Indictment: The McMartin Trial

Hi Readers! Thanks to one of you recommending this film — rbntrizrii
“Indictment: The McMartin Trial
” — my husband and I just watched it today (a mere decade and a half after it came out, on HBO). Now all I can say is: Put it at the top of your Netflix cue.

As Wikipedia puts it so pithily:

A defense lawyer (played by James Woods) defends an average American family from shocking allegations of child abuse and Satanic rituals. After six years and $16 million, the trial ends with the dismissal of all charges.

Along the way, we watch pedophile panic seize the city, the country, the courts and the media. Almost unquestioningly, they accept the idea that dozens and dozens of children were raped and tormented by all the McMartins (even the old lady in the wheelchair), who were also supposedly busy making kiddie porn, taking the children to orgies at the car wash, and lopping the ears off bunnies, whose blood they guzzled.

Tot orgies at the car wash? Dead daycare bunnies? The stories are sickeningly reminiscent of the testimony at the Salem Witch trials, where witnesses swore they saw one “witch” turn herself into a cat, while others flew through the sky.

In modern-day L.A., as in Salem, a good portion of the public lapped it up (like bunny blood!). And today, even though the McMartin case was settled in 1990, it echoes in our collective eyebrow-raise at the idea of a man working in day care, or even in the idea of trusting ANYONE with our precious children. Because…you never know.

The movie itself, by the way, is superb. Great writing and swift pacing bring home the fact that we may THINK we are a country of rationality and fairness, but not once the media get a sexy story, we’re not. And meantime, if you want to make a buck or a reputation, all you have to do is tell us, weepily or angrily, that it’s “for the sake of the children.” — Lenore

59 Responses to Indictment: The McMartin Trial

  1. Anthony January 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Interesting, I’m putting it on my queue right…. NOW!

  2. Floyd Stearns January 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    I have no memory of this, probably because I lived in New York State at that time.
    I find it amazing what people can be talked into believing.
    I think of the “The Jonestown Massacre” back in 1978. How could all those people get sucked into believing Jim Jones’s philosphy? And then commit suicide because he directed them to do so.
    And then there’s the fundamentalist religious groups.
    I cannot understand how seemingly “normal” people can blindly follow the rantings of one person.
    Maybe I’ve gone off the track here, but seems to me that the story of the McMartins follows similar lines.

  3. Kelly January 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    My best friend was a victim of this childcare. She still has nightmares and struggled throughout her childhood. Whether or not people believe it, SOMETHING happened to the kids under their care. Drugs or something. She was only 3. She remembers swimming naked in a pool down a dark hallway. And lots of animals and blood in cages. She is not the only one who remembers things like that. In college I was reading a psychology book and it brought up the McMartins. I read her the exerpt and it brought on more nightmares.

  4. Carey January 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Kelly: Memory is shockingly malleable. This can range from you and your sister both being convinced that it was YOU that threw up on Mickey at Disneyworld, to horrible memories suggested by persistent, leading questions from well-meaning child welfare workers.

    For people interested in similar cases, it would be worth tracking down a copy of A City Possessed.

  5. Uly January 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Kelly, people don’t like to believe it, but the human memory is incredibly fallible. It’s easy to convince people they “remember” things that never really happened – especially children. Most people have very few memories from the age of 3, and most of what they DO remember is hard to distinguish from stories they’ve been told. (For example, I remember being seriously bitten by fire ants as a three year old – but the only part of that I *know* is my own memory rather than repeated stories is the detail of sitting on the floor of the car and crying.)

  6. Joel January 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    I’m sorry, Kelly, that your friend attended that preschool. Its an incredibly sad chapter in America that created a hysteria shockwave that is still reverberating today. I have no doubt that she has emotional scars, but all of the evidence gathered in the last 25 years leads to the true abuse that happened, brainwashing by Kee McFarlane and others. She was messing with some powerful stuff that she had no business messing with and in the process, screwed up some kids’ minds and ruined countless adult’s lives. Between her, other social workers, investigators, the parents themselves, and the child’s own imagination bolstered by swapping stories with other children, imagery was planted in many minds that will be recalled as if they were true events, true horrible events. Kids at that time were having nightmares about the teachers after being interviewed (when they weren’t previously). No need for drugs to spark the imagination of a child. It was a modern day Salem witch hunt fueled by the exploitation of every parent’s greatest fears, the welfare of their children, and further fueled by a nationwide fear of Satanic cults (post Charles Manson). And, probably the greatest modern example of the power of the media to fuel hysteria. If a single thread of physical evidence had been discovered, I wouldn’t feel such conviction. Sad, cautionary tale.

  7. lonedattyof3 January 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    Please don’t forget about Bernard Baran:
    After his exoneration he still has to report as a sex offender. The mania does not die.

  8. w_nightshade January 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I have been recommending this film to people for YEARS. My favourite thing about it is the literal MOMENT when the sleazy, self-serving lawyer becomes a crusader for truth, when the self-styled protector of innocence becomes a crazy, eye-rolling psycho, and the creepy accused paedophile becomes a scared, confused victim. The film’s expert manipulation of the audience mirrors the public’s self-manipulation perfectly.

  9. baby-paramedic January 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    the case also appears in my pscyh textbooks – as an example of how memory is complicated and especially when dealing with children.
    People can remember false memories. They can be 100 percent convinced. Planting false memories is most easily done by people in a position of relative power (for example, an older sibling). There have been studies on this – would pull them up if I wasnt on a phone.

  10. Jonas January 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    You may be delighted to know that not every country sees men as a constant threat to children. Consider this news article:

    German Family Minister Kristina Schröder has unveiled plans to train jobless men to work as nursery helpers, with the aim of having at least one man at each kindergarten in the future. […] She said there was often a lack of male role models for young children, particularly those who grow up with lone mothers. Some children can reach the age of ten or so with pretty much only women around them – at home and at kindergarten and primary school. “That is negative [for boys],” said Schröder. “It is also not good for girls. Children profit from experiencing both genders.”

  11. Mike January 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Kelly, your friend may say “She remembers swimming naked in a pool down a dark hallway. And lots of animals and blood in cages.” But where’s the evidence? Where is a pool in a hallway, dark or otherwise? Nowhere. Where were the animal cages and blood? Also nowhere. There was NO evidence whatsoever that any of the fantastic claims ever happened.

    One story the children told had them going to an airport (whole crowd of them), flying hours to somewhere, being molested, then flying back, arriving in time for their parents to pick them up. But – no airline had records of a crowd of children flying. No one ever saw any of them at an airport. The hours didn’t match, there was no way for it to happen – but it was still believed. Because, you know, children don’t lie and such. (Anyone who has ever been around children knows they DO lie. A lot.)

    The whole McMartin case would have unraveled at once if someone had just tried to validate the fantastic stories with some hard physical evidence. Suprise, not possible.

  12. Erika January 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Coincidentally, this was in the Madison paper today…

  13. Jeanette Young January 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Lenore,I just saw the D Phil show with you.I think you have common sense which is lacking in general these days.I have 3 grown daughters with whom I cut the cord at birth but gave them the tools they need to get along in the real world. You start when they are young & give them little responsibilities a& build on it. I wouldn’t send my 9 year old grandson out in NYC but I don’t live there. You on the other had know what it’s like & your son is used to it. Those other mothers need to figure out just what is wrong with them.The ones with the teens who drive but have the mom stalking.If you hold on too tight they will for sure rebel & not know how to be independant. To follow your kids around all the time is crazy, not what you are doing. We can’t always protect the ones we love unfortunately.

  14. B.S.H. January 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    I live in Manhattan Beach where the McMartin preschool was located and my husband is from here. Like Kelly he has friends who went to the school. They too are still traumatized. I believe it is due to false memories. My husband will not believe it. It is literally a banned topic in our house. Though the building the school was located in has been torn down, the ramifications of the McMartin trial are still with those who had to live through it. Though they weren’t molested by the McMartins, those children have memories as if they were. So either way, those children have been damaged. It is a travisty and I hope it never happens again.

  15. Layne January 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    I was working in a day care center about the time this happened, and was just out of high school. Even then I remember thinking NO WAY could any of these allegations be true because it was not physically possible. There are just too many people, children and adults, that would have witnessed something or seen physical evidence. There are just too many people coming and going at all hours for anything to be hidden away in a hurry. I believe the site of the McMartin preschool was eventually razed and there was no evidence of the alleged tunnels that ran under the school. I think this trial is still the most expensive trial to date in the state of California.

  16. Don January 25, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    Amazing that 20 years later there still isn’t much certainty about the case. I am in LA and remember the series of outlandish accusations and that the trial just kept going and going and… The children’s stories weren’t nearly as amazing as the adults who became invested in them.

    The psychiatrist for the prosecution now works in the domestic violence industry where McMartin “logic” is primal. Every day since the trial you can see the logic danced out in front of a star struck child custody judge — a daily reminder that fearful bias fixes uncertainty.

  17. Tuppence January 25, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    The New Yorker has had (could it be several?) interesting article(s) on the subject of “recovered memory”. If memory – ha! – serves, there were some great points such as: never one piece of physical evidence for any satanic children orgy, or whatever they were calling that stuff, ever. Although claims were numerous. And that the whole multiple personality resulting from suppressed memory thing, found in the US, pretty much non-existent in Europe, except for a small pocket, a city somewhere, where guess what?? An American psychologist had come to train colleagues how to look for un-recovered memories!

    Probably around 1989 a friend of mine told me his sister was leaving social work. I was surprised by this since she’d only been working in the field a little over a year or so. He said she couldn’t bear to be party to what was going on, namely, talking children into saying they’d been abused. I remember he said kids aren’t stupid and if you ask them the same question again and again, they figure out what the “right” answer is.

    In the early 90s I had a roommate who was in therapy “recovering” memories. Her parents had done all matter of horrible things to her, and she’d repressed the memories all her life, but now, with the help of a therapist, she was beginning to remember. Her parents denied any of it and she hadn’t had contact with them for years.

    During the time we were roommates, a certain movie director was found to be having an affair with his partner’s daughter. The ex-partner was accusing him of having sexually abused her other children. Several sordid stories about the accusations were getting media coverage and one was to do with something happening in the attic space in their summer home. Around the same time, I overheard my roommate on the phone. She was telling her friend about her latest therapy session: She had suddenly remembered something bad happened in an attic. . .
    I knew in that instant — it wasn’t true about her parents, none of it was true. She heard that story about the director floating around and took it as her own (and for those who might still have doubts, she later came up with she was having vague memories of her parents and satanic rituals).

    I’m so glad all this nonsense has been called out.
    I lost contact with that roommate. I hope she’s came to her senses and has reunited with her parents. Truly a very dark era in psychological therapy.

  18. pentamom January 25, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    The proximate cause of the breakup of my brother’s first marriage was his wife’s recovered memories, concerning a relative. I say proximate cause because over time it became evident that his wife had always been mentally rather dubious and quite manipulative, and I suppose things would have blown up eventually one way or another. My ex-sil’s mother always contended that there was no way it was possible that the specified abuse could have happened. I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there has any way of knowing the truth in this case, but I do know that the whole thing developed after her seeking counseling right in the thick of the “recovered memories”/McMartin era, about which I was highly skeptical even at the time.

  19. pentamom January 25, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    “Amazing that 20 years later there still isn’t much certainty about the case.”

    It looks to me like there’s a good deal of certainty — the whole thing was a matter of professional misconduct by social workers, therapists, and prosecutors. No evidence that the physically impossible ever happened doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt.

  20. KarenW January 25, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    Lenore, thank you – I’ve been racking my brain for months trying to remember the name of this movie! I also read an interesting article recently in which one of the children, now an adult, came forward to a newspaper to tell how no abuse actually happened, and how the kids were manipulated into lying. Here is a link:

  21. Jenny Islander January 25, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    Repressed memories do happen, but not nearly as frequently as sensationalist media stories suggest. I had my own come roaring back in my teens, without anybody suggesting anything to me. The trigger, I think, was that for the first time in my life I was in a relationship with somebody who had my back. I could trust this person. I had never, literally never, trusted anyone that I could recall. I felt safe. And so the walls I had built in my own mind came down because I no longer needed to expend the energy to keep them up. Repressing memories is a way for children to defend themselves from knowing things that they cannot know because the knowledge would destroy them. Things like, “This person, who my instincts tell me should be the safe center of my tiny world, sees me only as a means to an end or an object to be used.”

    In my experience, recovering repressed memories does NOT mean suddenly realizing that one has been present at scenes from horror novels. The things I remembered were actually quite mundane and small; evil usually is. It was more like reading a pop-up book and suddenly spotting the pages that I had never folded out before, and then seeing the whole ugliness of the picture.

  22. Into The Wild! January 25, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    I’m from Manhattan Beach (born and raised) and my sisters and I attended school (Kindergarten thru High School) with Ray and his sister. At no time did any of us believe for one minute that any of this stuff happened. My younger brother and sister actually attended their preschool for a short period of time and have happy memories of the place. None of those accusations made any sense to us, the “lady” who brought the initial accusation of abuse was a known nut-job throughout the neighborhood and the police department seemed intent on doing just about anything to get MB on the map. We’ve had some run-ins with their PD (my husband has been in law enforcement for over 30 years, and even he thinks they’re way too abusive with their sense of power). This was and is a terrible part of our history, and all involved in that witch hunt should hang their heads in shame and hide under a rock. They destroyed that poor family, and MB is a black mark in my book.

  23. Lisa January 25, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    As I was reading through the comments I realised that everything I wanted to say has already been said more eloquently by someone else, but I thought I’d comment anyway just to second carey’s suggestion of the book A City Possessed which is about a similar situation here in New Zealand and is well worth reading.

  24. Jennifer January 25, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    My sister was convinced for years that she’d knocked the power out to half the city, at the age of 4. Her metallic balloon had gotten away and hit transmission line. It hit the line with a cascade of sparks and not a light was working the rest the way home. She was absolute convinced of her guilt.

    I later worked for the power company only to find out they still talked of that incident, some 15 or so years later.

    Except she didn’t let the balloon go, it was me. I was 8, and messing around with her balloon and accidentally let it go. She thought she’d done it for years, until I finally admitted it to her a few years ago. That wasn’t the only thing I’d convinced her of either.

    A young kid can’t even too you he went to the zoo with out prompting at age 3. It is far to easy to manipulate what they do and don’t remember.

  25. Heidi January 25, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    baby-paramedic – my mother began telling me very early on that my father was molesting me (which she told me was the whole reason they divorced, because he was molesting me – which turns out HE was the one divorcing her, not the other way around . . .). She tried to prove that he was, but never could. I started getting “Memories” of him molesting me when I was in junior high, and went through some serious therapy to get over it. Now as an adult, after more therapy, talking with my father, sister, and extended family – I fully believe that those “memories” were false memories that my mother “planted” there with all of her crazy suggestions.
    Even though I was never actually physically abused, I still feel as though I was abused. I had the memories, the hurt, the pain, the anguish, the therapy. Everything expect the actual physical abuse. It wasn’t my father who abused me, rather it was my mother who was abused me with her lies and suggestions. I mean, she didn’t just suggest that it may have happened, she told me without a doubt, that it DID happen. She took me to therapists to help me “recover” those memories. She took me to doctors to check “down there” to have physical evidence against him (though none would say that I had been been abused, or not. They couldn’t tell her one way or another. Therefore in her mind. Surely, I was.)

    Coincidentally, she began telling me all this right around the time that these trials were in the media. . .

    There is no doubt in my mind that these kids were abused. Only the abusers were the police/therapists/media and whoever else put these memories into those poor kids heads. It does not surprise me in the slightest that the kids that this happened to have memories of all of that nonsense actually happening. It would surprise me more if they didn’t.

  26. EricS January 25, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    Just goes to show you how stupid and ignorant most people are. You put it in the news and radio, and people will lap it up like water in the desert. Idiots. Can’t think for themselves. Like I always say, the people accusing perversions, are usually the most perverted.

  27. ebohlman January 25, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    lonedattyof3: The Baran case was actually the first of the daycare witchhunts (the Akiki case was pretty much the last). It was especially disgusting for two reasons:

    1) The prosecutor shamelessly implied that Baran being gay made him especially likely to molest children (the case started with a complaint from a kid’s very unstable (long history of addiction and violence) parents that they didn’t want a “homo” caring for their son).

    If you think that’s bad, wait for

    2) In the course of the investigation, one of the kids made a credible allegation that she had in fact been sexually abused, but not by Baran or anyone else associated with the daycare; she accused a former boyfriend of her mother. No attempt was made to follow this up, because pursuing it would interfere with the effort to “get” Baran. So there’s actually a very good chance that a real child sex abuser went free (and had access to future girlfriends’ kids!) in the “service” of making the DA look good.

    3) (yeah, yeah I know: Spanish Inquisition and all that) The prosecutor in the case is now a judge.

  28. ebohlman January 25, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Jenny Islander: What you experienced wasn’t “memory repression” but rather ordinary forgetting. As you said, evil frequently comes across as mundane at the time, and what you experienced probably came across at the time as creepy or weird, but not intensely terrifying. Therefore you put your experiences out of your mind, not because they were so horrible, but because they had no long-term significance to you at the time. At a later time, new information gave you a context in which to put those events, and so you suddenly remembered them.

    All of this can be explained by the standard accepted model of how human episodic memory (memory of events in time, as opposed to, say, memory of a formula or song lyrics) works, with no need to invent special categories of “traumatic repression” or “bodily memories” or the like. Susan Clancy’s done a lot of work in this area, and she’s found that 9 out of 10 abuse victims have similar experiences to you.

  29. Donna January 25, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Yes, Kelly, something did happen at that daycare. Those poor kids were abused by police, psychologists, DAs and the press. They now believe that they were the victims of horrible crimes, however, the reality is that they weren’t.

    Think about the reality of the world even then. Parents float in and out of daycare all day. Parents pick kids up early and bring kids in late. Kids have doctor appointments and need to leave. Kids get sick or hurt and parents need to come get them. How could kids get transported to pools, airports and down tunnels under the center and no parent ever noticed that kids were missing? Even if your kid was there, you’d notice that the class was empty. How did no adult ever see these bloody animal cages? How did nobody around the place ever see buses hauling the kids off? Why can nobody identify the places these kids claim they were taken – nobody could ever find a single place that matched the description of this pool? While quickly touching a periodic child would be possible, large scale satanic rituals involving travel as described would not go undetected for years.

    I don’t think that your friend will ever accept that nothing happened and that is a tragedy. The mind is a crazy thing and to her these things truly occurred.

  30. baby-paramedic January 25, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    @Heidi, you have just demonstrated what I meant when I said these people will 100% believe the false memories. I’m sure we all have some, planted there by various people including ourselves. BUT, most people’s aren’t as damaging.

    I hope you continue to heal.

  31. Steve January 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    Emotional Freedom techniques ( EFT) can relieve traumatic memories whether they’re false or real. And it can do a lot more.

    The process is so simple most people don’t believe it could work. You can watch some videos about it’s use with veterans at Operation EmotionalFreedom:

  32. Metanoia January 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    @Steve, it sounds like acupuncture would be just as, or more helpful than that –

  33. Joel January 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    I barely remember all the media about the satanic cults growing up – just wasn’t on my radar in a small town, but this post sparked a curiosity in me. So I’ve spent the last couple days reading all I could get my hands on. We all seem to agree on the enormous sadness of this whole witch hunt, but I just stumbled on one of the greatest ironies.

    There are many parties to blame for the “moral panic”, but certainly one of the biggest was evangelical Christian propaganda. Here’s the irony, of all of the modern religious related child abuse (Satanic or not) in the U.S., branches of Christianity (often the most extreme) easily take the cake. Not trying to bash Christians, just a fact. Torture and death due to exorcisms. Followers of Koresh (25 children died). Deaths of children whose parents denied critical health care for religious reasons. And the grand-daddy of them all – incest, child-brides and who knows what else in the FLDS . Its a crazy world for sure.

  34. Joel January 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    And, duh, how could I forget the priests…Although a few of them may also have been falsely accused by adults doing the same repressed memory stuff.

  35. pentamom January 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    FWIW, Koresh and FLDS are not recognized as evangelical Christians BY evangelical Christians.

  36. North of 49 January 26, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    What we have is a case of scapegoating. The owners of the daycare pissed someone off so in revenge, the “victim” started a campaign of terror against them, coming up with all sorts of nasty stuff, even more outrageous than the last to drive them out of business and out of town.

    Scapegoating has been done for generations. Now, it is even possible to do the campaign without ever having to confront the person in question by using the police and child services. The scary part is these petty bureaucrats can take one small speck of truth in an allegation and turn it into the start of an avalanche of evidence against the person in question.

    If you don’t think it could happen to you, you’re wrong. It could.

  37. C. S. P. Schofield January 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    My wife has recovered repressed memories. They are, without exception, of ‘ordinary’ non-fantastical abuse, perpetrated by a member of her family who (by the time she recovered her memories) everyone pretty well knew was a walking sack of excrement. The abuse was entirely consistent with his know character.

    I think that repressed memories do exist. I also think that people with serious emotional problems look for a narrative that the world at large accepts, whether it has any relation to their actual problems or not. And if it doesn’t, then no therapy applied to their declared problem will help much.

    I also think that, if there is an afterlife, the witch-hunters are in for a rather unpleasant one.

  38. pentamom January 27, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    “I think that repressed memories do exist. I also think that people with serious emotional problems look for a narrative that the world at large accepts, whether it has any relation to their actual problems or not. And if it doesn’t, then no therapy applied to their declared problem will help much.”

    Well said. It strains credibility to think that there are no such thing as repressed memories — surely that’s plausible knowing even if only from knowing ourselves, how the human mind works.

    But at some point in the 80’s/early 90’s it became the answer to everything, and a convenient handle for both therapists and patients to hang all manner of vexed problems on. Not I think that many therapists deliberately used the concept to mislead people — they were probably just taken in by its supposed great explanatory power, and hoping that it would in fact be the answer to some people’s problems.

    But it was too easy. Eating disorder? Attachment issues? Victim syndrome? Codependency? Let’s look for some memories you’re suppressing to explain why you hate yourself/can’t form viable relationships, whatever. (And remember that the shackles of Freud were only beginning to be loosened in the practicing community in those days — sex and parents still explained everything, especially among the less well-trained professionals.) And then even by saying “let’s look for some memories,” the seed is planted, and an unstable person (or even a person desperate for answers) just might find some….that were never there before.

  39. Lucy January 27, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    @Joel “Here’s the irony, of all of the modern religious related child abuse (Satanic or not) in the U.S., branches of Christianity (often the most extreme) easily take the cake.”

    Lol, you did realize when you wrote that, that Christianity was the largest religious element in the US? and, btw, the Koresh kids were brutally murdered by the government. If you really want to know about wide scale child abuse, that’s where you should look first . The “war on drugs” has done a real number on our kids.

  40. Joel January 27, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Knew that might ruffle some feathers. My point is still valid and its still ironic, regardless of the fact that Christianity is the largest religious element in the U.S. Keep in mind, some of them were claiming at the time that this Satanic ritual abuse network had millions of people involved, when in reality it was non-existent, yet actual religious abuse was happening, some of it right under their noses…

    1) Widespread substantiated physical, mental, sexual abuse was happening at that time in Catholic institutions all over the world (and covered up by those same institutions).
    2) FLDS considers themselves Christians, even if others don’t. Widespread substantiated child abuse to this day.
    3) Substantiated child abuse from denying health care. Keep in mind only the deaths tend to make the news; many children suffer this abuse and live. Happened then, happens now.
    4) Abusive Exorcism, sometimes resulting in death.
    5) Jonestown – 287 children killed.
    6) The Koresh example may be more contentious and obviously Lucy feels strongly about it. I believe the government made a mess of things, but the Branch Davidians’ also did under the guise of religion. 19 children were safely released early on. The remaining 20 could have also been released, but unfortunately they were not.

    The “moral panic” of 80s/90s was not only wrongly aimed, it ignored some of the real abuse going on in the name of religion. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not condemning Christians (my whole family is Christian), I’m condemning misplaced fear, propagandizing that fear, and ANY abuse, including abuse under the guise of religion. Nobody should get a free pass, although many have (i.e. religious exemptions,

    Personal connection : Two of my wife’s aunts were abused by a priest in Quebec. My wife’s mother was spared because she was 8 years younger and her siblings protected her from it by never letting her be alone with the priest.

    Agreed on “war on drugs” also inflicting damage on children – also an important topic, but a different one.

  41. Scott January 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I remember that when case was being covered in the paper. It’s been a long time so my memory won’t get the details right, but it was something like there was testimony about giraffes being slain in rituals and some sort of golden eggs and such. I remember realizing the reporter didn’t believe it either but rather than show skepticism, they chose to report on examples of testimony that was being given in the trial that was plainly ludicrous.

    Was someone missing a giraffe? That was the question you had to ask when reading about this trial.

    Decades afterwards someone did some sort of archeological dig at the site of the preschool to find out if there was really secret underground torture chambers. The dig did turn up some unexpected items but whether there were torture chambers was inconclusive.

    This all said, I did know people during that period who have claimed to have been involved in occult groups that practiced similar things. I remember one couple in particular that had turned away from the satanic lifestyle and become evangelicals. They swore that they had been involved with a group some members of whom actually killed babies, drank the blood, and so forth. But the babies were harvested from members who were kept in seclusion as breeders. This was all done voluntarily. It was never clear though if they actually saw this personally or just heard about it from other members, who were probably quite insane and might have said just about anything, including tales about giraffes. Hard to say what is real with some of these people.

  42. Scott January 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    OK, I looked it up. Ray Buckey was described as having beaten a giraffe to death with a baseball bat. Also an elephant was killed and children forced to drink its blood.

    Whole thing started when parent Judy Johnson reported that her son had been raped, and students were taken to zoos and made to have sex with giraffes. After she made these claims, the police opened an investigation and all the rest followed. AT some point the giraffe sex at the zoo turned into baseball bat killings of giraffes in a secret basement.

    Police are to blame for this. Should never have been investigated since she was obviously severely mentally ill. Instead the child was left with this crazy woman and other crazies brought in to spread the crazy.

  43. Noël H. January 28, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    Stayed up late last night watching this film after seeing it recommended here. So frightening to think this could happen, does happen. I remember the hysteria over the Wenatchee ‘sex rings’ in the mid 1990’s in which 40+ adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child sex abuse. That it happened on the heels of the McMartin case, when a mass hysteria should be forefront in memory, is even more disturbing. It seems we are helpless to stop ourselves even when we do know better.

  44. Joel January 28, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    @Noel – I read a ton of stuff on this the last couple days out of interest. The Wenatchee sex rings was really just a continuation of the same hysteria, morphing into a less Satanic based fear. People were becoming more and more skeptical, but not enough to kill the panic yet. Between McMartin and Wenatchee was a continuous string of these cases.

  45. SgtMom January 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    The magazine section of the Los Angeles Times published the first retraction from a McMartin student in 2005-OCT-30. Kyle Sapp, now known as Kyle Zirpolo, was eight years of age when he made his accusations 21 years ago. He now wants to tell the truth and apologize to the defendants. He says that he made his accusations because of pressure from his family, the community and the social workers who interviewed him. It remains to be seen whether other students, now in their late 20s or early 30s will follow Zirpolo’s lead.

    Commenting on his experiences being extensively interviewed at Children’s Institute International, now known as Children’s Institute, Inc., Zirpolo said:

    “Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for. It was really obvious what they wanted. I know the types of language they used on me: things like I was smart, or I could help the other kids who were scared.”

    “I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do. And I thought they wanted me to help protect my little brother and sister who went to McMartin.”

    Later, he said, in part:

    “I think I got the satanic details by picturing our church. We went to American Martyrs, which was a huge Catholic church. Every Sunday we had to go, and Mass would last an hour, hour and a half. None of us wanted to go: It was kicking and screaming all the way there. Sitting, standing, sitting, standing. What I would do was picture the altar, pews and stained-glass windows, and if [investigators] said, ‘Describe an altar,’ I would describe the one in our church. Or instead of, ‘There was a priest in a green suit’—someone who was real—I would say, ‘A man dressed in red as a cult member.’ From going to church you know that God is good, and the devil is bad and has horns and is about evil and red and blood. I’d just throw a twist in there with Satan and devil-worshipping.”

  46. Scott January 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    “It remains to be seen whether other students, now in their late 20s or early 30s will follow Zirpolo’s lead.”

    Whether intended or not, this comment suggests that the other children lied, know that they lied, and are choosing not to tell the truth now even though they know doing so would not get them into trouble and would help other people.

    I do not think any of those things have been established.

    I personally think the accusations in the trial were impossible and ridiculous.

    Does that mean that no children were abused? No it doesn’t.

    I really believe there was no ritualistic animal killings that was described. But the initial accusations were of things much less extreme. The accusations got crazy because of a mentally ill parent, foolish police, and a well meaning but ultimately highly destructive therapist who coaxed the memories out of the children.

    From the referenced LA Times article, it points out that Kyle was not even a witness in the case, “Ultimately, fewer than a dozen children testified at the trials of Ray Buckey and his mother. Kyle was not among them. ”

    One notable and important quote left out of the excerpts from the article cited above was this one: “I’m not saying nothing happened to anyone else at the McMartin Pre-School. I can’t say that — I can only speak for myself. Maybe some things did happen.”

    Concluding from this that the other children are lying and know they are lying is unfair to them. No one knows that from Kyle’s statement. Abuse may have occured. Even if it didn’t (which I personally think myself), the children were psychologically manipulated to the point that many of them were made to believe abuse did happen, and it is abuse they will personally remember until they die – even if it didn’t happen. It is unfair and abusive to hold them responsible for not confessing that they lied when many of them likely hold actual memories of abuse that never occurred.

  47. SgtMom January 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    During the McMartin pre school trials in California, the Kare Sortland case in WA state was in full swing as well. He and his wife were both aquitted -TWICE – of daycare accusations by 14 children.

    My son’s attorney was one of the attorneys who successfully defended the Sortland case.

    He assured me he would do everthing possible to defend my son as well – yet totally folded once the check was cashed, and insisted my son accept a plea agreement.

    I could never understand why a man who sucessfully defended a man falsely accused by 14 (FOURTEEN!) kids couldn’t seem to find the wherewithall to defend my 16 year old son. He insisted my son accept a plea even though there was no evidence of his guilt, and tremendous evidence of his innocence.

    Months later the attorney and I made small talk while my son was being processed out of Juvenile detention for a crime he did not commit. He told me Mr. Sortland answered his doorbell on Halloween night following his aquitttal, and was shot dead on his front lawn. The killer was never caught.

    I don’t believe attorneys even try to seek aquittal for those falsely accused. Unwilling to risk social ostracization or public criticism, unless millions of dollars make it worth their while – they also know there might be a bullet with their name on it.

  48. SgtMom January 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Elizabeth Loftus has prven time and again how easily children can be ‘implanted” with memories of something that never happend. Her “lost in a Mall” experiments have proven so, time after time.

    There are no tunnels underneath the McMartin preschool. Nom animal bodies. No Nick Nolte in a hot air balloon molesting children.

    Not just the children, but their parents were ‘implanted” with memories, as well.

    No lessons have been learned. Nothing has changed. It is only getting more entrenched and worse with each passing year.

  49. Scott January 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    It’s absolute scientific fact that people can have vivid memories of things that did not happen. Intentional implanting and/or hypnosis isn’t even needed. Studies of witnesses to events shows that everybody gets the details wrong, and yet they will be absolutely sure of what they saw. There are millions of americans right now that believe with all their heart and can not be persuaded otherwise that the saw Sarah Palin herself say on TV that she can see Alaska from her house. Never happened though. Tina Fey did say that while dressed as Sarah Palin though. Any jury relying on witness statements or sworn affidavits is relying on a lie. But you hope to have more than one witness. You hope they didn’t talk before hand or hear what the other had to say by reading an interview in the paper. That’s unlikely though, and then the stories, with most details imagined, take on each other’s hue. This is why people are freed from death row after the DNA shows they could not have committed the crime. Even though there were eyewitnesses. Maybe even a confession because the suspect himself was convinced by police he did something he didn’t actually do. We see this in the Central Park Rapist case where it turned out all the “wilding” teens didn’t do it even though all but one of them signed written confessions describing their crimes in detail.

    Despite all this, Kyle did not say that other children were not abused. He said that he himself was not.

    I’ll say it again. The trial testimony about circus animals was outlandish and no reasonable person could believe it.

    That doesn’t mean that children who say they were abused were not abused. It just means they weren’t abused in a situation where elephants and giraffes were sacrificed on an altar to Satan in an underground hideaway, or at a zoo after hours. Probably.

    It also doesn’t mean that should absolutely no abuse have occurred, the children who remember these things are lying and therefore should confess their lies. It is very likely that they believe truly bad things happened to them. Not all the children told tales about circus animals. The problem is that whatever might have happened if anything at all can never be known because idiotic interview techniques were used that screwed up their memories. The entire investigation was a fiasco and any hope of justice or the truth being found is totally impossible.

    Abuse to children does happen. From doctors, teachers, child care workers, parents, stepparents, relatives, strangers, clergy and therapists. half the women I have been friends with in my life were violently raped at some point in their life. You can’t tell me that abuse isn’t extremely common. It is extremely extremely common.

    Despite that we should not live in fear of it and deprive our children of a chance at a normal life through paranoia and overprotectionism.

    Rape happens. Torture happens. Look at our stupid military in Iraq torturing and raping and bombing and getting off on setting people on fire while the churchgoers shout halleluia because another muslim has been slaughtered. Insane violence is part of american culture, like it or not it is real.

    There is also real Satanic abuse going on, but it is probably very rare.

  50. SgtMom January 30, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    Scott –

    How many lives have been shattered by this stupid unfounded myth?

    There are probably alien abductions and demon posessions, too.

    Very rare, of course.

    No one has said abuse isn’t common. Abusing innocent people with false aqccusations of abuse is extremely common as well.

    Our “stupid military” are obeying orders by our stupid leaders – voted into place by our stupid citizens who cheer and applaud lower gas prices.

    YOU are included in that stupidity, Scott.

    Of course, the techniques used to “recover memories” of incest and childhood sexual abuse are the same as the techniques used to “recover memories” of satanic ritual abuse. So at this point, therapists who have been using these techniques for years–if they are honest with themselves–have a horrible moment of realization: for years, I’ve been leading people to develop false memories of horrendous physical and sexual abuse by their own families. How many innocent families and lives have I shattered? Or, they may have a more financially driven moment of realization: if my clients realize what I have done to them, they are going to sue me for damages. My practice will be destroyed, my income will disappear, and I’ll be forced to spend my savings on my legal defense!
    If therapists admit that satanic cults don’t exist, they have to admit that the therapeutic techniques they have been using are unsafe, unreliable, known to produce strong belief in false memories of events that never occured, and totally inappropriate for use in mental therapy. Many have to admit that they are “serial therapists” who have shattered dozens or hundreds of innocent families over years of ignorant, incompetent malpractice.

    Of course, it’s much easier to pretend that satanic cults exist than to accept that you are an incompetent perpetrator responsible for untold suffering and injustice and to lose your home and your job and your savings. Hence, the therapists take the easy way out and weakly attempt to defend the myth of satanic ritual abuse. It’s much less painful to promote a myth and destroy someone else’s family than to impoverish your own. Unless, of course, you happen to be the unlucky family that becomes the target of this “therapy.”

    Protect yourself and your family by arming yourself with knowledge. Read Characteristics and Sources of Allegations of Ritualistic Child Abuse and Kenneth Lanning’s full report.

  51. Scott January 31, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    Namecalling doesn’t get you anywhere.

    Do you not understand my posts at all? You pointed out that Kevin had rescinded his claims and wondered if the others would “follow his lead”.

    Yes Kevin, who never testified in the trial, rescinded his statements as an adult. He also said that he was speaking only for himself and that abuse may have happened.

    I have tried to make clear that the accusations of giraffe killings and underground lairs are clearly nonsense brought in by terrible protocols and bad science used by the therapist that was brought it. It destroyed any hope of every knowing the truth.

    As Kevin points out though, he does not know what happened to others. There are others who still say they were abused. Maybe they were. No one is saying the giraffe stories are real. But that does not mean abuse does not happen. Abuse against children is real, frequent, common, damaging, pervasive. Violence is an American past time and it’s no surprise that it extends to children.

    There are also Satanic cults. They are all around the place, you can find discussion groups and forums across the web. They do have meetings. Many of them engage in ritual sacrifice. This is a fact. Some former members that child abuse is part of what some of them do in their religion. Are these people telling the truth or mentally ill? Possibly both. Child abuse happens in all kinds of households. It would be strange if it Satanic households were the only ones that never engaged in it.

  52. Scott January 31, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    correction – Kyle not Kevin

  53. SgtMom January 31, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    “Look at our stupid military in Iraq torturing and raping and bombing and getting off on setting people on fire”

    “Namecalling doesn’t get you anywhere”

    Hmmmmmm. Make up your mind, Scott.

    There are all sorts of deranged people who get together and discuss things that never happened on the internet, Scott.

    Like the people who still insist the McMartins abused children.

    When a minister in Wenatchee WA spoke up to defend members of his parish who were being rounded up and jailed in the Wenatchee Witch hunt, HE was accused of conducting “satanic ritual” abuse, jailed for a year, and his own child nearly adopted off. The same thing happened to the social workers who tried to speak up about their innocent clients being railroaded – THEY were accused in order to shut them up.

    The Satanic Panic has been investigated time after time and NO evidence has EVER been found, yet in West memphis AK three innocent boys were convicted of “Satanic” murders with not a tiny shred of evidence and have spent the past 16 years in prison – even though DNA evidence shows they were NOT involved.

    In OK a school principal expelled a girl because he thought she put a “hex” on him!

    I’m sure child abuse occurs in kosher households, too, but does that mean there is “kosher” child abuse?

    “”. Violence is an American past time and it’s no surprise that it extends to children.””

    Just Americans? Seriously?

    Witch hunting is an American pastime, Scott. Does that mean it MUST be true if enough people “believe” it is? Certainly enough people have had their children taken from them, their lives ruined, been murdered and imprisoned over Satanic accusations , so it MUST be true.

    It just MUST be!

  54. Susan February 1, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    You know what’s really disturbing? That people want and choose to believe this sort of outlandish, fantastical, horror-movie stuff about child abuse at daycare centers, but hardly anyone wants to hear about (let alone do anything about) the actual trafficking of minors for sex. Just this month a man was arrested in my metro area for pimping out his 16-year old “girlfriend” to over 500 johns. And police contend she was only one of many teenage girls this guy “owned.” He was controlling and the girls felt they had little choice but to do as he told them and sell themselves as prostitutes. Real teens are being bought and sold every day for sex – that’s the real horror. Child-molesting daycare providers are a distraction. Like if we worry and worry about this potential (if extremely unlikely) danger to our precious little kids, that absolves us from caring about the teens from the wrong side of the tracks who are coerced into prostitution everyday. (Or from investigating who those 500 johns are who think it’s OK to pay for sex with a teenager!)

  55. Donna February 1, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Scott –

    I have a real problem with the idea that we’re supposed to agree that the stories of giraffes, elephants, ritual abuse and airplane trips never occurred but still accept that some abuse did. That’s ridiculous. If the kids are lying about all the fanciful stuff, anything that they have to say about other things is also extremely suspect and not believable. With kids so obviously making up so much of their accusations, we have to concede that the accused deserve to be considered innocent of any wrong doing.

    And you seem to have missed that the very first allegation was brought by the crazy woman – a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic alcoholic who later killed herself. There was not a single, solitary murmur of anything before she got involved. This was not an active investigation that ran amok because of a crazy woman. There is absolutely no investigation at all without the statements of an alcoholic paranoid schizophrenic who never should have been relied on. Having spoken to the 4th coming of christ just last week, it’s perfectly reasonable that absolutely nothing whatsoever happened except in this very sick woman’s mind and everything spiraled from there because people wanted to believe.

    Yes, there are people who claim to be members of satanic cults and engage in some rituals (most are not truly worshipping satan). There may even be child sexual abuse in families who are members of these groups. They don’t, however, take over daycare centers and ritually abuse the children.

    I do believe that some of these children now believe that the abuse occurred and will spend the rest of their lives believing that they are victims of horrible abuse that never occurred. There is no way that they are ever going to come out and say that the abuse didn’t occur because to them it did. That is horrible. I also believe that there are other kids who know that they lied and will likely never come forward out of fear and guilt.

    “half the women I have been friends with in my life were violently raped at some point in their life. ”

    Comments like this make me realize that you are just blowing smoke. I suppose it’s possible that you know few women most of whom are very unfortunate but, sorry, rape is not this prevalent. Half the female population has not been violently raped, ergo half your female friends have not been violently raped (again, unless you have some savior complex that attracts victimized individuals). As a matter of fact, violent rape is uncommon. Of course, all rape is violent, however, the term “violently raped” to me indicates some kind of physical violence beyond the actual rape itself. Acquaintance rape is by far the most common type of rape and it rarely involves any sort of violence beyond the actual rape. That’s why it’s so hard to prove in court. There are no bruises or other physical manifestations and it’s easy to believe that the sex was consensual. I’m not negating the horribleness of acquaintance rape, just stating that “violently raped” usually indicates something more violent than the already violent act of rape, otherwise, it’s redundant.

    I work in the criminal justice system and the fact is that violence against children is not extremely extremely common. It’s more common than we would like it to be but the vast majority of children born will grow up without experiencing any kind of sexual abuse. Child abuse rarely extends outside of the family. It’s most prevalent in dysfunctional families or with at-risk youth (low income, absentee parents, drug addicted or otherwise uninvolved parents, etc.).

    Now you could make the argument that only a small portion of child abuse is reported, thus, we in the criminal justice system only see some of the cases. However, we can only know what is reported. I do know that cases of child abuse go unreported, however, to believe that there are large amounts of abuse going on that nobody ever knows anything about is equal to believing that there is a pedophile hiding behind every bush. We only know what is known. I’m not going to sit and speculate that there is this massive proliferation of child sexual abuse that never gets reported because we can never know whether that is indeed true or not.

  56. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau February 6, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    It’s possible they knew alot of people who’ve been raped. I have met a good number of people who have been abused sexually in some way. If I count…11. That I know of.

  57. Windword March 7, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    I attended the Mc Martin preschool. It was in the late ’50’s. I can tell you for sure that these atrocities DID occur. Her earlier daycare was called “The Happy Bunny” which is ironic because she did kill bunnies in front of me and my sister. She threatened us, telling us that she planted a bomb inside of us and that if we told our parents, the bomb would go off.

    We did play the “naked Movie Star” game. V. Mc Martin made be succkle her breasts. I was poked me with sticks and beaten.. I remember her joking with my father that she beat me, because I had marks on my butt.. He told her it was ok to do so. I was so scared that day, because I thought she would think I told my dad, but I didn’t, and the bomb would go off.

    There were tunnels. They were found and excavated in the 90’s, after the trial. The LA Times ran a short story on the tunnels, turtle shells and bones were found.

    My sister and I both have memories of the horrendous events that occured there. What a dark time in our lives it was.


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