The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Letter says Druce was abused as boy

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/13/2003

In a letter authorities say is almost certainly authentic, a writer identifying himself as Joseph L. Druce says he was sexually abused as a child. Druce is the convicted murderer accused of killing defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan in prison.

In the letter, which was addressed to the Catholic Free Press of Worcester and published by the weekly newspaper yesterday, the author portrays himself as a vigilante for sexually abused children.

Full of spelling and grammar errors, the handwritten letter reads, in part:

''I'm the alledged murdered of Defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, and a victim of Sexual Abuse as a Child.''

''This was'nt a crime to committe a crime, but to let the world no that all child predators must be dealt with with a more stryngent hand, and to stop focusing on Catholoism as the mainstream. Let's look at the crime and not the Church.''

''Joseph Druce says ''Leave the children alone.''!''

The letter-writer says he had overheard conversations in prison in which sex offenders expressed ''no remorse, only gloating and reminissing over past victims. This was my motivation.''

''To stop these tradegys and violence toward children we must come together and demand the house of legislaitors to re-enact stringent sentances and rehabilitations to cure this plauge on our children.''

In the letter, the author also makes a ''heartfelt apology'' to Geoghan's sister, Catherine.

Druce's lawyer, John H. LaChance, did not return messages left at his office yesterday asking for comment on the letter. In a previous interview, LaChance said Druce had spoken of ''avenging'' the victims of child sexual abuse.

LaChance said he was conducting an investigation into Druce's mental health in preparation for a likely insanity defense, but said on Thursday that he had not discussed with Druce whether he was a victim of sexual abuse because he had not yet had a private meeting with him.

Justin Latini, spokesman for the Department of Correction, said there was no way to determine the letter's authenticity beyond a doubt, unless Druce confirmed his authorship. But he said the department believes the letter was from Druce. He said the letter contained the prison commitment number that matches Druce's commitment number. He also said prison procedures require an inmate asking to have a letter mailed to hand it directly to a correctional officer, who must verify that the inmate handing over the letter is the author.

Latini said the corrections department does not keep records of pieces of mail picked up by corrections officers. ''Reasonably, the letter came from this inmate,'' he said.

Margaret Russell, executive editor of the Catholic Free Press, said she worked with Department of Correction officials in investigating its authenticity before deciding to publish it.

Russell said copies of the Catholic Free Press circulate in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, where Druce is housed. She said the chapel at Souza-Baranowski is staffed with a deacon appointed by the Diocese of Worcester.

Latini said the deacon has contact with all inmates. Latini and Russell said they did not know if Druce had ever spoken with the deacon.

Russell said a receptionist in her office opened the letter of Sept. 5 and brought it to her. ''You're going to want to look at this one,'' the receptionist said, according to Russell.

Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist and director of the Brudnick Center on Violence, said he interpreted the letter as ''an extremely manipulative'' attempt by Druce, if he is the author, ''to improve his image.''

''I think he very much resents the very widespread idea that he is evil, psychotic, and irrational,'' said Levin. ''This does not sound like a guy who wants to bring an insanity defense, not by giving a rational justification for his crime.

''On a superficial level he looks very rational. He wants to save the children. Who can argue with saving children?'' he said.

When he was killed, Geoghan, 68, was serving a 9- to 10-year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy. Allegations that he sexually assaulted nearly 150 children, mostly boys, helped spark the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

Geoghan had been moved to the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski, from the medium-security Concord state prison in April after correctional officers cited Geoghan in numerous disciplinary reports for ''insolence'' in disobeying officers.

Geoghan's lawyers were also pushing for Geoghan's transfer -- though not to a maximum-security facility -- because of what they said was harassment and abuse of Geoghan by correctional officers.

Druce, 38, is serving a life sentence, without possibility of parole for the 1988 beating and strangulation of George Rollo, 51, who Druce contends made a sexual advance after picking him up hitchhiking in Gloucester. In that trial, Druce's attorney argued Druce was not responsible for the crime because he was insane.

Authorities said Druce beat Geoghan and used a bed sheet to gag, bind, and strangle the former priest after getting into Geoghan's cell in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski.

Druce was hospitalized last weekend after he swallowed two small pencils.

LaChance this week said Druce was ''well aware'' of the worldwide coverage of Geoghan's death, but that Druce disputed reports that depict him as hating homosexuals.

''He has very strong feelings about pedophiles,'' said LaChance. ''But as far as he is concerned, he is not homophobic.''

Druce's father, Dana Smiledge of Byfield, told the Globe after Geoghan was killed that his son had a longstanding grudge against homosexuals, in addition to a hatred of blacks and Jews.

According to psychiatric testimony and documents from his 1989 trial, Druce, who changed his name in 1999 while in prison, was obsessed with sex and violent fantasies as a boy, and his mother blamed his frequent misbehavior on his hatred for her. He was prescribed Ritalin and Thorazine as a teenager, according to the records.

Druce was indicted on a murder charge Thursday and is expected to appear in Worcester Superior Court at a later date.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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