Sex abuse trial less likely for ex-Winnetka teacher, 94
For one man who claims longtime Hubbard Woods Elementary School teacher Bill Bricker molested him decades ago, the possibility that a jury might never decide on his guilt or innocence after all these years is a disappointment. Others who assert they were victimized by Bricker say the allegations finally becoming public is vindication enough.
“Even if he never goes to trial, dies before the trial, or is deemed too ill to go to trial, I’m glad his name has been dragged through the mud,” said a 62-year-old North Shore man who claims he was sexually abused by Bricker during a 1966 Boy Scout camping trip.
“I’m hoping that the Boy Scouts, the Winnetka school district and anyone who swept this under the rug will be shamed by all this and finally come clean,” said the man, who like other alleged victims the Tribune agreed not to name.
Bricker, who spent decades as a teacher and Scout leader in Winnetka, was charged in September with molesting two boys in 1962 and 1985 at a camp in Wyoming, where there is no statute of limitations. But Bricker is now 94 and said to be in failing health, and his lawyers have sought to stop his extradition from his home in Michigan, arguing he is too frail to make the cross-country journey to stand trial.
A decision by a Michigan judge Thursday to have Bricker undergo a psychiatric evaluation will likely further delay a ruling on extradition for weeks, if not months.
Since Bricker’s arrest at a Traverse City, Mich., nursing home, several other men and women who grew up in Winnetka have come forward with claims Bricker fondled, kissed or otherwise had inappropriate contact with them decades ago.
Tim Berg, 61, of Evanston, said he had assumed Bricker had died long ago until he read a recent news article about his former Boy Scout leader. Berg told the Tribune this week that Bricker fondled him during Berg’s first and only camping trip with the Boy Scouts in a Cook County forest preserve in the mid-1960s.
“At this point, I am dismayed that it looks like he may not ever come to justice or have to face any of his accusers on this one,” said Berg, who never shared his claim with his parents or complained to authorities. “That makes me sad.”
Another man who asserts Bricker molested him during a Boy Scout camping trip in 1968 — a claim that Winnetka District 36 documents show was brought to the attention of school officials at the time — said that, at this point, he’s more concerned about Bricker’s alleged victims than the fate of the former teacher himself.
“I don’t really care what happens to him, as long as he doesn’t hurt anybody. I just hope the people who had to deal with him and what he’s (accused of doing) … can find some peace of mind,” the man said. “Whether he’s in Michigan in some hospital sleeping 17 hours a day or ends up in a Wyoming hospital … as long as he can’t hurt anybody, I don’t care.”
Bricker, who taught physical education at Hubbard Woods from 1949 to 1985, is accused of taking “immoral and indecent liberties” with the two boys at a Wyoming summer camp attended by many children from the Winnetka area.
The decision on Bricker’s mental competency will be limited to determining if he knows his own identity and can remember being in the state of Wyoming during the alleged crimes, Grand Traverse County prosecutor Robert Cooney said.
Cooney said he’s been contacted by people who claim Bricker molested them and “they want justice.”
But if Bricker is deemed incompetent, Cooney said, “then it gets more complicated.”
There are also indications that, whatever the judge decides, the losing side will appeal, raising the likelihood of more delays. Michigan authorities said it could be months before a competency exam is completed and a new hearing scheduled.
Since Bricker’s arrest, attorney Michael Lewis said his client has been in home hospice care, has become progressively more ill and is now sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day. Bricker was allowed to skip the hearing Thursday, and a woman who answered the door at his Glen Arbor, Mich., home after the court proceedings said no one there wished to comment.
“Frankly, he’s probably not going to be here much longer,” Lewis said in court Thursday. He asked that the mental competency hearing be held at Bricker’s home rather than at the jail or another location.
School and police records indicate that, as early as 1968 and continuing into the 1990s, after Bricker had retired from Hubbard Woods, complaints about Bricker molesting or having inappropriate physical contact with children were brought on multiple occasions to the attention of school officials.
But Bricker, who spent much of his childhood in Winnetka and returned after World War II as something of a local hero, was viewed by many local residents as a popular mentor and leader. Many people who knew him growing up in Winnetka have spoken out in support of him.
A 61-year-old California man and Eagle Scout who alleges that he was molested by Bricker during a Winnetka Boy Scout Troop 18 ski trip to Michigan in 1966 also said he realizes that Bricker’s poor health might mean he may never go to trial. Still, he said he is satisfied Bricker’s alleged sex crimes against children have finally been revealed.
“I’m really glad that this has seen the light of day and come out, whatever happens,” he said. “I heard from the authorities in (Wyoming), and it sounds like they know this is an unusual case and that they’re facing an uphill battle. But they think they have some very strong witnesses who want to take this to trial, and that’s a good thing. This guy is not going to go out looking like St. Bill.”
Tribune reporter Karen Ann Cullotta reported from Winnetka