A North Jersey Family Destroyed by Boy Scout Abuse
By Mary Jo Layton
November 18, 2012
|Richard Schultz, a Fair Lawn police officer from Mahwah, and his younger brother were abused by a Boy Scout troop leader in the late 1970s. His brother later killed himself. |
Photo by CARRMINE GALASSO
|Richard Schultz, left, a month after he was molested in 1978. His brother Christopher grins for the camera, the horror of abuse still in his future. |
As Richard Schultz tells it, his childhood ended in a trailer at a Boy Scout camp when his troop leader stripped him, tied him up and took Polaroids of the 13-year-old boy “modeling” Stations of the Cross.
“Rape victims talk of having this disconnected feeling from the body and going numb, which is how I was,” Schultz said.
Seven weeks later, his younger brother Christopher was sexually assaulted by the same troop leader. It happened, Schultz said, on his brother’s 12th birthday.
The abuse is described in graphic detail in File No. 1524 in recently released documents from the Boy Scouts of America, which identify thousands of scoutmasters and other volunteers the organization suspected of molesting children.
The faded police statements, letters warning of a predator and other documents in the file tell the story of the Schultz family: The molestation did more than damage two boys, it triggered a series of events that ripped the family apart. A child was lost, a marriage imploded. Thirty-five years later, Richard Schultz continues to be haunted by what happened in that trailer.
Schultz is now a 48-year-old police sergeant in Fair Lawn, always in uniform, always on patrol, a voice for victims in the most recent sex-abuse scandal sweeping the nation. He speaks about the abuse in candid detail — how Robert E. Coakley, a Franciscan friar who also taught at the Catholic school the boys attended in Emerson — lured him into that trailer at the Scout camp in New York State.
But back in 1978, he was too scared and ashamed to tell anyone his secret. He couldn’t even find the words to warn his younger brother Christopher, who later went off alone with “Brother Edmund” to the same camp. Christopher’s abuse, the fondling and sadomasochistic acts, continued for months, according to lawsuits the family later filed against Coakley, the Boy Scouts and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark.
Christopher suffered panic attacks. He started cutting himself. Richard Schultz remembers how his mother, Margaret, wouldn’t even leave for groceries unless someone was home with the boy.
Ten months after he was first assaulted, Christopher drank a small bottle of oil of wintergreen he found in the medicine cabinet, which is toxic beyond a teaspoon or two. “It’s not worth living,” he told an emergency room nurse at what is now Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, according to the lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts.
He died the next morning.
“I am the person who should have been looking out for his little brother and I didn’t,” Schultz said. “If I had spoken up, this never would have happened to him.”
The recent release of nearly 15,000 pages of internal Boy Scout documents from 1959 to 1985 offer details about three dozen New Jersey men identified as possible molesters who should be banned from Scouting. Among those is Coakley, who died in 1988 while living in Arizona, as well as a scoutmaster from Cedar Grove, who went to prison for sexually assaulting eight Scouts.
“People could easily be led to believe that the files represent 1,200 perpetrators and 1,200 victims,” said Paul Mones, an attorney in Oregon whose firm successfully sued the Boy Scouts for $20 million and prevailed in the court-ordered release of the files. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Testimony at our trial revealed the average child molester had between five and 20 victims.”
Richard Schultz’s five-page statement to authorities in 1979 is included in what has become known as the “perversion files,” though it has become mostly unreadable over the decades. Schultz recently made out a few haunting lines and read them aloud:
“I was scared and nervous with perspiration and I wanted to leave the trailer.”
The five-hour ride home from Pine Creek Reservation in New York that Memorial Day weekend so long ago remains a fresh memory for Schultz. He remembers how he wedged himself against the door of Coakley’s beat-up green pickup, as far away as he could get on the bench seat.
His throat burned from the cigarettes Coakley gave him — his first. Coakley smelled horrible. The thought of facing him every day at school made the boy ill.
At home, the teen grew sullen. Schultz remembers barely leaving his room.
It’s evident in his dour expression at his eighth-grade graduation, just a month after he was molested. He is shaggy haired and grim in the photograph, despite the brilliant blue cap and gown on that festive day. He stands apart from Christopher — moppy headed and grinning — as if the stain of his secret is somehow transferrable.
The image is in contrast to photos taken before the abuse: Richard and Christopher — the family nudge with endless energy — in a scrum with grade-school buddies holding up trophies their Cub Scout pack had won. Or triumphant at the pinewood derby, their favorite event in which the boys built their own cars from a block of pine and plastic wheels.
Richard Sr., the boy’s father, had been their den leader for a while. An engineer, he competed with the winning Scout to see if the prized car could pass professional muster and secretly always gave the Scout the edge.
Schultz still has one car — a zany model carved into a hot-dog shape to look like the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. “I loved the Scouts,” he said. “I was all about the uniform and merit badges.”
“Brother Edmund” invited Christopher for a special weekend alone at camp later that summer, using the same story he told to lure Richard: Some of the Scouts had other plans but would join up in a few days, Schultz said.
Richard insisted on joining his father as he drove Christopher to the camp. When the car approached the driveway, the teen begged to stay. Nonsense, his father said, he hadn’t even packed clothes. He could return with the rest of the Scouts in three days.
His father, who no longer led the troop, didn’t detect anything amiss, Schultz said. “The Boy Scouts were a totally trusted organization,” he said. “No one thought differently back then. Today, I would say he [Coakley] was creepy looking. If I looked at him as a cop, my gut tells me there’s something wrong with him.”
Three days later, when the brothers were alone for the first time in their tent, Schultz could tell. “I knew something had happened to him. He knew something happened to me,” he said. “Neither one of us could find a way to verbalize what happened.”
The lawsuit against the Boy Scouts describes how Coakley singled out Christopher, made him sleep in his trailer, and how he allegedly forced the boy to simulate rape scenes. Some of the acts were recorded. Back home the abuse continued at the Assumption School and the friary. Once, Coakley made the boy tie him up and beat him with a rope, according to the suit.
Christopher didn’t tell anyone his secret — Coakley, who brandished a rifle at camp, threatened to kill the boys if they talked, according to the lawsuit.
Christopher began having nightmares. He cut his wrists, sometimes requiring emergency visits. Richard Schultz remembers how his little brother began hallucinating, hearing Coakley’s threats to hunt him down. Frantic, Margaret Schultz drove him to the hospital, where he was admitted several times to the psychiatric unit, according to the lawsuit.
“We were constantly walking on eggshells,” Schultz said.
On an autumn afternoon, Schultz said his mother burst into his room while he was listening to music. She had just heard something shocking from Christopher. She forced her words out in half sentences. His answers were even shorter.
“She got pieces of my story,” Schultz said. “It’s all I could handle.”
The Schultzes reported the abuse to church and school officials that fall in 1978.
Coakley was removed and sent to the Ohio-based headquarters of the Franciscan Brothers of the Poor. Richard Schultz Sr. once called Coakley there. At first, the former scoutmaster denied the allegations, then claimed “he had been seduced” by Christopher, the litigation reveals.
The Schultzes agreed to a deal routinely offered at the time: The church would provide financial assistance to help with Christopher’s medical bills if they kept it quiet, according to the lawsuit the family eventually filed against the church.
But the bills piled up and the money didn’t come. No one even returned calls, Schultz said.
Even law enforcement didn’t help. Margaret and Richard Schultz reported the abuse to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office as well as the New York State Police, but the investigation would die with Christopher, the lawsuit alleges.
No one was interested in pressing the case on his behalf, Schultz said. No one it seems had the energy to make sure he was OK.
“If I had spoken up, we would have been dealing with my stuff, which wasn’t really bad compared to what happened to him,” Schultz said. “So for a year while he was alive, I kept my feelings inside because we had to worry about him.”
On May 28, Christopher sneaked the bottle of wintergreen out of the medicine cabinet.
He died the next morning of kidney failure.
Christopher Schultz was buried in his Boy Scout uniform. His mother insisted.
Family torn apart
Christopher’s suicide was the end of Margaret and Richard Schultz’s marriage.
“My son was home in my care,” the grieving mother said in press reports after the lawsuits had been filed. She declined to be interviewed for this story. “I’m a professional nurse. And while he was in my care, he managed to take that stuff that killed him.”
Christopher died in Schultz’s freshman year of high school, when most teens were focused on sports, studies, first romances and music. His parents, in the words of the lawsuits, were “undergoing severe mental anguish.”
“I didn’t know what I would be finding after school. Is my mother going to be OK?” he said. “You do that for three or four years. … That’s the tragic part of the reality of what you have to deal with. I don’t think a lot of people understand that.”
Richard Schultz Sr. rarely visited the cemetery. He rarely spoke about his grief, his son said. But in a small town, everyone knew. “He felt like ‘I’m the protector and I failed,’Ÿ” his son said.
In 1997, Schultz’s grief was compounded by yet another loss when his father suffered a heart attack and died.
The abuse “was like an explosion that destroyed my family,” Schultz said. “I wonder how many generations this one man is going to affect.”
Case 1524 of the Boy Scout documents includes letters between local Scout officials warning that Coakley “may be a possible candidate” to be banned from Scouting. The letters came after newspapers reported that the Schultz family had filed their $6.5 million lawsuit against the Scouts and another against the church in 1980.
The file also contains allegations from the family that the Boy Scouts had known of Coakley’s “deviant behavior” before their sons had been assaulted. In fact, the Scout leader had been previously dismissed from another Boy Scout camp for “improper conduct,” according to the lawsuit against the Scouts.
But the merits of the family’s lawsuit against the Boy Scouts and the church were never heard. The family sued the Boy Scouts in New York, where the camp was, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the case belonged in New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court decided in a 4-3 decision in 1984 that “charitable immunity” protected most non-profits and their volunteers from liability.
The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement to The Record recently regarding Coakley: “There have been instances where our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong.”
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, declined to comment this month on what he called a “closed case.” And Brother Edward Kesler, director of the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis in Ohio, said he had never known Coakley and that the order now requires notification of suspected abuse to law enforcement.
Years after the Schultz case was shot down, churches and other non-profits were stripped of their immunity amid growing awareness about the prevalence of sexual abuse of children and the desire to hold those accused accountable. Victims have won an estimated $2 billion nationally from the Catholic Church alone.
Today, there’s a move to expand victims’ rights in New Jersey. A bill pending in the state Senate would extend the statute of limitations on civil suits from two years to 30 years from the time adults realize they were harmed by abuse as children.
The legislation is important to victims because most of them don’t come to grips with the devastation of child sexual abuse until well into adulthood, said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University who testified for the New Jersey bill.
“Survivors are looking for accountability, an apology and more truth,” she said.
It’s no mystery to Richard Schultz why he’s a cop.
“It goes back to what happened to my family,” he said. “I took the job to protect people who need protecting. It’s kind of like having these big arms to wrap about people in this cruel world.”
As a rookie officer investigating his first sexual abuse case involving a child, he had to suppress a ferocious wave of anger. “I wanted to track the guy down and choke him,” he said. “I channeled it into doing the most thorough report possible.”
When his marriage failed six years ago, he said he felt overwhelming guilt for letting it fall apart, for not protecting his family. He had tried so hard to recreate the family that had been destroyed by sexual abuse.
He has weathered the divorce and shares custody of his three children, now in their teens and early 20s. The kids helped pick out his Mahwah home, a bicycle ride away from his ex-wife’s. When his boys joined a Scout troop years ago, Schultz insisted on being at every meeting, every outing.
He centers himself with long motorcycle rides. He long ago left the Catholic Church, but he’s drawn to an Episcopal Church in Ramsey, where the Celtic services on Wednesday offer candlelight and introspection.
His children, though, provide his true sustenance: There’s Christopher, 22, named after his brother, who has decidedly more piercings than his Dad cares for, but a work ethic and values a father could only admire.
Nicholas, 21, is a young sailor in the Navy, confident of his mission. Schultz just spent a week with the boy in Hawaii, savoring every late-night conversation.
Maggie, at 16, a woman in bloom, is the family academic and is also so into pole-vaulting that Schultz and his ex-wife have hired a private coach to help her train.
“My kids are so much better than I was at that age,” he said. “They are just good, solid, wonderful individuals — gifts from heaven.”
But he said he can’t ever seem to put to rest the guilt and the trauma of his childhood. Just recently, he followed the news of the release of the Boy Scout files — and was frustrated to learn that the North Jersey Scouting organization did not require immediate police notification of suspected abuse until a year ago.
“Every time I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m OK, where I’m in a good place, it seems like these two groups [the Boy Scouts and the church] explode onto the front page and smack me in the head and say, Sorry, you’re not done yet,” Schultz said. “We’re not done torturing you.”