Does the name Bridget Bishop ring a bell? It would be remarkable if it did.
Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Eighteen other women were subsequently hanged, along with one elderly man who was pressed to death. All were convicted of being Satan worshiping witches. Based on what evidence, you may ask? None. They were murdered per allegations, waged by hysterical children and religious zealots. It was alleged by her accusers that Bishop, with the merest of glances, could inflict fits and paroxysms upon them. Her trial lasted eight days. Quite speedy, expedited by growing hysteria within the Salem community, and the absence of deliberating over evidence. There was none.
No doubt the accusers, the law enforcers and the Puritan hierarchy which included the notorious Cotton Mather, believed they were being diligent and dutiful in affecting the harsh will of God. After all, was not the New World the battleground in the war between Satan and God? There were no recantations or regrets, let alone remorse from the righteous Christian soldiers who issued the condemnations and pulled the lever on the gallows. Bishop’s reported last words were, “I am innocent. I am no witch. I know nothing of it.” Were any of the executed truly in league with the Devil? In hindsight, the question itself is absurd.
Fast forward about three hundred years to a quaint California coastal city called Manhattan Beach, where the McMartin preschool was located.
In 1983, Judy Johnson, mother of one of the McMartin preschoolers, reported to the police that her son had been sodomized by her estranged husband and McMartin teacher, Ray Buckey, who was also the grandson of the school’s founder Virginia McMartin. Why did Judy Johnson, who was an alcoholic and diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia, conclude that her son had been sodomized? Because he had a series of painful bowl movements. There are mothers in this world who would have contacted a gastroenterologist if the symptoms persisted. But Judy, a stranger to Occam’s Razor, instead contacted the police. In addition to the sodomy accusation, Judy also made accusations that other McMartin staff engaged in beastiality in front of the children and that Ray Buckey could fly. At this point one might assume that discerning members of the Manhattan Beach Police investigating unit might conclude that Judy was- well, bat shit crazy, and buried the case in the coo coo file and moved on to more pressing matters. But nay. They elected to do something that still ranks at the apex of law enforcement stupidity. They mailed form letters to about 200 parents of McMartin students informing them that Ray Buckey had been arrested for suspected child molestation, and their children should be questioned as to having witnessed, or been the victim of, oral sex, fondling of genitals or buttocks and sodomy under the pretense of taking the children’s temperature. Also, had they ever seen Buckey disappear with a child during nap time or tie a child up? A questionnaire was to be completed and returned in the enclosed stamped envelope ASAP! Then it was off to the races.
Hysteria spreads like wild fire doused in kerosene. Several hundred children were interviewed by an L.A. based abuse therapy clinic run by a woman named Kee McFarlane. A well known local T.V. reporter named Wayne Satz was assigned to the case. It was later learned that Satz and McFarlane had struck up a romantic relationship. Many of the questions posed to the children were suggestive and leading, tantamount to, “Bobby, did Mr. Buckey ever touch your privates? No? Well Billy said he did, and you’re as smart as Billy, aren’t you?” Ah, to have one’s lover leak lurid and lascivious information. Satz was like a pig at the pastry wagon in his nightly reportage.
When the trial began, Judy Johnson’s alcoholism and mental illness were withheld from the defense by deputy D.A. Robert Philibosian, who was also accused of committing perjury. Oh, this milk train had enough for everyone! Such an opportunity to gain notoriety and establish brands. A clinical psychologist for the defense testified that after viewing the videotaped interviews, that the children’s statements were coerced and scripted.
In addition to Buckey, his mother, grandmother and several other McMartin staffers were charged with 321 counts of child abuse. There were two trials; one in 1987 and one in 1990. Ultimately all charges were dropped. Ray Buckey had spent five years in prison. Several children later recanted their testimonies. Not a scintilla of evidence was ever produced. Mary Fischer of the L.A. Times stated that the case was “Simply invented.” The McMartin preschool was later demolished, along with the lives of the accused.
And all of this brings us to Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, who, facing imminent impeachment, resigned today. Questions abound:
(1) 11 women have accused him of sexual harassment. Some of the allegations, like grabbing a woman’s breast or buttocks, are disturbing. Others are disturbing by their vagueness. Allegations of “inappropriate behavior” or “unwanted touching”could be placed on a wide, subjective spectrum. For some people an embrace, pat on the back or even a handshake may be unwanted. Key question- did he know at the time the touching was unwanted? Cuomo’s m.o. has always been a “touchy-feely” politician of the old school.
(2) Is there any tangible evidence supporting his behavior? Eye witness corroboration? videos, text or sext messages?
(3) At what point do uncorroborated accusations equate to guilt? Is there a general rule of thumb, or better, a mathematical formula or equation? Is there a threshold- say, less than five equals hearsay, one equals he said she said, over ten equals guilt? Are points given or taken away based upon the perceived veracity and character of both accuser and accused?
(4) What ever happened to the concept of due process? Of reserving judgement until both sides have presented evidence and all parties have been vetted? All human motives are mixed motives. What do the accusers have to lose? Or gain?
(5) Why now? Did Cuomo have a lascivious transformation after 60? He’s been in politics for decades. Surely there must be incidences from years ago?
Do I think Cuomo is, at least to some degree, guilty? Probably. Do I think there is at least a possibility he is not? Certainly.
11 women have accused Cuomo. They can’t all be wrong, can they?
Ask the ghost of Bridget Bishop.
2 thoughts on “The Ghost Of Bridget Bishop”
Spot on, Ron. The truth is unknowable unless one fully accepts the remembrances and opinions of one side or the other. Your recognition of how irresistible mob-think can be is timely, especially in this era of demand for adherence to new, ultra-demanding standards, (at least if one is a democrat).
Keep up the insightful essays, I look forward to them.
I can’t express how much your praise and encouragement mean to me, Larry. Thank you.