Abused Family Finds Sense of Closure in Court Case
Stepfather Pleaded No Contest 20 Years after Molestation
By Jon Frank
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
April 27, 1998
He held a Ph.D. in educational counseling, wrote books and regularly published articles in professional journals. College professor Eugene Walter Kelly Jr. was the ideal academician. And during the 1970s, when Kelly came home to his stepchildren in the Virginia Beach area of Kempsville, he would talk about the great people academics study: poets, philosophers, men of science, pillars of human history.
One of Kelly's favorites was Julius Caesar, the Roman military leader and statesman. His stepchildren remember that Kelly often quoted to them from Caesar's "divide and conquer" philosophy of military and political warfare. But Kelly's penchant for quoting Caesar was not simply a display of his educational accomplishments. It was a description of Kelly's diabolical attempt to destroy the young family that he ostensibly was helping to raise, they are now convinced. He used the military philosophy of Caesar to divide and conquer hisown family, setting them one against the other. He did it to manipulate their emotions, control their minds and sexually abuse his two stepchildren, the family said in an interview last week. It wasn't until years later that the family members fully realized what he had done. "He was very manipulative and controlling," remembered his stepson David. "He encouraged fighting," recalled his stepdaughter Amy. "I remember telling my children to beware of the monsters in society," said Kelly's former wife Betty, who divorced him in 1980 after learning that he had been sexually abusing her children. "Then I found out that there had been a monster right here in the house. We were locking a monster up in the house with us every night." Last week, Kelly finally was brought to justice for those sins of more than 20 years ago. The 62-year-old professor of counseling at George Washington University pleaded no contest in Circuit Court to two felony molesting charges and was sentenced to three years suspended. Although the plea agreement allows him to avoid jail time, he must register with the state police as a sex offender. He also must re-register every six months. If he fails to do so, he may face an additional criminal charge, said Circuit Judge A. Bonwill Shockley. That is a far cry from the kind of harsh punishment child molesters often receive. But it is victory enough for the family he terrorized for much of the 1970s, said his ex-wife and his stepchildren. They agreed to be interviewed last week as long as their last names were not published. They say Virginia's sex-offender registry provides peace of mind for them to continue the healing process made necessary by the wounds Kelly inflicted more than two decades ago. The law not only keeps track of people who have a history of abusing children, it also often provides a degree of closure to those who have already been victimized. "The thing I wanted the most was for him to be a registered sex offender," said Betty, an educator who lives and works in Hampton Roads. "So every parent who lives in his neighborhood won't send their kids to his house to play." Kelly met Betty when both were students at the University of South Carolina during the late 1960s. He was a former Roman Catholic priest studying education and counseling. She was getting her master's degree in counseling and working in the school system. They were married in 1968. Kelly eventually adopted Betty's two children from a prior marriage, Amy and David. Although Betty had no idea at the time, in retrospect she came to believe that Kelly had a sinister plan from the very beginning. "He married me for my salary and my children," Betty said. The family eventually moved to Virginia Beach, and Kelly began teaching at Old Dominion University. He eventually became a chairman in the university's Darden School of Education. It was when Amy and David were about 12 years old that Kelly began abusing his stepchildren. He abused Amy in her bedroom, in the den and in a clothes closet. He attempted to abuse David when the boy was asleep. For years the abuse had been a festering sore in the family. Kelly kept family members from sharing what was happening to them in a variety of ways, including isolating them from friends and erecting a facade of normalcy that obscured the truth and confused everyone but him. For Betty, her marital relationship seemed almost ideal. Kelly and Betty had two children of their own, and Kelly's career in education was advancing nicely. "We don't look for evil in the people that we love," Betty said. Even with the abuse, Amy thought her stepfather was her best friend in the family. She was young and impressionable and Kelly managed to drive a wedge between her and her mother. "He told me that my mother hated me," Amy, now 37, remembered. He tried to convince his stepdaughter that having sex with him was all right because he was not her biological father. Kelly got around David's opposition by attacking him in his sleep. The attacks ended only when David bit Kelly after awakening and finding himself being abused. The children kept private the secret that they unknowingly shared until 1979, when David approached his sister when they were at home in Virginia Beach. "I said: 'Gene has been messing with me,' " recalled David, now 39, who is single and lives in Hampton Roads. " 'Has he been doing stuff to you?' " When his sister answered yes, David went to his mother, who immediately confronted Kelly. "I told him that I was taking my wedding ring off and I was divorcing him," Betty recalled. Betty said that learning of the abuse "hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought I had a good marriage. I thought I was raising four children successfully and happily. I mean wham, from nowhere, my life just died. My marriage died, everything died." Betty never remarried. It took 15 years before the family Eugene Kelly wounded began to confront the past. During that time, David, Amy and Betty kept Eugene Kelly's real character a secret. The were silent because "we were trying to put it behind us and get on with our lives," David said. Their silence allowed Kelly to succeed as a tenured professor at George Washington University in Washington. He remarried, fathered a child and started a new life. But in 1995, Kelly sent a Christmas card to Amy's children, along with a package of gifts. The card told Amy's children that their grandfather was eager to be with them. The children were about 10 years old, close to the same age Amy was when her stepfather began abusing her. "I went off the deep end," recalled Amy, a business administrator who lives and works in Hampton Roads. "I sent it all back to him and went into hiding." She also sent him a written message. "I wrote that he was the personification of the devil to do something like this when the family was trying to heal itself," Amy recalled. Her fear was that Kelly was trying to start a relationship with her children that would turn into more sexual abuse. "Everybody was upset by it," remembered David, who by this time had earned a master's degree and understood the trauma that his family had suffered. "He had put his dirty handprints on Christmas." A therapist David was seeing suggested that discussing and confronting the past abuse was the only way that the family would ever heal. "He encouraged me to come forward," David said. After David discussed it with his mother and Amy, the three approached the Virginia Beach Police Department. Working with the police, Betty made phone contact with her ex-husband, hoping to get Kelly to implicate himself. In an extraordinary admission, Kelly confessed during the 1996 telephone conversation. Kelly's candor during the telephone conversation surprised his former wife, who had divorced him 16 years earlier. "It absolutely blew me away," Betty said. "Before this, he had always sneeringly said, 'What harm have I done?' He always displayed an arrogance over the years indicating that 'I can do as I want.' " Betty says she has no idea why he decided to be so truthful, but the taped conversation formed the basis of the case against Kelly, along with an interview conducted by a Virginia Beach detective in 1997 at Kelly's Alexandria home. Kelly's ex-wife and stepchildren say the passage of time made the decision to prosecute easier. Society today is much more open to confronting the reality of incest and child abuse than it was in the 1970s. "I wish I had been able to do this 20 years ago," David said. "But 20 years ago would have been a whole lot harder than it is today." A spokesman for George Washington University said last week that Kelly was placed on administrative leave after his conviction. George Washington University is reviewing the situation, the spokesman said, and soon should have a decision. "I think it is safe to say we don't want to drag this out," he said. Many people tried to encourage David, Amy and Betty to drop the legal action against Kelly after news of his indictment last May became public. His public reputation was extensive, and his friends were numerous. "A lot of people said we should turn the other cheek and forgive him," David said. "But if a rattlesnake wants to come in and play in your house, you have to protect the children."
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