Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Berndt: Teacher Accused of Playing Sex Games with Kids

Dirty Games, Dirty Pictures

Miramonte Elementary school
Miramonte Elementary school

When a photo of a bound-and-gagged child — followed by dozens of similarly questionable photos — shocked an unnamed technician at a CVS pharmacy in South Bay, he or she called the Redondo Beach police department. (A California law mandates that photo processors report suspected child abuse to police.) Detectives began their hunt for a possible pedophile.

The 400 pictures investigators have found show at least 23 children, ages seven to ten; cops discovered many of them amid Berndt's home library of commercial (and fully legal) videos showing adult actors in various acts of bondage and sadomasochism. The kids, mostly girls, were fully clothed in the photos, but the pictures are startling. Some showed a hand placing a three-inch Madagascar cockroach in a kid's mouth. Other kids had tape across their mouths—and yet some of these kids were smiling, and a few even seemed to have put the tape on their mouths themselves.

Some of the photos showed children with a thick white liquid around their lips. Several photos included a blue plastic spoon holding this white liquid.

Detectives say Berndt is in a few photos, but doing nothing more than putting an arm around a kid or placing a hand over a child's mouth. It's not yet publicly clear what helped detectives identify the adult subject and photographer as Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, but in January 2011, officers from the Special Victim's Bureau visited his classroom and found blue plastic spoons matching those in the photos. A classroom spoon held traces of semen; authorities got a DNA sample from Berndt, which matched.

He's not currently accused of raping or molesting the kids but rather of lewd conduct. What Mark Berndt is accused of doing is much stranger than simple physical and sexual aggression.

Let's Have Some Fun

Mark Berndt was apparently able to convince his students that they were playing a fun game in acting out his kinky sex fantasies. Interviews with former students even suggest that the kids who didn't get to participate in the weekly fetish sessions felt left out.

On Fridays, Berndt bound and gagged his best and brightest pupils as part of a game. The reward system was based on any child's greatest weakness: sugar.

Berndt called the white stuff that lured giant cockroaches into the kids' mouth "sugar" — detectives say it was Berndt's own semen. And Obdulia Bueno told a local CBS outlet that she now believes that Berndt once sent home a photo of her son eating a semen-coated cookie.

Another former student, "Alex", now 14, told TV's Dr. Drew that "The cookies tasted, like, kind of funky — they had a weird taste to them."

Brian Claypool, an attorney representing "Alex" and nine other alleged victims, says that some of his clients have more stories documenting Berndt's alleged semen fetish. A girl told Claypool that she saw Berndt moving his hand in his pants, then wiping a white substance from his hand into a plastic bag to save it. Other girls report seeing three test tubes holding a white substance in boxes Berndt asked them to help move.

The saga of Mark Berndt's strange shenanigans is at last ended, and the district removed him from the classroom as soon as they knew he was a suspect. But it took police until January 2, 2012 — a full year after finding the semen-encrusted blue spoon in his classroom — to arrest him. And the scandal and its fallout are nowhere near over.

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