The grass has gone to seed on the lawn of the 1 1/2-acre Tennessee Boys Farm, and only the smashed remains of a photographic lab in a red plywood outbuilding serves as a reminder that it was the scene for five years of what authorities called a "house of boy prostitution" that furnished photographs of wayward young boys engaged in homosexual activity to a network of sponsors across the nation.
Inside the seven-room partial brick A-frame, where director Rev. Claudius I. Vermilye allegedly commited and filmed the "crimes against nature" that netted him a 25-to-10-year prision sentence from a Franklin County jury Friday, only torn copies of Reader's Digest, a faded copy of "The Power of Positive Thinking" and a set of word flash cards piled on the carpet were left of the defrocked Episcopal priest's home "where boys could learn self-respect and responsibility."
At the small grocery store that sells gas, bologna, snuff and other vitals to this Appalachian foothills farming, community, Mrs. Pete Hill, the owner, was still shaking her head in disbelief. "I just can't believe it went on that long without anyone in the community knowing," she said. "You know how boys are, they want to brag and tell their friends, but those boys got on the bus here and shopped here and we just didn't know. The community wasn't involved."
Hill, stopping her conversation for a moment to sell a bottle of pop and package of crackers, says she felt sorry for "Bud," the name Vermilye was known by locally when he was pastor of the Alto Parish from 1953 to 1962, because "nobody from his family came to support him. If I had a son who did what he did, whether I agreed with it or not, I would have come. Nobody came."
Hill said Vermilye, who frequently bragged about his wealthy New York parents, shopped at the store and always seemed like a real nice man. The boys helped the farmers around here in the hay and nobody suspected anything." She speculated that if the boys had not had trouble in the past "people might have been more concerned."
At the placid town of Winchester, the county seat of an area that is a geographical pause between the Cumberland Plateau coal field and the Frey Drewry said the county was relieved that "the week that was, was over."
He attributed the lack of community hostility that often comes of spectacular trials in the mountains to the fact that "this subject was over the people's heads. They didn't understand it.Maybe if it had been girls out there, it would have been different. I don't know."
But Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Campbell, dining at the 19th-century Hundred Oaks castle modeled after Sir Walter Scott's, was certain that if the jury had deadlocked, "we'd have had trouble on our hands tonight."
"It just seems so out of character," said Mrs. Clifford Williams, a housewife who was one of two character witnesses for Vermilye called by the defense. But Willaims said her knowledge of Vermilye came only from the time he was pastor of the tiny, whiteframe Alto parish.
And, she said after reflecting on the evidence, "anyone who did the things they're talking about should be put in stock out here on the courthouse lawn so people can throw rotten eggs at him."
Vermilye, who remained in jail today, unable to make $20,000 bond, took the stand in his own defense and denied that he had commited homosexual acts with the boys under his care or that he had posed then for pornographic photographs received by the home's sponsors across the country.
But, in the face of some 2,000 photographs and 13 letters he wrote to a Delaware sponsor last year, offering slide sets for $25 and touting the skills of two 15-year-old boys at the farm, Vermilye was forced to admit that he had sent nude photos and sex-filled letters to some homosexual sponsors. He maintained, however, that he did this only as a "counselor" in an effort to "keep their desires in the closet."
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Greer consolidated the 12 sentences against Vermilye (totaling 105-165 years) into three groups, to run 25 to 40 years, after telling the defendant he was convinced that the two boys who testified for the defense commited perjury at the direction of Vermilye.
One of those youth, James Puckett, 21, who was the first resident of the Boys Farm when Vermilye established it in 1971, was arrested on a perjury warrant when he visited Vermilye at the jail Friday night, according to Sheriff Jim Brazelton.
Local police were seeking the second youth cited by Judge Green Danny Smith, 15, on charges that he assaulted his mother last week at her home in nearby Estill Springs. He had lived at the farm since he was 11.
Tommy Fly, 15, who testified that he engaged in sex with Vermilye and boys at the farm rather than return to his mother and stepfather in Estill Springs, was also being held today in the county jail in Winchester, pending his return to state juvenile institution in Nashville. He was sent there last month on a marijuana possession charge.