to customers in apartment buildings on the westside of Cleveland.
Being on the streets delivering newspapers and having to go alone to collect money from subscribers left boys and girls susceptible to certain risks, including some that I didn’t understand at the time. Among them: being prey to predatory pedophiles. Nobody tells you about that part, or what to do about it if there is a problem.
In the spring of 1975, weeks before my 14th birthday, I was collecting money from my subscribers and thinking that I liked having a paper route. What I didn’t know was that I was about to walk into a situation that would completely transform me and overtake my life.
I didn’t tell anyone this story until I was in my 40s. Even then, I was vague about it. Only in recent months while I was thinking about writing this did I tell a therapist the details of what happened to me that day.
In preparing to write this, I looked up some stories about newspaper carriers. While reading the stories, it became easy to reason that the newspaper publishers knew what could happen to their child laborers. I wondered why they didn’t take steps to protect us. It is, after all, from the backs of those child laborers that newspaper publishing became a multi-billion-dollar industry. But then, why would they do anything that might interrupt the money flow?
In October 1970, an 11-year-old Indianapolis paperboy, Jerry Bayles, was stabbed to death. His nude body was found on the side of a country road. The murder remains a mystery.
In October 1979, a father of two was arrested after the body of 14-year-old Curt Cuzio was found in the man’s attic. Curt had vanished while delivering newspapers for the Detroit Free Press. He had been sexually assaulted.
In 1981, a 42-year-old Southern California man sexually assaulted and strangled 12-year-old Benjamin Lee Brenneman, who had been knocking on doors to offer subscriptions to the Orange County Register.
On March 20, 1983, 14-year-old Christopher Gunn was delivering newspapers when a 17-year-old accosted and sodomized him, and then stabbed him to death using a hunting knife.
On Feb. 15, 1988, in Hagley, Worcestershire, England, a 32-year-old man led police to the body of Stuart Gough, a 14-year-old paperboy the man had abducted and sexually assaulted. Stuart’s killer had been arrested for another attack, and was later a suspect in as many as 28 other sexual assaults. In court, it was said that he preyed on newspaper boys because they were alone and vulnerable.
In 1989, a newspaper boy in Cole Spring, Minnesota, was kidnapped and molested.
In 2004, a Nebraska man was convicted of the 2003 rape and murder of a 15-year-old female newspaper carrier, Heather Guerrero.
On July 6, 2011, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a man was sentenced to 33 years for the 2010 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 14-year-old female newspaper carrier he had forced into his car.
In 2013, a New Castle, Pa., man molested two newspaper carriers.
These are only some of the crimes against newspaper carriers that made the news. Mine did not, nor had it been reported. The difference between those stories and this one is that they were written by someone other than the victims. I am here to write mine.
It is believed that the first paperboy was 10-year-old Barney Flaherty, who was hired in 1833 to deliver the New York Sun.
I was a second generation paperboy. My father, who grew up very poor and had a tough life, delivered newspapers when he was a boy. A couple of my brothers had the route before I took it over.
My job as a newspaper boy began when I was 13, just after I started eighth grade in the autumn of 1974.
I learned I was going to be a paperboy when my mother, who barely spoke to me, said that I needed to wake up early and follow one of my brothers to learn the paper route.
My training for the job involved tagging along with my brother for two days in the morning and then going collecting with him for one evening. It was awkward, considering that my brother and I had always avoided each other, had never had a conversation, and that I didn’t talk much as a child.
Each morning, the route manager dropped off bundles of newspapers next to the driveway of the apartment complex where I delivered.
I never had a conversation with the route manager. The only contact I had with him was when I might see him from a distance while he dropped off the newspaper bundles as I was arriving in the morning. He would also stop by my house once a week to collect the money from a metal box kept in my parents’ dining room cabinet. He wouldn’t say much of anything to my mother or me as he counted the money. Then he went on his way. If nobody was home, he would let himself in. That was the arrangement.
I was surprised to get the paper route. I was an underperformer in school, got lousy grades, and was often belittled, both at school and home.
My family didn’t speak to me much. Being the youngest of six boys, I felt like an afterthought, or at least one of the final attempts for my parents to have a girl – which they eventually had. It was a household deeply troubled by lack of money, multiple mental health issues, and alcohol problems. On top of that, when I was four years old my father injured his brain in car accident – which altered his intellectual capacity. Months later, my mother also suffered a head injury in a house fire, spending weeks in the hospital, then sent home as if all was okay. It wasn’t.
Teachers seemed perplexed by me. I could read aloud well, but when asked what I had just read, I’d be blank and have to go back to try to figure out the answer. Today, I would be labeled learning disabled. Back then, I was simply “dumb.”
When I got my paper route, I sometimes carried a transistor radio and listened to the news station. I became fascinated by the stories of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The combination of hearing the news and reading the stories in the newspaper made my brain click.
Being able to read and understand what I had read was a personal revelation. I wasn’t so stupid after all. At school I began volunteering to read out loud when the teachers asked. My retention, attention, understanding, and writing improved, as did my grades.
While my intellect improved, things were far from ideal. I had few friends, didn’t talk much with anyone at school, and nobody at home. Because things at home were many layers of troubled, I never brought anyone to the house.
By the time I was 13, I had been through some troubling situations.
When I was in fourth grade, there was an older teenage boy who did things to me that I didn’t understand. All I knew was that it was painful, frustrating, embarrassing, and something I didn’t know what to do about. I hated it. He did it a bunch of times. It made me bleed.
Some other boys brutalized me as a form of entertainment. My crying, being humiliated, and unable to defend myself seemed funny to them. There was no escaping. They were older, taller, faster, and stronger. Not knowing what to do about my predicament, and used to not being protected, but the opposite, including by those I should have been able to turn to, I spent a lot of time hiding to avoid humans.
That monstrous brutality ended by the time I was eleven.
Life got slightly easier, but things were far from ideal, and I knew it. My newspaper route became an escape from the gloom I lived in.
Being a newspaper boy gave me a sense of pride, although I didn’t understand the concept then. For the first time, I felt good about myself, and felt as if I were doing what I was supposed to be doing. It was the first time I had felt as if my parents were okay with me.
I was a good boy.
My days as a paperboy involved waking up before sunrise, delivering newspapers, showering, going to school, collecting money on my route, doing homework, eating, and sleeping. Nobody in the family seemed to have any interest in me. I was used to people not speaking with me. But then, it became as if I were invisible.
At school, I wasn’t popular, and nobody seemed to seek me out for anything. I simply observed.
My newspaper customers didn’t know my name. I never saw many of them, as they left the payments beneath their doormats, or in envelopes taped to their doors. I saw other customers every week on the rounds I made on Wednesday and Saturday evenings to collect money. Few of my customers said much to me, nor I to them.
Fall and winter went by as I delivered newspapers in some lousy weather. Then spring arrived, which made delivering my paper route easier.
One evening in April, I was in one of the apartment buildings collecting money from customers. While I was knocking on a subscriber’s door, the door behind me across the hall opened. I turned to see three clean-cut college-age young men walk out as they thanked the apartment complex manager for showing them the place.
That apartment was used as the recreation room for the complex, and people could rent it for parties.
After the college boys passed me, I gave a quick glance through the doorway. The apartment complex manager was in there. He saw me.
The man was about 50, tall, strong-looking, and had very short hair. He had recently taken over as manager after the young, friendly married couple who were the managers had moved away. He asked me if I wanted to see the apartment. I didn’t, but he encouraged me.
He backed into the apartment, as if to invite me in.
I looked in quickly, noticing that it didn’t have much furniture. There was a pool table. I stayed in the doorway, and had a feeling that I wanted to bolt.
He went to the other side of the pool table and pointed to that side of it, saying that I should come see something there. I hesitantly stepped into the apartment and walked to his side of the table. There was nothing there.
The man said it was just under the edge of the table, that I needed to lean down to see it. I did. There was nothing.
He grabbed hold of my hair, keeping my head down. I lost my balance and fell to my knees.
Things got frantic with me trying to pull loose from his iron grip. He was undoing his pants with his other hand as my head, face, and chin banged onto the side of the pool table while I tried to keep my face away from his crotch that he kept forcing toward me.
It was confusing and rough.
He forced my face to his penis.
I kept pushing away. Then my head was stuck between the pool table with his thing on my face.
As if angry, he grabbed me and slammed me face up onto the table.
As I tried to stop him, he yanked my pants halfway down, and ripped my underwear.
I heard my collection money scatter.
Forcing me back onto the table as I struggled, he briefly put his mouth on me. I had a rush of every terrifyingly bad feeling as I thought he was going to hurt me, or bite it off.
I kept hold of my collection book, as if that mattered.
He got up and kind of sat on my torso.
I said something about not being able to breathe. He cruelly asked, “Is that better?” as he kneeled on my arms.
Then, my arms were stuck between my torso and his legs.
He was above me as he rubbed himself in his fist. I didn’t know what he was doing. He seemed determined to have it in front of my eyes. He stank. His expression was some sort of strange, angry smile.
I closed my eyes.
He made groaning sounds. My face became wet. It got in my eyes, nose, and mouth. I didn’t understand. I had no knowledge of this sort of thing.
Then, he stopped moving so much.
He said, “Stupid boy.”
He shoved my face back and forth, one way, then the other. Like heavy, slow slaps. He seemed to be smearing that stuff on my face.
I felt like I was going to start crying, or vomiting, or both.
He said something as he got off me.
I thought he was helping me off the table, but he pushed me down again, forcing me on my front with my face and chest against the table. He groped me, roughly grabbing and slapping my behind. It was humiliating, awkward, disturbing, confusing, and made me angry. My heart raced and my brain felt strange.
I got off the table and nearly fell against the wall while trying to pull up my pants. I felt pathetic, frustrated, embarrassed, and stupid.
He closed the door.
He said something about how I had better hurry and get dressed. I thought he meant that someone was approaching and would be entering.
He watched as I tried arranging my torn underwear as I pulled up my pants. I gave up on that and simply got my pants pulled up.
He said I’d better not tell anyone, including my parents. He said he knew where I lived, where I went to school, and what my friends looked like.
He told me to pick up my money from the floor.
As he remained standing near the door, I nervously collected some of the change while I kept looking over at his feet. My hands were shaking. I kept dropping coins. He said something about it being enough. But I hadn’t picked up all of it.
He peeked out the door, then held it open and told me to hurry up and run out.
I didn’t want to go near him. Instead, I went the other way, toward the windows. He grabbed me. I struggled as he dragged me to the door, and shoved me out.
Still holding my collection book, I ran down the hall and out the door.
I ran to the back parking lot, because I thought he was running after me and would go the other way.
I hid behind cars. There were people talking by another building doorway. I thought they noticed me. I crawled to hide behind another car. I peeked up. They were gone.
Panicking, I ran out to the main street. Still thinking he was going to follow me, I went an alternate way.
Someone in a passing car yelled something and seemed to be laughing.
I noticed my torn underwear hanging out of the back of my pants. That too was frustrating and embarrassing.
Getting to an opening in a wooded area of a park, I got on my hands and knees. I stayed like that for a while looking closely at the grass, as if there was some answer there.
I heard voices of older teenagers. They stopped. A girl said there must be something wrong with me. A boy approached and asked me about being “on something.” I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t look up at them. I turned and sat down.
They went on their way.
I went to the open field of the park. There were people in the distance. Baseball players ending their game. Not wanting them to see me, I lay down face first on the grass.
It started getting dark. I walked home.
Upstairs, I locked myself in the bathroom.
There were red scuff marks, like bruises, on my skin around my privates, hips, and my upper legs. My head hurt.
I took a long shower, as if that would wash it all away.
The next morning when I delivered papers, I was sure to be quiet when I entered into the criminal’s building. I wrinkled up and tore one of the newspapers and left it by his door. Then, I urinated on the newspaper, the door, and the rug.
For the next couple days, I tore or wrinkled his newspaper, or only left part of it.
One morning, the route manager, with whom I had still never had a conversation, sat waiting for me in his truck parked next to the bundles of newspapers. Sounding irritated, he said that one of my customers complained about getting damaged newspapers. The route manager asked me if I knew anything about it. I said I didn’t. He looked at me as if he knew something was up, or that he thought that I was an odd boy.
Regretfully, I left the criminal a newspaper every morning. I had avoided collecting from him. He was getting free newspapers, which I was paying for.
Every morning I became filled with anxiety as I went into his building, but I had to deliver the papers to a variety of apartments in there.
One morning he quickly opened his door. I ran away.
He started showing up places, from around corners, popping out of doorways, or standing in stairways, blocking me from being able to do my job.
I stopped collecting from the people in his building.
The apartment complex was also along my way as I walked to and from school. I began taking a different, longer path to and from school.
One evening as I was collecting, to avoid the possibility of crossing paths with him, I walked around the far side of one of the buildings. He popped out from behind a corner, and nearly grabbed me. I left the complex, not finishing my collection route that evening.
The money in the collection box kept in my parents’ dining room cabinet was dipping below what I owed for the newspapers.
I had been feeling dreadful for weeks. I feared that I would have to explain what had been done and was happening to me. I wouldn’t have known how to explain it. At least, not in any sort of adult way.
Nobody had ever spoken to me about private parts or bodily functions. Other than slang or childish words, I didn’t know what the body parts or body functions were called – or that certain functions occurred. I only had a vague understanding of how babies happened. I hadn’t known the words testicles, penis, erection, masturbation, orgasm, ejaculation, semen, or anything like those. I knew nothing about masturbation. Other than what people did to me, I was innocent.
I was among one of the last generations to experience the now antiquated way newspapers were delivered, which has been portrayed as a gleeful boy riding a bike while tossing folded newspapers to the homes of appreciative customers. In my case, I did my route on foot. I worked seven days a week, in any kind of weather, delivering the