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Reardon Victim Goes Public, Blasts St. Francis Hospital
On a Sunday afternoon in March 1970, Dr. George Reardon photographed me in degrading, sexually provocative poses in his office at St. Francis Hospital.
It was just another day for the doctor. Afterward, he stopped at Arthur Drug on Farmington Avenue for a pack of cigarettes and The New York Times.
Here's what he didn't expect: When I got home, I told my mother what he did to me. She got a lawyer and filed a formal complaint. The medical authorities assured us Reardon would be stopped. They lied.
The statute of limitations on my case has expired. General Motors will have a zero carbon footprint before I see a cent out of this. I was 13 in March 1970. I'm 51 years old now, too old to collect but too young to forget.
What does the money mean, anyway? Money won't heal the victims Reardon traumatized, many of them repeatedly over several years. Time obviously hasn't. How many victims' lives have been ruined by drugs or alcohol, haunted by the memories or shattered when no one believed their stories?
There are much higher stakes than money here — like truth, accountability and healing. That's why I'm handing in my John Doe card today. Too much of the money, unfortunately, goes to the lawyers.
"This," one of them told me, testily, referring to their legal assault on St. Francis, "does not concern you."
What a coincidence. St. Francis Hospital has been taking the same dismissive tone for years. I know what the lawyer meant; I'm not the one who filed the sworn statement. But my mother, now 75, may well be the lawyers' winning Powerball number because her testimony could elevate the 100 or so lawsuits already filed against the hospital into a monster payout.
Going public with my story, I hope, will mean substantially more than money for all the victims ignored or discredited for so many years — all those afraid to speak up or whose stories were rejected, sadly, by parents too horrified and shamed to admit they delivered their child to a pedophile.
The deluge of child pornography discovered last year behind a false wall in the basement of Reardon's former home on Griswold Drive in West Hartford isn't the only evidence to corroborate the horrors of the past four decades. Among the hidden reels of film and boxes of slides, West Hartford police also discovered a manila envelope, in a brown cardboard box, containing incriminating documents that, until a month ago, I did not know existed.
My name is on those documents.
They include: the sworn complaint filed by my mother, Marcia Hunt of Wethersfield, detailing the afternoon Reardon photographed me and another boy; a formal letter to Reardon from Joseph S. Sadowski, then a St. Francis neurosurgeon and chairman of the Hartford County Medical Association's Ethics and Deportment Committee, who handled the complaint; an undated "memorandum" from Sadowski summarizing the complaint in greater detail; Reardon's 15-page rebuttal; and, finally, a terse statement from my mother's attorney, the renowned Hartford criminal lawyer James N. Egan, saying criminal charges would not be filed.
A boy's word against a prominent physician would have had no chance in court in 1970. Sadowski, who died in 2001, assured my mother Reardon would be stopped. My mother trusted Sadowski. He was her doctor, a respected neurosurgeon who had operated on her back recently. She told him what happened to me as she sat in his office adjacent to the hospital at 1000 Asylum Ave. during a follow-up visit after her surgery. He's the one who suggested she file a complaint with the ethics committee.
Sadowski was a prominent, powerful physician at the hospital and within the Hartford medical community. My mother believed she had taken the ultimate action — until 1979, the medical association was the top agency governing physicians.
Only in 1993, after multiple complaints against Reardon prompted state health department hearings, did we realize the hospital's chief of endocrinology and growth-study mastermind had gone unchecked for decades.
We were devastated. But without the documentation of our complaint, what could we do? How do you avoid losing when you know you can't win?
If we took our story to St. Francis, we knew what we'd hear.
See that exit sign over there?
It's time for an apology, St. Francis. Time to take off the dunce caps.
And can we get something straight? Aside from being dismissed and discredited, Reardon's victims have been cast by some experts as dysfunctional or disfigured, even mentally ill. Please. I wasn't even a patient of Reardon.
I was just one of the kids from a local judo club he recruited into his human growth study, an honor-roll student who hated chocolate milk, refused to wear bell-bottoms and was crushed when the Boston Red Sox didn't win the 1967 World Series.
I'd bet his victims could put together a pretty good All-Star team right now: doctors, lawyers, businessmen, even a court official who oversees sex offenders in upstate New York — the very region where Reardon is said to have committed some of his most heinous acts. I'm an assistant features editor at The Courant and write a column on home entertainment technology for The Courant and the Chicago Tribune. I might not even make the starting lineup.
At least grant Reardon this much: He did not discriminate.
The last place I thought I'd be, almost 10 years after Reardon died, was at the West Hartford Police Department sitting at a third-floor conference table with Det. Frank Fallon and my mother, on a misty Friday night in early May, examining the documents in my 38-year-old case.
I called Fallon after the shocking announcement last November of the Griswold Drive discovery, letting him know about my experience and my mother's formal complaint. I asked him to call if he came across anything related to me.
It was a long shot. But I'd give up my life as a John Doe if our complaint was verified. What would St. Francis say then? In late April, Fallon called back. He'd found what I needed. The next day, I started working on this story.
Even now, with the department's 13 detectives pitching in, police say only about an eighth of the slides have been analyzed and cataloged for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a law-enforcement clearinghouse. Lt. Donald Melanson, who is coordinating the investigation, says that based on the number of slides, which he now estimates at 60,000, there could be as many as 500 victims.
"Reardon has the potential," Fallon told me, "to go down in the history of the United States of America as one of the biggest monsters in this genre."
It's easy to see endocrinology as an easy-access entry into an adult life of pedophilia. As for Reardon's childhood, maybe the psychiatrists he so clearly fooled during state-ordered assessments at the Institute of Living should consider what trauma he himself might have endured.
"It's hard to imagine that he was not a victim at some point," says Fallon. "It's just hard to believe he wasn't exposed to it."
For virtually his entire professional life, Reardon hid behind the protective cloak of St. Francis and its close ties to the Catholic Church. And just in case, police say, he carried a handgun for protection. He lived his life in fear. Yet no one — adult victim, parent, brother or uncle — apparently ever sought revenge. He never spent a day in court, much less a day in prison.
St. Francis, the largest Catholic hospital in New England, whose mission is "to continue Christ's ministry in our Franciscan tradition," for decades has denied knowledge of, and responsibility for, the abuses.
In my case, St. Francis officials insist that the hospital never knew of my mother's complaint, that Sadowski may have practiced there but was not technically on the staff, and that Sadowski's response was as a representative of the medical association.
"Dr. Sadowski was a private physician who was not employed by St. Francis," a hospital spokesman said after lawyers recently asked a Waterbury judge to release the documents from the Griswold Drive house. "Any information about Dr. Reardon that Dr. Sadowski may have learned in that capacity cannot and should not be attributed to St. Francis."
And so the hospital continues its campaign of ignorance.
When the pornography cache was discovered, St. Francis continued to minimize its knowledge and its responsibility.
"One hundred [victims] over 30 years is not a constant parade" to Reardon's hospital office, said Barry Feldman, the hospital's general counsel and senior vice president.
Heckuva job, Feldie.
What St. Francis has accomplished is no less remarkable than if it had insisted, for almost 40 years, that it was unaware of any rain on hospital grounds. Rain? Sorry, it's an ongoing scientific study of a translucent, above-ground sprinkler system.
Well, here's the forecast for Monday morning when St. Francis officials report to work: It's going to be raining, hard.
My Mother's Courage
If it's any consolation, St. Francis, you probably couldn't have stopped Reardon from preying on children. But you could have made it tougher for him to recruit them into his phantom research and onto the underground railroad that led to summer weekends at his Brant Lake cabin in Horicon, N.Y.
All you had to do was prohibit him from seeing a patient in his office without the child's parent or another professional, either another doctor or a nurse, present.
Instead, your inaction abetted an unbearable tragedy, overlapping generations for some families still struggling to acknowledge it ever happened. I'm one of the lucky ones. I had one traumatic experience and it was over.
Through a prism that spans the breadth of Reardon's abuse, I can now see the courage and conviction in my mother's response. I can only hope that a small fraction of it has been handed down to me. At the time, I thought she was just being a mother.
Yet there appears to be no other report of a child who: 1) told a parent after a single episode, 2) whose parent believed him or her, and 3) whose parent acted swiftly.
My mother, flanked by the flamboyant Egan, confronted Reardon face-to-face in a meeting with Sadowski back in 1970.
Egan, perhaps Hartford's best-known criminal lawyer, was an oversize figure (6 feet 4, 260 pounds) with a towering presence: He was a Trinity College and Harvard Law School graduate, a Rhodes scholar and former city prosecutor with a photographic memory, an Irish wit and an Irish thirst.
He gained national notoriety in 1956 by winning $32,000 on "The $64,000 Question" — the quiz show that ultimately dissolved in scandal — with his even-larger brother Bill (6-4, 360 pounds), answering questions about Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, King Oliver and boxing. He later appeared, for 17 years, as a panelist on the local quiz show, "What in the World."
Egan was the type of guy you'd want on your side. He lived an extravagant life, outfitted in custom-tailored suits — shipped from Hong Kong to his Washington Street office — always with a carnation affixed to his lapel and a bow tie. He had a personal driver. He spent money freely, not all of it his own. In Ireland, which he often visited, he could spin a story in the neighborhood pub as if he were a local. His family called him "Iggy, the great and glorious."
Egan was old-fashioned, too. He'd give a speech to a local athletic club, then donate the fee to the club. He kept regular Sunday business hours. And he had a Catholic conscience: When my mother told him what happened, he said he'd help her, no charge, and get "that bastard."
Oh, how I'd love to hear him talk about that April Sunday in his office in 1970.
I've always imagined that meeting as if it were film noir, with the sinister endocrinologist, the brassy dame and her intimidating lawyer sitting at a table in the lawyer's Washington Street office with the virtuous neurosurgeon who presided over the medical association's ethics committee. The virtuous surgeon would take care of everything.
It was all true except that last sentence.
After the meeting, Sadowski took my mother aside and said he admired her courage. He promised that nothing like this would happen again. That's all we wanted to hear. We didn't want money. We didn't want to embarrass the hospital, and certainly not the church.
The Ides Of March
In the unsettled world of 1970, doctors and priests were as trusted as Walter Cronkite.
On Sundays, families went to church, then ate a traditional Sunday afternoon dinner together. Women were not yet integrated into the workforce, though my mother didn't have much of a choice: She had five children, ages 6 to 14.
My mother, then 37, dressed as if she were going to work anyway: immaculate and feminine, with Catwoman glasses and towering hair sculpted like a World's Fair exhibit. But she drank beer and punctuated her strongest points with "goddamn" or "sonuvabitch." Once, in a houseful of relatives at our White Sands Beach vacation home in Old Lyme, she lit up a cigar — to my horror — no doubt to mock the men who smoked them.
She believed in old-school, Catholic values and Catholic discipline. Her words could sting like an Arctic freeze at the tip of your nose. (Her two-word condemnation of Reardon: "Devil's Playmate.") When she reached for the wooden "Hunt and Shea" yardstick — a marketing tool from my father's old rug business — it wasn't to measure curtains. We'd scatter, the five of us kids, like startled deer.
My first job as a 13-year-old was stacking shelves at a local market. The boredom, and the droning Muzak, were killers. It did not go well. One day, as I stacked individual rolls of Scott toilet paper, much too methodically, a manager walked past the aisle, stopped, and looked at me.
Later, I was called into the office and handed a pink slip. It was a long walk home. What do I tell my mother?
I handed her the pink slip.
"What happened?" she asked.
I must have blubbered a bit.
"I didn't stack toilet paper fast enough, Mom," I said.
I'm sure now that she wanted to laugh, but instead she offered comfort. Then, just as I started to feel better, she said:
"You better get another goddamn job."
So I did.
In those days, there was no Internet, cellphone or iPod, no soccer moms or adolescents "hooking up." Rubbers were something people wore on their feet.
Almost 70 drive-in movie theaters were still active in Connecticut. Ed Sullivan remained a Sunday night television highlight. Some doctors still made house calls. Adolescents my age were playing Spin the Bottle. Sex education, the formal ninth-grade version — often the only version — was more than a year away.
The days and weeks ahead produced the Kent State shootings and the Beatles' final album, "Let it Be." Late that summer, Jane Fonda, John Kerry and Donald Sutherland attended an anti-war rally in Valley Forge, Pa. Jimi Hendrix choked on his vomit. Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin. "Doonesbury" debuted.
And Dr. George Reardon photographed naked children in his office at St. Francis Hospital.
In late 1969, Reardon discovered fertile ground — beyond the confines of his medical practice — by joining the Hartford Judo Club, a stifling 3,800-foot studio above an auto body shop, on the second floor of a ragged brick building on Hudson Street. That's where he found me. The club was overrun with children of varying ages, skill levels and self-esteem.
I was a normal kid who, in the summer, went to basketball camp, earned money as a caddie at the local country club and was about to discover the music of Bud Powell, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in the record bins of the Wethersfield Public Library. On a school trip to Italy, I overslept, missing a visit to the Vatican, and returned home with two small switchblades and a bust of the pope. The pope was for my mother.
I was an eighth-grade student in public school who attended weekly catechism at a nearby Catholic school and was visiting area prep schools, deciding where to go that fall.
Until then, my closest brush with personal trauma was the ballroom-dancing class my parents forced me to take earlier that year.
By the time Reardon joined the judo club, I had already won a state AAU junior championship. My picture had been in The Hartford Times, with five other boys who also had won medals at the tournament standing proudly alongside the club's owner, Art Dorman. One of those other boys in the picture was with me that Sunday afternoon the following March in Reardon's office.
I've always wondered if Reardon had seen the picture, then made a mental note about this club that taught "the gentle way." What a setup for a predator: 50 or so children spread out on thick canvas mats for weekend classes, their parents sitting on folding wooden chairs, waiting to bring them home. Reardon would ingratiate himself with the children during the class, then chat with the parents afterward.
Winning a state tournament was valuable currency at the club. It bought additional respect from other children and, from the club's operators, trust. Saturday was the weekend's formal class, Sunday more of an open gym. Sometimes Dorman asked me to help run the Sunday gathering — mostly children, but a few adults, too — through calisthenics, then work the room and answer any questions about judo technique from newcomers or the less experienced.
Reardon always seemed to have a question for me. The few adults in a class would train together, but Reardon was constantly surrounded by children. For someone who asked a lot of technical questions, he had little interest in actually working out. He didn't seem suspicious to me, only lazy.
So what are parents, both Irish American Catholics, to say when a prominent Irish Catholic doctor working for a hospital affiliated with the Catholic Church asks if they would volunteer their child for a groundbreaking growth study that could possibly help many, many children less fortunate? It would be a few basic physical measurements, like arms spread wide, and some photographs — maybe one in the child's "birthday suit." My parents, naturally, said yes. So did the other boy's parents.
My mother brought us to the hospital that Sunday, the Ides of March, at about 1 p.m. According to her sworn statement, she left between 1:30 and 2 after Reardon said it would take time to set up his equipment; he had a mini photo studio in his office, with neutral backdrop and lighting. In his West Hartford home, we now know, he had a professional-quality film lab with full-color capabilities.
He started with photographing those basic measurements as promised, the arms, legs, the circumference of the head. Everything, including the penis, which was critical because it offered Reardon plausible deniability. How easy, he could argue, that a child might mistake the clinically accepted method of measurement with fondling, particularly under questioning by a parent.
I cannot say how much time passed before we thought the session was over. That's when Reardon, from the shadows in the office's far corner, said that something went wrong with the camera, something about the film, and that he had only one roll left, so, to make it last, he would have to take pictures of us standing together. As it turns out, the first roll was evidence he could use to support the mythical growth study. The second roll was for himself.
A child did not question a doctor in a hospital. In his office, Reardon intimidated us. This wasn't the judo club. We did as he said. I remember all the contortions, like a game of Twister. The poses were pornographic, some simulated sex acts. Reardon manipulated our genitals, then demanded that we maintain an erection. Some details I recall only vaguely, but I relived them again, reading Sadowski's memorandum at the West Hartford Police Department, seemingly in my own words.
At 5 p.m., Reardon called my mother and said he would drive both of us boys home soon. An hour later, my mother called the hospital, asking what was taking so long. Reardon calmly said he was almost done, that he was breaking down the photo setup. He then drove us home, instructing us not to tell anyone about the sessions. I did not ask the consequences if we did.
I don't remember if a single word was spoken as I sat in the big Cadillac next to the doctor with the hair slicked back who smelled like the spent filter of a cigarette.
At Arthur Drug, he bought me and the other boy a $1.50 model car. Then he dropped off the other boy. I don't even remember if he went into his house.
But I know he went into mine. I will never forget that. We stood in the living room — Reardon, my parents and me. He showed no conscience, so cold and emotionally numb that he could calmly describe to my parents the growth study, even showing the blue cards with our data, and how he expected me to reach 6 feet as an adult.
Already, I felt as if I had been through a psychological root canal: humiliated, degraded, intimidated, confused and frightened. But now I was angry.
I walked out of the room and ran up the stairs to my bedroom. What happened next, I have no doubt, changed my life.
My mother knew something was wrong. After some prodding, I told her everything. A boy with a developing male ego could never talk to his father about something like this.
I don't know the precise psychology of how a child can best cope with such an experience. In 1970, kids didn't receive psychological counseling. I just know what worked for me.
I had validation.
My mother believed me. I cannot tell you how powerful it is when a child, traumatized, confides in a parent who listens calmly, asks appropriate questions and gets specific answers.
I had vindication.
Reardon relied on a child's guilt and a parent's shame. I knew I did nothing wrong. This time, Reardon did pay a price, humiliated in front of his own peers on the ethics committee and, I am quite sure, frightened for just a moment that his secret life might unravel. He got the message, anyway: You messed with the wrong family. I never saw him again.
I had closure.
Nothing would ever change what happened to me. I accepted it. I know how much worse it could have been. I had a brother, Bill, five years younger, in that judo club. I had three sisters: Mary Ellen, Kathleen and Lisa. Now I realize that any of us, or all of us, could have wound up at his cabin in upstate New York. Detectives working on the case, who have seen the gruesome photographs from that site, tell me I really don't know how lucky I was.
"Your entire family," says Det. Fallon, "was on the verge of being ruined."
Anger, the psychological killer, is the most dangerous emotion. Since then, I have felt none toward Reardon, only pity and, now, sadness. I've never had a bad dream about that day in 1970. I've never asked, why me?
The shame, though, never goes away. When I was younger, I could turn it into a game. I could imagine my mother shooting one of her looks — the kind that can vaporize a diamond — across the table at Reardon in Egan's office. Goodbye to you, fatso.
Now I can think of Reardon only as a frightened child — a repeat abuse victim, I'm convinced — and as the frightened adult child he became. Take a closer look at the photograph that runs frequently in this newspaper, taken at the 1993 health department hearings, when repeated complaints forced Reardon's retirement from St. Francis. Look into those eyes and you'll see the fear.
He lived with his mother on Griswold Drive, this prominent endocrinologist, never far from her comfort.
Georgie, where are you?
I'm down in the basement, Ma!
It is so tragically sad.
I know this will come as a surprise, but reading Reardon's 15-page response to our allegations at the West Hartford Police Department had all the suspense of a daily horoscope.
Here is how it begins:
"The allegations made by Mrs. Hunt are absolutely not true. At no time have I participated in, encouraged, or allowed, any inappropriate, wrong or abnormal behavior, before, during or after the participation of her child or any other in the growth study or at any other time."
Reardon spends almost 10 pages citing other growth studies, the legitimate ones, then declares that my mother's "failure to comprehend the explanation given to her or the purpose and methods of the study is difficult to understand."
He also boasts that his study was well-known among St. Francis physicians, "since their permission has always been sought before using their patients, and at times their own children, in the study."
Then he counters "the implication that Kevin was arbitrarily chosen from an entire class" by suggesting that he was a family friend, that he attended college with my father and uncle.
"They knew me," he wrote.
They did not. My father, Edward, was a senior at the College of the Holy Cross in the late 1940s when Reardon was a freshman. They might have been introduced, my father says, but he did not know him. And my uncle, now dead, was no friend of his, either.
Reardon was a cold-blooded con man.
All I could say was, "This guy was pretty good."
Sadowski's response, though, devastated.
The charges are detailed in a curious, unsigned, memorandum that never mentions Reardon by name but notes the seriousness of the allegations and alludes, elliptically, to their legitimacy:
"There are a number of factors about this problem which would be difficult to explain if this were imagined or was a story dreamed up by the boys."
Yet Sadowski attempts to undermine my mother by saying she "may tend to exaggerate her feelings at times." And he says the medical society could not act while Egan was conducting his own investigation.
Sadowski's formal response to Reardon, written on medical association stationery, also notes the seriousness of the charges.
"The committee, to say the least," he writes, "was very disturbed about your lack of judgment. They felt that every physician should practice in a defensive manner and that you did not do so by failing to have an aide or someone else present at the time that you allegedly took the photographs of the two youngsters."
But no restrictions were imposed on Reardon. "We do hope that in the future, if you continue in this area, that you will take every precaution to prevent such a situation from arising again."
It is signed "Joe."
That, apparently, is as far as my mother's official complaint went.
In 1973, Sadowski became president of the Connecticut State Medical Society. A decade later, he led a committee exploring the creation of a malpractice insurance company — the forebear of the Connecticut Medical Insurance Co. He eventually served on its board of directors.
In 1999, six years after the first state health department hearings on complaints against Reardon, Sadowski was named Outstanding Physician at St. Francis. It must have been a lifetime achievement award. He died two years later at age 71.
Time For Acceptance
By the fall of 1970, I had left the Hartford Judo Club and public schools to attend Loomis Chaffee, a private school in Windsor.
In late 1975, Egan fired a shot from a German Luger into his heart in his small Washington Street apartment, then somehow managed to place the pistol in an open bureau drawer at his bedside.
His body was found on the bed by his personal driver, two hours before he was to appear in probate court to answer charges that he misappropriated about $300,000 from estates and clients' funds. He was 59.
Reardon died on Sept. 8, 1998, at age 68, from lung disease and heart failure. Do not count me among those who wish he were still alive to pay for his crimes. His death certainly prevented many more years of abuse. A pedophile doesn't retire.
For Reardon's victims, the Griswold Drive discovery last year revived terrible memories. For the general public, it should raise some profoundly disturbing questions.
Would you trust your child's health, or even your own, to a hospital that claims it had no knowledge of, or responsibility for, more than 30 years of child abuse under its own roof? If you really have no clue, St. Francis, what other crimes or professional negligence might be slipping past your weary eyes?
And where are all the doctors who worked with Reardon all those years? Not one of them, who pledged allegiance to the Hippocratic Oath and its vow of moral conduct, has come forward publicly to say so much as, yes, we wish something could have been done and we're sorry. The Mafia calls its code of silence omerta. What do doctors call theirs?
Until the documents were found on Griswold Drive, only four people close to me knew what happened in March 1970 on the fourth floor of St. Francis Hospital: my parents, my older sister and my wife. It's not something you put on your life's resume. There was no reason for anyone else to know.
Now there is.
The pedophile who found a safe harbor at St. Francis for more than 30 years has reached from the grave to indict his own protectors — those who knew and those who should have known. That is the kind of justice you just can't buy.
It's what many victims need, much more than money.
It happened to me. It happened to you. It's time to accept it.
And it's time for parents, the ones still consumed by shame, to accept their children.
This is time, finally, for validation, vindication and reconciliation. It is extremely powerful medicine.
Victims and their families can find help at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services Inc. Call 1-888-999-5545 (English) or 1-888-999-8332 (Español) or visit www.connsacs.org.