The detective called Egelhoff back two weeks later. "I'm really happy you had me find the guy," the investigator said. "He's back in Little League."
When word got around San Bernardino that Watson might have a history as a child molester, two members of the East Base Line Little League board, Tom and Dee Simanek, went to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and called up Watson's name on the Megan's Law CD-ROM sex-offender registry. There he was, complete with his criminal record and even his picture, identified as a high-risk sex offender. "I was hysterical," Dee Simanek says. "This man was in my house, he stayed in my house, and I just couldn't deal with it."
By the time the Simaneks (whose sons were not among those molested by Watson) made their discovery, Watson was a practiced liar and manipulator. After three years at Patton State Hospital, to which a California Superior Court judge had committed him for a maximum of seven years as a mentally disordered sex offender, Watson handwrote a letter in January 1984 seeking an early release: "My crimes (the only ones I ever had are child molest) are not anything to be proud of nor is my history of these crimes something to ignore. I have though...come to grips with many factors and know that my child molesting is something that has been replaced with those normal healthy sexual thoughts that I was afraid to acknowledge for so long.... Given a chance to return to the community, I know I can and will make it."
Watson was out of Patton State Hospital a month later and umpiring and coaching Little League inside a year. He was returned to Patton in June 1985 when a mental health official found that he had concealed his involvement in youth baseball during court-ordered outpatient counseling. He was free 16 months later. Over the next three years Watson remained under the supervision of health authorities but frequently missed counseling sessions. Nevertheless he was released from outpatient therapy in '90; that was the year he became a growing presence on the East Base Line Little League field. That was the year, too, that he began sexually molesting the first of his victims there.
"One of the first things he did was make friends with my parents," says "Mitch," now 18, one of the boys Watson molested for years. "He would start talking to my parents before he even really talked to me."
Watson, who had various jobs, including one as a plumbing-supplies salesman, was single and lived here and there, at times in parents' garages. He spent much of his time around the boys on his team. He played Monopoly and Scrabble and cards with them and their families. He bought one boy an expensive NFL team jacket and Nike shoes. He took some of his players bowling and to the movies. "He was like family," says Mitch's father. "He went on vacations with people, he went on holidays, he was invited over on Christmas morning. He was part of the Base Line family."
"He learned your movements," says Dee Simanek. "He learned what your likes and dislikes were. I took him to the movies for his birthday—to see Star Trek. He would really get into it. He knew I was an Elvis fan, so he bought me all this Elvis stuff. He knew how to infiltrate your family."
Watson smiles faintly when the word infiltrate is repeated to him. "I definitely did that," he says. "My advantage is I have a good personality. People are drawn to me. They want me to shake their hand in public, stand in their pictures. I knew how to be popular in that Little League environment. It gave me a sense of power, but more a sense of belonging, which is something I lacked in my life. When I wasn't around Little League, I was lost. It wasn't just the boys. It was the whole Little League family that I think fell in love with me. But I did a lot of this just for the availability of kids."
Unlike Hughes, Watson didn't use alcohol or pornography to soften his victims. "I felt if I had to use something artificial to get the affection and the gratification I was seeking, it wasn't worth it," he says. "I picked kids who would have been like me at that age—outgoing, active in sports, respectful, someone I could joke around with. It wasn't just about sex. I would be with them for six hours and maybe only 15 minutes of it would be sexual."
Lanning says coach sex offenders often cop this plea. "It is more than sex," he says. "They're out in the sports fields with them, playing ball with them and laughing and joking with them. But what you have to understand is this: If it weren't for the 15 minutes of sex, there wouldn't be the six hours of being together. At some point there has to be sex."