Feature: Wednesday, January 9, 2003
‘Don’t tell yourparents what we guys do at the lake.’
Stolen Souls

Three men say a prominent Fort Worth real estate salesmanand ex-diving coach molested them.

By Dan Malone

Rolf Kaastad spent half his life trying to forget. He drank. He smoked pot. He snorted coke. He became a junkie and nodded away a decade on heroin before realizing that he could dull but never erase the pictures in his head.

The house on Eagle Mountain Lake, the ski boat, the parked car, the locker room, the hotel. These places he tried to forget, these places where he says he was sexually molested on and off for two years by his former diving coach. These snapshots were recorded permanently in his memory, and nothing known to man, except perhaps death — and he came close to that — could remove them.

He tried to balance the humiliation and shame he felt with macho language and sexual bravado. He seduced one woman after another in a succession of mostly meaningless couplings as if he might be able to somehow unscrew the images from the recesses of his consciousness. But sex, like drugs and booze, failed him, too. No number of conquests could wash away the past.

Even after he had mostly kicked his drug habit and had come to accept that he would never be able to forget and that his memories would always be with him, scars no surgeon could remove, wounds no woman could heal, it was a long time before he could bring himself to speak of what happened.

And when the words finally came, they came out unplanned and matter-of-fact during a meeting with a counselor administering an aptitude test who mentioned the name Rolf wished he had never heard — Wirt Norris.

“I was trying to get my life together,” Kaastad recalled. “Something happened when Wirt’s name was mentioned. I said, ‘You know what? That guy molested me... . ’ It was just like a light went off.” During the weeks and months that followed, Kaastad told friends and family about what had happened to him as a teen-ager. And now he wants others to know as well.

“It was always there,” he said in an interview, pausing now and then to collect himself. “Never been away. I tried not to entertain it. Drugs and booze and talking that way. The only thing I didn’t do was go to the police. I was too ashamed.”

Kaastad, who is now 41 and lives in California, is among a handful of men identified by Fort Worth Weekly who say they were molested years ago by Norris, a former Panther Boys Club diving coach. Their allegations span 30 years.

Norris, a prominent real estate broker, declined through one of his attorneys, James Foster Smith, a request for an interview from the Weekly. But Smith said the accusations are baseless — and the motivation of those making them questionable. “He denies it,” Smith said. “He adamantly denies it.”

Smith said Kaastad was drinking and smoking dope “long before he ever met Wirt Norris.” He said he doesn’t understand why Norris’ accusers waited so long to come forward, if they’re telling the truth.

The earliest incidents, such as the encounters described by Kaastad, allegedly took place in the 1960s or 1970s and are so old that law enforcement officials say they are outside the statute of limitations and cannot be prosecuted.

“If it happened to these others when they said it did, why are we just now hearing about it?” Smith asked. “How has this been kept a secret so long? If they’re looking for money — which is all they could get at this point — then they have some erroneous impressions.”

To date, Norris has neither been sued in civil court nor charged with any crime in connection with the abuse allegations. However, both those situations could change soon.

Last month, the family of Will Hallman, the 19-year-old son of one of Fort Worth’s most powerful attorneys, asked a state district judge for permission to take a deposition for a possible lawsuit against Norris. In court documents, the family says Hallman suffered “severe emotional and psychological damage” after Norris years ago induced him “to engage in improper sexual activity.”

Norris has denied Hallman’s accusations in court records and asked the judge to throw out the request, saying it’s vague, without merit, and “merely an attempt to ambush” him. After a hearing Monday, however, Judge Fred Davis approved the request and ordered Mr. Norris to respond to written questions from Hallman by Jan. 14.

Tarrant County law enforcement officials said that until recently there was little they could do because Hallman was in an out-of-state psychological treatment facility and could not be interviewed. He is the only alleged victim known whose case still falls within the statute of limitations that would permit prosecution.

But Terry Grisham, executive assistant to Sheriff Dee Anderson, now says that investigators have collected Hallman’s story. “We have conducted an interview. We have opened an investigation. We are working very closely with the district attorney,” he said.

“You turn over one rock and you have to turn over two more,” Grisham explained. “There’s no timetable on when it’s going to be resolved.”

The allegations, however, are an open secret in the top rungs of Fort Worth society. They’ve been printed on leaflets left outside a downtown church and in a wealthy Westside neighborhood. Everyone from the mayor to the sheriff and police chief have been contacted by relatives seeking justice for what they see as the ruin of boys’ lives.

Wirt M. Norris Jr. today is 75 and lives in a house near the end of a winding road on Eagle Mountain Lake.

As a college student, Norris himself was a swimmer and a diver, according to decades-old newspaper archives. As an adult, he went on to have a long affiliation with the Panther Boys Club, a storied Fort Worth institution founded to help troubled youth. He coached boys at the club from the 1950s to the 1970s and served as club president during the 1960s. Norris was responsible for raising the money to build the club’s pool.

Each year, several thousand boys from all economic walks of life participate in PBC athletic programs, a former club official said, but only 10 or 20 boys were involved during any given year in the diving program that Norris coached.

Norris also was a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the manager-coach for the U.S. diving team that competed against Russia and East Germany during the mid-1970s.

Yellowed newspaper clippings show him presenting letter jackets to the club’s top swimmers and divers, accepting a check from the Junior League for pool improvements, and posing with diving judges and his swimmers. These were roles from which the lifelong bachelor evidently derived much satisfaction. An expansive smile stretching toward the corners of his eyes dominates photographs taken of him at that time.

Norris, until recently, ran his real estate business out of an office downtown. He was, in the words of one well-connected acquaintance familiar both with his business and the accusations against him, “the realtor to the affluent in Fort Worth.”

“When I came to Fort Worth,” Smith, Norris’s attorney, said, “his name was on every piece of commercial real estate in town.”

In the mid-1970s, at about the same time Kaastad said he was being molested, Norris was also president of the Tarrant County Crime Commission.

Panther Boys Club was founded in the 1920s as a civic antidote to what a group of business leaders from the era saw as the city’s growing problem of juvenile delinquency. The club has been a pet charity of Fort Worth’s best-known names — power brokers like Perry Bass, the billionaire oilman, and Amon Carter, the late founder of Fort Worth’s daily newspaper.

The people who run the club today said they took the accusations that a former coach might be a child molester very seriously when they first heard them in 2001, but in the end were not able to determine whether they were true. The club has changed ownership since Norris was involved, and records from that era are scant, officials said.

“We started looking into this but couldn’t find any information,” said Joe Cordova, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth, which purchased the PBC in 1989. “There was nobody here from that time. You’re talking about 25 years ago.” Cordova notified the club’s attorney, who also tried to locate people who might have some knowledge about the allegations. In the end, however, attorney Charles Shewmake couldn’t corroborate the charges.

Michie Brous served as the club’s executive director for 27 years, until the late 1980s, and considers Norris a friend. The allegations, he said, are “a bunch of bull.’’

Individuals whose conduct raised even the slightest question “were eliminated from the program,” he said. “There was no incident I can recall that would indicate [Norris] was even leaning toward that. ... When I was dealing with him ... we talked about girls, not boys.’’

Norris himself may be the true victim, Brous said. “There’s a trend to accuse people of bad doings when they’re not guilty. Little girls and little boys use that sometimes as weapons.’’

Though Norris’ accusers are adults, ranging in age from 19 to 47, Brous said he can’t believe they’re telling the truth. “Not on my watch,’’ he said.

In the early 1970s, Rolf Kaastad was having the sort of problems lots of young teen-agers experience. He was experimenting with marijuana, listening to music his parents didn’t understand, and spending lots of time on his dirt bike.

Rolf’s brother and sister were swimmers at PBC. Rolf’s parents through it might be good for him to work with Norris — as if the discipline of becoming a diver might anchor the wildness of his adolescence.

When Norris offered to take Rolf skiing on his boat at Eagle Mountain Lake, the Kaastad family thought nothing of it. After all, he was a well-respected coach and attended the same Episcopal church where Rolf was an acolyte. And he was chairman of the local crime commission.

“He was welcome in my home at any time,” said Rolf’s mother, Merry Kaastad. “I would have just considered him safe beyond safe.”

Eventually, Rolf also became one of Norris’ divers, and “Coach” would sometimes stop by the Kaastad home after school, pick Rolf up, and take him to practice at PBC. “Wirt was the only way I could get out on a school night,” Rolf recalled.

Norris was a name-dropper who boasted of his connections with celebrities and Fort Worth’s upper crust, some of the city’s best-known family names. He bragged about knowing Johnny Crawford, who played Lucas McCain’s son on The Rifleman, and of knowing Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis. (Neither Crawford nor Louganis responded to e-mails from the Weekly).

And Norris boasted frequently about his star diver, Wayne Chester, an Arlington Heights student who went on to become a state diving champ. “I’m going to train you to be a diving champion just like Wayne Chester,” Kaastad recalls Norris telling him. In a brief telephone interview, Chester said he had “no knowledge” about allegations against Norris and “had no problem” with him.

It soon became clear to Kaastad that Norris was interested in more than making him a champion athlete. One night after practice, instead of taking him home, Norris “pulled into the house where he lived with his mother,” Kaastad said. “He’d pull into the driveway, pull porn out of the trunk, force me to perform oral sex, and occasionally reciprocate.”

Kaastad said he thinks he was 13 or 14 when the molestation began and that it ended when he was 15. He said his coach did everything he could to make him think that what they did was normal. He encouraged the boy to masturbate. “I teach all my divers to jack off. It’s natural. It’s normal,” Kaastad said the coach told him.

He made bizarre comments, admonishing a swimmer not to be a “lily-white cleanie.” On several occasions, Kaastad recalled Norris saying, “You’re a quarter stick of dynamite on a half-inch fuse.”

What began at Norris’ mother’s driveway, Kaastad said, soon spread to other locations — the facilities at the boy’s club, at a university pool house, at his lake house, on his boat, in a motel room. There was always a trade-off for sex — getting to drive Norris’ car, going to the lake, skiing on the boat. “He’d ejaculate and then everything’s over,” Kaastad alleged. “Maybe he’d get me a McDonald’s hamburger on the way home.”

Despite’ Norris’ assurances, Kaastad said he was overcome with embarrassment.

“He operated on 100 percent shame,” Kaastad recalled. “I really thought I wasn’t worth having any rights. I almost thought I deserved it. Before I got out of the gate, he ruined my life.” The alleged abuse stopped around the time Kaastad got his driver’s license — in part because he could take it no longer and in part because Norris was losing interest.

“I started to realize it wasn’t right. I guess at some point I became a little too old.”

The sexual torment ended, only to be replaced by 20 years of a chemical-induced fog, Kaastad said. “I started pounding the booze, smoking a lot, doing a lot of cocaine.” Eventually, he said he became a heroin addict. “I started drafting a whole lie of a life — not the person I was, but the person I wanted to be,” he said. The sexual swagger he adopted — a persona he calls “Mr. Macho Pussy Chaser” — yielded numerous bedmates but no serious girlfriends. “In the back of my mind, I thought I didn’t deserve any of the females, and I ran them off,” he said. “My pain has wrecked a lot of people — anyone who has dealt with me.”

With his addictions came predictable criminal records. “Just everything that goes with being a drug addict,” he said. Kaastad admits to a long string of convictions in Texas and California for theft, larceny, misdemeanor assault, drug possession, and DWI. “It’s been a lot of work to go nowhere.”

William P. Hallman, a director of the law firm of Kelly, Hart & Hallman, is a heavy hitter who represents, among others, members of the city’s richest family, the Basses. His son, Will Hallman, has been institutionalized at a psychological facility in Connecticut and could not be contacted.

It is the policy of the Weekly not to identify the victims of sex crimes without their permission. Will Hallman, through his family’s attorney, granted that permission, as did Kaastad.

Unlike the other victims, who said they were abused decades ago, Will Hallman’s contact with Norris came in the 1990s — which still puts his allegations within the statute of limitations. Under Texas law, child sexual assault cases can be filed until the victim’s 28th birthday.

Hallman declined to discuss his son’s condition and referred questions to his attorney. “I’m not interested in getting any publicity about my son,” Hallman said. “I’m willing to get plenty of publicity about myself and Wirt Norris.”

One person familiar with the situation said Norris met Will while brokering a real estate transaction for the Hallman family and invited the boy to go water skiing on Eagle Mountain Lake. When the father later learned of Norris’ reputation, he confronted his son, who initially denied anything had happened.

Hallman later became convinced that his son had been molested and began what Smith calls a two-year-long harassment campaign against Norris. That campaign became public a year and a half ago when someone distributed fliers describing Norris as a child molester. According to a Fort Worth police report, the fliers contained the following language:

“Wirt Norris: sexual predator please pray for his victims/ Ski lessons = pornography sex toys molestation/ Wirt Norris’ legacy = a child’s innocence destroyed/ Wirt Norris’ gift to boys: pain shame and secrecy/ Don’t tell your parents what we guys do at the lake — Wirt Norris.”

One batch, according to a police report, was tossed outside the half-million-dollar homes on Shady Oaks Lane in Westover Hills; a second was distributed around St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.

Several persons familiar with the fliers said that the Hallman family was responsible for them. Neither Hallman nor his attorney would say whether the family had anything to do with the handbills.

But Norris’ attorney, Smith, said he knows Hallman was behind the “ugly issue.”

“He told me he did it.” Smith asserted. “I can’t think of a lot of reasons to get a deposition unless you’re trying to ruin somebody’s name, as it appears he’s trying to do.”

A Fort Worth police report said Norris “unequivocally denies any and all allegations of any sexual misconduct now or in the past” and that he didn’t know who would make such allegations.

Westover Hills police also heard about the fliers. Chief B.J. Tuttleton said in a memo that he spoke to Norris about the accusations and Norris responded that he didn’t know “who was trying to destroy his life.”

Kaastad’s brother, Tim Kaastad, has spent much of the last two years trying to make the accusations against Norris public — and to get the government to take action on them. He has written letters and e-mails to the boys club, Fort Worth police, the district attorney’s office, officials at city hall, news organizations — and Norris himself — claiming that his brother was among a group of boys molested by Norris. Kaastad’s letters drew a threat of a lawsuit from Norris’s attorney, but no suit has been filed.

In addition to Rolf Kaastad and Will Hallman, the Weekly has identified three other men who had involvement with Norris as minors. One said he was repeatedly abused. The other two responded ambiguously to questions about possible abuse. All spoke on the condition their names would not appear in this article.

A 47-year-old man we’ll call Bill Jones said that Norris sexually molested him from about ages 9 to 12 while he was a diver at Panther Boys Club. Jones said that Norris was intelligent, cunning, and “very pleasant on the surface.” He didn’t realize until it was too late that Norris was interested in him for reasons beyond his average athletic abilities. “I didn’t have much talent at diving,” he said. “I was too tall and skinny.”

When Norris first began talking to him about sex, Jones said he had only the vaguest notion of what he was talking about. “He’d talk about his exploits with women. How cool it was, how incredible it was to have a climax,” said Jones. “Hell, I hadn’t even had a hard-on.”

Jones said Norris gave him pornography — heterosexual — and encouraged him to masturbate. Before long, masturbation gave way to oral sex, he said. “He knew I was just coming on to the normal age of sexuality. He catches you at ages you’re vulnerable. I didn’t know what sex was. I certainly didn’t know what a pedophile was.”

Over the course of three or four years, he said, Norris molested him about 30 times — at Norris’ mother’s home when she was gone, at his real estate office, on his ski boat, on a trip to Los Angeles. And always, there was a reward — tickets to the Golden Gloves, a fishing trip, water-skiing, getting to meet an actor friend.

As he did with Kaastad, Norris let Jones drive his car. And when the boy was pulled over for speeding, Norris used his law enforcement connections to make the problem go away. “He pulls out his card and the policeman says, ‘Don’t you worry about it, Mr. Norris.’ I thought, jeez, this guy’s got power.”

Eventually, though, Norris lost interest, and Jones began to lose his way. “I kinda foundered,” he said — partying too much and ignoring his studies. “I just kinda cried behind a party and a laugh. ... I didn’t want to look at what happened. ... I think that’s where most people start to lose their way. I think it just changes the progression of your life.”

Jones said he’s always wondered how his life would have been different if he had never met Norris. “It’s really been hard for me to trust and open up to people,” he said. “It’s affected my marriage. It’s something I’ve struggled with all of my life. And probably always will.”

Jones, a small businessman in the Pacific Northwest, has been married 25 years and has a 19-year-old daughter. He’s told his wife, his siblings, and parents about the abuse. He said he’s “dealt with it a little” thanks to a helpful counselor.

Into the early 1990s, Norris kept in touch, Jones said, calling him once or twice a year “to see how I was doing.” In the phone calls, Norris would tell him “I want the best for you,” but Jones said he believes that what Norris wanted even more was for Jones to keep the silence. In the calls, Jones, said, he never confronted Norris about the abuse.

“Getting to a point to where you can talk about this is so difficult,” he said. “He stole a lot ... innocence lost.”

Two other men who knew Norris as teen-agers spoke briefly — and ambiguously — about their relationships with him.

“This ... happened when I was 15 years old, and what purpose is it going [to serve] to bring up ... stuff that happened — I’m 47 — you know, 35 years ago,” said a Fort Worth maintenance man. “[Tell] me what really needs to be gained out of it [and] maybe I can help you with some information. Otherwise, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”

He eventually agreed to meet with a reporter but then called to cancel. “I don’t really want to get involved in this situation. I think it’s best to just let it go,” he said in a final message.

A second North Texas man, who asked not to be identified, described his contact with Norris at age 15 or 16 as “almost an experiment.’’ The man, now 39, went on to describe Norris as “absolutely wonderful,” “real supportive,” and a man who “would do anything for anybody.”

“Kids that didn’t have much — he was always there for them,” he said.

This man, too, agreed to meet with a reporter, only to later cancel the meeting. Telephone calls placed to reschedule the meeting were not returned.

Norris’ attorney said he has been unable to find any evidence to corroborate the accusations against his client. He also said the allegations he’s heard from Kaastad and Hallman thus far have been vague.

“We know so little about what’s being alleged — I’m picking his [Norris’] brain and don’t know how to pick it,” Smith said.

“I went to Hallman early on and tried to talk to him,” Smith said. “As a parent, if my child had told me someone had done something inappropriate, I’d probably be seething about it. He never exhibited that to me.”

And Smith said people who were with Hallman and Norris at the lake have told him they saw nothing suspicious.

One of Norris’ neighbors said his two sons, now ages 20 and 17, in years past have been with Hallman on several ski ventures on the lake. Neither boy, he said, observed anything improper. “I teach my sons to take care of themselves. If someone messes with you, you leave,” he said. But with Norris, he said, “I have never had any trouble, any indications at all.”

The father, who asked not to be identified, said he learned of the allegations from Norris himself and then asked his sons about them: “Is there any incident? Or anything you’ve heard go on? They tell me they never saw that happen.”

He said, however, that he has no way of knowing whether Hallman may have been with Norris when his sons were not present.

Smith is mystified about the motivation of Norris’ accusers as well as their timing. “I don’t know why they would say it,” he said. “I don’t know why they would wait all this time.”

What is generally called child molestation is addressed by the legal system as a group of crimes ranging from aggravated sexual assault of a child to indecency. Reports of these crimes are disturbingly frequent. In Fort Worth alone, police responded to more than 700 cases last year, records show. Nationally, experts estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be molested before age 18.

Sex crimes against children, however, haven’t always been taken as seriously as they are now. In the 1960s and 1970s, when some of the actions by Norris are said to have taken place, neither the criminal justice system nor society was equipped to deal with such abuse. David Montague, of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, said the reluctance of victims to speak out, coupled with the system’s awkward handling of cases years ago, means that many abuse cases never received the attention they needed.

“Before the late 1970s and early 1980s, child abuse was not being addressed by society at all,’’ he said. “Even if a child reported abuse in the ’60s, the community and the criminal justice system were usually unable to make an effective response to the child’s disclosure.’’

Montague said that, even now, “Many victims do not tell because of shame or embarrassment about the abuse, and they often blame themselves for the abuse. There are some who believe that it is even more common for male victims of abuse to keep the abuse a secret because of their shame.”

Sheila Johnson is a former chairman of the board of Cook Children’s Hospital and a founder of the advocacy group Alliance for Children. She has been instrumental in making sure that children who are assaulted today are examined by properly trained medical personnel. At Cook, for example, child sex crime victims are examined by specialists in the facility’s Child Advocacy Resource and Evaluation (CARE) Unit. Such changes, however, came too late for some victims.

“We missed two generations of kids and we know that’’ she said. “But apparently there wasn’t anybody in Fort Worth who had ... the drive to really respond to this kind of crisis until we started talking about it’’ 10 years ago.

Johnson is the granddaughter of Amon Carter, the founder of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and, as such, a member of Fort Worth society. She said child molesters are equal opportunity predators, preying on all segments of society.

Parents rich and poor, she said, are reluctant to reveal that their children have been molested for fear of being stigmatized. “It’s such a horrible thing to think that someone has molested your child. People who do that are soul stealers, and the last thing you want to do is tell somebody.’’

Kaastad’s recovery began about five years ago when family members, led by brother Todd Kaastad and mother Merry Kaastad, stepped into his life and sent him into rehab — a move that was long overdue.

“I was chased by the law. I was chased by the underworld,” he said. “I was just about dead.”

Kaastad has since met and fallen in love with a woman named Sally. The couple spent the recent holidays skiing in Tahoe. They share a home in California and plan to marry.

But the road to recovery has not been smooth. About two and a half years ago, Kaastad got news that threatened to wreck the new life he was trying to build. He began passing blood in his urine and learned from a doctor that he had contracted hepatitis C, a chronic disease that can lead to liver cancer. He thinks he caught the virus from a shared needle.

Kaastad hopes to begin interferon treatment for his infection later this year. But the drugs with which he tried to kill his memories may still cut his life short. “I’ll probably live another 10 years, maybe shorter,” he said.

He hasn’t used drugs since entering rehab five years ago, Kaastad said, though not for want of trying. When he learned of his illness, he decided again to get high. But police confiscated his stash before he could use. He said he remains on probation for drug possession stemming from that incident.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to sober up,” he said. “One of the things they tell you [in rehab] is the secrets you keep, keep you sick. Having divulged everything except that — that was the one thing keeping me sick.” He continues to drink some but is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Merry Kaastad has spent a small fortune helping her son reclaim his life. She said the story he tells is too painful to be anything other than the truth. “Rolf would have never admitted this if there had been a way to avoid it. He had no intention of ever telling anyone.”

But now Rolf Kaastad is willing to tell anyone who asks the secret he said he kept for more than 20 years.

“I have no interest in persecuting or prosecuting Wirt Norris for anything he didn’t do,” Rolf said. “There are a lot of things I need to take responsibility for, but there are things he needs to take responsibility for, too.”

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