Preschool Teacher May Have Molested 60 Young Children

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Preschool Teacher May Have Molested 60 Young Children

Newspaper article

By: Anonymous

Date: March 7, 1984

Source: "Preschool Teacher May Have Molested 60 Young Children." Boston Globe. March 7, 1984.

About the Author: This article was written by an unnamed staff writer at the Boston Globe, a daily newspaper based in Boston, Massachusetts, with a circulation of over 500,000 worldwide.


The McMartin preschool case was one of a series of cases centered on alleged ritual and sexual abuse in day care facilities in the 1980s. This primary source is an early report on the first arrests, searches, and allegations made by authorities against the owners and operators of the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California.

The author does not mention a feature of the case that was later to become central: The only evidence against the McMartins was the testimony of allegedly abused children. Although the article claims that photographs of "nude children performing sex acts," had been taken, no such pictures existed. Nor was any medical or other physical evidence ever produced. The prosecution's case was founded entirely on child testimony, much of it elicited by questionable interviewing methods.

Ray Buckey, a teacher at the preschool and grandson of the school's founder Virginia McMartin, was arrested in August 1983 and accused of sexually abusing a two-year-old boy. The charge was brought by Buckey's wife, from whom he was separated, and who the article identifies only as the "mother of a two-year-old." Buckey was released for lack of evidence, but police then contacted hundreds of parents whose children had attended the McMartin school.

Under questioning by therapists and parents, children said that Ray, his mother Peggy, his grandmother Virginia, and other teachers had committed sex crimes and numerous bizarre acts against them. Some children described satanic animal sacrifices in tunnels beneath the school; others claimed that they had been led through underground tunnels to a crematorium where they beat dead bodies and watched them burn. Approximately 360 children were identified as abuse victims during the interviews.

The trial was the longest and most expensive in U.S. legal history; the preliminary hearings alone lasted 20 months. In 1989, Ray's mother was acquitted on all counts. Ray himself was acquitted on most counts, with the jury hung on others. In 1990, Buckey was tried again; the jury deadlocked on all counts. By the time he was finally released, he had spent five years in jail.

In 1990, efforts to find evidence of tunnels beneath the school found soil disturbances and objects that convinced some observers that filled-in tunnels had been found. Most observers viewed the evidence as insufficient to prove their existence. Skeptics pointed to the difficulty that the McMartins would have had in filling the tunnels with compacted soil while in jail.


Preschool Teacher May Have Molested 60 Young Children

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif.—Photographs, weapons and records were seized in raids on 10 homes and now-closed school where authorities say up to 60 young children were bound, sexually abused, and forced to watch while pet rabbits and turtles were mutilated.

Today's raids came six months after a former teacher was arrested on suspicion of child molesting after the mother of a 2-year-old complained, authorities said.

Among the homes searched were those of Virginia McMartin, who ran the preschool for 30 years; her daughter, Peggy McMartin Buckey, who helped run the school; and Mrs. Buckey's son, Raymond C. Buckey, who had taught at the school.

Buckey, 25, was arrested Sept. 7 on suspicion of child molestation and released on $15,000 bail. However, the district attorney never filed charges against him, saying additional investigation was needed, and his bail was refunded.

The school voluntarily closed three months ago after parents began withdrawing their children.

The California Department of [Child Protection] Services complaint now alleges that for more than a year before his arrest, Buckey molested at least 25 boys and girls between the ages of 2 and 5 who were under the care of the preschool. Manhattan Beach police and the Los Angeles district attorney's office have said the number may be as high as 60.

Photographs allegedly were taken of nude children performing sex acts, although police Sgt. Jim Noble said boxes of evidence had yet to be examined.

In addition, police said, a former teacher tried to frighten the children into silence by maiming or killing pet animals while the children watched.

The teacher reportedly warned the children the same thing would happen to their parents if they talked, investigators have said.


The belief that ritualistic sexual torture of children by day care providers was rampant swept the American public during the 1980s. The first notable case of this type occurred in 1983 in Kern County, California, where eight people were sent to prison on the basis of child testimony that they had abused their students in bizarre, ritualistic ways. All convictions were later overturned, but some were not freed until the mid-1990s. The McMartin case followed soon after and had some of the same features, especially the reliance of the prosecution on child testimony that bizarre ritualistic abuse had occurred. Several similar cases followed in the next several years. The McMartin case was unusual in that no convictions were obtained at all. Convictions were obtained in most of the other day care abuse cases but were later overturned.

Sexual abuse of children is not unusual. However, this does not mean that all claims of abuse are true. According to Dr. Stephen Ceci of Cornell University (interviewed by the Public Broadcasting System in 1998), a child can sometimes adopt a "false belief"—an inaccurate conviction about what they have witnessed, done, or experienced. "[K]ids are cooperative conversational partners," Ceci explained. "They believe that you're asking them about something because it probably happened. They want to please you, they want to give you the answer that they think will make you happiest." This opens the way to the formation of false beliefs, especially about persons who have been identified with "negative stereotyping," such as repeated assurances that the person in question is now in jail and cannot hurt the child.

Ceci and colleagues performed experiments in which they found that false beliefs about harmless events could easily be induced by questioning techniques similar to those used to obtain testimony in the day care abuse cases. For example, after repeated questioning about whether they had gone on a trip by hot-air balloon, children would eventually become convinced that they had done so. They would then resist suggestions that the trip was imaginary. A detailed, self-consistent narrative tends to develop in such cases, unlike the inconsistent, shifting, vague narratives that young children tend to construct when deliberately lying. The resulting testimony can be extremely convincing.

The McMartin case and other day care ritual abuse cases triggered a permanent heightening of legal skepticism child testimony. In 1994, the New Jersey State Supreme Court upheld a lower court's overturned conviction of a nursery-school teacher accused of abuse, saying that "the interviews of the children were highly improper and utilized coercive and unduly suggestive methods."


Web sites

Earl, John. "The Dark Truth About the 'Dark Tunnels of McMartin.'" Issues in Child Abuse Accusations 7 (1995) 〈〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

Public Broadcasting System. "The Child Terror." Oct. 27, 1998. Available at 〈〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

Summit, Roland C. "The Dark Tunnels of McMartin." Journal of Psychohistory, 21, no. 4 (Spring 1994) 〈〉(accessed March 17, 2006).

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Preschool Teacher May Have Molested 60 Young Children

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