Lords of Bakersfield: The Lawsuit is the next act in a salacious, 40-year-old drama

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — When the Kern County Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, the agenda will include some of the issues we’ve come to expect; audit reports and local water board appointments.

But, in closed session, also this: The Lords of Bakersfield; the 1980s legend about local men of prominence who preyed on teen boys resulting, on several occasions, in homicide.

And now, resulting in a lawsuit.

The story behind that lawsuit began on a warm Friday night in August 1981. Then 17-year-old Robert Mistriel was taking Ed Buck out for a ride on Bakersfield-Glennville Road. They were taking the long way around to Lake Isabella. Or so Ed Buck thought. In reality, he was being set up.

Kern County’s 55-year-old personnel director and Mistriel’s alleged sexual tormentor was being set up to be robbed and murdered by the man in the car following them. 

When Mistriel pulled over on the dark, desolate road north of town, then 18-year-old Roy Matthew Camenisch pulled over in front of them, got out, walked back to Buck’s car and killed Ed Buck with a hammer and a knife. Three days later, investigators found Buck’s charred body in the trunk of his car, parked in the garage of his fire-ravaged home.

That gruesome murder became the dark touchstone of the Lords of Bakersfield: a salacious legend of the alleged network of prominent local men who preyed on teen boys throughout much of 1970s and early 80s.

Now, 40 years after that shocking homicide, one of the killers has offered not a defense or a denial but context: Allegations that suggest circumstances largely beyond his control as a teen contributed significantly to the crime. And those allegations have now become public in a lawsuit against the County of Kern, the City of Bakersfield and Catholic Charities.

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The Kern County Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session Tuesday to decide on the next appropriate step.

Mistriel served nearly 38 years in prison. Now he is going after the entities that he said led him into the life that produced that heinous crime.

Mistriel, who said he worked as a gay prostitute from the age of 11, identified these Lords of Bakersfield like this in an exclusive interview with KGET:

“Well, pretty highfalutin’ politicians in Bakersfield,” he said. “There were Superior Court judges, wealthy business people,  protected by district attorneys and law enforcement type people. A lot of highfalutin’ people involved.”

Among Mistriel’s claims: The now-defunct San Felipe Boys Home in Bakersfield, associated with Catholic Charities, allowed men to take court-supervised juveniles from the boys home, claiming they wanted to hire them, but instead sexually abused them. 

One of those men with special access to the residents of San Felipe Boys Home, according to Mistriel, was a close friend of the District Attorney. That outsider’s access is the basis of Mistriel’s claim against Catholic Charities.

Mistriel also said he told his County Juvenile Probation officer about the abuse and she failed to act as a mandatory reporter as required by law. 

In her testimony at Mistriel’s 1983 murder trial, the probation officer confirmed Mistriel had in fact in informed her of alleged abuse. That’s the basis of Mistriel’s claim against Kern County.

Sound unlikely? Well, consider the findings of the State Board of Parole Hearings, which granted Mistriel his freedom two years ago. 

“My last parole hearing, in 2019,” Mistriel said, “the parole commissioner finally acknowledged I was in fact the victim of childhood trafficking and under those circumstances kind of understood what I did, though didn’t condone it.”

In voting to grant him parole, Commissioner Mary Thornton said it was not legally possible for Mistriel to consent to deviant behavior with adults as an 11- or 12-year-old. 

According to hearing transcripts she said: “This would be looked at now as a case of human trafficking. You were made a victim for quite a length of time with a number of different people.”

Neil Schneider, presiding commissioner, said, “Exposure to deviant peer [behavior] leads to increased deviant behavior[…]Your deviant peers ended up being a whole cast of adult males. [In this case] the young juvenile was exploited by a bunch of powerful, well-to-do adults.”

The civil rights lawsuit was originally filed as a legal claim in May and made public in late October. It lists the plaintiffs as well as all of the defendants, known and unknown, as John Does, but supplementary documents list Mistriel as the plaintiff and the defendants as the, quote, Bakersfield District Attorney, the Bakersfield Juvenile Probation Department, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fresno, the City of Bakersfield and the County of Kern. 

AB 218, which deals with childhood sexual abuse, effectively extends the statute of limitations to include cases like this, according to Mistriel’s attorneys.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said the city was served in late October and said that the matter was referred to the city’s outside counsel. She characterized the suit as, quote, a “vanilla complaint” that failed to specify how the city may have had jurisdiction over or involvement with the boys home that’s alleged to have been at fault.

Jeff Negrete, executive director of Catholic Charities, referred questions to the Diocese of Fresno. Diocese spokesman Chandler Marquez has not returned requests for comment.

Kern County Counsel Margo Raison has also not returned requests for comment.

Mistriel was legally required to file a claim with the county prior to filing the lawsuit, which he did. The county rejected that claim, according to Mistriel’s attorney Sam Dordulian. 

Mistriel is seeking an unspecified sum of money for loss of income and emotional damages.

It’s the case that just won’t go away, even 40 years later, and if it proceeds, it could get uncomfortable and expensive.

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