Published On Wed Nov 02 2011
Jason Felch and Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES—Rick Turley was 18 when he learned that Scouting offered a unique opportunity to meet boys.
He would show up in a uniform with a sash full of merit badges, charm parents with claims of being a “top” leader and offer to take their preteen boys out for a swim or drive. Then, often after plying them with alcohol, he would fondle or rape them — once going so far as to kidnap a boy in a stolen plane.
Over nearly two decades, Turley molested at least 15 children in Southern California and British Columbia, most of whom he met through American and Canadian Scouting, a Los Angeles Times and CBC investigation has found.
Scouting officials on both sides of the border not only failed to stop him, but sometimes helped cover his tracks, according to confidential Scouting records, court files and interviews with victims, families and Scout leaders.
At one point in 1979, Boy Scouts of America officials decided not to call police after Turley admitted molesting three Orange County boys, the organization’s records show.
“We were following exactly the national recommendations of the Boy Scouts of America and its board, who set up the rules,” said A. Buford Hill Jr., a former Orange County Scouting executive, in a recent interview.
“You do not want to broadcast to the entire population that these things happen. You take care of it quietly and make sure it never happens again.”
But it did. Turley returned to British Columbia, signed on with Scouts Canada, which is separate from its U.S. counterpart, and continued his abuses for at least a decade.
Turley, now 58, is still surprised at how often he got away with it. “It was easy,” he said last month at the Alberta truck-stop motel where he now works.
Turley is one of more than 5,000 suspected child molesters named in confidential files kept by the Boy Scouts of America. The documents — called the “perversion files” by the organization — include unsubstantiated tips as well as admissions of guilt.
Those records have surfaced in recent years in lawsuits by former Scouts, accusing the group of failing to detect abuses, exclude known pedophiles or turn in offenders to the police.
The Oregon Supreme Court is weighing a request by newspapers, a wire service and broadcasters to open about 1,200 more files in the wake of a nearly $20 million judgment in a Portland sex abuse case last year.
The Scouts’ handling of sex-abuse allegations echoes that of the Catholic Church when faced with of accusations against its priests, some lawyers say.
“It’s the same institutional reaction: scandal prevention,” said Seattle lawyer Timothy Kosnoff, who has filed seven suits in the past year by former Scouts.
Boy Scouts of America officials declined to be interviewed and would not say how many files exist or what is in them. Their lawyers have said the records are confidential, in part to protect victims and because some files are based on unproven allegations.
“The BSA has continued to enhance its youth protection efforts as society has increased its understanding of the dangers children face,” the Scouts said in a statement.
In the 1980s, the Boy Scouts began requiring that at least two adults be present for troop activities. In the 1990s, it insisted on criminal background checks for staffers, a requirement that was expanded to the organization’s nearly 1 million volunteers in 2008.
Last year, it required child abuse prevention training as well. All suspicions of sexual misconduct must now be reported to police.
Those measures would likely have stopped Turley had they been in place decades ago. Instead the Scouts’ national policy had long recommended keeping abuse and other misconduct a secret.
Turley said one call to police by Scouting officials in 1979 “probably would have put a stop to me years and years and years ago.” Instead he “went back to the Scouts again and again as a leader and offended against the boys.”
Turley said he has since learned to control his impulses: “That person who was Rick Turley was a monster.”
His earliest known molestation was in 1971, when he was working as a truck driver and was a Canadian Cub Scout leader, according to records in a Canadian criminal case 25 years later.
He met Joey Day during a delivery on Vancouver Island and soon showed up at the Days’ home in his uniform.
“He offered to take Joey into Cubs, and being a Cub master, I mean, who wouldn’t you trust?” Day’s mother, Eileen, testified in the criminal case against Turley in 1996.
Turley got permission to take the 10-year-old to a nearby lake, where he talked him into skinny-dipping and then molested him. This is what men do for other men, Turley told him; just don’t tell your parents, Joey testified in the case.
Over the next two years, instead of taking Joey to Cub meetings, Turley took him to his apartment, where he gave him alcohol, showed him porno and abused him. On his final visit, Turley raped him, court records state.
Joey tried to tell his father of the abuse, but his father reacted by beating him. More than two decades would pass before police learned of Turley’s abuse.
In January 1975, Turley showed up at the home of Eddy Iris, an 11-year-old California boy he’d met at a local Scout meeting while visiting an Orange County family.
“He was knowledgeable about things that I liked. He was extremely friendly. He paid attention to you,” said Iris, now 47 and living in Canada.
Turley told Eddy’s mother that he was “one of Canada’s top Scout leaders” and asked if her son could show him around town, she said in an interview.
They played miniature golf, took a demo flight in a small plane at Fallbrook Airport and spent the night together in a sleeping bag in the mountains, according to Iris and police records. If anything worse happened that night, Iris said, he must have slept through it.
The next day, they went back to the airport, where Turley stole a Cessna 172. After takeoff, he turned to his young passenger and asked: “You do realize you’ve been kidnapped, don’t you?”
The plane soon ran out of fuel and made an emergency landing on a Mojave Desert airstrip. Turley was arrested and later pleaded guilty to felony child stealing. After psychiatric evaluations, he was committed to Patton State Hospital as a “mentally disordered sex offender.”
After 18 months, Turley was released on five years’ probation and ordered to return to Canada.
Instead he got a job within months at a Boy Scout camp just up the road from the hospital and spent the next three summers working with Scouts in San Bernardino and San Diego counties. At the time, the Scouts’ policy did not require criminal background checks.
By 1979, Turley was a program director at Lost Valley Boy Scout Reservation in San Diego County. That July, he persuaded the leader of an Orange County troop to let his son and two other boys spend an extra night at camp. When he took the boys home the next day, all three told their Scoutmaster they had been molested, according to Turley’s Boy Scout file.
Turley “readily admitted what he had done, expressed concern for his action, immediately packed and returned to Canada,” said Hill, the former Scouts executive, in a memo.
In keeping with Scout policy, Hill and other officials asked Boy Scouts headquarters to open a confidential file on Turley.
“The parents of the three boys agreed not to press charges if he would leave, but are quite prepared to do so if they hear of his involvement with Scouting,” Hill wrote to headquarters.
Orange County Scout leaders stuck to the policy, telling camp staffers that Turley was called back for active military duty.
“In a week or two we knew the real story,” said former staffer Jim Donovan. “The leaders were more interested in covering it up and doing damage control.”
Turley’s past caught up with him in 1995, when a woman he was involved with told police he had admitted to being sexually attracted to children. A sex crimes investigator contacted former Scouts, and Turley was arrested.
He was tried in January 1996 on 10 counts of molesting six children and was convicted of five counts. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, reduced to five on appeal.
Paroled in 2000, he was later caught trying to draw two preteen boys into a relationship and sent back to prison. He was released two years later.
Turley expressed remorse in his recent interview but said he couldn’t recall everyone he had abused over the years: “It’s hard to put a number on it.”
Scouts Canada officials declined to discuss Turley, instead saying in a statement that “the concern and regret felt by Scouts Canada toward those who have been victimized in the past is beyond measure.”