Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The McMartin Daycare Case

Hysteria Builds

UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute supported a program called SCAN, which employed child abuse specialists. Some of them were studying repressed memories, satanic ritual abuse, multiple personality disorder and other issues associated with the maltreatment of children. The therapeutic goal was to "recover" repressed memories of childhood traumas. Unfortunately, many therapists forced their patients to conjure memories of non-existent child abuse.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s almost anything was construed as a sign of child abuse — even if concrete evidence refuted it. Even when there was no physical evidence that a child had been sexually violated, some counselors insisted it must have happened anyway, because a child's overt behavior told a different story from the medical reports.

One of these people was Kee MacFarlane at CII, who was a member of the Preschool-Age Molested Children's Professional Group. They devised ways to interview children and bring out explicit details of what might have happened to them, using toys and projective techniques. MacFarlane wanted to write a book about sex abuse victims and had devised a way to talk with children by using hand puppets and anatomically correct dolls. That meant showing children dolls with a penis and scrotum, pubic hair, breasts and a vagina. The "immature" dolls had no pubic hair and underdeveloped breasts. Supposedly these devices permit young children to reveal aspects of their experience for which they have no words. Wrightsman points out that therapists anticipated that abused children would play sexually with the dolls. Later studies about the efficacy of this technique are mixed; some have said the dolls are irrelevant indicators.

The CII staff encouraged children to talk about sex and genitalia, and they thought (based on no research) that using the puppets as toys that could "speak for them" about their secrets would make them feel better.

It wasn't long before they had a population of children on which to experiment — 15 alleged victims of Ray Buckey. To gain the community's trust, the assistant DA introduced MacFarlane to the parents and had her explain her methods. She encouraged more parents to bring in their children.

What MacFarlane did not explain was how she pressured and steered the children into showing her what she wanted to see. When one girl persistently refused to say that Ray Buckey had pulled up her dress, MacFarlane said that she must talk about it and she produced the anatomically correct dolls to get some details. When that didn't work, she claimed to know "secrets" told to her by other children at the school, intimating that they involved her reluctant subject. She used dolls to show the girl how a penis went into a mouth and urged her to say it was "yucky." Finally the girl named someone who had seen the supposed abuse — Peggy Buckey. 

From all of this ambiguous data, MacFarlane concluded that the girl had been molested and went to tell her mother. She urged the mother to praise her daughter for being "open." This positive reinforcement only served to bolster the child's story. Then she reported what she "knew" to the assistant DA.

One more "symptom" was added to confirm the diagnosis: those children who denied being abused were going through a phase of saying it about "someone else," because they could not admit it to themselves; they weren't ready.

Thus, for the accused, it was a no-win situation. Whether or not the children said they were abused, they could still be considered victims of abuse, and that meant they had abusers.

The children were put into therapy, where counselors continued to reinforce whatever symptoms they saw and gathered more details. Recovered memories became the latest vogue in psychiatry. Many thought recovered memories were reliable and as a result, many were imprisoned on the basis of testimony about these recollections. Only later did it become apparent that memory — including suppressed or recovered memories — is highly malleable and error prone.

Older children were brought in who had been students at the preschool during its earlier years were also questioned. When they denied being abused, they were berated and told they weren't being as cooperative as their friends (friends who often had not yet even been interviewed). A variety of coercive methods were deployed to add new names to the roster of victims. Some were told that those who were asked to remember were considered "smarter" than the other children.

Eventually a number of children who at first had denied that anything had happened to them were talking about sodomy, oral sex, fondling, and pornography. One boy described a "secret room" and trap doors going into underground tunnels. Some children, who had never met Ray because he was not at the school when they attended, began telling far-fetched stories about things he had done. A few said that they'd been taken to a cemetery to dig up coffins and watch the staff cut up the corpses.

The fact that many of these tales were patently absurd and that there was no corroborating evidence seemed to escape the investigators. The attitude was that if the children said it, it must be true. Children don't make such things up. Parents made posters that said in large letters for camera crews, "We believe the children."

Judy Johnson was still in the game as well, offering increasingly bizarre accounts of what Ray had done to her child — as other adults at the preschool stood and watched. But Matthew was not the one speaking, it was his mother. And for some reason, everyone listened. No one considered the possibility that she might be fantasy-prone, delusional, or just plain in need of attention. No one realized she suffered from alcoholism and paranoia.

More meetings were organized with parents and more tales became embellished. Then Judy Johnson started naming more names, claiming these people had not only watched the abuse; they had participated in it.

Nathan and Snedeker detail the following items from Judy Johnson's account:

  • a teacher had stepped on Matthew's stomach
  • Peggy Buckey, 59, had forced him to engage with her in oral sex
  • The children were taken from the school and given over to others to sodomize
  • Matthew was made to ride horses nude on the beach
  • Ray had tortured and killed animals
  • Ray wore the costumes of a priest, clown, Santa Claus and Satan while he performed the abuse
  • Matthew was taken in a plane to see some goatmen and had to stick his finger in a goat's anus
  • The children were taken to a ranch and a hotel
  • Ray flew in the air and Peggy drilled children under the arms in a ritual
  • The female teachers dressed as witches
  • They buried Matthew in a coffin
  • They gave him an enema
  • They put staples in his ears and nipples
  • They let a lion hurt him
  • A baby's head was chopped off and Matthew had to drink its blood

This boy, Matthew, was not even three years old and was barely able to talk. Yet Judy Johnson's accounts were taken at face value and parents were horrified.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'