They Must Be Monsters

A Modern-Day Witch Hunt - The untold story behind the McMartin phenomenon: the longest, most expensive criminal case in U.S. history

Non-Fiction - True Crime
398 Pages
Reviewed on 08/01/2018
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Author Biography

It was somewhat delusional: the idea that we, two undergrads, would leave college to chase the mystery behind the McMartin Preschool case, a criminal proceeding that had steadily become the longest, costliest in United States history. It was the epitome of naiveté—but we were too green to see it.

Back then, in 1987, as we examined the case and the community of Manhattan Beach that gave it life, we saw an absence of blunt journalism; that a false narrative had spun tragically out of control.

To the general public, the story was uniquely grotesque—a conspiracy of adults who’d sexually abused hundreds of preschool kids, as deplorable as any crime had ever been.

From our perspective, this phenomenon and historical event had been hopelessly misunderstood, and thus, misreported.

And so, for three years, we kept going, following one lead to the next, until the day we finally got our hands on the truth.

By doing so, it’s fair to say, we became experts on the events of Manhattan Beach, the two people uniquely qualified to write They Must Be Monsters. It’s not because we took a course, or did an abundance of research, or sat through the trial—frankly, we did all of those things—but because we took it further than anyone else. We went there. We lived it.

Having sat on this information for nearly three decades, we’re ready to go on the record, to reconcile this forgotten calamity.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Amanda Rofe for Readers' Favorite

They Must Be Monsters: A Modern-Day Witch Hunt by Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad is the true story of the McMartin preschool trial and the phenomena that surrounded the longest and most expensive criminal case in U.S. history during the 1980s. A sinister and frightening tale, littered with accusations of child molestation, satanic abuse and animal sacrifice, this book is a valuable historical record of events that occurred during that time. The authors examine the facts objectively and rationally, interviewing those families closely involved in the case, and disclosing previously unpublished evidence. It has taken thirty years for this incredible inside story to finally be told.

Having had no knowledge of the case before I read this book, They Must Be Monsters drew me in and held me completely spellbound until the very last page. I could barely believe what I was reading as I was taken on a dark and sinister journey, a tale reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad perfectly captured the sinister and toxic atmosphere of the time. The hysteria and lack of objectivity of ordinary people and the authorities involved in the case were absolutely shocking, redolent of the excesses of the McCarthy era of the 1950s. The background material and the depth of analysis provided by these two intrepid journalists are compelling and insightful. It is an utterly astounding and previously untold narrative describing a complex and dark period in U.S. history. I highly recommend it.

Trudi LoPreto

The year is 1983, the place is Manhattan Beach, California. The McMartin Preschool is a small, very popular, prestigious school run by Virginia and Peggy McMartin until the day that Judy Johnson leaves Mitchell, her two and a half year old son there. What follows as the story takes us through the next seven years seems like it may be a witch hunt or perhaps the accusations are true and this nightmare did actually take place. Judy tells Detective Hoag that Ray Buckley is guilty of molesting her son and the drama begins. Soon there are many children saying they had also been molested by Ray, that others were involved and that they were witness to many horrible things. It does not take long for other preschools in Manhattan Beach and neighboring towns to also come under attack. There are many arrested and many lives ruined. People quickly choose sides, believers and non-believers offer either their support or make more trouble, and the case continues until 1990.

They Must Be Monsters: A Modern-Day Witch Hunt by Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad is a true story that is compelling, amazing and rather unbelievable. Authors Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad relate this true story in a very coherent and interesting way. All of the involved people’s roles are well defined and documented. As I read the story, I became more and more intrigued by how this could be happening and was anxiously awaiting the final outcome. All true crime readers will find this to be an enlightening story and I urge you not to pass it up.

Asher Syed

They Must be Monsters by Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad is a non-fiction book with documentary style literary reenactments of the McMartin Preschool Trial and the chaos that surrounded this infamous case before, during, and after it played out in the late 80's and dawn of the 90's. Compiled and written over the course of three decades, LeRoy and Haddad crafted a narrative from the point of view of the mother who accused the preschool of a host of crimes ranging from sexual abuse to neglect and torture. As the most expensive case in US history, the story of a small community thrust into a media frenzy based on sensational claims is brought back to the forefront once more.

They Must be Monsters is a true crime story that reads like a work of extraordinary fiction. Matthew LeRoy and Deric Haddad are able to dig deeper than even journalists of the day and present a narrative that is instantly engaging and thoroughly engrossing. I have to admit that this is the first I'd heard of the McMartin Preschool Trial and going in I had no idea what to expect. From the perspective of an uninformed reader, this played to my own advantage as I resisted the urge to search for a summary and, instead, allowed the story to unfold, layer by layer, without any preconceived notions. The result is a masterful, tension-filled tale where art actually imitates life in the most gruesome ways. The authors liken the event to Miller's The Crucible, an apt comparison for the 20th century. I'd recommend this book to lovers of the true crime genre, but also to those who enjoy thrillers, suspense, and mystery.