Eye on Crime
Private Investigator Targets Child Molesters

By Tim Hahn [Pennsylvania]
Downladed November 30, 2003

Private eye Dan Barber said he suspects child molesters work in every school district in the nation.

He's asking area residents to help ferret them out.

Barber, a private investigator based in McKean, has launched a wide-ranging investigation into child molestation that is targeting not only suspected pedophiles, but the enablers who allow them to stay out of law enforcement's reach.

The investigation targets not only schools, but any area where suspected child molesters might live or work.

Barber said he is so committed to his search, he has started it without actually having a client or clients paying him to pursue child molesters.

He made his crusade public recently by posting fliers throughout the region, asking that anybody with information on pedophiles or their "enablers" contact him.

Barber posted the fliers in communities throughout Erie, Crawford and the other 13 counties that are covered by the Catholic Diocese of Erie.

Barber said his investigation isn't necessarily targeting the Catholic Church but rather is centered on areas where such abuse has come to light before.

"If you're looking for ants, you go to the anthill," said Barber, who has been licensed to work in the area for more than 20 years. "I'm not into wasting time ineffectively conducting my investigations."

An ongoing Erie Times-News investigation has found that six priests in the Erie Catholic Diocese have resigned or been removed from the ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Indecent-assault charges have also been leveled against several teachers in recent years. They include Gregory J. Yarbenet, a former science teacher at Rice Middle School who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting one girl and faces charges involving another student; and Keith A. Lenz, a Northwestern Middle School band teacher who faces a variety of indecent assault charges on accusations he improperly touched three female students.

In the seven-paragraph explanation under the heading "Wanted: Child Molestation," Barber's fliers ask readers for information on "those sexual predators who are child molesters of the type known as fixated or preferential pedophiles."

They are obsessed with children and always find a way to have children close by, either by joining organizations or by pursuing careers that involve children, Barber wrote in the flier.

"They are attracted to schools and some end up as teachers. Some end up as Roman Catholic priests. Some, like John Wayne Gacy, become serial killers of children," the fliers read.

Barber said he's also going after people, whether they're school administrators or church officials, who allow molesters to continue their abuse by keeping suspicions or accusations to themselves or permitting known molesters to work around children elsewhere.

It's a practice so common that it's called "passing the trash," Barber wrote in his flier.

"Instead of firing and exposing teachers caught molesting students, they simply transfer them to another school. Some Roman Catholic Church officials, including former (Boston Archdiocese) Cardinal Bernard Law, have done the same," the fliers read.

Barber's wide-ranging investigation was born out of the 1997 death of Jeremy Bell. The 12-year-old West Virginia boy died on a camping trip with his Beckwith Elementary School principal, Edgar Friedrichs.

Barber said his agency's investigation into the matter led to charges being filed against Friedrichs in Bell's death. Friedrichs was convicted and is expected to be sentenced in December.

Friedrichs is already in jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting two other former students in West Virginia.

Barber said he learned in his work on the Bell case that Friedrichs taught for years in east Pennsylvania and was accused of molesting students then. But Friedrichs was permitted to resign from his teaching positions rather than face punishment, Barber said.

"It's a classic passing-the-trash situation," he said. "Had he been charged years ago, Jeremy Bell would be alive."

Barber said he's looking into a "child sex ring" with links to not only Pennsylvania and West Virginia but Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee as well. He acknowledges that it's daunting work, but he said he made the command decision not to "pinch off" the investigation and contain it to one area.

"My decision was that I would investigate all leads and expand the case to wherever it might go," Barber said. "I'm in this for the long haul. This is a complicated investigation that could go on for several years."

Barber's investigation is his alone and is not tied to any ongoing police investigation, Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk said.

Barber is also not associated in any way with the district attorney's office and has not spoken to officials about what he is doing, Foulk said.

"We have our own extremely effective child-abuse unit," Foulk added. He did not elaborate.

Barber's probe was welcome news to Judith Prenatt, a Meadville woman who founded the local chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Prenatt founded the organization after her brother said a Catholic priest abused him.

"Any help he can get from the general public about child molesters, whether it be from priests, teachers, next-door neighbors or anyone else, is a good thing," Prenatt said. "Unfortunately, a lot of victims feel hopeless."

TIM HAHN can be reached at 870-1731 or by e-mail.

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