Girl’s trust for ‘mentor’ led to repeated child sex crimes, affidavit alleges

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

Story updated at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, July 24:

A victim of alleged child sex crimes, now 19, recently told Lawrence police that she couldn’t tell anyone what happened when she was 14 because she cared about the man now charged with molesting her, and she didn’t want anything to happen to him.

Joseph Christopher Hess, 35, of Lawrence, was charged in June with six felonies that allegedly occurred between July 2014 and October 2015: two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child between the ages of 14 and 16; three counts of criminal sodomy with a child between the ages of 14 and 16; and one count of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

Court documents refer to Hess as “Chris,” and according to a financial affidavit, he is a self-employed tattoo artist. He wrote on June 21 that he had worked at Abraxas Tattoo Co. within the past six months.

He was 30 at the time of the alleged first incident.

The Journal-World requested and recently received a redacted affidavit supporting Hess’ arrest. Accusations in an affidavit have not been proved in court.

According to the affidavit, the victim told police that she met Hess when she was 8 years old, and she didn’t trust him for a number of years. But at the end of eighth grade, she said, Hess took on a “mentor” role and was her “best friend” for a while. It is unclear from court documents how the two met.

According to the affidavit, the victim told police that she was sitting on a front porch with Hess late at night when he first touched her. The molestation continued for about 14 months after that, she said, estimating that Hess abused her more than 50 times. She said Hess told her not to tell anyone.

She said Hess had told his family in 2015 what happened, and one of his family members had called police to start a report. However, the victim said she was not ready to report what happened.

The alleged crimes were reported again in 2017, though the circumstances of how that report was made are unclear from court documents.

In the affidavit, filed June 21 in Douglas County District Court, the victim told police she “finally stopped feeling she was to blame and she was ready to talk about what happened now.”

She showed police Instagram messages between her and Hess, though it’s unclear from documents when the conversations occurred. In the messages, Hess said he’s sorry she ever blamed herself, he knows he is a bad person and he hates himself for it, according to the affidavit.

The victim agreed when police asked her to record a conversation with Hess, and the next day she returned a digital recorder with a nearly hourlong phone call, the affidavit says.

“It was a dark time and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Hess reportedly said during the call. He eventually stated, “I molested you and I am sorry,” the affidavit alleges.

The next day — June 20 — police approached Hess and asked him some questions. Asked about whether he’d ever touched or had sex with the victim, he denied each one; he also said he hadn’t spoken to her in about two years or seen her since 2015, according to the affidavit.

When police played a small audio clip from the recorded phone call, Hess said he wanted a lawyer, the affidavit says.

Officers arrested Hess shortly thereafter, and according to a bond agreement in the case file, he was released on $100,000 surety bond on June 28. As part of his bond conditions, Hess was placed on 24-hour house arrest with GPS monitoring, and he was to have no contact with any alleged victims or witnesses.

Hess appeared in court in person Tuesday morning, and the judge set his preliminary hearing for Aug. 20.

Branden Smith, Hess’ defense attorney, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment for this article.

Andrea Ransom, an owner at Abraxas Tattoo Co., told the Journal-World via email Wednesday that Hess was an independent contractor who paid the business a commission to work in the space. She said the business severed ties with him immediately upon learning of his arrest.

In a Facebook post on June 21, the company said that it is working with law enforcement to get customers’ deposits refunded.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office previously denied the Journal-World’s request for Hess’ mugshot.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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— Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a previous version.