The Missing Tunnel
Dr. E. D. Michael, a consulting geologist, was retained by MTP coordinator Ted Gunderson to help the project personnel validate the presumed existence of the parentally anticipated tunnels and secret rooms. He visited the site on several occasions as the alleged tunnels and rooms were being unearthed. Michael examined the trenches dug by the MTP throughout the preschool site and vacant lot and concluded that,
"Generally, the results of my examinations were negative insofar as proving the existence of a tunnel." Any such tunnel, he added, would
"require shoring, i.e., some sort of support for the walls and ceiling, because the dune sand, even as well compacted as it is, would cave in if it became too damp."165
Stickel makes a big issue of his use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) as opposed to the Terrain Conductivity Meter used by SRS to detect soil anomalies that might indicate underground tunnels or rooms.
"The GPR was the most suitable instrument to use at the site in question because other instruments (e.g. the terrain conductivity meter and the electrical resistivity meter) in general would be too affected by the electromagnetic
'noise' echoing from the preschool structure due to the presence of iron reinforcing rods and other metallic objects. Such interference produces meaningless records."166
The MTP team used GPR over vast portions of the McMartin preschool site and the adjacent vacant lot. Stickel concludes that the GPR successfully detected portions of the 50-foot tunnel in units on either side of classroom #4 and #3 (Stickel, pp. 37, 88; Fig. 12, p. 38). But the
firm, Spectrum, that conducted the GPR survey of the properties reported that, in all areas, reading down to 8-10 feet,
"No evidence was found to support the existence of filled-in, below-ground tunnels."167
By contrast, the claim is made by Hobbs and Summit that Joanie (not her real name), a 13-year-old former McMartin student, guided the tunnel diggers and even anticipated discovery of underground artifacts or points of interest that Hobbs claims were actually excavated in the alleged tunnel.168 For example, Hobbs and Summit claim that Joanie anticipated an underground pipe that she said she would sometimes swing on as she passed through the tunnel. Hobbs stated when interviewed by this writer that Joanie's prediction that diggers would
find a pipe with steel bands on it was an important factor in convincing him that the tunnel had actually existed.
Summit states that Joanie "gave a meticulous description of every step along the way" and that the waste pipe was found
"just as Joanie had described." Summit also states that Joanie had "anticipated on the spot" and that
"numerous [other] children" had similarly implied the existence of all that was discovered in the alleged tunnel by MTP excavators. The discoveries included the pipe, a supposed arch in the foundation between the two rooms, and the secret room with its accompanying tar paper and plywood (supposedly roofing material for the
this is discussed below).
But the account of Joanie's revelations given by Summit and Hobbs is, at best, wishful thinking. In fact, Joanie's description of the tunnel was anything but meticulous, as Hobbs confirmed when I interviewed him. According to Hobbs:
There was also one girl who described grabbing a hold of this pipe in the tunnel and swinging and seeing these silver bands. When I asked her to create
we recreated the direction she went and everything. But she didn't remember right from left. We found where the tunnel turned where she said
because I asked her how far. She was about 11 years old and she said,
"well far, but not too far." I mean, you know, she was only like 4 when this happened. It was hard for her to determine, especially underground
distance. So she said she turned this way, and she pointed to the right, and we followed down there . . .[and came to] the profile of a turn. We followed that about 10 feet. We came across two stainless steel bands that were like new. They were the bands that they had described.
But Hobbs also admits that the girl did not actually describe steel bands. Nor is there any record presently available, other than the claim of Hobbs and Summit, that any children ever described steel pipes or bands. The one-page preliminary MTP report summary does not say anything about pipes or pipe bands. Nor is there any other record corroborating the location of the room supposedly found by Stickel's crew or even mentioning the room's alleged roofing contents. In fact, Joanie's original
"recollection," recorded by the DA's investigator on site in 1985, is succinct and substantially different from her most recent recollection as recorded by Hobbs and Summit. She said simply that there was a trap door on the northwest wall of the northeast classroom. No door was found there.
But Joanie isn't the only one who has changed her story. During his lecture on the day of the second McMartin verdicts (July 27, 1990), Summit gave the following account of Joanie's participation in the MTP excavation:
One of the children, never a witness in the case, but someone who had told her mother all kinds of hair raising stories about her victimization as a child, as this dig was proceeding, and when she saw the pipe she said,
"Oh, that's the pipe," and I'm paraphrasing. I didn't hear her say this,
"that's the pipe that I would reach up and swing on. . . ." Okay, that's when the dig was just as deep as the pipe and only that far. Subsequently the trench was dug further to the west and you see this huge hunk of concrete [pointing to a slide projection]. . . . it's also true that whereas foundations are ordinarily poured into dirt at the bottom of the wooden forming and they pick up a surface of dirt debris, this [hunk of concrete] had been chipped clean and had even been chipped into kind of an arch shape, it wasn't typical of the rest of the concrete footing (emphasis added).
It's clear from the above passage that Joanie did not anticipate the pipe. But in 1993, the Joanie of Summit's tunnel story is depicted as directing the dig after admonishing workers that,
"You're not digging in the right place. That's not where they were . . . Somewhere under here, under these two classrooms . . . and then you make a turn this way, and you know, sometimes it was fun to try and get your mind off this stuff, but there was this pipe overhead, and you could reach up and just swing on the pipe."169
Summit's arch also changes from
"chipped" in 1990 and 1993 to "worn smooth, in contrast to the adjacent ragged contours and texture assumed by concrete poured into an earth bottomed trench."170 The
"arch" is discussed below.
|One of the many weathered or poorly
molded portions of the school's concrete foundation that Dr. Roland
Summit says, erroneously (as this photo proves), was inconsistent with
another foundation section that he imagines to be "an arch."
(From court documents)
The Secret Room
Referring to the cavity under classroom #4 that "may have been" the secret room,171 Stickel claims that 4 x 4
"beams" were found in the room along with a "layer of plywood roofing material with tar paper and roofing nails."172 However, the beams are referred to merely as
"2" x 2" and 2" x 4" wooden posts" in Stickel's preliminary report. No photographic evidence is presented of these wooden posts. In any case, the presence of such posts, if they actually existed, would be much more consistent with historical recollections of outhouses and horse stables, than with tales of secret
"devil" rooms solicited by therapists using "devil" puppets.
Stickel told hundreds of child abuse professionals at the San Diego CRCM conference that he believed that the tar paper served as a roof for what may have been the secret room.173 But the tar paper roofing material probably came from the former green house, described in the SRS report, that once sat on the roof of the neighboring house (on the adjacent lot). The house had stood for 24 years prior to the time the McMartin Preschool was built in 1966. The fact that the SRS report indirectly associated the discovered tar paper with the tar-paper roof of the neighbor's green house but that this association went unmentioned by Stickel, who should have been aware of its contents, suggests either a poor memory or deliberate misrepresentation.
The secret room, according to Stickel, was up to 9 feet wide and, unlike the height of the hypothetical tunnel, its 6'8" height offered enough space for an adult to stand upright.174 But Dr. Michael and Hobbs, both of whom could, and did, crawl in the cavity
it was Hobbs who actually found it give much lower height measurements. Michael reported, in the appendix to Stickel's report, that the maximum depth of the room was 44 inches, or 3'8". Hobbs claimed that at the most it was 4'6". In reality it proved to be a trash pit. In our interview, Hobbs described it as follows:
But I would say that it couldn't have been more than 4½ feet. And it was about 8 foot wide, 7-8 feet wide as I remember, which a full sized couch wouldn't have
fit in. This was what the girls described. They didn't describe a full sized couch. They described a couch big enough for two adults and a child to sit on. [One boy said the room had chairs, a wooden table and a sofa.]
Michael pointed out in an interview that in his report he purposely used the word
"cavity" to describe the space in order to differentiate it from a room.
"I didn't think anyone thought it was a room."175 And in a letter to Stickel, Michael listed the possible causes for the cavity's formation:
(a) it could have been excavated, i.e., created by the removal of material that previously occupied the volume of the cavity; (b) it could have been left as a result of the incomplete
filling [of] a previous, larger cavity such as a tunnel excavation; (c) it could have formed as the result of the caving of an underlying
The known history of the land area, plus the
"abundance of bottles, wood, and other debris," including the tar paper and plywood, suggests the cavity was once a trash dumping cite, not a secret underground room.177
concrete slabs (found on the vacant lot)?
Stickel, however, sticks to the least likely interpretation that the cavity is a remnant of a man made tunnel. He concludes that the northern trench extending south and then east across classroom #4 and into classroom #3 meets the nine test criteria for determining the existence of a tunnel. His reasons for arriving at this conclusion follow:
1) The alleged entrance, under the foundation footing about 128" south of the northwest corner of the northwest classroom (Ray's room) was large enough, according to Stickel, for adult human passage.
Large enough for which adults to pass through? Certainly not for at least some of the McMartin defendants. Peggy McMartin Buckey, the school's owner, was 60 and very heavy when the case broke. She also suffered from
claustrophobia.178 Former McMartin teacher Betty Raider was 67, large and no more mobile than a typical person of her age. She also had poor eyesight.179 Mary Ann Jackson was 60.
All of these former adult defendants, as well as three younger ones, were alleged to have traveled through the tunnels with their toddler charges. How did all of the teachers and school children manage to
fit through the supposed entrance and tunnel passage and into the
"secret room" that contained a table, several chairs, a couch and two lions and was, at most, 4½ feet high? How did they breathe in compact underground cavities and why didn't a visiting parent ever notice any of the alleged trap doors?
2) The 50' tunnel was both linear and slightly curvilinear (i.e. an elongated passageway leading in a definable direction(s).
As described in the MTP report, the alleged tunnel follows an unlikely path, taking a sharp turn to the right just after the alleged entrance, instead of continuing in a straight line to the hypothetical underground room (i.e., the cavity for trash described above) by the shortest distance between two points.
3) The tunnels were "large enough for adult human passage," although, admittedly, adults would have to bend over. This plausibility was already discussed in (1).
4) "Characteristic scars indicating that it (the tunnel) had been dug by hand were noted in the large (room-like) sector of the feature in Classroom #4."
The mere presence of shovel marks may prove that someone dug the cavity but it does not offer a clue as to how the shallow cavity was used. Also, these marks are not visible in the photographic documentation. In fact they are not visible at all in the photo. There is also no record that these marks exist in other areas of the
It is also difficult to understand how the shovel marks of the excavators could be distinguished from previous shovel marks, given the fact that shoveling was a necessary part of the excavation. The evidence, as discussed above, is that this cavity was used to store trash. It may be assumed that whoever dumped the trash
first dug a cavity to place it in
a perfectly normal and expected event.
5) "The feature had a compacted dirt floor (especially noted in the room-like sector) which was distinguishable from the non-compacted soil matrix found in immediately adjacent, but non tunnel, areas."
No photographic documentation of this has been provided. In light of Dr. Michael's report to Stickel that the dune sands, which makes up the area's soil formation, were
"very well compacted" it seems unlikely that Stickel's observation that the surrounding area was
"non-compacted" is accurate.180
6) "The tunnel was not found open."
7) "In contrast, the tunnel was found to have been completely, artificially
filled in with soil. The fill soil had been very tightly compacted so as to leave no small openings. The soil used for
fill was distinguishable on the basis of color, texture and compaction from the original soil deposit at the site."
The presence of artificial fill, compacted or not, does not prove that a tunnel existed. There is no logical explanation how the tunnels could have been
filled in after 1983, as theorized.181 The defendants, if not under surveillance or incarcerated pending bail for periods of months to years, could not have performed the job of
filling in a 30-inch wide, 50-foot long tunnel by themselves.
A work crew hauling in wheel barrels full of dirt and pre-1940s' trash deposits (where would this trash be obtained in 1983?) in and out of the school grounds (which were highly visible from busy Manhattan Beach Blvd.) would have been easily noticed by passers by or neighbors in the day or night.182 McGauley's claim that one neighbor did witness
"workers with wheel barrels at night" is offered without corroboration, as is her analysis that other neighbors did not report tunnel refilling activities because they were
"apparently all involved [with the alleged perpetrators]."183
Stickel admits the task of refilling the tunnel would have required
"a great deal of dirt," but the most scientific hypothesis he has presented so far is that the tunnels would have been
It is also unlikely that the alleged tunnel could have been tightly compacted without detection. According to SRS geophysicist Bob Beers,
"If you have a large tunnel, big enough for a person to crawl through, no matter how much you throw dirt in it, and you're talking about trying to
fill it to the brim, and compact it given one or two rainy seasons, that dirt is going to compact and you're going to end up with a little air gap between the natural soil between the top of the tunnel . . . You would visually see it."
Detectable mud deposited by ground water in between the top of the
fill and the ground level might also be present, according to Beers.185 There is no mention or documentation of the above phenomenon in Stickel's report.
8) The tunnel fill contained large inclusions of artifacts (1603), especially in the possible room area, including
"four large containers found upright in the tunnel's passage under the dividing wall between Classrooms #3 and #4."
The presence of trash artifacts proves the existence of trash artifact, not tunnels. The containers are discussed