Mich. man, 94, faces child sex charges from decades ago
Glen Arbor — As a teacher and Boy Scout leader, Bill Bricker was popular with children for his easygoing manner and sense of fun.
But students and campers whispered about another side of their instructor.
Decades later, the whispers have grown louder as the Glen Arbor resident fights extradition to Wyoming, where he faces charges of sexually assaulting three children at a summer camp starting in 1962.
Authorities in Wyoming and Illinois, where he was a scoutmaster and gym teacher, learned about the allegations as early as 1968, yet no police investigations were conducted, according to police and school records.
Even as more allegations emerged in following years, he taught 17 more years, worked with the Boy Scouts for another 26 years and worked at the Wyoming camp, which isn't connected with the Boy Scouts, for 34 more years.
Wyoming has no statute of limitations for criminal cases, but it may be too late to bring him to trial, said legal experts.
Bricker, 94, is too old and sick to travel, according to his attorney, Michael Lewis. He has congestive heart failure, is losing weight and sleeps 17 hours a day, said Lewis.
His extradition hearing, continued several times since his arrest in September, is awaiting a forensic psychiatric exam to assess his mental competency.
As the delays mount, one of the alleged victims said he was prepared to settle for an abbreviated brand of justice.
"I'm glad he's been exposed," said Tim Berg, 61, of Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. "I'm glad it's seeing the light of day."
During a Boy Scout camping trip in suburban Illinois in the mid-1960s, Bricker allegedly reached into Berg's sleeping bag and fondled him, said Berg, who hasn't contacted authorities.
Bricker has denied the allegations through the decades and continues to do so today, according to Lewis and school records.
A woman who answered the door earlier this month at his home in this lakefront resort northwest of Traverse City declined to comment.
Bricker's life was filled with children.
When he wasn't teaching gym at an elementary school in the affluent Chicago suburb of Winnetka, he was leading 25-35 boys at Boy Scout Troop 18.
Every summer, he worked for 11 weeks as a camp counselor at Teton Valley Ranch, a Wyoming camp that isn't affiliated with the Boy Scouts.
Children weren't the only ones who liked Bricker. Adults viewed him as a role model and war hero.
A Marine in World War II, he received the Purple Heart after a grenade explosion on Okinawa damaged the nerves in his right hand, limiting its use.
"He was a gifted individual who was a wonderful youth worker," said Stuart Palmer, who was co-director of the Wyoming camp for 20 years.
But in 1968, the parents of several boys told Winnetka school officials that Bricker had molested their children at school and on camping trips in Wyoming, according to school records.
Weenie Wilson, founder of the Wyoming camp, dismissed the allegations, blaming it on a disgruntled parent or jealous teacher, he wrote in a letter to Bricker.
Wilson offered to fly to Illinois to defend his friend, according to the May 1968 letter, which is in Bricker's school personnel file.
"If more teachers had the sincere warmth and interest in kids, we would have more sincere and concerned teachers," wrote the late Wilson. "The one thing this world needs is more Bill Brickers."
Wilson told Bricker he wouldn't mention the controversy to anyone.
But an official with Winnetka School District 36 found the complaints credible.
Superintendent Paul Avery wrote a memo saying he had observed Bricker's behavior on the school playground for four years and found it childish, lacking in judgment and disturbing to children.
"In light of recent testimony, this conduct on Mr. Bricker's part takes on a more sinister implication," Avery wrote in the June 1968 memo.
The school district consulted an attorney, suggested Bricker see a psychiatrist and removed him from an after-school sports program taken by several of the boys who had complained about him, according to documents in the 240-page personnel file.
Two months after Avery's memo, a new superintendent said he was inclined to allow Bricker to continue teaching.
"My feeling at this point is that the existing matter may cease to be a burning issue during the coming school year," Frank Temmerman wrote in an August 1968 letter to the school attorney.
That same year, the parents of one of the children contacted Winnetka Police Chief Don Derning, who then met with Bricker, according to Bricker's school district personnel file. But no formal complaint was ever filed against Bricker.
Derning, Temmerman and Avery are deceased.
The boy's parents also contacted the Winnetka Christ Church, which sponsored Boy Scout Troop 18, school records show.
In a June 1968 letter to the school board president, troop representative Roger Miller said Bricker would be stepping down as scoutmaster because of a pending marriage.
But Bricker, who got divorced four years later, remained involved with the troop for 26 more years.
Miller, contacted by a reporter last week, said he didn't recall the letter or the circumstances surrounding it.
But he said it was widely known that Bricker and the boys liked to suggestively grab each other, which Miller described as harmless horsing around.
"Boys will be boys," said Miller, 89, who had helped Bricker run the troop for six years. "He was just being a big kid. He was just a fun guy to be with."
More complaints in 1979
In 1979, the school district received new complaints about Bricker from a teacher, parents and students, according to his school personnel file.
A school official met with him to discuss his kissing of students and allowing them to sit on his lap, according to a 1979 note in the file.
The unnamed official asked him to remove shirtless photos of the prior year's fifth-graders in the school hall.
"I reminded Bill that the old adage 'Keep your hands off kids' was really best," wrote the official.
Then in 1993, the school district received a letter from a former student who said he had been molested by Bricker during and after school over a five-year period ending in 1982.
Superintendent Donald Monroe forwarded the complaint to the Cook County State Attorney's Office, but the former student didn't want to pursue charges, according to school records.
Monroe also met with Bricker, who had retired from teaching in 1985, and persuaded him to withdraw from the Boy Scouts and camping activities, Monroe wrote in a 1993 letter to the complainant.
Bricker retired from scouting the following year but continued working at the Wyoming camp until 2002.
In 1997, the Wyoming camp was visited by a former Winnetka Boy Scout who said he had been fondled by Bricker at the camp in 1962, according to an affidavit filed in Bricker's recent arrest.
Palmer, the camp co-director, told police earlier this year he thought the complaint was credible and passed it along to the other camp directors, Matt and Judy Montagne, according to the affidavit by Dani Spence, a detective with the Teton County Sheriff's Office in Wyoming.
Palmer, contacted by a reporter last week, said he encouraged the former Scout to contact police, but the complainant didn't want to pursue charges.
"No one comes up with something like that just for the fun of it," he said.
Palmer said he resigned later in 1997, partly because Bricker was allowed to continue working at the camp.
In 1998, the Montagnes were contacted by a second former camper, who said he had been fondled by Bricker at the camp six times in 1985, according to the affidavit.
The Montagnes didn't respond to emails or phone calls asking for comment.
Judy Linklater of Northbrook, Illinois, knows several people who said they were molested by Bricker.
She said something should have been done a long time ago. "The lack of responsibility (by the organizations who knew about the allegations) astonishes me."
The eventual filing of criminal charges may have been aided by Linklater's blog.
In 2007 Mrs. Linklater's Guide to the Universe reposted a laudatory story about Bricker that had appeared in the Glen Arbor Sun two years earlier.
The story, headlined "Old Cowboy New Tricks," drew a flurry of anonymous comments from people who said they had been molested.
The newspaper removed the story and comments from its website but the blog continued to feature them.
The former Boy Scout who had contacted the Wyoming camp in 1997 got in touch with the Boy Scouts of America earlier this year and repeated his accusation, according to Spence's affidavit.
The Boy Scouts forwarded the complaint, along with printouts of the other accusations on the blog, to the Teton County Sheriff's Office, which began its investigation.
Linklater, who once lived in Winnetka, said she had long been suspicious about Bricker, especially after a childhood friend told her in the 1990s he had been molested by him.
"He should have been put in jail when he was a much younger man," she said.
In the Glen Arbor story, Bricker said working at the Wyoming camp was the highlight of his life.
He had arranged to leave the bulk of his $500,000 estate to the camp, which was going to use it for a scholarship fund, according to a Wyoming newspaper story in 2001.
The camp, now under new management, said it will not accept the money.