Must Reads: A notorious mansion. An alleged assault by a Hollywood producer. A suicide. What happened to Brian Claflin?
In the early afternoon of June 5, 2014, a man appeared on the subway tracks between stations in Berlin. He stood alone a few hundred yards into a tunnel, and train conductors said they couldn’t brake in time to avoid hitting him.
The fatal accident received no media attention, except for a local brief that noted the early rush-hour train delays. The identity of the deceased — Brian Claflin, a 33-year-old American — was not reported, nor was his connection to powerful men in Hollywood who were accused of sexual abuse. German authorities declared the death to be “presumed suicide.”
Four years later, Claflin’s parents are still trying to understand what happened to their son. Claflin’s father received via email a statement his son sent to a law firm just before his death, alleging that filmmaker Gary Goddard had drugged and sexually assaulted him at age 18 in Los Angeles. It was an allegation Claflin had made repeatedly in the preceding decade. The Times spoke to three people — two close friends and his sister, Molly Jones — who said Claflin told them about the alleged assault, and he accused Goddard directly in an email exchange in 2006.
Goddard vociferously denied the allegation then, as he does now. Sam Singer, a publicist for Goddard, 65, told The Times that his client did not assault Claflin “in any way.” Goddard knew Claflin since he was 18, Singer said, and during that time often supported Claflin’s nomadic lifestyle. “Mr. Goddard considers it a tragedy that he died as he did,” Singer said. “He finds it hurtful that his kindnesses to Brian are now somehow being twisted into a negative.”
Goddard, a director, producer and theme park designer, has faced similar allegations. Last December, eight former members of a Santa Barbara youth theater group in the 1970s alleged that Goddard molested or attempted to molest them. A ninth was said to have told others before he died that Goddard sexually assaulted him as a child. Goddard denied their allegations.
For Todd and Carlene Claflin, Brian Claflin’s parents who live in Salt Lake City, the posthumous statement from their son was the first detailed account they were given of the alleged assault they now believe sent their son on a long, downward spiral after he left for Los Angeles on his 18th birthday.
Raised in the heart of Mormon Utah, Claflin was desperate for an escape by his later high school years. While his male classmates were jocks, Claflin was the aspiring artist and fashion designer who liked to borrow his sisters’ ballet dresses and was once arrested cruising for men in a city park.
When he came out before his senior year, his parents suggested counseling on how to be straight. “We were just so dumb and naive, we didn’t know how to deal with it,” his mother said.
Claflin’s chance to exit Utah came when he met a man from Santa Monica at a gay nightclub before his senior year. In the letter to a lawyer, Claflin wrote that the stranger told him he “was the most beautiful boy he’d ever met” and that he knew “some very rich and powerful people that wanted to meet me and could possibly get me a job.”
On his 18th birthday, he said, the man flew him to L.A., where he was taken to an Encino mansion and “introduced to what I was told were the most powerful people in Hollywood.”
The mansion would become notorious as a site for sexual exploitation of underage boys. It was home to the three co-founders of Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), an early internet content streaming experiment with investment from wealthy Hollywood figures including Goddard, stock filings show.
DEN co-founder Marc Collins-Rector pleaded guilty in 2004 to engaging in sexual activity with underage boys he lured to California with the promise of jobs and an extravagant lifestyle, boasting he “belonged to a powerful group of people who could influence [their] participation in the entertainment industry.”
By then, Collins-Rector and the other two DEN co-founders had been embroiled in litigation alleging sex abuse. Collins-Rector settled a suit brought by a New Jersey boy, and the three co-founders were sued by three boys who had been employed by DEN. The co-founders left the country, but were found liable for a multimillion-dollar default judgment.
In his statement, Claflin said that in 1999 he was also brought to the Beverly Hills home of Goddard, who had directed one of his favorite childhood movies, “Masters of the Universe.”
“You can’t separate his trajectory from what Gary did to him.”
— Molly Jones, Brian Claflin’s sister
Claflin, still 18, said he started living at Goddard’s home and fended off Goddard’s unwanted sexual advances on a nightly basis “to the point [where I] had to lock the door or put something heavy in front of it so that I would hear it if he tried [to] get in.”
In his statement, Claflin said Goddard and a friend of the filmmaker persuaded him to inhale nitrous oxide one night, which was the first time he had used drugs. He immediately felt dizzy and passed out, he wrote, and awoke to being further drugged while Goddard sexually assaulted him. “I was in a delirious state and remember saying NO, NO, NO, several times but they persisted,” he wrote. “I just sort of shut down and went somewhere else in my head. After a while I remember praying aloud to God to just make it/them stop.”
Goddard’s publicist denied the allegation. “Anyone that actually knows Mr. Goddard would never make that claim because they would know that Mr. Goddard has never done drugs of any kind, ever,” Singer said. He also claimed that Claflin was not always truthful in his interactions with Goddard and others.
Over the next 15 years, Claflin lived in several countries before settling permanently in Berlin in 2008. He became a heavy drug user and drinker and contracted HIV.
“He was sort of lost,” said his friend Travis Jeppesen, a Berlin-based author. Jeppesen said that Claflin told him that Goddard had sexually abused him. Another longtime friend also said that Claflin made the allegation to him, as did his younger sister Jones.
“You can’t separate his trajectory from what Gary did to him,” Jones said.
Still, Goddard remained a benefactor, paying for Claflin’s travels and art classes. Goddard provided to The Times copies of postcards Claflin sent from Moscow, Cairo and Tibet, thanking him for his help. “Mr. Goddard was there for Brian throughout his adult life — and at times of his greatest need — when no one else would help,” Singer said.
Emails obtained by The Times show that Claflin confronted Goddard about the alleged assault, directly and in detail, in 2006, and referred to his “aggressive sexual behavior toward younger boys.”
Singer dismissed such claims as “hearsay” and said that Claflin’s “communications were erratic and often full of untruths and often sent with a motive to try to get Gary to send him money.”
By his 30s, Claflin had long established a truce with his Mormon parents back home. His father was confined to the house all day with multiple sclerosis, bringing him and his son close via long Skype conversations.
In May 2014, Claflin told his father about litigation that had made international news.
A Florida-based attorney, Jeff Herman, had filed lawsuits against Goddard and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer, both former DEN investors, accusing them of sexually abusing boys in connection with that company, and at a London hotel room in 2006. Singer and Goddard denied the allegations.
Herman had a questionable track record, including having been temporarily suspended by the Florida Bar in 2009 after an aircraft parts company he represented alleged that he had secretly held an interest in a rival operation.
Herman, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement that he believed his actions were proper, though the Florida Bar disagreed, and that the “issue had no direct bearing on the legal services I performed for that client.”
After a widely covered April 2014 news conference in which Herman vowed to “expose every Hollywood pedophile and predator [he] can identify,” Claflin was determined to help.
He was “motivated by a sense of justice and righteousness,” and sought closure, Jeppesen said.
His father connected him to the Florida firm, and Claflin spoke repeatedly with Herman. He also sent the statement alleging Goddard’s sexual assault, ending it by saying he was “exhausted” but would resume contact the next day.
The stress of involving himself in Herman’s efforts, combined with an apparent withdrawal from drug use, seemed to push Claflin into deep paranoia, Jeppesen said.
“He was trying to do the right thing but was fearful of the consequences,” Todd Claflin said.
He told friends about powerful men in Hollywood who wanted him dead because he knew too much. A week or so before his death, his parents Skyped with him as he barricaded himself in his bathroom, afraid of men he said were stalking him from his roof. On June 2, 2014, Claflin texted his father to “have a handgun nearby.”
Three days later, Claflin was hit by a train as he stood in a tunnel of the Berlin subway. Two train operators said that they saw nobody else with him. German authorities concluded Claflin’s cause of death was “massive head trauma resulting from presumed suicide by train impact.”
His mom and siblings went to Germany and returned with a handful of ashes, few answers as to what happened to Claflin, and a growing fear — rooted in little evidence except for the timing of his death — that his paranoia had been justified.
They then watched as the litigation imploded in stunning fashion.
One of Herman’s plaintiffs, former DEN employee Mike Egan, was caught in apparent contradictions on key aspects of his legal claims. His suit against Singer and Goddard was voluntarily dismissed. Two other Hollywood executives sued Herman for wrongfully including them in the litigation, prompting the attorney to issue an extraordinary public apology and pay a settlement. Egan stood by his allegations but later pleaded guilty to fraud in an unrelated criminal case and was sent to prison.
A separate lawsuit filed by Herman against Singer and Goddard on behalf of a British teen who claimed to have been sexually assaulted in London was also voluntarily dismissed.
In one of the suits against him by the two executives, Herman was deposed, and discussed Brian Claflin under oath. He said that Claflin was one of many people he heard from “around the world who said that they were abused by people in Hollywood.”
He described Claflin as a witness with important information, having been an errand boy at the DEN mansion in Encino. Claflin was fearful that “somebody was going to try to kill him” because he knew too much about a “gay Mafia in Hollywood,” Herman said.
Todd Claflin said he was disappointed that after talking of exposing pedophiles, Herman appeared more interested in pursuing confidential settlements.
“I think that he sold out,” Todd Claflin said of Herman.
Herman said in an email to The Times that he is “duty bound” to enter a confidential settlement if his client wants him to, “provided such an agreement is legally permissible.” He reached at least one such settlement in the 2014 cases.
Brian Claflin’s parents said that they decided to take their son’s allegations public in support of several new accusers — including “ER” star Anthony Edwards — who alleged that Goddard molested them four decades ago.
His death has sent his family to unexpected places for answers. One of his sisters went to a spiritual medium. They have scoured the internet for information on Goddard and others connected to him. And his parents have made for unlikely confederates with Claflin’s friends connected to the weekly party he hosted at a gay nightclub in Berlin.
At the Claflins’ Salt Lake City home, the family gathered recently, looking over photos tracing his transformation from a clean-cut Mormon schoolkid to the scruffy wanderer photographed alone in front of the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower.
Brian Claflin was creative and magnetic but burdened with, as his father put it, “a heaviness about him he just couldn’t shake.”
After reading his son’s detailed allegations — in his own anguished words — Todd Claflin said he finally understands why.