March 22

This Day in History

Crime

Mar 22, 1984:

Teachers are indicted at the McMartin Preschool

Seven teachers at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California are indicted by the Los Angeles County grand jury after hearing testimony from 18 children. Included among the charged are Peggy McMartin Buckey, the head of the school and her son Ray Buckey. Seven years and millions of dollars later, the case against the teachers came to a close with no reputable evidence of wrongdoing and no convictions.

The McMartin school debacle began on August 12, 1983 when Judy Johnson reported to the police that she believed her 2-1/2-year-old son had been molested at the McMartin Preschool. The first major blunder occurred less than a month into the investigation. On September 8, the Manhattan Beach Police Department sent out a form letter to more than 200 families, alerting them of an investigation into the allegations of child molestation and naming Ray Buckey as a suspect.

The latter set off a wave of hysteria in the community. Compounding the problem, virtually every child who attended the school was sent to the Children's Institute International, an organization that claimed it could get children to reveal abuse even when they didn't want to talk about it. Unfortunately, CII was also capable of getting easily manipulated children to reveal abuse when it had never actually happened.

The allegations that CII produced grew more bizarre every day. They reported that they had been taken to a cemetery where dead bodies were dug and hacked to pieces (causing blood to spurt out). The local Catholic church invited an expert on Satanic cults to talk to the congregation in the wake of the allegations. Of course, there wasn't any corroboration of these wild allegations from any witnesses although the school often had visitors and guests. The truth or falsity of the allegations mattered little to the community at large. The McMartin school was burned down in an arson attack and seven other local preschools closed down as people who worked with children began to fear that they would be the next accused.

Unfortunately for other child care workers around the nation, the abuse scare of the early 1990s found many victims. More recent research has demonstrated that questioning techniques of children can easily be manipulated so that the child will give the answer that the questioner desires.

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