Campfire embers grew cold in the dark. The boys were in their tents, in sleeping bags or under blankets, when the predators came out.
The men who crept among the Boy Scouts weren't stalking game. They sought sexual gratification.
Many of their activities were recorded in confidential files kept by the Boy Scouts of America. Along with wrenching details of sexual abuse, the files -- parts of which have surfaced recently through lawsuits -- illustrate how the Boy Scouts frequently failed to protect youths within the organization and beyond. Too often, allegations were treated as Scout secrets and not referred to law enforcement.
One failure involved John P.Treder, a scoutmaster accused of molesting a boy in his troop while at a southeastern Wisconsin Scout camp on a July night in 1968. But the details of his misconduct would remain a Scout secret for more than two decades, surfacing only in 1991. The time span encompasses that of a set of nearly 1,900 files reviewed by a Scripps investigative team.
Treder lay on the boy's bunk and "touched me between my legs several times and again asked me if I liked it. I said 'no,'"the boy wrote in a statement to Scout officials a week later. "At first I trusted him because I liked him. Then he said if he could kiss me again, he would go, so I let "him."
That incident got Treder removed from Scouting, but there was no report to police.Treder later wrote to the Scout executive who handled his removal, thanking him for "keeping everything in confidence."
Treder went on to oversee altar boys' training at a Catholic Church in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, where he was charged with assaulting a 10-year-old in 1989. Only then did police learn of the earlier incident with Scouts.
Scores of other cases noted in these so-called "perversion files" show how leaders who were pushed out of Scouts for sexual offenses, but not reported to police, went on to strike again.
On paper, Scouting has one of the youth-service field's toughest systems for keeping child molesters out of its million-strong adult leadership corps and away from its 2.7 million youth members. Within a decade of its 1910 founding, the organization started its "ineligible volunteer files" on individuals it deemed unfit to participate in Scouting, usually for suspicions or evidence of sexual misconduct with children. Scout officials say the files -- containing assorted Scout correspondence, handwritten notes, legal documents, press clippings and letters from parents and Scouts -- blocked or removed many pedophiles from leadership posts.
But the Scripps investigative team's review of 1,881 such files from 1970 to 1991, ordered released by a California court and shared among an informal network of attorneys representing abuse victims, reveals the Boy Scouts in hundreds of cases failed to report suspicious behavior to law-enforcement authorities. In scores of cases, individuals suspected of child molestation were allowed to remain on probation or to resign quietly, leaving youths at risk in and outside of Scouting. In some cases, protecting the reputation of Scouting took precedence over protecting its young charges, records show. The files suggest at least 2,000 Scouts were victimized.
Scripps' review includes many of the same files publicly released Oct. 18, under court order, by an Oregon law firm that got them as evidence against the Boy Scouts.
Despite the Boy Scouts' tightened screening in recent years, the Scripps team also found evidence in court records that at least 13 Scout leaders abused Scouts within the last decade.
The files Scripps reviewed indicate:
-- Scouts or their parents brought claims of sexual abuse directly to senior Scouting officials 416 times. Officials referred just 117 -- or 28 percent -- to law-enforcement authorities.
-- Scout officials allowed at least 146 individuals suspected of sexual misconduct to resign quietly. Many files contained official Scout correspondence with this standard language: "Please also understand that this decision and the reasons for it will be maintained as confidential.
-- Thirty-eight Scout leaders accused of sexual molestation were placed on "probation," meaning they could continue working with kids as long as there was no further misconduct or while getting therapy. (The Boy Scouts stopped offering probation in 1998.)
Scout officials "allowed these people to go on to molest other children," said Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has represented more than 1,000 victims of child sex abuse and who shared the files with Scripps.
The Boy Scouts' national president, Wayne Perry, acknowledged the files show his organization "did not maintain the standards that, certainly, we (have) today. And we fell short," he said in an interview with Scripps. "... And for that -- for any of those victims and their families -- we are profoundly sorry."
Boy Scout officials have pledged to review all files from
1965 on to ensure that any suspicions of crime get referred to law enforcement. "Any information the police want out of our files, they can have," said Perry, a retired Washington state businessman who describes himself as the Boy Scouts' chief volunteer.
Perry also told Scripps that the Boy Scouts' review would include whether Scout leaders had properly handled allegations of abuse: "There were instances in the past where these people failed. And to the extent that they violated the law, they should be prosecuted. To the extent that they failed to follow our systems, they should be removed from our system.
"Are we gonna protect people who made mistakes -- willingly made mistakes? The answer is no."
Perry said the Boy Scouts continue keeping internal files -- a measure endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all youth-serving groups. Providing a confidential outlet for sharing suspicions "makes people more likely" to report them, Perry said. "We want to move on suspicions sometimes" to keep people out of Scouting. "We want to act long before convictions."
The Boy Scouts' current youth-protection system, with its policy of reporting "every single instance of suspected child abuse, whether the states require it or not, is better than any other youth-serving organization out there," Perry said.
Scouting's increased emphasis on youth protection comes amid a growing docket of lawsuits filed by Scouts and former Scouts -- and the accompanying negative publicity. Pedophilia scandals in institutions such as the Catholic Church have increased society's awareness of the threat and intolerance of cover-ups.
The Boy Scouts have been sued in connection with sex abuse more than 100 times since the 1980s, and at least that many are pending, plaintiff's attorneys representing abuse victims estimate. At least 28 states have no time limit for filing criminal charges related to serious sexual offenses against victims age 15 or younger.
Paul Ernst, the man in charge of the Boy Scouts' confidential files from 1971 until his 1994 retirement, said the records "kept kids from being abused in any way."
Interviewed outside his home in Grapevine, Texas, he wore a T-shirt bearing the Scout emblem and proclaiming "Thanks for the memories." Ernst, noting that incidents of molestation were viewed differently 20 or 30 years ago, said he didn't know whether more should have been done then to track predators.
"I wasn't the policy maker of the Boy Scouts of America, I was just the person handling them," he said.
"I can't look behind me," Ernst said. "... We made decisions then and, as I say, times have changed."
A different era
In 1968, after learning that scoutmaster Treder had molested a boy at a Scout camp in Waukesha, Wis., the Milwaukee County Council banned the West Allis man from Scouting -- but made no report of his conduct to law enforcement nor to the national Boy Scout office.
Treder later wrote to a council executive, thanking him "for the way you handled everything in Milwaukee. Things could have been much worse for me if you hadn't kept everything in confidence." Treder also wondered whether he somehow could stay involved with Scouts, claiming "a gift for working with youth."
The executive wrote back that Scouting had no choice but to exclude Treder, but encouraged him to talk "with your priest and I am sure he can suggest other outlets for your talents."
Soon, Treder was overseeing altar boys at St. Aloysius Church in West Allis, where police later determined he molested at least three boys during the 1970s -- and assaulted a 10-year-old boy on Year's Eve 1983 in a motel room.
The boy delayed reporting the attack until 1989, then drawing police interest in Treder's past association with Scouting. Boy Scouts officials, at the local council and at national headquarters, took until September 1991 to provide detectives with their records. The next month, Treder pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and 12 years of probation.
Treder, approached by Scripps reporters this fall at his home in West Allis, declined to be interviewed.
Efforts to maintain confidentiality about sex offenses within Scouting have sometimes unleashed offenders into other communities.
In 1982, college student Paul S. Koefoot served as acting scoutmaster of an Evanston, Ill., troop at a summer camp. Months later, a Scout's mother wrote to the council executive, complaining that Koefoot had carried out "improper acts" there with her 11-year-old son.
"My husband and I feel very strongly that the council should take the necessary actions to ensure that Paul will never again be able to take advantage of a young boy in the Scouting setting," she wrote, adding that they would trust the officials to deal with the matter.
Koefoot was removed from Scouting in June 1983; his file contains no sign of a police report.
In 1997, police in Lincoln, Neb., investigated Koefoot
on suspicion of molesting 13-year-old Shaun McPherson and at least 10 other boys in his neighborhood. McPherson wasn't a Scout. Based on testimony that he and other boys provided, Koefoot was convicted and sentenced to prison in 1998.
McPherson only learned of the earlier allegation this fall, when Scripps reporters visited his home in Lincoln and handed the 28-year-old a copy of Koefoot's Boy Scouts file.
Sitting on his stoop, McPherson read its contents, his reaction turning from shock to anger. "All of this -- with me and these other kids -- could have been prevented a long time ago," McPherson said, rubbing his eyes.
"You can't just pass it off to the next person. You can't just say, 'Well, it's not our problem anymore.' ... I mean, it's always gonna be your problem. It happened on your watch!"
The Boy Scouts "need to be legally responsible for something," McPherson added. "I think they need to go to prison right along with the pedophile. There is no excuse for that."
Molestation by a Scout leader affects everyone in the troop.
Adam Scheuritzel was a 14-year old Star Scout in Ashford, Conn., when his troop went on a campout in March 1987. After the first night, a younger Scout told Scheuritzel and another youth leader that their scoutmaster had improperly touched an 11- and 12-year-old in their tent.
The youth leaders "went over and talked to them real quick and they were, in fact, inconsolable," recalled Scheuritzel, now 39. The older boys told their assistant scoutmaster; parents and police were called.
Scoutmaster David Wilson was charged with sexual assault, and more boys came forward with allegations going back months before the campout.
That spring, Scheuritzel hand-wrote a short letter to the advice columnist of Scouting's magazine:
"...Our scoutmaster has had to leave our troop for molesting two of our younger Scouts. He molested them physically and us mentally. I was wondering if you would put an article in Boys' Life mentioning this. ... It may help those who kept it to themselves and tell them it wasn't their fault."
The letter was never published. But it eventually reached Ernst, the keeper of the confidential files, who created a file on Wilson that day. A note on the letter indicates Scheuritzel got a call from Boy Scout headquarters to reassure him, though he doesn't recall it.
Wilson pleaded guilty that summer and received a seven-year prison sentence. He died in 2007.
Wilson's actions devastated the troop, Scheuritzel said. "We got a new scoutmaster, but it (the case) destroyed what we had originally. The Scouts should have stepped up to the plate then and done something" earlier to stop Wilson.
Scheuritzel, now a propane-gas technician and volunteer fire marshal, said he and most other troop members left Scouting shortly thereafter, and he still wants nothing more to do with the institution.
One of his three sons wanted to join Scouts a few years back, but Scheuritzel steered him away. "It's just not something I want to live through again through my kid's eyes.
(Contact Lee Bowman at email@example.com.)