This is my first cover story for Cleveland Scene, published in the issue that came out on August 1. It was made possible by the Los Angeles Times series on the “perversion files” maintained by the Boy Scouts of America (the perversion files were meant to document scout leaders who were pedophiles and keep them out). The LA Times has a database of thousands of these files and I looked into several from northeast Ohio to find out what happened after Boy Scouts administrators knew about molestation incidents but didn’t go to law enforcement.
The first section of my piece is about Luke Elbert Dalton, Jr. (known as “Lee Dalton”) who was from Hiram, Ohio, and was an elementary school teacher in nearby Burton when he was supposed to be banned from being a scoutmaster for a “group masturbation” incident in 1966. He ended up becoming a scoutmaster again in Arizona and Utah (he became an elementary school teacher again in Utah as well). After I pieced together a basic outline of his life through obtaining court documents, public records and finding information online, I convinced him to talk. I interviewed him for 68 minutes and he admitted to me that he molested many more children than anybody had known. It’s a really long and complex story, but here’s the lead:
Lee Dalton was 26 years old and a recent Kent State graduate in 1966 when he left his leadership position with local Boy Scout Troop 61, his teaching job in Burton, and his hometown of Hiram, Ohio, and headed out to Montana with his wife.
Over the next three decades, Dalton would become many things in his new life: a national park ranger, a father of four, a cop, a devout Mormon and a moderately successful Mormon-themed novelist and magazine writer.
But he would also ease back into old patterns and comfortable roles, once again becoming a Boy Scout leader and, eventually, an elementary school teacher in a small northwest Utah town —positions that gave him opportunity and access for one other thing he’d been most of his life: a child molester.
The second part of my story is about Youngstown resident Thomas Barnhart. Barnhart was a father of three when he was kicked out of the scouts for molesting a 12 year-old boy (but not turned in to the law enforcement) in 1984. In 1994, he was arrested on multiple counts of raping a 12-year-old boy. I tracked down his victim and interviewed him for nearly an hour. He had no clue Barnhart had been accused of molesting anybody before. Neither did the courts; the judge in a hearing to determine Barnhart’s status as a sexual predator (after his 1994 arrest) determined there wasn’t enough evidence that Barnhart would be a repeat offender, so he doesn’t have to register as a sex offender. Here’s the beginning to that section:
Youngstown resident Thomas Barnhart was a 34-year-old married father with three young sons when he signed up for the Scouts in the 1980s. His registration for the Boy Scout Council in Warren was soon revoked. He became another entry in the perversion files.
“Unfit to be around boys—psychological problems,” reads the cover sheet of the folder kept by the Boy Scouts on Barnhart. The file was kept private at the organization’s headquarters for 28 years until the Los Angeles Times uploaded it online last fall.
Nearly 10 years to the day after Scout officials documented that he was “unfit to be around boys—psychological problems,” a Mahoning County grand jury filed a secret indictment against Thomas Barnhart: two counts of felony rape, one count of felony gross sexual imposition and one count of assault. The victim, a 12-year-old Youngstown boy who was not in Scouts, was the same age as the Scout Barhnhart had molested a decade earlier; the courts were in the dark about his past.
This cover story was used a launching point for the first ever Cleveland Scene podcast. Craig Lyndell (of the great waitingfornextyear.com) did a fantastic job hosting it. We talked about my story and also interviewed Patrick Boyle, whose 1994 book Scout’s Honor is the foremost book on Boy Scouts sexual abuse.