NEWS / CONTEXT

FBI Puts Gay Former USC Professor Walter L. Williams on Top 10 Most Wanted List
Karen Ocamb
6/18/2013

This is one of the LGBT community’s worst nightmares. On Monday, June 17, a gay man—Walter Lee Williams—was put on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List and declared “dangerous” for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with minors and producing child pornography. After years of scientific studies and anecdotal experience finally putting to rest the horrid myth that homosexuality is in any way associated with child molestation, on April 30, a four-count federal warrant was issued for Williams, a former professor of anthropology, gender studies and history at USC and the man most responsible for bringing the ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives to USC “for sexual exploitation of children, travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places and criminal forfeiture.”


 

Williams is the 500th person put on the FBI’s famed list and is a fugitive whom the FBI believes left the country for Mexico or Peru. “[W]e believe that Williams' inclusion on this list of notorious fugitives will lead to the tip that breaks this case,” Bill L. Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said at an L.A. press conference Monday. “The allegations Williams faces are serious, and we hope to catch him quickly before more children are abused.”  

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading directly to Williams’ arrest. He is 64, white, 5’9”, weighs approximately 180 pounds and has grayish-brown hair and brown eyes. If you have information on Williams’ whereabouts, dial 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit fbi.gov. Go to fbi.gov/wanted/topten and click on Williams’ photo to submit a tip or read the information in Spanish. 

The seven-page indictment unsealed on Friday, June 14, in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California “alleges Williams traveled from Los Angeles to the Philippines in January 2011 to engage in sex acts with two 14-year-old boys he met online in 2010. Prior to his travel, Williams allegedly engaged in sexual activity via internet webcam sessions with these boys and expressed a desire to visit them in the Philippines to have sex. While in the Philippines, he allegedly engaged in sex acts with both boys and produced sexually explicit photos of one of the boys. Williams fled the Los Angeles area approximately one week after returning from the Philippines.”

"Because of his status, he has the means and access to children, and that's what makes him dangerous," FBI Special Agent Jeff Yesensky said in a video. The FBI has identified 10 victims—boys between the ages of 14 and 17—many of whom live in third-world countries. “He preys on the most vulnerable children.”

FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller told me that the grand jury indictment referred to only two alleged victims, but additional charges could be added as the investigation goes on. “He is known to have traveled extensively, and because of the nature of the alleged criminal activity and other evidence, frankly, there is great concern that there may be many more victims. So that’s why he was put on this list,” Eimiller said. “We are very concerned that we apprehend him before another child is victimized.”

 

Eimiller also strongly emphasized that “the charges are an indictment of alleged criminal behavior and have nothing to do with Mr. Williams’ sexual orientation.”

The FBI notes that Williams has resided in Palm Springs, Indonesia, Polynesia and has owned property in Thailand. Williams was also affiliated with the Buddhist Universal Association in Los Angeles.   

The case will be prosecuted by Michael Grant and Herbrina Sanders from the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. The FBI also issued this caveat: “The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”   

LAPD Commander Adam Smith told me that the original tip came from an adult “who came across some information about what Mr. Williams was doing with respect to minors in foreign countries. It was not a victim who reported the tip.”

USC issued this statement: "Walter Lee Williams is a former professor of Anthropology, History and Gender Studies at USC. He left the university in February 2011. USC is fully cooperating with the FBI investigation. The FBI has informed us that at this time there is no evidence that any of his alleged illegal activities were associated with the university or took place on campus.” 

Eimiller told me that the FBI conducted a search of Williams’ office at USC and found no illegal images or otherwise any indication of criminal behavior. “From the evidence obtained at this point, criminal activity did not occur on campus,” she said. The computers seized during the investigation were not USC property but his own personal computers—which is where they found the images early in the investigation, prior to when he fled to Mexico in 2011.

The FBI investigation also raises some difficult issues for the LGBT community. But before I get started...

Full disclosure: I knew Walter Williams when he got USC to accept ONE Gay & Lesbian Archives in the mid-1990s. He seemed creepy and an egotistical bore, but I had no idea he might have exploited children, as the indictment alleges. I did know that Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay—who was my neighbor and friend—hated Walter with a passion. Harry told me that Walters’ most famous book, The Sprit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, was full of lies and that the Native Americans Walters claimed to have lived with and studied also hated him and at one point ran him off their territory (a point later brought up by an independent source). When I asked Walter about this, he dismissed everything Harry had to say as the mutterings of an old, embittered man who was losing his faculties. After all, Walter implied, "Who are you going to believe? An old codger whose day was long gone, or him, a Ph.d who was a tenured professor at USC?" For every question I had, Walter had an explanation that made sense, and he seemed to be getting USC on-board to preserve LGBT history.

What I did not know about until today was that Walter was rumored to have slept with the young androgynous Native American men who were his sources for The Spirit and The Flesh, according to one very knowledgeable source who said Walter left a string of broken hearts as he moved on from one group to another. There was a lot of “buzz” among gay and lesbian anthropologists that what Walter had done and the way he collected information was “unethical” and he might have even “crossed a line,” the source said. But no one ever really wrote about it or challenged him because he had a way of ruining reputations and winning arguments.

 

“I knew it would come down eventually to this sort of lurid scandal,” said one very knowledgeable source. “I knew about Walter's [alleged] pedophilia many years ago via Harry Hay and others in the gay Native community who Walter used as sources in his Spirit and the Flesh book. His reputation was not good back then, including rumors of ‘sleeping with sources.’"

“I can’t believe it’s taken so long,” said another knowledgeable gay source. “Everything about Walter is a string of lies. He convinces himself and others he’s working for a higher cause. There were people who were suspicious. I tried to warn people, but Walter was an expert liar. He’d tell you want you wanted to hear while he’d make you feel important.  He could justify all sorts of things. And he could ruin lives.”

According to these sources, Walter was well-known for making passes at his students at USC—some of whom made official complaints. In fact, one incident involved a student who trashed his office while he was away, including spraying the word “fag.” Walter complained to USC that the university wasn’t protecting him, but when the school tracked down the person responsible, the student allegedly said that yes, he was the one who did it because “that asshole keeps making passes at me.” But, said my source, no one believed him about Walter’s alleged sexual harassment.  

I’ve asked USC to check their past records for complaints of sexual harassment filed against Walter but have not yet heard back.

On the record, anthropologist and author C. Todd White told me that he moved to L.A. to work for Walter for free as his personal and teaching assistant while he was working on his dissertation. He also edited the Gay & Lesbian Review for which Walter was being paid by the university in the form of a course reduction. But when Todd requested the actual title of editor, Walter refused. Additionally, Todd said, “he came on to me. He came on to all his students. I brushed it off. ... I knew what he was capable of. But he was into young, androgynous boyfriends.”

“Walter is a computer imbecile,” said a source who knew Walter well. “I had to teach him. He would have no idea how to cover his tracks, so if the FBI laid their hands on his computers, the stuff would be right there. It probably wasn’t even password protected. So it’s highly credible that they took those images right off his hard drive. ... This one is sadly deserved. I have no doubt Walter is guilty of everything and probably a lot more we don’t know about. I know him.”

Aside from the horrific allegations of child molestation, the aspect of the backstory around Walter Williams that some fear might cause the LGBT community even more upset is the still-festering wound over how the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives was created. ONE director Joseph Hawkins—who is credited by many with the skill and resolute to transform two merged historic institutions—wrote of how he was originally mentored by Walter:

“I began my work with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives over 15 years ago while a graduate student. My then mentor and dissertation advisor Walter L. Williams asked that I go to the home of recently deceased Los Angeles gay leader Don Slater and his partner Tony Reyes. Reyes, bereft because his partner had just died, said he was “sick of the movement” and stood hurling things into a large bin as I arrived. I spent the next week loading and unloading a large truck with the records of ONE Institute and the Homosexual Information Center from Slater and Reyes’s dusty basement. There was heady emotion in those days, as there is now. Organizations split up, professionalized and disappeared at a scary pace, and ONE was no exception. Fissions, thefts, disagreements and poverty plagued the archive for years.”

 

Todd White claims that was a theft of documents due for the Homosexual Information Center, the heart of Don Slater’s work for years. White says there was no merger and says he has documents to back up his assertions. He is writing a book about the “fissions, thefts” and disagreements over the years, which he says was orchestrated by Walter Williams. He also blames the corrupt university tenure system and union seniority system that circled the wagons to protect Walter, even with complaints, and failed to let in new blood. “We did nothing to defend ourselves,” Todd said of himself and Jim Schrader, trying to get at the “truth” behind the merger. “We didn’t want to hurt the archives. But our sacrifices were devastating.”

In addition to the complaints of sexual harassment allegedly filed by students, some leaders interested in the ONE archives also apparently took steps to quietly have Walter removed from the ONE board in 2003, a year after the grand opening. “He was the biggest phony I ever met,” said the source. “He acted like he owned the archives, and we said, ‘This man can’t have anything to do with our valuable community treasures.’” Hawkins removed himself from Walter’s sway and has since “done a heroic job.” But, the source said, “I always knew that little worm would find a way to create his own self-destruction.”

But the question still remains for an LGBT community which has for too long lived with the historic and debilitating unfair myth of being sexual predators: When and to whom do we report a rumor of or concern about potential child molestation—even one we can’t prove, and even if we think it casts dispersions on our community? Is it better to remain silent and hope someone comes forward with credible testimony, or should we tell someone our suspicions and encourage a full and honest investigation? Which cause is more important—protecting a child from harm or protecting someone’s reputation? As we ponder the answers for ourselves, it’s useful to remember that the law enforcement of today is not the same anti-gay bigots of Stonewall.

And what about this? In light of the indictment—in my humble opinion—this photo from Walter Williams’ own website almost seems to suggest that Walter is flaunting his alleged proclivity. I’m more inclined to protect the fretting kid in the right hand corner than the man reclining like he’s some unaccountable god. I look forward to Walter’s explanation when he gets his day in court. I also hope the mainstream media does their homework beforehand to counter the nightmare of obnoxious coverage we can expect from the right wing. 


 «  Return to previous page
 »  Send to a friend

Leave a comment:

showing all comments · Subscribe to comments
Comment Like
  • 24
  1. Michael Bedwell posted on 06/18/2013 05:02 PM
    Well-researched and written, Karen. Thank you.
  2. Terry DeCrescenzo posted on 06/18/2013 10:20 PM
    Well done, Karen. Just the fact that you have so many unnamed sources is telling. We are still so traumatized as a community by the not-so-long ago firmly held beliefs that our males are all child molesters, that many are afraid to say what they think or know, fearing retribution. From? A notably vindictive Walter Williams; a still often homophobic media (not to mention the wingnut reporters on FOX and similar); those who feel compelled to protect a reputation, despite strong evidence; those who fear that by saying ANYTHING, they will be targetted. Still, here we are, at least some of us, talking about this, seeking the truth no matter who pays a price as long as it is about the truth, and moving in the direction of robust public policy discussions about the issues raised by this case. So glad Karen Ocamb is such an example of journalistic integrity. As for that photo, it is chilling. I wish I hadn't seen it. After 43 years working in child protective services, I know that look.
  3. Anne Beckwith posted on 06/18/2013 10:24 PM
    Walter Williams is one of the great scholars of homosexuality of our time. That he should end up on the FBI's ten-most-wanted list is completely bonkers. It says a lot about how the American neo-totalitarian state uses sexual hysteria for its own purposes -- and has the LGBTers dancing to its drumbeat. The author here is so breathtakingly ignorant of male homosexuality and of history that she doesn't know that what Williams is accused are charges that could be laid equally against Michaelangelo or Oscar Wilde or André Gide. People facing penalties worse than murder for pictures? No youth who may have been involved complaining, but only a 'concerned adult' dropping a dime? Now that the state has marked Williams for destruction, the quisling author here rummages through every rumor and personal conflict to add to the damning portrait. This article is utterly shameful.
    1. Tobias Grace posted on 06/19/2013 03:32 AM
      @Anne Beckwith Walter Williams is demonstratably a prolific writer but that does not make him a "great scholar." His work, especially his work with Native Americans, has been called into serious question by reputable scholars on very substantive grounds. I don't know the man myself but I do know people who have worked with him closely and who bear out the views expressed in this article and do so with vehemence. Ms. Beckwith should correct me if I am wrong but she seems to be saying it is OK for Williams to have committed the alleged offenses because the children did not complain and because others in the past have acted similarly. If this is in fact her line of reasoning, it is beneath contempt. Molesting children is not defensible - period.
    2. Tom Carpenter posted on 06/19/2013 07:05 AM
      @Anne Beckwith @Anne Beckwith: It is apparent from your rant and allegation of the existence of an "American neo-totalitarian state" that you are some left wing loon. This is not just about photos but the possible molestation and manipulation of children. If Mr. Williams is innocent why has he left the country? Why does he not turn himself in, hire the best attorney he can find, and face the charges? Unlike his alleged victims, as an adult, well established author, and tenured professor he is a man of means who can fight these charges.

      As far as the reporting of Ms. Ocamb, Brava! Thank you for digging into these allegations to see if they are supported by facts independent of the government's investigation. Your sources seem to have personal knowledge of Mr. Williams' backgound, experience, research techniques and other information that bears on his character. He is still innocent until proved guilty. The best result for Williams and our community would be for him to have his day in court and be vindicated. None of us want those opposed to equality to use this case to continue the false claim that all pedophiles who molest young boys are gay. By doing this research Ms. Ocamb makes it clear that we place the safety of all children above the possiblity of a tarnished reputation that comes with these types of allegations.
  4. Keith Gemerek posted on 06/19/2013 06:40 AM
    This report is disturbing for several reasons. There is not an ounce of inquiry into the allegations of lawful wrong doing, including the adult making the allegation. The point of view of the author is almost gleeful in her rush to judgment as if to claim a high moral ground to somehow counter the rightwing use of this case to prove their fantasies about homosexuals. Using Harry Hay is most unfortunate, as he is dead first of all and is not present to clarify his position on William's research, but Hay was one of the most outspoken critics of using age of consent laws to demonize homosexuals. He in fact claimed as a teenager to have sought out older men who were experienced. The use of unnamed sources is not so much an indication of a community traumatized by hysteria but a good example of journalistic hysteria in itself. Williams may have been vindictive, arrogant and yes, sexually aggressive, but this report is the worst kind of damaging journalism. Who needs the right wing when ignorance flies so freely in the LGBT community. Making judgments based on a photograph that inexplicably includes a child in the corner is particularly heinous. Rumors, dislikes, intellectual jealousies, scholarly competitiveness, personality conflicts...these are not the things to make legal determinations, but are clearly the things of sensational journalism. For the FBI to put Williams on the top of its most wanted list based on allegations from someone other than a victim should be the first thing to look at, unless you have absolute faith in the legal justice system in this country and have not paid attention to the role of legal sex panic in putting many innocent people behind bars for years, putting consensual sex with "under age" individuals on par with murder. The justice system as well as child protective services are in fact more damaging of gay people now than it was in the 1960's especially when there are allegations of sex with minors. Williams may not have been a likeable man, but this report is the worst I have come across in years. Ms. Ocamb should be ashamed of herself with this dreadful report and LGBT POV should be doing a much better job of monitoring its output. Look to the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ.org) if you want to begin your homework.
  5. William Osler posted on 06/19/2013 09:12 AM
    Pedophilia is a crime.
    While the general society is finally recognizing that homosexuality is not pedophilia, there is further to travel in this regard. Fear of this stereotype is real and should be recognized.
    But, this article alludes to criminal behavior.
    If anyone suspects pedophilic behavior, it should, must be reported. Children need protection.
    History tells us that only by confronting fear can we destroy prejudice.
    Protecting the young is part of being a full member of society.
    (By way of disclosure, I do work in the child protection area.)
  6. Billy Glover posted on 06/19/2013 01:15 PM
    If the search revealed pictures proving child sex that is all that is needed. It may not be relevant that no child complained as most would not know how. And while the motive of the person talking to the FBI may have personal motives, that is how most crimes get solved.What worries me is that once again I and others who know someone did not see this side of the person. But most people accept the person as they see the and do not seek to find secrets, gold or bad.
  7. Gertie posted on 06/19/2013 10:42 PM
    I am puzzled that supposed "child pornography" he made was found on his computer when he returned to the US and he was not arrested on the spot in LAX. I also wonder about a "pedophile" hitting on graduate students (in their mid-to-late 20s). And that there is no mention of any request from the Philippines to extradite him for crimes that allegedly occurred there.

    And on the local front, I am curious about details of the USC process of untenuring.
    1. Rrick posted on 06/20/2013 01:51 AM
      @Gertie "I also wonder about a 'pedophile' hitting on graduate students (in their mid-to-late 20s)."

      Gee, Gertie, are you saying that a gay man can't both lust after twinks (guys in their twenties) as well as much younger males? And that there for lusting after guys in their twenties exonerates him?

      These sort of pathetic rationalizations for Walter Lee Williams are worth of the Catholic Church.
  8. Patrick Dilley posted on 06/19/2013 11:50 PM
    I was Walter's neighbor at the USC Center for Scholars in Residence, in 1995-1997; for the latter year, I was his next door neighbor. My opinion of him concerning his personal life is probably not pertinent to the charges against him. What is interesting, to me, is how consistent the former graduate students' experiences were, and how similar to mine.

    My first week at USC, Walter asked me to review a manuscript that he had been given to evaluate. I did so, and gave it to him; he asked me to re-do it, which I did. He said it would be helpful for my career. Oddly, though, he sent in my review, as written, under his name. That was when I realized that Walter's mentoring was probably not going to be helpful to my career.

    The dilemma that faces academics now - especially those of us who study GLBT issues - is what to make of his work. This isn't the first time a gay scholar whose most famous work(s) have been charged (rightfully) to be based upon more than intimate relations with respondents. Does Walter's ickiness (okay, there, my personal opinion), his questionable professional ethics, and his arrest outweigh the good that he (might have) done in the past? I don't think all of Walter's research was tainted; I don't think all of his research was all that great, either; but his work was important to the development of gender studies, non-heterosexual identity studies, and GLBT academic disciplines in general.
    1. gertie posted on 06/20/2013 10:27 AM
      @Patrick Dilley interesting blurb on Amazon ( for which Dilley bears no responsibility, I hasten to add in advance)
      "Patrick Dilley's study is valuable because it shows that there is not one single line of development for homosexual men, but rather multiple patterns among males who may see themselves as gay, queer, or normal....Dilley's research found common patterns ranging from homo-social emotional involvements in fraternity rituals, to anonymous orgasms in restroom trysts. These narratives display the sheer joy of sex that many of the respondents reported, often from a very early age, with other boys or older men. The positively-remembered life experiences reported here are a pronounced corrective to the stereotype of same-sex activities that are presented as tragic exploitation for young men. -- Walter L. Williams, Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, and Editor, International Gay and Lesbian Review"
  9. wrenwick posted on 06/20/2013 06:28 PM
    I took a Native American History class taught by Professor Williams back in the late 1980's. I recall him being forthright about his sexuality at the start of the semester - and daring the class to "get over it or leave." I recall really liking him as a professor and enjoying his class immensely. I hope he is innocent. I don't want these allegations to be true.
  10. Manuel Fernandez posted on 06/20/2013 08:07 PM
    I lived in Walter Williams' Los Angeles home for a couple of years and studied with him for five years at USC, stayed once at his Palm Springs home and never, never, ever saw any improper behavior coming from him, and never saw any type of pedophile or child abuse behavior, tendency, not even a thought or a comment on that regard, or nothing that even evoked that in his homes or among his friends and students. I would happily testify on written or in person in favor of him.
  11. Lillianf posted on 06/20/2013 08:29 PM
    The FBI declares that “the charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” But you wouldn’t know that from most of the responses here. I’m puzzled about why so many have jumped in to assume this guy’s guilt without being privy to a shred of proof. I’m even more puzzled about why a writer as fine as Karen Ocamb quotes numerous anonymous sources willing to damn Williams’ life and work. I’d like to know, for instance, who all these gay and lesbian anthropologists are who find his methods “unethical.” Who is this “knowledgeable source” who said “I knew it would come down eventually to this sort of scandal”? I’m also troubled by the picture of Williams in a tourist boat, with a man and woman behind him and a kid in the foreground—which is taken for evidence that he’s molested the kid??? Huh??? I have no idea whether Williams is innocent or guilty. Neither does the FBI at this point, as they admit. And neither does Karen Ocamb, nor those who wrote these nastiest little comments about him. How about we wait to find out if the evidence shows he’s guilty of something? How about until we find he’s guilty we circle the wagons around this guy who’s spent his life on LGBT scholarship? Then if he’s guilty, let’s get mad. But not now, when even the FBI says “THE CHARGES CONTAINED IN THE INDI CTMENT ARE MERELY ACCUSATIONS.”
    1. Patrick Dilley posted on 06/20/2013 09:30 PM
      @Lillianf It does seem as if judgments are being rushed to.
    2. Debra Soshoux posted on 06/21/2013 04:58 PM
      @Lillianf I also know Prof. Williams and I too have never seen anything to suggest these charges have any validity. Putting him on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list? Gimme a break. That and the hatchet job masquerading as a news article are homophobia at its rankest.
  12. Toby Johnson posted on 06/21/2013 02:35 PM
    Walter Williams apparently made enemies among those who knew him. A lot of bad things are being said about him. I did not know him personally, but I was his editor and collaborator on two novels. I've corresponded with him off and on for twenty years by mail and then email. I've read his writings on the Internet. I know what is in those two loving, sweet, sensitive, gay-positive, life-positive, spiritually-astute novels. The man I know seems so totally different from the man being written about in these posts.
  13. LV posted on 06/26/2013 09:57 AM
    So sad to see the hysteria and moral panic around age of consent issues here. People seem to have a need to call this pedophilea. Pedophilea is attraction towards prepubescent individuals. Being attracted towards boys 14-17 year old has nothing to with that, and a society that treats teenage young boys voluntarily seeking older guys for sex like murder is sick.

    People defending the fact that this man is looking at rotting in jail where he will be living through hell every day as a hate object is the harshest places in the mostly free world and a target of rape, violence and all kinds of perversities for consentual sex better take a good look in the mirror.
  14. Perry Brass posted on 06/28/2013 01:33 PM
    This is an amazing story, and very painful. Having been involved in the gay movement before it became the LGBT movement, that is, from 1969 right after Stonewall, I can say that most of the dozens of activists, scholars, and politicos that I have known would never make it to sainthood, and many of them were actively vilified in their lifetimes—especially the really good, committed ones. As Bruce Voeller said to me, on more than one occasion, "You can tell the leaders in this movement, they're the ones with all the arrows in their backs." What I can pretty much be positive about is that Walter L. Williams is now the center of an orchestrate effort to convict him, an effort that if he does not have even more than adequate legal help, will destroy him. All you have to do is read the front page of the NY Times every day to see that all of William's "crimes" in third world countries pale in comparison to what's happening every day in these places. Williams may have been "exploitative" and even stupid, but he will certainly not deserve what is going to happen to him as this situation with the FBI unfolds. Perry Brass
  15. Alessandra posted on 12/15/2013 02:31 PM
    So what happened to this alleged piece of turd called Williams? Why is there no more news on his case?
showing all comments