One of the 360 children who made accusations says he lied to protect his siblings and was never raped.
Saying he lied to please his parents and protect his younger siblings, one of the children who claimed he was molested at the notorious McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach more than 20 years ago has recanted his original story.
Kyle Zirpolo, now 30 and living near Santa Barbara, was among 360 children who told lurid stories of rape, animal mutilations and satanic rituals that would shock the South Bay and reverberate around the world starting in 1983.
But in a lengthy first-person account appearing in today's Los Angeles Times Magazine, Zirpolo said none of it was true: He was never raped by his teacher Ray Buckey. Buckey is the son of school administrator Peggy McMartin Buckey and grandson of founder Virginia McMartin. They, along with four other employees, were charged with 206 counts of child abuse.
"I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest," wrote Zirpolo, whose stepfather was a Manhattan Beach police officer. "But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do. And I thought they wanted me to help protect my little brother and sister who went to McMartin."
The court proceedings -- including an 18-month preliminary hearing and two trials -- would last six years to become the longest and most expensive criminal case in U.S. history.
The other defendants were Buckey's sister, Peggy Ann Buckey, and teachers Mary Ann Jackson, Bette Raidor and Babette Spitler. In 1986, the district attorney called the evidence "incredibly weak," and dropped all charges against all the defendants except Ray Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, who remained in custody.
Zirpolo, who was known as Kyle Sapp when he testified, remembered feeling "weird" when he was examined by a doctor in a room surrounded by stuffed animals and dolls.
"I remember them asking extremely uncomfortable questions about whether Ray touched me and about all the teachers and what they did -- and I remember telling them nothing happened to me. I remember them almost giggling and laughing, saying, 'Oh, we know these things happened to you. Why don't you just go ahead and tell us? Use these dolls if you're scared.' "
Despite telling authorities that there were no improprieties, Zirpolo said he felt pressured to change his story.
"Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn't like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for."
But while he stressed that he didn't know what happened to other children, he knew he was not telling the truth and he was tortured by it. Even his parents were caught up in the frenzy and didn't believe him when he tried to come clean.
"I was maybe 10 years old and I tried to tell my mom that nothing had happened," he wrote. "I lay on the bed crying hysterically -- I wanted to get it off my chest, to tell her the truth. My mother kept asking me to please tell her what was the matter. I said she would never believe me ... and she kept assuring me she would. I remember finally telling her, 'Nothing happened! Nothing happened at the school.
"She didn't believe me."
Zirpolo did not return telephone calls to the Daily Breeze.
Although he never testified at trial, Zirpolo and hundreds of others were interviewed for the prosecution at the Children's Institute International, where therapists later were criticized for their questioning techniques.
Virginia McMartin, the crusty, wheelchair-bound matriarch of the family, died in 1995. Peggy McMartin Buckey died in 2000. Raidor died in 2001. Buckey has moved from his Torrance home and could not be reached for comment, but in a 1995 interview with the Daily Breeze he said he was the victim of a witch hunt.
The Buckeys were eventually acquitted of a combined 52 charges in 1990. Ray Buckey was retried on eight charges, but the second jury also stalemated in July 1990 and the case was dismissed.
"It was really only a small minority that was causing all the trouble," Buckey said. "To believe them, you had to believe that half the community, half the businesses and the police were all part of an underground group of satanic pedophiles. This wasn't about somebody who saw somebody touch a kid. It was a huge underground that was undermining the system."
While some of the students maintain they were molested, in his account, Zirpolo said he regrets his part in the drama.
"I'm a supermarket manager and the thing I like best about my job is the interactions I get to have with customers' kids," he wrote. "I love talking and listening to them. I've been told I would be a perfect for opening a children's day care. That's very ironic.
"I would love to look at the defendants from the McMartin Preschool and tell them, 'I'm sorry.' "