* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. – JG *
To the McMartin Family: I’m sorry to use your real last name but it is directly linked to the events that supposedly occurred in the Day Care center run by some of your parents and grandparents. I could attempt to disguise your name as I did some of the other victims in this story but I think this would only temporarily frustrate the reader, who would just look up the information online anyway. Besides which, the McMartin Preschool case is the Ground Zero of the “Satanic Panic”, and the shit that people believed during this period is hard enough to swallow without creating more distance between us and 1983. For good or ill, in the words of the Minutemen, “real names be proof.”
One of the best things I have read on the whole McMartin Preschool debacle was “The Dark Truth About the McMartin Tunnels” by John Earl, pubbed by the Institute for Psychological Therapies Journal in 1995. The chapter titles of “The Dark Truth” are as evocative as the titles of the different sections of the Warren Report: portentous, enigmatic, bizarre.
- The Beginning
- The Accusation
- Hysteria Spreads
- Satanic Trappings and the Search for the Secret Rooms and Tunnels
- Incredibly Weak Evidence
- Judy Johnson’s Increasingly Bizarre Behavior
- Origin of a Secret Room
- From Santa Claus to Lions
- Multiple Molestations: Devils, a Dead Baby, and a Ghost
- The Missing Tunnel
Some of them are Hardy Boys homogenous – “The Case of the Missing Tunnel”; others sound like a post-modern stand-up routine – “So, some devils, a dead baby and a ghost all walk into a bar...” Titles aside, “The Dark Truth” casts a very skeptical eye upon a situation that pretty much everyone should’ve been casting a skeptical eye upon during this period.
I feel that one of the most important things to note about the whole McMartin tragedy is not just how many people were taken in by the stories, but the pure outlandishness of those stories. First off, the whole McMartin family aligned together to rape children under the front of a day-care center is much to swallow on its own (again, somebody in the family didn’t say no?), but the lengths they supposedly went to are completely insane, even by “satanic panic” standards. The construction of an extensive series of tunnels underneath the day-care center wasn’t even the most of it – there were trips on airplanes to be molested by unearthly cowboys, there were visits to a lion who watched while the children were sodomized, there was a full-blown sacrificial altar where tiny babies were bled white in tribute to dark gods. And, of course, there were the animals that were slaughtered in front of the children with the warning that this is what would happen to Mommy and Daddy and little brother or little sister if they told anybody what the McMartins did to them. This is the piece of it that stuck with me the longest, the piece I remembered without much prompting, probably because it is the only piece that, in its own sick way, makes sense.
That is the question that haunts all the stories, that haunts the blank faces of Dr. Roland C. Summit and Kee MacFarlane who interviewed the children and presented the stories of transatlantic rape-flights and sentient lions with a straight face: why did we believe any of it? No physical evidence of molestation except the anal irritation of the son of a paranoid schizophrenic who killed herself soon after the beginning of the McMartin trial. No graveyard of slaughtered pets or babies was ever found except for 2 turtles, buried in shoeboxes, the way you do for children when their pets die. No tunnels underneath the day-care center (at least not tunnels as any rational human being would understand them) and certainly no private jet or traceable flights to the Land of Unearthly Cowboys. The question remains then: why did anyone, even panicky parents plagued with neurosis, believe this nonsense?
I don’t know where the next question leads us, but it is perhaps the only one really worth asking: why did we want to believe the stories so badly? What did they explain? What fears did they somehow assuage? And perhaps most importantly, what archetypes kicked in, what shadows around the campfire suddenly came alive?