Model Citizen’s Secret: Molesting : Crime: When a pillar of the community was found to be abusing young boys, Maine townspeople were shocked, and shamed.
It was Warren Cole’s private place, a tiny island on Notched Pond with a single wooden cabin cloaked by tall trees. He would paddle out in a canoe, often accompanied by boys.
Few gave it much thought. Cole was a pillar of the community; he helped found a well-known restaurant that employed hundreds of teen-agers over the years, gave freely to local charities and threw annual banquets for police.
But he did one other, secret thing: He molested children.
Authorities say he abused local boys--dozens, maybe more--for decades, using jobs, cigarettes, alcohol and pornography to lure the youths, and then using his ties with police as a veiled threat to keep them quiet.
“We couldn’t believe it, then we remembered him taking all the kids out there and we wondered what he was doing,” said Ken Brown, the closest neighbor of Cole’s on Notched Pond.
Cole, 75, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of child sexual abuse for molesting a boy in 1987. He agreed to tell prosecutors his victims’ names.
The plea agreement also calls for Cole to establish a $100,000 trust fund to pay for counseling for his victims. Cole, who remains free on $100,000 bail, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment on each charge.
Much as Philadelphia was rocked by the recent arrest of Edward Savitz, a wealthy businessman who bought liberties from scores of young men, this Portland bedroom community has been shaken by Cole’s guilty plea.
The difference is in scale. Where Savitz was just one successful man in a big city, Cole was someone everyone in Gray knew. And the townspeople burn with guilt for ignoring the rumors about Cole they had heard for years.
“They are sensitive that perhaps they should have done something. There’s a whole unsettling issue,” said Town Manager Paul Byrd.
Cole and his brother founded the Cole Farms restaurant in the 1950s. The roadside hamburger stand grew into a sprawling institution in southern Maine, employing as many as 140 people and serving as a regular stop for local police, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.
For several decades, Cole has thrown an annual feast for law enforcement officers, the chief of the state police and the county sheriff, among them.
In Cole’s apartment above the restaurant, just upstairs from where the annual banquets were held, police discovered pornographic videotapes and magazines, and photographs of boys, including some he had abused.
Most were ages 10 to 15. They said they were molested in his apartment, at his cabin, at another camp he had owned or at a lodge he once had.
He faces three civil suits filed on behalf of boys who are said to be his victims. One accuses Cole of getting a 12-year-old boy drunk and molesting him before the boy darted in front of an automobile and was killed in 1981.
Another suit accuses Cole of throwing poker parties, providing beer and showing pornographic films to law enforcement officers. The suit says Cole used his close ties with police to pressure boys to keep quiet--sometimes showing his honorary sheriff’s badge--and that his family knew of his problems and helped cover up his activities.
Police have denied those charges, but rumors of a cover-up abound.
Maine Atty. Gen. Michael Carpenter initially cleared authorities of intentionally bungling the investigation but decided it warranted a closer look when allegations surfaced that Cole entertained officers at his apartment.
A state police detective had refused to investigate the initial allegations about Cole made by Jeffrey Sanborn, who says he and his brother were molested by Cole in the 1970s. The detective said the charges were too old to prosecute.
The next day, Sanborn went to the district attorney, who launched an investigation and brought charges against Cole.
Cole’s family also denied that they knew of his activities. And after his Jan. 21 arrest, Cole severed his ties with the family restaurant.
“The family is very hurt by this. We do not condone what Warren has done by any means,” says his nephew, Cole Farms President Brad Pollard.
“We hurt for everybody. We hurt for ourselves,” he says.