Correction: An earlier version of this column mistakenly said Michael E. Eck, one of the men named in the files, “did respond” to phone calls seeking comment. Eck did not respond to repeated calls.
How in the world can a parent not get paranoid reading these files?
In camps, cul-de-sacs, basement meetings and cars on the ride home, Boy Scouts were stalked and assaulted by grown-ups they trusted: their scoutmasters and troop volunteers.
The Boy Scouts of America “perversion files”— a compendium of pedophiles and how they operated from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s — were released by court order last week. I swear, they are the scariest reading around today.
Pick a state or home town or place you once passed through on a cross-country trip, and I’ll bet you’ll find a case there among the nearly 15,000 pages of horror.
I read through at least 60 files from troops in Virginia, Maryland and the District — letters from scoutmasters detailing suspicions about other volunteers, letters from parents, court records, arrest reports and heartbreaking accounts of abuse handwritten in awkward boy penmanship.
In Maryland, the documents introduce us to Eric A. Griffin, an assistant scoutmaster in Arnold who was booted from the organization in 1974 for allegedly taking nude photos of boys. The Scouts red-flagged him, and that kept him out when he tried to volunteer in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1976. But two years later, he managed to get back into Scouting in Pennsylvania, according to the files, and was accused of messing around with more boys, including the son of the troop’s scoutmaster.
Griffin, who didn’t respond to my calls seeking comment, was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 16 in Pensacola, Fla., in 1984. Florida prison records indicate that he served 30 days for that crime.
Then there is David McDonald Rankin, an Adelphi troop leader who pleaded guilty in 1987 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court to making boys perform sex acts to get into his special Scout club called “The Rowdies.” Rankin, who also didn’t respond to my phone calls, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
But no charges were ever brought against a troop leader who sent graphic letters to the Scouts he molested in Michigan in 1979. He then tried — unsuccessfully, thank goodness — to rejoin Scouting when he moved to Maryland. The handwritten letters in the court files are stomach-churning, with lots of detail and instructions to rip them apart and throw them away.
The parents, according to the file, never went to the police. I tracked the guy down but couldn’t find any criminal charges against him or any appearance on a sex-offender registry. I doubt that means there haven’t been more victims.
The release of the files has been an embarrassment to the Boy Scouts, which in 2010 finally adopted a policy of requiring local Scout leaders to report sex-abuse allegations to police.
“There have been instances where people misused their positions in scouting to abuse children, and, in certain cases, our response to these incidents, and our efforts to protect youth, were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong,” Wayne Perry, the national president of the Boy Scouts, said in a statement last week. “Where those involved in scouting failed to protect, or, worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies.”
Some of the cases are 50 years old, but the methodology of the perpetrators doesn’t vary much with the passage of time.
The pedophiles jumped from city to city and across state lines. And for many, Scouting wasn’t the only access they had to children. Some were teachers, counselors and coaches. There was a child psychiatrist and a man who lived at and ran a mini-golf course.
In some of the files, you could see the efforts the Boy Scouts made to contain a problem when they saw one coming.
In 1991, they opened up a file on Michael E. Eck, a Boy Scout volunteer in Richmond. According to his file, he’d allegedly been “playing doctor” with the Scouts.
One of the West Coast lawyers involved in forcing the Boy Scouts to make the files public, Tim Kosnoff, sent me a more detailed file on Eck than the summary available online. In it, boys wrote wrenching letters about a man they trusted. He made them sit back as he “practiced” on their bodies for “a medical exam” he was supposedly about to take to become an EMT. The Boy Scouts refused to allow Eck to volunteer any longer, despite a rambling, desperate letter that’s included in his file begging to be let back in.
End of story? Sadly, no.
Three years later, Eck showed up in a Richmond court on a sexual battery charge involving a minor. That got him a 12-month suspended sentence, Virginia court records show. Then, in 1999, according to court files, he got acquainted with U.S. marshals on a federal child-porn charge. He spent more than three years in jail before being released on March 28, 2003, according to federal Bureau of Prison records.
Eck did not respond to my repeated calls. These days, besides stints as the coordinator of wine-country events around central Virginia, he also keeps current residence on the Department of Justice’s sex- offender registry.
Many former scoutmasters live on that Web site, where their repeated offenses, even after the Boy Scouts booted them, are documented.
Like David Culver of Elkton, Md., who was sentenced to 51 / 2 years after being convicted of assaulting two Scouts in 1979, according to the Boy Scout files. Once he got out, he moved on to victims in Delaware, where he was convicted of more sexual assaults in 1996, according to federal sex- offender records.
There’s one of the more famous villains, Alan Horowitz, a Harvard-educated child psychiatrist who had a whole repertoire of ways to get to little boys. Before pleading guilty to assaulting two boys in 1983 in the Western Maryland town of Smithsburg, he had been a scoutmaster in Georgia. He later made an all-out effort to reenter Scouting in Iowa.
In this case, the Scout’s system worked, and the red flags kept him away from more Boy Scouts. He turned instead to assaulting his patients and the stepchildren of the family he married into in Israel, according to court records. He is in prison in New York. Throw away the key, please.
There are plenty of files with horrible, vivid details of the things that the young Scouts had the courage to reveal but no adult had the courage to pursue.
In 1983, a married scoutmaster in Western Maryland allegedly pursued an Eagle Scout, repeatedly asking him for oral sex. The Scout finally reported it. His parents were outraged but said they didn’t want to hurt Scouting. So they agreed not to call police if the Scouts simply removed the guy. What do you think he’s been doing since then?
Silence, shielding and shunting offenders are ruinous techniques when it comes to something as serious as child sex abuse. That’s been true within the Catholic Church and other religious denominations, our public schools and youth sports. Just this month, we learned that a beloved children’s television host in Britain, the late Jimmy Savile, may have abused about 300 victims over several decades.
I shudder to think about the damage done by troop leaders who were exiled by the Boy Scouts, then disappeared. Research tells us child molesters don’t just quit. They go on to live among us, to keep stalking and hurting. They move to other states and become summer camp volunteers or work at a Boys & Girls Club. And they know how to put themselves in places where we trust them with our children.
Jerry Sandusky, anyone?
Maybe the spate of high-profile sex-abuse scandals of the past decade means we are finally getting past our secrecy and denial. But even today, when it comes to keeping our kids safe, paranoia can be a healthy thing.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.