Decades after he molested students in nearby Prospect Park, Edgar Friedrichs Jr. continued his crimes in West Virginia.
He must have seemed an attractive candidate to the Fayette County superintendent, and he moved quickly up the ladder. In 1981, when Keith was a third-grader, Friedrichs was named principal of Powellton Elementary in Fayetteville, W.V.
Yet by the time Keith, a tall, skinny, tow-headed coal miner's son, started fifth grade, Friedrichs' pathology had begun to stir up again. The new principal became infatuated with the little boy, spending as much time with him as he could. He loved teaching him, talking with him, indulging him.
Now a mechanical engineer with a large family of his own, Bowen recalls how Friedrichs told him he was exceptionally smart and that if he worked hard, he could rise above the expectations of those around him. "In many ways he was benefiting me," he tells PW. "That was his justification for satisfying himself."
Friedrichs tutored Keith privately in his office, and through his help the 10-year-old triumphed in both the county math and the statewide science fairs. But the special treatment soured some of his relationships with peers.
Other kids were jealous, and he'd begun acting like a brat. Once he pulled the fire alarm for no reason. He did things like that a lot--and why not? Being sent to the principal's office was no big deal. Mr. Friedrichs would never get mad at him.
Several faculty members began to suspect there was something unwholesome about Friedrichs' relationship with Keith. "DO NOT DISTURB" warnings were sometimes posted outside the large supply room where the principal conducted some of his exclusive tutoring sessions. If the one-on-ones with Keith weren't held there, Friedrichs might use the office suite. On those occasions his secretary would be banished from her desk and would have to complete her work on a cafeteria table.
By the middle of the 1983-'84 term the offices, which doubled as the faculty lounge, resembled a scene from the old movie Boy's Town: Keith and his friends would be sprawled on the floor, reading under Friedrichs' desk, or climbing on the furniture.
The once harsh and erratic disciplinarian had mellowed since his days at Prospect Park. Now, instead of browbeating his chosen boys into submission, he let them do whatever they wanted.
Word must have gotten to supervisor of elementary schools John Cavalier (who has since retired and was unavailable for comment). According to reading teacher Jo Ann Collins' recent deposition (Jeremy Bell's father is suing the Fayette County Board of Education in federal court), Cavalier popped into her classroom toward the end of the term and asked to speak with her privately.
As she remembers it, Cavalier said, "Mrs. Collins, is there something going on that I need to investigate?" She said yes, believing her simple affirmation spoke volumes.
But apparently she didn't get her point across, because nothing changed. Months later in the faculty lounge, when another teacher said that enough was enough and that they had a duty to do something about their boss, Collins quickly agreed. That February eight faculty members scheduled an appointment with a school district representative.
Once they arrived for their appointment, the official seemed to already know what they were talking about. The faculty members shared their observations, using polite Southern terminology like "favoritism" and "lack of discipline," Collins recalls. The group left with the impression that they'd been heard.
But perhaps they weren't direct enough, because again nothing changed. Yet Friedrichs found out about the meeting and cornered Collins in the kindergarten room. Without being asked, he brought up his relationship with the fifth-grader.
Whatever the nature of that relationship, Collins says she told him that she didn't approve. Further, she predicted serious consequences if the Bowen family men were to discover that Keith was being hurt.
She concluded by saying, "Mr. Friedrichs, I fear you may have moved yourself onto a limb, and now you have a saw in your hand!"
Friedrichs, she recalls, just smiled.
Friedrichs was transferred to a different school the following term. In 1995 he was made principal of nearby Beckwith Elementary. It was there that he found a replacement for Keith Bowen--11-year-old Jeremy Bell.
Friedrichs made no effort to hide his obsession. Co-workers noticed he kept a couple of school photographs of the tall, fair-haired boy inside his desk drawer. Jeremy was good in math and science too, and Friedrichs began tutoring him privately.
Friedrichs also took him on long weekends, often inviting a couple of Jeremy's friends along. They'd go camping and fishing or skinny- dipping in the river, but sometimes Friedrichs would treat them to more exotic entertainment, like kayaking and horseback riding.