Rife with accusations of Satanic rituals, animal sacrifices and child sex abuse, the McMartin Preschool case was one of the most infamous criminal trials of the 1980s — and the longest and costliest in U.S. history. What started with a lone accusation from a single parent snowballed into hundreds of child sex abuse claims at the exclusive Manhattan Beach, California, preschool.
Seven McMartin Preschool employees were arrested and charged with more than 300 counts of molestation and conspiracy, and by the end of the preliminary trial hearing, charges had been dropped against five of the them.
The ensuing trial of McMartin owner Peggy McMartin Buckey and her son, Ray Buckey, would last for nearly three years. A jury found the mother and son not guilty of 52 counts of child molestation, but remained deadlocked on 12 molestation charges against Ray Buckey, as well as a single count of conspiracy against Ray and Peggy, according to AP News. The case cost $15 million to prosecute, according to the Los Angeles Times. Neither Ray nor Peggy were ultimately convicted of any crime.
Here are eight of the key players from the McMartin family preschool trials:
1. Judy Johnson
The first accuser, Judy Johnson, went to the Manhattan Beach police and claimed her two-and-a-half-year-old son had been sexually abused by Ray Buckey, which led to the criminal investigation of McMartin Preschool. Johnson made bizarre claims: Ray flew in the air and Peggy McMartin Buckey drilled holes in her son’s armpits, according to The New York Times. Johnson would later claim that her dog had been sodomized and her estranged husband molested one of their children, according to The Washington Post In 1986, before the trial even began, she died of “fatty metamorphosis of the liver” associated with alcoholism, according to The New York Times.
2. Raymond Buckey
Following Judy Johnson’s initial complaint, police arrested Ray Buckey on Sept. 7, 1983, but he was released on the same day due to a lack of evidence, according to The Washington Post. He was later indicted and arrested in March 1984, along with his grandmother, Virginia McMartin. Also arrested were Buckey’s mother, sister Peggy Ann Buckey, and several co-workers, who were charged with a combined 115 counts — later increased to 321, according to The New York TimesBuckey was acquitted on most of the charges, with the jury deadlocked on another 13 counts, according to The Washington Post. He was retried later that year, resulting in a mistrial and all charges being dismissed, according to the Los Angeles Times. After the trial, Buckey attended law school, reported The Los Angeles Times. He later changed his name and relocated to the Northwest, where he lives with his wife and son, according to “Uncovered: The McMartin Family Trials,” premiering Saturday, July 27 at 7/6c on Oxygen.
3. Virginia McMartin
In 1956, at age 49, Virginia McMartin opened her preschool in downtown Manhattan Beach, and it quickly became popular within the local community. Following reports of sexual abuse at the school, McMartin was arrested in March 1984 on child molestation charges. The charges were dropped after the district attorney determined there was insufficient evidence to prove her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the Los Angeles Times. She and her granddaughter successfully sued the parent of one child for slander in 1991, but the plaintiffs were only awarded $1 each, according to the Los Angeles Times. McMartin died in 1995 at 88 after suffering a series of strokes, according to The New York Times.
4. Peggy McMartin Buckey
Before her arrest, Peggy McMartin Buckey, Virginia’s daughter, was the main administrator of McMartin Preschool. She was indicted in March 1984 and remained in custody for two years. She was then released on almost $300,000 bail, according to The Washington Post. In 1990, she was found not guilty of all charges, saying, “I’ve gone through hell, and now we've lost everything,” according to The Washington Post. In December 2000, she died at the age of 74, according to the Los Angeles Times.
5. Peggy Ann Buckey
Peggy Ann Buckey, Ray Buckey’s sister, was a high school special education teacher who occasionally helped out at her grandmother’s preschool. She was among those indicted and arrested in March 1984. As with her grandmother and three co-workers, the charges against her were dismissed in 1986 for lack of evidence. Afterward, she applied to have her teaching credentials reinstated, but it was initially denied. A judge later ruled in her favor, according to the Los Angeles Times, and she resumed her teaching career.
6. Kee MacFarlane
Kee MacFarlane, a social worker at the Children’s Institute International, conducted interviews with hundreds of McMartin Preschool students, using sock puppets and anatomically correct dolls to help children disclose “yucky secrets.” Many children initially denied being abused, according to The New York Times. MacFarlane’s findings and techniques were later criticized, as was her relationship with reporter Wayne Satz, who extensively covered the McMartin Preschool story for Los Angeles’ KABC, according to the Associated Press. Following the Buckeys’ acquittals, MacFarlane claimed she was “naive in never having been part of a case like this,” but she stood by her findings. Her controversial techniques have inspired new protocols in child psychology.
7. Astrid Heger
A pediatrician who medically examined and photographed the children involved in the investigation, Astrid Heger testified she found physical evidence of molestation in 10 of 13 alleged victims, according to the Los Angeles Times. The defense team, however, brought in its own medical expert who refuted her findings, according to the Los Angeles Times. Heger is now a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California and the founder and executive director of the Violence Intervention Program, which offers social services to victims of family violence and sexual assault. The photographic method she developed has been successfully used in hundreds of molestation cases.
8. The Children
To this day, some of the former students who testified in the McMartin Preschool trials maintain that they were victims of abuse. Kevin Cody, whose newspaper The Easy Reader covered the case, told CBSLA.com that he has spoken to multiple of the children, whom he describes as “happy, well-adjusted” people. Another student named Kyle Zirpolo told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that he had fabricated the allegations. He said that, as a child, he claimed to have been abused by Ray Buckey, even though he had never met him.
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