By the time she reached her mid-30s, Ellen Manning had a degree in English and a respectable job with the state of New York. She had a large group of friends, a supportive family, a nice house and a cat she loved.
Still, she had always felt somewhat adrift.
She had dated, but never fallen in love. She didn't have a family of her own. She wondered if, perhaps, she might have been able to accomplish more.
Those aren't especially unusual thoughts for someone moving into the early throes of middle age. But there was something else lurking in the back of Manning's mind. And, in 1987, as she watched and read stories about child sexual abuse and its emotional consequences, the memories of her own past came bubbling forward.
Manning couldn't help but wonder if her own melancholy might have something to do with a man who lived next door when she was growing up, a young medical student named George Reardon.
Manning is among the first known victims of the late Dr. George Reardon, former chief of endocrinology at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center who has been accused of sexually molesting an untold number of children during his 30-year career in Hartford. For her it is too late to join more than 100 other victims who are now suing St. Francis, saying the hospital was negligent in its supervision of him.
And while it was two decades ago that Manning began asking herself how Reardon's abuse affected her, and trying to get officials in Connecticut to stop him, she never spoke publicly about it — until now.
The discovery of a cache of pornographic images in Reardon's former home triggered stifled memories, lawsuits and tales of unimaginable depravity — including Courant Assistant Features Editor Kevin Hunt's first-person account, published in June, of being abused by Reardon in the 1960s.
Those tales make it clear that, in his wake, George Reardon left a deep swath of emotional scars, the effects touching so many people. In lawsuits and public disclosures, victims say he ruined their lives — destroying their ability to trust, causing many to seek solace in drugs or alcohol.
Now 57, Manning says she has coped with her own past, building a successful career and, for the most part, healthy relationships.
Her life, she says, may have been affected by Reardon's evil but was not destroyed by it.
Two VictimsEllen Manning was in kindergarten, the youngest of six Manning children living in a rambling, three-story house in Albany, when George Reardon, a young medical student, entered her life.Reardon was renting a room in the house next door and asked Manning's mother for permission to enroll her and her brother, Michael, two years older, in a growth study.
It was a ploy Reardon would use over and over again. But, like so many parents, the Mannings had no reason to fear anything was wrong. Reardon was going to be a doctor. He was a Catholic. It was the 1950s, a time when priests and doctors could do no wrong, and the Mannings' mother believed Reardon when he told her the children could make an important contribution to scientific knowledge.
Reardon started showing up in the Manning kitchen at suppertime and slowly insinuated himself into the family.
But upstairs, on the third floor, Reardon became an ominous presence in the young Mannings' childhood.
Behind closed bedroom doors, he tried to arouse Ellen's pre-adolescent body, took suggestive photographs and told her that she'd ruin his medical research if she made him stop. The abuse went on for years, she said.
Michael Manning remembers Reardon joking with him and giving him attention. When his toy sailboat, a gift from his grandmother, broke, Reardon painstakingly repaired it and painted it a new color. He abused Michael for years as well.
"I was the kind of kid a pedophile would be looking for," Michael Manning says now. The Mannings' father, a lawyer, was an alcoholic and distant from his children. Reardon "took me on camping trips, he took me to Old Mystic. He cultivated a relationship with me over the years," Michael said.
Reardon had free rein in the Manning house. When he returned from a stint in the Navy, he redecorated Michael's room on the third floor, laying Mickey Mouse linoleum and hanging pictures of Navy ships.
Even after Reardon got his first job as an endocrinologist at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford in 1963, he returned to Albany on weekends, often staying in Michael's bedroom during these visits.
"I can remember many times walking home from school and seeing his car and it would come flooding over me," Michael Manning said. "Seeing his car with Connecticut plates."
'Do You Know George Touched Me?'Neither Ellen nor Michael had any idea what had happened to the other behind closed doors until Ellen called her brother in late 1987.
Although she felt she had wasted most of her adolescence "in a fog," she had emerged by her early 20s and landed a job with a New York state agency appraising state-owned land and buildings that were headed for the public auction block. She also bought and sold several houses of her own.
Ellen had sought psychiatric help and finally had been able to cry about what happened when she was a little girl and Reardon came into her bedroom and said ugly and degrading things that haunted her ever since.
From those days, she never felt deserving of love and she wonders if Reardon's cutting words eroded her sense of self-worth.
On the phone that day, Ellen asked her brother if George had done weird things to him.
"Do you know George touched me?" she asked Michael.
The revelation that Reardon had abused both him and his sister hit Michael Manning like a bolt.
There are two types of child molesters, experts say. For one group, an encounter with a child is an isolated indiscretion in an otherwise fairly balanced life. That's how Michael Manning long thought of Reardon, until he learned that his sister, too, had been abused.
He'd grown up to become a lawyer handling child abuse and neglect cases for the Albany County Department of Social Services. He was trained to recognize the modus operandi of pedophiles. Married with two children of his own, Manning realized that there was a monster on the loose.
"I thought I might have been a unique opportunity for him and he might do it again," Michael Manning said during an interview at Ellen's home. "It was instantly clear to me that every child he came into contact with was at risk."
The pair knew they could not keep silent. They filed a complaint with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and agreed to a psychological evaluation.
It was difficult to remember the events that had marked their childhood, no less reveal them, Ellen Manning said recently, in the home she shares with a few foster cats and an ultra-friendly mongrel named Scout after the feisty girl in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
She had nothing to gain by talking. She and her brother had never filed a lawsuit and never intended to. Ellen and Michael Manning said they had one goal: Stop George Reardon.
"I thought of course they're going to believe us," Ellen Manning said.
DismissedNow 59, graying with a distinguished face framed by a neatly trimmed beard and rimless eyeglasses, Michael Manning thought he was a pretty credible witness when he was interviewed at the Institute of Living in Hartford in the early 1990s. And he had a trump card. He could describe unusual details of George Reardon's anatomy.
Yet it was not enough to convince the experts at the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Leslie Lothstein, an institute psychologist known nationally for his work with sex offenders,discounted Ellen Manning as "a grim, sad, tense, angry and schizoid woman" whose story about Reardon "seemed confused."
He called Michael Manning a convincing witness, but in the end concluded that "where the truth lies is a matter of conjecture."
This summer, Michael and Ellen Manning read Lothstein's full report from the early 1990s for the first time. It left them stunned. Lothstein, Michael Manning said, twisted, distorted or simply misinterpreted so many things they had said.
Lothstein wrote that Michael Manning became jealous when he learned that his sister had also been abused by Reardon.
Manning called the assessment "ridiculous." He said he told Lothstein that he became incensed when he discovered his sister was involved not because he was jealous, but because he knew it meant Reardon was probably a threat to others.
Ellen Manning also objected to the way Lothstein described her experience in therapy.
"She was desperately trying to explain things in terms of 'abuse' and has found support groups to explain her misery solely in terms of that abuse," Lothstein wrote.
In fact, Ellen Manning said, she sought therapy in the private office of a psychiatrist who worked with a social worker. She never went to support groups and still is not certain whether Reardon's actions had anything to do with her discontent.
When she went into therapy, Ellen Manning said, she was relieved to learn that many of her difficulties, especially when it came to relationships, were very typical of sexual abuse victims. She wonders now how Lothstein could have overlooked that.
While she has had some questions about the course of her life so far, she is not the "pathetic loser" she says the reports made her out to be.
"It brought up a lot of anger for me," Manning said of the way experts portrayed her in the earliest case against Reardon. "The anger is this could have been stopped a long time ago. And it wasn't."
With the Mannings' permission, Lothstein provided a written statement in response to their allegations.
"I did not twist or distort the information provided to me during the interviews held almost 20 years ago," Lothstein wrote. "In my original report I found the Mannings' version of what happened compelling and believable."
But, Lothstein said, much has changed in the 20 years since he evaluated the Mannings and other Reardon victims.
"Over the last two decades the diagnostic tools and treatment methods for pedophilia have become increasingly sophisticated and the police are now asked to do the kinds of interviewing that therapists were asked to do decades ago," he said.
"While the evaluation methods have changed, so have the public's response to allegations of child abuse. There is an increased understanding that the kind of pain caused by child sexual abusers never goes away."
"My heart goes out to the Mannings, as well as to all of the other victims," Lothstein said.
VindicationAfter the visit to the institute, the Mannings' case appeared to go dormant. Then, in 1993, after two morevictims came forward, the health department opened public hearings aimed at revoking Reardon's license to practice medicine.
The Mannings were invited to testify. Forty years had passed since they had last laid eyes on George Reardon. He looked so much smaller than Ellen Manning remembered. Diminished, she said.
Reardon retired from St. Francis in 1993. Two years later, he signed an order promising never to practice medicine again. Reardon died of heart failure and smoking-related lung disease in September 1998. And it appeared that any evidence would remain buried with him, although his victims and lawyers involved in the case continued to wonder what had happened to the sordid photographs so many victims said he had taken.
On Nov. 29, 2007, the answer surfaced.
Ellen Manning heard about it the following Sunday. She was getting ready to go out and switched on the kitchen radio to wait for a weather report. Only half listening, she heard a few words that made her stop. She heard Brant Lake, the Adirondack Mountains retreat where she knew Reardon had taken his victims camping. Then she heard the name Reardon and "something about porno."
She raced to her computer for details. It was all there. Police in West Hartford had found a cache of pornographic photos hidden in a false basement wall of the home on Griswold Drive that Reardon had once shared with his mother.
She dialed Michael at his home in a suburb near Albany. Ever since that first phone call from Ellen almost 20 years before, Michael Manning was always certain that he and his sister were not Reardon's only victims. But 50,000 or 60,000 photographic slides found in Reardon's stash. The magnitude shocked even them.
"I've been pretty churned up emotionally," said Ellen Manning, who has followed every detail of the saga via the Internet. She said it feels good to finally be validated. But thinking of all of the other children whose lives Reardon damaged makes her cold.
Then she considers her own life and realizes that while George Reardon hurt her, he did not destroy her.
Manning lives in a historic arts-and-crafts-style bungalow just outside Albany's city limits that she has decorated with antiques.
She is studying French, which she hopes to use on a future overseas vacation. Her book club just finished a book by a Norwegian author and she shared photographs she took in Norway to help her friends visualize scenes in the book. She's enjoying retirement after 31 years of state service, although her volunteer work rescuing cats sometimes keeps her busier than she'd like. "I hold [Reardon] accountable for doing great evil, but I wouldn't say my life has been ruined, because it hasn't been," Ellen Manning said. "It's been affected, but not ruined."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times