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Picking Up the Pieces : For Others, Time Eases the Memories

July 17, 1988|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Betty Raidor has been taking care of children for a long, long time--four of her own and several thousands of other people's in a 23-year teaching career at the Virginia McMartin Pre-School.

In a recent interview at her tiny apartment in the South Bay, Raidor, 68, was still taking care of children--two grandchildren who were staying over for a few days.

She and her husband of 44 years, Lonnie, used to live in a big Manhattan Beach house with their four children, all of whom are now grown. Lonnie Raidor, 70, an aerospace engineer who was disabled many years ago in a car accident, recalled that he bought the house in 1951 for $10,000 with a $10 down payment. It was worth about $225,000 when he sold it to help pay his wife's legal costs, he said.

For Betty Raidor, her fondest recollections of the house are of puttering around her garden, gossiping over the fence with neighbors and preparing meals for family and friends.

And she misses her pets. Since the apartment complex doesn't allow pets, she gave her two cats and two dogs to a daughter.

But she said, "I found that material things didn't really matter compared to all the friends who stood by me and came to my aid in so many ways. Our friends have been very kind."

Lonnie Raidor helps manage the apartment complex, and in his spare time he catalogues everything new that relates to the McMartin case, a project he began shortly after the seven original defendants, including his wife, were arrested in March, 1984.

Before it all happened, friends say, the Raidors were fiercely independent people who planned carefully for the future. Now they seem to be waiting in the backwaters of the McMartin case, watching for any new developments while they go on with their changed lives.

Betty Raidor said she feels no bitterness toward the McMartin parents, even those who called loudest for her prosecution.

"Everybody was caught up in the same tragedy," she said.

An elderly, white-haired woman in The Cookery in south Torrance sent a waitress to ask a question of Mary Ann Jackson. For a moment, it seemed as though the former McMartin defendant, whose face has appeared in countless newspaper and television reports, had been recognized.

But the woman was only curious about Jackson's well-coiffed platinum-blond hair and wanted to know the name of her beautician. Delighted, Jackson excused herself and hastened over to the woman's booth to share her beauty secrets.

"I can go almost anywhere now and not be recognized," Jackson said on her return. "For the first time, I have a chance to enjoy a summer with my grandchildren and not worry that a stranger may say something that embarrasses them."

In spite of her desire for privacy, Jackson, 59, said she agreed to an interview because "I still believe that some good must come from all this suffering."

Jackson, who taught at the McMartin school for 15 months, leaving four years before it closed, said she suffered less than other defendants. She was the only one who did not lose her home.

But the legal costs reached $20,000 a month during the 18-month preliminary hearing, and her husband of 41 years, Jack Jackson, was preparing to sell their home to pay for those costs on the day charges against his wife were dropped.

The couple did lose their life savings and the insurance policies and investments that they had counted on for a comfortable retirement, Mary Ann Jackson said. Her husband, however, owns a small business that allows them to get by.

After she was released on bail, Jackson said, "my whole neighborhood turned out to welcome me back. When I came home from the daily sessions in court, I always found encouraging notes in the mailbox and fresh flowers all over the house. . . . Jackie (Starmer, a next-door neighbor) cooked dinner for us every Tuesday night.

"Isn't it true? In a crisis, you discover the best in people. And, yes, the worst in people. You learn what's important in your life, and you have to let the rest go."

She said her religious faith and extensive reading of works by concentration-camp survivors, along with strong support from her family and neighbors, helped her survive. "I learned to take one day at a time," she said.

Jackson said she also feels no bitterness toward the parents of some of the children at the preschool.

"Their torment has been no less than ours, and they have yet to face their own truth," she said. "I only wish for them the peace that I have found."

Peggy Ann Buckey slipped into the booth at Marie Callender's in north Torrance and warily studied her interviewer while a waitress took their orders. For a moment, her guarded expression evoked the media image of several years ago: a frozen-faced young woman dutifully pushing her grandmother, Virginia McMartin, in a wheelchair as they and other defendants arrived in court.

"I suppose you want to talk about the notorious McMartins and all the bad things we did," she said finally.

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