A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.
From the stories extracted from the children--particularly those who served as crossing guards--Friedrichs had not only molested a number of boys, but had engaged in statutory rape.
The police were never involved. The parents, most of them now in their 60s, say principal Robert Castle and his superintendent believed it better if things were handled quietly. (Castle could not be reached for comment. His former secretary told PW that he'd moved to an undisclosed address in Florida.)
Mr. Friedrichs and his wife simply disappeared.
Marise Stillman was incredulous: How could the school district simply send a predator on his way?
When the mother of another victim phoned, begging her to let it go because she didn't want her son embarrassed, Marise got the impression that the woman thought her own child was somehow responsible.
All this did was galvanize Marise Stillman's efforts to see justice done. On the advice of a lawyer, she petitioned the court to indict Friedrichs. The lawyer had her son John evaluated by a child psychologist, then said he would have to tell a judge exactly what had happened in the classroom.
John, just 12, was having a hard time dealing with the embarrassing narrative of the story, so his brothers helped him practice. "If Friedrichs touched your dick, you have to say he touched your dick," they told him.
But when he was brought in to testify, all John could do was cry. Finally magistrate Robert Shaffer led him out of the courtroom and said, according to the Stillmans, "We can't do anything with this." (Reached late last week for comment on his handling of the Stillmans' case, Shaffer had no recollection of it.)
They took John home, and it seemed the whole miserable affair would end there. But Marise's feelings hadn't changed.
At a school board meeting she stood up and asked her neighbors a single question: In failing to involve the police, are you willing to take responsibility for whatever happens next?
Twenty-seven years would pass before Marise Stillman would hear the name Edgar Friedrichs again.
Then in 2000 she received a visit from a private investigator who wanted to know what she remembered about her children's fifth-grade teacher.
Daniel Barber--a gray-haired, pot-bellied, pipe-smoking character right out of a Mickey Spillane novel--told Marise Stillman he'd been hired by the family of a dead child. Then he told a story that put Marise and her husband into a state of shock.
The story was this: Jeremy Bell, a fifth-grader in Fayette County, W.V., had been on an overnight fishing trip with his school's principal. Somehow the boy wound up dead from a mysterious head injury. The name of the principal--and this was the part that stunned Marise Stillman--was Edgar Friedrichs.
An autopsy showed Jeremy Bell had suffered trauma severe enough to cause his brain to burst out of its casing. In addition, there was enough amitriptyline in the blood of the 98-pound boy to knock him out cold.
Amitriptyline is an antidepressant that pediatricians sometimes use to sedate children.
And there was something else. Jeremy Bell's friend, asleep in the next room when Jeremy received the head trauma, told police that before going to bed Friedrichs had the two boys play the "juice game"--a game which essentially amounted to each of the boys downing a cup of bitter chalky liquid in one gulp.
Still no arrest was made, and the Fayette County Sheriff's Office closed the investigation after only three days. Further, when the autopsy report became public, the prosecutor was quoted in the local paper as saying there appeared to be no evidence of foul play. Friedrichs took the rest of the school year off with pay.
The Bell family, hardworking West Virginians by birth, believed that people were covering for Friedrichs because he had money. Though his salary from the school district was $44,000 a year, he owned property worth millions of dollars. He'd bought the property, he said, with money he'd inherited.