Don't Ask, Don't Tell

A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.

By Aina Hunter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Sep. 22, 2004

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Jeremy's family, especially the dead child's grandmother, wouldn't let it go. For months the elderly woman discussed the case long distance with her cousin Elsie Deal, a retired English professor at Edinboro University, near Erie, Pa.

A round, gray-haired, practical woman, Deal had never met Jeremy, but she hated the idea that her relatives could be treated as though their lives meant nothing. Through the criminology department at Edinboro, she made contact with private investigator Dan Barber, who had offices in McKean, Pa., about an hour's drive away.

Having never hired a private eye before, Deal had no idea what to expect. But when the gravelly voiced detective opened the door to the little country house that served as his office, she was led into a study that could have been lifted from pulp fiction.

The walls were covered with awards and medals and framed newspaper clippings, memorabilia from his 38-year career in law enforcement. There were dozens of certificates showing completion of surveillance, interrogation and police dog-management classes.

Barber's table and desk were filled with unusual and painstakingly arranged bric-a-brac: arrowheads, animal bones, a police dog collar. Judging from the rows of perfectly sharpened pencils and the collection of books on the criminal brain, Barber was both organized and meticulous.

Deal told him the story of the child's death, and he went to work. He looked at the autopsy report and newspaper clippings the family had collected over the years. All the evidence gathered by the sheriff's office pointed to Friedrichs, and Barber couldn't understand why the principal wasn't, at the very least, arrested on the spot for negligent homicide.

That he was still allowed to teach children was even harder for Barber to comprehend, and he became convinced he was dealing with a top-down cover-up.

He told Deal that her West Virginia relatives were probably right: Friedrichs, for reasons he couldn't explain, was being protected. They could try to contact the feds, but Friedrichs still might never stand trial.

There was one thing he could do, he told her. If Jeremy had been molested the night he died, he most certainly wasn't Friedrichs' first victim.

Barber said he could try to locate others and get them to tell their stories, which might put Friedrichs away.

Was that her goal?

Deal said it was, and Barber made Edgar Friedrichs the focus of his professional life.

To crack the case, Barber knew he'd have to go back in time. How did Friedrichs get to West Virginia in the first place?

By asking around, Barber found out about the nine years Friedrichs had spent teaching at a school called Prospect Park Elementary just outside Philadelphia. He saw that Friedrichs had left his teaching job at Prospect Park to substitute at nearby schools in other districts.

Barber wondered why a married man with a new baby would make such an inexplicable career move. He also wondered why he would later apply for a full-time position in West Virginia.


Marise Stillman poured Dan Barber another soda, and the hard memories flooded back: the day in the kitchen watching her sons role-play; John in his little coat and tie, being led from the magistrate's office in tears; the phone calls from neighbors begging her to forget the whole thing.

Friedrichs had left Prospect Park in '73, so Barber and his apprentice, Kristen Kuharik, pored over high school yearbooks to get the last names of children who could have been in his fifth-grade classes. He then turned to the white pages of the phone book, which is how he found Marise Stillman.

From the hotel suite that he'd turned into a temporary office in Media, Barber and Kuharik traced Friedrichs' early life in painstaking detail. They located the house where Friedrichs grew up and the elementary and high schools he'd attended. They even retraced the route he would have taken on his bike to deliver newspapers.

Although Marise was beginning to wonder if the detective weren't a bit obsessive, she listened with growing horror. The news about Jeremy was devastating. The West Virginia boy had been the same age as her boys had been when Friedrichs frightened and molested them.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Anonymous said... on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:48AM

“Where did friedricks live while he worked in Prospect Park...are there reports of him molesting in the neighborhoods (in wooded areas or on streets) at this time? Did he only molest children well known to him.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:18AM

“He went after well groom, good standing boys. I had him when I was at Interboro (5th grade) We would everyday, have to write our letters ABCs
once we were done a page, we would take it up to him and he would correct it with the students next to him. He always always have his hand around the the boys and hold them tight while checking the work. only the boys no girls I will never forget that, never understood why he did that.
he also had the boys desk around his deck. He was a very mean teacher”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:27AM

“CON'T FROM ABOVE
Interboro knew what he was!! in my class it was a boy name Steve his father was a priest and quess who started to go to church? i know because I went to that church too! Steve's father caught on what this guy was!!
he went to the school broad back then and they did nothing about! Quess who stop going to church once Steve;s father did that! i will never forget him because is was so mean to the kids, you never step out of line with him
years later when I heard what he did the past made sense to me”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:08PM

“I heard about this, but first time I read all about it. I will never forget being in his class for math, and since I had switched schools the prior year, I was never taught short division. I was a smart kid, and rather than simply take a few minutes to teach me this after class, he put me into a lower math class (his was the highest). I liked my new Math teacher, but was bored to death!! It always bothered me why he did that. He was a popular teacher as far as I knew then, so it really made me feel bad. But alas, I am a female!! Now all is clear. Even when I became a safety, finally, as it was a coveted position, and it was full of boys, I never could see why kids thought he was so great. I hated him for putting me a dumber class, and I always thought he was mean to students. Now it all makes sense. I am horrified what he did to my classmates! I remember those huge closets, I am so sorry anyone was abused like that.”

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5. Kim said... on May 21, 2014 at 09:28PM

“I was probably one of the few female students in his "inner circle" at Prospect Park Elementary. He saw I had artistic talent so I stayed after class so he could help me with painting. And I got a ride home in the totally awesome mustang convertible (66-67). And there were times that a certain few of us (mostly boys, and me) got to have a ride to his house in Collingdale. I must say that he never approached me in an inappropriate way-but I was clearly not his ultimate interest. Words cannot express about what happened to my classmates and Jeremy Bell-it is just unbelievable and sickening.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Sep 12, 2014 at 09:33AM

“At his trial, Friedrichs kept baiting Jeremy Bell's dad, Roy, who recently passed away. He said from the stand that Jeremy told him, "Just don't do to me what my dad did to me." His goal was to try to make Roy scream at him during the trial so he would get a mistrial. But that didn't happen. Roy kept his cool and the jury found Friedrichs guilty.

He was really gross in his trial. He talked about "defecating" and seemed to add details to try to passively aggressively make people uncomfortable when he recalled the night that Jeremy died.

He even brought his own kids to the trial, and I felt so sorry for them. Granted, his daughter came across as haughty because she felt so ashamed, and she tried to say that one of Friedrichs' victims had a mental problem, but nobody believed her. Everyone just felt bad for her.

I'm glad he's in prison where he belongs.”

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