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Finding Tim

A Fourth Alternate Reality

by Charlie
With editorial assistance from Dix and John


I have a not so pleasant tale to tell. Not everything is perfect in Grand Forks, North Dakota. However, it seemed to be at Christmastime, 1986. The kids had come back from Tim and Charlie's Grand Adventure full of excitement, stories of the trip, and huge enthusiasm for IT. IT had been the hit of the trip, though it was only supposed to be the means. The kids had loved riding in it, playing in it, sleeping in it, and looking down from its high windows on the world and other people. They told their cousins, their friends at school, their parents, the rest of the Gang, everyone.

And, of course, everyone wanted a ride, a trip, a sleepover - you name it. Tim and I worried whether we'd ever be able to satisfy demand. On Labor Day we held an open house for the Gang, their children, and their children's friends. We parked the bus in the parking lot of the big Fred's Sports warehouse, and let all comers go through it. We served hot dogs, chips and lemonade in the parking lot - after you'd had your tour. No way were we going to let 200 plus people eat in IT. Throughout the fall we took groups of up to nine kids for Saturday night overnights. Tim and I located about six sites (parks, interesting playgrounds, fun places for kids) where IT could be parked overnight and the drive was between one and two hours (or a little more). The limit of nine kids allowed us to seat all the passengers, including Tim and me in the ten seats (plus the driver's seat) on the lower level. All of these were very comfortable, but standard, bus seats with seat belts. We didn't want flying kids in the case of an accident. On the trip west we hadn't allowed kids in the upper level while driving - we insisted on their being belted in down below - the only place where we had safe seats with belts.

Eventually the newness wore off and Tim and I put IT into a storage warehouse for the winter. That allowed us to reclaim our weekends. For Tim that meant getting back to his absurd gymnastics and diving practice schedules. I knew my weight had crept up a couple of pounds with the lessening of physical exercise that I got riding IT so much on weekends. I started running with Hal on his evening runs with his kids - no way could I keep up on his morning runs. Hal was delighted to have me join him, and he got Ronnie to join us some evenings as well. Kyle and Sharon steadfastly refused to be sucked in! It didn't take long for the two pounds to drop away, but I continued to run until the cold weather stopped me. Hal, Ronnie, and his kids continued through ten more degrees of cold than I had. Tim was disgusted with me, I know, but he never said a word!

Early December brought word from the Circle that The Roundhouse would be finished by Christmas. They wouldn't start furnishing it until the new year, but they'd have tables up for Christmas dinner for all of the Gang that cared to come - and we were invited to bring friends and relatives as well. The only rule was that we had to bring our own chairs to sit at a table to eat.

Carl had designed a magnificent kitchen with a huge commercial stove, two double overs, plenty of counter space, and huge storage capacity. This had become possible once they decided that it wasn't going to be possible for the entire group to eat in the kitchen, and thus a kitchen table was replaced by a work island in the middle, to which they could pull up stools when small groups wanted to eat in the kitchen. Christmas dinner was going to be their vehicle for showing off their wonderful kitchen. They had four turkeys, two legs of lamb done on a charcoal grill out back, baked potatoes done in the lower racks of the ovens under the turkeys, and a variety of salads and vegetables. It was served buffet style from the island in the kitchen. They'd stocked the kitchen with plates and silverware, but we were drinking from paper cups - hot and cold.

As you can guess, the food was delicious. Much more important was the assembling of a huge crowd of friends to share the holiday. The kids had been told to bring toys, and they headed for the basement and entertained themselves. It was clear to all of us that the nine young folks from the Circle were going to fit right into the Gang.

We had as many of the Gang as were interested at Dakota House on New Year's Eve. There wasn't anything special about the end of 1986 or the beginning of 1987, but we celebrated anyway. We watched the ball come down in Times Square at 11:00 p.m. and something, I believe fireworks in Cincinnati, at midnight. At about 11:50 Tim had announced that kisses without tongue didn't count, so the kissing at midnight was sloppy and great fun. Everybody kissed everybody. When Andy made his way to me he grabbed me and gave me a huge kiss, his tongue trying to remove my tonsils. Then he whispered in my ear, "Charlie, I love you. It's been a wonderful quarter of a century. Thanks."

"What's this quarter of a century business?" I asked.

Andy got everyone's attention and announced. The Gang first met at camp in 1961. 1986 is the quarter century year. Did you all miss that?"

We had. All of us. Twenty - five years. Well, twenty - five years the previous August, but let's not be picky. And I'd thought that there really wasn't anything special about 1986. Wow. We love you, Andy.

By the middle of January an ill wind was blowing in off the plains toward Grand Forks. It reached Dakota House in the form of a telephone call from Ronnie. "Charlie, Sharon, Kyle, and I need to talk to you. Tim should be here as well. Could you come over after dinner this evening?"

Ronnie sounded serious and upset. And most such invitations within the Gang were for dinner. This was clearly something out of the ordinary. Without having to ask, I sensed it was important. "Of course, Ronnie. How about around 7:30; that'll give us a chance to get a bite to eat."

"Good. Thanks, Charlie. See you in a little while."

The call had come to my office. I called Tim and alerted him, but couldn't shed any light on the reason for the meeting. Tim said, "I can guess. Rumors are flying around about some kind of sex scandal at Flynn Elementary. I know none of the facts, but I'd bet a pile that that's what Ronnie wants to talk about."

It was. Almost before we got in the door at Ronnie's house, Sharon started telling of the note that had come by Certified Mail that day, and of the telephone calls that had been flying around the school. She said, "Here, Charlie, let me show you this letter."

It was on the Grand Forks police letterhead and read:

"January 13, 1987

"Dear Parent:

"This Department is conducting a criminal investigation involving child molestation. John Rodgers, an employee of Athletic Services, Inc. which provides physical education instruction at Flynn Elementary School, was arrested January 12, 1987, by this Department. The following procedure is obviously an unpleasant one, but to protect the rights of your children as well as the rights of the accused, this inquiry is necessary for a complete investigation. Records indicate that your child has been or is currently a student at the school. We are asking your assistance in this continuing investigation. Please question your child to see if he or she has been a witness to any crime or if he or she has been a victim. Our investigation indicates that possible criminal acts include: oral sex, fondling of genitals, buttock or chest area, and sodomy, possibly committed under the pretense of "taking the child's temperature." Also photos may have been taken of children without their clothing. Any information from your child regarding having ever observed John Rodgers to leave the gym or playground alone with a child, or if they have ever observed John Rodgers tie up a child, is important.

"Please complete the enclosed information form and return it to this Department in the enclosed stamped return envelope as soon as possible. We'll contact you if circumstances dictate same. We ask you to please keep this investigation strictly confidential because of the nature of the charges and the highly emotional effect it could have on our community. Please do not discuss this investigation with anyone outside your immediate family. Do not contact or discuss the investigation with John Rodgers, any member of the accused defendant's family, or employees connected with the Flynn Elementary School."

Sharon said, "Needless to say everyone that I know of that got the letter totally ignored that silly business about it being confidential. Can you imagine sending such a letter to 300 plus families and expecting it to be confidential?"

I said, "No, I can't. Nor can I imagine sending such a letter at all. They've told you, and by extension your children, exactly what they think happened, so everybody knows what the answers are. That, in itself, makes all the answers on their form suspect."

Tim said, "What else do you know?"

"The police showed up at school two days ago, in the morning, and came to the gym. The principal was with them. They asked Mr. Rodgers to come with them and left the principal in charge of the gym class he was teaching. He was seen by some of the older kids being taken from the school in handcuffs. Nothing has been communicated by the school, but this letter was mailed yesterday and came today. It's Certified; we had to sign for it. I don't think ten minutes had gone by before the phones were ringing all over the district. Rumors are wild; facts are non - existent. The few things we know have come home from the kids and been passed around by the parents."

"Does anyone know where the accusations came from? What triggered this?"

"I've heard a number of names, but they're all rumors. Nobody that I've talked to has any firm information about what started it."

"Kevin and Kay are both at Flynn, aren't they?"

"Yes. Kevin's in third grade; Kay's in first."

"Have you talked to them about this?"

"Kevin was in the gym class Mr. Rodgers was teaching when the police came."

"Oh, my. What did he tell you?"

"Just what I told you. When the police and Mr. Rodgers were gone the Principal simply told the kids to continue with the game they were playing. Nothing has been said about where Mr. Rodgers is."

"Have you talked to Kevin about anything else?"

"He's told us that the kids are all asking where Mr. Rodgers is. Some seem to know he was arrested, but they don't know what for."

"Has Kevin mentioned the sexual aspect of this at all? Is he aware of it?"

"He doesn't seem to be."

"What about Kay?"

"Nothing really. She's aware the kids are talking about where Mr. Rodgers went. But he didn't teach her at all. I don't that she really knows him at all."

"Have you asked them any of the questions that this letter seems to want you to ask them?"

"Certainly not. You're a lawyer, Charlie. Am I right that I shouldn't be asking the kids those questions. Especially without a witness."


Kyle said, "Tom and Nancy have two kids at Flynn as well. Noreen is in the same grade as Kevin, and Peg's in kindergarten."

"Are Kevin and Noreen in the same class?"

"No. So Noreen wasn't there when the police came."

"Good. I assume you've talked to Tom and Nancy about this?"

"Yes, and they're coming over here in a few minutes. They're waiting for a babysitter."

At that point the doorbell rang and Tom and Nancy were let in. Noreen was with them; Peg was home with the sitter. Sharon suggested to Noreen that she go downstairs and play with Kevin and Kay. She liked that idea and headed down immediately.

I asked, "Does anybody know anything about John Rodgers? I assume he's in jail. Does he have a lawyer; has he said anything?"

Nobody knew a thing. Nor did Tom and Nancy have any new information to add to what Sharon, Ronnie, and Kyle had already told us. Nevertheless we went over all the facts, and rumors, that we had - adding nothing new.

Kyle asked, "What should we be saying to our kids, Charlie?"

I said, "I'm thinking. You know, there have been a number of big cases of school sexual abuse of children in the news. I guess the McMartin PreSchool in California is the biggest. There was another one in New Jersey. Both of those are still in the legal process."

Tim said, "I've read quite a bit about the McMartin case. It looks very fishy to me. The questioning of the children was totally suspect. All kinds of leading questions. Of course, I don't have any of the details."

I said, "And a lot of community panic. Ridiculous stories of Satanic rituals, children being flushed down toilets, secret caves - I don't know what all. I'd really hate to see that sort of thing get started here in Grand Forks."

Tim said, "I'd like to think we're above that, but you know that this town is as capable of group panic as any other town."

Sharon said, "Where do we go from here?"

I said, "I have an idea, if you parents will go along."

"What's that, Charlie?"

"I'd like you to keep your kids out of school tomorrow. I'll get a good child psychologist or psychiatrist, maybe both, to interview them. We'll tape the interviews. We'll make sure that the interviews aren't leading. I won't give the interviewer the name of the suspect teacher, nor the letter that suggests the specific acts. I'll simply tell them that sexual abuse in the school is suspected, and let them interview the kids. I'll get a couple of top people from the Fargo area, so they aren't in the mix here."

Nancy said, "Charlie, that's a great idea. If they come out of that interview and tell us that Mr. Rodgers seemed to be playing around with one of our kids; he's dead meat. On the other hand, if the kids don't have anything to say to implicate him, or some other teacher, then that's support for Rodgers."

"But not exoneration. But then it'll be interesting to see if the school or police choose to interview your kids."

"I hate this, but I think it's the right thing to do," said Nancy.

"I agree," said Sharon, and the others nodded agreement.

I started the next day at the jail and saw John Rodgers. I advised him that I wasn't a criminal or a trial attorney, but that I'd be willing to give him legal advice in the matter. If he wanted, I could be retained on a pro bono basis. I said it was essential that I be one of his attorneys of record so that our conversations were privileged. He agreed at once, and I had him sign an appropriate form. My first question was, "Have you talked to another lawyer?"

He had. Burton Tinsdale, an older lawyer in town who mainly did wills and real estate work. John had needed a will drawn up, and Tinsdale was the only lawyer he knew to call. They'd talked the day before and Tinsdale had told John that he'd stick with him through his bail hearing before a court commissioner, but that he needed a good criminal attorney. John hadn't known where to turn. He seemed delighted to see me.

I said, "First, John, you aren't going to get bail. The whole world is panicked about sexual abuse, and they simply don't let suspected sex abusers out on bail. You aren't likely to be an exception. But at the bail hearing they have to tell the commissioner the basis for the arrest, and we'll find out what triggered this - if I haven't found out from the police before that. Do you know when your bail hearing is?"

"They told me it would be this afternoon."

"I'll check with the jail, and I'll be there at the hearing. I'll have to introduce myself to the court as one of your attorneys, but I'll let your Mr. Tinsdale handle the hearing. As I said, you won't get bail, or if you do it'll be beyond your means. So it really doesn't matter who your lawyer is."

"How long am I going to have to stay in jail?"

"John, I have to be honest with you. These things can drag on, literally for years. And guilty verdicts are the norm. I think most of the cases like this are going to get tossed on appeal, but it can take years. We'll try to derail this before it gets going, but you have to be prepared for a bad time."

"I was afraid of that."

"Let me talk a few practical things. Are you married?"


"Girlfriend, parents, somebody who can look after your affairs?"

"No girlfriend. Parents are old and live in Kansas. Thus far I haven't told them."

"This is going to make the newspapers, I'm afraid. I think you should tell them yourself. To call them from the jail you'll have to call collect. Would you like me to call them and prepare them for the call and tell them to accept the collect charges?"

"Would you?"

"Yes. But I think the news of your arrest, and the charges, should come from you, not me."

"OK. That's going to be tough."

"Look, John, I'll get one of our law students to come over here and talk to you. Tell him how to get into your house and he'll go over and make sure things are OK. I'm sure that the police have searched it. It may be sealed. If so, we'll apply to the court to get it opened up for you. Then my student can go in and see to things. You're going to need to have bills paid, and so forth. We can help you with that."

"Mr.... I don't know your last name."

"I'm just Charlie. Forget the Mister."

"That's difficult. Especially when you're doing so much for me."

"Just Charlie."

"Charlie, why are you doing all this for me? You don't have any idea whether I'm guilty or not. I might be a real sex fiend."

"In America, at this point in the legal process, you're innocent."

"Well, why me" And why now?"

"Some of my best friends have children in Flynn School. They invited me over last night to tell me about what was happening."

"What is happening?"

"Rumors flying everywhere. No facts. The police have a letter out asking parents to talk to their kids. It's a bad letter, but probably good for you, because it'll make anything that any kids tell their parents suspect. But it looks like we're beginning to see the panic that some other communities have experienced."

"Like the McMartin PreSchool?"


"Oh, my God. That would be awful."

"For the community, awful. For you, devastating."

"You still don't know anything about my guilt or innocence."

"A good criminal lawyer doesn't ask that question, because almost all guilty defendants lie to their lawyers as much as to the police. But I'm not a criminal lawyer. So, I'll ask. Is there anything to this?"

"No. Honest."

"Don't bother with the qualifiers. They don't mean anything. Now, I have to ask another question, it's more personal, and frankly, rude. But I have to ask it."

"Go ahead."

"Are you homosexual?"


"Have you ever had a homosexual encounter with any man or boy, at any time in your life?"

"I need to be honest here, don't I?"


"Yes, I have."

"In Grand Forks?"



"No. With my college roommate."

"Was he gay?"

"I don't think so. We just played around. Jacked each other. There was some oral sex."

"Anyone else?"

"No. Why is this important?"

"Because the world panics over gays. It makes assumptions about gay men that it would never make about straight men, even though the vast preponderance of sexual abuse is done by straight men. I had to know if that was an issue that was going to come up and hit us. I don't think it will. I do need the name of the roommate."

"Aaron Morrison." That's a pseudonym; even at this late date I can't violate confidentiality and print the name.

"Now, we'll just forget all about that. Next question. How much have the police questioned you and what did you tell them?"

"I've watched enough television to know that I shouldn't tell them anything. I gave them the proverbial name, rank, and serial number and nothing else. I told them I'd have to talk to my lawyer first."

"And they let you alone?"

"They suggested that if I'd cooperate it would help me. That my lawyer would just make things worse."

"You stood your ground?"

"Yes. They gave up pretty quickly."

"What did your Mr. Tinsdale tell you to do when you talked to him?"

"He said that I needed a good criminal lawyer; he wasn't one; that he'd try to help me find one; and that until I did I shouldn't talk to the police at all."

"He may not be a good criminal lawyer, but he's a good lawyer. I'm giving you the same advice. There are two good lawyers in Chicago that I know real well. I've worked with one, and he helped me when I faced an equally unfounded accusation. That time I wouldn't have ended up in jail, but my career would've been at an end."

"I can't pay for top level lawyers - and from Chicago, no less."

"We're working on two assumptions here. First, that you're innocent. Not just in the legal, not yet convicted sense, but truly innocent. Second, you're the teacher of the child of a good friend of mine. Before this is over you're going to hear us talk about the Gang. Well, that Gang is a bunch of very close friends that go back 25 years. And Kevin Littleton's father, Ronnie, is a member of that Gang. He's the one that called me. With Ronnie and that Gang behind you, money and lawyers aren't your worry. Unfounded charges and community panic are your worry."

"I don't really understand. And in some other circumstances I might have to say that I can't accept your charity. But I'm in no position right now to turn down help. All I can say, Mr.... uh, Charlie, is thank you. I'm simply going to have to trust in you."

Next I made a call to the psychiatry department at the Medical School. I wanted names of people in Fargo to do my interviewing. I did tell them a little of what was going on and they agreed that getting outside the community was a wise idea. I was told to see Dr. Franklin Morse, a child psychiatrist in Fargo. He suggested a psychologist experienced in sexual abuse cases (not all of them are manufactured, it is a real problem), Dr. William Butler. The two of them agreed to come to Grand Forks late that afternoon and talk to the four children, singly, as siblings, and as a group.

The kids enjoyed a fun day off from school, and were quite at ease when we introduced them to Drs. Butler and Morse. They had no qualms about answering questions, and the tape recorders were intriguing rather then threatening. The two doctors talked to them one at a time, then in pairs, and then as a total group. The whole thing took about two hours total.

After about an hour and a half Dr. Butler came to me and said, "I am convinced that these four children have not been the victims of sexual abuse at school, not even inappropriate games. Kevin seemed rather proud of the fact that he'd played doctor with a couple of little girls, but no teachers even knew about it, much less were involved. I do need to have the name of the suspect teacher now. We'll probe a little about that person in particular. You'll hear on the tape how we do it. It'll give the kids a chance to tell us anything at all about the teacher."

Even with John Rodgers' name the kids couldn't think of anything he'd ever said or done to them that he would've wanted to keep secret. No, he hadn't played doctor, or anything else. Nothing surfaced.

These four kids happened to be a good sample. They covered both genders, three different grades and four classes. If Rodgers was targeting kids, one of these should've been in his sights. If Drs. Butler and Morse knew what they were doing, nothing at all had happened. The next thing to do was to send a copy of the tape to an expert outside the area, and have that person confirm that the interview was thorough and professionally done.

In the meantime, Sharon called some of the other parents in both of her kids' classes. It seemed that the children had been taken out of the class, one by one, and interviewed by a "counselor." She didn't get any reports on what those interviews were like. She did learn that the whole school was up in arms and demanding to know if other teachers than Rodgers were involved. There seemed to be a general agreement that Rodgers was a pervert - the word that was being widely used. It didn't look good.

I was then ready, along with Tim who'd joined us at this point, to sit down with the children, Drs. Butler and Morse, and all of their parents and talk. We didn't attempt to explain Kyle's presence, but it wasn't questioned. We explained to the kids that Mr. Rodgers had been accused of doing bad things to some of the children in school. Someone had said he played with their genitals and may have hurt them.

Kevin said, "He didn't do that with us."

I said, "We know, Kevin. That's why Dr. Butler and Dr. Morse have been talking to you. We thought it might've been easier for you to tell one of them if something had happened. But we know nothing happened to any of you. Someone in school tomorrow may ask you if anything happened. Just tell them the truth. Unless they ask, please don't talk about Dr. Butler and Dr. Morse. But if they ask, tell the truth. Always tell the truth. And tomorrow, after school, you can tell us everything that went on at school."

"Are we going back to school tomorrow?"

"Yes, honey," said Sharon.

"Why didn't we go today?" asked Kevin.

"Because we wanted you to have a chance to talk to Dr. Butler and Dr. Morse. We thought that was important."

"OK. Are we done now? Can we go play?"


After they'd left, Dr. Butler said, "Those kids have had more sex education than a lot of high school students. You parents certainly haven't been afraid to talk about it."

"Have we been too open? Peg is only in kindergarten, but she's sort of gotten everything that Noreen has."

"No, it's wonderful. It certainly made our interviews easier. We started talking about private parts and Kevin said, 'You mean my genitals? Like penis and testicles?' You don't get that from third graders very often. The rest seemed just as comfortable with those terms, right down to Peg, and she's a kindergartner."

"We figure that if you're going to talk about fingers and toes, you ought to be able to talk about penises and vaginas. But we have warned the kids that some things aren't talked about, looked at, or touched outside the family."

"That's a very healthy environment. It's the same kind of environment that hasn't reacted to all of this in a panic. But you seem to be going overboard in protecting your kids from the panic. Wasn't getting us up here a little bit of an overreaction?"

Tim said, "Not at all. We weren't worried about these four kids. They're healthy and clearly have parents that would know how to help them through any trauma, and would know where to get professional help if they needed. It's the community that's in danger, and the school. And at least one teacher - and that could grow if it gets out of hand like it has some places."

I said, "We're bringing in a top legal team to work with John Rodgers. He's sitting in jail, not knowing what's going on. He must be a basket case. I've gotten two law students to meet with him and help him deal with his personal affairs while in jail. He'll meet with his lawyers tomorrow. We aren't approaching the school until we've talked to the lawyers and planned our approach. Tim and I aren't connected to the school except by our friendship in the case, and now I'm one of Rodgers' lawyers of record. We're going to have to think carefully about our next moves. We're leaving it up to these parents to keep in touch with things at the school and monitor what's going on."

It hit the newspapers the next morning, and except for the pro forma use of the word alleged, poor John Rodgers had already been convicted. According to the police 17 children had allegedly been molested by Mr. Rodgers; and two other gym teachers, both employees of Athletic Services, Inc., were being investigated. There were calls for cancelling the contract of Athletic Services with the school district, which would remove gym teachers from almost all of the city's elementary schools. A team of psychologists was interviewing all of the students in the school.

Chrissy and Orville arrived that morning. I met them at the Fargo airport and briefed them on everything while I drove them directly to the jail to meet John Rodgers. We talked with Rodgers a short while and then Chrissy said, "OK, it's time for you to talk to the police. Answer all of their questions. Tell the truth. But just answer their questions, don't embellish or tell more than is necessary to answer the question. A lot of their questions are going to be of the form, 'Didn't you do such and such to so and so?' The answer to that kind of question is always, 'No," and absolutely nothing more. Long denials are worthless. Whenever, 'Yes,' 'No,' 'I don't know,' or 'I don't remember,' are complete honest answers, say exactly that and nothing more. Don't let them get you angry, and don't let them get you talking beyond answering their questions. If at any time one of your lawyers starts to speak, immediately stop talking and listen to your lawyer. And always do exactly what your lawyer says. From what Charlie's told us, you're a smart guy. You refused to talk until you had the right lawyer. OK, you got us. So listen carefully to our directions. Is all of that clear?"


"OK, let's talk to the cops. I don't think this is going to take long."

It didn't. They had a long list of things that they believed that John had done, and they asked mostly questions of the form, "Didn't you ask little Julie to lift her skirt?"


"Oh, come on, John, we know you did."

Orville would always interject, "That isn't a question. I don't think you need to comment on that, Mr. Rodgers."

It got very boring very fast. But we did get a list of 13 names of children that the police thought John had molested. That was helpful. However, as we left we were handed a court order prohibiting John, his family, acquaintances, and attorneys from talking to any of the children he had allegedly molested. A list of 21 children was attached. Amazingly, Margaret Grayson was on the list!

So now Chrissy, Orville and I were prohibited from talking to Peg. We figured that to be literal, her parents were prohibited from talking to her as well, as they were acquaintances of John, but we figured that that wasn't what the court had in mind. So with me not present, Tom and Nancy asked Peg what had happened in school. Very early in the day Peg had been asked to go with a Miss Lillie. They went into an office near the principal's office and sat in two chairs at a table. Miss Lillie asked whether Peg knew Mr. Rodgers. Yes, I do. Did he ever touch her? Yes. Did he every kiss her? No, but he hugged me. Did he ever lift up her skirt? No. Did he touch her in her private parts? Yes. Show me where. She handed Peg a doll. Peg touched the doll's back. Where else? Nowhere. Are you sure? I don't think he did. Think hard. Maybe. Show me where. Peg touched the buttocks of the doll. A lot more questions followed, but Peg didn't really remember them. She said that she answered, "No." to most of them.

Then Miss Lillie told Peg she could play with the doll. It was an "anatomically correct" doll that had breasts and a clear vagina. Peg had had no qualms about fingering the entire doll, and this was observed by Miss Lillie, who then asked, "Do you think that Mr. Rodgers would play with the doll like that?"

Peg answered, "I guess."

That was it; Peg was now on the list of molested children.

At 12:30 Orville, Chrissy, Burton Tinsdale, and I met in my office at the Law School. I asked Hamilton Fry to join us, and he agreed. I had lunch brought in, and as we ate we went over the entire situation. I summed up, concluding that the inclusion of Peg Grayson, Tom and Nancy's daughter, on the list was, first of all, very good luck for us, and second, all that was needed to convince me that the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. I continued, "But the issue isn't getting John Rodgers off the hook, the issue is getting this whole thing quashed before it gets totally out of hand and does real damage to the school and community."

Hamilton said, "We need allies. To begin with, we need to get the principal and the superintendent of schools on our side. I think they have the power to stop it. We also need to approach the district attorney and the chief of police. If we can convince them that they're on such thin ice that they're about to fall through, they may back off."

Chrissy said, "Backing off isn't enough. That leads to smoldering suspicions that can continue for years. Rodgers never gets his reputation back, nor his job. We have to blow this up."

Orville said, "They key is to find out where it started. We have to demand that information from either the school or the district attorney. My best guess is that you have a slightly, or more than slightly, off balance parent. You can bet that she won't back off, and that very likely means that we're going to have to prove to the community that she's a real nut case. We also have about twenty other kids that are now being cited as victims. God knows what their parents think."

I said, "How can we get to those parents? We're prohibited from talking to their kids, or them."

"We are, but Peg's parents aren't. They're going to have to be our ears in this case."

"We know who's on that list, but Tom and Nancy don't. And their only source of that list is us. If we give it to them, then they are clearly our agents and we're in deep shit if they start talking to those families."

"So how do we get them the list some other way?"

Chrissy said, "They go in and ask for it from the principal and/or the police. If your kid had been molested wouldn't you want to talk to the parents of other kids who'd been molested? If nothing else, to get the lynch mob organized. I think they'll get the names."

Burton Tinsdale told us, "You guys are wonderful. You're thinking outside the box in ways that are way beyond me. I really want to get back to writing wills and reviewing deeds. If I'm needed, I'll be glad to be available, but I'm not contributing to this. I want you to know that I like John Rodgers, I agree with you that he's being maligned, and he has my full support. But you don't need me. You have my number. Call me if you do need me." And he left.

Chrissy said, "I like the guy. He knows his limits. And he gave John good up front advice. I'd let him do my will."

I asked, "Hamilton, will you formally join this team? We can use you."

"Hey, guys. I know my limits!"

"Yeah, so do we," I said. "And you aren't even close to reaching them."

"OK, I'm on board. I'll submit my name to the court."

Orville said, "Good. I'll bet you have entre into offices here that Chrissy and I don't."

"No more than Charlie."

"I think you do," I said. "I'm still the new guy to a lot of people. You're known and respected. If you call the superintendent of schools you'll get an appointment."

Orville said, "OK. Hamilton that's your assignment. I'll take the chief of police. Chrissy, the district attorney. Charlie, you take the principal."

My visit with the school principal, a Miss Sally Walker, was enlightening. She had known nothing until the police arrived at the school, demanding John Rodgers. She told them he was in class, and was told to take them to him. They took him and left her with the class. The whole thing had been out of her hands from then on. She was stuck in the gym with Rodgers' gym class, but got on the intercom and told the office to have the teachers of the students in the gym come and pick them up. She got back to her office and cancelled all gym classes for the day, John's and all others. "I didn't want to single out John at this point."

Then the assistant superintendent for elementary education and the chief of guidance and psychological services arrived and took charge. She'd essentially been out of the loop since that point. They'd commandeered her office and she was now sharing the office of the vice - principal. They might as well have gone home for all they were allowed to do.

Miss Walker said, "If you'd told the secretary out front that you were Mr. Rodgers' attorney, or wanted to talk about the molestation case, you wouldn't have gotten in to see me. You would've been talking to the two current occupants of my office. But you asked for me by name, and she didn't associate you with the crisis at hand, so you got to me. I should refer you to the assistant superintendent, but I think you really want to talk to me."

"Right you are. Can I share some facts with you?"

"Of course."

I told her what I knew about Peg Grayson, and her being on the list of molested children. "We know she was not molested. And we know she didn't say she was molested, or handled inappropriately in any way. The district attorney would never try to use her as a witness. But, she's on the list. That makes us suspect every name on the list."

"I can't believe that John Rodgers has done what they say he's done."

"Do you know where the first accusations came from?"

"No, I don't. The police told me nothing, and I'm out of the loop now."

"Do you know why you're out of the loop? You're the principal."

"My guess is that I'll be blamed for not being aware of what was going on. I'm sure that professionally I'm finished. My vice - principal as well. He took a day of sick leave today - at my suggestion. We're as cooked as John, but probably not threatened with jail."

I said, "If you look at the McMartin case, you could even end up being charged if this gets totally out of hand. We're trying to stop that."

"Who is we?"

"I have two very good lawyers from Chicago on John's defense team, as well as Hamilton Fry, my predecessor as Dean of Law."

"How did John ever get a team of lawyers like that? He couldn't possibly afford you."

"It's pro bono. We're glad to support John, but the real issue is an entire community. Miss Walker, from what you've told me, you need an attorney too. Perhaps your vice - principal as well."

"Would your team, or one of you, be willing?"

"I would be glad to be your attorney. The whole team would. I have a retainer form in my briefcase. This makes our entire conversation covered by attorney client privilege. That may be important. As your attorney, I recommend that I approach the authorities, police and prosecutor, and ask if you are in any way a suspect in this case. I'm sure that the answer will be that you aren't, but it'll let them know that you aren't just sitting here waiting for the axe to fall."

"Would you please do that?"

"Certainly. And if you wish, you can call your vice - principal, and suggest that he might want to retain the team as well. If he does, he should call my office at the university. Here's my card."

"Mr. Charlie, this is the first time I have felt hopeful since this whole thing started. I don't know how to thank you."

"Miss Walker, I came here for a specific reason. I'm glad to be of service to you. But my main purpose is to seek an ally, one that's willing to go public at the appropriate time in support of John Rodgers."

"I'm your man. Well, woman."

"Thank you."

Hamilton found the superintendent of schools standing around, scared shitless. That was Hamilton's word. "The guy's afraid that the whole thing is going to blow up; the police are in complete charge and aren't listening to the school personnel; the assistant superintendent for elementary education who is camped out at the school has just become a toady for the police."

I asked, "What did you tell him?"

"That he'd better assert his authority or he might as well kiss his job goodbye."

"How do I assert my authority?"

"Get over to that school. Take charge. Send your assistant home - and I mean home, not back to the office. Tell the police that everything goes through you. And don't approve anything stupid. And stop those interviews until they can be done by competent persons. And do it now."

"Did he?"

"I don't know. I think he's a little chicken shit."

"Hamilton, I didn't know you had such language in you!"

"Neither did I, but it seems to fit the occasion."

Chrissy and Orville returned about that time. Orville was ready to pop with his report. "OK, here's the scoop. The original informant is the daughter of the chief of police. He's gone nuts. And he has the authority as chief of police to cause a whole lot of trouble. He's convinced that his daughter was raped by John Rodgers, on the gym mats, after school one day last week. His daughter is in fifth grade and, according to him, 'Certainly isn't making this up.' He's not even remotely inclined to entertain the idea that she might be making this up."

Chrissy said that the district attorney had no choice but to seek an arrest warrant when the girl was quoted by the chief, and two detectives who were witnesses, as directly accusing John Rodgers of raping her. The rest of the investigation was under the authority of the police. On hearing Chrissy's report of what was going on he was going to go over to the school and check things out.

We went immediately to work on finding out everything we could about the chief's daughter. Kevin was our best informant. He was only in third grade, but knew the girl, Julie. "Uncle Charlie, she's balmy. She's always making things up. She told everyone she was at Disneyland over Thanksgiving. That they went to Florida for Christmas. It's all baloney. She's never been to Disneyland; she doesn't know anything about it."

"You're sure of this, Kevin?"

"Ask anybody in school."

"Thanks, Kevin. You're a good kid."

"I like Mr. Rodgers, Uncle Charlie. Is he coming back?"

"I hope so, Kevin."

We went straight to the district attorney. We gave him the background and said, "You need to interview the kids in Julie's class, and ask about her. They should be able to confirm that she lives in dreamland."

"Wouldn't Chief Briggs know that about his daughter? If it were true, would he be pursuing this like he is?"

"You know, there is the possibility that he lives in as much of a dreamland as his daughter does."

"I'm uncomfortable with this."

Orville told him, "If you don't move, we call in the state police. If a local cop is acting inappropriately, then they have a duty to investigate. So, for that matter, does the F.B.I. Now, are you going to move?"


"We want a member of our legal team to witness the interviews."

"OK. One of you two from Chicago, not the locals from the Law School."

"Mr. Chris Elvins, my partner, will be glad to be the witness."

You can guess the next bit of the story. Virtually all of Julie's classmates confirmed that she lived in a world of make believe. Most confirmed the stories of Disneyland and Florida. It was easily established that neither trip had taken place. The district attorney wanted to interview Julie immediately, but Chrissy persuaded him not to. "Sir, you want that done by very competent psychologists. There are two in Fargo - one is a psychiatrist - that are excellent. Let me give you their names, show you their credentials, and get them up here."

He agreed, and the next morning Drs. Butler and Morse had another job. They sat down with her in a room in the University Medical School, where an observation room was available. Her parents were present, as well as our entire legal team, the district attorney, and the two police detectives that had witnessed her original statement. Her father had been livid over the idea that she was going to be interviewed by a psychiatrist, but was told that if he didn't consent the district attorney would get a court order.

The interview was fascinating. Dr. Morse, the psychiatrist, invited Julie to talk about her visit to Disneyland and her trip to Florida. She had a wonderful imagination, and told of the trips in great detail. The trouble was, the detail simply didn't match the reality of either Disneyland nor of Key West, Florida. He guided her into talking about her teachers, and then Mr. Rodgers. She quickly repeated the rape charge, and then, when the story seemed to be accepted by Dr. Morse, delighted in providing detail after detail. These included Mr. Rodgers enormous "thing," which he pushed into her. Had he pushed it into her vagina? Oh, yes. Her anus? What's that? Her butt? Oh, yes. Her belly button? Oh, yes. Could she show him her belly button. Certainly. How did he push his thing in? She pushed in with her finger. Did it go all the way in? Oh, yes.

He moved on to other aspects of her life. She obviously lived in a total dream world, and only touched reality when it was necessary. She could come back for meals and to do her classwork, but quickly drifted back to a never never land as wonderful as that of Alice in Wonderland. And, oh yes, she walked through mirrors just like Alice.

The next step was to talk to the interviewers of the other children; the one's that had created the list of 21 children, including Peg, who had been molested. We assumed that they were at the school conducting interviews. However, when we got to the school we found the superintendent of schools in charge. He had taken Hamilton's advice to the letter. He had sat in on one interview with a little second grader and immediately concluded that the interview techniques being employed were faulty and stopped the interviews. When we arrived, and Dr. Morse heard his description of the interview he had witnessed the game was over. Drs. Morse and Butler talked to several of the children who had been interviewed, both some that hadn't been identified as having been molested and some that had. Morse and Butler saw how the interviewers preset conclusions were easily supported by what they heard from the children in response to their leading questions. Butler said, "I think there's an issue of malpractice here. I'm going to have to report this to the state board."

I said to the superintendent, "You need to get Principal Walker back in charge of the school. She was pushed aside, and she is the key to getting things back to normal here." He sent for her, and she was flabbergasted to see me, and all of the rest of the crowd, sitting in the conference room ready to see her again take charge of the school. I said, "Miss Walker, I think there's a lot of misinformation running around the school. Why don't you call a meeting for all of the parents for tonight. Eight o'clock. I know it's short notice, but almost everyone will come. It's the hot topic in every household. Rumors are flying everywhere, and they're getting ready to try to lynch poor John Rodgers, if not literally, at least figuratively. Get a letter ready to go home to the parents with every child today. And get the press here."

She looked first at me and then to the superintendent, clearly asking approval. He simply said, "Miss Walker, you're the principal here. If you think it's best, call the meeting."

"I will, and I would like everyone in this room to be present as we talk to the parents tonight."

Chrissy said, "What about John Rodgers? How quickly can we get him out of jail?"

The district attorney said, "It's going to take two or three hours. I'll head back to my office and start the paperwork. You don't just let somebody out of jail on the basis of a telephone call."

I said, "He's not going to be ready to come to the meeting tonight. He needs to get cleaned up, get a decent night's sleep, and start getting over a major trauma. Let's welcome him back to school in the morning."

The superintendent asked, "I know he's not done anything. But aren't a lot of people going to believe that where there's smoke there's fire? Is he going to be able to return here?"

Orville said, "That's up to you. Not that you can decide whether he comes, but you can decide whether you're going to give him the support he needs, absolutely, or whether you're going to undermine him. You and Miss Walker need to make up your minds about that right now."

Sally Walker said, "He's coming back." It didn't sound like there was any equivocation in her voice or her demeanor.

Orville said, "Good, because if he doesn't get the proper support from the entire system, he'll sue you all for simply scads of money. And he'll win."

The meeting that evening was difficult. People came expecting to be told of the great molestation crisis at their school, and how many people were being arrested, fired, perhaps even burned at the stake. When they learned that the purpose of the meeting was to explain that nothing had happened, that no one was being fired or arrested, it took a little getting used to. Fear and paranoia are human forces that aren't easily put back in the box once they're let out. But Sally Walker told the story carefully and unemotionally. She told how one child's imagination had mushroomed out of control. How the adults had overreacted. How the police had overreacted. How people had reached conclusions without evidence, and then made everything they heard fit their conclusions. How one man might've gone to jail for the rest of his life simply because of a child's imagination.

Slowly, but reluctantly, people accepted the facts of the situation.

Then Ronnie got up. Here he was just one of the parents. He said, "Look. We came here thinking that our children had been in a great danger. That some of them had been sexually molested. Those are the worst fears that a parent can have. Now we're told that it isn't true. That it was a mistake. The people that made that mistake are apologizing to us. Folks, that's the best news we could possibly have received tonight. We're all acting like we want to believe that our children were molested. We seem almost disappointed that nothing has happened. Whoa! That doesn't make sense. This is great news. And it comes from the people that had originally thought that there had been a serious problem. Well, there isn't. We have a good school, and the only thing anybody is guilty of is jumping to conclusions. Well, teachers, administrators, police, district attorney, you're forgiven for jumping to an unwarranted conclusion. And you're thanked for backing off when wiser heads showed you the conclusion was wrong. That's hard to do. You have our eternal gratitude for having the integrity of admitting your mistake. We have a good school."

People finally figured out what Ronnie was saying, and they applauded, and then cheered.

Ronnie asked, "When is Mr. Rodgers coming back to school?"

"Tomorrow morning," replied Miss Walker.

"I'm going to be here to welcome him back. I hope other people will join me."

They did. The crowd on the front steps of the school must have numbered 200 adults and 300 children. John Rodgers was driven up by Orville. When he got out of the car a cheer went up from the crowd. Noreen led the crowd of children that rushed up to him and hugged him tight as they made a circle around him. He wasn't a man to fear.

That night the legal team, Rodgers, Tom and Nancy and their two kids, Ronnie, Kyle and Sharon and their two kids, Tim, and I had dinner at Dakota House. Tim and I didn't feel up to cooking, so we had Jerry's bring in a steamship round and all the fixin's. Everybody was thanking everybody, but John Rodgers made the real speech: "Folks, I've seen this kind of thing in other parts of the country. Rarely has an accusation like this been quashed this quickly. It was only through the very quick, thoughtful, and decisive action of Charlie and his legal team that this ended happily. And even then we had tremendous luck. If the original accuser had been just a little more credible, or the interviews of the other kids not quite so stupidly done, I might still be in jail, perhaps with others. I can't thank you enough. I, and this whole community, owe you a big one. I can't begin to repay you."

Chrissy said, "There's no reason why you should. We were glad to help."

That night as we headed up the stairs I said to Chrissy and Orville, "You know, the Gang is very concerned about AIDS. We'd love to have sex with you, but we need to ask just how wide your circle of partners might be."

Chrissy said, "Good question. I wish more people were asking it. It might save some lives. The answer is, each other and you two. But, are you two safe?"

I said, "Good question. We can't give as definitive an answer as you can. Our Gang is pretty large, and we're promiscuous within the Gang. But we're clean, and limit ourselves to the Gang."

Orville said, "Wait a minute. You're willing to go outside the Gang with us tonight. How do you know others aren't?"

"When we talked about how the rules had changed with the onslaught of AIDS we specifically told of our having sex with you. You are inside the circle as long as we ask you if you are - I think the word used was chaste. We asked; you answered; let's go to bed."

We did.

Author's Note: The letter the police in this story sent to parents uses the exact wording of the letter that the police in California sent to the parents of the children in the McMartin Pre - School! The stories told there included the fact that the accused teacher could fly. The story told here isn't that far fetched. It is exceptional only in its outcome.

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