What Was under the McMartin Preschool? A Review and Behavioral Analysis of the "Tunnels" Find
Wyatt, W. Joseph, Behavior and Social Issues
ABSTRACT: The McMartin Preschool child abuse case began in 1983 in Manhattan Beach, California, and was one of the most visible cases in history. Although two trials were conducted and no convictions were obtained, some individuals continue to believe that dozens of children were sexually abused at the preschool. In 1990 an archeologist was hired to determine whether tunnels had existed under the school because some of the children had alleged that some of their abuse took place in tunnels under the building. The archeologist's report was issued in 1993. It concluded that evidence of back-filled tunnels had been found. This critical analysis of the archeologist's report concludes otherwise, that what the archeologist found was actually the filled-in remains of a rural family's trash pit that pre-dated construction of the school. Regarding artifacts discovered in soil under the preschool, alternative interpretations to those of the archeologist are given. A theoretical functional analysis of the variables that may have accounted for the archeologist's evident misinterpretation is presented.
Key words: McMartin Preschool, State v. Buckey, assessment of child sexual abuse, confirmatory bias, functional analysis, tunnels project
The McMartin preschool case in Manhattan Beach, California, remains one of the most controversial in the history of child abuse cases. The greatest weight of opinion now seems to be that the children's tales of ritual abuse were the product of inappropriate, leading and repeated questioning by investigators. However, there remains a cadre of professionals and non-professionals who believe that the abuse did occur. A number of the children had told stories of abuse in tunnels beneath the preschool. The prosecutor's investigators had found no tunnels, but parents remained convinced that their children's accounts of tunnels were factual. Those allegations were bolstered by an archeologist's conclusion (Stickel, 1993) that the remains of filled-in tunnels had been found under the preschool property. This article is a review and analysis of the archeologist's report.
THE MCMARTIN CASE
The McMartin case began in August 1983, when a parent reported to police that her two-year-old son had been molested by McMartin staff member Ray Buckey. Dozens of children were examined by mental health professionals who used techniques now thought to be inappropriate and likely to yield false reports of abuse (Ceci & Bruck, 1995). In time those examinations brought about more than three hundred charges of rape, fondling, oral copulation and other abuse, much of it ritualistic and done in tunnels under the preschool. The charges were lodged against Buckey, his mother Peggy McMartin-Buckey and five other women who worked at the preschool.
By January 1986 charges against all except Ray Buckey and his mother had been dropped due to lack of evidence. In January 1990, after a thirty-three month trial, the jury found the pair not guilty on fifty-two counts, but remained deadlocked on twelve other counts against Ray Buckey and one against his mother. Although the judge dismissed the lone remaining count against Peggy McMartin-Buckey, Ray Buckey was retried. When the second trial resulted in a hung jury, prosecutors decided not to try the case a third time and the legal case was over, seven years after it had begun (State v. Buckey, 1990). The case had cost $16 million to prosecute, left children and parents feeling abandoned by the legal system, created lingering clouds of suspicion over the heads of the accused, and generated questions about the practices of both the legal and child protection communities.
In 1993 archeologist E. Gary Stickel reported the findings of his dig on the preschool property (Stickel, 1993). Although it was not stated specifically in his 187-page report, evidently Stickel had been hired by parents of the preschoolers who felt that prosecutors had not sufficiently investigated the children's claims of tunnels under the preschool. …