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The worst predator

Dean Schwartzmiller may have molested thousands of kids in seven states over 35 years. Dateline reconstructed his trail— and how he repeatedly beat the system. John Larson reports.

For generations parents have warned their children about “the stranger”: Don’t take candy, accept a ride, or even talk to somebody you don’t know.

But what if that somebody is a family friend? Somebody parents know and trust?

Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller, a suspected child molester, made a point of befriending parents to gain access to their children.  When he was arrested last year in San Jose, Calif., police found ledgers and diaries detailing thousands of sexual assaults against children.

But if so many crimes had taken place, how did Schwartzmiller, through the years, avoid arrest and prosecution?

John Larson has reconstructed the trail of the man who could be the worst child molester ever to be taken into custody.

It reads like a script to a horror movie, and it begins in Alaska and switches to Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington.

But it is no movie. It is the horrifying, true story of a man police believe is the worst sexual predator of our time.

The full story of Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller was mostly unknown for 30 years, fragmented as Schwartzmiller jumped from one jurisdiction to another.  But Dateline pieced together legal files warehoused in a half dozen different states. We gathered thousands of pages of court documents, search warrants, and police reports—interviewing more than 60 victims, investigators and prosecutors.

What we found was a disturbing story of a sexual predator who kept getting away with it, year after year by manipulating the legal system.

The man used a brilliant intellect to befriend families, and then prey on their children. When discovered, he’d run, when caught, he’d jump bail. When taken to court, he would attack his victims. But along the way, no one knew he was keeping record of victims that could number into the thousands.

Early '70s:  Juneau, Alaska
His story began back in 1970, in Juneau, Alaska. Back then, this gold rush capitol city was booming. The Alaska Oil pipeline was being built, Nixon was in his first term as president, and a young Juneau detective was on duty one night, when a man walked into the station house.

Det. Jess Bulkley: He said, “My son has been  sexually molested by Dean Schwartzmiller.”  And he says, “I’m gonna kill him unless you can get him off the street.” 

Dean Schwartzmiller moved to Alaska shortly after graduating from high school. He became a successful building contractor and was one of Juneau’s young, upcoming citizens. DetectiveBulkley knew him well. 

Det. Bulkley: I called Dean Schwartzmiller, had him down at the station in a few minutes.  Asked him if there any truth to it, and he says “yes.”John Larson, Dateline correspondent: He said, “I had sex with an underage boy?”Det. Bulkley: Right. 

Schwartzmiller pled guilty to a simple misdemeanor: contributing to the delinquency of a child. With no previous record, he was given probation and ordered to undergo counseling. The charges were eventually dismissed.

But two and-a-half years later, in 1972, Schwartzmiller was arrested again for molesting yet another boy from Juneau and again he confessed to Detective Bulkley. 

Larson: Was he sorry about this?Det. Bulkley: Oh yes.  Dean was—every so often he would have to sob.  He couldn’t talk.  He’d have to sob for a while.  Then he’d get control again, and then start answering questions again.

The case against him was solid. There was a confession and a young victim willing to testify. But he never went to trial.

Det. Bulkley: Before they could indict him, he had skipped town.  Larson: Gone?Bulkley: Right.

Mountain Home, Idaho
Schwartzmiller fled from Juneau to Mountain Home, Idaho, a remote rural community, southeast of Boise, telling everyone his name was Tim Lewis. It was late 1972.

He coached football, befriended parents, and hired adolescent boys to work for his construction company.

Ken Madison: I thought I was gonna get some work. 

Ken Madison was 13 years old when he says Schwartzmiller hired him, befriended him and raped him.

Larson: Did you feel like you could stop it?  Madison: I just let the creep have his way.  I don’t wanna talk about that part of it anymore.

Schwartzmiller befriended other lost boys arranging sleepovers, giving the boy’s beer and pot, and then targeting one child at a time.

Madison’s mom found out about the assaults and reported them to the  police. Schwartzmiller was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor. Despite the public shame, Madison was willing to admit in court that he had been raped by Dean Schwartzmiller. And police had found something else — a “checklist” of sex acts. Police believed Schwartzmiller was keeping record and believe there were many other boys who had been assaulted.

But before any of this could be introduced at trial, Schwartzmiller skipped bail for a second time. He escaped to Brazil for a year and a half, but authorities eventually tracked him down, and brought him back to Idaho.

During the trial, Schwartzmiller showed he was willing to use a new tactic: “attack the victim.”

Larson: [He was] Saying that you had come on to him.  That you had begged him for sex.Madison: Yes.Larson: You were 15 years old by the time of this trial.  And he’s blaming you for this?Madison: Uh-huh (affirms). He was nothing but a big, ugly bad—real bad man to me then.  Yeah, I was scared of him. 

Ken Madison says he has never fully recovered. He can’t hold a job and now lives at a mission in downtown Boise.

Madison:  All, I know is, I tried to get high and stoned after that.  Just so I would feel good. 

Schwartzmiller was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. It looked like the law finally caught up with him. But that’s when Schwartzmiller adapted and changed again. He became an accomplished jailhouse lawyer, and began filing legal appeals.

He pointed out inconsistencies in Madsion’s testimony— for instance Madison said he had been tied up when he was first assaulted when he later admitted he had not. The Idaho Supreme Court accepted Schwartzmiller’s legal arguments and overturned his conviction after serving just two years of his sentence.

Even though he had been arrested three times in two states for molesting boys, Schwartzmiller was back on the streets the latest conviction erased from his records.

Boise, Idaho
Six months later, Schwartzmiller rented a house in a Boise neighborhood. Once again, he befriended a parent, dating a single mother with an immature 13-year-old son. The boy, according to court testimony, spent most of 1978 as Schwartzmiller’s sex slave.

That same year, Schwartzmiller raped another boy. This time, the family reported it to the police. Schwartzmiller was once again arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor. He been out of prison for less than a year. Schwartzmiller skipped bail for a third time—and hit the road.

Suspected of molesting 7 boys over an 8-year period, wanted in two states for sex crimes against children, Schwartzmiller would soon be the target of an FBI manhunt for suspicion of kidnapping and worse.

Suspected of molesting several boys over an 8-year period, wanted in Alaska and Idaho for skipping bail Schwartzmiller was on the run.

He headed south to San Francisco, hunting for prey in nearby Fremont.

San Francisco, Calif.
Once again, Schwartzmiller changed his name— Rob Stevens this time— and befriended a single mother of an adolescent boy.

To this day, she still grieves when she recalls how Schwartzmiller talked his way into living in the house she shared with her 14 year old son.

Carol Stewart, mother: What breaks my heart is I sent that little boy out the door with him.  I should have kept him with me. I would have kept him with me.  John Larson, Dateline correspondent: You had no way of knowing then.Stewart: No, I misread it all. 

She had no idea, she tells us, that Schwartzmiller was a predator until the day she got a sickening telephone call from her 11-year-old daughter, telling her that her son was missing. When she got there she found her son, a friend of his and Schwartzmiller, were missing.  Schwartzmiller took the two boys north to the Seattle area and Schwartzmiller’s home town of Everett, Washington.

Robert Pichler, of Everett, Washington, is an old high school buddy of Schwartzmiller and let him sleep on his couch whenever he was passing through town. This time Schwartzmiller had two boys in tow.

Everett, Washington

Bob Pichler: He was a friend of mine.  I trusted him.  Larson: And what did he say about these kids?  How did he explain it?Pichler: That one of them was the son of the girl that he was gonna marry in California and the other one was a friend of his.

Retired FBI agent Max Noel was called in on what was now a federal kidnapping case.

Max Noel, retired FBI agent: He liked boys entering just entering puberty. Dean Schwartzmiller was very intelligent and very articulate.

A few weeks later, the FBI got a tip, rescued the boys and arrested Schwartzmiller outside of Portland, Oregon.

It looked like they finally had him. During his investigation, Noel  had found a boy who was willing to testify that Schwartzmiller brought him out to California to be part of a prostitution ring—serious charges that could make for a very strong case.

Larson: So how much federal prison time did Schwartzmiller serve for transporting  a minor across state lines for prostitution?Noel:    None.Larson: None?Noel: None.Larson: And what about the two boys he kidnapped and took out of California?Noel: No charges were ever filed on that.

What happened?

Remember, Schwartzmiller was also wanted in Idaho and Alaska, as well. Since it was agreed Idaho had the strongest case -- 2 victims willing to testify  -- both the U.S. attorney in California and the district attorney in Alaska made what they thought were practical decisions: they dropped all their charges against Schwartzmiller and handed him over to Idaho for prosecution.

At first, it looked like the strategy worked. Schwartzmiller was convicted in Idaho on 3 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor and given a 25 year prison sentence. But Schwartzmiller once again went on offense, employing his “appeals” technique. He filed a stream of legal motions. Eventually a federal circuit court overturned his conviction. Once again he was set free.

Agent Max Noel’s five-state manhunt, in the end, was just wasted time.

Larson: From looking at the record, you guys did everything right.Noel: Oh, I believe so.Larson: You had agents in Arkansas.  Oregon.  California.  Idaho.  You had him cornered.  When he went across state lines, the FBI followed him.  And yet he still somehow managed to get away with it.Noel: He managed to do what he has done in the past—manipulate the criminal justice system, to his benefit.

So at this point, 18 years after his first arrest, picked-up five different times on suspicion of raping boys in seven different states—Dean Schwartzmiller did not have one felony conviction on his record.

Portland, Oregon
In 1989, Schwartzmiller moved to Portland, Oregon and once again, opened his home up to neighborhood boys. Befriending a parent and her 13-year-old son, who was attracted by Schwartzmiller’s newly-purchased race car. 

Debbie Griffin: They were able to go down to the Woodburn drag strip and watch races. 

Once he gained the trust of parents, Schwartzmiller would take the boys on field trips to raceways around the North west, eventually those trips involved overnight stays in motels.

Larson: Did you worry about those trips?Griffin: We looked for signs.  Anything suspicious.  Anything wrong.  And even to go to the house and look at the other boys.  And does everything feel comfortable and right?  It didn’t show any signs from anyone.

Finally after four years, one of the mother’s became suspicious and reported Schwartzmiller to police. Portland authorities moved quickly, interviewing all of Schwartzmiller’s young friends.

Jim Hayden, prosecutor: We ended up with 60 or more counts of Class A felonies. And that’s only because that’s all the boys could remember.

The closer prosecutor Jim Hayden came to trial, though, the more reluctant the victims were to testify.

Hayden: They were embarrassed to tell people what had happened to them.Larson: In the end, what did you wind up with?Hayden: He pled no contest to three counts.

Three counts of sodomy involving just two of the boys.

Larson: And how much prison time did he get?Hayden: 46 months.

It was the best Hayden could do. Because Schwartzmiller’s criminal history, everything that had happened from Alaska to Idaho with the FBI couldn’t be introduced as evidence.

Hayden: It’s called “prior bad acts.”  And you can’t use prior bad acts to prove what happened in this case.

In 1996, after serving three and-a-half years of his sentence, Schwartzmiller was released from prison. And went straight to his hometown of Everett, Washington and his old friend Bob Pichler.

Betraying a friend

Larson: You knew he had been in jail?Bob Pichler: I knew he had been in jail.Larson: For a sex offense?Pichler: Right.Larson: And you still let him back in your house?Pichler: He’s still a friend.Larson: I mean, that just sounds crazy.Pichler: Maybe I’m gullible.  I don’t know.  But I thought because of our friendship that he would never do anything to my kids.

Within a  month, Schwartzmiller stood accused of molesting Pichler’s grandchildren -- 2 boys,  ages 10 and 13.

Larson: What was your reaction when you found out your own grandsons said they had been molested?Pichler: If I could have got a hold of him, I would have killed him.

The case went before a jury.  This time Schwartzmiller attacked not just his accusers, but the entire family— claiming they were out to blackmail him.

Clay Hess, juror: They almost seemed like a completely broken home.

Two jurors said they had a hard time believing the charges against Schwartzmiller.

Hess: He spent his whole time crying and asking for Kleenex.  He seemed like the steady piece that was helping finance the entire family.  From clothing to covering the rent.  Larson: When the case finally went to the jury, how long did you deliberate?Hess: I would say no more than a couple hours at most.

The verdict? Not guilty. Once again, the jury was not allowed to hear about Schwartzmiller’s 30 years of molestation arrests.

Larson: He came out of prison in Oregon.  And the Oregon parole board said this is a sexual predator with a high chance of re-offending.Hess: We never—Robert Mercer, juror: Wish we’d have heard something like that.Hess:    --yeah.Mercer: It would have been a different jury I assure you.

28 years—seven arrests, 4 convictions — 2 overturned on appeal — and now an outright acquittal: Dean Schwartzmiller was free, once again. He moved to San Jose, California, rented a house and hired adolescent boys for odd jobs.

A chronicle of crime
In May of 2005, Schwartzmiller was again arrested, but this time investigators found something new: spiral bound notebooks with what appear to be coded entries.

Police believe during the 35 years Schwartzmiller was manipulating the criminal justice system he was keeping a precise record of every child he molested, or raped. Damning evidence, if  police can break the code and find the victims.

When Schwartzmiller goes to trial, we don’t know whether the jury will get to hear the full story about the broken families from at least seven states and about the scores of victims like Ken Madison, who came forward years ago and are still struggling to survive.

Ken Madison, victim: It scares me that with his intelligence he’s gonna get out again.  After all this, no.  He should never get out again.  He should never got out the first time. 

This time, though, jurors may get to see these notebooks filled with the names of thousands of children who may have been too afraid or ashamed to ever tell their stories to police—stories just as horrific as Ken Madison’s.

Madison: I felt really ugly, dirty—I had a lot of shame from it.  People have no idea what it can do to a person.