Larry Don McQuay is trying to remember how many children he's molested in his 31 years. He doesn't have a precise count, but as best he can estimate, it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 240.
It's enough to disgust even him.
Or so he says.
McQuay is perspiring, having just returned from laboring in the corn fields of the Eastham Unit state prison outside of the small East Texas town of Lovelady, where he's in the midst of an eight-year stretch for injury to a child. He'll be up for parole next year, but before he's turned loose, he'd like to ask a favor of you. He wants you -- that is, the state of Texas -- to remove his testicles.
A pudgy man with a well-tattooed right forearm and a dull face, McQuay is one of several imprisoned sex offenders in Texas who have expressed interest in being castrated, but thus far he's the only one who's actually gone to the trouble of filing a lawsuit to force the state to transform him into a eunuch.
Castration, McQuay says, will stop his body from producing the male hormone testosterone -- linked to aggressive and sexual behavior -- and prevent him from damaging other children when he's a free man. Not surprisingly, there are a number of people who have offered to help him achieve his goal -- free of charge, with a rusty blade and no anesthesia. He's also gotten legitimate support from a Houston-based victims' rights group that is raising money to foot the bill for McQuay's castration -- and possibly those of some of his fellow inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
There are other people, though, who believe that McQuay's problems are located in his head, not below his waist, and think that the best way to ensure he keeps his hands to himself is to see that he's locked away for a long, long time. And TDCJ is standing by its policy that prohibits prisoners from undergoing elective surgery.
Talk long enough to Larry McQuay and you come away thinking that maybe castration wouldn't be a bad idea, simply because it's hard to find any redeeming qualities in the man or his life, and perhaps the surgery would leave him with some lingering pain or regret. But you also come away with plenty of questions that can't really be answered: Did he actually molest the number of children he says he has, and would he really follow through on his wish to have his load lightened? Or is he just seeking the attention that he's been denied most of his life? And if he were castrated, would it prevent him from doing what he says he's otherwise bound to do again?
"I don't like myself and what I've done," says McQuay, wiping the sweat from his fleshy face. "I have difficulty separating the two. Sometimes I consider myself the crime. I am a child molester. A monster. Other times I feel it's not me, and that I can be normal, but I need help."
That Larry Don McQuay needs help is something no one can argue. Whatever else he says about himself, however, is best not taken at face value. Subterfuge, of one kind or another, has always been his talent.
McQuay claims to have had a prolific career as a molester, but it was not until 1989 in San Antonio that he landed on the wrong side of the law. He was working as a school bus driver then, a job that gave him access to hundreds of potential new victims every weekday. His encounters with children, he says, ranged from a casual touch in a private place as a child boarded the bus to outright propositions.
On occasion, McQuay says he also would watch classes for teachers who needed a break. It was while tending one class that McQuay made the acquaintance of a six-year-old boy who, as McQuay noticed, had a hole in his pants that revealed the child wasn't wearing any underwear.
McQuay befriended the boy, purchased him several pairs of underwear and gave them to the boy's mother, and from that rather odd beginning he developed a sexual relationship with the woman -- in order, he says, to be close to her child.
"I was always looking," recalls McQuay, who can sound as if he's bragging even as he's attempting to come off as contrite.
But just a few months after, McQuay was forced to resign his bus-driving job when he was reported to school authorities for writing letters to a 13-year-old boy, trying to persuade the boy to have sex with him. McQuay even offered to measure the size of the boy's penis. But his real problems didn't start until word of the letters spread to the woman McQuay had taken up with. After questioning her son, she learned that McQuay had forced the boy to have oral sex with him numerous times.
The woman called the police, and McQuay was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault, injury to a child and exposure. Since it was his first offense, there was nothing in McQuay's record to suggest that he was a serial pedophile. So, in order to expedite justice, prosecutors offered him a deal. Instead of being tried on the aggravated sexual assault charge -- which carries a possible life sentence -- McQuay was allowed to plead guilty to the injury-to-a-child charge, punishable by two to 20 years in prison. In exchange for his plea, McQuay received an eight-year prison sentence.
He was paroled in January 1993 to Texas House, a halfway house in northeast Houston, but was back in TDCJ seven months later. McQuay says his parole was revoked for writing to then-governor Ann Richards, demanding that he be castrated and predicting he would molest again without the operation. (It wasn't until he was returned to prison that McQuay began talking about his past victims.) The governor's office, McQuay says, considered his letter to be threatening.
But prison officials have a different story, saying McQuay's parole was revoked after he got into a testy argument with a Texas House supervisor.
McQuay will next be eligible for parole in September 1996, but says he wants to stay in prison until his wish to be castrated is granted or he serves his entire sentence, which would end in 1998, behind bars. To prove his sincerity, McQuay already has squandered one parole date, in June 1994, by deliberately having his accumulated "good time" taken away. McQuay claims it was for fighting. Again, McQuay's recollection of events doesn't jibe with the story from TDCJ, which says he was stripped of his good time because he refused to work.
Larry Don McQuay was born on Christmas Eve, 1963, in Edinburg, to a father who was a career military man and a mother who suffered from depression. Because his father was constantly being transferred from Army base to Army base around the United States and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, McQuay and his younger sister attended 13 schools in 12 years.
"We weren't abused or anything like that," McQuay says, although there is some evidence to the contrary. "My mom had psychological problems, and that affected us. But it wasn't like we were deliberately abused."
But it was also not a life conducive to making friends or attachments. The few acquaintances he did acquire were invariably children younger than himself. And it was in 1970 in Edinburg -- at the age of seven -- that McQuay claims to have taken his first victim, a three-year-old female cousin, inside a closet at the home of an aunt and uncle.
"She had a dress on and I convinced her to get out of her panties and I got on top of her," says McQuay. He had an erection, he recalls, but was unable to penetrate the little girl. "I knew how I was supposed to do it but I didn't know the exact location. That's about all that happened. But I knew what I was doing and I knew I wasn't supposed to be doing it. And I knew why I wasn't supposed to be doing it."
Within five years, after reaching puberty, McQuay says he was doing it as often as possible -- usually with younger boys who allowed him to perform oral sex on them. Each time the lure he used was different and dictated by the amount of resistance he met. Sometimes, especially with very young boys, McQuay would camouflage his unwanted touches as roughhousing or wrestling.
If that didn't work, McQuay says he would have to do a bit more coaxing to reach the next level of seduction. Posing as a wiser and older friend, he would lead both boys and girls in discussions about sex. Hands-on demonstrations often accompanied the discussions.
"Sometimes I would pretend to teach them about sex and tell them, 'You need to learn this,'" says McQuay. "I would convince them to let me show them how to do this or that. Sometimes I used Penthouse and Playboy. When I was younger, most of my offenses were touching and fondling. It wasn't until I was older that I started masturbating them and performing oral sex on them. Sometimes I would explain about vaginas and erections. I would fondle them and finger penetrate them."
Occasionally, says McQuay, the roles were reversed and a child would perform oral sex on him. He often fantasized about finding a young girl who would seduce him. And, as do many pedophiles in trying to justify themselves and their actions, McQuay claims that some of his victims enjoyed his lasciviousness; that he actually brought them pleasure.
"There was one boy that I'm pretty sure he enjoyed it," McQuay says of an 11-year-old neighbor he claims to have repeatedly molested when he was 22 and living in Beaumont. "He kept coming over. He'd come in and play with me."
It wasn't, McQuay claims, until he was in his early twenties -- and his sexual obsession for children was going off the scales -- that he actually started attempting to penetrate them with his penis. He recalls one instance involving the nine-year-old daughter of a friend's friend in San Antonio. (McQuay refuses to be more specific about that or the other acts of molestation he claims to have committed, saying that he's trying to forget about them. He also knows he could be charged with other offenses if he provides too many details. "If he gives us more names, we'll prosecute," says an assistant district attorney in Bexar County.)
"I tried penetrating her by sitting her on my lap and letting her weight work her way down," says McQuay. But the child refused to let him shut the door to her bedroom because she knew people would think she was doing something wrong. It's not that she wasn't willing, McQuay says, it's just that she didn't want to get caught. But despite his efforts, McQuay was unable to have intercourse with the child before his arrest in November 1989.
"I look at it like if I had a couple more opportunities, I probably could have penetrated her," he says matter-of-factly.
It was around that same time that McQuay began carrying props with him to lure his victims and disguise his lechery. He recalls another episode when he was riding in the back of an almost empty bus after having spent the day at San Antonio's Sea World. He found himself alone in a rear seat with a boy of about nine whose grandparents were preoccupied asking typical tourist questions of the driver up in the front. As the bus rolled on, McQuay shared a puzzle book with the child, spreading it across both of their laps. As the child played with the puzzle, McQuay felt the outside of the boy's crotch, then tried to move his hand inside the boy's shorts. The boy's grandparents were oblivious as their grandson quietly struggled to get away from McQuay.
But while McQuay admits that such brazen acts helped to satisfy his "adrenaline addiction," he seems oblivious to the terror he no doubt inflicted on small victims -- even while insisting he needs to be castrated so that he won't hurt any more children.
"I can't say that I scared them," contends McQuay, who says he would try to make his intended victims feel guilty when all else failed in his seduction efforts. "They saw when I got angry, and kids don't like to make people angry. And I used that as a fear tactic.
"I would tell them, 'This is what I like to do, make me feel good.' And they would do that. They didn't want to do it, but they would do it because they didn't want to make me angry. They wanted me to be nice."
While McQuay's compulsion to molest children was escalating as a young man, he took a wife. In fact, he took two. But both marriages failed within a matter of months.
Following his graduation from high school in McComb, Mississippi, in 1984, McQuay had set out on his own, landing in Beaumont. There he went to work for a tree-trimming company and became friends with a male co-worker who was engaged.
"The guy I was hanging around with was about to get married. I wanted to join the club. I was feeling lonely so his girlfriend set me up with a date. Three days later I was having sex with her."
He was 19 and she was 20. Three months later they were married. Six months after that they were filing for divorce.
"We just didn't get along," McQuay explains. "I got married because everybody I knew was getting married. I just wanted to appear to be a normal human being. But she was a daddy's girl. So I told her to go live with him. That's how we ended it."
Part of the appeal of marriage was the thought that he could have sex anytime he wanted it, but McQuay says sex with an adult woman just didn't thrill him like the thought of having his way with children. There was no danger, no variety.
But if married life didn't particularly agree with McQuay, life with McQuay was apparently no bargain, either.
According to the former Pamela McQuay, who does not want her current name or where she lives disclosed, after she and McQuay were married they moved into a small duplex apartment on Avenue C in Beaumont. She worked at Burger King. McQuay quit his job at the tree company and went to work for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was life in the fast-food lane. And days of flipping burgers and nights of watching television with Larry was enough to almost make Pamela lose her mind. Today she has no idea why she was ever attracted to her former husband. Mostly she remembers the arguments -- about money and her refusal to have a baby.
"Ain't no way you can raise a baby on a KFC salary," says Pamela, who lives in East Texas with her second husband and their two children. And there was McQuay's promiscuity. "He did mess around on me. He'd take me to his mama's house and mess around on me while I was there. I didn't go for that kind of stuff."
But Pamela says she had no idea exactly what sort of stuff McQuay had been up to. She sounded shocked to learn that McQuay claims to have been messing around with children, as well as other women.
"I can't believe that," she says.
But McQuay's second wife certainly can.
Vickie Babineaux, 30, lives with her new husband in a lower middle-class neighborhood in Austin. Two half-junked cars sit in the driveway and a No Solicitation sign adorns the front door of their home. When informed that McQuay is in prison for child molestation and wants to be castrated, the plump woman with stringy brown hair immediately asks, "Can I do it?"
Babineaux first met McQuay when they were working for KFC in Beaumont. After his divorce, McQuay and Babineaux, who already had an infant daughter by another man, were married in 1985. They split up within a year.
Although McQuay claims otherwise, Babineaux says she had no idea of his predilection for children during their short time together. She didn't learn of McQuay's life as a child molester until 1990, when he sent her a letter from prison. In the letter, which he confirms he wrote, McQuay asked Babineaux if there was any way they could get back together and told her that, by the way, he had fondled her nine-month-old daughter when they were married. By then, Babineaux had already put her daughter up for adoption, but she was able to have the adoptive parents informed of McQuay's claim. She says she has since been told that the couple has placed the child in therapy.
"I had no idea that he was depraved or sick," says Babineaux. "I thought he was a nice guy. Not the best looking guy in the world, not the ugliest in the world.
"He said in his letters that he'd been doing things like that since he was a teenager. If he had those tendencies in him that long, to be able to hide it as long as he did, evidently he had acquired the ability to hide what he was really thinking."
McQuay claims he first got the idea about castration while following the well-publicized case of Houston sex offender Steve Butler.
In March 1992, the 27-year-old Butler was scheduled to go on trial before state District Judge Michael McSpadden for molesting a 13-year-old girl. McSpadden soon found himself at the center of a mushrooming controversy, with plenty of attendant national publicity, when he offered Butler the option of castration and ten years of probation instead of jail time. It was an offer Butler, a black man, was apparently considering until local African-American leaders, along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, voiced vehement opposition to the idea. The whole castration debate became clouded by race, and the deal McSpadden had offered was subsequently taken off the table. Butler's case was moved to another court.
But according to the attorney who represented McQuay after his arrest in San Antonio, McQuay first inquired about the possibility of castration shortly after he was incarcerated in 1989. And at that time, says the attorney, McQuay's interest in having his testicles removed had more to do with saving himself than protecting children.
"I went to see him in jail and then he sent me a letter [dated December 27, 1989]," remembers Michael Valicek, McQuay's court-appointed defender. "It said, 'I failed to mention one thing. I've been looking into getting a castration as part of the means to cure me. I'm still planning on counseling. Would my getting castrated have any effect on my sentence?'"
The next month, McQuay sent Valicek another letter in which he asked if he would be paroled sooner if he were castrated. There was no mention of how much he regretted damaging the lives of hundreds of children. And that, according to a psychologist who was working with McQuay at the time of his arrest, is because McQuay is a man who was -- and probably still is -- wholly cut off from his feelings.
"I tried to get him to picture himself, to close his eyes and put himself in the children's place," says Vickie Smyer, who conducted about ten one-hour counseling sessions with McQuay. "But even as he tried to do that, he slid into that place where he believes the child wants it and likes it. He has an inability to see how he affects other people."
Without his cooperation in providing details, it is impossible to verify McQuay's claims of having molested hundreds of children. Smyer believes he may have inflated the number of his victims to draw attention to his case. But she also believes McQuay was out of control when he came to her, and that he came to her because he knew it. And she contradicts McQuay's contention that he and his sister were not abused as children.
"Let's just say he had a strange sexual childhood, that the sexual boundaries in his home were very blurry," says Smyer.
Although she hasn't seen or heard from McQuay in several years, she also thinks McQuay's new-found concern for children is just another veil of denial. And she strongly opposes the idea of treating child molesters by castration.
"He could do all those things that he claims without his testicles," says Smyer. "He could still sit on a bus. And he could still carry cartoon books. And he could still unzip a little boy's pants. Or fondle a little girl, or get a job as a school bus driver somewhere. All that stuff is open to him, whether he has testicles or not."
If McQuay's time in prison hasn't made him more empathic, it has turned him into a prolific letter writer. The inmate has corresponded with a number of journalists around the country, as well as Governor George W. Bush, former governor Richards and members of the Texas Legislature, including Amarillo state Senator Teel Bivins. During the past two sessions of the Legislature, Bivins has unsuccessfully sponsored bills that would have allowed child molesters in Texas prisons to voluntarily undergo castrations. The measure would not have affected their parole dates or their sentences.
Even if the bill Bivins introduced during the 1995 session had passed and been signed into law, it would not have helped McQuay achieve his stated desire because it was limited to repeat offenders. McQuay was disappointed by that stipulation, as well as the bill's eventual death. But Bivins says he included the repeat offender provision in his bill in hope of making it more palatable to some of his colleagues, who voiced concern that a first offender might be too traumatized to make a rational decision.
"My bottom line is, if we can stop one offender from repeating the most heinous crime I know of, then I think it would do some good," the lawmaker says.
Bivins, who plans to reintroduce the measure in the 1997 Legislature, defends his proposal by citing European studies that reportedly show a dramatic decline in the recidivism rate among sex offenders who have been surgically castrated. Castration has been used to treat sex offenders in Denmark, Germany, France and Switzerland, as well as California. In 1973, Bivins says, the Swiss reported that sex offenders there had a recidivism rate of 77 percent. But among the 121 castrated offenders in the study, the rate was just 4.3 percent.
The same studies are also cited by Justice For All, the Houston-based victims' rights organization that is raising money to help McQuay pay for his hoped-for operation.
"He's despicable, but he's smart enough to know that he does not want to get out in his current state of mind," says Justice For All president Pam Lychner.
Lychner contends that many of the psychiatrists and psychologists who oppose castration are afraid they would be put out of business if the surgery became a standard way of treating sex offenders.
After some comparison shopping, Lychner says Justice For All has found that castrations can be performed for between $500 and $3,000. Her organization is trying to raise $3,000 for McQuay, and any leftover funds after the operation would be used for psychological counseling.
Lychner says she's been told by judicial officials that about 100 other child molesters serving time in Texas have expressed interest in the possibility of castration. In response, Lychner says the organization has established a "Protect Our Children Fund."
"The money is not for Larry Don McQuay," she says. "It is for the children of our community. It is to protect them. My issue is not castration. My issue is protecting the children. And if it means Larry Don McQuay first and many more afterward, I hope for this to be an ongoing fund."
As he listens to a reporter's questions, Larry Don McQuay wears a worried expression and tugs on the silver ring he sports on his right hand. Sometimes he can't look his questioner in the eye. But his occasionally shocking responses aren't indicative of a man who is worried about how he or his answers might be interpreted.
Ask him if he's ever thought about having children of his own, and McQuay replies in the affirmative.
"To have [sexual] access to them," he declares in a tone so drained of emotion that he might as well be ordering lunch. "I didn't want to be a parent. I wanted to be a child molester."
McQuay also seems strangely detached when discussing his knowledge of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group that promotes the notion that sex between adults and children is natural and healthy. McQuay says he was receiving NAMBLA's newsletter in prison until the folks in the TDCJ mailroom figured out what it was. (Prison officials were unable to confirm McQuay's claim, but say the NAMBLA publication obviously isn't on the prison system's list of approved publications.) And a short while after expressing his desire not to hurt children any more, McQuay launches into an unsolicited and startling personal testimonial endorsing NAMBLA's philosophy.
"To be honest," he says, "my belief system is that non-harmful sex with a child is feasible. But in today's society, because the way children and people are educated about homosexuality or extracurricular sex or sex between an adult and children is what causes it to be harmful to a child now. It's because of the way most of society believes.
"Sometimes I wish I was born a hundred years ago when you could marry a 12-year-old girl and nobody would think twice about it. Or back in the Greek culture when they had sex with boys. But in today's society that's not acceptable, and I'm not a time traveler, so I can't go back into another society or another culture. I've got to live in this society and I've got to conform to the way it believes."
According to a staff psychologist with Harris County Children's Protective Services, that sort of confession springs from a sick mind, not a set of over-productive testicles.
"That is really amazing," says Dr. Andres Hernandez, who has never treated or met McQuay but reviewed portions of the Press' interview with the inmate. "This man is really out of control. If he is unable to hold that comment [about the NAMBLA philosophy] from you, he is unable to withhold himself from anyone."
Hernandez believes McQuay is in many ways fairly typical of a serial pedophile. The psychologist says that if McQuay is sincere in his desire not to molest again, the best thing for him to do is stay in prison instead of having his testicles removed.
"He should really be out of circulation. And he knows how to do that. He could admit to other crimes -- get prosecuted for those other crimes and stay in jail. Because at this point in his life, I would not recommend for one moment that he be treated on an out-patient basis. He needs to be confined. This man is a predator."
But confessing to other crimes against children and staying in jail past 1998 is not an option that appeals to Larry Don McQuay. He is convinced, or at least claims to be, that through castration and continued therapy he can be cured of his almost lifelong need to molest children. If he doesn't get his operation before the end of his sentence, McQuay says he will remain a danger until he can obtain the surgery in the free world.
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Right now, his lawsuit is pending in a federal court in Houston, but the state attorney general's office has asked that the judge dismiss the inmate's petition. The state is arguing that the prison system does not have the authority or responsibility to provide inmates access to elective surgery.
McQuay, meanwhile, says he hopes to one day lead something resembling a normal life. His family has told him not to contact them when he gets out of prison, and he's resigned to the prospect of being ostracized. So perhaps, he says, he'll start a new life by moving out of state. Maybe he can start a little landscaping business. And maybe, he adds, he might even get married again.
"But if that happens," says McQuay, "I obviously would have some explaining to do."
(Andrea Barnett in Austin contributed to this story.)