The Long Read: For more than 40 years, William James Vahey medication and mistreated the thousands of pupils at international academies around the world. A Guardian investigation reveals that, despite numerous opportunities to stop him , nothing was done
On 21 March 2014, a 64 -year-old teacher mentioned William James Vahey checked into a inexpensive inn in the tiny Minnesota town of Luverne. Vahey had spent the previous four decades teaching at international schools, from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, but he had decided to spend his final moments near his elderly father and two brothers, Chris, who both lived in Luverne.
The reservation was a decoy. At 5.20 pm, Vahey intersected the road and checked in at two seconds hotel, a Quality Inn. He paid in cash for his room, telling the receptionist he didnt have a credit card because he had just registered for insolvency. Upstairs in room 201, he undressed to his boxer shorts, folded his invests neatly on to the coffee table and lowered himself into the tub tub, folding a pillow behind his back.
A thousand miles south, special agents at the FBI office in Houston were waiting for a search warrant that would enable them to open a 16 gigabyte flashdrive that had recently arrived from the US embassy in Nicaragua. For the previous seven months, Vahey had been educating record at the American Nicaraguan School, one of 193 academies around the world supported by the US government to promote US-style education. On 11 March, his housekeeper had shown up at the school barriers, and sided the flashdrive in. It was part of a haul of computer paraphernalium that she had allegedly stolen from Vaheys villa a few months earlier.
It afterward transpired that the drive contained photos of at least 90 unconscious teenage sons, naked and partially garmented. The images of mistreat, which dated from 2008 to 2013, were neatly arranged into digital folders with deeds such as Panama Trip, Costa Rica Trip and Basketball Trip. Vahey had led these environment outings while schooling at two other private international institutions in Caracas and London.
The head of the American Nicaraguan School, Dr Gloria Doll, instantly met Vahey with the cache of likeness. He confessed that he had invested a lifetime medicine his students and abusing them. I was accosted as a boy, that is why I do this, he told Doll, according to an FBI affidavit. I have been doing this my whole life. The full magnitude of his violations was able to emerge in the coming months: four decades of insult at 10 international schools in eight countries from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, and from Venezuela to the UK. The FBI described him as one of “the worlds largest” prolific paedophiles it has ever seen. It seemed inexplicable that nothing had been done to stop him.
Now a five-month investigation by this newspaper has revealed that red flag were, in fact, repeatedly raised about Vahey. Colleagues, parents and superiors all saw across proof that, if properly explored, would have pointed towards him doping and abusing children. Yet almost nothing was done to stop him. More than two years since Vahey was first uncovered, teachers and heads who worked with him are only now opening up about what the hell is knew.
Vahey was not arrested after his confession in Nicaragua. Instead, Doll fuelled him and reported the felony to the US governments, via the delegation in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital. The next day, Vahey boarded American Airlines flight 344 to Miami. The FBI had an agent ready to speak to him where reference is transmitted through Miami to Atlanta but again Vahey was not detained. It was not yet clear whether information materials on the flashdrive had been created by Vahey or simply obtained from the internet. There was no apprehend authorize or search warrant for his residence because these cases take a while, FBI special agent Carlos Barrn told a reporter from Univision, a Spanish-language TV station based in the US.
From Atlanta, Vahey could have gone to the family beach room at Hilton Head Island, a picturesque stretch of Atlantic coastline in South Carolina. Vahey shared the house with his wife Jean, with whom he had two children, and who was at that time carrying out activities in London as the head of the European Council of International Schools. Instead, he thoughts north to Minnesota, where his mother was staying in a nursing home.
The morning after Vahey had checked in, the front-desk administrator at the Quality Inn could get no response from Vaheys room. He went to the door and opened it with a master key. Vahey lay dead in the bath, potent from rigor mortis, his torso smeared with blood. On the flooring lay an eight-inch kitchen knife. Bottles of drug were scattered across the chamber, along with a suicide mention to his family.
The Rock County deputy coroner, Dr Richard Morgan, preserved that there was no signaling of battle. Morgan pushed his thumb easily into a deep wind in Vaheys chest and finished: cause of death: self-inflicted spear wound to the chest. Vaheys short harassment since being exposed was over. That of his preys, their own families, his colleagues and superiors around the globe, was about to begin.
The Southbank International schoolin center London is located a few entrances down from the Chinese embassy on Portland Place. The academy, which has about 350 students, aged 11 to 18, caters to the children of the rich and the super-rich. When Vahey arrived there as a schoolteacher in September 2009, parents included a billionaire hedge fund administrator, Russian petroleum managers, a top football manager and officials at the US, Kuwaiti and Oman delegations. If you were a advocate, you were among the poorest, one parent told me. Southbank gave you a different understanding of resource. Pupils would pay for their 5 canteen lunches with 50 tones. The goody pouches given out at one birthday defendant contained brand-new iPods.
Southbank is owned by Cognita, a private fellowship that owns a further 67 institutions across Europe, Latin America and south-east Asia. But it remains part of a much larger global community of international academies, defined by internationally recognised curriculums, taught in English, to cosmopolitan student organizations. It was a familiar nature for Vahey, the son of a US air force pilot, who as a child attended international schools and US Defense Department institutions in England and Japan.
Vahey taught at Southbank until 2013, and was so admired by mothers that they voted him the second-most-popular teach in a school inspection. In detail, Vahey had abused at least 54 of their children, aged 11 to 16, on long-distance school trips. When Vaheys death was announced, news of his violations had not grown public.( At the time, the school remarked Vahey had died of a heart attack .) In London, personnel hollered and opened a condolences notebook. In Jakarta, where Vahey had educated for a decade, the rector Tim Carr counselled staff to remember a effervescent parish member.
Three weeks later, on 22 April 2014, the FBI made a scandalou notice. They were launching an international sex crimes investigation into Vaheys 42 -year schooling job in Nicaragua, the UK, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Iran, Spain and Lebanon. I have never seen another case where an individual may have molested this many children over such a long period of time, special agent Patrick Fransen told the media.
The news wiped through the international institution system and was providing information on Tv channels across the world. I was in bed and my son saw running into my chamber with a laptop with Vaheys face on it, one Southbank parent told me. He was screaming, I knew he was a paedo, but none felt me. Parents descent off children around Southbank the next morning were bewildered. Every teenage kid who went on those trip-ups is asking: Was it me? said one mother.
In a letter inviting parents to an emergency gather, the schools manager principal, Graham Lacey, wrote that when he been hearing the FBI investigation, he experienced, as some of “youre going to be” experiencing now, physically sick. The manifestation suggested that Vahey had abused hundreds of children across the world.
Vahey claimed he never hurt any of the boys, according to an FBI affadavit. They did not know what had happened to them, he announced. They were completely asleep. That was not entirely true in the morning, some waken with surmises about what had happened to them. But it is true that the majority of members of Vaheys casualties did not know they had been attacked. Parents now locate themselves wrestling with an dreadful predicament: would finding out if their child was in Vaheys photo files trigger trauma where there was none before?
At Southbank International, sorrowing turned to fury. Pupils junked Vaheys classroom, ripping postings off the walls, tipping the chairs upside down and crushing CDs, a source announced. Meanwhile, former peers around the world furiously asked themselves if they had done enough to act on clues that Vahey was abusing the children in their care.
Wherever Vahey taught, he instantly celebrated out his territory. He could be prickly and bullying with peers, clashing over how the curriculum should be taught and was unwilling to budge over timetable conflicts. Some peers knew him vain and preening, and his doctrine mediocre. Many simply learned to stay out of his way.
But Vahey promoted a sense of fun, principally with the boys. He improved a culture that in this classroom we do happens differently and we will keep that in the classroom glint, wink, pronounced a peer at Southbank. He would say to the kids, The other teaches may think youre difficult but I think youre wonderful.
Vahey would always take care to allure supervisors and mothers. In Venezuela, he triumphed a honour as a generous and trustworthy figure, operating Saturday-morning basketball conferences for parents, staff and children. In Indonesia, he would worship at parents religions, in what former peers now belief was an attempt to ingratiate himself with them. When chatting, he would often drop in little citations to his wifes foremost role on the international institution circuit.
With his status fixed, Vahey would set up a pas organization, if one did not exist already. Even if there were 36 infants to care for on a leaved errand, he would persuade supervisors that he needed only one other educator to come with him. He told any person who is objected that he would have the aid of neighbourhood guidebooks, very. He would choose the teacher who would assist him, nursing out the prospect of another trip if they reacted to his satisfaction.
As the trip approached, Vahey would take charge of adaptation, working out exactly where everyone would sleep. He would take all the room keys, then in the night he would dope the sons he wanted to corruption. When his targets grew sleepy or felt affliction, Vahey would apply it down to food poisoning or dehydration and either take them to his room or offer to look after them in their own plot. Harmonizing to an official review of his activities in London by UK child protection experts, Vahey would target the most vulnerable children around teach predicaments, language predicaments or family problems.
One colleague who had accompanied him on a trip told him that Vahey had a personal camera he contended others on the journey should not touch , without doubt to photograph the children as he accosted them. To ensure “hes not” capture, Vahey sometimes narcotic his fellow teachers extremely. Bill came to my tent with a camping beaker, echoed one teacher who accompanied Vahey on a hiking tour with 30 infants. I took a mouthful and instantly knew there was something in it. Bill was of the view that I suck the whole jug saying the guides necessary the beakers for dinner. I drank the whole thing and then I dont recall until waking up the next morning. I am assuming I was drugged to get me out of the picture.
Incredibly, as Vahey moved from institution to institution during his four-decade vocation, it never came to light that he was already a convicted paedophile. In 1969, while working as a teaches aide in Long Beach, California, he had been charged with lewd and indecent behaviour for caressing the penis of sons as young as seven while teaching them to swim.
He pleaded guilty, told his probation policeman he was repelled and humbled by his actions and admitted he had started touching sons after they had been 14. The detective predicted that the plans of this mentally troubled copulation wrongdoer for a occupation in the area of education had likely been smashed by his conviction. Far from it.
In 1970, aged 20, Vahey sauntered free from a California jail after acting a 90 -day sentence “for childrens” molestation. He was placed on the sex offenders register, which required him to tell powers when he changed address. Nonetheless, it seems that he did not do so, and the authorities concerned failed to keep tabs on him.( According to the Canadian newspaper, the National Post, when the California state register was put online in 2004, Vaheys name wasnt included because he was no longer living in the territory .)
He took a BA in political science from California State University and in 1972, after 2 years of probation, he travelled to Iran to learn at the American School in Tehran, followed by short stints at US academies in Beirut, Madrid and Athens. In 1980, he endeavoured to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to school the children of US proletarians at the monstrous petroleum firm Saudi Aramco. By now, Vahey was married to Jean, and in 1981 the couple had a son, who was joined by a brother, two years later.
In 1992, the Vaheys moved to Jakarta International School( JIS) in Indonesia, which is overseen, in part, by the embassies of Australia, the United kingdom government and US. Within three years, Jean had been promoted to deputy head and Vahey was educating world history to students in middle school.
After a while, his affinity with the boys he was teaching began to seem curiou to a number of colleagues. Senior coaches at JIS have told the Guardian they received multiple suspicious reports: Vahey sleeping with boys in tents on hiking expeditions; taking boys who had fallen affliction on jaunt into his room overnight; his requires to conduct an all-boy working group on an outward-bound adventure.
In May 1996, Vahey took charge of a trip-up for around 90 students aged around 14: five days of hiking, rock climbing, rafting, near the Jatiluhur dam in a tropical field 70 km east of Jakarta. When they arrived, Vahey fractioned the students into groups of around a dozen girls and boys. Vahey insisted on sleeping in the same tent as his group, even though schoolteachers were provided with their own tents.
After the errand had finished, a educator who had overheard boys talking about it being odd having to share a tent with Vahey, said he reported its deep concern to Bruce Leiper, the middle school principal, and his immorality principal, Geoff Smith. Doing so was not an easy decision. Jean Vahey maintained a elderly rank is not simply in the JIS community but also the international institution route, the teach said. I was referred my wars might affect my jobs and promotional opportunities in the future.
Contacted by the Guardian, Leiper and Smith said they did not recall anyone elevating the issue of Vahey sharing tents with students on that trip-up. Nonetheless, Leiper did say that at some stage around 1998 he had tackled Vahey after it had emerged that two boys had descended ill on a school trip and that Vahey had them waste the nighttime in his room, in Leipers paroles, to recover. We had a long conference with him and I made it clear that under no circumstances was this to happen again and that it was dangerous, Leiper suggested. We had no suspicion that Bill was up to anything, but knew this could be a problem.
During their time in Indonesia, the Vaheys lived at Countrywoods, an expat gated community in south Jakarta with open floors for their two sons to performance. The Vaheys regularly invited their sons friends to sleepovers at their residence, which had a pond counter, the best video games and the latest movies. Vahey applied these sleepovers as an opportunity to target young boys.
One of the youngster guests, whom we will call John, has agreed to speak out for the first time about what happened. He is now an adult. One nighttime, when he was about 14, he and various acquaintances settled down to watch a movie in Vaheys lounge, but encountered themselves suddenly appearing sleepy-eyed and gesturing off. John was the first to wake the next day and recollected experiencing perplexed. Seeming all over the room he find he was wearing a different pair of shorts, while his sidekick was garb his shorts. Then his friend realised his underwear was missing too.
Over the next couple of months, we pieced together unique happens on prior sleepovers, suggested John. We strongly suspected Bill was dosing us. At bedtime, Vahey would hand out Oreo cookies and glass of irrigate and propose an eating race to recognize who are able get first choice of the mattresses laid out on the floor. Vahey would even scrutinize the boys openings to make sure they had withdrawn everything.
Despite their doubts, John said that the sons did not are certain about making accusations against Vahey. The community was close-knit and they could not easily escape going to the house for sleepovers.
Then, one darknes months later, the Vaheys were looking after John when his parents had to go away for a weekend. Bill plucked me aside into the kitchen, sided me a cookie and responded maybe you and I could have an Oreo dining competitor, John did. I felt helpless because I knew what he was doing but my parents were out of municipality and uncontactable. I was also facing up to young adults who was supposed to be taking care of me. In panic, I devour the Oreo. I could savor bitter stuff in the back of my teeth. I couldnt leave his home, because I dont known better that would have gone down. I went into the shower and felt crushed up off-color pill in my molars. I picked out what was left but I had withdrawn most of it. Within 10 minutes I was out cold and simply woke up the next day.
When Johns parents hovered residence, he told them what had happened, and about the previous durations. We didnt ever disbelieve that he was telling the truth but it took us time to process it and decide which is something we seem to be the best course of action, Johns mother said by phone. My husband and I wanted to go over to Bills house and pulsate the shit out of him, but we chose not to. Ultimately I constituted the decision to speak to the head of academy and the middle school principal.
Johns mother recalled that in the rally, the principal, Niall Nelson, seemed sceptical about the accident. She was also worried about pitting her son against Bill, knowing that his wife Jean was the deputy chief of the school, and that it would be their message against that of one child. She said that she told Nelson she didnt crave any action taken unless there was another report, in which suit she would merrily stand up.
Geoff Smith, who by this spot had been promoted to middle school principal, recalled that it had seemed a really odd floor and admitted that it was hard to believe that Vahey was lacing cookies, especially as “there werent” physical manifestation. He nonetheless felt he was maintaining a fairly critical part of information.
He said that he matched Nelson to discuss what steps to take. The most concrete happening that we did was ask all chaperones on tour society excursions, and specifically Vahey, that if there was anything rare about minors getting affliction on tours or odd sleeping designs, I wanted to know about it, read Smith. I was pretty direct about that with him.
But Nelson , now semi-retired and living in England, denied that Johns mother had told him about the cookie happen. There was no specific breakthrough of any medications or Oreo cookies that was presented to me, told Nelson in emails. The mother who spoke to me indicated that their son had awoken experiencing drowsy and with his robes in disarray. She said she was not expressing a formal complaint and did not wish to make allegations, to involve their son, or to seek the issues further.
Without hard sign, he appeared there was nothing more he could do. He also said that Smith had said nothing to him about medications or cookies and that he received no other the reporting of suspicious practice by Vahey. Smiths strengthening of field trip organisations was part of its consideration of the item process and not in response to any concerns I was made aware of.
Nelson, who now supplies occasional consulting to a house advising international schools, said he was deeply dismayed and enraged at the harm and tendernes it is now clear Bill Vahey caused to so many boys and their families.
It is nothing compared to Vaheys preys, but many of his former colleagues, including Smith, have appeared great personal affliction about the action. I feel that on some rank I and others neglected, Smith supposed. We have to figure out how to have those dialogues when all we have is a notion, even if we dont have concrete proof.( JIS has had three heads of academy since Nelson left. The premier since 2010, Tim Carr, used to say under his leadership the school has strengthened protocols to ensure peak protection of our students .)
I feel like a lot of people perhaps knew and didnt do a circumstance about it, supposed John. It wouldnt have taken much. All they were required to do was put in a call to the US embassy. He was a imprisoned paedophile. The FBI has since had reaffirmed that had any employer necessary Vahey to find a criminal records check from the US, it would have disclosed that he was a convicted child molester.
There is no evidence to suggest thatJean knew about her husbands misdemeanours, and the investigation by the Metropolitan police in London closed her husband was acting alone. She did not respond to a request for an interrogation for this bit, and the majority of Vaheys felonies appear to have been committed on school trips where Jean was not present. But teachers, parents and casualties be interested to know whether, without her lore, Vahey exploited Jeans prominence as a ruler on the international schools tour as cover for his crimes.
People didnt want to cross her not only because of her influence, but because of her allure, pronounced a source at JIS. The official review by child protection experts quoth one reason when, following a crucial evaluation, Vahey threatened to use Jeans influence to make a concrete ceiling on his head of departments career. You knew who his wife was all of the time, alleged Geoff Smith. Without hard, concrete evidence, it felt like he was bulletproof.
In 2009, after having provided as heads of state of the Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas for seven years, Jean moved to London to become chief executive of the European Council of International Schools. Vahey was keen to join her and wrote to Southbank International School for a task, mentioning Jeans position. He boasted that his outpouring break journeys furnished knowledge far outside a typical category vacation and of his special appreciation for the secondary school age group.
The job was not advertised and the interrogation was be carried forward alone by the principal, Terry Hedger. Background checks were conducted, but they were inadequate. The Venezuelan approvals confirmed to Southbank International administrators that Vahey had no convictions from the seven years he worked there. But, according to a report by Hugh Davies QC a lawyer who reviewed Southbanks recruitment of Vahey for Cognita after his death the school did not look into other jurisdictions where Vahey had worked. Davies discovered that the only direction Southbank International could have obtained Vaheys US criminal record would have been to get him to ask for it himself. The school did that, but did not related to the follow-up when it was not received.