Number Alleging Abuse at Boys Town Rises to 4

By Stephen Buttry
World-Herald [Omaha]
Downloaded February 24, 2003

PHOENIX - The number of former Boys Town residents who say they were sexually abused, or fended off sexual advances, in the 1970s and '80s by two staff members of the famed Omaha refuge for children is now at five.

One of the men, Lance Rivers of Phoenix, provided The World-Herald with extensive hospital records that show Boys Town investigated sexual abuse allegations against counselor Michael Wolf, who died in Indiana in 1990.

Rivers, now 35, claims that Wolf initially asked to watch him masturbate, then fondled him and performed oral sex on him, paying him off with baseball cards for nearly nightly abuse in the early 1980s.

Another Arizona man, James Duffy, sued Jan. 30, alleging that Wolf and the Rev. James Kelly sexually abused him while he was at Boys Town in the 1970s. Duffy has declined an interview request through his attorney, William Walker of Tucson.

Wayne Garsky, now living in Oakland, Calif., screamed "Yes!" when told recently that someone else had accused Kelly of sexual abuse. "I'm 35 years old, and I've been waiting for this for so long." Garsky said Kelly fondled his crotch through his clothes during confession.

A fourth man, who lived in Wolf's house at Boys Town and spoke only on condition that his name not be used, said Wolf and Kelly abused him in the 1980s.

Rivers' older brother, John Rivers, now of Neapolis, Ohio, says Wolf made sexual advances but did not abuse him.

Kelly told The World-Herald that he did not sexually abuse boys.

Kelly and Wolf left Boys Town in 1983, a year before Archbishop Daniel Sheehan appointed the Rev. Val Peter to succeed Monsignor Robert Hupp as executive director at Boys Town. Peter assisted Hupp for a year before Hupp retired in 1985. The organization changed its name to Girls and Boys Town in 2000.

Peter declined to be interviewed for this story.

James Martin Davis, an Omaha attorney hired by Boys Town this month to handle allegations of sexual abuse, said if any boys "suffered at the hands of renegade employees," Peter will make "a real effort to make these kids whole again."

Peter and Davis have vowed to protect the legacy of the home's beloved founder, Father Edward Flanagan, whether that means fighting false allegations or atoning for the actions of abusive former staff members.

In announcing an investigation of the lawsuit's allegations, Davis said Kelly and Wolf would have abused other youths if Duffy's allegations were true. He said Friday that investigators have found no evidence of sexual abuse in Boys Town files or in interviews with former residents, including about 10 who lived with Wolf.

Hospital records show that Lance Rivers told Peter in 1991 that Wolf had abused him eight years earlier. Boys Town discounts the abuse claim because Rivers has a long history of mental illness.

"I couldn't help it that I was mentally ill," Rivers said in an interview at his Phoenix apartment. The memory of Wolf's abuse, he said, "drove me insane."

Determining the truth can be difficult in any sexual abuse case, especially one that happened many years ago. Few molesters commit their crimes with witnesses around. Experts in child care and sexual abuse say the very circumstances that bring troubled youths to a place such as Boys Town can make them more vulnerable to abuse and can provide grounds to question their credibility.

"Every one of them was a problem," Hupp said last week.

Davis said he will ask Kelly and any accusers to take a polygraph test.

Many former residents say Boys Town provided the structure and guidance they needed to live happy, productive lives. Former residents, including some who knew Kelly and Wolf, have said in recent interviews that no one molested them and that they doubt others were abused.

Jim Dornacker of Omaha remembers Kelly coming for dinner to the Boys Town house where he lived. "He was very professional," Dornacker said. "When he prayed with you, he'd touch the back of your head. . . . It was almost like God was sitting on your shoulder, saying, 'Hey, I'm here.'"

Garsky remembers Kelly differently: "He was a freak in confession. . . . He would touch you and he would feel you." Garsky said he did not report the abuse because he did not think anyone would believe him. "This was a man of God."

The former resident who asked that his name not be used said Kelly abused him during confession. But the man did not provide details.

Rivers said Kelly did not abuse him but did ask him once in confession to pull down his pants. Rivers said he left and never went to confession with Kelly again.

"Every bit of that's absolutely false," Kelly said Friday from Carson City, Nev., where he was a prison chaplain until Feb. 3, when Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., suspended him from the ministry. Kelly was ordained in the Albany Diocese and served as a priest there before and after working at Boys Town.

Davis said his investigation has not turned up any allegations about Kelly beyond those raised by Duffy in his lawsuit.

"If Father Kelly is guilty of doing any of these things, particularly in confession, Father Peter would want to hang him by his Roman collar," Davis said. "That is not only a violation of his holy orders, but it's a desecration of the sacrament of confession."

Lance Rivers was a runaway and a victim of physical abuse before coming to Boys Town in December 1979 from Toledo, Ohio, at the age of 12.

He was an avid baseball player and fan. Every two weeks, he would take his $11 paycheck for chores at the high school office and spend it all on baseball cards.

In early 1981, Rivers said, he moved into the Boys Town home at 116 Maher Circle where Wolf lived with several boys.

After Boys Town converted in the 1970s from dormitories to family homes, most boys lived with married couples. Wolf was the last single person who lived with boys in the new role of "family teacher."

Wolf taught for at least four years at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Omaha. The Rev. William L'Heureux, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, said church directories show that Wolf taught at the school from 1970 to 1974. Boys Town records show that boys and supervisors gave Wolf high marks on his evaluations.

Rivers gives this account of the abuse he alleges by Wolf:

One night a few months after Rivers moved in, Wolf was making a routine bed check and caught Rivers masturbating. The next day Wolf asked Rivers, "What could I do to get you to do that for me?"

Rivers said he would need some "dirty magazines" and wanted to be allowed to smoke cigarettes. Wolf, expressing concern that Rivers spent all his money on baseball cards, also offered to buy him cards. Their deal was that Wolf would buy a box each of Topps, Fleer and Donruss cards every two weeks.

"I was scared, nervous, but I saw an opportunity," Rivers recalled. "I never had nothing in my life. And here was this guy asking me to do something I thought was fun, and he'd give me baseball cards."

For their first encounter, Wolf drove Rivers in a Boys Town car to a convenience store and bought four pornographic magazines. Then Wolf drove to Walnut Grove Park at 150th and Q Streets, where Rivers masturbated while Wolf watched.

The next time, Wolf told Rivers to come to the dining room at night. "He would already have the magazines down there. He would shut the drapes and close the door and lock it."

At Wolf's instruction, Rivers took off his clothes and paraded around the room, even climbing on the table and prancing about. "I blocked it out," Rivers said. "I didn't think about the consequences at the time. All I thought about was the cards."

In the dining room, Wolf started touching Rivers. In later episodes, Wolf performed oral sex on him, a progression that resulted in doubling the card payment. "Only one time did he want me to touch him," Rivers said. The boy didn't want to, and Wolf didn't ask again.

Rivers says the abuse continued every night some weeks, even on vacations Wolf took with the boys.

The youth who asked that his name not be used said Wolf sexually abused him on a vacation to Colorado Springs.

Rivers said his payoffs from Wolf filled a trunk with cards. A letter to his mother boasts that he displayed 840 cards on his bulletin board. He said Wolf took him to card shows and bought him expensive cards of Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron.

John Rivers remembers that his brother "had a baseball collection that was the envy of the whole state of Nebraska."

A1983 fire that filled the house with smoke on a Sunday morning led to Wolf's departure. Lance Rivers and the youth who alleged abuse by Kelly and Wolf said no one called the fire department and Wolf, his assistant, Bob Marceau, and the boys put out the fire.

Everyone else in the village was at church, and the fire escaped notice initially. The former residents said Wolf told the boys not to tell anyone and directed Marceau and the boys in cleaning up the smoke damage. Marceau would not comment for this story.

Davis, the Girls and Boys Town attorney, confirmed that Wolf resigned after Boys Town officials learned about the fire two months later. Boys Town records show that he said he started the fire in his bathtub, burning "girlie magazines" confiscated from the boys.

John Rivers, Lance's older brother, moved to Boys Town after the fire. Wolf invited him into his apartment, John said. "You could smell the smoke damage in his bedroom really strong." John also saw "a huge pile of pornography at least knee high."

He said Wolf "asked me to masturbate for him."

John, 18 at the time, declined. "On another occasion, he had offered to take me to a brothel in Council Bluffs. He wanted to watch me have sex with one of the hookers there." The youth also declined that offer, he said.

After word of the fire leaked out, Wolf told Lance Rivers that he was going to be fired and asked Rivers to move with him to Lafayette, Ind. Rivers said he wanted to go home and live with his father. Wolf drove Lance and John to the bus station and bought them tickets home.

An obituary in the Lafayette Journal and Courier said Wolf worked for six years as a counselor at the United Methodist Children's Home in Lebanon, Ind., and died of a heart attack in Indianapolis Aug. 19, 1990.

Gary Davis, director of the Indiana home, said no one there has complained of abuse by Wolf.

Living with his father didn't work out for Lance Rivers. When he asked to return to Boys Town in 1984, he said, he was quizzed by Lou Palma, who supervised Wolf.

"Lance, did you have sexual relations with Mike Wolf?" Palma asked.

"I said 'no' because I had to come back to Boys Town," Rivers said. "It would have ruined everything for me."

Palma, now living in Las Vegas, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hospital records show Boys Town did investigate sexual abuse allegations against Wolf. Records from Rivers' 1991 hospitalization at the St. Joseph Center for Mental Health say that Mark Graham, who worked with Rivers following graduation in Boys Town's continuing care program, told a St. Joseph social worker that an "investigation of sexual abuse allegation by Lance was done with the male staff involved." The records identify Wolf as the alleged abuser.

Graham, now living in Colorado, confirmed the investigation but did not recall details. Davis, the attorney, said his investigators have seen no evidence of the investigation in Boys Town files.

Until 1991, Rivers says, he told no one other than his brother John about being abused by Wolf. The secret, Lance said, "was destroying me inside." He said he would spend holidays alone in a park, smoking marijuana, listening to music and crying. He had lost his job and was distraught and destitute.

In 1991, Rivers told his former family teachers about the abuse, then met with Peter and Palma at Boys Town April 24, 1991. Rivers said he told them his story. "The first thing that came out of Val Peter's mouth was 'prove it.'"

Rivers says he asked Peter for a loan. St. Joseph records say Rivers "attempted to blackmail Father Peter for $10,000 cash."

Rivers ran from the meeting but continued repeating his allegation to other staff members in the days that followed. Hospital records show and Rivers admits that at one point he threatened to kill Peter. "It was a blind threat. I was never going to carry it out."

He says he stormed into church one Sunday when Peter was preaching. "I was sweating and angry and I just looked at him. I wanted to stop the whole church thing right there. . . . Something snapped inside me that said, 'Wait a minute, Lance.'"

Instead, he took Communion from Peter. "He put his hand on my right shoulder and he said, 'God be with you.'"

Finally, Rivers decided to kill himself. On May 17, 1991, he drove his girlfriend's Trans Am around Boys Town. When he turned onto West Dodge Road and saw Father Flanagan's church, he said, "Father Flanagan, I'm coming to see you."

Police reports show that Rivers drove east down the westbound lanes, causing a five-car crash. No one was seriously injured.

Rivers spent more than a month at St. Joseph, committed by the Douglas County Board of Mental Health on a petition from Boys Town. Over the next 11 years, he was hospitalized nine times, according to records he gave The World-Herald. The records describe him as paranoid, delusional and abusing drugs.

Records show Rivers was diagnosed as bipolar, with post-traumatic stress disorder from being abused. In at least 13 instances, the records cited sexual abuse.

Rivers says he has been off illegal drugs since July 15. He takes two prescription drugs to control the chemical imbalance that causes bipolar disorder. He is hoping to attend vocational school in Phoenix to learn about heating and air-conditioning. "I'm trying to straighten my life out."

He admitted his mental illness, discussing it in great detail and providing 116 pages of records. "Just because I was mentally ill doesn't mean I'm not a victim," Rivers said. "I'm not a psychopath. I was abused."

He remains especially bitter toward Peter. "He pulled a Pontius Pilate on me. He washed his hands of the situation."


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