When I watch documentaries about the worst evils done during the Holocaust of World War II, or read books about the host of horrors mankind has wrought upon its fellow human beings, I occasionally wonder what it would have been like to have been confronted by the people who committed these horrendous crimes against humanity.
Sadly, I wonder no more on the score of knowing one of the most wretched of criminals, the pedophile who sexually preys on young children. A year ago yesterday, as it happens, a friend e-mailed me that Bruce Downsbrough, a former co-worker of ours at the University of Tennessee, had been arrested in his office at the UT Foundation, on May 28, 2013.
Since we heard a postal service agent was involved in the arrest along with a Knoxville Police Department officer, I assumed Bruce’s crime had something to do with trafficking in child pornography, perhaps sending it through the mail system. At that time I did not know that the U.S. Postal Service is also responsible for Internet-based pornography as well. But when we heard the case against our former co-worker, we learned that his crimes did not end with possessing pornography, but included molesting young boys in Colorado in 1986. It would take a full year of hearings before Bruce was sentenced just a few days ago.
As the Knoxville News Sentinel summarized in its front-page article regarding his sentencing to 121 months (basically 10 years) on May 17, 2014, “Downsbrough had been convicted of molesting two boys in the 1980s, and molested two other boys for which he was never investigated. He downloaded more than 20,000 images of child pornography–some of toddlers forced into sex acts. . . . of sadistic and masochistic and other violent behavior involving children under age 12, records state.
“He was earning $202,000 annually as the chief operating office[r] of the fundraising organization for UT.” Yes, he was well compensated.
And yes, he was a high-ranking officer for 10 years representing the university that I loved and worked for nearly all my adult life. Heartbreaking, but true. I met Bruce when he was hired in 2003 to head the university’s system-wide advancement services office which is responsible for the university’s database of alumni and donor records. I was director of development communications in the system-wide office so our paths infrequently crossed.
When a few years later I took on additional responsibilities during our $1 billion capital campaign, my office was only a few doors down from Bruce’s corner office in UT’s administration building. In the ensuing years, he had been promoted to chief operating officer of the UT Development and Alumni Affairs office and eventually the COO of the UT Foundation. Although he did everything he could to be obsequious and indispensable to his superiors and adopted an amiable “hail fellow, well met” attitude with his peers, he left in his wake a sea of demoralized people who either reported to him or somehow unwittingly provoked his wrath.
Those of us who found ourselves the targets of his dark side had no doubt that Bruce enjoyed inflicting pain and watching people squirm. He relished striking at the less powerful and could be ruthless, cruel, petty, mercurial, and immature. Due to the amount of power he wielded in our office, we all tried to stay in his good graces.
He could be jovial when he wanted to be, wearing a red Rudolph-the-Reindeer nose at Christmas events, and telling us about his singing in the Knoxville Choral Society. In fact, one of his friends in the choral society offered to allow him to stay with her if the judge allowed him to go free pending trial. But the judge, quite rightly, declined to release Bruce, calling him a flight risk since in the weeks before he was arrested he had applied for a passport to replace the one that was taken when he was convicted of child molestation in 1986.
Bruce’s friends and former colleagues at the University of Tennessee and the University of Colorado in Boulder were appalled to find that the man they enjoyed a laugh and a drink with could be capable of child molestation and possession of child pornography. His fellow prep school 1971 alums at Montclair Academy (now Montclair Kimberley Academy) were no doubt aghast to hear that their childhood friend was in jail after seeing Bruce in such good spirits at their 40th reunion in 2011.
A good prep school would have been a must for the younger son of George Downsbrough Sr., who was president of HRB Singer Co., a defense contractor in State College, PA., and his wife Margaret.
Although Bruce’s father, a physicist, received all three of his degrees at Rutgers, his parents philanthropically supported Penn State which is also located in State College. Shortly after their father’s death in 2004, Bruce and his brother George Jr., established a $3 million endowment in their parents’ names to support a chair for the head of the physics department at Penn State. See full story on the Penn State Web site below.
According to State College’s daily paper the Centre Daily Times, Graham Spanier, president of Penn State at the time the Downsbroughs’ endowed chair was announced, is currently “on trial for perjury, obstruction of justice, child endangerment and related charges in connection with the Jerry Sandusky scandal.” Further they report that, “State prosecutors allege Spanier and former colleagues Tim Curley and Gary Schultz conspired to hide abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago, though their lawyers have maintained their innocence.”
Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2014/03/31/4112546/graham-spanier-lawyer-seeks-injunction.html#storylink=cpy
Top university officials at Penn State have been charged with an effort to hide that child molestation was witnessed and reported by Mike McQueary in 2002, a graduate student who would become an assistant football coach, who saw Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a shower in the Penn State sports complex. Up the chain of command the report went from McQueary to legendary football coach Joe Paterno to his boss the athletic director Tim Curley to the vice president Gary Schultz to President Graham Spanier.
And the conspiracy of silence, as it has aptly been called, allowed Sandusky to continue molesting young boys for 9 more years. He was indicted on 52 counts of crimes against children in 2011, four counts were dropped, but he was eventually found guilty of 45 of 48 counts, and is serving at least 30 years on a 60-year sentence.
Although associated, one would imagine, with people who live in the shadows, child pornography and pedophilia have increasingly become a crime that has surprising participants. On May 21, USA Today, reported that New York had uncovered a child pornography ring that included, as they describe: “Two police officers, a rabbi, a registered nurse, a nanny and a Boy Scout den leader are among 70 men and one woman arrested on charges of trading child pornography in what federal officials say is one of the largest-ever roundups in the New York City area.”
Full story at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/21/child-porn-nyc-internet/9367471/
Too many people do not understand that child pornography is never a victimless crime. Never. The person who looks at digital child pornography is usually a person who has photos to share of their own, and they send them to other pedophiles to receive more of the same and the web of unspeakable horrors goes on for children, toddlers, and even babies.
Lauren Schuette, manager of the Child Victim Identification Program at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says, “The nature of child pornography is that this is not ‘stranger danger’. We may not know who they are, but we know they are in a home, and they are with the people they trust the most.”
Often the perpetrator is a stepfather and the victim a young girl, but the Catholic Church’s scandal of pedophilia showed that priests targeted young boys and girls. Lives are shattered, and the perpetrators should be held accountable, imprisoned where they can do no harm ever again. Not shunted from parish to parish where the Catholic Church hierarchy allowed pedophiles to continue their crimes.
As for me, there was a brief time I felt sorry for Bruce because he talked about how he preferred Colorado, made it clear he did not enjoy our hot Southern climate, and seemed like a fish out of water. I invited him to a few get-togethers my husband and I had in our home. But my friendly overtures were not reciprocated when Bruce decided I was treading on his turf at work and yelled obscenities at me during a meeting in our vice president’s office. I left the meeting immediately and returned to my office where Bruce appeared at my door a half hour later with flowers and a half-hearted apology.
Early in his evolving story to investigators, Bruce tried to justify his pornography possession as an attempt to keep from acting on his perverse impulses. However, he admitted during initial questioning that he had worked for the American Boychoir School in Princeton, NJ. A man trying to stay away from children would certainly not have sought work in a boy’s organization.
To our particular revulsion, Bruce showed an interest in my then-14 year-old son. At a dinner party, Bruce met my son and talked very attentively to him at dinner. Afterward he told my husband and me that he would be pleased to keep my son the next time we traveled abroad. Although we did not know of his tendencies at that time, we found his idea inappropriate and would have under no circumstances taken him up on his offer.
Yes, we knew something was amiss with Bruce, but we did not know he was a pedophile. In retrospect, the signs were there because we never heard him speak of dating or having a partner, and he had what I can only describe as a too-attentive interest in young boys. One of our co-workers related a story that Bruce told him about his [Bruce’s] getting out of the shower in front of his young godson. We found the story bizarre and unnatural but in any case had no proof of what we had heard.
I was hoping that Bruce would be held accountable for his crimes by being sent to a federal, maximum-security facility to serve his time among other dangerous criminals. But the News Sentinel article reported he is being sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado, to serve 121 months in prison. This club-med, low-security, “white-collar crime” facility is currently home to Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, serving 14 years for wire fraud, extortion, and bribery; Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of Enron for insider trading and securities fraud; and Mike Carona, the former sheriff of Orange County convicted of witness tampering.
His attorney said Bruce should serve in Colorado because he has friends and family there. Since his only brother George lives in Pennsylvania and said in court testimony that he is not close to Bruce, I am not sure what family they are referring to. But with his slap-on-the-wrist 10 years, he could be out of prison on “good behavior” and time already served in half the time, or less.
Federal Judge Thomas Varlan sentenced the 61-year-old Bruce Downsbrough to a fine of $75,000, supervised probation for 10 years after his release, with the stipulation that he stay from children and known sex offenders. He must “get permission” to have a device that can access the Internet and submit to polygraph exams to ensure he does not violate his parole. And as the News Sentinel said, Varlan ordered that Bruce “pay $5000 to each of the five children identified in his pornography collection.”
That’s it? That’s holding him accountable? No, that’s not holding him accountable. We can only hope that Colorado, where he built a house a few years ago and plans to live upon release, will be able to appropriately monitor this sexual predator. Digital sharing of child pornography has made it easier for predators to feed their habits, but it also has made it easier for investigators to uncover their networks. The whole subject frankly makes me sick to my soul, but to look away and not educate myself on the subject does nothing to help children.
I do know this: just because a sexual predator has over $1 million in assets, he should not be able to plea bargain down to going to a white-collar prison for a few years of “soul searching and self reflection”, as Bruce said he has done over the past year in jail awaiting his sentencing. That is not accountability and it is not justice.
// Anna – 5/29/2014
Wonderful article Anna.
Thank you for reading my blog and letting me know your thoughts!
i am Nathan. was this sick when i was 11 years old. i dont know why someone like this got away. i thought it was my fault. and know i think of how sick someone like this would do this. i am 41 now. and i still wonder how such sick gets away . i dont wish sorry only understanding . this is not what any must go through. and he will face justice in this life or the next . i know this.
I am so sorry for the loss of your childhood to a pedophile. I will never understand how our society allows so many of these predators to walk freely among us after they have been found guilty. Terribly sad.
This is a wonderful post about the “conspiracy of silence” that surrounds child pornography and child sexual abuse. Shame on the University of Tennessee for hiring and employing a pedophile for 10 years.
WOW… don’t really know what to say as I’m too numb. Thank You for bringing this to light Anna.
Thanks do much for sharing your thoughts and for reading my blog. This was definitely a difficult post to write but I think it is important to speak out on behalf of the children who he could harm when he is released from prison. If even one person is more aware of what can happen, it’s worth it.
I was sexually abused by Bruce from 1982 -1985. I still experience guilt and shame. He was a friend of my parents and my younger brother and I would spend weekends at his boulder, colorado homes when my parents needed a sitter. As an adult, when I brought this to light, my parents quit talking to me for a period of time. He is the worst kind of privileged, controlling s.o.b. I have ever met.
Words fail me, Jeffrey. We knew Bruce’s cruelty at work, but hearing what he did to you brings tears to my eyes. And the abomination was made worse when your parents would not believe you. There were plenty of our fellow co-workers who made excuses for him and made efforts to minimize his actions. Those of us who bore the brunt of his sadism knew the evil behind the facade. It infuriates me that so many “good people” choose to look the other way. Not calling these monsters what they are truly are helps perpetuate the evil. My heart goes out to you.
I was sexually assulted by Bruce from 1982-1986. When his first molestation case came to light, my step father asked my step brother and I in a defensive, accusatory tone, “He didn’t ever touch you? Did he?” My brother looked at me, and I back at him, and in unison we said no. I have blocked many of these memories from my mind…over the years I have written off the rest as ” rights of passage”. I’m sure prison can’t be easy for someone as privileged and condescending as bruce. What irritates me beyond belief is that, upon release, he will retire to one of his properties in Breckenridge colorado to enjoy the rest of his days. As a man in his 70’s, long gone will be the days of his sexually impulses. I’m sure he will still delight in all of his victims that kept “our little secret”.
Justice doesn’t often occur in the sphere of the worst crime perpetrated on a child. A pedophile should never be released from prison because ample research tells us that they are not rehabilitatable. In my close-up observation of Bruce’s interactions with others, I concluded he is a narcissist and a sociopath. No one exists in his world except himself. He should never be allowed to retire to one of his comfortable homes. In my view, his estate should be taken from him and offered to his victims to make what little restitution money can provide when innocence and a person’s childhood and personhood are taken away. If his victims do not want his money, his estate should be given to groups that fight the silence and help the victims. I am convinced Bruce’s having a privileged background with a father whose company did work for the NSA aided his predatory behavior because his early crimes were hidden from public view. This silence multiplied his chances to prey on other children. That’s why I decided to write this blogpost–although in some respects I feel dirty just associating myself with Bruce and his crimes. But telling the truth about what he did may make it harder for him to do the same evil when he is released from prison. I do hope they keep him under close observation during whatever parole period they have, but I believe they can never be vigilant enough to keep him from doing it again. He should never be released. Regardless of what he did, I hope you have been able to live a full life–although it must have been very difficult for you. I wish I had more than words to offer you, but I hope you find peace.
Thank you for your kind words and understanding. I feel it is important to raise awareness of a predator like bruce. Thank you for this. While my life has had its ups and downs, I haven’t let his contributions define me. Criminal statute of limitations have kept me from filing legal action against him, and I still feel guilty about not bringing this to light as a child. Maybe others wouldn’t have had to go through this if I had… I have also considered civil litigation but in my heart I know money isn’t going to make things better for me. I do like your idea of donating to organizations to help victims. Thank you.