Boy Scouts helped alleged molesters cover tracks, files show
Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.
A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.
Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, “chronic brain dysfunction” and duties at a Shakespeare festival.
The details are contained in the organization’s confidential “perversion files,” a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts’ lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.
As The Times reported in August, the blacklist often didn’t work: Men expelled for alleged abuses slipped back into the program, only to be accused of molesting again. Now, a more extensive review has shown that Scouts sometimes abetted molesters by keeping allegations under wraps.
In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from boys, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.
In about 400 of those cases — 80% — there is no record of Scouting officials reporting the allegations to police. In more than 100 of the cases, officials actively sought to conceal the alleged abuse or allowed the suspects to hide it, The Times found.
In 1982, a Michigan Boy Scout camp director who learned of allegations of repeated abuse by a staff member told police he didn’t promptly report them because his bosses wanted to protect the reputation of the Scouts and the accused staff member.
“He stated that he had been advised by his supervisors and legal counsel that he should neutralize the situation and keep it quiet,” according to a police report in the file.
That same year, the director of a Boy Scout camp in Virginia wrote to the Scouts’ top lawyer, asking for help dealing with a veteran employee suspected of a “lifelong pattern” of abuse that had not been reported to police.
“When a problem has surfaced, he has been asked to leave a position ‘of his own free will’ rather than risk further investigation,” the director wrote. “The time has come for someone to make a stand and prevent further occurrences.”
There is no indication the Scouts took the matter to law enforcement.
In 1976, five Boy Scouts wrote detailed complaints accusing a Pennsylvania scoutmaster of two rapes and other sex crimes, according to his file. He abruptly resigned in writing, saying he had to travel more for work.
“Good luck to you in your new position,” a top troop representative wrote back. He said he was accepting the resignation “with extreme regret.”
Scouting officials declined to be interviewed for this article. In a prepared statement, spokesman Deron Smith said, “We have always cooperated fully with any request from law enforcement and today require our members to report even suspicion of abuse directly to their local authorities.”
The organization instituted that requirement in 2010. Before then, the policy was to obey state laws, which didn’t always require youth groups to report abuse.
In some instances, however, the Scouts may have violated those state laws. Since the early 1970s, for example, New Jersey has required anyone who suspects child abuse to report it. In several cases there, the Scouts received firsthand reports of alleged abuse, but nothing in the files indicates they informed authorities.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, secrecy was embedded in the Scouts’ policies and procedures for handling child sexual abuse.
A cover sheet that accompanied many confidential files included a check box labeled “Internal (only scouts know)” as an option for how cases were resolved. A form letter sent to leaders being dismissed over abuse allegations stated: “We are making no accusations and will not release this information to anyone, so our action in no way will affect your standing in the community.”
That letter was included in the organization’s 1972 policy on how to remove unfit leaders, which, according to an attached memo, was kept confidential “because of misunderstandings which could develop if it were widely distributed.”
The files at times provide an incomplete account of how abuse allegations were resolved. In his statement, the Scouting spokesman said, “In many instances, basic details are missing as they were not relevant to the BSA’s sole reason for keeping files, which was to help identify and keep a list of individuals deemed to be unfit for membership in Scouting.”
Still, they reveal a culture in which even known molesters were shown extraordinary deference.
In a 1987 case in Washington state, a district executive wrote to the national office complaining that his boss had refused to put a former scoutmaster on the blacklist, despite a molestation conviction, “because he has done so much for camp and is a nice guy.”
He had handed a newspaper clipping of the conviction to his boss, who “crumpled it up, said he saw it already, and then said, ‘Why don’t you just put it up on a billboard for everyone to see?’” the executive wrote. “Since that time, nothing has been done.”
A Maryland leader, who in 1990 “readily agreed” that abuse allegations against him were true, was given six weeks to resign and told he could give “his associates whatever reason that he chose,” his file shows.
“This gave him an opportunity to withdraw from Scouting in a graceful manner to be determined by him,” an official wrote. “We also reminded [him] that he had agreed to keep the whole matter confidential and we would not talk to anyone in order to give [him] complete ability to voluntarily withdraw.”
In many cases, Scouting officials said they were keeping allegations quiet as a way of sparing young victims embarrassment.
The result was that some alleged molesters went on to abuse other children, according to the Scouts’ documents and court records.
With 50 years in Scouting, Arthur W. Humphries appeared to be a model leader, winning two presidential citations and the Scouts’ top award for distinguished service — the Silver Beaver — for his work with disabled boys in Chesapeake, Va.
Unknown to most in town, he also was a serial child molester.
A few months after Humphries’ arrest in 1984, local Scouting official Jack Terwilliger told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that no one at the local Scout council had had suspicions about Humphries.
But that was not true. Records in Humphries’ file show that six years earlier, Terwilliger had ordered officials to interview a Scout who gave a detailed account of Humphries’ repeated acts of oral sex on him.
“He then told me to do the same and I did,” the 12-year-old boy said in a sworn statement in 1978.
Officials not only failed to report Humphries’ alleged crime to police, records show — they also gave him a strong job reference two years later, when he applied for a post at a national Scouting event.
“I believe the attached letters of recommendation and the newspaper write-up will give you a well rounded picture of Art,” Terwilliger wrote. “If selected, I am sure that he would add much to the handicapped awareness trail at the 1981 Jamboree.”
Humphries continued to work with Scouts and molested at least five more boys before police, acting on a tip, stopped him in 1984. He was convicted of abusing 20 Boy Scouts, some as young as 8, and was sentenced to 151 years in prison.
By then, one of the Scouts he’d abused a decade earlier had become his accomplice. He was convicted of molesting many of the same boys at Humphries’ house.
Humphries and Terwilliger are both deceased.
The Boy Scouts’ lawyers have long contended that keeping such files confidential is key to protecting the privacy of victims, of those who report sexual abuse and of anyone falsely accused. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted into evidence — usually under seal — in lawsuits brought by alleged victims. The Times reviewed 1,600 of the nearly 1,900 files that came to light as a result of a 1992 court case.
Hundreds more will soon become widely available. In June, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the release of 1,247 of the Scouts’ confidential files covering two decades beginning in 1965. The files were submitted in a 2010 lawsuit that resulted in a nearly $20-million judgment against the Scouts.
The release of the files, many of which were included in The Times’ review, raises the prospect of a costly wave of litigation for the Boy Scouts. In many states, however, statutes of limitation will curb victims’ ability to sue.
The Boy Scouts of America generally has responded to allegations of past abuse by emphasizing its increased efforts to protect children in recent decades.
In the 1990s, for instance, it mandated background checks of staffers and in 2008 extended that requirement to all volunteers. The organization also has stepped up child abuse prevention training. The effect of those policies is hard to gauge because the Scouts have neither released nor analyzed more recent files.
Regardless, the Scouts have taken no steps to account for unreported crimes years ago. In some of those cases, not even parents of abuse victims were told what happened.
At a Rhode Island Boy Scout camp in 1971, a scoutmaster discovered a 12-year-old boy performing oral sex on an assistant troop leader, William Lazzareschi, behind a tent.
“Mr. Lazzareschi made me do it to him,” the young Scout told officials, according to the file.
Lazzareschi “admitted his role in the act” and said he’d never done it before, the file states. He was expelled from Scouting and told to stay away from the boy. Nothing in the file indicates the Scouts called police.
The records do show that the boy was counseled “with positive results” by the Rev. Edmond C. Micarelli, the camp’s Catholic chaplain.
“Upon Father Micarelli’s recommendation, the parents were not notified,” a report states.
Micarelli’s reasoning was not explained. But in 1990, he also wound up on the blacklist after a man told a Scouting official that the priest had raped him and his younger brother as boys. In 2002, the Diocese of Providence paid $13.5 million to 36 victims who sued Micarelli and 10 other priests, alleging sex abuse dating to at least 1975.
Lazzareschi was convicted of sexual assault in 1997 and possession of child pornography in 2005, but he is no longer in prison, state records show. Neither he nor Micarelli, who retired to Florida more than 20 years ago, could be reached for comment.
The Scouts sometimes had help in keeping abuse out of the public eye.
When a Los Angeles Scout leader was caught by police with hundreds of photos of naked Scouts in 1984 — many showing him giving enemas to boys — Scouting officials worked closely with police and the county children services department to keep the case from becoming public and embarrassing the Scouts.
A summary of a meeting between Scouting officials and local agencies contained this conclusion: “We recognize that this unfortunate situation was no reflection on the Boy Scouts of America whose integrity and reputation must be maintained.”
In July 1987, a top official at Boy Scouts headquarters sent an internal “news advisory” to national leaders about allegations against a high-ranking Scout council leader in Milwaukee.
“Dr. Thomas Kowalski, chairman of health and safety for the Milwaukee County Council, one of the most prominent physicians in the state and one of the authors of the Wisconsin laws on child abuse, has been removed from his BSA volunteer position(s) following allegations that he made sexual advances to two 16-year-old youths at the council’s summer long-term camp,” the advisory read.
Kowalski admitted masturbating while fondling the two boys. Wisconsin Scouting officials reported the incidents to police, as required by state law, but the parents chose not to press charges, the file says.
The Scouts then turned to a well-connected board member to keep the matter out of the news media — an unnamed publisher of local newspapers.
The publisher “is aware of the situation but apparently will not be passing the information to his editors,” the Scouting official wrote.
The case was not reported in the press, and Kowalski continued to work with children for the next 14 years, until he retired from his medical practice in 2001.
In an interview, Kowalski, now 75 and living in Milwaukee, said that he had received psychiatric counseling for years and had never re-offended.
“The topic has not come up until your phone call today,” he said. “Had that been publicized, I would have been out of business, reputation destroyed, and I don’t know how I would have faced people at church.”
Times researchers Maloy Moore and Daniel Schonhaut contributed to this report.
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.