Document trail: Thomas Hacker

In 1961, Indianapolis Scout leader Thomas Hacker, the schoolteacher, then in his mid-20s, was arrested on an assault and battery charge involving Scouts at a campout. A judge dismissed the case. A local Scout executive later wrote that Hacker was removed as a scoutmaster, but that a prominent board member had called to say “that Tom was a fine young man, and asked that he not be placed on our ‘red flag’ list.” Lacking “concrete evidence ... we did not do this, for which I have had many hours of regret.”

Hacker joined two other troops before being arrested in 1970 for molesting 51 boys, most of them pupils at his school. He pleaded guilty to one count of assault and battery and was given a suspended sentence.

Hacker was barred from Scouting, and his name put in the Scouts’ confidential files. But in 1971, using a fake name, Hacker turned up as a scoutmaster in the Chicago suburbs. Later that year, he was arrested for taking indecent liberties with a child.

When the local Scout council discovered who Hacker really was, they notified the national organization, which again suspended him. “Under no circumstances do we want this man registered in Scouting,” the national registration director wrote back.

But by the mid-1980s, Hacker had become a scoutmaster of a Catholic Church-sponsored troop in the Chicago area. He resigned abruptly in October 1987, citing a work promotion and “some personal family situations.”

Five months later, Hacker was indicted for sexually abusing a dozen boys, most of them Scouts. A jury convicted him on two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and sentenced him to two consecutive 50-year prison terms. Now 76, he’s incarcerated at Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Ina, Ill.

Scout records show how Hacker beat the system: He claimed to have been registered in more than one troop, at a time when Scout officials didn’t check multiple registrations. When he re-registered, they didn’t review the confidential file. And he changed his name or middle initial to avoid detection.

Burbank, Ill., Police Capt. Joe Ford, a detective at the time of Hacker’s arrest, said he and his colleagues were shocked at how he had managed to stay in Scouting all those years.

“How could that happen with the Boy Scouts?” Ford said. “You would think a national organization has a national list. Somebody dropped the ball somewhere. ... There was a failure of the system, without a doubt.”

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