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How A Bogus Sex Abuse Accusation Fuelled A Nationwide Hysteria

Peggy mcmartin buckeyAP Photo/ Lennox McLendonAcquitted defendant Virginia McMartin Buckey, the owner of the McMartin Preschool.

The documentary project Retro Report has a new video that sheds light on a 1983 child sex abuse case that ended up being America’s most expensive criminal trial by the time it ended 7 years later with no convictions.

The case began when Judy Johnson accused Raymond Buckey, her estranged husband and a teacher at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, Calif., of molesting her son. Police released Buckley because of a lack of evidence but informed parents of the school children of the allegations. Eventually, hundreds of kids claimed Buckley, his mother, Virginia, and other preschool employees, had abused them. These claims were never substantiated.

The $15 million McMartin Preschool trial and the rabid media reports that surrounded the case ignited a national hysteria that Satanists had taken control of the nations’ preschools. Television reporters began to chase every aspect of the story to feed the frenzy.

The story took on a life of its own,” KCBS’s Ross Becker told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “We didn’t even think at the time . . . about what we were doing. . . . It was ‘We gotta get something new on McMartin; look how big this thing is getting. . . .'”

The LA Times itself ran an initial headline on the story reading, “
Puppets Help Children Shed Horrors of Abuse: Therapists at Institute Use Toys To Coax From Molestation Victims Secrets of Traumatized Lives.”

After the initial trial found the defendants innocent, Geraldo Rivera ran a program, titled “The McMartin Outrage: What Went Wrong?” where he interviewed many of the children and supported a retrial. None of the children interviewed had ever testified.

Amid the media hysteria, other similar sex abuse cases were filed including one against the Wee Care Nursery in the ’80s that was ultimately dismissed, The New York Times notes.

In the McMartin case, the charges were dismissed most of the defendants because the evidence was “so slim” that it didn’t go beyond the original accusation, according to District Attorney Ira Reiner.

PeopleRetroReport/New York Times/Screenshot

The McMartin case began gathering steam when police then sent a letter to the parents of students at the McMartin school, telling them their children might have been abused and asking them to question their children about “sodomy, oral sex, and fondling.”

FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning, who investigated the case, suggested this was where the case started to go off the rails.

“Emotionally involved parents are engaging in leading and suggestive questioning of their child,” Lanning told Retro Report in the recent video. “… Once these cases are contaminated, it’s almost impossible to know with any degree of certainty what happened.”

It was eventually revealed that Johnson had been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia and that the prosecution had been withholding evidence of Johnson’s mental illness for three years.

The case has since become a prime example of how the American media and the misplaced zeal of a few people can distort the court system and send the nation into a frenzy.

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