Little Bits of History

Preschool Predicament

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 22, 2012

The McMartin Preschool

March 22, 1984: The McMartin Preschool indictments are brought. The preschool was located in Manhattan Beach, California – a small, upscale beach town near Los Angeles. The preschool was established by Virginia McMartin who was in her 70s at the time the accusations were put forth. Judy Johnson first dropped her two-and-a-half year old son, Billy, at the school on May 12, 1983. The first inkling of trouble was when Billy had a painful bowel movement. The cascading effects resulted in the “longest and most expensive case in the history of the US legal system.”

On August 12, 1983 Judy claimed Ray Buckey, Virginia’s 25-year-old grandson, had sexually molested Billy. Judy met with Detective Jane Hoag on August 18 and Billy was interviewed at the police station on August 30. Ray was arrested on September 7 and the next day the police chief sent out 200 letters to McMartin Preschool parents concerning suspected abuse and asking for information. In October, Children’s Institute International was consulted. In November, Kee MacFarlane began interviewing children to find those who were abused.

By March 1984, there were 360 cases of abuse uncovered. The abuse was not only sexual in nature, but bizarre in practice. The children were being used as part of a satanic cult. On this date Ray, his sister, mother, and grandmother, and three other employees were indicted on 115 counts of child sexual abuse. The numbers kept escalating for both the victims and the perpetrators. By August there were an additional 397 charges brought. Investigations continued for three years. Judy Johnson died of alcohol poisoning in December 1986 before she had a chance to testify.

The trial for Ray and his mother began July 14, 1987 (all the other defendants had been freed). The end result was all charges were dropped; there were zero convictions. Ray had spent five years in jail, his mother had been jailed for two years. The children’s testimony was questionable. The method of extracting information proved to be coercive with interviewers using suggestive questioning. The children were giving false memories in answer to questions in order to placate the adults. The case cost $15 million to prosecute. The preschool was destroyed while looking for secret rooms used for satanic rites – in vain. This was only one of many cases of false memories being elicited and victimizing innocent adults. Some of those accused spent decades in prison.

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. – a child witness, speaking as an adult

When you once believed something that now strikes you as absurd, even unhinged, it can be almost impossible to summon that feeling of credulity again. Maybe that is why it is easier for most of us to forget, rather than to try and explain, the Satanic-abuse scare that gripped this country in the early 80s. – Margaret Talbot

…the kids involved in this hysteria have indeed suffered, but not at the hands of their teachers. And the abuse perpetrated against them by the child-protection movement gone mad are every bit as awful as the tyranny of incest. – Debbie Nathan

I felt everyone knew I was lying. But my parents said, ‘You’re doing fine. Don’t worry.’ And everyone was saying how proud they were of me. – Kyle Zripolo, a child witness speaking as an adult

Also on this day:

Laser – In 1960, the laser was patented.
Hockey is Rough – In 1989, Clint Malarchuk was hurt during a hockey game.
Flying Wallendas – In 1978, Karl Wallenda died from a fall.