our society goes through some type of moral widespread hysteria. Think back on the Salem witch hunts and when Senator McCarthy became a crusader against communism in the 50’s - a period called the “Red Scare.”
And while the charges of Satanic worship and rituals were some of the more bizarre allegations against the preschool, that was during a time in the 80’s and early 90’s that was called the “Satanic Panic” in which the media focused on a large amount of sensationalist crime, when horror movies were extremely popular, and when serial killer Richard Ramirez the night stalker, was terrorizing women and committing heinous murders in Northern and Southern California.
The media coverage during the case was off the charts and multiple biased articles were published by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Segments were presented on television news stations that were skewed towards the prosecution's viewpoint - none of them seriously questioning the allegations. Behind the scenes, there were other major biases at play. Wayne Satz, a reporter for the Los Angeles tv station KABC - who reported on the case and presented an unchallenged view of the children's and parents' claims - was romantically involved with Kee MacFarlane, the social worker at the Children's Institute International. And David Rosenzweig, the editor at the Los Angeles Times who oversaw the case coverage, got engaged to Lael Rubin, the prosecutor at the trials.
In total, the investigation and trials lasted seven years and cost the county $15 million. The McMartin preschool trial led to a flurry of ritual-abuse allegations against teachers and other school workers that were proven to be false with no evidence supporting them. It left hundreds of emotionally damaged children in its wake, and ruined the careers of members of the McMartin staff. Eventually the McMartin preschool was shut down and the building was demolished.
Juror Brenda Williams would later state that the trial experience taught her to be more cautious: "I now realize how easily something can be said and misinterpreted and blown out of proportion."
Juror Mark Bassett, said that "experts" were to blame: "I thought some of the expert testimony about the children told you more about the expert than the child. I mean, if the expert says children are always 100% believable and then you have a child who is not believable, either the expert is extremely biased or they've never seen anything like that child before."
The case resulted in a lot of collateral damage - after the trials, daycare centers around the country adopted new policies that strictly limited physical contact between teachers and children, including hugs. And Many day care centers were forced to close their doors after insurance companies dramatically increased premiums for fear of impending molestation lawsuits.
So where are the players in the McMartin case now?
Judy Johnson, the catalyst for the case, was diagnosed with and hospitalized for acute paranoid schizophrenia, and in 1986 was found dead in her home from complications of chronic alcoholism just before the preliminary hearing was concluded for the McMartin case. There is disputed information that her son denied her suggestion that his preschool teachers had molested him, and other sources say that he’d confirmed the abuse. During the trials, the prosecution claimed that Judy’s mental illness was caused by the trial events, even though she’d admitted to them she was mentally ill prior to that. Evidence of her mental illness was not given to the defense for three years, and when it was provided, it was in the form of scrubbed reports that removed Judy’s statements, including information that Judy’s son did not actually identify Raymond Buckey in a series of photos.
In 1989 Peggy Anne Buckey, Ray’s sister, appealed to have her teaching credentials reinstated after they’d been suspected, and that was granted by the judge. She resumed her teaching career as a special education teacher.
Raymond Buckey went on to attend law school, changed his name and relocated to the Northwest, where he currently lives with his wife and son.
The founder of the McMartin Preschool, Virginia McMartin, died in 1995 at 88 after suffering a series of strokes.
Peggy McMartin Buckey, who was the main administrator of McMartin Preschool died in December of 2000 at the age of 74.
Kee MacFarlane, the social worker who conducted the interviews with the children using puppets, claimed that she was “naive in never having been part of a case like this,” but ultimately stood by her findings.
Astrid Heger, the pediatrician who medically examined and photographed the children is now a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California and the founder and executive director of the Violence Intervention Program, which helps victims experiencing abuse or neglect across a spectrum of situations. The photo method she developed has been successfully utilized in hundreds of molestation cases.
And what of the children? Decades later, in 2005, one of the children who made allegations in the case publicly apologized, admitting they’d made up the claims to please adults. He stated: “Never did anyone do anything to me, and I never saw them doing anything. I said a lot of things that didn't happen. I lied. ... Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn't like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. ... I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do.”
Other former students who testified in the McMartin Preschool trials maintain that they were in fact victims of abuse. During the production of Oxygen Network show Uncovered the McMartin Family Trials, victim Elizabeth Cioffi stated that she has memories of being abused by Ray Buckey. And Kevin Cody, a journalist who covered the case, said that he’s spoken to multiple children, whom he describes as “happy, well-adjusted” people.
In 1991 three of the defendants, Virginia McMartin, Peggy McMartin Buckey, and Peggy Ann Bucke, had filed a defamation lawsuit against one parent who had stated on TV that they committed Satanic sex crimes against the children. The women won the case, but they were only awarded one dollar a piece in damages.
We’ve learned from those events and tried to figure out what could’ve happened to cause multiple innocent people to be found guilty of something they didn’t do. Here’s the scary part, what we do know, is that moral panic is perpetuated by the media and by politicians and will usually result in laws being passed that target the source of the panic and in turn, create more social control.
Then it happened again, when in 1985, just two years after the onset of the McMartin case, Kelly Michaels, a daycare worker in New Jersey, was charged with sexually abusing 21 children, alleging that she raped and assaulted three to five-year-olds with knives, spoons, and Lego blocks. Prosecutors also stated that she licked peanut butter off of the children's genitals, played piano in the nude, and made the kids drink her urine. All of these actions went unnoticed by the other teachers at the daycare. And it all started when during a doctor’s visit when a child who attended the daycare, was having his temperature being taken rectally, “that’s what my teacher does.”
Investigators interviewed three and four-year-olds at the daycare and found that through the graphic questions they’d ask the children, that they’d all been sexually molested. One child said that Kelly “made us eat boiled babies,” another said that “she put a sword in my rectum,” and a third said that she “played piano naked.”
Kelly was ultimately convicted of 115 counts of abuse and sentenced to 47 years in prison. But there was a huge problem, Kelly was 100% innocent. After spending 7 years in prison, her conviction was eventually overturned on appeal and she was released from prison in 1993.
After listening to this episode, what’s your opinion? Do you think the children were telling the truth? Do you think that the McMartin staff members were guilty and planned out the methodical molestation and abuse of hundreds of children?
It can’t be argued that children are the most vulnerable of our society and we do whatever it takes to care for them and protect them. But what’s frightening is that sometimes our own agendas and beliefs can get in the way of that.
So what can we do? We need to be aware of the possibility of child abuse and child sexual abuse by caretakers, family members, and other people around our children - it’s a fact that child sexual abuse is a pandemic, but we have to be careful not to exaggerate that threat. Children should be encouraged to talk about abuse and sexual abuse, but we should also be careful about the questions we ask them.
That wraps this episode of the Crime Shack- thank you for listening! Please check out our website at thecrimeshack.com where you can find links to all our social media platforms. As a listener you can help support this show by becoming a Patreon member for access to exclusive content, purchasing merchandise on the CrimeShack website, or just by Buying Me a Coffee. Your support is what keeps this podcast going, and any and all support is greatly appreciated.
Youtube: McMartin Preschool: Anatomy of a Panic | Retro Report | The New York Times https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R21tWs-qCw&t=630s