Scout files claim whitewash in Rutland case
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | October 20,2012
Attorney Kelly Clark of Portland, Ore., examines some of the 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America concerning child sexual abuse in the organization.
In April of 1964, a Rutland man named William J. Moreau Jr. was charged with having “lewd relations” with an 11-year-old boy.
A pair of news briefs in the Rutland Herald described Moreau’s arraignment and subsequent convictions. What the short stories failed to mention was that Moreau was an assistant Scoutmaster, that his victim was a Scout and that the incident took place during an overnight stay at Camp Sunrise in Benson, run by the Boy Scouts of America.
A memo drafted by Bartley Nourse, then the executive for the Green Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and recently made public as part of a court-mandated release of the organization’s “perversion files,” indicates why.
“The local newspaper Editor assured me that he would keep the name of Scouting out of the papers — as did the state’s attorney, the mayor of the city of Rutland and the investigating officers,” Nourse wrote. “So far so good.”
Nourse, who now lives in Middlebury, said he retired from the council in 1985 and has no memory of the incident or the memo, even after the memo was read aloud to him.
“I’m 87 years old,” he said, reached at home by telephone Friday. “I don’t remember what I said 20 minutes ago, probably, let alone 60 years ago. I don’t want to think about it. ... I’m retired and I’m out of it, please.”
Nourse called the Herald later Friday, saying his wife had looked up information on the case online, helping him recover some of his memories. He said there was no attempt to keep the boy’s family from pressing charges, but would not say who he talked to about keeping the Scouts and Camp Sunrise out of the press coverage.
“I’d rather not get into that,” he said. “You’re going to put it into the paper and I don’t want to add to the fire you’re building. Please keep me out of it.”
Kendall Wild was the Herald’s managing editor at the time. He said he had no memory of the Moreau case and would not have participated in such a whitewash.
“I certainly wouldn’t have if I’d been in charge, certainly,” he said. “I just don’t have any recollection of that.”
Wild said it was possible another editor gave Nourse the assurance without Wild’s knowledge. The late Robert W. Mitchell was then the publisher and was also listed as “editor” at the time. Wild said the city editor was the late Patrick Slattery and the assistant managing editor was Bill Porter, who could not be reached for comment Friday.
Present-day publisher R. John Mitchell, son of Robert W. Mitchell, said he could only speculate about why Moreau was not identified as a scoutmaster in the Herald’s coverage, but questioned how much good the omission did for the Scouts.
“Believe me, in Rutland in those days, if your name was in the paper — everyone read the paper in those days and they would know he was a scoutmaster,” he said. “I think what would have been worse is if we kept the guy’s name out.”
Mitchell, who was away at college in April 1964, said he was only aware of one time when his father responded to a request to keep a name out of the paper. Even then, he said, the story on the drunken driving incident included the name of the driver, even if it was not used in the headline. Mitchell also said he did not remember his father being a particular backer of the Scouts.
“I did the Cub Scouts for a couple of years but that was it,” he said.
Art Crowley, who was Rutland County state’s attorney in 1964 and prosecuted the case, said he offered none of the assurances purported in the memo.
“The record shows that I hauled William J. Moreau’s filthy butt into court for sexually molesting a child and threw the book at him,” Crowley said. “I did that because his parents came to me. I wasn’t prosecuting the Boy Scouts of America and I didn’t talk to anybody representing them.”
After having the Nourse memo read to him, Crowley remained adamant.
“That name rings no bells for me,” Crowley said of Nourse. “I have no recollection of talking to the man. I suspect he was trying to make himself look good to his superiors.”
Crowley also specifically denied any effort to keep the Scouting connection quiet.
“I wouldn’t have done it today and I’m sure I didn’t do it then,” he said. “It took a while to recall (the case) and I don’t recall it vividly. If I had a complaint from the parents their child had been molested, that’s all I needed to know. In my recollection, that’s the story — I convicted a pedophile.”
The mayor in 1964 was the late John Daley. James Davidson of the Rutland Historical Society said he did not think such a move by the mayor would have been out of character with city politics.
“It was just as common as it is today,” he said. “You’ve been to City Hall — they don’t legislate in private, but they sure talk.”
While the Herald’s contemporary coverage was short on details and the court records of the Moreau case were not immediately accessible from the state archive, the BSA file on Moreau offered more information on him, the incident and the organization’s response to it.
Moreau was 27 at the time, working as a freelance insurance adjustor. He became an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 7 in Rutland early in 1964, having previously been scoutmaster of Troop 1 in Essex Junction. The file shows no wrongdoing prior to his transfer.
Moreau is described as single, a Protestant and “good looking” in the file.
In a letter dated April 10, 1964, and addressed to Robert Sproul, a deputy regional Scout executive based in Boston, Nourse wrote that Moreau had led a group of about a dozen Scouts for an overnight stay at the Vaughn Lodge at Camp Sunrise. One of the boys went, with his parents, to the police, reporting Moreau for an “unnatural act.”
The police, according to the letter, invited Nourse and his council president to meet with them, the boy and the parents.
“The parents, though appreciative of our concerns for their son and the name of the Scouting movement, are anxious to press charges. “The State’s Attorney with whom I talked late last night and the local police assure me they will do everything in their power to keep Scouting’s name and Camp Sunrise out of this.”
The letter also noted that Nourse was trying to get Moreau’s side of the story but had been unable to find him, though Moreau’s resignation as assistant scoutmaster of Troop 7 was dated the same day. News coverage said Moreau surrendered himself at the police station that night.
Moreau was arraigned April 11 and released on $3,000 bail — roughly $22,000 in today’s money, according to an online inflation calculator. News accounts indicate Moreau pleaded guilty at the arraignment and a pre-sentencing investigation was ordered at a hearing April 13. Information on Moreau’s sentence was not readily available Friday.
The file was one of thousands kept by the Boy Scouts of America on Scout leaders accused of sexual misconduct. The files were used to blacklist those individuals from future Scouting positions, though the files themselves show the procedure did not always work.
Six other Vermonters are listed by name in the files. Most of those incidents took place in the 1980s, and none of the other Vermont files document an effort to whitewash an incident the way Moreau’s does. Clippings in most of those files show defendants being clearly identified as scoutmasters, often in the headline, though not all of the incidents involved Scouts.
Ed McCollin, executive of the Green Mountain Council, which oversees Scouting in Vermont, reacted to Nourse’s memo with “wow.”
“It would never be handled like that today, I assure you,” he said Friday. “Any inkling of abuse toward our young people we report it immediately to the local police and DCF. Immediately.”
McCollin said he was nor aware of any such report having been made since he took up the position in August 2010.
“We’ve come a long ways,” he said. “I can’t speak for what happened in the past, but I can say now we are one of the leading youth service organizations for youth protection.”
McCollin said the Boy Scouts perform criminal background checks on Scout leaders and flag them for suspicious activity.