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Secret Boy Scout File Sheds Light on Redmond Sex Abuse Case

Documents dating to 1961 show how scouting and police officials responded when a group of Boy Scouts returned early from a camping trip and alleged misconduct on the part of a leader. This is Part I of a two-part series.

ON THE MORNING of July 26, 1961, five Boy Scouts from Redmond’s Troop 423 unexpectedly left their camp near the Foss River, hiked nine hours to the highway and got a ride into Skykomish, where they called their parents to come get them.

They had left their fellow Scouts, their scoutmaster and the scoutmaster’s brother, Neil Stensland, “without permission, but left a note that they were leaving.”

Why the boys left and how police and scouting officials responded to concerned parents is detailed in documents included in the so-called “perversion files” the Boys Scouts of America released under order of the Oregon Supreme Court on Oct. 18.

Stensland, who died in 2004 at the age of 78, is one of thousands of suspected child abusers whose names were included in the files. Three other Redmond files were listed on a database compiled by the Los Angeles Times, but Stensland's file is the only one currently available online, through an overlapping database made public by a Portland, OR, law firm that won an $18.5 million civil settlement for the right to release the documents.

The 33-page Stensland file contains mostly letters between Seattle-based Boy Scout officials and Basil F. Starkey, the organization's New Jersey-based director of registration. Much of the correspondence concerns the actions of scout officials following the boys’ early return from the eight-day camping outing, led by Scoutmaster Dick Stensland and his brother, Neil, identified as a former Redmond neighborhood commissioner.

‘Conflicting stories of maltreatment’

The day after the five boys hiked out, parents gathered at a Redmond home to decide what to do about the rest of the campers, which included boys from Troop 613.

In an Aug. 16, 1961, letter to Starkey written on letterhead belonging to a Seattle law firm, Charles Osborn, president of the Chief Seattle Council, states that he and two other regional scouting officials attended the parent meeting after Osborn "realized that this could be a very serious situation with possible adverse publicity." Russell Thorp, the Redmond police chief, and a sergeant also attended and interviewed each of the five boys separately, according to Osborn.

The file presents conflicting information on what the boys reported to their parents and police, at one point indicating "they were dissatisfied with the hiking conditions and that they were particularly critical of the food and lack of food," and at another stating that "they didn't like one of the hike leaders, Neil Stensland ... because of his personal conduct and that they didn't want to continue with the hike."

According to Osborn's letter, "no boy reported any overt act of misconduct on the part of Neil Stensland. The nearest thing to misconduct was a statement by one boy that Neil placed his hand on his thigh while going through a cave."

But a letter from a troop mother, whose name has been redacted throughout the file, presents a different account. The handwritten letter, dated Aug. 4, 1961, and addressed to the "National Council, Boy Scouts of America, New Brunswick, N.J.," reports that the scouts "told conflicting stories of maltreatment mixed with sex perversion" and urges officials to "investigate the Do Nothing attitude taken by representatives of the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America in the recent morals case in Redmond, Washington!"

Osborn's letter indicates that at least two parents at the meeting wanted to send in rescue crews to retrieve the remaining boys. He states the idea was rejected by police and scouting officials because of the difficulty in safely reaching the group before their planned return and because of a lack of evidence against Stensland.

"There was nothing in the report of any boy which indicated that any scout was in any physical danger," Osborn wrote.

But Thorp apparently forwarded the matter on to the King County Sheriff's Office, which arrested Stensland when he returned from the hike two days later.

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Coming Tuesday: As police investigated the allegations against Stensland, local and national Boy Scout officials defended their decision not to interrupt the camping trip and bring the other boys home early. Their correspondence also highlights steps the officials took to avoid “more unfortunate publicity” amid an apparent desire to prevent the organization from being connected to the case.

Lauren Padgett (Editor) October 30, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Good story, Caitlin! Thank you for bringing this issue to life through researching the documents. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.
Caitlin Moran October 30, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Thanks, Lauren! Part II is here: http://patch.com/A-zbxF

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