TEXT ON SCREEN: March 23, 1984
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-23-84): TOM BROKAW: In what may become one of the biggest child molesting cases ever on record, 7 nursery school teachers were arraigned today on more than 100 counts of child molestation.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-23-84): HEIDI SHULMAN: The accused include the preschool owner, 76-year-old Virginia McMartin, her daughter, and two grandchildren.
NARRATION: Finding out just what happened to the McMartin pre-schoolers in Manhattan Beach, California would spark a national media obsession.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-6-84): PETER JENNINGS: A case, which has shocked much of Southern California. And caused a lot of parents to worry about the safety of their children.
NARRATION: Setting off a panic around the country.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-6-84): TERRY DRINKWATER: In alarming numbers preschoolers have been exploited.
ARCHIVAL (ABC 20/20, 1-2-85): ANNOUNCER: Could it be your child?
DEBBIE NATHAN (INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER/WRITER): The media blitz demonstrated unstinting belief that this had happened.
RICHARD BECK (WRITER): It was sensational. And lurid. And seemed to always be expanding.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 2-4-90): WOMAN: Fourteen Hundred children in this community have been ritualistically abused.
NARRATION: But were they? Decades later, while the McMartin case has been largely forgotten its impact lives on.
ANATOMY OF A PANIC
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 8-3-84):REPORTER: The McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach as it looked when we photographed it discreetly just three weeks ago.
NARRATION: Local reporter Wayne Satz of KABC in Los Angeles broke the story.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 3-24-84): WAYNE SATZ:It started out here in Manhattan Beach looking like an isolated incident. One mother noticed that her young son was having nightmares and difficulty sitting down
NARRATION: Teachers at this prominent southern California preschool were accused of sexually molesting their young students.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 3-24-84): WAYNE SATZ: Authorities now believe that at least 60 young children were victimized and that the ultimate number could well be much greater.
NARRATION: Fueled by unskeptical press reports the charges mounted on the evening news
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 3-25-84): ANCHOR: Those children, some of them as young as two years old were photographed by the suspects.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 3-26-84): ANCHOR: Kiddie porn was the primary purpose for the alleged sexual abuse of children.
NARRATION: Becoming more and more bizarre.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 3-27-84): WAYNE SATZ: Some children allege that a living creature was sacrificed on the churches alter.
ARCHIVAL (GERALDO RIVERA SHOW, 10-22-88): MCMARTIN PARENT:The truth about Satanism is they truly do use blood and they mix it with urine and then they also use the real meat, the real flesh. This is what makes Satanism true and this is what 1,200 molested kids in the city of Manhattan Beach have told the sheriffs department.
NARRATION: Most of the allegations had been made here at Childrens Institute International, CII, a child abuse prevention center. At the request of prosecutors, CII social worker Kee MacFarlane and her team had been videotaping interviews with the preschoolers.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-6-84): GARY SHEPARD: Using puppets to encourage the children to reveal what happened, the therapists were able to unlock the horrible secrets of the McMartin school.
NARRATION: Virginia McMartin, her daughter, two grandchildren and three other teachers were ultimately indicted on more than 300 counts of molestation.
It wasnt long before accusations of abuse were being reported at seven other daycare centers in L.A. county alone.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 4-24-84): ANCHOR: Investigators were at the Hickory Pre-school in Torrence earlier today
NARRATION: And then fear spread across the country, eventually targeting scores of daycare centers.
But the story that initially fed the panic was not all it seemed. In the summer of 1983, a 39-year old mother called the Manhattan Beach Police Department and accused McMartin teacher Raymond Buckey, of molesting her 2 and a half year old son.
DEBBIE NATHAN (INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER): In the DAs Office all kinds of doubts developed, particularly about the fact that the mother of the first complaining child was psychotic. But they just kept on going. It was like the Titanic. It was like a rollercoaster or a ship that just was out of control and couldnt stop.
NARRATION: The police released Buckey for lack of evidence, but then they sent out this letter to some 200 families instructing them to question their children about sodomy, oral sex and fondling.
KEN LANNING (RETIRED FBI AGENT): What happens then is the parents start to talk to their kids and then they start to talk to each other, and then they start to compare notes and pretty soon, emotionally involved parents are engaging and leading in suggestive questioning of their child.
NARRATION: Kenneth Lanning worked with the FBIs behavioral science unit and consulted on the McMartin investigation.
KEN LANNING (RETIRED FBI AGENT): Once these cases are contaminated, its almost impossible to know, with any degree of certainty, what actually happened.
NARRATION: But the therapists at CII believed they knew what had happened based on their videotaped interviews, they said that more than 90 percent of the 400 preschoolers they talked to reported signs of sexual abuse.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-6-84): KEE MACFARLANE: Mr. Parrot can you help Susie show us what happened to her?
NARRATION: The courts immediately sealed CIIS interviews with the McMartin children. But the CII therapists shared demonstration videos like this one with the press, and discussed their findings on television.
ARCHIVAL (KABC, 4-25-84): KEE MACFARLANE: We have heard it a hundred times or more from children the same things the same games, the same descriptions.
DANNY DAVIS (DEFENSE ATTORNEY): I cant say that I ever saw a video tape where kids said this happened to me. Never, of their own account, spontaneously.
RICHARD BECK (WRITER): The interviews are upsetting to read because essentially what happened is the therapist unintentionally coerced the children into fabricating stories of abuse.
NARRATION: Richard Beck wasnt even born when the McMartin story first broke in 1984. Fascinated by the panic that spread across the country, he has been researching and writing a book on the case for the last two years.
RICHARD BECK: You have interviews that will start off with a therapist asking a child whether they had ever played any naked games at McMartin. This was a huge topic, was naked games. And the children initially say, No. The therapist though didnt accept those answers. Then they repeat the question and then they repeat it again. Eventually, the children realize that their interview was never going to be allowed to end until they start giving the interviewer the kind of answer that she wants to hear.
DEBBIE NATHAN: It was obvious in the interviews that all kinds of techniques were highly suggestible, highly pressuring, and as capable of creating false memories of abuse in children often, permanent memories.
NARRATION: Kee MacFarlane is no longer with CII. She declined our request for an interview.
Dr. Stephen Ambrose has been working with children for more than 25 years and was at CII during the McMartin interviews.
DR. STEPHEN AMBROSE: I think our therapists in many respects started out being very careful about that back then; but, as they became more persuaded that something had happened, there probably were some leading questions.
NARRATION: Dr. Ambrose says the McMartin case came about just as a new understanding of child sexual abuse was emerging.
DR. STEPHEN AMBROSE: It happened right at a time in the sort of the history of the field when we were just beginning to come to terms with the fact that child sexual abuse was a real phenomenon.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 2-4-90): UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Wake up America. This is your wakeup call.
DR. STEPHEN AMBROSE: People dont want to believe that young children have been molested. Theyd much prefer to believe that its not true.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 2-4-90): UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We believe the children because once upon a time we were the children and nobody believed us.
NARRATION: But that belief was sorely tested as investigators searched for physical evidence to back up what the children were saying.
KEN LANNING: No pornography that could be linked to the abuse that the children were describing has ever been found.
RICHARD BECK: There should have been little animal carcasses. There should have been bodily fluids all over the preschool. They didnt have any of that.
NARRATION: And what about those early claims of satanic abuse?
DEBBIE NATHAN: There certainly have been mentally ill people who have gone out and killed people, quote, in the name of Satan. But theres never been any proof that there was any kind of satanic ritual abuse or satanic cult activity in a daycare center.
KEN LANNING: When I first got involved in these cases, Ill be very honest with you; I tended to believe that this was going on. But eventually, the number of cases just kept growing and growing and growing, and at some point I came to the realization, this many people cant be doing this to this many victims for this long, and not leaving any corroborative evidence behind, just doesnt work that way.
NARRATION: Eighteen months after the McMartin investigation began, the case took a dramatic turn.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 1-17-86):IRA REINER: What were left with at this point is that for five of the seven defendants in the McMartin case the evidence is so slim that it does not go beyond the mere accusation.
NARRATION: So in April of 1987 nearly four years after the first accusation was made the case against the two remaining McMartin defendants, Raymond Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, finally went to trial.
In court, medical evidence supporting the prosecutions case couldnt be established with any certainty. And, although hundreds of children had been interviewed, in the end only 9 testified.
LAEL RUBIN (RETIRED L.A. DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY): After extremely lengthy cross-examination of children at the preliminary hearing some parents decided that they would refuse to let their children participate any further.
NARRATION: Through it all, the Buckeys remained steadfast about their innocence.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NIGHTLINE, 11-2-89): RAYMOND BUCKEY: Ms. Rubin, Im very nervous, I probably said some things that are not quite correct, and Ill grant it, and Ill admit that. LAEL RUBIN: Including, including Mr. Buckey, whether or not you molested children in this case? RAYMOND BUCKEY: No, Ms. Rubin, I know that, that I did not molest children, ever in my life.
NARRATION: The trial lasted nearly three years.and in January of 1990
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 1-18-90): COURT CLERK: We the jury in the above and titled action find the very defendants not guilty.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 1-18-90): JUROR: The children were never allowed to say in their own words what happened to them. And to me that was crucial.
NARRATION: The jury could not agree on thirteen counts against Raymond Buckey. So six months later, prosecutors brought him back to court.once againthe jury was deadlocked.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 7-27-90): JUDGE: Therefore there is legal necessity to declare a mistrial.
NARRATION: And with that declaration one of the longest, most expensive criminal trials in U.S. history finally came to an end.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 7-27-90): RAYMOND BUCKEY: Im glad its over.
NARRATION: McMartin lead prosecutor, Lael Rubin, says that while she wishes the outcome had been different, the case brought about important changes.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NIGHTLINE, 11-2-89): TED KOPPEL: Very young children who may or may not have been sexually abused have certainly been traumatized by endless hours of relentless examination
NARRATION: Among them, a new understanding on the best way to interview children.
LAEL RUBIN: Who should do it, who should be present, how all of that should occur and be videotaped. So it-it really created a dialogue of examining the best way to talk to children who might be victims of crimes.
DR. STEPHEN AMBROSE: Nowadays, as opposed to back when the McMartin case took place, theres a very clear protocol about how to interview kids. And theres a very strong focus on avoiding leading questions of any kind. There is much more care taken to make sure that whatever the results are, they will stand up in court.
NARRATION: When the trial ended, the McMartin Pre-School was demolished – a laundry and dry cleaning store now sits in its place.
After his acquittal, Raymond Buckey made a few television appearances like this one on The Larry King Show.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, LARRY KING LIVE, 2-4-90): LARRY KING: What do you want to do in your life? RAY BUCKEY: I want to be left alone. Ive seen what the news media can do to people in a crowded situation, and I dont want to be in L.A., and I want to be left alone, a simple life.
NARRATION: For Raymond Buckeys defense attorney Danny Davis, the impact should never be forgotten.
DANNY DAVIS: It brings into focus that our American culture can do harm to our children in the next generation to win at all costs, to have a great publicity run, to jump the ratings and make it for a day. Those are all adult aspirations at the sacrifice of children.