Dr. Kelly is dead
THEN AND NOW Dr. Robert Kelly in a yearbook photo (left), and his grave in western Massachusetts.
Dr. Robert Kelly was the worst, but certainly not the only, child abuser at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf during his long tenure as teacher and principal. Plenty of other staff, faculty, and GBSD students participated in the secret, inescapable culture of sadistic sex and violence that endured on Mackworth Island for decades, including long after Dr. Kelly resigned and vanished in 1982. In fact, the Baxter Compensation Authority, created in 2001, eventually paid out $17.6 million in state tax money to 340 individuals, many who attended the school during GBSD’s supposedly abuse-free, post-Dr. Kelly era, according to BCA employees and school officials. That includes at least one person who studied at GBSD as recently as 2000.
That being said, Dr. Kelly was absolutely central to the GBSD story. A sadistic, voracious pedophile whose globe-spanning career of devouring children would ultimately prove long and completely unchecked, he was Mackworth Island’s original vampire, the keystone figure of the school’s dark past. Not just for the evil he foisted upon countless students, either, but also for the ease with which he escaped. Dr. Kelly’s 1982 getaway was so clean that, when criminal charges failed to materialize, he kept his GBSD pension, a fact that cemented his reputation as an untouchable monster, one of the, if not the, worst true-life bogeymen in Maine history. And he was still out there, somewhere. If that wasn’t the worst part, it certainly made things worse. Nobody knew for sure where he was, or what he was doing. Rumors persisted that he worked with the deaf, and with children.
Both rumors would prove true.
On November 4, 2004, five months after the story about my sister’s experience at GBSD and the ceremonial burning of Dr. Kelly’s onetime home (see “Why I Hate Mackworth Island,” June 4, 2004), a tip brought me and a Phoenix photographer to the bogeyman’s door, in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Retired from his international career (Jakarta, Singapore, etc.) as a special-education consultant, Dr. Kelly had been volunteering as a sign-language interpreter.
I wanted to question this man whose institutionalized culture of abuse had tormented so many for so long. James Levier had died to focus public attention on this depravity (see “11 Years On, Levier Death Echoes Through Maine’s Deaf Community,” by Rick Wormwood, March 16, 2012); I and others needed Dr. Kelly to explain himself, to be held accountable even in some small way.
We were too late and unlucky, though. Port Saint Lucie was a wreck, including the address we sought. In a microcosm of the entire city, Hurricane Charlie had badly damaged the roof of Dr. Kelly’s modest three-bedroom home that August, and then Hurricane Jean came along and finished the job a month later, soaking everything within in the process. The uninhabitable house was empty. Dr. Kelly was gone.
WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND A storm destroyed
Kelly’s Florida home, but this picture and
others like it remained.
Our attention turned to a small pile of trash near the end of his driveway, between the grass and curb, the natural spot to place garbage cans on trash day. Not a tall pile, more like leftovers from what the garbage men did haul away that the house’s next owner would have to rake up. The debris was mostly rain-damaged photos of Asian boys, posing in tighty-whiteys.