McMartin preschool trial
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Virginia McMartin during the McMartin preschool trial
The McMartin preschool trial was a day care sexual abuse case of the 1980s. Members of the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, were charged with numerous acts of sexual abuse of children in their care. Accusations were made in 1983. Arrests and the pretrial investigation ran from 1984 to 1987, and the trial ran from 1987 to 1990. After six years of criminal trials, no convictions were obtained, and all charges were dropped in 1990. When the trial ended in 1990 it had been the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history. The case was part of day care sex abuse hysteria, a moral panic over satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s.
 Initial allegations
In 1983, Judy Johnson, mother of one of the Manhattan Beach, California, preschool's young students, complained to the police that her son had been sodomized by her estranged husband and by McMartin teacher Ray Buckey. Ray Buckey was the grandson of school founder Virginia McMartin and son of administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey. Johnson's belief that her son had been abused began when her son had painful bowel movements. What happened next is still disputed. Some sources state that at that time, Johnson's son denied her suggestion that his preschool teachers had molested him, whereas others say he confirmed the abuse.
In addition, Johnson also made several more accusations, including that people at the daycare had sexual encounters with animals, that "Peggy drilled a child under the arms" and "Ray flew in the air." Ray Buckey was questioned, but was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. The police then sent a form letter to about 200 parents of students at the McMartin school, stating that their children might have been abused, and asking the parents to question their children. The text of the letter said:
Johnson was diagnosed with and hospitalized for acute paranoid schizophrenia and in 1986 was found dead in her home from complications of chronic alcoholism before the preliminary hearing concluded.
September 8, 1983. Dear Parent: This Department is conducting a criminal investigation involving child molestation (288 P.C.) Ray Buckey, an employee of Virginia McMartin's Pre-School, was arrested September 7, 1983 by this Department. The following procedure is obviously an unpleasant one, but to protect the rights of your children as well as the rights of the accused, this inquiry is necessary for a complete investigation. Records indicate that your child has been or is currently a student at the pre-school. We are asking your assistance in this continuing investigation. Please question your child to see if he or she has been a witness to any crime or if he or she has been a victim. Our investigation indicates that possible criminal acts include: oral sex, fondling of genitals, buttock or chest area, and sodomy, possibly committed under the pretense of "taking the child's temperature." Also photos may have been taken of children without their clothing. Any information from your child regarding having ever observed Ray Buckey to leave a classroom alone with a child during any nap period, or if they have ever observed Ray Buckey tie up a child, is important. Please complete the enclosed information form and return it to this Department in the enclosed stamped return envelope as soon as possible. We will contact you if circumstances dictate same. We ask you to please keep this investigation strictly confidential because of the nature of the charges and the highly emotional effect it could have on our community. Please do not discuss this investigation with anyone outside your immediate family. Do not contact or discuss the investigation with Raymond Buckey, any member of the accused defendant's family, or employees connected with the McMartin Pre-School.
 Interviewing and examining the children
Several hundred children were