Revisionist History: Judy Johnson and The Dark Tunnels of McMartin
A recently published article written by Roland C. Summit makes two important revisions in McMartin history that are germane to the present article. In
"The Dark Tunnels of McMartin," Summit asserts that 1) Judy Johnson's mental illness was caused by rather than the cause of the child sex abuse charges that turned into the seven-year-long $16 million criminal event known as the McMartin case, and that her charges had no bearing on the subsequent criminal investigation and trial; and 2), that
"The tunnels [under the preschool] were, in fact, found in 1990 . . ."78 An analysis of the
first claim is completed below. An analysis of the second claim follows.
Summit's conclusions about the quality of Judy Johnson's emotional state are based on three factors, the
first two of which are paradoxical: 1) that a consultation session he held with Johnson in February, 1984 (the
first time he met Johnson) convinced him that Johnson was sane; 2) his belief that paranoia or quasi-paranoia (a term he uses to describe Johnson's state of mind when she
first reported abuse) is a necessary prerequisite for discovering the truth about child sexual abuse; and 3) a grasping interpretation of available data.
In Johnson's February, 1984 consultation with Summit, she explained that her two-and-one-half-year-old son didn't
"like to talk about being buried alive or about large animals; he was sodomized by a lion."79 Johnson gave another version, in some respects different from her earlier reports to police, of how she realized that her son had been molested by teacher Ray
Buckey. "It just grew on me," she recalled, because the boy had discomfort at school and cried every afternoon. Her son also kept trying to give her a shot, even though she (Johnson) was a
"very organic person" (Johnson distrusted conventional medicine and tried to treat her older son, seriously ill with brain cancer, at home); her son would not have been around shots. A doctor said that redness around the boy's anus was due to worms or constipation, she recalled to Summit, but when she spotted blood she
"knew he was sodomized." The boy denied that his teacher had sodomized him, but,
"Then later it occurred to me to ask, 'Billy, did [your teacher] give you a shot in your bottom?' [she doesn't mention this in police reports] and he said
Summit is convinced that Johnson was
"quite sane and emotionally contained" during their meeting. Her bizarre belief that her son had been sodomized by a lion makes sense, Summit says in
"Dark Tunnels," because "older, less credulous" children in other multi-victim/perpetrator cases have described perpetrators dressed in animal costumes.
Perhaps a two-and-one-half-year-old, especially one with limited verbal capability, cannot perceive or explain the difference between real lions and elephants, or real decapitated baby heads and costumed ones. But it was the boy's mother who took these stories seriously, never differentiating, as police reports make clear, between reality and fantasy. The mental stability of the 40-year-old mother, who believed her son's stories (if they were his stories) of flying witches, is the real issue.
Johnson's subsequent nervous breakdown and death from alcohol poisoning, according to Summit, were precipitated by
"her desperate concern that she and her . . . son were victims of unfathomable treachery."81 Summit implies that, during the paranoid episode that led to her hospitalization, Johnson feared that she and her son had been the victims of
"unfathomable treachery" and that she was trying to defend against its perpetrators
an unmistakable reference to the McMartin defendants, by barricading ". . . herself against the menacing strangers who patrolled her yard. Who knows if they were intimidating conspirators or toxic hallucinations?"82
This wild speculation continues the pattern of innuendo that ruined the reputation of the now exonerated defendants in the
first place. The police report, cited above, is the most reliable record available of the incident and it supports the conclusion of subsequent psychiatric evaluations that Johnson was a paranoid schizophrenic, not that she was emotionally traumatized by a red spot on her son's anus.
Summit simultaneously denies that Johnson was mentally imbalanced at the time she
first reported abuse, while claiming that her emotional instability gave her unique powers of insight into sexual abuse:
It takes an eccentric, potentially alienated personality type to override the shared reassurances of more comfortably socialized peers . . . In many multi-victim cases I have studied, there is a prodromal pattern of parental group denial before an eccentric outsider triggers a threshold of recognition. Concerned parents are reassured by
"reasonable explanations" for potential indicators of abuse. Nylon underwear, bubble baths, constipation, masturbation, self-exploration
"explain" genito-rectal inflammation, even foreign objects in the vagina. Conventional, well-socialized parents [and professionals] receive these reassurances with relief, repeating and reinforcing them among one another in extended circles. It remains for the odd one, the unsocialized outsider, to pursue the nagging suspicion that the authorities could be wrong and to develop an arrogant, quasi-paranoid reliance on personal, intuitive belief. Such a person is easily stigmatized as eccentric and unreliable, if not
Speaking at a 1989 conference about ritual abuse, Summit said:
Eccentric, alienated, unsocialized and paranoid personality types are needed to ferret out allegations of child sex abuse in the face of lack of evidence and conventional, well-socialized parents and professionals (who reinforce denial for their own mutual belief) . . . It takes somebody paranoid to continue to express suspicion and to take the child from doctor to doctor until someone confirms that maybe there is
Summit's defense of Judy Johnson and his own convoluted theoretical grasp of the phenomenon of child sexual abuse, and the McMartin case in particular, is based on his own unique ability to see what
"logical" people cannot perceive: the existence of an omnipresent and omnipotent conspiracy of evil. The difficulty in proving the existence of the evil empire justifies new methods of inquiry and innovative logic, unrestrained by reasonable doubt and scientific methodology. Using this logic, lack of proof is proof since the inability to prove the existence of an evil empire of secret conspirators proves how adept they are at creating
"paralyzing, calculated confusion and mind control."85 Skeptics who challenge the religiously held dogma with demands for proof are, at best, described as in a state of denial; at worst, they are loathed as possible coconspirators wearing a web of evil:
If everyone who disagrees with us is someone we see as the enemy, and if the next stage is if they disagree with us it's because they're one of them and they're out there to be agents of disinformation; and so, that person who disagrees with me is obviously my enemy; and if I'm not careful he'll kill me; [if] we get into that kind of struggle, then in our attempts to attack or immobilize all those enemies we are paralyzed our self . . .
I was involved in an ongoing support group among therapists [working] with McMartin children. And we went through the cycle of alarm and fear; being quite sure that our phones were tapped, being careful to avoid the chance that somebody was following us with a gun and a sniper attack
these terrible death fears. And we had a support group that met weekly and met into long hours of the night, drinking wine and telling sick jokes and just trying to get some kind of collegial support. And it was very rich, but that wasn't a real good thing for our families. My wife, as strong and generous as she is, couldn't help being
questioning I think, why I chose to spend five hours on Friday nights with a group of women rather than be with my wife and children.
But now she hosts those annual meetings, what are now annual meetings. But what I am saying here is
as angry as I was that Jo didn't provide my closest support, in a sense she's my strongest anchor. And that's because she recognized more than I could at the time that I was getting carried away, [that] I was going over the edge. And, on one hand, I believed things that she had no reason to believe. She was worried about that I was losing it. But on the other hand, given that I might know things that she didn't want to know, she said
"What right do you have to think that you're going to make a change in this, if this has been going on so long, if it's so sinister, so powerful? Number one, I don't want it in our house. I don't want it coming home and I don't want you bringing it in to this house. And we're not going to affect our children with it. If you're going to do this stuff, do it out there but please don't do it at all."
You need someone to keep your fears in line and . . . someone to keep your rage contained so that you don't become an army of one trying to
fight not only an unknown number of enemies but, more than that, a whole society that will rally against you if you're too raucous or too illogical or you're claiming something that society doesn't want to believe.
Whatever this is [multi-victim/perpetrator cases], and it's a clear bet it isn't one thing, and it isn't the thing we were
first sure it was, it's also a fair bet that if there is any intelligence and experience among people who are on the other side, and I think we can assume they know stuff about how to terrify children and how to bring children up in the realm of terror much more than we do
so we're outclassed in terms of knowledge but if there is something with that experience, and looking at history and the way this has come up and been pushed back again and again, it probably includes a knowledge greater than ours of how to rub our face in it, how to create illusions that lead us towards
fixed beliefs that we can't defend and create for us a climate of what looks to others like hysteria. One of the things that always goes against us in terms of the backlash argument, and there I'm not talking about the organized or perhaps the evil deliberate backlash, but just everybody else, is the elusiveness of discovery of what ritual abuse is about. It comes in little pieces. And once you see what you think is the picture you see it everywhere. And when they claim that this is your thing because you're
finding it under every rock
one little saying I found helpful, and it's a variation of an old thought,
"Seeing is believing: If I hadn't of believed it I wouldn't have seen it."
There's a terrible threshold here where we exist in total ignorance of something that creeps around underground, and once we put it together, and once we believe, then we see manifestations of it everywhere that others refuse to see; and there is a risk that once we see this and nobody else sees it we'll try too hard and get paranoid in terms of seeing things that don't exist. My hope is that there is the . . . ego strength and the professional and intimate support not only to support what we believe but to hold us back from things we can't support; that this kind of organization [Believe the Children] can outclass the small group of intellectual arrogance and deliberate deceptors that has created the illusions. We create our own illusions if we're not careful. But it's only with a large number of people who are capable of sharing this information without getting too excited about it, and presenting a sober reasonable front to the world that can
finally, not from one person's crusade or one march on the capital, but finally, in the aggregate, bring people around to believe that there's something here that needs public
The McMartin defense attorneys claimed that, because Johnson's allegations started the case, her mental instability and bizarre charges reflected poorly on the credibility of the entire case against Ray Buckey and his mother Peggy.87 But Summit counters that the massive criminal investigation and trial of the McMartin defendants were completely unrelated to Judy Johnson's
first allegations, posthumous theories by skeptics aside. Besides, if Johnson was so crazy, how could she have driven more rational people than herself into
"an hysterical witch hunt?"88
No serious McMartin skeptic has suggested that Judy Johnson singlehandedly mobilized a witch hunt, only that her known paranoid ideation may have caused her to harbor irrational suspicions of sexual abuse and that she spread this delusion to others. Wild rumors spread quickly after Johnson's original abuse reports; although Johnson certainly conversed with other McMartin parents, it is impossible to know how many other parents she spoke to or how much the various parties involved contributed to one another's obsessions with
finding alleged sex abuse. What we do know is that Johnson's son was never a student of Ray Buckey and only saw him once at the school, during playtime, outside the building, in the play yard, and in the presence of other children.89
We also know from police records that Johnson's mental stability should have been questioned at the earliest stages of Detective Jane Hoag's investigation. The subject of paranoid schizophrenia, the diagnosis given Johnson by psychiatrists in 1985, is beyond the scope of this article. And this writer is not privy to Johnson's pre-McMartin mental health status, nor does Dr. Summit indicate that he is. However, most schizophrenics become overtly symptomatic between the ages of 17 and 27, long before Johnson's age (40 years) at the time she
first called Detective Hoag to report sexual abuse of her son.90 The cumulative facts between Johnson's
first call to police and her death, what little information is available about her life prior to McMartin, and the known time period for which schizophrenia usually appears, strongly suggest that Johnson was mentally ill prior to anonymously dropping off her son Billy at the front gate of the McMartin preschool.
It is also clear that there probably never would have been a McMartin sex abuse case if Johnson had not called the police, starting off an investigation by a detective obsessed with proving sexual abuse based on information from a mentally imbalanced informant.