A Resident Evil
Guest column by Hugh Turley
In a 1931 essay titled, "A Plea for Intolerance," Bishop Fulton J. Sheen argued America was not suffering from intolerance but was suffering from tolerance.
“Tolerance applies to the erring; intolerance to the error,” he wrote. But for many people, “intolerance is always wrong because [it means] hate, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry, [and] tolerance is always right because … it means charity and broad-mindedness.”
Last month’s trial of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky revealed that his neighbors and the Penn State University community tolerated his abuse of children for 15 years. According to the Washington Post, Susan Strauss, a neighbor and Penn State University professor said, “This was a nightmare. There was a monster who lived next door.”
The scandal reminded me of how troubled I was twenty years ago when my neighbor, James Kowalski, began to exhibit unusual behavior. In the 1970s, Kowalski performed as Mr. Ott in White Boy, one of D.C.’s earliest punk bands. When I met him in 1986, he was working at a printing company and lived alone.
For years, he appeared normal. Then, in 1991, I began to notice that most of his visitors were young boys. It turned out he was tutoring them, buying them expensive gifts, and taking them camping. Sometimes he invited them to spend the night at his house. Just like Sandusky.
I contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for advice. They sent me a profile of behaviors exhibited by child predators, which closely matched my neighbor’s. Armed with suspicions but no proof, I confronted Kowalski and warned him that he could go to prison. He told me to mind my own business.
I tried to talk with other neighbors and my family but no one believed me. People did not want to hear of it.
At the Sandusky trial, Victim 1 testified that he told a school guidance counselor he'd been abused. The counselor did not believe him and questioned the wisdom of going to the authorities.
"They said we needed to think about it and [Sandusky] has a heart of gold and he wouldn't do something like that. So they didn't believe me," he testified.
One friend, a retired D.C. police detective did believe me. On his advice, I sent a letter anonymously to Parris Glendening, the Prince George's County Executive at the time, with copies to the F.B.I. office in Landover, Maryland, and to the Homicide Commander of the Prince George's County Police. I detailed my suspicions and included addresses of the children suggesting the police interview them and watch my neighbor. I believed an investigation would follow.
It did – 10 months later, after a 10-year old boy, George Burdynski Jr. disappeared from his Brentwood neighborhood on May 24, 1993. A police dragnet descended on the community, but tragically, the child was never found.
Kowalski, the only publically identified suspect in the case, was never charged – but investigators discovered in his home thousands of pictures and videotapes of child pornography, some featuring boys from the same neighborhood as Burdynsky. Two of them were Kowalski’s godsons.
Eventually, he was charged with 84 counts of child abuse and pornography, as well as running a pedophile ring with two other area men. Multiple convictions both here and in Winchester, Va., where he owned a home, led to lengthy jail time, and I expect he is still serving it.
Perhaps the long prison sentence demonstrates how intolerant a community can become when it is popular to be so. Without popular approval, though, intolerance of evil can damage one’s career or social standing. Only when it was safe to do so, Strauss told the Post, “We have voices now. We’re not being silent anymore."
But why the silence? After the verdict she herself admitted, “People would say ‘Keep your boys away from Jerry Sandusky.’"
Sandusky, like Kowalski, was not what he appeared to be to most people. Many things are not what they appear to be, and we choose not to notice. It is not a popular thing to say so, but we Americans are especially tolerant of lies. Anyone who is paying attention knows that our leaders often lie to us about very important matters. These lies are repeated by our press and then taught in our schools. Evil flourishes
We ought to be intolerant of lies and to care deeply about what is true and what is false in America. Especially with the recent evidence of what can happen if we choose to look the other way.
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 Hyattsville (MD) Life and Times. It is reprinted here with their permission. In July of 2013 it received the National Newspaper Association award for Best Serious Column of 2012.