FOXBOROUGH — William E. Sheehan was born in Mansfield but had deep roots in neighboring Foxborough even before he became a teacher there in 1962.
His grandfather, George Jones, founded the local Grange organization, while his uncle, Ernest Jones, was the town’s first Eagle Scout. Sheehan’s father, Edward, operated the town’s first taxi. And William Sheehan established himself in Foxborough as a teacher, a Boy Scout leader, and a recreational swim program coordinator.
But in those deep ties is a terrible truth hidden away for decades: William Sheehan, authorities say, was a serial child sex abuser who has forever changed the town’s psychic landscape.
In September, the town was rocked when the local police chief announced that eight men had reported they were repeatedly fondled, sexually abused, and raped over a period of almost 20 years by Sheehan when they were children.
By last week, that number had risen to 23 local allegations, as well as one in Florida at a Lee County Boy Scout camp that caused that state’s Education Practices Commission to revoke Sheehan’s teaching license there in 1990.
No criminal charges were filed against Sheehan in the Florida case. Foxborough police have charged him with nine felony counts of indecent assault on a child under age 14 and two felony counts of indecent assault on a child age 14 or older in cases involving four of the eight men who reported attacks. David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, said the Massachusetts investigation of Sheehan is ongoing.
But justice may never be fully served because prosecutors say Sheehan, who moved to Florida in 1981 with his wife and two sons, may be too ill now to face any of the charges that could be brought against him. Sheehan is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and may never be deemed cogent enough to be prosecuted, authorities say.
His son, Steven Sheehan, of Fort Myers, said he knew nothing about the allegations against his father.
“I have no prior knowledge,’’ the son said. “I never witnessed anything like that or walked in on anything like that.”
He declined to respond when asked whether his father has a lawyer.
The statute of limitations has run out for prosecuting a number of the allegations. The alleged victims, if they want to pursue a case against Sheehan, may have no choice but to file a civil lawsuit.
As the case unfolds, Foxborough police Detective Timothy O’Leary says he believes it could grow to include as many as 100 victims, maybe more.
Police have heard allegations from the time when Sheehan first came to town, and closer to when he left, but in the middle there’s a big gap yet to be revealed, he said.
Armed with a warrant based on four of the eight cases for which the criminal statute had not expired, prosecutors and O’Leary traveled to Florida in early September to arrest Sheehan. But when they arrived at the Fort Myers nursing home where Sheehan lives, O’Leary said, they found him unresponsive in a wheelchair.
By law, a defendant has to be able to participate in his case for it to go forward.
“We got a warrant to gather intelligence and place him in custody and then discovered he was ill,’’ said O’Leary. “We had no idea. And yes, it was disappointing.”
O’Leary said the mounting evidence against Sheehan is clear.
“This guy was a monster, there is absolutely no sugar-coating that,’’ he said. “It’s Foxborough’s version of [Jerry] Sandusky,’’ the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach recently sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
O’Leary questions why Sheehan’s name was not included in the Boy Scouts’ list of ineligible volunteers and in the “perversion files” the Scouts made public last month about potential child molesters, since Florida’s case for revocation of Sheehan’s teaching license in 1990 was clear-cut.
Sheehan’s registration with the Boy Scouts was suspended in 1989, after he was accused of molesting a minor employee at Camp Miles, a Boy Scout camp in Punta Gorda, during the summers of 1986 to 1989 by hugging him and rubbing up against him in the boy’s bed, and while swimming and promising special benefits like a pay hike and a promotion.
Sheehan denied those allegations in Florida news reports at the time, and spokesman Robert Carpenter of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department in Punta Gorda said recently that any records of the case are long destroyed because there was no arrest.
Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts of America spokesman, declined specific comment about the case, but said, in an e-mail, “I can confirm that this individual is barred from participating in Scouting.” Continued...