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Picking Up the Pieces : A Freed Ex-McMartin Pre-School Teacher Still Haunted by Her Family's Shattered Life

July 17, 1988|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Four days later, Babs Spitler said, she was taken from Sybil Brand and brought to a Dependency Court hearing in handcuffs. Her older children and her husband were waiting in the room.

"I would have given anything to hug and be hugged," she said. "But the officers told me I couldn't show any emotion or even look at my family."

Two weeks after the hearing, a Juvenile Court judge formally awarded custody of the two Spitler children to the San Diego County relatives who had first taken them in.

Babs Spitler said she eventually learned from her children that they secretly felt guilty for months after the interviews, fearing that they might have said something that would get her or other McMartin teachers in more trouble.

After Spitler was released and again re-arrested, she was finally freed in mid-June of 1984 on a higher bail--$400,000 posted by friends, family, her husband and even her attorney. She and her husband were allowed to visit their children for two hours a week or on weekends in the presence of a court-appointed monitor.

"The county charged me $4,100 for such services (mainly foster care for his children), even after Babs was cleared," Don Spitler said. "I'm still paying it off--$100 a month."

In March, 1986, two months after charges against her were dropped and after both Spitlers had submitted to extensive psychological testing, their two children were returned. Their grandson, whom they have since legally adopted, was returned that June.

"For days and days, all I wanted to do was just look at my kids and talk to them and hug them," Babs Spitler recalled. "There was such a close feeling. . . .

"We've worked as a family to get through everything and put our lives back together again, a piece at a time."

Babs Spitler said she stays home now "just being a housewife and trying to forget what happened."

'I Wanted a Trial'

But anger and fears keep rising from the past. "I wanted a trial," she said. "When they dropped the charges, they said they didn't have enough evidence to convict me. They never said that Babs Spitler is innocent."

Spitler worked on and off at the McMartin preschool from 1973 until it closed in January, 1984. One of the ironies of her case, she said, is that in the '70s she helped establish the Richstone Center, a Hawthorne-based agency that counsels abused children and their parents.

Don Spitler, a Los Angeles County lifeguard, said his salary is barely adequate for a family of five. He said the couple's Manhattan Beach home, valued at $200,000, along with another property worth $50,000 and their savings "soon went up in smoke" when he started getting the bills for his wife's defense.

"We have to really watch our expenses now," Babs Spitler said.

Death Threats Made

Her husband said death threats have been made against his wife and other ex-defendants. His wife said the stigma of child-abuse allegations also still haunts the family.

"The D.A. said the charges 'probably' weren't true," she added. "But when you're accused of molesting children, 'probably' doesn't really cancel out what was said about you, or give you back what you lost."

Don Spitler still finds it difficult to express the feelings he had when he learned that the woman he was married to had been charged with sexually molesting toddlers.

"Anger, of course," he said. "I mean, real anger. I walked a lot on the beach trying to deal with that. But what you're left with is a feeling of helplessness, knowing that there's nothing, absolutely nothing you can do."

The Spitlers were silent for a minute. Then Babs Spitler reached over and touched her husband's arm. "He's been my rock, my shelter and fortress," she said.

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