Decades after he molested students in nearby Prospect Park, Edgar Friedrichs Jr. continued his crimes in West Virginia.
Jeremy's classmates were disgusted. And when they found out about the expensive gifts--a crossbow, a $600 bike--they called Jeremy and his buddies "fags."
Friedrichs' feelings for Jeremy didn't sit well with the other children's parents either. Several had suspicions.
Kathy Bird, the mother of a girl in Jeremy's class, told investigator Barber that she'd tried to keep Friedrichs away from Jeremy months before his death.
Bird says she grew alarmed at the end of the 1996-'97 school year when her daughter said that Jeremy told her Mr. Friedrichs liked to watch him undress when they went swimming.
Bird, who worked as a secretary in the local prosecutor's office, began asking questions. From an acquaintance who worked as a teacher's aide at Powellton, she learned of the odd relationship Friedrichs had had with Keith Bowen a decade earlier. On the advice of one of Friedrichs' colleagues, she walked next door to the central school board office and demanded an audience.
In her April deposition, she says that when she told an official Friedrichs had a bad reputation and spent too much time with the children after school, the school board rep was dismissive. He told her they could be concerned with only what happened during school hours--not what happened after school and during the summer.
Bird was stunned. She had evidence that Friedrichs was a ticking time bomb, and the board rep didn't want to hear it.
At 7:04 a.m. on Nov. 8, 1997, emergency dispatchers received a call from a pay phone. It was a boy named Mikey Pascocciello saying that his friend, Jeremy Bell, was in trouble.
Ten minutes later two paramedics arrived at a ranger station near Friedrichs' cabin, where they met a dark haired, chubby-cheeked 12-year-old waiting to direct them through the drizzle.
Paramedic James Duffey told investigator Barber that when they pulled up, Mikey walked over slowly, with no sense of urgency. He seemed "lethargic, very depressed, or drugged or something--just staring off." They had to shout at him to get him in the vehicle, and when he got in he just pointed toward the cabin in silence.
According to court records, at the cabin Duffey and his partner encountered a gruesome scene: a bed covered with vomit, and the stiff, blue body of a child on the floor. Friedrichs was bent over him "faking CPR," in Duffey's assessment.
The emergency workers didn't have to touch the body to know the boy had been dead for hours. Yet Friedrichs asked them if he'd be "all right."
Looking around, a deputy noticed several other strange things. First, the principal's bed didn't appear to have been slept in. Second, in spite of the huge amounts of vomit covering Jeremy's bed, his half-naked body was spotless--as if it had been scrubbed clean.
Then there was the box.
According to his report, Detective Garland Burke found a flattened box with a shipping label that read "Beckwith Elementary School" in the river just outside the cabin. The box had a poison symbol on it.
Although it had been raining all night, the box wasn't terribly wet on the side that faced up. It seemed to have been recently discarded. The mystery of the box wouldn't be solved till much later.
Friedrichs followed the deputies in his car to give a statement at the sheriff's office. When he filled out the paperwork, his hand was so shaky that his name and address were hardly legible.
A deputy took the pen, and Friedrichs dictated his version of events. He said he had woken up in the middle of the night for a smoke, and smelled vomit. (According to court records, Friedrichs' original statement to paramedics was that he'd woken up because he heard the boy vomiting.) He turned on the light to see throw-up all over Jeremy's bed. He tried to take the boy's pulse, but he wasn't breathing. He shook him and slapped his face. After trying to resuscitate him, he woke up Mikey and sent him out to call for help.
A 12-year veteran of emergency services, Duffey would tell investigator Barber he couldn't understand why Mikey and Friedrichs hadn't heard Jeremy vomiting in the room right next door. And why hadn't Friedrichs just driven the child to the hospital?