[A reminder: Bill Bricker has been arrested on two counts of inappropriate contact with a minor. These accusations and many others are alleged to be true by his accusers. I am inclined to believe them. However, he is innocent of any and all charges until proven guilty in a court of law.]
How did I get into this Bill Bricker firestorm? While my family has lived in Winnetka, IL. since 1954, Bill Bricker was never my gym teacher, because I never went to Hubbard Woods School. He was never my Boy Scout leader, because, like Little League, I was not eligible. And he was never my counselor at Camp Douglas Smith in Michigan or Teton Valley Ranch Camp in Wyoming.
So, he never took me into his office and lifted up my shirt on my birthday; he never sat me on his lap with his hand under my dress or inside my panties at recess; he never grabbed or rubbed me between the legs at the Halloween Haunted House; and I never had to share his sleeping bag with his genitals rubbing against my back. These are behaviors alleged by just some of the people who have come forward with their claims of abuse.
But I had relatives and friends who did attend Hubbard Woods School, several of whom said they avoided Bricker especially on their birthdays. I also had friends and relatives who were in Troop 18, one of whom was the first person who told me he had been molested.
And I have this blog. Thanks to a single news article about Bricker from 2005, which I re-posted on my blog in 2007, along with the passage of time, the Teton County [WY] Sheriff's office, and the rising courage of some brave people who are finally able to come forward, the North Shore's most notorious teacher, scout leader, and camp counselor has been arrested.
IN THE BEGINNING
Between fifteen and twenty years ago -- neither one of us can remember exactly -- a childhood friend reconnected with me. We had first met in the 1950's, when we were ten or eleven, riding the bus from summer swimming classes at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. My first impression of him has stayed with me all these years -- Holy Cow!! He's probably the cutest boy I've ever seen. My second impression? His dark eyes were beyond intense and piercing. They smoldered with anger. In fact, I can still see him staring right through me after a mutual friend introduced us.
Since we were the same age, I thought [I hoped] we would be in the same grade when school started, except he had been held back that year for some reason. We didn't meet again until high school. As luck would have it, one of my best friends became his high school girlfriend. So he and I became buddies.
After college we all went our separate ways. My girlfriend married someone else. He did the Haight-Ashbury thing in the Sixties, becoming a roadie for some heavy duty bands, then spending two years traveling throughout India. I started my career in advertising, did improv with Second City's first Monday Night cast, and modeled on the side [I was Miss Goosepimple of 1967 for Zonolite insulation].
Thirty years later, when we were in our fifties, he sent me a letter. Still living in California, he was now a divorced father with custody of some or all of his kids. Since they were older, it had been their choice to stay with their dad. Obviously he connected in a good way with his children. He seemed to enjoy single parenthood and he was looking forward to becoming a granddad.
Later that year, during a 'what's new with you?' phone call, he told me something that raised a red flag about his childhood. Owner of his own business, which had become a turnkey operation, he said he was donating his free time to a nonprofit that helped young, single mothers get back on their feet to find jobs. What did he do to help? He volunteered as a babysitter for their kids. On the face of it, that information seems fairly innocuous. But my sixth sense locked in.
It is arguably rare for a middle-aged man to volunteer as a babysitter. But rather than just assume he was a pedophile, I wondered whether his obvious care and concern for children might have something to do with being molested himself as a boy? I recalled his angry eyes when we were eleven and how he had been kept back a year in school.
With a Freudian psychoanalyst for a father, you learn to listen with a third ear. It's not just what people say; it's what you can hear between the words. Eventually this drill becomes automatic, almost second nature. The good news is you can become a more empathetic and understanding person. [I'm still working on that.] The bad news is that it tends to annoy the heck out of your family and friends. Since the unexamined life was never an option for me growing up, I am hardwired with endless curiosity to know what makes people tick. Over time my fallback analysis of people with significant psychological issues is that they have suffered the trauma of sexual abuse -- much to my children's annoyance. "Mom, not EVERYONE has been molested!" Sometimes, however, I really and truly wonder.
My friends will be shocked to learn that I waited a whole year to find out whether or not my childhood friend had been molested. Listening patiently really isn't one of my greatest strengths. Telling you things is more my style. But I didn't have to ask; he told me. We were discussing something about Bill Bricker [I don't remember the context] and he said, "He molested me." I was stunned. My first thought was, "For once you were right!" Apparently the years of rumors about the charismatic scout leader's alleged behavior might be true after all. Certainly for one boy. But that was just the first step in a journey that has taken the better part of twenty years.
Later that year [still 15-20 years ago if you're keeping track], I talked to someone else who had also been in Bricker's Troop 18. I mentioned to him that someone we knew told me he had been molested by Bricker. Before I could express my own shock at first hearing this news, he suddenly blurted out, "He molested me, too." Without getting into too much detail, his behavior had become quite toxic in his early teens, something his parents chalked up to teenaged rebellion. But happy kids don't act out. Troubled ones do. As an adult he had become an alcoholic. He now thinks people are trying to kill him with microwaves. And yes, he wears an aluminum hat on occasion. He called me a couple of years ago about getting his affairs in order, since he claimed his death was imminent. I asked how soon he was going to die. He said he would be dead in thirty days. Wow. The thirty days have long passed. Now, when he has called, I say things like, "Hey, aren't you supposed to be dead?" A reality check tends to be my fallback when talking to delusional people. His messed up existence is just one example of the aftermath that can occur from sexual abuse. Full disclosure -- he called me later to retract what he had said about being molested. I told him his life said otherwise.
Suddenly I was carrying an emotional weight that felt very heavy -- to this day. Within days or weeks of each other, two men I had known since childhood had told me that Bill Bricker molested them.
Did I know anyone else? And I remembered a third possible victim. My girlfriend, whose boyfriend had been the first to tell me about his abuse, had a younger brother who had also been in Bricker's Troop 18. He started hearing voices in high school and committed suicide when he was in college in the Sixties. Like most of the victims coming forward now, he never told anyone he had been molested before his suicide, so we will never know for sure. But killing himself to escape his ferocious inner turmoil, likely caused by an adult he trusted, is another reminder of the damage left in the wake of sexual abuse.
I remember calling his sister a few years ago to tell her I was fairly convinced that the pain and shame of molestation could explain why he took his life. She felt the same way I did.
There have been other suicides. In fact, in the early eighties, Time Magazine ran an article on September 1, 1980, about the suicide epidemic on the North Shore, where Bill Bricker had been teaching gym and leading Boy Scouts for thirty years. And some of those kids may have also been his campers at Teton Valley Ranch Camp. They called the 20-mile stretch of wealthy suburbs along the lake "the Suicide Belt." In 17 months, 28 kids had taken their own lives. I have also seen some other estimates which put the number of suicides during that period in the high thirties. At one point this year, a friend and I started making a list of suicides of boys we knew who went to Hubbard Woods or belonged to Boy Scout Troop 18. We stopped at ten. We also started another list of kids we knew whose lives went off the rails.
I have to stop this narrative for now, because writing this stuff makes me sad, depressed, and not a little angry.
NEXT: A Bill Bricker Backstory Part II: HERE -- Trying to get the story told and hitting a brick wall, again and again.