Everyone has experienced it—you see or hear about a blatant crime and you think or say aloud, “Someone should do something about that!” The crime can be as simple as a reckless driver weaving in and out of traffic (“Where is the highway patrol when you need them? But if I pick up the cell phone while the car is moving, and I get caught, I’ll get a ticket!”), to an acquaintance bragging about how he’s not paid income taxes in 10 years (“I’m scrimping to pay my taxes and this fool is getting away with not paying! Not fair! But what can I do to not bring attention to myself?”)
Most of the time we shrug it off and assume, “Oh well, he/she will get caught eventually.”
But in 2005, journalist and human rights activist Victoria Balfour made the decision not to turn away and wait for someone else to initiate justice. A chance encounter with an unemployed photo researcher in 2002 was the beginning of Balfour’s involvement with a child molestation case on the other side of the United States—a case (unfortunately) 40 years in the making.
During an innocent conversation between the New York-based Balfour and her friend "Steve," who’d contacted Balfour through a mutual friend looking for advice on how to start a freelance writing career, Steve asked Balfour what kind of writing she had done in the past. A former feature writer for publications such as People and Ladies’ Home Journal, Balfour had recently begun to specialize in personal reflection essays, and mentioned a piece she’d done about her grandmother’s eating disorder that had been published in Vogue. In the article Balfour mentioned that she’d been molested as a child, and she told Steve how enraged her parents were that she’d mentioned that in the piece.
Steve blurted out that he’d been molested too—at the age of 12, by a child psychiatrist in San Mateo, California.
After a few conversations, Balfour was able to coax much of the horrific story out of the man. Steve was a patient of Dr. William Ayres for five years as a teen, though he’d managed to blank out much of that time period. He wasn’t able to wipe out the specific memory of the details of his abuse—and neither he nor Balfour then knew it was a pattern of abuse starting in 1966 with possibly hundreds of troubled teenage boys.
Steve stated as part of his therapy, Ayres asked him if he masturbated. The boy answered that he did, and Ayres then asked if he ever got “sore” from it. The good doctor then produced a bottle of lotion he claimed would help with the soreness, and proceeded to stimulate the boy to ejaculation, all the while assuring him that this was a normal part of therapy.
Balfour listened to Steve, and finally encouraged him to report the crime to San Mateo police, which he did in September 2002. This was not the first time the authorities had heard accusations against Ayres—the first known complaint against the child psychiatrist was filed in 1987. San Mateo police investigated that claim (the molestation occurred in 1985), deemed it unfounded, and it was never reported to prosecutors. Evidence from that complaint, including the police file and a check from Ayres for $1000 sent to the boy’s mother as an “accounting error” was reported missing in 2005.
A pair of complaints were received in 1994, with one victim filing his complaint with the state medical board and the second, an inmate in Folsom Prison, telling a nurse he’d been molested by Ayres during court-ordered sessions. The person filing the medical board complaint claimed he’d been abused in 1966, but board investigators have been unable to locate the man. The Folsom inmate has refused to cooperate with investigators.
San Mateo police were taking Steve’s complaint seriously, but the investigation came to an abrupt halt when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California state law that had retroactively extended the statute of limitations for child molestation cases.
Steve then sought relief in civil court, and received a settlement of $395,000 from Ayres in 2005. Still trying to find a way to stay in control, Ayres tried to influence the selection of a trustee for the funds and wanted an annual report on how the money was spent—claiming he wanted the money used on treatment and not however the family wished to spend it. The court denied Ayres’ demands.
During the civil case, Balfour continued to act as an investigator, pursuing leads using tools learned as a journalist, including posting messages on various boards. By 2005 she’d located 15 possible victims of Ayres, and began to push the San Mateo County authorities to take action.
In the fall of 2005, one alleged victim contacted Balfour by e-mail and wrote: “I’m not strong enough to pursue anything. It makes me very depressed. The (San Mateo) police, courts, city officials will never tell the truth. It will make them look bad. No way will they do that for me.” Two weeks later he was dead, killed in a motorcycle crash.
Balfour went into overdrive, e-mailing San Mateo Police Captain Mike Callagy, asking that they find a way to locate new possible victims of Ayres, who was no longer receiving San Mateo County Juvenile Court referrals (but only since December 2003!). Balfour turned over her list of possible victims, along with contact information and dates of alleged molestation, which detailed a pattern of abuse inflicted upon vulnerable teenage boys.
A few days after she turned over the information, Captain Callagy e-mailed Balfour and wrote, “I know the amount of work that you put (into) this has been unbelievable. I am personally going to write the search warrant.”
In March 2006, police served a search warrant on Ayres’ home and a storage locker, seizing a total of 800 patient records. Ayres was arrested because of evidence of abuse on three boys within the statute of the law. Following his arrest, Ayres was charged with molesting four additional boys.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle , after charges against Ayres had been filed, more than a dozen former patients stepped forward with claims that they’d also been victims of abuse.
In an article in the SF Chronicle, Captain Callagy said of the pending court case: “What is most important is that these victims came forward. I don’t know if the victims would have come forward without her (Balfour’s) encouragement.”
The criminal case against Dr. William Ayres, now 77 years of age, was filed in April 2007. On August 7, 2007, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Karesh ruled that there is probable cause to believe that Ayres molested seven male patients between the ages of 8 and 13, between the years of 1988 and 1996.
Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan presented evidence of abuse on 22 former patients of Ayres via testimony of police officers who had questioned the men.
As of August 2007, more than three dozen men have publicly accused Ayres of molestation, but California law now required that those charges be brought before the accuser turns 29 years of age (if it occurred after January 1, 1988). If the crime happened before 1988, it has to be prosecuted within eight years.
Ayres’ defense attorney—a name we know well at T & T—Doron Weinberg questions the reliability and credibility of the witnesses, one of whom is serving time at San Quentin. Weinberg has successfully deployed the delay delay delay tactic in this case, and has recently petitioned the court—and received—yet another delay. The trial was to commence on May 11, but because Weinberg is “busy” with the sentencing of Phil Spector, the start date for Ayers’ trial was moved yet again to June 1, when a group of fine citizens of San Mateo County will show up for jury duty.
And yes, Victoria Balfour plans to spend her summer in Northern California, as a witness to the proceedings, and an advocate for those who did not think justice was possible.
More to come, including additional background on the case and closer look at the career of Dr. William Ayres. T & T will likely have a blogger in place for opening and closing arguments, and also plans to post regular reports on this case from San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City.
Retired child psychiatrist facing molest charges was never far from controversy
Case against psychiatrist took years to assemble: Writer and advocate for alleged victims pushed molest probe
Retired child psychiatrist must stand trial: Judge rules there is probable cause in molest allegations