Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McMartin Daycare Case

The Accusations

Judy then took Matthew to Richstone Center, a counseling program for sexual abuse victims. She made more allegations based on what she claimed Matthew said. Lawrence Wrightsman reports that Judy said her son had seen a live baby beheaded and Ray Buckey fly. Around the same time, the police began an investigation of the McMartin Preschool, and Ray Buckey in particular.

Raymond Buckey
Raymond Buckey

Ray, at 28, was a tall, thin, likeable guy with no particular ambition. He enjoyed working with the children and he was shocked to learn that someone had accused him of child abuse. He thought it could only be a little girl who had grabbed his crotch, because her father allowed her to do this to him. No one told Ray his accuser was a boy.

Yet to his greater alarm, townspeople began to recall odd things about him — the way he looked at girls or stared into space — and these things they told to inquiring police. They talked about how he wore loose shorts and no underwear, and when he sat in a certain way people had seen his genitalia unintentionally exposed. If he sat around like that with the children, then perhaps there was something to the rumors.

Police began to contact parents to urge them to ask their children about things that Ray might have said or done. Not a single child offered anything, but that failed to allay any fears or dampen the investigation.

Judy Johnson fanned the flames by reporting more stories about Matthew's odd behavior and blaming it on Ray Buckey. (One can only wonder why she kept sending her child back to the preschool if she was so certain he was being abused.)

On September 7, 1983, the police searched the preschool and arrested Ray. However, without any evidence against him and no confession forthcoming, they were forced to release him. Yet they were determined to find something and they used the school records to send letters to every parent who had ever had a child in the daycare center — some 200 families. They stated that Ray was under investigation for suspected child molestation and urged parents to come forward if they had any information. They even spelled out the acts — oral sex, fondling, and sodomy — about which the parents were to question their children.

Alarmed by the allegations, mothers began to talk to each other. They questioned their kids, and even innocent games like "Naked Movie Star" began to sound ominous. Hysteria was taking root and growing: Ray had taken photographs; Ray had tied up their child; Ray played "Horsey." While many kids denied that anything had happened, some parents refused to accept this and interrogated them until they heard what they wanted to hear. It wasn't long before those children who talked and got plenty of attention began to embellish. As in Salem during the 1600s, they began to name others involved who had not yet admitted to the "games."

Many children were taken to CII for further questioning. Parents continued to talk and compare notes, certain now that there had been a wholesale attack on their  children. The police searched again, but could not find any of the alleged photographs or any other evidence associated with the crimes. Authorities urged parents to continue to document stories, told some of them that their child had been named by others as a victim and insisted that they not take "no" for an answer.

As Nathan and Snedeker report, the chief accelerant for the firestorm was a political race in which child abuse became an issue. Los Angeles District Attorney Robert Philibosian needed to get voters' attention. He knew about the McMartin situation and saw it as an opportunity. He assigned the case to Assistant DA Joan Matusinka, who launched her own independent investigation. Her prosecutorial specialty was the sexual abuse of preschoolers and she was passionate about the case. She had a friend at CII, social worker Kee MacFarlane, so she urged parents to take their children there.

Priests who believed in satanic conspiracies held meetings with parents to educate them about the risks of child abuse. Particularly dangerous, the parents were told, were those caregivers that appeared kind and normal.


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