In Memory

Bill Bricker (Physical Education Teacher And Boy Scout Leader)

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Ex-Winnetka teacher accused of sex crimes dies


Bill Bricker, 94-year-old former Winnetka teacher accused of sex crimes, dies at his Michigan home

A former North Shore teacher and Boy Scout leader who was accused at age 94 of decades-old child sex crimes has died, ending the prospect that he will stand trial and leaving questions that now will likely remain unanswered.

Bill Bricker, who had been on home confinement in Michigan while fighting extradition to Wyoming, where he was charged with molesting three children at a summer camp, died at about 10 p.m. Friday, his attorney Michael Lewis said.

A Michigan funeral home director said Bricker will be cremated with no services or obituary — a quiet ending for a former Winnetka “man of the year” who mentored countless children for decades.

“The passing of any person is not cause for celebration,” said one man who earlier told the Tribune that Bricker abused him in the 1950s during several scout trips. “However ... I am very pleased that he didn’t leave with the world continuing to adore him.”

Born in 1920, William Hartwell Bricker taught physical education at Hubbard Woods School from 1949 to 1985 and was a Boy Scout leader for even longer, interacting with generations of local children, many of whom also attended the Wyoming camp where he worked every summer. A longtime Winnetka resident who himself attended Hubbard Woods as a boy, Bricker was lauded as a hero upon his return from service in World War II and years later was named Winnetka’s “Man of the Year.” If he had died even a few months earlier, his public legacy might look very different.

But since he was charged last fall with molesting two boys at the Wyoming camp in 1962 and 1985 — a third charge alleging he abused a female camper in 1968 was added later — several people have come forward to the Tribune or authorities to say that they too were molested by Bricker as children, including the son of a man who was Bricker’s superintendent at Winnetka School District 36. Many said Bricker molested them on overnight scouting trips; others said he fondled or kissed them at Hubbard Woods.

The Tribune has revealed that Bricker continued to teach, lead his Scout troop and work at the Wyoming camp long after parents began to complain about him to school officials, starting as early as 1968, records obtained by the Tribune show.

“It’s a sad, sad case,” said Tim Berg, 61, of Evanston, who said he quit the Boy Scouts after Bricker fondled him on his first Scouting trip in the 1960s. Berg said he decided to speak out after learning of Bricker’s arrest.

“Over the past few weeks … I heard more about the school administration ... ignoring warning signs,” Berg said Saturday. “I just hope this leads to more attention on the part of school districts and people in charge of the care of children.”

Another man who said Bricker molested him as a Boy Scout in the 1960s was blunt in his reaction to Bricker’s death.

“I’m glad he’s dead,” said the man, now 62. The Tribune agreed to withhold the man’s name at his request.

“This is a man who did a lot of damage to a lot of people. I am glad he was shamed … before he died,” the man said. “He should have been brought to justice decades ago.”

Peter Kuh, 63, another alleged victim who agreed to be named now that Bricker has died, said his memory of being molested by Bricker has “not been a curse in my life, but ... I kind of feel it’s been good that it’s been exposed.”

Despite the numerous allegations, Bricker had supporters who believe he was treated unfairly by the media in his final months. One Chicago-area man, Jim Foster, described Bricker as his lifelong mentor and inspiration for joining the military, and Foster accompanied Bricker to a recent court appearance in Michigan.

“They should try to canonize this guy,” said Foster, adding that Bricker was not Catholic. “He lived his life with higher values than almost anybody.”

For others, the recent claims against Bricker have been hard to reconcile with their fond memories of the former teacher.

Carter Howard, who knew Bricker from childhood camp-outs in Winnetka and later served on the District 36 school board, said he remembered Bricker as a “relaxed, regular fellow who always seemed fair and straight-up.”

But Howard, now 80, said he was shocked when the accusations about Bricker surfaced last year.

“My first reaction was, ‘These people can’t be telling the truth.’ But now, I’m starting to doubt myself,” Howard said Saturday. “It seems to me that at some point in his life, he must have changed, and turned.”

School district, police and court records, along with dozens of Tribune interviews, showed that concerns about Bricker’s behavior with children were repeatedly raised during his career and that, after his retirement, District 36 officials consulted with Cook County authorities at least once about Bricker.

But those who raised alarms about Bricker said the pressure to avoid a public scandal was intense, and in some cases even Bricker’s accusers were reluctant to pursue a criminal investigation.

The earliest known report against him was in 1968, when a Boy Scout returned to his Winnetka home from a hiking trip and told his father that Bricker had molested him while the two shared a sleeping bag. Records show the claim was brought to school officials, police were notified, other boys stepped forward with similar claims and the superintendent at the time said he believed the claims.

Bricker was removed from an after-school program, yet continued to teach for almost 20 more years. Authorities in Winnetka said no formal complaint was placed on file until 2014, when other alleged victims stepped forward.

The man whose parents made the 1968 complaint said Saturday that he felt “lucky” that he spoke out and that his parents took action.

“I didn’t have to live my life like I was a shadow,” said the man, now 59. “(My parents) had the courage to say, ‘This happened to my son. … We believe him. We stand by our boy.’”

Even after his 1985 retirement, Bricker was allowed to substitute-teach in District 36 for several more years, though by then other complaints had emerged.

Personnel records released by the district include a 1979 memo that describes a meeting with Bricker to discuss “recent complaints,” including that he had too much physical contact with children.

The memo coincides with a woman’s claim last year to Winnetka police that Bricker kissed her on the mouth at Hubbard Woods during an after-school program in 1979. She said her mother complained to a school official at the time, a police report said.

The documents also include a single page of handwritten notes from 1995 that include the cryptic phrase: “Could have 100 children abused.” The notes include a reference to the Cook County state’s attorney and phrases such as: “Letting sleeping dogs lie may be more helpful” and “No proof.” It’s not clear who wrote the notes or whether prosecutors were actually contacted.

A former director of the Wyoming camp also told authorities last year that, in 1998, a former camper told him that Bricker had molested him at the camp several times in 1985, according to the Wyoming criminal complaint. Yet Bricker continued to work at the camp until 2002, a camp lawyer confirmed.

A Chicago man, Murphy Monroe, has told the Tribune that he is the former camper who confronted the camp director in 1998.

Monroe, now 40, is the son of Donald Monroe, who was the District 36 superintendent from 1977 to 1994. Murphy Monroe declined to comment Saturday but last month told the Tribune he decided to speak out to add credibility and a human face to the claims against Bricker.

Former Winnetka resident Steven Siegel has said his late father, a local pediatrician, had learned in 1968 of Bricker’s alleged abuse of a patient of his and made an effort to alert authorities.

“There is the smallest measure of justice with the recent revelations, but not much,” said Siegel. “I wish there could have been a trial, but ... it didn’t happen, and all we got is a sad story.”

Twitter @LisaBChiTrib
Twitter @kcullotta

Winnetka school superintendent's son among alleged Bricker abuse victims

December 31, 2014

Murphy Monroe didn't know why his parents had shown up at his East Coast college unannounced, but when they all sat down for breakfast, his father got right to the point.

"Did Bill Bricker hurt you?"

Monroe's father, Donald, was at the time superintendent of Winnetka School District 36, which had employed Bricker for nearly 40 years as the gym teacher at Hubbard Woods School. Donald Monroe told his son he'd received a letter from a former student who claimed to have been molested as a child by Bricker.

Murphy Monroe had not attended Hubbard Woods, nor was he a member of the Boy Scout troop that Bricker oversaw in Winnetka for decades. But when he was 11, Murphy's parents had sent him to the ranch camp in Wyoming where Bricker worked each summer and that drew many children from Chicago's North Shore.

Yes, he told his parents over breakfast that day in 1993, sharing what he'd told no one except a group of close friends from New Trier High School: Bricker had molested him several times over the five weeks he spent at the camp.

"It was an emotional breakfast, and my parents were very supportive and loving, and immediately tried to figure out a way they could help me," Murphy Monroe, now 40 and a college administrator in Chicago, told the Tribune in a recent interview, the first he's given about the alleged sexual abuse.

Bricker, who is now 94 and is said by his lawyer to be gravely ill, was arrested in September and charged with molesting two boys at the Wyoming camp in 1962 and 1985; he was later accused of a similar crime against a female camper in 1968.

Murphy Monroe says he is the alleged victim behind the 1985 charge. He said he decided to speak out now in part to add credibility and a human face to the claims against Bricker. Besides those who make up the Wyoming charges, several other people have told the Tribune or contacted authorities to say they too were molested by Bricker.

None of them, though, appears to have a parent with such close professional links to Bricker as Donald Monroe.

The elder Monroe told the Tribune in a recent interview that he was devastated by his son's revelation.

"As a father and as a former Winnetka schools superintendent, it's really important to me that it's known that I didn't send my son into a bad situation. … I just didn't know," Donald Monroe said.

Murphy Monroe's revelations, though, raise fresh questions about whether those in authority over Bricker — including school administrators and operators of the Wyoming camp — had fully confronted the gravity of the allegations against him.

Murphy Monroe said that, while still living in Boston after attending college there, he learned that camp operators were hosting a recruiting session for the camp, called a "Roundup," in town. He tracked down the operators at the event and said they reacted with surprise, sadness and compassion when he told them Bricker had molested him.

That was in 1998. Monroe said he was shocked by recent media reports indicating Bricker remained at the camp every summer through 2002, which was confirmed through a camp attorney.

'Oh my gosh'

Donald Monroe's and Bill Bricker's careers in Winnetka District 36 overlapped from 1977, when Monroe became superintendent, to about 1990, when Bricker apparently stopped working as a substitute teacher after his formal retirement in 1985, according to district records.

In 1979, when a Hubbard Woods supervisor approached Bricker about complaints from parents, students and co-workers that he showed too much physical affection to children, a memo on that meeting mentioned "Don Monroe (having) received a call or two" about the claimed behavior. But the memo does not indicate if Monroe was aware that he was cited in the document.

When Bricker retired in 1985, his handwritten resignation letter was addressed to Monroe.

Other documents that have been released by District 36 indicate that school officials were alerted to claims against Bricker as early as 1968 — nine years before Monroe joined the district. Those claims resulted in Bricker being given a psychiatric evaluation and being removed from an after-school program. Police were also notified, according to the district records, but Bricker continued to teach for another 20 years.

Since Bricker's arrest, two women have also come forward to say that they had complained about Bricker's behavior at Hubbard Woods in the late 1970s and early 1980s, respectively, prompting meetings between their parents and a school official. It's unclear if Donald Monroe as superintendent was privy to those meetings.

Donald Monroe said it wasn't until 1993, while he read the claim from the former Hubbard Woods student, that "it dawned on me."

"I thought to myself, 'Oh my gosh. Bricker was at the Teton Valley Ranch Camp when Murphy was there,'" he said in an interview from his Florida home.

Donald Monroe declined to elaborate on district-related matters regarding Bricker.

In a previous interview, before the Tribune learned Monroe's son is an alleged victim, the elder Monroe said he had met with a representative from the Cook County state's attorney's office about the 1993 letter writer's claim, but that nothing came of it because the alleged victim declined to cooperate. A lawyer who worked for the district at the time confirmed this account; the prosecutor's office has said it has no record that a formal investigation was ever launched.

Donald Monroe said it was after his meeting with the state's attorney's office that he and his wife flew to Boston to talk to their son.

Murphy Monroe said that when he told his parents about the alleged abuse, they asked him if he wanted to take the matter to the authorities. But Murphy Monroe said that, at the time, he was more interested in putting the past behind him than in revisiting it, potentially from a witness stand.

He said the alleged abuse had sent him into something of a tailspin and he began to struggle emotionally and in school. He had started to regain his footing at New Trier High School, he said, but going away to college proved to be a big step forward.

Telling his parents also proved cathartic, he said. They arranged for him to see a counselor in the Boston area, where he was a student at Emerson College.

"It was something in my head that I felt I couldn't talk about, but it loomed large," he said of the years he harbored the secret.

'Totally powerless'

Even now, Murphy Monroe retains some fond memories from Teton Valley Ranch Camp: horseback riding on the range, wrangling cattle and hiking through Grand Teton National Park.

He also remembers the larger-than-life figure who presided over evening campfires and who, he said, seemed to take a special interest in him.

"Bricker was like a cowboy who knew the most stories, and who played the harmonica as he led the campfires," Murphy Monroe said. "He was the person at camp who everyone looked up to, so when he started paying extra attention to me, I felt special. He would whisper in my ear and sit next to me at mealtimes, which made me feel protected, because I was definitely homesick."

Just days into his stay at the camp, Monroe said he was awakened late one night by Bricker, who was standing on the rungs of the ladder on his bunk bed, whispering to him and stroking his face.

Monroe said Bricker then moved his hand inside Monroe's sleeping bag and molested him.

"I have a really strong memory of trying to resist him by holding his hand back," Monroe said. "But I was totally powerless."

Monroe said Bricker abused him several times over the five weeks Monroe was at the camp, each time while other campers were asleep in the same cabin.

His story matches the account spelled out in the criminal complaint against Bricker, where the names of alleged victims are blacked out. Wyoming authorities have declined to discuss the case.

Murphy Monroe's account also bears similarities to those of other people who have stepped forward since Bricker's arrest to claim he also molested them at the Wyoming camp or during overnight camping trips with Winnetka Boy Scout Troop 18. Still other people have said that they were kissed or inappropriately touched by Bricker at Hubbard Woods School. The claims date to the late 1950s.

But as has proven to be the case over Bill Bricker's long career, it's not always clear who in authority over him knew what and when about claims against him. Many of those people have declined to talk at all or to address specific questions, don't remember things that took place decades ago, or have since passed away. With Bricker's health and age seemingly making it unlikely he will ever be brought to trial, it's likely that many questions about Bricker will never be fully answered.

What is clear from interviews and from school, court and police records from Wyoming and Winnetka is that Bricker continued teaching physical education in District 36 and working at the camp despite repeated concerns raised about his conduct with children.

Confronts camp directors

Murphy Monroe said he was "very direct" with Matt and Judy Montagne when he confronted them in Boston in 1998, where they were visiting for a camp recruitment event. The Montagnes at the time were among the camp's directors, according to Wyoming court documents.

"I … told them I was molested at camp by Bill Bricker repeatedly, and I thought it was very important that they know this," Monroe said. "I told them, 'I'm a friend of the camp, and I don't want to hurt the camp.' But I needed to tell them that Bill Bricker can't be around kids."

Monroe said the Montagnes "reacted like they were hearing this for the first time."

"I felt believed, I felt heard, and I walked away satisfied that they would do something, which was naive of me, admittedly," he said. "But I had always seen them as people who really cared about kids."

Monroe's account is echoed in the Wyoming criminal complaint, which show that, during their investigation of Bricker earlier this year, Matt Montagne shared the same account with Teton County authorities.

Another man who also was a camp director at the time Monroe attended, Stuart Palmer, told authorities this year that a different former camper had approached him during a 1997 visit to the camp with a similar claim about Bricker, according to the criminal complaint. Palmer told authorities that he had "approached the Montagne's [sic] about the allegation" and wrote an "incident report" about it.

Neither the Montagnes nor Palmer responded to repeated requests for comment. A camp website says Palmer left in 1998.

Records released by District 36 also show a previous camp operator was aware of the 1968 claims against Bricker and wrote a letter staunchly defending Bricker's honor.

An attorney for the camp, Robbin Levy Mommsen, confirmed Bricker last worked at the camp in 2002.

Mommsen said the camp moved to a new location that year and is now under new management and ownership. She said Matt Montagne had remained a member of the camp's advisory group until recently, when he "tendered his resignation and we accepted it."

She was not able to say specifically when Montagne resigned.

No 'desire for revenge'

Despite everything, Murphy Monroe says he's ambivalent about the seemingly dimming prospects of Bricker ever going to trial. Monroe said he had been contacted by Wyoming authorities this year after posting an online comment under a pseudonym about a story that praised Bricker.

"If he were a younger man and if I thought there was a chance he could be with kids again, I'd be handling this very differently. But as his prosecution seems less and less likely, I just want the truth to be out there," Monroe said of the now elderly former camp counselor who was named "Man of the Year" by the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce in 1992.

Monroe's father praised his son's "tremendous courage" in stepping forward and showing "advocacy not just for himself but (for) … others, too."

Murphy Monroe said he feels no "desire for revenge."

"I've felt mental anguish, and the type of suffering it brings, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone," he said. "If anything, it has made me more empathetic."

Tribune reporter Lisa Black contributed.

Twitter: @kcullotta