ON DECEMBER 8, 1977 the district attorney Garrett Byrne from Suffolk County in Massachusetts, which includes all of Boston and three smaller surrounding communities, called a press conference to announce the indictment of 24 men on multiple charges of statutory rape involving boys ages eight to thirteen. The men, according to the DA, had allegedly lured the boys with pot, money, and games, and then raped and photographed the victims. The DA claimed the men were part of a sex ring that was just the “tip of the iceberg” and that there would be more indictments in what was an ongoing investigation. Most of the men were arrested prior to the press conference. Several defendants were arrested out of state where they were held for extradition, and several others fled; some of those may have left the country.
The media coverage never questioned the accused men’s guilt or Garrett Byrne’s assertions, but instead vilified the defendants and published their pictures and their names and addresses (some television stations even put the names and addresses of the accused on screen) despite the constitutional presumption of innocence. Before this affair ended, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court would lose his job in what turned out to be a most bizarre but important subplot, the district attorney would lose his bid for re-election, and the controversial North American Man-Boy Love Association (nambla) would be formed.
The 24 men indicted by Garrett Byrne in December 1977 came from all walks of life, from the headmaster of a prestigious prep school to a bus driver. Some of the men were married with families, and many were respected professionals. To say that their lives were shattered by the indictments is an understatement, since most lost their jobs, many lost their families, and all lost their reputations from the extensive media coverage.
But as the cases unfolded it became clear that many of the facts and accusations were fabricated. Most of the men didn’t know each other. There was no sex ring. The vast majority of the accused men had had sex with one of two fifteen-year-old hustlers from Revere, Massachusetts, sometimes in the apartment of a man named Richard Peluso. Peluso had been having sex with local boys in Revere for fifteen years and was arrested on child molestation charges in June 1977, six months before the sex ring indictments. None of the boys involved was under thirteen.
John Mitzel, who has written the definitive work on these events (The Boston Sex Scandal, Glad Day Books, 1980), explains that the “sex ring” came about as a result of Peluso’s arrest: “Photos seized in Peluso’s apartment were used to identify 64 local youths. All were collared by cops and forced to spit out names. As it turned out, only thirteen agreed to cooperate, mostly under pressure by police, priests, and psychiatrists.” The testimony of those thirteen boys led to the 24 indictments.
Art Cohen is a freelance writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker working in Boston.