Decades after he molested students in nearby Prospect Park, Edgar Friedrichs Jr. continued his crimes in West Virginia.
Friedrichs had no answer for the investigators, yet he was not arrested. Nor was he arrested in the months to come, when more incriminating evidence surfaced.
There were the drugs.
Friedrichs would tell detective Burke that he'd given Jeremy an Actifed before bed--yet no sinus medication was found in the child's blood. According to the autopsy report, a potent antidepressant was found instead.
In his deposition (last year Jeremy's mother settled a $300,000 wrongful-death suit with Friedrichs' insurance company), the pathologist says the dosage in Jeremy's body was enough to put the 98-pound boy into a deep sleep.
A month later Mikey's mom brought him back to talk with the sheriff. The boy had forgotten to mention something she thought could be important: Before bed, Friedrichs had given him and Jeremy a cup of gritty, sugarless juice to drink. Friedrichs told them they were playing the "juice game," the object being to drink it quickly without spilling a drop. Mikey told the detective he got tired after drinking it.
Finally, the autopsy showed that Jeremy's brain had been traumatized so badly that it had swollen out of its casing. Friedrichs' recounting of events didn't even begin to explain that.
Still, the morning of Jeremy's death, Friedrichs drove himself home.
According to Burke's report, around 4 o'clock that afternoon Friedrichs' daughter and son-in-law, who had gone to Friedrichs' home to check on him, called 911. Friedrichs had tried to kill himself.
By the time paramedics arrived, Friedrichs' family, who had discovered him in his car with a vacuum cleaner hose taped to the exhaust and fed through the hatchback, had rescued him.
He was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning in the emergency room and then released. His suicide note, which instructed that all his belongings be left to his children, was addressed to his wife. It read, "Forgive me, but I cannot go on living. I assumed responsibility for his well-being and failed."
After the botched suicide attempt, Friedrichs took the rest of the school year off--with pay. He recovered from what he would later call depression, and the following year he was back in the classroom.
For the sixth time, he was transferred to a different school in the district. This time it was Fayette Plateau Vo-Tech, where he was assigned to special-ed teens. When a Charleston Gazette reporter spoke to Friedrichs at home, he said only that the whole event was "a tragedy."
In January 1998 Fayette County prosecutor Paul Blake released Jeremy Bell's autopsy report to the public. To the disbelief of the child's family, Blake suggested that the death appeared to be some sort of choking accident. He told a reporter at The Charleston Gazette that foul play seemed unlikely and that criminal action "appeared to be unwarranted."
But in addition to his role as county prosecutor, Blake also served as legal adviser to the Board of Education. Jeremy's family contends that put him in the position of having to choose between prosecuting Friedrichs and defending the institution that allowed him to hurt children for years. They think Blake hesitated to indict the principal for murder because in doing so he'd be leaving the school board wide open for a civil suit.
In a November 2001 letter to the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Jeremy Bell's older cousin Elsie Deal asked that Blake either recuse himself or be removed from the case. Blake responded that his role at the school board was nominal, and that he actually had very little to do with what goes on at the central school board office located right next door to his own.
He also said that although Friedrichs was considered a suspect in Jeremy's death, there was no hard evidence to justify an arrest.
The Disciplinary Counsel supported Blake's rebuttal by reiterating his response that "county prosecutors are charged with representing the offices of various county officials."
In an April 2002 letter to Deal, chief counsel Lawrence Lewis said that because there was no evidence of a conflict of interest, the matter was closed.
Coincidentally, in the six months between the time Deal complained to the Disciplinary Board and the time the counsel made its ruling, Friedrichs was indicted for molesting Jeremy's friends.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace