Against Satanic Panics > Older cases > McMartin
The McMartin Preschool case (1983)
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
The McMartin case was most infamous alleged instance of multiple-victim multiple-offender (MVMO) "Satanic ritual abuse" (SRA) that supposedly took place at daycare centers. Many similar cases followed, as documented on the websites listed under Information about specific alleged cases on my page about The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare (and the larger child sex abuse panic) of the 1980's and early 1990's. McMartin wasn't the very first MVMO SRA case - a dubious honor which, as far as I am aware, belongs to Bakersfield / Kern County, also in California. But McMartin was the first such case to get lots and lots of international mass media publicity, probably because the McMartin Preschool had served well-to-do families.
The McMartin case began in August 1983 with a complaint to the police by a mentally ill woman named Judy Johnson, who alleged that her son Billy had been molested by Ray Buckey at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, near Los Angeles. Ray Buckey was arrested soon afterward, even though the young boy was unable to identify Ray from photos, and even though medical examinations of the boy showed no signs of sexual abuse.
Then, Police Chief Harry Kuhlmeyer sent a letter to 200 parents of current and former McMartin Preschool children, informing them that Ray Buckey is suspected of child abuse and asking them for information. Naturally the parents panicked.
The D.A.'s office asked Kee MacFarlane, a consultant for the Children's Institute International, to interview alleged child sex abuse victims. Interviewers at the Children's Institute asked the kids lots and lots of leading questions and gave the kids "anatomically correct dolls" to play with. (Here are transcripts of two sample interviews.) Sure enough, in November 1983, Children's Institute interviewers began diagnosing former students of the McMartin Preschool as having been sexually abused. By March of 1984, a total of 360 students were alleged to have been abused.
Meanwhile, Judy Johnson continued to complain to the police, and her complaints got weirder and weirder. For example, in September 1983 she reported that Billy had told her that Ray Buckey sodomized him while his head was in the toilet. Later she reported that Buckey wore a cape, wore a Santa Claus costume, dressed up like a minister, took Billy to a carwash and locked him in a trunk. Ray's mother Peggy Buckey was alleged to have taken Judy Johnson's son to a church, where the boy was made to watch a baby being beheaded, and then was forced to drink the blood. Other teachers at the McMartin Preschool were alleged to have chopped up rabbits and to have placed some sort of star on Billy's bottom.
Other kids likewise told all manner of tall tales, as prompted by their parents and by their Children's Institute interviewers. And, of course, "Satanic rituals" were soon alleged.
One kid, followed by many other kids later, "disclosed" being led down through a trap door in the floor of the McMartin Preschool into tunnels which supposedly led to secret rooms in nearby buildings, where the kids were alleged to have been sexually abused and photographed. The alleged underground tunnels and secret rooms weren't found, but later became a subject of much controversy.
Sometimes the kids were alleged to have been transported to another city and back via train, airplane, or hot air balloon, all during their parents' workday.
On March 22, 1984, Ray Buckey, Peggy Buckey, Virginia McMartin, Peggy Ann Buckey (Ray's sister), Mary Ann Jackson, Bette Raidor, and Babette Spitler were indicted on 115 counts of child sexual abuse. Earlier that month, a number of other daycare centers in the Los Angeles area were raided too, but no incriminating evidence was found.
On April 2, 1984, the Los Angeles Times reported that the children at McMartin had been fondled, raped, photographed nude, and forced to watch animals being slaughtered.
No nude photographs were ever found, nor any other corroborating evidence, other than some medical tests whose validity was subsequently disproved.
During the preliminary hearings, the kids told all sorts of bizarre stories, many of which involved the kids being taken out of the daycare center to various other places including farms, circuses, a church, a cemetery, and, of course, those mysterious secret rooms that were supposedly connected to the McMartin Preschool via tunnels. At the church it was alleged that the kids were forced to drink the blood of sacrificed animals. At the cemetery, the kids were supposedly forced to dig up coffins which were then opened, and then the teachers supposedly hacked the bodies with knives. Surely all these very messy activities would have left some evidence, had they been real. None was ever found.
In September 1985, some people on the prosecution team began to voice doubts about the case. On January 17, 1986, the D.A. dropped charges against five of the seven defendants, leaving only Ray Buckey and Peggy Buckey, who were prosecuted on 79 counts and 20 counts, respectively, of child sexual abuse.
The first McMartin trial finally ended on January 18, 1990. Peggy Buckey as acquitted on all counts. The jury was hung on some of the counts against Ray Buckey.
Buckey was then tried again on eight counts involving three girls. The second trial too ended with a hung jury on July 27, 1990. The D.A. decided not to pursue it yet a third time.
Below are relevant links. First, here is some information about the McMartin case in general:
- McMartin Ritual Abuse Cases in Manhattan Beach, California on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- McMartin Preschool Abuse Trials of 1987 to 1990 in the Famous Trials seminar taught by Doug Linder at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law, including Chronology and The McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial: A Commentary
- Criminal Injustice by Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1995
- Satan's Excellent Adventure in the Antipodes by Michael Hill Professor of Sociology, Victoria University of Wellington - history of the Satanic panic in the United States and then in Australia and New Zealand; includes lots of background on the McMartin case and some of the people involved in the prosecution.
- McMartin Preschool Trial on everything2.com
- McMartin Preschool on Apologetics Index
- McMartin child abuse case (of Manhattan Beach, CA) information by Doug Hill
About the alleged secret rooms and tunnels - which, to this day, many SRA-believers still claim were real:
- McMartin Preschool Tunnel Claims: Evidence of a Hoax by Debbie Nathan, June 1994
- The underground "tunnels" of the McMartin Preschool on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
- The Dark Tunnels of McMartin by Roland C. Summit, an SRA-believer, in the Journal of Psychohistory, March 1994 - see also Quotes on Roland Summit
- The Dark Truth About the "Dark Tunnels of McMartin" by John Earl, IPT Journal, Spring 1995 - a reply to Roland Summit's article
Now for some very interesting recent news about the McMartin case: