By Patrick Boyle
© The Washington Times
May 21, 1991
Second of five parts
As Danny remembers it, the first thing Thomas Hacker did when he walked into the tent that night was turn around and zip it shut.
"He just, you know, zipped the outside door so you can't see inside the tent at all," Danny said. "It was at night and we were supposed to be going to bed, you know, for the night, and he came in and he was talking to us and I was laying on my stomach on my sleeping bag."
It was the summer of 1985, and Danny's Boy Scout troop was spending a weekend at Camp Falcon in Illinois. Hacker, the Scoutmaster who arranged the trip, was 48. Danny was 11.
This is how the boy, whose name has been changed for this story, told his tale from a witness stand four years later:
"He sat down next to me and started to give me a back rub and he was talking to me about Scouts. He was saying that I was, like, good material for Scouts. I could learn a lot of things.
"As he was rubbing my back, he started to bring his hand down slowly and he started to massage my butt."
It usually began this way, with back rubs that wandered. This is how Hacker seduced boys for 25 years. He later told a psychiatrist that he lost count of the boys he had sexual relations with, but it was "well above a hundred."
By anyone's standards, including the Boy Scouts', Hacker should not have been at Camp Falcon. Two states had convicted him of sex offenses with children. He had been forced to resign from at least three schools after being caught fondling students. One Scout troop kicked him out for molesting boys. Supposedly, he was banned for life from the Boy Scouts of America.
Yet for several years Hacker repeatedly molested Danny and more than 30 other boys in his troop. He performed sex acts with some boys dozens of times, often while others watched. Troop 1600, based in a Chicago suburb and sponsored by St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church, had become a child sex ring.
For more than five years the boys kept quiet about it because of their loyalty to Hacker, the thrill of the sexual intrigue and their fear of getting in trouble if anyone knew what they did.
After his arrest in February 1988, Hacker said he loved the boys and was doing God's work by teaching them about sex. In 1989 he was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Thus ended the career of one of the most outrageously successful child molesters ever to infiltrate the Boy Scouts. His story is a study in how pedophiles use Scouting and other youth groups to have sexual relations with children.
"He expressed to me that he had been very interested and always obsessed . . . with young boys," psychologist Larry Heinrich testified at Hacker's trial. "He developed his life pretty much around . . . putting himself in situations where he would have contact with youth."
Other people thought Hacker just liked kids. "He goofed around with us like he was one of the guys," testified a Scout abused by Hacker. Men who can bond well with boys often make good fathers, Scout leaders and teachers. With Hacker, though, it was a sign of trouble that surfaced soon after he began teaching junior high school in 1960.
In his unpublished autobiography, written 28 years later as a therapeutic exercise while he was in a psychiatric hospital, Hacker wrote of his students: "I remember them sitting on my lap, rubbing my back, and generally providing me with needed affection. I didn't see anything socially unacceptable."
The problem was, Hacker didn't find adult relationships so rewarding. So he directed his sexual desires to the people he was closest to; those people were under 15.
He lost his first teaching job when a mother discovered he was pulling boys' pants down. No charges were filed.
That set the pattern for Hacker's life. He would move someplace and become a pillar of the community - president of the Holy Name Society, vice president of the Little League, an award-winning teacher and Scout leader. Then someone would catch him fondling boys. Shocked adults would offer a deal: Resign or they'd tell the police. He'd quit and move.
"He was so charming nobody put him in jail," testified Dr. Marvin Schwarz, a psychiatrist. "Basically everybody fired him, so he could go on elsewhere to molest other children."
He knew, however, that if he didn't stop he could go to jail. He hoped marriage would save him.
"He told me he thought if he got married, that would probably hopefully take away all of these urges," Mr. Heinrich testified. Hacker also told the doctor that to have intercourse with his wife, he fantasized that she was a boy.
Sometimes it worked; they had three children.
But his satisfying sexual relationships were with boys. In one troop, Hacker wrote in his autobiography, he and his Scouts regularly engaged in mutual masturbation. "It was a special kind of friendship and bond," he wrote.
His Boy Scout career supposedly ended in 1970, when he pleaded guilty in Indiana to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy. His troop dismissed him. Local Scout leaders said they sent his name to national headquarters so it could be placed on the "confidential files," a list of adults banned from Scouting.
Hacker moved to Illinois, but in 1971 he was again arrested on sex charges; he pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a boy. He did not get a prison sentence for either conviction. He got counseling but later admitted he didn't take it seriously because he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.
Nevertheless, he was able to join a troop in Illinois. The troop leaders never checked his references. His registration papers were sent to national headquarters, but somehow his name didn't show up in the confidential files. Joseph Anglim, national director of administration for the Boy Scouts, said in an interview that he wasn't sure why Hacker's name didn't show up.
"My question would be the same as yours," Mr. Anglim said. "Why didn't we catch this?"
With the boys of the new troop, Hacker wrote in his autobiography, "I fell back into a pattern of taking their pants off. This went on for a year or two. . . . I took turns staying in all the tents getting as close as possible to all of them. I felt all of them were my children." He was caught and arrested. The parents agreed to drop the charges if he got psychiatric help. Troop leaders didn't report Hacker's behavior to national headquarters.
He moved again and landed in the Chicago suburb of Burbank around 1980, where he eventually became director of a municipal agency that ran public parks. He also became assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1600, based in nearby Oak Lawn.
The boys recalled that Hacker loved campouts. He made sure there was one a month. He talked about movies and games they liked. He let them do things their parents wouldn't. He let them steer his car. He brought them Playboy.
He also told them God loves them and they should go to church. Sometimes, the boys testified, he said this during backrubs.
Parents liked Hacker because he had so much time for their children. One mother would drive her son to Hacker's house for tutoring. The boy testified that he and Hacker engaged in sex acts every time. For a while, the boy said, they slept naked together on every campout.
All this went on even though parents were usually on the campouts, sleeping in other tents. Somehow they didn't see that sex was a ritual in Troop 1600, as common as swimming and gathering wood. Hacker regularly measured the boys' genitals to compare their growth. He photographed them nude. They performed sex acts on him and shaved his pubic hair. He wouldn't force himself on a Scout who said no, although children testified that he once had intercourse with a boy while the boy cried.
Some children resisted, but most went along. They were afraid to say no to their Scout leader, and some enjoyed the attention and the secrecy. Hacker didn't pursue all the boys, only those between 10 and 15. He lost interest when the boys developed pubic hair - when they began looking like men.
That's why a Scout troop was perfect for Hacker. A steady supply of 10- and 11-year-old Cub Scouts graduated to his troop.
"Each year more kids were coming in, younger kids," a boy testified. "Each time new kids came in, he would go off to them, so he would like leave you alone."
Ironically, it all ended for Hacker because of a petty theft. In 1987 local police investigated the theft of $575 from a safe in his park office and decided to check the criminal records of key employees. Hacker panicked. He said he didn't take the money, but he paid back $600 to halt the probe. He told police he didn't want his conviction record exposed.
Police went ahead with the investigation, Hacker quit his job, and a local paper, the Southtown Economist, wrote about his criminal record. Parents asked their sons if Hacker did anything sexual to them. Dozens were stunned by the answers; Scouts told tales of sex acts with Hacker dating to 1981.
Two psychiatrists and a psychologist tried to get at the root of Hacker's obsession with boys. One possibility: his relationship with his grandmother.
As a child Hacker routinely shared a bed with her and each would rub the other's back and buttocks. Lawyers argued whether this was the cause of his pedophilia. At the least, his grandmother's back rubs apparently taught him how to seduce boys.
The psychiatrists and the psychologist wondered how Hacker could profess to be a devout Catholic while having sexual relations with boys. "I remember a bizarre conversation we had," Dr. Schwarz testified. "He explained to me that the nuns in school said you couldn't kiss girls because that was sinful, but they never talked about doing things with boys."
Mr. Heinrich, the psychologist, said Hacker's psychosexual development had stopped at age 11. He was fascinated by boys' genitals and sexual development. He had some sex play with boys in high school, Mr. Heinrich said, and never enjoyed a sexual relationship with an adult.
Hacker's attorney argued for treatment, not jail. He got both. He is now at the Menard Psychiatric Center, an Illinois corrections facility.
From there he sent a letter to The Washington Times rejecting a request for an interview, saying he hasn't been in therapy long enough to talk about his problem. He wrote, "May God use you in helping heal and cure a major evil."