Winston-Salem Journal [Winston-Salem NC]
September 23, 2021
By Michael Hewlett
A Florida man now in his late 50s has filed a lawsuit alleging that house parents at the Children’s Home in Winston-Salem sexually abused him for several years, starting in 1969 when he was 7 years old.
This is the sixth lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg Superior Court against what was formerly known as the Children’s Home and the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, which operated the Children’s Home at the time the alleged sexual abuse took place. In 2017, the Children’s Home merged with the Crossnore School and is now known as the Crossnore School & Children’s Home.
The allegations center on a married couple who worked as house parents at the Anna Haines Cottage at the Children’s Home — Bruce Jackson “Jack” Biggs and Beatrice Biggs — from 1966 to 1975. The couple was never criminally charged, and Jack Biggs died in 2015. Beatrice Biggs, now 83, is living in a nursing home. Previous lawsuits have said the couple was fired.
Four men and one woman, Lisa Fore-Biggs, the daughter of the Biggses, have filed previous lawsuits alleging that the couple sexually abused them. Typically, the Winston-Salem Journal does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but Fore-Biggs, through her attorneys, gave permission to use her name.
This lawsuit, as the others, said that officials at the Children’s Home and Western North Carolina Conference failed to prevent the Biggses from sexually abusing numerous children and offered the children no way of reporting such sexual abuse. The lawsuit also alleged that both organizations did not report the sexual abuse allegations to child-welfare authorities or law-enforcement agencies and sought to cover up the allegations to prevent ruin to their good reputation.
Attorneys for the Children’s Home and Western North Carolina Conference have filed court papers denying the allegations for the previous lawsuits and seeking to dismiss them. They have also said a new state law that more easily allowed alleged victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits is unconstitutional. G. Gray Wilson, an attorney for the Children’s Home, declined comment on Thursday.
Ashley Prickett Cuttino, an attorney for the Western North Carolina Conference, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
In the newest lawsuit, the man said he was 6 years old in 1968 when he and his siblings were sent to the Children’s Home. The first year, the boy lived in Reynolds Cottage, but was transferred to Haines Cottage in 1969.
As alleged in other lawsuits, Jack Biggs not only worked as a house parent but also served as a substitute preacher and officiated at church services at the Children’s Home when the regular preacher was away.
In 1969, when the boy was 7, Beatrice Biggs started sexually abusing him. Several times, Beatrice Biggs forced the boy to undress and take a bath in her presence. Sometimes, Jack Biggs would also be there, the lawsuit said.
Then Beatrice Biggs started fondling the boy, “sometimes on a day-to-day basis,” which occurred in the Cottage as well as the downstairs laundry and back porch sleeping area. Jack Biggs would watch his wife abuse the boy, the lawsuit said.
On some occasions, the Biggses brought in young girls to come to the boys’ sleeping area. The lawsuit said the girls would climb into the boy’s bed and perform sexual acts on the boy. In her lawsuit, Biggs-Fore said her mother forced her to fondle boys her mother brought into the bedroom.
“Plaintiff was repeatedly sexually assaulted on a regular basis over the course of several years until his transfer to the Smith Cornelius Cottage at which time the abuse ended,” the lawsuit said.
The boy never told anyone, and the Children’s Home lacked a case worker or social worker who could check on the boy, the lawsuit alleged. The lawsuit alleged that the Children’s Home and Western North Carolina failed to supervise the Biggses and should have known that they were unsuitable to be house parents.
The lawsuit has several claims, including negligence; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; and breach of fiduciary duty.
Richard Serbin, attorney for the plaintiffs in all six lawsuits, said Thursday that Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell had transferred the five other lawsuits to a three-judge panel to determine whether the SAFE Child Act, is constitutional. The SAFE Child Act eliminated certain statute of limitations that had prevented alleged victims of child sexual abuse from filing civil claims.
Attorneys for the Children’s Home and Western North Carolina have appealed those transfers to the N.C. Court of Appeals. They have also appealed a decision made by Bell to provide confidential records from child-welfare authorities and law-enforcement authorities about sexual-abuse allegations involving the Biggses.
Discovery in all five lawsuits have been stayed, pending a decision from the N.C. Court of Appeals, Serbin said.
Serbin said the sad thing about this and all the other lawsuits is that the children had no place to go to report the sexual abuse.
“Some were orphans, and some were turned over to the state,” he said. “They were helpless. That was the whole purpose of having house parents … (to move them) along the path of childhood and provide a substitute home of safety. Given the situation, these individuals, the Biggses, instead looked at them as their playground for their demented, evil acts.”