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Ritual abuse cases

Part 2 of two parts:
The McMartin ritual abuse cases in
Manhattan Beach, CA in the 1980's

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Further developments:

A 1986 survey of residents in Los Angeles County was taken before the first trial. It showed that 90% of the potential jurors believed that Raymond and Peggy were guilty. In spite of strong bias by the townsfolk, the judge refused the defense's request for a change of venue.

Judy Johnson continued to make allegations of abuse; among other charges, she said that her ex-husband had sodomized their son and the family dog, that her son had been injured by a elephant and lion during a school field trip, that her son had been tortured by teachers who put staples in his ears, nipples and tongue, and had put scissors in his eye. There was no physical evidence of any of this trauma. She was later diagnosed as suffering from acute paranoid-schizophrenia, and was hospitalized. She died at home of an alcohol related liver disease before the trial began. Information of her mental illness was kept from the defense.

Armed with search warrants, they police searched 10 schools and one church. They found no incriminating evidence. Groups of parents searched the school yard for signs of tunnels, underground rooms and sacrificed infants or animals. All they found were the remains of a sea turtle. A forensics exam showed that the sand inside the shell was foreign to the area. This indicated that the remains had probably been dug up on a beach somewhere and planted in the yard.

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Was a witch hunt or hysteria involved?:

Some groups believed that ritual abuse actually happened at the preschool. They attacked both the defense attorneys and skeptics in this case. However others indicated their belief that no abuse took place: 


The Santa Cruz Ritual Abuse Task Force stated that:

"The defense claimed that the kids hadn't really been abused, but that their memories were implanted by a conspiracy of witchhunting therapists." 1


Dr. E. Gary Stickel wrote that skeptics believed that:

"... very young children were moved by the hysterical overreaction of various adults to make unfounded accusations." 2

Perhaps a more accurate theory is that:

bullet The CII employees sincerely believed that extensive ritual abuse occurred. They used interview techniques that were standard at the time, but which are now known to lead to false accusations by very young children. The investigators assumed that the extensive revelations by the young children were accurate descriptions of real events. This convinced the CII, police and District Attorney's office that major ritual abuse happened.

bullet Worried parents repeatedly asked their children direct questions about abuse. This led to more false accusations. 

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The trial:

According to Mitchell Landsberg, writing in the Los Angeles Times:

"Nothing about the McMartin case was simple, easy or fast. It cost taxpayers more than $13 million. The preliminary hearing alone took 18 months. The entire case took seven years to wind through the courts, and involved six judges, 17 attorneys and hundreds of witnesses, including nine of the 11 children alleged to have been molested. ... After the trial ended, Ray Buckey was retried on eight counts on which the first jury had deadlocked, but a mistrial was declared when the second jury also deadlocked" 3

In 1984-MAR, 208 counts of child abuse involving 40 children (some sources say 42) were laid against 7 adults: the owners of the school, Ray Buckey and 4 school teachers. After 20 months of preliminary hearings, the state's case appeared weak. They offered the defendants immunity from prosecution or leniency if they would be willing to testify against the other defendants. None took up the offer. The prosecution produced a pair of rabbit ears, black candles and a black cape during the trial. They presented these items as evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse. The defense lawyers were able to prove that this material was totally unrelated to the McMartin case.

In 1986-JAN, Ira Reiner was elected District Attorney. He dropped all charges against 5 of the adults. Remaining were 52 charges against Ray Buckey and 20 counts against Peggy Buckey, plus a single count of conspiracy. An area telephone survey showed that:

  • 96% of the adults had heard of the case.

  • Of those who had an opinion:
    • 97% believed that Ray Buckey was guilty.

    • 93% believed that Peggy McMartin was guilty.

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Glenn Stevens, an assistant to the lead prosecutor, Lael Rubin, resigned his office in disgust after having worked for two years on the case. He revealed material that had been withheld from the trial, including claims by the original accuser, Judy Johnson, that people had flown through windows, killed lions, and had sexual encounters with giraffes. Ray Buckley was alleged to have beaten a giraffe to death with a baseball bat. 4

On 1990-JAN-18, after almost three years of trial testimony and 9 weeks of deliberation, the jury cleared Peggy Buckey of all 13 remaining counts. Ray was acquitted on 39 of 52 counts; the jury's vote was split on the remaining counts, with large majorities in favor of acquittal.

Superior Court Judge William Pounders, said that the case had "poisoned everyone who had contact with it."

Ray was later retried on some of the 13 counts; the second jury delivered its verdict in 1990-AUG. They were also hung. The prosecution finally gave trying to obtain a conviction.

During and after the trials, such television programs as Geraldo, Oprah, and 20-20 ran exposť's on McMartin and similar MVMO cases across the U.S. This raised public consciousness and helped spread hysteria nationwide.

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After the trial:

The events at McMartin caused extensive disruption:

bullet Hundreds of Manhattan Beach children, now in their 30's , believe that they were abused during bizarre rituals. They are probably suffering various degrees of disability. We have been unable to find any follow-up studies to measure the degree of damage that they have suffered.

bullet The 7 adults who were charged were financially impoverished.
bullet Mcmartin preschool was closed, and leveled to the ground.

bullet Another 8 schools involved in the panic were closed down and never re-opened.

bullet The pastor of St. Cross church was the victim of harassment and death threats. "He closed the church and moved to another part of the country."
bullet The county had to pay the $13 million costs of the trials. These were the most expensive trials in U.S. history. The O.J. Simpson trial, in comparison, cost 8 million.

bullet Many copy-cat prosecutions subsequently occurred across North America, and later spread to other countries.

bullet Children's stories of mysterious, secret tunnels appeared in various other MVMO cases around the world. None were ever found.

bullet Tens of millions of Americans falsely began to believe that young pre-school children across the U.S. were being horrendously abused.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used in the above essay:

  1. "Introduction by Santa Cruz Ritual Abuse Task Force," at: 
  2. Dr. E. Gary Stickel, "Archaeological Investigations of the McMartin Preschool Site, Manhattan Beach, California," at: 
  3. Mitchell Landsberg, "McMartin defendant who 'Lost everything' in abuse case dies at 74." LA Times, 2000-DEC-17.
  4. Paul Carpenter, "Keep McMartin case in mind as hysteria looms," The Morning Call newspaper, Allentown, PA, 2002-MAY-19, Page B1.


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Copyright © 1996 to 2016, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-MAR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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