The Bee Gees were big and Laura Gill was just 14 the year a teacher at the Potomac School pinned her to the floor of his basement and molested her. Nearly 40 years on, the question she says he asked her is still seared on her mind: Did she like it?
The attack was over quickly, but the betrayal was just beginning. Gill said her parents and another teacher reported Christopher Kloman to the administration of the prestigious school in McLean, Va.
She thought he would be fired, that she’d never see him again. Instead, her parents told her, he was sent to counseling. There he was in the hallway each day as Gill passed, and she felt the eyes of the man some girls dubbed “The Wolf” boring into her.
A woman with a face lightly lined with wrinkles recently took the stand in a Fairfax County courtroom and faced Kloman again, her story finally spilling out. Gill is now 51.
For Gill and other women molested by Kloman in the 1960s and ’70s at Potomac, the court case was the start of an extraordinary and public quest for justice after years of pain, anger and silence. Kloman was sentenced in October to 43 years in prison. The five women he was found guilty of abusing, and others who say they were also victims, agreed to be identified in this article.
The women’s stories reveal how the abuse they suffered affected their confidence, happiness and sense of belonging, and how the isolation has continued as they progressed through life.
Some of the Potomac victims are in their 50s and 60s. They include an executive director of a nonprofit organization, a nurse and a landscape designer. Some are mothers, who have children around the age as when they were abused. Yet most said they sometimes feel like they are still those girls.
One isolated herself from men for part of her life. Another found herself helpless when faced with fresh abuse. Some attributed serious physical ailments to the stress of the violations they suffered.
“People say it happened so long ago, but it hasn’t gone away,” said Anne Sullivan, another victim.
“The abuse is a wound that gets opened and reopened. It happens when you get married and tell your husband about it and when you talk with a friend who has been raped. . . . Time doesn’t heal all wounds.”
Represented by nationally known attorney Gloria Allred, the women have demanded that Potomac give an accounting of how many girls Kloman, now 74, victimized, what it knew about him and whether it did enough to stop him.
Most say they never told anyone about the abuse, but Gill and another victim said their parents warned the school about him. A Fairfax County prosecutor said in court that Kloman told detectives he was reported to the school and sent to counseling.
Two former headmasters Kloman worked under said they were never told of his abuse. John Kowalik, the head of Potomac since August, said the current administration had no indication that anyone came forward about Kloman but that the school will investigate the women’s claims. He apologized on behalf of the school.
“What has happened to these women over the years, I can’t comprehend,” Kowalik said. “It deserves our best effort to find out what the school actually knew and when.”
The women say they are determined to force new safeguards for students and show that healing can begin, even after so many years.
“We’re hoping with Kloman being sentenced and the school investigation, we can all get out of the victim role,” Gill said. “Instead of using the word victim, use the word survivor.”
Before he was called “The Wolf,” Kloman targeted his first victim at Potomac. Cricket Beauregard believes she may have been that person, although she was not part of the criminal case against Kloman.
She was in ninth grade at the school, which has long educated the children of Washington’s elite. Potomac has counted the children of congressmen, ambassadors and foreign royalty among its students.
The year was 1966, and she said a new geography teacher had quickly established a reputation for cool. He was funny, irreverent and in his 20s. She would see him at school and on the weekends. He became familiar.
“He seemed closer to our age than everyone else,” Beauregard, 62, said of Kloman. “Over the course of the fall, he kept asking, ‘Cricket, what would you love to be doing this year?’ ”
The answer for Beauregard was downhill skiing and driving — they meant freedom to a girl poised between childhood and adolescence. She said Kloman told her that he had a deal for her: If she cleaned his Georgetown home, he would teach her both.
One time, he met her at his door in a terry-cloth bathrobe. Once inside, he pulled her on top of him and grinded against her, she said. She remembers how calmly he explained it was okay because he also did it with her close friend. And then, she said, he had sex with her.
Potomac had built her into a confident and happy girl, but that girl “started shutting down,” she said.
For Beauregard and the other women, boundaries were erased. Trust in everyone crumbled. Many said they didn’t fully comprehend what Kloman was doing to them. They were too young.
“It destroyed my internal compass,” Beauregard said. “I didn’t know what was right or wrong anymore. I couldn’t make decisions for myself. . . . I was an automaton.”
Beauregard also thought: I must be the only one.
She was wrong. The pattern of molestation played out again and again in the years that followed. Kloman attacked a girl he invited over for a swim. He molested another he called to his classroom and accused of cheating. A third who babysat his daughter made allegations of abuse.
Interviews and court documents show that at least 15 women accused Kloman of abuse over nearly two decades from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s.
Nearly all of the abuse involved rubbing up against girls.
Kloman’s attorney declined to comment, but a prosecutor said during his plea hearing that he told detectives he molested fewer than 10 girls. He also apologized at his sentencing.
Kloman told Fairfax County detectives that Gill reported him to an unnamed school official, Fairfax County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine Stott said in court. The official then told the bishop of the defendant’s Episcopal church, who referred him to a counselor.
Most of the girls chose to cope the only way they knew how: by burying it.
“I developed a public, accomplished self,” said another victim, the Rev. Jane Soyster Gould. “And on the other side, I literally lived terrified that someone would discover the secrets of my life.”
Throughout the years of abuse, Kloman remained on Potomac’s staff and was promoted to an administrative role as head of the upper school. Kowalik said Kloman left the school in 1994 because of “performance and leadership” issues, but he would not elaborate.
He was sent off with a party and a warm dedication at the front of the yearbook.
“He has encouraged and guided the growth of students into young adults, teaching them about the world and themselves and ways to make those two coincide,” the dedication reads. “He has touched all of our lives in a special way.”
But for the women who were abused, Kloman’s lessons were very different. One recalled how she was molested on a bus at 14 and did nothing to stop it. Kloman had taught her to be helpless in the face of such violations.
Gould said Kloman taught her to avoid men. She had no male friends in high school and didn’t date at all. When she finally married and later had a son, she was struck as the days-old child glanced up at her one night.
“ ‘I don’t know the first thing about boys,’ ” Gould recalled telling him. “ ‘We are going to have to learn together.’ ”
Edie Dillon, who alleged that Kloman abused her when he was caring for her while her parents were on a trip, said she was the first full-time female park ranger in the Northern Cascades of Washington in the 1970s and directed a natural- history center. But when she had children, she gave up an ambitious career because she couldn’t bring herself to put them in day care — she said the slim possibility that they might be made vulnerable was too difficult to accept.
Gill said the double violation of Kloman’s abuse and her feeling that the school didn’t do enough to stop him destroyed her sense of self-worth, a feeling that has been difficult to rebuild.
“Nobody thought that what he did was bad enough to protect me,” Gill said.
She said she drifted into behavior that was self-destructive, which she didn’t want to discuss, and later suffered breast cancer and had a hysterectomy. She believes her emotional suffering played into her physical problems, something other survivors of molestation have also reported.
Until her mid-30s, Gill also held herself responsible for the abuse — a notion she was able to dispel only when a therapist suggested that she write a letter to the man who molested her. She added up exactly how much it would cost for therapy and demanded the money.
“I told him he was a monster and he had betrayed me,” Gill said. “I said he was an adult I trusted. He threw that all aside to gratify himself.” She said that Kloman, to her surprise, wrote back apologizing and sent her about $4,000.
After leaving Potomac, Kloman taught briefly at Barnesville School in Dickerson, Md., prosecutors said. School officials did not return a call seeking comment.
In 1995, he moved to the Washington Episcopal School of Bethesda, where he worked for a decade, serving as middle school director and assistant head of school, school officials said. They said they were unaware of any complaints of “inappropriate conduct” during his tenure.
For the women, many eventually began to deal with the abuse. Attacks that lasted seconds or minutes required years of therapy. Others said loving, patient husbands allowed them to breach the icy distances they had put between themselves and others.
Some learned to use it — that’s all they could do. Gould said she decided to work with young people, the poor and immigrants because her experience created an empathy for those prone to abuse.
“Horrible things can open us to transforming ourselves,” Gould said.
But it would take an improbable encounter and a national conversation on sex abuse to fully confront the 40-year-old secret they shared. Sullivan said she was walking down the hallway of her son’s school in November 2011 when she stopped short: There was Christopher Kloman.
His hair had gone white, but the man who had abused her so long ago was a substitute teacher at Washington Episcopal School. The girls in her son’s school were the same age she was when she first encountered him at Potomac.
“That put me squarely facing my conscience,” said Sullivan, now 57. “I thought, ‘Oh, man. I can’t live with myself anymore.’ ”
Soon after, charges in the Penn State sex-abuse scandal were filed, and the head of Washington Episcopal sent out a message on a Friday afternoon. If you see sex abuse, it said, say something. The following Monday morning, Sullivan finally did.
The tip prompted a year-long investigation by Fairfax County police. Women who suffered alone with the abuse for years suddenly found each other. They reconnected and shared their stories. It brought them strength.
Kloman was arrested in November 2012, and in August, he pleaded guilty to molesting five former students: Gill, Sullivan, Gould, Kim Shorb and Julia Craighill.
On Oct. 18, the women got up one by one at Kloman’s sentencing and detailed the abuse. They gave each other high-fives after their wrenching testimony, hugged one another and burst out laughing when one described Kloman as ugly.
One woman sat in the front row of the courtroom, silently holding up a photo of herself as a young girl.
When Gill took the stand, Kloman kept his eyes lowered, staring at the defendant’s table. The old gaze that had transfixed her so long ago was gone. Gill carried on clear and determined.
“I feel like justice is going to be served now,” Gill testified. “I have a voice now.”