The parents of the boy who joined Paul Bohrer on a Boy Scouts outing to Lake Placid in November 1974 had no reason to think their son was in any danger.
The 40-year-old Troy man was chapter adviser to the Order of the Arrow and chairman of the High Adventure Committee of the Governor Clinton Council. Bohrer was also a respected member of the Troy community — an assistant fire chief and a member of the department for more than 16 years.
But the outing Bohrer planned with the boy had nothing to do with Scouting, according to a confidential document among the 14,500 pages released by the Boy Scouts of America under court order this week. Bohrer used the charade of a group camping trip to get the boy alone and then molest him, states a report submitted to the Boy Scouts regional office by council executive James Beck at that time.
The incident came to light a short time after the boy returned and had a loud discussion about Bohrer’s assault that was overheard by the parents. Further investigation by the council revealed at least four other boys in the troop had been abused by Bohrer, who was confronted about his activities and immediately resigned from the organization.
Beck appealed to both the regional and national Boy Scouts to have Bohrer put in the “confidential restriction” file to ensure he could never be part of the Boy Scouts again. Despite his appeal and a letter from Bohrer admitting to having “serious emotional and psychiatric problems,” the Scouts were hesitant to ban him and instead asked Beck for more information.
“We would also appreciate a copy of the police or court record,” stated Paul Ernst, manager of the Scouts’ registration and subscription service. “This information is most important for future reference purpose and it would certainly strengthen our position of refusing to accept any future application for registration we might receive from this individual.”
It’s unlikely Bohrer, who died in 1984, ever faced criminal charges from the incidents, according to the documents; the parents asked that the matter be quashed as long as the disgraced Scout leader was banished from the organization. But it serves as a grim reminder of the slow, sometimes tepid approach the regional and national organizations had when responding to abuse claims.
The documents released to Portland, Ore., attorney Kelly Clark and then made public by his office this week include dozens of claims from around the Capital Region. Many of the reports only include tracking information, such as the date they were reported and a case number to coincide with the Scout leader named.
For instance, one record lists a 1996 report from Ballston Spa. Yet the only details included are a number coinciding with the individual named in the record.
The record seems to coincide with the conviction of Jeffrey Himmel, a former assistant leader who committed a sex act with a two teenage members of Boy Scout Troop 2 in Ballston Spa. He also gave boys beer and vodka at his home in Malta, according to testimony given in his trial.
Himmel served nearly four years in prison before being released in 2003. He was returned to prison last year after pleading guilty to a charge that he possessed child pornography at his home.
Others Boy Scout records, such as the one involving Bohrer, include more detail about the allegations. Some include newspaper clippings about the abusers as evidence they should be included in the file.
There are also records that show how some abusers slipped through the cracks of the Boy Scouts bureaucracy. Leaders of the Mohican Council in the Washington County town of Whitehall requested Scoutmaster Robert Dewey be included in the list on the suspicion of “homosexual behavior” with young boys in March 1973.
Ernst responded with a letter asking for more information and a signed statement from someone “directly involved” with Dewey. A pastor from the church where Dewey’s troop was located responded to the request, stating several children of his parishioners had been sexually propositioned by the scoutmaster and that several boys were aware of him abusing their peers.
Ernst then agreed to include Dewey in the file, effectively banning him from participating in the Scouts. In the years that followed, Dewey reapplied to the organization again from Florida and then Vermont — he was rejected the first time and accepted the second.
In October 1983, an executive from the Green Mountain Council mailed a newspaper article from Vermont detailing Dewey’s arrest for sexually abusing three teenage boys not affiliated with the scouts. At the time, Dewey was den leader for a Cub Scouts group out of Rutland.
For executives of the Boy Scouts today, the records serve as a grim reminder of the lax screening practices of the past. Richard Stockton, executive of the Twin Rivers Council encompassing the greater Capital Region, acknowledged the released records show a period when the Scouts didn’t address abuse allegations as seriously as they do today.
For instance, he said any allegation of abuse is immediately reported to local authorities and the accused Scout leader is immediately removed from the position. Scout leaders are also thoroughly vetted by the organization on several levels — from the local organization to a national background check.
“We’ve come a long way since the 60s and 70s,” he said. We really are doing the right things to protect kids right now.”
Others point to the released Boy Scout files as evidence that sexual abuse can sometimes come from unlikely sources. Staca Shehan, director of case analysis at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the files show families should remain vigilant and never hesitate to report their suspicions.
“It reinforces what we’ve learned about those people who have victimized children — they are everyday people who put themselves into situations where they’re going to be around and involved with children,” she said. “It’s not unique to the Boy Scouts.”
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