MONROE, N.C. -- Former scoutmaster Thomas J. Menghi Jr. says he was usually drunk when he molested numerous Boy Scouts in the Fayetteville area during the early 1970s.
He was in his late 20s, living in a Fayetteville motel and working as Tupperware deliveryman. He invited boys from Troop 786 as young as 11 years old to ride with him along his route, requesting that they come to his room to spend the night before so they could get an early start.
“Yes, I abused kids,” Menghi, now 69 and living in Monroe, admitted in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. “But just how many and other details I can’t remember. It was a long time ago and I was in a fog.”
Menghi previously confessed in January 1974, when confronted in a private meeting by other scout leaders about his sexual abuse of as many as 10 boys. He was barred from scouting functions and pledged to seek help from a psychiatrist and a preacher.
But Menghi’s crimes were never reported to the police or the parents of some of the boys who were abused.
“The biggest thing was to get the guy out of scouting and away from our boys,” said George Heib, 86, a retired U.S. Army officer and one of the Occoneechee Council officials at the meeting. “Putting the boys through all the trauma of having to go to court and trial and all the stuff like that, I didn’t think it was worth it. Of course, the publicity wouldn’t be good for scouting, either.”
Secret records about Menghi were among 14,500 pages of “perversion files” compiled by the Boy Scouts of America between 1959 to 1985 and made public last week by court order. Thousands more files for abuse cases after 1985 remain secret.
Officials with the Boy Scouts Central North Carolina Council, which covers Union County, said Thursday that Thomas J. Menghi Jr. was not currently, nor had he ever been a registered volunteer with scouting there.
The adjacent Mecklenburg council said it also had no record of Menghi ever being a past or present volunteer.
It is unclear whether he ever tried to volunteer with any other Charlotte-area community organizations associated with children.
Menghi’s confidential file was one of 23 involving cases in North Carolina. The AP reviewed each file, but focused on four where the perpetrator was reported to have admitted guilt when confronted by parents or other scout leaders. Of those four, two of the accused are dead. The other, Edwin Loren Tenny, now 74 and living in Missouri, did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
There’s no statute of limitations on prosecuting child sexual abuse in North Carolina. A spokeswoman for the State Bureau of Investigation said no review of the Boy Scout’s files is planned, though the agency could assist district attorneys who want to probe cases in their jurisdictions. William West, the district attorney for the county that includes Fayetteville, said in a statement that his office and the sheriff’s department would review Menghi’s case.
The AP tracked down the former scoutmaster in Monroe, where he lives on a quiet street around the corner from an elementary school. Had he ever been convicted and placed on the state’s sex offender registry, a 2006 law would bar him from living within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare.
The Observer checked N.C. criminal records and found only a traffic ticket associated with him.
The Union County District Attorney’s Office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said Menghi has not been under investigation by his office.
The house Menghi shares with his adult son was decked out for Halloween with fake tombstones, a big white ghost and a black-clad witch. The front door was covered with bloody handprints and a warning: “Keep Out!”
The former scoutmaster was hesitant to discuss his past but eventually recounted that he was a Boy Scout growing up in Fayetteville and wanted to give back to the organization. He was 25 years old and single when he decided to volunteer with a local troop.
As he spent more time alone with the boys, his “dark side” took over.
“What I did was wrong,” Menghi said, sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch. “I’m not making any excuses. But I was a heavy drinker and did pot every once in a while.”
Menghi’s long-secret file with the Boy Scouts shows that officials in the organization were contacted in early 1974 by the father of two brothers in Troop 786. The boys, ages 11 and 12, had been overhead by an older sister talking about what happened in Menghi’s motel room. Other parents also reported that their sons had been molested.
After interviewing the parents and some of the scouts, Kia Kim District Scout Executive George F. Hardwick Sr. drafted a memo stating that he believed there was evidence Menghi had abused as many as 10 boys in his motel room or on camping trips.
“Sometimes during the night, mostly early in the morning, the boy would be wakened from sleep by Tom kissing him and sucking his penis,” Hardwick wrote. “This happened several times with each of the … boys.”
The following day, Jan. 12, Hardwick wrote that he, Heib and another scout leader met with Menghi and confronted him with written statements from scouts and parents.
“I told Tom Menghi that this was sodomy and he acknowledged this and stated that he was seeing a doctor and his minister about this,” Hardwick said. “Menghi was advised that he was out of scouting.”
Hardwick’s memo was sent to Wallace E. Wood, the supervising scout executive at the headquarters of the Occoneechee Council in Raleigh. Wood sent a memo to national BSA headquarters in North Brunswick, N.J., asking what to do next.
“This case, I think, might turn out to involve some litigation,” Wood wrote on Feb. 13, 1974. “Personally, if a son of mine had been involved in one of these instances, I think I’d be considering some sort of legal action to have this man placed somewhere so that he could not molest any more boys. I wonder if we should possibly advise parents along this line, but I also wonder if we might not be named in any suit brought against this man. Would you have any advice about this?”
Less than two weeks later, Wood received a reply from Paul I. Ernst, the BSA executive then in charge of the organization’s secret files.
“Normally, we do not suggest that any legal action be instituted by parents,” Ernst wrote. “If they desire to do this on their own they certainly should bring about any action they feel necessary. Certainly in this case, there is every indication that legal action is justified.”
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Ernst, who now lives in Texas, directed questions to BSA and hung up.
Besides the local scout leaders’ decision not to contact law enforcement, some parents whose sons had been molested by Menghi may not have been told.
“If any of the parents wanted to know why he is out of scouting and were to ask me, I would have to reveal the fact that their son’s name was on the list,” Hardwick wrote in 1974.
Now 83 and still active in scouting, Hardwick said Thursday he never contacted some of the parents and never considered going to the police himself.
“As the district executive, I followed the procedure I was supposed to follow,” said Hardwick, a retired U.S. Army officer. “I handled it according to my instructions. Today, there’s no question the guy would be put in handcuffs. But that wasn’t the way it was done in those days. Nobody even wanted to talk about it.”
Wood could not be reached for comment.
The current leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, which has hired a public relations firm to handle media questions involving molestation cases, declined to comment on Menghi’s case.
Menghi said Wednesday the only reason he stopped molesting boys was because he got caught.
“That’s when it really hit me. I knew I needed to quit and get help. Then I blacked it out,” he said.
After his problems in Fayetteville, Menghi relocated to Monroe and got married. In 1987, when his boy grew old enough to become a Cub Scout, Menghi once again tried to volunteer. He was rejected after his name was matched to the Boy Scout’s confidential list of sexual predators.
Still, he managed to keep his past a secret from everyone in his new life for nearly four decades.
“I never talked to anyone in my family about this. Not my wife. Not my son,” Menghi said. “I didn’t see any reason to dig it up. I made my changes. I felt bad about the past but there was nothing I could do to make up for what happened.”
He recognizes the emotional and physical pain he caused and said he would like to apologize to his victims. He conceded that saying he’s sorry might not be enough now that his secret file can be read by anyone with an Internet connection.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” he said. “I just don’t want to wake up in jail.”