AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

Boy Scouts 'perversion files': Alaska abuse cases part of larger problem

Ben Anderson
Boy Scouts of America

On Thursday, when a court order saw the Boy Scouts of America release thousands of documents related to suspected sexual misconduct by volunteers between 1965 and 1985, many began looking at the cases reported in their home states and communities. Alaska was no exception, and the file release shows a number of cases in the state, where adult volunteers with the Boy Scouts were accused of abusing the boys they were supposed to be supervising.

One Alaska account shows Boy Scouts officials were aware of a potential sex offender for months, or even years, before finally placing him on a list of ineligible volunteers. The man, who would become known in Anchorage as the "Muldoon molester," was later accused of sexually abusing as many as 100 young boys in 1991 and was ultimately convicted on sex abuse charges.

The files were obtained as part of a 2010 civil suit brought by six boys abused by an Oregon scout leader during the 1980s, according to The New York Times. Dubbed the “perversion files,” the records consist primarily of correspondence between local scouting officials and an office of the national organization responsible for determining who should be placed on the “ineligible volunteer” list.

The allegations were that the Boy Scouts, along with members of the community, often didn’t act on -- or in some cases even aided -- scout masters and volunteers who had been accused of sexual impropriety with scouts.

The files were being hosted by the website of Portland lawyer Kelly Clark, though heavy traffic from around the country was causing significant issues with that website Thursday afternoon. The Associated Press has had copies of the files for several weeks as part of an agreement not to release the information until the files were made public.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times was compiling a database of its own, with a reported 5,000 cases reported between 1947 and 2005, beyond the scope of the documents released Thursday.

Though not all of the complete files had been uploaded to that database as of Thursday afternoon, about 20 potential “ineligible volunteers” had been included on the list in Alaska. Those cases stemmed from incidents from Juneau to Fairbanks, Anchorage and Wasilla. The dates of the files compiled by the L.A. Times ranged between 1961 and 2004.

It is important to note that some of those accused in the files have never been formally tried, and in some cases, never formally accused, of any crime. In several instances, it appears that the “Registration, Subscription and Statistical Service” of the Boy Scouts required fairly solid evidence of misconduct in order to add a name to the “ineligible volunteer” list.

A larger problem

One Alaska case that highlights the leniency granted to suspected offenders is that of Kenneth A. Burns Jr.

Burns first came to the attention of the scouts in June 1981, when a Fairbanks scout official contacted the Registration Service alleging that Burns, a den leader, may have been “sleeping nude with the boys and showing them pornographic books.”

At the time, John McKean, then the executive of the Midnight Sun Council with the Boy Scouts, asked the service to “please remove” Burns from the volunteer registration lists.

Paul Ernst, the director of the Registration, Subscription and Statistical Services, wrote back more than two weeks later, saying:

I will need more information if you wish me to place him on our confidential file so that he cannot register in the future. I will agree that sleeping nude and showing the boys pornographic books indicated very poor judgement (sic) when dealing with cub scouts. I do not know, however, that this is a serious enough offense to refuse registration anywhere he might try to register unless there are more instances.

Ernst followed up again in October 1981 after apparently not receiving a reply back.

In early 1982, Jon Wheeler, a lieutenant colonel with the Air Force at the time, sent a letter to the Midnight Sun Council, saying that Burns had been court-martialed and convicted of “wrongfully and willfully permitting two males under 16 years of age, who were then under his supervision, to engage in sexually oriented activities, which included the wrongful touching of the private parts of the other participant by each of the said minor males.” He added:

Whether there is any moral problem or whether Sgt. Burns should be allowed to work with boys is a question better left to your agency to answer.

In another letter to Ernst forwarding the Air Force’s letter, McKean stated that Burns had tried to register with another scouting unit in the Midnight Sun Council. Ernst indicated to McKean that the information would “strengthen our case in being able to refuse future registration attempts.”

The next document in the file is a September 1991 article from the Anchorage Daily News, discussing a man who had fled the state after being accused of molesting more than 100 boys in a Muldoon trailer park. Although the man isn’t named in that article, it mentions that he had been convicted of sexually abusing a minor in a court-martial at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks.

At the end of the article, police said the man was a former Cub Scout leader.

A few days later, an Anchorage scouting official sent another letter to Ernst, saying that an officer with the Anchorage Police Department had identified the suspected sex offender as Kenneth Burns, who had fled to New Mexico. The letter notes that Burns was on the “undesirable” listing with the Scouts.

On the letter is a handwritten note that reads, “Take off precautionary. Refuse registration,” along with a signature.

That concludes the Boy Scouts’ file on Burns, but it wasn’t the end of the story.

Burns was charged with 26 felony counts of sexual abuse of minors and child pornography in December 1992, but authorities still hadn’t found the man who had apparently been dubbed the “Muldoon molester.”

In 1992, before he had been officially charged in Alaska, Burns was again accused of molesting two boys, this time in Wisconsin. Burns didn’t see a day in Alaska court until 2003, more than 10 years later. In January 2005, Burns pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Other Cases

The Boy Scouts’ handling of the Burns case seems to demonstrate the shortcomings of the organization’s system, at least years ago, for dealing with allegations of abuse among those who are supposed to be supervising the youth.

A statement by Wayne Perry, national president of the Boy Scouts of America, apologized for the mishandling of such reports of abuse.

“There have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong,” Perry said. “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”

Additionally, the Boy Scouts’ statement on the release of the files says that police were aware of “most cases” included in the confidential files. Specifically, 63 percent of those cases.

Critics say that percentage isn’t nearly enough, and a number of other civil cases are likely to result from the recently-released files.

Kelly Clark, the attorney in the Oregon case responsible for the release of the files, said he expects no criminal charges related to the release of the documents, due to the statute of limitations on such cases.

There are numerous other cases currently listed in Alaska and beyond. View the full list of “perversion files” at the website of attorney Kelly Clark, and an additional database, at the Los Angeles Times

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com