In Massachusetts, the first allegation against Sheehan, who turned 74 on Nov. 19, was disclosed to Foxborough police in 1998, but at the time officials said the statute of limitations — which is 27 years from reporting, or from a victim turning 16 — had expired, according to O’Leary. Since then, the time frame to bring criminal charges has been frozen in cases where an alleged abuser leaves the state, giving authorities a better chance to investigate, locate the suspect, and file charges.
Sheehan taught at the former Lewis Elementary School, the Igo Administrative Center, Burrell Elementary School, and Ahern Middle School, all in Foxborough, from about 1962 to 1981. He was the swimming director at the former Cocasset River Park, and led Boy Scout Troop 70, now defunct.
O’Leary said Sheehan abused children at various locations including Cocasset River Park, the Ahern Middle School, the Burrell School, and at the Lakeview Road swimming hole.
“They have nightmares about him chasing them around and brutally raping them,’’ he said. “It wasn’t just touching. Those were the mild cases.”
Sheehan also abused children in his home while his wife was in the house, O’Leary said. Catherine Sheehan died in 2009 in Fort Myers.
O’Leary, a policeman for 26 years, said he knows many of the alleged victims and is determined to “tear away the veil of secrecy’’ that has cloaked Sheehan, at the very least.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian represents four of Sheehan’s alleged victims, now ages 53 to 59, and is investigating a fifth case. He said his clients were sexually abused between 1966 and 1979 when they were between ages 8 and 13. Crimes included repeated fondling, sexual exposure, and rape, he said. One victim was sexually abused on a scouting trip to England in 1969, he said.
“Some were molested for years, and two were molested 20 times each,’’ said Garabedian. “In any capacity that he could sexually molest, he would. He knew no bounds. And I have no doubt the number of children he molested is in the hundreds, because pedophiles don’t stop until they are caught, or become infirm.”
Garabedian said he is still exploring whether civil charges can be brought.
“Where were the supervisors, and why didn’t they prevent William Sheehan from molesting children?” he said.
One of Garabedian’s clients, Kevin Corliss, 56, of Norfolk, a 30-year Foxborough school maintenance employee, said Sheehan abused him from ages 8 to 13 in the schools, at Cocasset Park, the Lakeview Road swimming hole, and on scouting camp-outs.
“It happened to me too many times to count,’’ he said. “But I’m moving forward now and there’s no stopping me.”
Foxborough Schools Superintendent Debra Spinelli, who is mandated by state law to report allegations of crime, disclosed Corliss’s allegations to Police Chief Edward O’Leary after Corliss met with her in August and told her what had happened. Long before then, she said, the school district had been working on training to spot sex abuse.
“We have always believed that training is important, because as adults we are more confident in our ability to recognize signs of physical abuse and neglect and less confident on our ability to recognize signs of child sexual abuse,’’ she said.
Detective O’Leary, who is not related to the chief, said Sheehan’s former neighbors talk of an “abrupt” decision by Sheehan to move his family to Florida in 1981 that he attributed to job security under the then-new Proposition 2½ tax limit legislation.
But police suspect someone exerted pressure for him to leave, he said.
“In my opinion, he would have spent the rest of his life in jail on this,’’ O’Leary said.
But Sheehan apparently left town in good standing. In his personnel file, former superintendent of schools Robert F. Weiss praised the 18-year teacher.
“Bill has made a great contribution to the youth of Foxboro, Mass., through his school work, Boy Scouting, and as a Director of the local swimming facility,” Weiss wrote in a reference.
He could not be located for comment on this story.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.