Peggy McMartin Buckey, 74, was found unconcious at her California home and prounced dead on December 15, 2000. McMartin should have lived the last years of her life peacefully but instead was one of the victims in a witch hunt that claimed too many lives.
Buckey helped her family operate the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach, California. In 1983 children who had attended the McMartin Pre-School began telling fantastic tales of ritual sexual abuse directed at them, much of which allegedly took place in secret tunnels beneath the pre-school. Ultimately 349 of 384 students at the pre-school told investigators that they had been sexually assaulted at the pre-school. The fact that there simply no secret tunnels and that the claims of the children proved false in many details did not deter prosecutors from charging McMartin Buckey and others with sexually assaulting children
The case helped kick off a nationwide hysteria about Satanic and ritual abuse of children, helped on by a gullible media. McMartin Bukey was charged with sexual assault, but the case against her fell apart after it became clear that the testimony of the children had been improperly shaped and coerced by social workers who acted as latter day agents of the Inquisition. McMartin Buckey was acquitted on all charges, but was shadowed by the destruction of the business she helped run and the stigma attached to those even accused of sexual abuse of children.
Investigator’s relied on the highly specious belief that children always told the truth about such acts and could not be coerced to give false testimony or fail to remember accurately. In a series of experiments, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus demonstreated that it was relatively easy to get young children to falsely believe in events that had never happened.
Unfortunately there are still many people in jail based on testimony gleaned under such coercion or based on psychologists who used false memory techniques on their clients. The hysteria is largely over, but the effects still remain.
McMartin Case’s Legal, Social Legacies Linger. Ted Rohrlich, The Los Angeles times, December 18, 2000.