‘Swept under the rug:’ How a Lawrence man – an educator and a Boy Scout volunteer – was able to sexually abuse boys for decades
Allegations of sexual abuse followed former vice principal James Jackson everywhere he went
He built his life around children.
About the Boy Scouts of America “perversion files”
• Released in October, the files were the Boy Scouts’ confidential files kept on staff and volunteers accused of sexual abuse. Known internally as the “perversion files,” the 14,500 pages of documents include thousands of cases — 15 of them from Kansas — of scouting officials accused of abuse between 1959 and 1985.
• Victim names have been redacted from the files.
• The files were released by a Portland law firm that used the files as part of a civil suit against the Scouts, alleging that the Scouts covered up cases of sexual abuse for decades.
• For a searchable database of the Boy Scout abuse files, visit www.kellyclarkattorney.com/files/
The Scouts’ response to the release
• In their own review of the files that were released, the Scouts found that law enforcement had been involved in about two-thirds of the cases. The Scouts are reviewing the remainder of the case files to find cases where they may need to alert authorities.
• The Scouts have apologized for not following up on the cases. A spokesman for the Scouts said the files were considered internal, confidential documents, and that’s why they weren’t always shared with authorities.
• In 2010, the Scouts instituted mandatory reporting guidelines for scouting volunteers and staff, requiring them to report suspected cases of abuse.
A critic’s reaction to the Scouts’ response
• David Clohessy, director of the Survivor’s Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has been one of many vocal critics of how the Scouts have handled abuse over the years, highlighted by the October release of the files. “They’ve had these files for 100 years,” said Clohessy, noting that the files were released by court order, and not voluntarily by the Scouts. “For decades they’ve known that abuse was illegal and these allegations should be reported to police and prosecutors. …They did the bare minimum.” Though the cases reflect abuse from decades ago, Clohessy said the files might contain information that could alert communities of offenders still alive, and possibly still offending.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
As a teacher and later a vice principal in the Kansas City, Kan., school district in the 1960s and 1970s, James Douglas Jackson, now 72, interacted with hundreds of kids on a daily basis; thousands over the years. His Kansas City home was a stone’s throw from Kennedy Elementary School, and a block from another middle school and city park.
Years later, as his own children became teenagers, Jackson volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America in Kansas City, tagging along with dozens of boys on overnight camping trips.
In the 1990s, Jackson and his wife opened a scuba supply store in Lawrence, later adding a pool where Jackson offered scuba lessons to kids.
Nearly every step of the way, Jackson was accused of sexually assaulting boys. But little was done to prevent him from abusing in the future.
Last month, the Boy Scouts of America released thousands of its internal “perversion files” on offenders such as Jackson, drawing back the curtain on cases of sexual abuse in scouting in Kansas and across the country.
Jackson’s case illustrates how society simply shuffled him along in spite of allegations of abuse, free to move onto the next set of victims.
‘Swept under the rug’
As Mark McMeans, now 51, went about his daily school schedule as a seventh-grader at Arrowhead Junior High in 1975, Jackson — the school’s vice principal — knew exactly where to find the 13-year-old at any point in day.
Sometimes, Jackson would corner McMeans in the locker room after the rest of the kids filed out for gym class. Other times, he’d simply pull McMeans out of class and take him to his windowless office, McMeans recalled recently in an interview at his home in Meeker, Okla.
It started with Jackson rubbing his hand on the boy’s leg, then up to the groin. The behavior quickly escalated to full-scale sexual abuse, McMeans said.
At first, McMeans said nothing about the vice principal’s abuse. “Didn’t say a word, too scared, too embarrassed,” McMeans said. “In those days, you know, we were raised to respect your elders.”
But his school days grew more anxiety-ridden, as McMeans never knew when the tall, lanky, “goofy” vice principal would come calling.
“I couldn’t concentrate in school,” said McMeans. “Go to school, couldn’t do anything. I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach all the time.”
McMeans told his mom one day after school about the vice principal “messing with him,” dozens of times during the school year.
“What a sinking feeling that was,” said Linda McMeans, now 71. She sent an urgent message to Mark’s father, Roy, who was a truck driver at the time.
Roy hustled home. The next day, they took their concerns to the school’s principal.
“He wouldn’t acknowledge that it even happened,” Roy says now. “He was sitting there protecting him.”
Roy and Linda fled the school in anger. A lawyer told them they wouldn’t have a chance in a lawsuit, and they didn’t report the case to police.
Jackson remained at the school for another year. In 1976, his teaching license expired, according to state records. Officials at in the Kansas City Public School District did not return Journal-World calls seeking comment.
Jackson, who graduated from Kansas University in 1963 with a science degree, started out as a biology teacher at Wyandotte High in 1966. He earned a master’s degree from KU in 1972, and moved up to the vice principal position at Arrowhead the year prior to allegedly abusing McMeans.
There were rumors at the time about Jackson abusing other kids, all three of the McMeans say. Linda made calls to other parents, trying to build support for the removal of Jackson.
“No one wanted to stand with us,” she said.
The only tangible step Linda and Roy remember after they contacted school officials was the addition of a window in Jackson’s office. State laws now in place — but not in 1975 — would have required schools to report the allegations to police.
Mark was transferred to a private school, and tried to move on. “I can remember thinking, ‘You got to be kidding me. Nothing’s being done,'” he said. “It was all just swept under the rug.”
Back then, Roy and Linda didn’t think of getting Mark counseling, though things headed downhill for him after the abuse. “He really lost his way,” Linda said. Mark was kicked out of the private school, and started abusing alcohol.
“I did that to make myself feel normal, to fit in,” Mark said of his lifelong battle with alcohol.
Over the years, Linda said she’s apologized to Mark for not doing more back then.
None of the family members knew what happened to Jackson after he left the school district, but Linda wasn’t surprised Jackson had been accused of molesting other kids.
“This man has gotten by all this time,” Linda said.
The ‘Perversion Files’
Jackson was one of 15 Kansas men identified in confidential Boy Scout sexual abuse files released by an Oregon court order in October. Known internally by the Boy Scouts as the “perversion files,” they contain allegations of sexual abuse committed by hundreds of scouting staff and volunteers between 1959 and 1985.
Some of the Kansas files contain vague accusations of abuse, while others include detailed letters from parents and victims. Correspondence from scouting officials provides insight into how such cases were handled over the years.
Individual files were kept on accused volunteers after letters were sent back and forth between scouting officials. All of the men in the Kansas files were kicked out of the Scouts, prohibited from ever volunteering with the organization in the future.
But police were rarely involved.
Only a few of the Kansas men were convicted of sexually abusing boys during scouting activities and went to prison for their deeds. Among them:
• Richard Capra, who pleaded guilty in Johnson County in 1985 of molesting two boys during scouting trips and at his Olathe home. He was sentenced to four years in prison, but a judge later allowed Capra to serve his time on probation.
• William Henry “Bud” Goatley, a volunteer with an Arkansas City troop in the late 1960s, who was convicted of sexual abuse in Cowley County related to his scouting activities. Goatley — who died in prison in 2004 — was also convicted of a variety of sex offenses against children in Cowley County between 1993 and 2001.
• Gerald Ashworth, who was removed from the Scouts after multiple accusations of abuse in 1968. He is in a Kansas prison for various sex offenses he committed in the 1990s in Sedgwick County.
But many of the men in the Kansas files were never arrested or convicted of any sex offenses, despite the accusations and removal by the Scouts.
Then there’s Jackson, who wouldn’t see the inside of prison cell until decades after scouting officials were informed of sexual abuse accusations.
Between 1981 and 1985, one of Jackson’s sons was involved in scouting, and Jackson was an assistant scoutmaster and chapter adviser of troop 311 out of Kansas City. Jackson’s scouting abuse file contains a handwritten letter, most of which is illegible. In the letter, a boy accuses Jackson of molestation during a camping trip. The letter described an incident– eerily similar to Mark McMeans’ allegation — in which Jackson was accused of rubbing the boy’s leg, then moving up toward his groin.
Shortly after the alleged incident, the Scouts informed Jackson in a letter that he was being removed from scouting. His case would be placed in the Scouts’ “perversion files.” Like many of the other Kansas cases, nothing in Jackson’s file mentions police notification.
In a letter dated May 29, 1985, Scout executive Dan Wheatcroft writes that Jackson “has moved and is now residing in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.” Wheatcroft, who appears in letters in many of the files, was responsible for notifying national scouting officials about many of the Kansas abuse allegations during the 1970s and 1980s.
Wheatcroft, now 90, declined an interview request.
“I retired 25 years ago,” he said. “I’m all through.”
The trail of James Jackson in Kansas goes cold for several years following his 1985 removal from the Boy Scouts.
County records shows he sold his Kansas City home in 1992 and purchased a home in Lawrence. That same year, Jackson and his wife — who died in 1998 — opened Mask-Snorkel-Fin, a scuba supply shop at 2201 W. 25th St. The couple expanded the business in 1996, building a full-scale diving facility at 25th and Ponderosa streets, where they taught scuba lessons.
In a 1996 Journal-World article, Jackson talks about the new facility, equipped with “air and water that will be the cleanest available.”
First it was the schools, then the Boy Scouts, and now the scuba facility: Jackson once again had a steady stream of kids rotating through his life.
Karen Wagner and her 14-year-old son met Jackson in 2001 through the scuba shop. Wagner’s son had been “running with the wrong crowd,” and she enrolled in scuba lessons with him as a positive family activity. Wagner dropped out of the class, but her son remained and befriended another boy in the class.
When Jackson asked her son to go on a scuba trip to Stockton, Kan., Wagner had reservations. In a theme repeated by others interviewed for this story, Wagner said there just seemed to be something “off” about Jackson.
She called her brother, and asked him to check whether Jackson was a registered sex offender. But Jackson’s record was squeaky clean.
Wagner’ son went on the trip, and later began spending more time at Jackson’s house.
On April 1, 2001, Wagner’s son told her that Jackson would get him drunk, then sexually assault him and another boy at Jackson’s home.
“I was just in shock. I was almost catatonic,” Wagner said. “I went upstairs and I cried. And I prayed. And I cried.”
Jackson was arrested, but quickly released on bail.
Soon after, the very court system that had charged Jackson unwittingly introduced him to another victim, Walt Ohnesorge-Fick of Lawrence, then 15.
Ohnesorge-Fick, who lived a block from Jackson at the time, had a youthful rebellious streak. In a juvenile court case, Ohnesorge-Fick was convicted of breaking into cars in his neighborhood.
One of the cars belonged to Jackson. As part of the now-defunct Douglas County Victim Offender Reconciliation Program, the victims of Ohnesorge-Fick’s crimes were offered the chance to meet with the teenager.
Jackson — arrested just months prior on numerous charges of sodomy and sexual abuse of children — jumped at the chance. During the meeting, Jackson offered to help the boy rebuild his life.
“He said, ‘Oh, you really seem like you’re trying to turn your life around, let me give you free scuba lessons,'” Ohnesorge-Fick recalls.
One day, after a scuba lesson, Jackson assaulted Ohnesorge-Fick in the shower. Jackson then started buying Ohnesorge-Fick expensive gifts and supplying him with cigarettes and alcohol.
“He was trying to build a sexual relationship with me,” Ohnesorge-Fick said.
Ohnesorge-Fick told his mother, and they, like Wagner and her son before them, pursued criminal charges. Jackson pleaded no contest to one charge of indecent liberties with a child in Ohnesorge-Fick’s case. Jackson also pleaded no contest in 2001 to three sex offenses involving Wagner’s son and another Lawrence boy.
While going through the court process, Wagner said, she wanted others in Jackson’s neighborhood to know about the abuse. She even went door-to-door, talking with parents.
“I remember practically getting doors shut in my face,” Wagner said. “They didn’t believe me.”
‘Like catch and release’
After decades of allegations, the criminal justice system had finally caught up with Jackson. He entered a Kansas prison in 2001 following the convictions in the Wagner and Ohnesorge-Fick cases. He spent a little more than 10 years behind bars, and was paroled this past April.
Required to register as a sex offender for life, Jackson’s mug shot and home address in Lawrence are now available to anyone with an internet connection.
Those impacted by Jackson’s abuse have somewhat differing views on justice and accountability.
Mark McMeans said he’d let go of his hatred for Jackson years ago, choosing not to “give the man a second thought.”
Karen Wagner takes solace in standing up to Jackson. She helped gain some measure of justice for her son, and for an unknown number of other boys who may have suffered at Jackson’s hands through the years. “I put him in prison,” she said. “I’m proud of that.”
Walt Ohnesorge-Fick, meanwhile, places the blame not on Jackson, but on the systems — the schools, the Boy Scouts, even the courts — that allowed Jackson to roam free and prey on additional boys.
“It’s like catch and release,” he said. “Over and over.”
At his home recently, Jackson — stooped considerably from the six-foot four-inches he once stood — politely declined an interview request.
“I’m not proud of my past,” he said. “With the Lord’s forgiveness, hopefully I can continue to live in this community.”
Jackson said he’d seen the recent articles about his case. When informed there’d be a longer, more in-depth story on him, detailing the decades of sexual abuse allegations, Jackson said, “I hope it doesn’t kill me.”
— Reporter Shaun Hittle can be reached at 832-7173. Follow him at Twitter.com/shaunhittle.