Boy Scouts sex abuse scandal in US sheds light on 44-year-old case at Rota base
Scoutmaster was removed from Troop 74 after investigation determined he abused boys
Accused ex-navy officer tried to rejoin the organization after returning to the United States
A major US court inquiry into sexual abuse charges that allegedly took place over the years by supervisors and volunteers at Boy Scouts of America has for the first time disclosed details about a 44-year-old case in which a scoutmaster at Rota Naval Station in Cádiz was accused of molesting underage boys while serving as an officer there.
The 28-page report on the Rota incidents is only a small sampling of the more than 3,200 confidential case files compiled throughout the years by Boy Scouts officials, but made public on December 25 through a database set up by the Los Angeles Times.
The majority of the internal sexual abuse investigations on scoutmasters, volunteers and other supervisors detailed in the files, and which date back to the late 1940s, focus on complaints in cities and communities across the United States. But scandalous dossiers on similar incidents involving scout officials were also gathered across Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean during this period.
Boy Scouts collected the data for its own private use, mainly to identify offenders and keep them from re-applying for positions in other communities. But the documents also support long-held notions that scout officials in many cases never reported the incidents to local authorities while safeguarding them in what they termed “the confidential file.”
After a lawsuit was lodged by one of the victims — as well as some US media outlets — the state Supreme Court in Oregon ordered the release of those files in October.
The internal criminal inquiry involving Troop 74, which was supervised by military officers at the Rota Naval Station in Cádiz, took place in the summer of 1968.
According to a summary sheet filed on August 28, 1968, the offender, Benjamin T. Bartlett, was then a 26-year-old first class navy petty officer on active duty, originally from New Hampshire, who served as scoutmaster for Troop 74 under the jurisdiction of the organization’s Transatlantic Council.
An investigative summary prepared by the troop’s then-committee chairman, Lt. Col. George Tubley, stated that Bartlett “acted in an improper and immoral manner in his relations” with the boys and “with other scouts of the Rota area.”
“My inquiry established that Mr Bartlett [B.]had displayed homosexual tendencies and that he had satisfied his desires in this regard by performing indecent acts with Scouts at various times,” reads Tubley’s July 22, 1968 letter to the head of the Spain-Morocco district of the Transatlantic Council.
Bartlett, who was immediately asked to resign after he was confronted, was turned over to the naval authorities for investigation. Tubley said at the time that the investigation was “still in process” and “it appears” the suspect will be charged with violations to a part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: indecent acts with children under the age of 16.
There is no information whether the incidents were ever reported to the Spanish Civil Guard or other local authorities.
An August 28, 1968 confidential record sheet — describing the former scoutmaster as single, being “very well built” and having a “New Hampshire accent” — said that Bartlett had been removed from duty, “sent for psychiatric work up,” and would be court-martialed “for his actions.”
Although Tubley promised to inform Boy Scouts authorities about the outcome of the case, a 1971 letter written by the organization’s then-registration director, Earl Krall, states that the organization never received any information concerning the whereabouts of Bartlett.
In his resignation letter — also part of the disclosed case file — Bartlett neither admits nor denies any wrongdoing but suggests that his predicament may be due to the fact that “one or two boys feel that I am unfair about passing off [sic] scouts for the swimming merit badge.”
“I know that the majority of the boys in the troop will be glad to see me go. But there will be some who will be sad and will not understand, but be that as it may, it can’t be helped,” he wrote on July 23, 1968. Bartlett signs off by saying that he will not participate “in any scouting activity while here in Rota.”
“All past, present and future scouting plans have been cancelled,” he added.
Yet, two years later he turned up in California, applying to serve as a merit badge counselor for the scouts’ XIII World Jamboree that took place in Japan in August 1972, and as a scoutmaster for Troop 517 in the San Francisco area. The records show that his scoutmaster application was approved and, because of a misspelling of his name, he was granted a certificate that was valid up until March 28, 1971.
At one point during the scouts’ investigation into whether Bartlett was the same disgraced navy petty officer from Rota, the applicant, when confronted, acknowledged to Boy Scouts officials in an interview that he indeed had been stationed at the Spanish base and had also been an assistant scoutmaster in the Philadelphia area.
“If this is the same man, you don’t want him registered as a merit badge counselor and very definitely, do not want him serving as a leader in your Jamboree contingent to the World Jamboree,” registration director Krall wrote to the San Francisco Bay Area Council on October 20, 1970.
Again, a 1971 record shows that he was registered as a committeeman for the same San Francisco troop. In May 1971, the FBI met with then-registration supervisor Paul Ernst. “From the information they supplied, it seems that the man has again committed offences, between October and December, with Troop 517,” reads a brief unsigned statement in the case file.
There is no official information on whether Bartlett was ever prosecuted. He reportedly died in his native New Hampshire in April 2003, according to an obituary in a local newspaper.