Excerpted from Game Over: Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, and the Culture of Silence, which is out today.
Corporal Joe Leiter of the Pennsylvania State Police had a gut feeling that Jerry Sandusky might be a serial sexual predator. In the spring of 2008 he had just finished his first round of interviews with the fifteen-year-old boy from Central Mountain High who claimed that Sandusky had sexually abused him for almost four years. What struck Leiter about the child's story was the way he had been lured into trusting the former football coach. Sandusky showered him with attention, then gifts, then special trips; then the abuse began. The pattern was typical of pedophiles, right down to the part where the abuser kept the boy quiet by convincing him nobody would believe him if he told. The officer suspected that this boy was not Sandusky's only victim.
Leiter, a Centre County native, had been a state trooper for twenty-four years and was the supervisor of the crime unit in his jurisdiction. Normally his caseload did not include sex crimes, but ranged from aggravated assault to drug trafficking. Leiter was also a popular volunteer in youth programs in the Bellefonte area, although his work was not affiliated with The Second Mile.
The boy and his sister trusted Leiter, with his gentle and reassuring manner. The two gave the corporal the names of a few of their classmates and other youngsters they knew who participated in The Second Mile programs. Most of the kids in the charity program knew each other only by their first names, making it harder to identify potential witnesses. A lot of the last names Leiter was given turned out to be wrong.
Leiter learned that Sandusky had written an autobiography, Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story, published in 2001 by Sports Publishing LLC, an Illinois-based vanity press that specialized in books about professional and college sports. Sandusky had written the book the year he retired from Penn State. The paperback was still available at the Penn State bookstore.
Leiter read Sandusky's own words about how his intense love for children had inspired him to start The Second Mile. He learned that the coach was proud of the way he reached out to help kids. One particular passage that jumped out at Leiter was Sandusky's admission that he relished engaging in risky behavior. "These were the perils I faced as a youngster," Sandusky wrote. "I did so because I thrived on testing the limits of others, and I enjoyed taking chances in danger." The book continued, "I had a personal law—Jer's law—that I stuck to when I was growing up and I still abide by that law today. I allowed myself to be mischievous, but I didn't let it get to the point that someone would be intentionally hurt . . . and I swore I would tell the truth if I was ever caught doing something wrong. That law has certainly been tested through the years, and just because it is a law doesn't mean it has kept me out of trouble."
Other chapters in the book listed the first names of about a dozen young participants in The Second Mile, and Sandusky had seen fit to publish photos of himself surrounded by some of the boys with whom he had forged close relationships. With this information Leiter had a place to start. He showed the names and photos to the boy from Central Mountain High to see if he recognized anyone or knew the last names of any of the kids. With one name provided by the boy, Leiter located a young man who had been a witness to inappropriate behavior. He said he had seen Sandusky rubbing a boy's leg while a few of the Second Mile boys were in his car driving to an Eagles game in Philadelphia. Leiter coaxed out a few more names of youngsters particularly close to Sandusky. Armed with names and addresses, he began knocking on their doors to ask if they knew anything about questionable conduct on Sandusky's part, and whether they had experienced something personally.
Finally, a young man who answered the door had critical information to share. "How did you find me?" he asked.
Leiter explained the process of picking up clues in Sandusky's autobiography. The young man had never told anyone about his physical relationship with Sandusky, and he had hoped to keep the shameful episode buried forever. Even recalling the abuse to the detective meant reliving all the pain. Still, he opened up about trusting Sandusky as a loving and caring father figure before he was betrayed. At first his experience in The Second Mile had been positive. He felt that Sandusky genuinely cared about him because of the attention, gifts, and access to the Penn State football games that he provided. All the while Sandusky pushed the boundaries of hugging and touching and wrestling up to the time the young man felt overpowered by him and succumbed to his advances. The young man told Leiter that once the sexual abuse started, he felt trapped. He loved the affection and the gifts, but he was shamed by the price he had to pay, again and again, during the course of several years. Then Sandusky suddenly stopped
Leiter now had a corroborating story to support the accusations of the boy from Central Mountain High. In essence, Jerry Sandusky's own book had provided the investigator with a road map back to himself.