Sheriff Makes New Mail Inquiries in Sex Abuse Probe

Times Staff Writer

More than 500 letters have been mailed to parents of children who attended two Manhattan Beach preschools in an effort by the Sheriff’s Department to find more molestation victims or witnesses to sexual abuse.

Lt. Richard Willey, who heads the sheriff’s Sexual Exploitation of Children Task Force, said Thursday that his 18 investigators are looking for more information about suspects who have not yet been charged, indicted, or, in some cases, even clearly identified--not about the seven McMartin Pre-School teachers or the Manhattan Ranch aide already accused of multiple molestations.

He said that 28 of the certified letters were sent out last week to parents of children who attended the Virginia McMartin Pre-School as “our last attempt to let them know we are here and that we would like to talk with them. We have interviewed close to 300 in person or by telephone; the letters went only to those we were not yet able to contact any other way.”


Most of that mailing was not productive, he said. “A lot were returned with notations of ‘unable to deliver’ or ‘no forwarding address,’ and some don’t want to talk. . . . But we tried, just so nobody could say later that ‘you never talked to me. ‘ “

A second mailing of 480 letters went out last week to parents of children who attended the Manhattan Ranch Preschool and Kindergarten, Willey said, as “the next logical step in our investigation. We’d already talked to all those we were aware had information. Once again, it was to ensure that we had contacted as many as we possibly could.”

He stressed that there is “no linkage” between the two mailings and that different teams are handling the investigations separately. Both, however, ask for parents’ cooperation and include information about child sexual abuse: a definition, a long list of symptoms and advice on how to handle learning that one’s child has been a victim.

The letter to McMartin parents, sent over Sheriff Sherman Block’s name and signed by John S. Bryan, acting captain of the sheriff’s Juvenile Operations Bureau, asks for permission to interview their children, and assures them that no charges on behalf of any youngster determined to be a victim or a witness will be filed without the parents’ consent.

“As you are probably aware, this investigation goes farther than just those who have been formally charged thus far. In some cases, it may involve only a few children; in others such as the McMartin Pre-School it appears to be more widespread. By talking to children that may have been abused by uncharged suspects, we can begin to get a more clear picture of the scope of the alleged abuse.”

Similarly, a longer letter to the Manhattan Ranch parents states that that case may be broader than the single aide implicated, “and may include children who attended as far back as 1978.”

It explains that the team needs help “to define the situation, to sort fact from rumor, and to bring some kind of closure to this investigation; to either exonerate or to make arrests and obtain criminal filings.”