Manhattan Beach police and sheriff's deputies searched the home of a woman who runs a South Bay baby-sitting service, as well as the residences of three members of her family, on Friday as part of an expanding investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse in the area.
A terse announcement from Manhattan Beach Police Capt. John Wehner confirmed the early morning raids but provided no details.
However, The Times learned that the baby-sitting operation is under investigation because parents were referred to it by teachers at the now-closed Virginia McMartin Pre-School.
The school's 77-year-old founder and six former teachers at the nursery school have been charged with 208 counts of child molestation and conspiracy. Testimony in their preliminary hearing is now in its eighth month.
Sources said investigators dug up several small animal bones during searches of the backyards at 1327 Gates Ave., the home of Marty and Fran Gammer, and at 1833 3rd St., home of Fran Gammer's sister, Mary Lou Breisler.
Breisler operates a licensed baby-sitting service in her home, according to her son-in-law, David Major Robinson, 31, whose apartment at 936 Manhattan Beach Blvd. also was searched.
A second apartment at the Manhattan Beach Boulevard triplex, which is across the street from the McMartin school, also was searched. It is occupied by Robinson's sister-in-law, Gretchen Campbell, and her husband, Malcolm.
Robinson, a TRW electronics technician, said he had taken the day off for a doctor's appointment and had gone out to his car about 7 a.m. Friday--while his wife was asleep inside with their 3-week-old daughter--when police approached. They told him to put up his hands and searched him and the apartment, Robinson said.
He said they seized several video cassettes, audio tapes, a camera and slides during a two-hour search. He said they examined, but did not disturb, several thousand dollars' worth of audio and video equipment, which he said is his hobby.
Robinson also said the investigators took his infant daughter away for about an hour, without explaining why.
The upset Robinson told a reporter: "This cracks me up. I guess they were trying to find some traces . . . or trying to piece something together. We don't have any connection with the McMartin case. . . . This is really weird. I've obviously got to get a lawyer or something. This was a mistake."
He said he and his wife of five years, Patricia Marie, 27, were interviewed along with other neighbors after the case first broke last year and are acquainted with some parents and children who attended McMartin.
The couple does no baby-sitting, he said, although his wife previously helped her mother, Mary Lou Breisler.
At the Campbell apartment, a man said police took several video cassettes, a camera and a photograph of his wife at age 2 or 3. There was no answer at the Gammer home and police were still at work at the Breisler home late Friday and turned away reporters.
No Comment From Police
Manhattan Beach police and members of a special Los Angeles County sheriff's task force who assisted in the raids refused to say what, if anything, was found. No arrests are imminent and no pornographic photographs were discovered, The Times learned.
A spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, which licenses family day-care operations when they involve more than two outside families and operate on a regular basis, said it was unaware of the searches until contacted by reporters.
"We have no information on any of the homes searched," a Los Angeles social services supervisor said. She would not confirm whether any of the suspected operations were licensed.
Another baby-sitting service was linked to the McMartin case last month when three alleged child victims identified one of its operators, Robert H. Winkler, as one of "the strangers" who had molested them.
Severed Rabbit Ears, Black Cape Found
Winkler and a friend he said helped run the service are in jail on unrelated child-molestation charges, and authorities found severed rabbit ears and a black cape at the home of Winkler's girlfriend. Investigators considered the items noteworthy, because children have testified that they witnessed animal mutilations and sacrifices, and strange rituals suggestive of Satanism.
Meanwhile, at the McMartin preliminary hearing, a 9-year-old boy on Friday contradicted his earlier testimony on two defendants charged with sodomizing and molesting him.
During cross-examination, the boy said defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey, 58, did not fondle him or take photographs of him during a game called "cowboys and Indians." He also said Friday that Buckey's son, key defendant Raymond Buckey, 26, did not sodomize him during the game.
The boy had testified earlier on direct examination by prosecutor Christine Johnston that he had been caught, tied to a table leg and sodomized by Buckey. He had also said that Peggy McMartin Buckey had taken pictures and had fondled him.
Other Inconsistencies Cited
The boy made several other inconsistent statements during cross-examination, which the defense attorneys seized on to buttress their arguments that this child and others testifying in the case have either made up the incidents or that the ideas were planted in their minds by their classmates, parents and therapists.
Outside the courtroom, Johnston attempted to explain the inconsistencies by saying that the child thought he was being questioned about another game. She said: "The boy's (direct) testimony speaks for itself." She added that the inconsistencies occurred after the child had been on the stand 17 hours and was visibly tired.
She said the child had been asked question after question, a situation that would "weaken any adult. I don't know how he remembers his own name at this point."
Defense attorney Forrest Latiner was cited for contempt by Judge Aviva K. Bobb after he said that "the court and prosecution are ganging up on us" during a heated exchange between the defense and the prosecution. After Latiner apologized to Bobb, she dismissed the citation.
Cross-examination of the boy will continue Monday.
Times staff writer Carol McGraw contributed to this story.