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What was Under the McMartin Preschool? A Review and Behavioral Analysis of the “Tunnels” Find


The McMartin Preschool child abuse case began in 1983 in Manhattan Beach, California, and was one of the most visible cases in history. Although two trials were conducted and no convictions were obtained, some individuals continue to believe that dozens of children were sexually abused at the preschool. In 1990 an archeologist was hired to determine whether tunnels had existed under the school because some of the children had alleged that some of their abuse took place in tunnels under the building. The archeologist’s report was issued in 1993. It concluded that evidence of back-filled tunnels had been found. This critical analysis of the archeologist’s report concludes otherwise, that what the archeologist found was actually the filled-in remains of a rural family’s trash pit that pre-dated construction of the school. Regarding artifacts discovered in soil under the preschool, alternative interpretations to those of the archeologist are given. A theoretical functional analysis of the variables that may have accounted for the archeologist’s evident misinterpretation is presented.


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Correspondence to W. Joseph Wyatt.

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The author is a professor of psychology at Marshall University where he also serves as Director of the campus Psychology Clinic. He is board certified in forensic psychology and has served as an expert witness on child sexual abuse assessment and other matters on a number of occasions. He frequently conducts continuing education training for professionals regarding assessment of child sexual abuse, Munchausen’s syndrome-by-proxy, the recovered memory debate, expert testimony for professionals and other topics. In 1999 Dr. Wyatt authored a two-part series on the assessment of child sexual abuse for The Forensic Examiner.

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Wyatt, W.J. What was Under the McMartin Preschool? A Review and Behavioral Analysis of the “Tunnels” Find. Behav. Soc. Iss. 12, 29–39 (2002).

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Key words

  • McMartin Preschool
  • State v. Buckey
  • assessment of child sexual abuse
  • confirmatory bias
  • functional analysis
  • tunnels project