"Mom is dangerous," Elmendorf told her, according to a report Puente later filed in court. "She is using the kids for whatever means. . . . I think that the inappropriate seeking of medical care has been going on for years."
About two months later, she reached a preliminary conclusion: Leslie, she told Puente, had "fabricated a long list of medical diagnoses for the children."
That was enough for Puente and her bosses. On Dec. 7, 2005, the children were taken from their school. Five days later, a judge placed them in the state's custody.
The case against the Munchausen mom began to build.
In interviews with social workers, doctors recounted Leslie's "belligerent" refusal to believe their diagnoses. The teachers said the kids seemed normal, not fragile or sick. In a letter, the school psychologist described how Leslie had called in September 2005, concerned that Abram was dyslexic, when testing showed reading was his strength. Longtime school nurse Merry Herrmann told detectives she'd suspected Munchausen by proxy all along.
The mother, she said, was trying "to get attention and to be able to continue to stay home and not work," according to the detectives' report.
Back in school, the kids were brought in to be interviewed by Puente, one by one. "It was a little terrifying," Matthew Udvardi recalled. "She was saying, 'Your mom is doing stuff to make you sick.' "
Dr. Sarah Roddy, a pediatric neurologist at Loma Linda, told detectives she didn't believe Esther had a Chiari malformation. The Chiari Institute, she said, was "questionable" and "will do surgery on anyone."
Meanwhile, Sheridan-Matney made her way through the volumes of medical records. "There are some examples of genuine illness for Esther," she wrote in her final report. "However, almost from birth, exaggerations and fabrications began."
The children, all basically healthy, were subjected to "many unnecessary and often painful medical tests, procedures and treatments," Sheridan-Matney wrote.
Leslie, she said, "has a compelling need to see her children in the sick role, and no amount of normal studies or normal reporting will convince her otherwise."
"In my opinion," Sheridan-Matney concluded, "no medical decision should be made on these children based on symptoms described by Mrs. Udvardi."
'Hard to trust anyone'
"I was terrified, completely terrified," Matthew Udvardi said of the day he joined his younger siblings in the white van. Esther was in the corner, crying.
She and Abram, the two youngest, were taken to one foster home, Matthew and Sam to another.
The older boys' foster parents spoke mostly Spanish, and no one would discuss what was going to happen to them.
"Oh, God, what if they take us away from my parents permanently?'" Matthew, now 18, recalled thinking.
As far back as Matthew could remember, he and his siblings had seemed to have more health problems than most kids. But he'd never felt there was anything wrong with his family, including his mother. His ailments -- depression, food allergies -- were real. "I can feel the things happening to me," he said.