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For two years Watson molested Mitch repeatedly. He had not only been his attentive coach—"My best coach ever," Mitch says—but also, in the boy's words, "one of my best friends. He would talk about sex a lot. And to me it just seemed like I was talking to a friend. He kind of inched his way in there to where I felt comfortable talking to him. I trusted him." Watson manipulated Mitch into having sex with him by telling him that one of Mitch's older friends had allowed Watson similar liberties. "It helped make me think it was O.K.," says Mitch.
The boy was clearly trading sex for kindness and attention, and the experience was killing him inside. "I was confused," he says. "I knew I didn't like it. I cried and felt angry about it all the time, but I didn't know what to do to stop it. I knew that if I just stopped going places with him, my parents would say, 'What's up with Norm?' and then I'd have to tell them. I also knew that as long as it was happening to me, it wasn't happening to anybody else. I thought that I could change him, that I could make him stop doing it and still not lose anything from the relationship."
The seductor follows four distinct steps, according to Lanning: "He recruits, he seduces, he molests and then he breaks it off and moves on." Given his preference for boys between 11 and 14, Watson had always told Mitch that one day their relationship would have to end. Mitch recalls, "He told me, 'Soon you're going to get older and you're going to do your own thing.' I didn't really understand what he meant."
Mitch learned soon enough. When he turned 14, he says, Watson started molesting one of Mitch's younger friends, going back and forth between him and Mitch. "When I turned 15, there wasn't much talking to me anymore," Mitch says. "It was all about him and all my [younger] friends.... Honestly, I think I felt kind of betrayed but relieved at the same time that it was finally over." What Mitch didn't know was that Watson had started molesting Mitch's younger brother, "Wayne," then 13. "Norm promised me it would never happen to [Wayne]," Mitch says.
About a year after Watson's jilting of Mitch, the Simaneks found Watson on the sex-offender registry. Watson's world had begun to cave in around him, but not before he appeared to be saved by his hold on other parents. So strong was Watson's grip on the Little League community that when the Simaneks approached incoming board president Cassandra Bassett with the news of Watson's history, Watson was able to convince Bassett and the other members that they had nothing to fear in allowing him to continue to coach. "I know I've changed," he lied. "I'm a good person. I've forgiven myself. That's not me anymore." The board ousted the Simaneks and one member even asked Watson if he needed a lawyer.
"Wouldn't you lie?" Watson asks. "I didn't want to lose what I had. I gave them what should have been an obvious lie—the old 'That's not me anymore.' I gave them the runaround, and they wanted to believe me."
Never is the seductor more vulnerable to being caught than when he breaks off a relationship with a victim. "Now the kid comes to the realization that the guy used him," says Lanning. Mitch, feeling betrayed—doubly so when he learned of the molesting of his younger brother—told his girlfriend and his parents what Watson had been doing to him all those months and turned him in to police. Sitting in the office of the detective assigned to the case, Mike DiMatteo of the San Bernardino sheriff's department, Mitch told DiMatteo the names of all those he suspected Watson of molesting. DiMatteo then confronted Watson, who confessed.
Mitch admits he was torn about whether to break his long silence. "To me [Watson] had been such a friend that it was kind of like I was betraying him," he says. "Not that I wanted to hurt him, but that I didn't want it to happen to other people. Recently I've had a lot of anger, but I don't know. It's hard to explain."
Bassett wasn't the first person fooled by a master seductor, but she still agonizes over her role in defending Watson when the Simaneks divulged his history. When Watson was arrested, Bassett, whose son was not among those Watson molested, was stunned. "I stayed nauseous for a long time, and it still makes me sick to my stomach," she says. "How could that go on right in your face and you not see it? You could tell yourself a hundred times how easy it is, but it doesn't matter. You still feel stupid. You're supposed to be smarter than your children. You're supposed to see these things."
The family of Mitch and Wayne is still lost in grief. The father, who is disabled, thought Watson was a godsend, playing ball with Mitch and Wayne and doing what the dad could not do for his sons. "I had no idea he was using my weakness to get into our lives, to get with our boys," he says. "It is almost unbearable to think of. He destroyed our family."