Boy Scouts of America leaders knew for years about incidents involving a Canadian pedophile who preyed on boys in the U.S. but failed to stop him as he moved back to Canada, where he continued his abuse.
The organization sometimes even helped him go undetected by authorities, an investigation by CBC-TV's The Fifth Estate and theLos Angeles Times has found.
Scouts Canada learned of his inappropriate behaviour in the 1980s and kicked him out, but nearly a decade passed before police charged him with crimes.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Richard Turley was involved with the Scouts across California and British Columbia, molesting at least eight scouts.
"It was easy," the 58-year-old, who now lives in Alberta, says about how he used scouting to target his victims. "Kids were easily accessible."
The CBC investigation catalogued nearly 80 cases in Canada, dating from the 1950s, where either active or former scout leaders committed crimes ranging from sexual assault to possession of child pornography. More than 300 children were abused by leaders while they were active in the movement.
In 1975, Turley did what he describes as the “craziest, stupid, bizarre thing” he would ever do. California newspaper headlines from 1975 dubbed it a “wild abduction tale.”
In a stolen single-engine Cessna, Turley kidnapped Ed Iris, an 11-year-old Nova Scotia boy living in La Puente, Calif., whom Turley had met while visiting a local scout troop.
A day earlier, he'd shown up at Iris’s house, telling Ed’s mother he was “one of Canada’s top scouts leaders” and asking if he could show the boy around town.
“He had badges all over the place,” says Iris, now 47 and living in Ontario. “He had his Canadian scouting book. It was impressive to a kid.”
Turley took the boy on a fun-filled day in the San Diego area. That night, the two slept in a car inside Turley’s double sleeping bag covered in scouts merit patches, said Iris. Turley later admitted to molesting the boy, though Iris says he slept through it.
In the morning, Turley stole a Cessna at a regional airport, vowing to take Ed back to Canada. With the plane low on fuel, though, Turley was soon forced to land.
Turley, then 21, was arrested and later pleaded guilty to child stealing. At trial, a judge committed him to a state hospital as a “mentally disordered sex offender.”
Police files obtained by The Fifth Estate and theLos Angeles Times show that Boy Scouts of America knew about the incident because they helped officers search for Iris and Turley.
Though the Boy Scouts of America have a decades-old practice of creating “confidential files” recording individuals barred from the group for sex abuse allegations — a system aimed at preventing pedophiles from hopping from troop to troop — it appears no file was created on Turley at that time.
Put on list
In November 1976, 18 months after Turley’s arrival at the Patton State Hospital, he was deemed well enough to be released. The judge ordered him to return to Canada and report for probation if he re-entered the U.S.
Within a year, Turley returned to Southern California to work at a Boy Scout camp near San Diego, an hour's drive from the hospital. He spent the next three summers working for the camp.
On the last day of camp in July 1979, Turley arranged to stay an extra night with three boys from the Orange County troop. All three were molested that night, according to a confidential file later created by the Boy Scouts of America.
The next morning, one boy told his father, a scoutmaster, about the abuse.
The camp director, John LaBare, confronted Turley and “he readily admitted what he had done, expressed concern for his actions, immediately packed and returned to Canada,” according to a letter in Turley’s U.S. “perversion file.” The camp, meanwhile, was told Turley had returned home due to family problems.
Behind the scenes, camp officials requested that the Boy Scouts of America’s Texas-based national office create a “confidential file,” informally known as a “perversion file,” on Turley.
“The parents of the three boys agreed not to press charges if he would leave, but are quite prepared to do so if they hear of his involvement with scouting,” Scouts executive Buford Hill wrote.
Hill told the Los Angeles Times that he was following recommendations of the Boy Scouts of America at the time.
“I don’t remember what we decided, other than we didn’t want this person on our staff,” Hill said. “Hopefully, he went back to Canada and that was their problem.”
In a written statement to the Los Angeles Times, Boy Scouts of America stated that within 25 hours of learning of Turley's conduct, they expelled him.
"In the 30 years since then, the BSA has continued to enhance its youth protection efforts as society has increased its understanding of the dangers children face," wrote spokesman Deron Smith.
When Turley was shown the 1979 confidential U.S. file created by the Scouts on him, however, he shook his head in amazement that officials had not contacted police.
“That probably would have put a stop to me years and years ago,” said Turley in an interview at an Alberta motel where he works as a manager and handyman.
“And yet I went back to the Scouts again and again as a leader and offended against the boys until they came forward.”
Others were shocked Turley even made it into the Scouts after his kidnapping conviction and commitment as a sex offender.
“He should have never been there in the first place,” the scoutmaster whose son was allegedly molested by Turley told the Los Angeles Times.
Back in Canada
Though The Fifth Estatefound documents showing that Scouts Canada and its American counterpart have traded information about pedophiles banned from their organizations, it appears the two did not share information about Turley.
By August of 1979, Turley had returned to the Victoria area, and within a few years, he’d begun leading a local scouts troop.
Court records show that Turley took scouts on camping trips once or twice a month, often luring boys to his tent by offering warmth or comfort. He used skinny-dipping as a pretense to molest boys and plied them with alcohol.
In his Victoria home, stocked with ice cream, candy, alcohol and porn, he entertained an endless number of boys, including scouts.
“He had an Atari and worked for a candy company and his cupboard was full of candy,” said Jason Davies, one of his victims. “This is where we wanted to go after Scouts.”
While a Scouts Canada leader, Turley also organized trips to the U.S. with his troop and recalls filing paperwork with the Boy Scouts of America to have the visits approved.
Jean Buydens, a scouting supervisor, recalls hearing whispers about parties where Turley offered boys beer and camp outings where he shared tents with boys.
“I was very suspicious of that,” says Buydens, adding she passed on what she heard.
The Fifth Estate spoke to parents, victims and Scouts executives familiar with Turley and found no evidence executives called in the police to investigate. Turley says he was never contacted by police at that time. Scouts Canada said it won’t comment on specific cases.
An assistant scoutmaster had also complained about Turley sharing his tent with boys, but the meddling assistant was moved to another troop, CBC News has learned.
As rumours persisted in the mid-1980s, Scout House, the regional headquarters, asked Turley to resign. Scouts Canada added him to a “confidential list,” sources say. The exact date is unknown.
“It should have been handled differently,” says Buydens. “I absolutely wish now that I had thought about going to police rather than Scout House, but I thought talking to Scout House would be enough.”
In 1988, Turley sexually assaulted a child at a swimming pool. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and banned from associating with youth groups such as Scouts, YMCA and the Little League.
It was not until 1995 that police began their first large-scale investigation into Turley – 16 years after the Boy Scouts of America created a “perversion file” and nearly a decade after its Canadian counterpart put him on their “confidential list.”
In the end, it was not the Scouts organization that informed Saanich, B.C., police, but rather a suspicious girlfriend.
Turley was convicted in 1996 of sexually abusing four boys, three of whom were scouts, but later admitted to having at least a dozen victims.
During an undercover sting, Turley later admitted to an officer that being involved with the Scouts organization was a “good way to recruit young boys.”
Turley served five years in prison and seven years of long-term supervised parole, which he completed in 2009.
When The Fifth Estate and the Los Angeles Times tracked him down in Alberta earlier this year, Turley said his sexual impulses are now under control thanks to an intense sex-offender program he underwent.
He’s no longer that “monster” moving from “troop to troop picking out people who I thought would be easy to offend against,” he said. “Rick Turley today is a caring loving person who just wants to stay below the radar.”
But he added that he believes the very nature of Scouts made it an easy place to find targets.
“If I look back at my own self, the availability, the trust that was involved with the parents at the time,” said Turley. “I was … the nice guy, who wanted to do everything.”
Much in Scouts has changed since the 1970s and 1980s when Turley used the movement to find his victims.
Since 1997, Scouts Canada has required police record checks, reference checks and a special screening interview for all adult volunteers and staff.
The organization’s policies dictates that individuals accused of any sexual abuse are immediately suspended and then investigated, with information passed along to police and child protection authorities.
Scouts Canada also has a stringent “two-deep rule” requiring that two fully screened, registered leaders be present with youth at all times.
Turley recalls always having adult leaders present on his Scouts outings. “It didn’t stop anything,” he says.
Seattle-based lawyer Tim Kosnoff, who has viewed the U.S. “perversion files,” says historically the U.S. Boy Scouts “routinely” chose not to notify police when aware of child molesters, instead noting them in their own secret files.
Despite all the changes made to the Scouts organization, Turley maintains that “Scouting is still a flawed movement.”
“If I was a parent, I would never put my kids in Scouts.”
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