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.