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People working at the McMartin Preschool, Manhattan Beach, Southern California, became the targets of a witchhunt that touched off a sex-abuse hysteria across the United States and abroad. Though none of the defendants were found guilty, conspiracy lovers to this day continue making wild accusations regarding this case.
For size, for price, for outrage and outrageousness, you just couldn't beat the McMartin Pre-School case. Seven years in the making (and unmaking), 208 counts of child molestation right out of the pedophile's encyclopedia, seven defendants, 41 children--it was the Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza of criminal cases.
(...) It was unimaginable that within the bright rooms, behind the kindly faces, dark things happened at the Manhattan Beach preschool. A secret cave for sexual games (investigators couldn't find it). Rabbits butchered on a church altar (no traces of blood turned up). Airplane rides for in-flight molestations (no records were found). Strangers molesting children (almost absurdly, children picked photos of actor Chuck Norris and city Controller James K. Hahn).
(...) There were no convictions. None. Five of the seven defendants didn't even go to trial. Of the two who did, Ray Buckey, the only man among the defendants, had a hung jury in his first trial. He had a hung jury in his second trial. There was no third trial.
The other defendant who went to trial was his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, who died over the weekend--daughter of one defendant, mother of another and a defendant herself. No one won in this case: not the children, not successive district attorneys, not the late Peggy McMartin Buckey, in spite of her acquittal. She spent her life savings on attorneys. One of them won a slander case against one of her accusers. She got a dollar.
The Victims Can't Be Counted, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 18, 2000
''Believe the children'' was the sanctified slogan of the moment -- but what it came to mean, all too often, was believe them unless they say they were not abused. It didn't matter that no trace of the secret tunnels was ever found, that no physical evidence corroborated the charges (a black robe seized by the police as a Satanic get-up turned out to be Peggy's graduation gown), that none of the kiddie porn the abusers were supposedly manufacturing ever turned up, despite an extensive investigation by the F.B.I. and Interpol, that no parents who stopped by during the day had ever noticed, say, the killing of a horse. It didn't matter that most child abuse -- which after all does exist in real and horrifying form -- takes place not in day-care centers but in the home, indeed within the family. The prosecution charged forward nonetheless, with a seven-year trial that became the longest and, at a cost of $15 million, the most expensive criminal trial in American history. It resulted in not a single conviction, though seven people were charged in the McMartin case, on a total of 135 counts -- just a series of deadlocks, acquittals and mistrials. Buckey served two years in jail, and her son, Raymond, served five. They spent their life's savings on lawyers' fees and in the end went ''through hell'' and ''lost everything,'' as she put it after her 1990 acquittal.
Yet even now, the legacy of McMartin and other cases like it (Wee Care in Maplewood, N.J.; Little Rascals in Edenton, N.C.; Fells Acres in Malden, Mass.) is with us. It's with us -- this is the sad part -- in policies that discourage day-care workers and teachers from hugging children or from changing diapers without a witness, lest they be accused of something untoward. It is also with us -- this is the good part -- in improved methods of questioning young witnesses.
The Devil in The Nursery, New York Times Magazine, Jan. 7, 2001
The Dark Truth about the "Dark Tunnels of McMartin" by the Institute for Psychological Therapies
The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial by by Paul Eberle and Paul and Shirely Eberle
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