Trail of sex abuse in N.C. Scouting

Trail of sex abuse in N.C. Scouting

Credit: Charlotte Observer

(Left), 1998 photo of Jerry Lee Parrish of Moncure, NC (Right), Chapel Hill Boy Scout Troop 39 Scoutmaster Kenneth Lamar Hicks at Haliburton Scout Reserve, Ontario, Canada, in August 1961.


by BRUCE SICELOFF & CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR. / Charlotte Observer

Posted on December 2, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 1 at 1:47 AM

On a summer day in 1976, the father of a Boy Scout came to a troop meeting in northern Charlotte, looking for Jerry Lee Parrish.

The man’s son had told him Parrish, an assistant scoutmaster, had put oil on him, touched him and taken nude photos. The man arrived with a loaded shotgun in his car, according to Boy Scouts records.

But Parrish was gone, relocated to Chapel Hill, the records say.

But, like many other cases nationally involving suspected child abusers in the Boy Scouts, Mecklenburg Scouting officials apparently didn’t alert police.

Scandal has erupted around the Boy Scouts of America over secret files the organization kept for decades on suspected molesters like Parrish. The Scouts used the files to identify abusers and ban them from any future contact with troops but often didn’t tell police or other authorities for fear of bad publicity for Scouting.

In October, an Oregon judge released secret Boy Scouts of America records involving allegations of child sexual abuse against more than 1,200 volunteers and Scouting professionals across the country between 1965 and 1985.

Among them are Parrish and 21 other North Carolina men accused of abusing dozens of Boy Scouts and other children. The victims’ identities are blacked out in most instances.

In Parrish’s case, police weren’t the only ones in the dark. Local Boy Scouts officials said they tried to get Parrish added to the national Boy Scouts’ “ineligible volunteer” list.

But for reasons that remain unclear, national officials didn’t add Parrish to the list at that time.

Parrish would move on to the Pittsboro area, where in the early 1990s he pleaded guilty to four counts of taking indecent liberties with two 13-year-olds attached to a Boy Scout troop he helped oversee. He is currently in prison after being convicted in another case for sexual exploitation of a child in Florida.

Developing criminal cases

The “ineligible volunteer” files include 16 North Carolina cases where a Scout leader accused of molestation was either fired by the local troop or formally blacklisted by the Boy Scouts of America – with no police involvement. Six of these men – Parrish included – later would be arrested and convicted for sex crimes involving other children.

For instance, Kenneth Lamar Hicks had been accused in the early 1960s of improper sexual contact with boys from Chapel Hill’s Troop 39.

Tito Craige, now a 65-year-old Chapel Hill teacher, outdoorsman and father of four, said he quit the Boy Scouts in disgust after Hicks molested him.

He never knew that Hicks was ousted quietly in 1962, after adults discovered that he had molested other boys in Troop 39.

Hicks later moved from Chapel Hill to Guilford County, signed on as an adviser to Explorer Scout Post 340 in 1964, and found work as a teacher at Pleasant Garden Elementary School. In 1967, after he was arrested on charges of sodomizing three pupils, the Boy Scouts declared him an ineligible volunteer. He was found guilty on two counts and spent 10 months in prison.

Hicks is one of at least eight North Carolina Boy Scout leaders who served prison sentences for child sex crimes. Four more are in prison now.

Hicks was released from prison in 1969. After that, he says, he went home to Jackson, Tenn., and took over his parents’ farm.

In a telephone interview, Hicks acknowledged his 1968 criminal conviction for crime against nature in Guilford County. But he would neither admit nor deny that he had molested Tito Craige and other boys in Chapel Hill, where he served as Troop 39 scoutmaster while attending graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill.

He said he simply could not remember.

“It was bad judgment on my part, but still I don’t recall a great deal of that at all,” said Hicks, 75. “It may be my age. ... I just don’t remember any of that.”

Dr. John V. Allcott III is seven years younger than Hicks, but his memory has not dimmed.

Allcott did not quit Troop 39 after Hicks molested him. He stayed on to earn his Eagle award.

“Scouting was big in my life,” said Allcott, 68, a physician in Eugene, Ore.

‘Dark side’ came at night

He remembers having “a bang-up day of fun” on a couple of occasions with Hicks and two or three other Boy Scouts, on trips to a cabin at Kerr Lake: days of water-skiing, a campfire.

“The dark side would be in the evening,” Allcott said. “Lamar (Hicks) would come in and say, ‘Let me rub your back. You must be cramped up after a day of water-skiing.’ He would rub my back and then he would fondle me. I would be pretending I was asleep and trying to figure out what the hell was happening…“I felt powerless to take a stance of saying, ‘Stop’ or ‘This isn’t right,’ ” Allcott said. “I didn’t want it. But if I objected, would I pass up this relationship in which there were these (other) fun things to do? I didn’t want to mess up the fun things to do. But I didn’t know what to do.”

A sordid history

The Boy Scouts’ files suggest Jerry Parrish was also able to move on after abusing Scouts in Charlotte in the late 1970s..

The allegations against him are vividly outlined in a January 1991 memo composed by Richard Shields, then a district executive with the Mecklenburg Boy Scouts council.

It was sparked by the incident with the father and the shotgun, looking for Parrish. After that, local Scouting leaders polled other parents in the Charlotte troop.

One mother mentioned that she had once caught Parrish in her living room, touching her son in a way she didn’t approve of. “There may have been more” allegations, Shields wrote, “but we don’t know about them if there were.”

Parrish was also involved in a non-Scouting mentoring program. Shields said in the memo that he called that group’s executive director, “who immediately talked to the boy and was able to confirm that Jerry had done things with the boy also.” Boy Scouts officials learned other things about Parrish in 1976. He was not allowed on the property of Camp Sequoyah, near Asheville. Counselors said he would be arrested if he went through the front gate. He’d been fired by a school in Asheville “because of a misunderstanding involving a student,” according to the memo.

He also taught at Coulwood Junior High in northwest Mecklenburg, Shields wrote, but was released there after a year. “I don’t know why,” he wrote.

Local officials tried to get Parrish blacklisted by the national office, preventing him from being involved with Boy Scouts organizations anywhere in the country, the local scouting report said. But to no avail. Police were never notified.

“We received a reply that we could not ‘black flag’ Jerry’s name at the registration office for reasons that I can’t recall today,” Shields would later write. Local parents and Scouts officials “were highly irritated but (there) wasn’t much we could do except keep him out of any troops in the Charlotte area.”

BSA hid past after arrest

Parrish moved to Moncure, took a job as a systems analyst at N.C. State University and, in 1985, became scoutmaster of Troop 93 in Pittsboro.

The Boy Scouts formally blacklisted Parrish in December 1990, after learning he’d been arrested on charges involving two boys in that troop. Authorities said he pretended to hypnotize the boys and had them fall into his arms before he molested them.

Still, the Boy Scouts did not share their information about the Charlotte allegations against Parrish with the Pittsboro parents and prosecutors, who agreed in September 1991 to a plea bargain. The deal convicted Parrish on lesser charges, with a brief sentence and probation. In court, his lawyer spoke of Parrish as a “good citizen” with a “reputable reputation.”

Pittsboro lawyer Ellen Scouten represented the parents’ interests in the case. She said they might have pushed for harsher punishment if they had known about Parrish’s history in Charlotte. The scoutmaster had plenty of admirers in Pittsboro, she said.

“The town got split over this … ” Scouten said. “They just didn’t want to believe it, so they pretended it couldn’t be true. Some of them said these kids must be lying.

“That makes it doubly hard on the victim, and that’s how they get away with it.”

Federal agents arrested Parrish in 1998 in an Internet sting operation at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Tallahassee, Fla., where he thought he was meeting a 12-year-old boy. One of the former Pittsboro scouts testified against him, and Parrish was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sexual exploitation of children.

He’s a low-security inmate at Butner Federal Correctional Facility, just north of Durham, scheduled to be released in 2014.

Unresolved questions

It remains unclear why Mecklenburg Scouting officials’ attempts to have Parrish blacklisted in the late 1970s went nowhere.

Mark Turner, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts’ Mecklenburg council, said he spoke last week to Richard Shields, the 1970s Scout official whose 1991 memo outlined the allegations lodged against Parrish in Charlotte.

Turner said Shields remembered the Parrish case; Turner said he and Shields didn’t get into the details, however.

Shields, who lives in Monroe today, didn’t return several calls the Observer placed to his home seeking comment.

Turner said he didn’t have any evidence that Mecklenburg Scouting officials told police about Parrish in the 1970s. He referred a reporter to national Boy Scouts officials.

‘No system is perfect’

An official from the national office said she hoped to provide more details by day’s end Friday, but did not do so.

Turner said he couldn’t speak for what happened decades ago, but said the Boy Scouts’ policies today are doing a good job of protecting children.

“No system is perfect,” he wrote in an email, but the policies show “locally we are taking every step possible to vet volunteers and deliver positive lifelong lessons.”