Editor's Note

Hollida Wakefield

This issue is devoted entirely to John Earl's investigation of the claim that the secret tunnels under the McMartin Preschool were discovered in an archeological excavation led by Dr. E. Gary Stickel.

The McMartin Preschool was the most famous of all the sexual abuse cases. It was the longest and most expensive trial in the history of the United States but resulted in no convictions. The case was recently the subject of a special HBO TV movie, Indictment, that has generally been positively reviewed.

At the time of the initial not guilty verdicts, many assumed that the defendants actually were guilty but the legal system had somehow fouled up again. This, however, was not the case. Interviews with jurors afterwards made it clear that the only evidence against the Buckeys had been the statements of the children and the children's credibility had been compromised by the investigation, particularly the interviews by Kee MacFarlane and Children's Institute International. The decision of the jurors was greatly influenced by the adult behaviors toward the children in the suggestive and coercive videotaped interviews they viewed.

Today, most professionals understand that there is no compelling evidence supporting the belief in a worldwide conspiracy of pornographers and ritual abusers who infiltrate day care centers. Most understand that the children in the McMartin, Scott County, Edenton, Martinsville, Michaels, Akiki, Fijnje, and hundreds, if not thousands, of similar but smaller and less publicized cases were not horribly abused in bizarre, sadistic rituals involving animal torture, graveyards, and infanticide. Most now understand the vulnerability of young children to suggestive, leading interviews, coercive adult behaviors, and "disclosure-based" play therapy.

Despite this, a hard core of professionals continue to maintain that the children were ritually abused at the McMartin Preschool. In February, 1990, when the McMartin verdict was announced to the audience during the San Diego Children's Hospital Conference on Maltreatment, the audience reacted in shock and disbelief: "It was as though all of the air was suddenly sucked out of the room. The only sound was the sound of a gasp, followed by an "oem" sound, as if arising from some ancient religious ceremony" (Broyles, 1990, p. 2). Books such as Nursery Crimes (Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns, 1988) and Behind the Playground Walls (Waterman, Kelly, Oliveri, McCord, 1993) assume that the abuse allegations were true and the defendants perpetrators. The efforts to persuade themselves and others of the truthfulness of the McMartin allegations are seen as crucial to the believers since, "We, who work in this field, are in danger of losing credibility if public opinion is swayed against us" (Broyles, 1990, p. 3).

These efforts have peaked in the claim that the tunnels where the abuse in the McMartin Preschool allegedly occurred have been found. This is extremely important since, if the tunnels were actually found, this would provide the first hard evidence for the ritual abuse theories. And if the children were telling the truth about the tunnels, they are likely to have told the truth about everything else.

This tunnel claim is being made in a variety of forums. In a 1993 talk entitled "McMartin Children Vindicated," Roland Summit asserted that the tunnels under the McMartin Preschool had been found, but that the press colluded in killing the story. He repeated this in print (Summit, 1994a, 1994b). In the magazine, Lear's, Heidi Vanderbilt said an archeological crew found the tunnels exactly where the children had said they were but the district attorney refused to use this information in Ray Buckey's second trial. The tunnel claim has now found its way into the mainstream literature. An edited book on dissociative identity disorder (Cohen, Berzoff, & Elin, 1995) contains a chapter by Denise Gelinas from Harvard Medical School who repeats the assertion that the McMartin tunnels were found.

The polarization concerning ritual abuse continues and it is likely that the claim that the McMartin tunnels were found will become accepted by at least some people. To the extent it is believed, the satanic ritual abuse conspiracy myths will continue. John Earl's thorough and carefully researched investigation into the basis for the tunnel claims is therefore crucial in terms of combating the revisionist claims and setting the record straight.


Broyles, K. (1990, Summer). The mockingbird. Roundtable Magazine, 2(3), pp. 2-3.

Finkelhor, D., Williams, L. M., & Burns, N. (1988). Nursery Crimes (Paperback). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Gelinas, D. J. (1995). Dissociative identity disorder and the trauma paradigm. In L. Cohen, J. Berzoff, & M. Elin (Eds.), Dissociative Identity Disorder (Hardcover) (pp. 175-222). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Summit, R. (1993). McMartin children vindicated. Presentation at a conference sponsored by The National Children's Advocacy Center, 106 Lincoln, Huntsville, AL 35801.

Summit, R. C. (1994), The dark tunnels of McMartin. The Journal of Psychohistory, 21(4), 397-416.

Summit, R. (1994), Digging for the truth: the McMartin tunnel project versus trenchant disbelief. Treating Abuse Today, 4(4), 5-13.

Vanderbilt, H. (1992, February). Incest: A chilling report. Lear's, pp. 49-77.

Waterman, J., Kelly, R. J., Oliveri, M. K., & McCord, J. (1993). Behind the Playground Walls (Hardcover). New York: Guilford Press.

[Back to Volume 7, Number 2]

Copyright 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.