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Alcohol, pot and porn all played a part in Hughes's scenarios for seduction. First Hughes captured the hearts, minds and trust of the parents. One single mother invited him to holiday dinners and her children's birthday parties. "He was very sensitive," she says. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. I never knew anything was going on." Another couple, wanting to go out to celebrate their wedding anniversary, had Hughes baby-sit their 13-year-old football-player son at Hughes's house. While the parents were out, Hughes molested their boy. "I feel real betrayed," says the mother. Hughes was described by more than one parent as a "great guy" who provoked no strong suspicions over the large amounts of time he was spending with the boys.
In 1984 Hughes had been convicted on two counts of taking "indecent liberties" with a child in a community near Stream-wood and was sentenced to four years probation. This didn't come to light during the years he coached in Streamwood because no one looked into his past. Hughes resigned in late 1996 after Streamwood Park District officials decided to do criminal background checks on all of their volunteer coaches; Hughes objected strenuously to the checks. When he quit, he told parents he had "scheduling conflicts" at work. The parents were still ignorant of his past, and Hughes continued to come around and hang with the boys at some practices and games. "He was still very involved talking to the kids," says the father of the victim for whom Hughes had babysat.
Hughes seemed an ideal companion for the boys. "He was a nice, nice man," the mother of one victim says. "The kids idolized him. A real fun-loving guy. He was just a big kid at heart. The boys liked him so much. They'd have done anything for him."
Through one victim after another, Hughes's modus operandi was remarkably similar from the summer of 1996 through May '97, when he was having the sleepovers, usually for one child at a time. "We thought he was having a bunch of boys over," one parent said. Typically, Hughes would take the boy for a ride in his car, give him Mountain Dew laced with Seagram's Seven—sometimes Hughes would also offer the kid marijuana—and then drive him to Hughes's place, where he would pop a pornographic flick into the VCR. While the movie was showing, he would massage the boy's shoulders and eventually molest him.
That Hughes could follow this routine with a succession of boys before he was caught isn't surprising. "In these cases the kids almost never tell," says Lanning, who lectures on child sexual abuse to police investigators. "I've been talking about this dynamic for a long time. It's not uncommon, when I finish a class, that a police officer will come up and say that something like that happened to him when he was a boy: 'I've never told anybody about this.' I say, 'Why are you telling me?' He says, 'You described exactly what happened to me. So I knew you'd understand.' "
There are numerous reasons why children don't report sexual exploitation. Adolescent boys fear being teased about having had sex with a man. "The stigma of homosexuality—probably much the worst thing that can happen to a boy," Lanning says. They also fear that their parents might, in Lanning's words, "go ballistic," and they're embarrassed that they have been victimized and duped. "I didn't want people finding out what was happening," one of Hughes's victims says. "I was flabbergasted when he did it to me. I didn't know what to say. I was high on pot and drunk, and I thought, I better go along. He was my coach! I was embarrassed about it. I'm still embarrassed about it."
Societal ignorance about the nature of pedophilia is another thing that keeps victims from coming forward. "These kids get to the point where they are willing to trade sex for attention, affection, kindness, gifts or money," says Lanning. "People say, 'Who'd do that?' The answer, as best I can figure out, is just about everybody." Much easier to understand, of course, is the child who claims he didn't tell because the abuser threatened his life. "That's what we want to believe," Lanning says. "The guy had a giant machete hidden in his closet, and he told me he would cut off my genitals and murder my dog if I told. We'd all be ecstatic over that. That's what we want to believe: Fear and threats of violence. When the boy tells something more probable, like trading sex for kindness and attention, society doesn't understand that.... They don't tell because, correctly, they recognize that society doesn't understand what happened to them, doesn't understand the seduction process."
So reluctant are victims to come forward and so persistent are pedophiles that Hughes and Watson would surely still be molesting children today had fate not intervened. In the spring of 1997, around the time that Hughes, who worked as a salesman for a video company, abused three boys at once in his office—he molested the boys one at a time while the other two watched—the mother of another victim was folding her son's underwear and putting it in a drawer when she saw, hidden among the clothes, a letter written by her son to his girlfriend. All she noticed at first was the word drunk, written in large letters. Curious, she read the letter. It told how Hughes had gotten the boy drunk and then "sexually harassed" him. After showing the letter to another football mother, she confronted her son and told him they needed to report Hughes to the police. The boy got angry. "Just leave it alone!" he told her.
"He was only 13, and he was scared and embarrassed," the mother says. "He thought he was the only one involved." She reported Hughes to authorities. Soon, under police questioning, other boys told similar tales, and Hughes was called in for questioning. He confessed. Hughes has been in jail ever since. He was originally accused of molesting nine boys, but that was reduced to eight when the boy whose letter to his girlfriend had launched the investigation died in a minibike accident.
In Watson's case, Michael Egelhoff, who had been molested by him as an 11-year-old Little Leaguer in Riverside in 1975, was so haunted by that abuse that he asked a private detective to see if Watson was still coaching children. The incident had occurred 23 years before, and Egelhoff was now living in Portland, but his own two children were becoming increasingly active in sports, and the thought of them playing and the memory of what happened to him pushed Egelhoff to find his old seducer. "It just really bugged me," says Egelhoff. "This guy had a mysterious way of brainwashing people, and I just kind of clammed up about it for many years. Something stuck in my brain, and it just kept nagging at me.... Something kept telling me that this guy didn't quit."