Metropolis: Wednesday, January 16, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A Stackof Horror Stories

nvestigators have recived about a dozen molestation complaints againstex-coach Wirt Norris.

By DAN MALONE

The dam of silence and shame that for 30 years shielded a prominent Fort Worth coach from accusations of child molestation is crumbling.

A Tarrant County sheriff’s department official said Tuesday that investigators have spoken with about a dozen men who say they were molested by former coach Wirt M. Norris Jr. Those men in turn have given investigators the names of many other possible victims, the official said.

One man scheduled to talk with investigators later this week told Fort Worth Weekly that Norris told him 20 years ago that he had been with hundreds of boys. “He said 200,’’ asserted the man, who asked not to be identified. “That’s straight from the horse’s mouth.’’

The accusations against Norris, a 75-year-old real estate broker and former Panther Boys Club diving coach, were first published on the Weekly’s website, www.fwweekly.com.

Norris has denied the accusations through his attorneys, but declined to otherwise comment.

“There is a time and a place for everything and the prudent thing right now is for Mr. Norris not to say anything,” said attorney Michael Ware. “Of course, there are no criminal charges filed at this time, and there may never be.”

In the wake of scandals involving the Catholic church, he said, “It seems as if there are an extraordinary number of cases in which older, respected members of society have been accused of sexual improprieties with young boys and young men and some of those accusations, possibly a good number, are simply false.”

Rolf Kaastad, 41, and Will Hallman, 19, have accused Norris of sexually molesting them years ago, Kaastad in the 1970s and Hallman in the 1990s. Kaastad plans to speak with investigators later this week. Hallman has previously given the sheriff’s department a statement, and this week he and his parents, William P. and Nancy Hallman, filed a civil lawsuit against Norris. William P. Hallman is an attorney and director of Kelly, Hart & Hallman, one of Fort Worth’s most influential law firms.

The Hallmans’ lawsuit alleges Norris has been “an active sexual predator of young boys for about 30 years’’ who met Will Hallman after brokering a real estate deal for his parents in the mid 1990s. Norris, the lawsuit says, boasted of being an Olympic diving judge and a member of a local boat club, and the Hallman family thought nothing untoward when he invited their 12-year-old son to go water-skiing.

Eventually, the lawsuit says, the ski trips were replaced with episodes filled with “Norris’ blatant vulgarity,’’ “graphic details about Norris’ sexual fantasies,’’ and “inappropriate private and personal sexual conversations with Will.’’ Norris masturbated in front of the boy, touched the boy’s penis with a vibrator, and warned him not to tell his parents “what we guys do at the lake,’’ the suit alleges.

“I don’t want your parents to think that I’m the one introducing you to all of this,’’ the lawsuit quotes Norris as saying. “Dad doesn’t get to see your penis. Only Wirt gets to do that.’’

The lawsuit describes Will, prior to his encounters with Norris, as a “sweet and innocent adolescent.’’ Afterward, according to the filing, Will plunged into odd, self-destructive behavior, became “moody, sullen and more of a loner.’’ Following high school graduation, he had a “total emotional breakdown,’’ experimented with drugs, talked of suicide, and attempted it once.

The lawsuit says Will, who dreamed of pursuing a career in music, has been treated by eight psychologists or psychiatrists and has been institutionalized in nine facilities. His problems, the family says in their lawsuit, were the direct result of Norris’ actions.

In the days that followed the Weekly’s Jan. 4 article on Norris, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and KTVT/Channel 11 did stories of their own. And other victims began coming forward.

Among them: a man in his 40s who didn’t want to be identified and whom we’ll call John Jay. The North Texas businessman said he met Norris when he was in his early teens and became one of his divers. Soon, he said, Norris was showing him pornography, teaching him to masturbate and to engage in oral sex.

Jay said Norris attempted to reassure him that what they did together was OK, telling him he would, “grow up, get married, and have children.’’ And he boasted of his own heterosexual encounters. “Wirt always told me about his experiences with [the women he dated],’’ said Jay. “That’s what made it normal. He was going to teach me how to get girls. That’s what it’s all about.’’

Despite such assurances, Jay said he became increasingly repulsed by their encounters. “It ended because it really started to disgust me,’’ he said. Like several other victims, Jay said he quickly turned to alcohol as a crutch for dealing with his feelings about the abuse.

By the time he was in his early 20s, Jay had married and served in the armed forces. When he encountered Norris at the wedding of a mutual acquaintance in the early 1980s, he said, he thought he had recovered from the abuse. He approached Norris and told him that he was forgiving him but wanted to know how many other boys he had been with.

Norris, according to Jay, responded: “You don’t need to know that.’’

But Jay persisted. “I said, ‘How many? ... He said ‘Two hundred,’” Jay recalled. “Why would a man admit to something he didn’t do? ... He did not apologize. He never said he’s sorry. He played it off, like, ‘Oh ... what we did wasn’t that bad.’ “

Jay said he continues to struggle with alcohol abuse but has been sober since the news that he’s not alone has begun to sink in. “I think the demon in me has been released,’’ he said. “I’m hoping that’s the thing that’s driving my booze.’’

Is it conceivable that any pedophile could molest hundreds of children before getting caught? Stormy Farmer, the sergeant in charge of the sheriff’s criminal investigation section, has a one word answer.

“Yes,’’ she said. During the last week, investigators have “spoken with around a dozen, maybe just under a dozen’’ men who say they were molested by Norris years ago, she said. “Every person we have talked to has implicated a minimum of two others, so it’s expanding exponentially,’’ she said.

“We have victims who range, in date terms, from 7 years ago to 37 years ago. I’m sure there are more current victims that we have not been able to locate or who have not come forward.’’

Several law enforcement agencies have been contacted about Norris over the years, but as yet none has filed a case against him.

The district attorney’s office interviewed one young boy in the early 1980s after his family became concerned about a group of boys Norris entertained, according to a relative of the boy. But the boy himself said he wasn’t molested, and investigators expressed reservations about “digging around’’ on a such a well-connected and affluent businessman.

The relative said she regretted that “no one would do the kind of investigating, watching, talking to kids ... that would break this open’’ 20 years ago.

Law enforcement officials have said they were powerless to act until recently because all of the incidents, by law, were too old to prosecute. A Tarrant County prosecutor also said a suspect’s prominence in the community plays no role in how cases are handled.

In another case, a father said Norris made sexually inappropriate comments to his son in the 1980s. The father said he informed a police officer friend about the incident, and that the officer checked on Norris but found nothing.

Twenty years later, the father wondered aloud why the police haven’t been more aggressive in investigating the ex-coach. “Why haven’t they gone down there, sealed off that damn house, and seen if any of these kids have been photographed or are on the internet?’’ he asked.

Farmer declined to discuss why police have yet to search Norris’ home. “There’s a reason, but I’m not able to go into it,’’ she said.

Mike Simmons, chief of the sheriff’s department criminal section, said investigators want to be thorough but not premature. “We’re getting new names. You have to weigh how quickly we move forward on it. These allegations span years. Another month or two of investigation wouldn’t be unreasonable,’’ he said.

Although some of the men now coming forward are complaining about incidents that are too old to prosecute, Simmons said their statements could still be useful to investigators. “It doesn’t mean we can’t look into it to show a pattern,’’ he said. Such statements could also be used as evidence to obtain permission from a judge to conduct searches, he said.

Investigators said publicity about recent abuse cases, particularly those in the Catholic church, have made it more acceptable for victims to come forward — even years after the fact. “Thirty-seven years ago you simply did not go out in public and say, ‘This man has been fondling or molesting me,’’’ Farmer said.

But the growing list of men who say they were abused by Norris, and the 30-year period over which they say it happened, have left investigators shocked.

“The thing that continued to astound us is how many victims are probably out there,’’ Farmer said. “Our biggest hope is they will just come forward.’’

Farmer said victims or others with information about the case can contact investigators at 817-884-1305.



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