12 of History's Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks
12 of History’s Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks

12 of History’s Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks

Khalid Elhassan - November 28, 2017

12 of History’s Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks
Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy McMartin during their trial. How Stuff Works

McMartin Preschool Child Abuse Hysteria

In 1983, a mentally unstable mother accused Ray Buckey, an employee of the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, of raping her child. She also went on to add that people in the day school had sex with animals, that Ray Buckey’s mother and preschool owner Peggy McMartin had perforated a child under the arm with a power drill, and that “Ray flew in the air”.

Police were skeptical, but nonetheless sent a letter to other parents at the school, asking them to question their children about abuses at the school. As parents talked to their children and other parents, other accusations of child sexual abuse began trickling in, and soon turned to into a flood of wild, weird, and increasingly incredible accusations of sexual abuse that stretched credulity amidst a mass hysteria of false accusations.

Social workers were brought in to gather more information, and between a combination of incompetence and leading questions, the children’s accusations grew steadily wilder and more bizarre. In addition to being molested by Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy McMartin, the children alleged that they had been made to participate in satanic rites in which they were forced to drink the blood of a baby whom they had witnessed being sacrificed in church.

The children also said that they saw witches fly, that they had been abused in a hot air balloon and in (nonexistent) tunnels beneath the preschool, and one child claimed to have been sexually molested by actor Chuck Norris. Other children added that, after being abused in secret rooms, they were flushed down toilets, then cleaned up and presented to their parents.

Although the accusations were incredible, they came at a time when the country was in the grip of widespread fears of ritual sexual abuse of children, connected in some way to satanic worship and dark magic rites. With elections drawing near, ambitious Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner unscrupulously sought to capitalize on the mounting public hysteria, and slapped Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy McMartin with 208 counts of child molestation.

Buckey and his mother were arrested in 1984, and the investigation lasted for three years, until 1987. Mother and son were then put through a 3-year trial, which lasted from 1987 to 1990. It was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history. At its conclusion, a jury acquitted Peggy McMartin of all charges, while Ray Buckey was acquitted of 52 of 65 charges, with the jury deadlocked on the remaining counts 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. Those charges were then dropped, and the mass hysteria and subsequent trial concluded without a single conviction.


Sources For Further Reading:

Ozy – Mass Psychogenic Illness: From Dancing Plagues to Meowing Nuns

How Stuff Works – 10 Strangest Mass Hysterias

History Collection – American Hysteria: 5 Witch Hunts That Rocked the U.S. in the 20th Century

Medium – The Plague That Made People Dance Themselves to Death

BBC Culture – The Town That Nearly Danced Itself to Death

Library of Congress – The Case of a Ghost Haunted England for Over Two Hundred Years

History of Yesterday – Mass Hysteria and Murder: The Tale of the Hammersmith Ghost

STRANGE ATTRACTOR – The Ballad of the Halifax Slasher

Taiwan News – Taipei MRT Slasher Attacks Two Victims Within a Week

WNYC – The Trial That Unleashed Child Abuse Hysteria

History – The Mcmartin Preschool Trials

Oxygen – Everything You Need To Know About The Infamous McMartin Preschool Sex Abuse Case Mentioned In ‘Outcry’

LA Times – McMartin Case Cast Wide, Dark Shadow: Charges, Suspicion Resulted in 7 Area Preschools Closing