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Tea and Sympathy, a Postscript

Ralph E Shaffer: In light of the decades-belated charges made against Bill Cosby for sexual misconduct, it would not be surprising if Anderson's student filed a criminal complaint and a lawsuit against his seductress.
tea and sympathy

PREP SCHOOL HOUSE MASTER'S WIFE INDICTED: SEDUCED STUDENT

[Author's note: In the mid-1950s Robert Anderson's ground-breaking play about homosexuality, Tea and Sympathy, opened in New York. The closing curtain fell as a house master's wife seduced a student confused about his masculinity. Audiences left the theater convinced that she had done the right thing. In light of the decades-belated charges made against Bill Cosby for sexual misconduct, it would not be surprising if Anderson's student filed a criminal complaint and a lawsuit against his seductress.]

In a sealed finding handed down this week, a grand jury has indicted the former wife of a retired house master at one of the nation's most prestigious boys' prep schools. Charged with multiple counts as a sexual predator is Laura Reynolds, who was 32 of the time she seduced a 17-year-old Chilton student. The indictment followed recent posting of a YouTube video by the victim, now 78, taken apparently without the knowledge of the woman.

Tom Lee, the student victim of Mrs. Reynolds' advances, met with reporters today after word of the indictment leaked from one of the jurors.

"I have suffered the consequences of her improper conduct far too long and decided to go public with it. The video, which I was able to make as a result of my film class at Chilton, had never been shown to anyone until I posted it on YouTube."

The video immediately went viral, at last count receiving over two million hits. It has since been taken down at the advice of the district attorney who brought the case to the grand jury.

"We were concerned that its continued presence on YouTube might lead to an appeal after the anticipated conviction," said a spokesman for the district attorney at a press conference.

Complicating the case is Mrs. Reynolds' present whereabouts. Following the alleged peccadilloes, she left her husband and neither he nor anyone at Chilton knows where she currently lives. Since the incident occurred in 1953, Mrs. Reynolds would be 93 years old, if still living.

"Why indict a woman who is probably dead?" a reporter asked. "What you mean is, why indict someone whose location we can't pinpoint?" answered the D.A.'s aide. We do that all the time with fugitive gangsters. If we only indicted people we can easily find, the most wanted would get away. And she didn't do it once. She did it eight times a week for a couple of years, and part of the time the kid was under the age of consent."

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"What about the statute of limitations?" one reporter asked. "We wouldn't have sought the indictment if we didn't believe we had a solid case. Sexual predators cannot escape simply because so much time has elapsed. In California, a teacher was jailed on $5 million bail even though the intimacy occurred nearly two decades ago. The charges against that teacher could send her to prison for life. And that's what we intend for Mrs. Reynolds when she comes to trial."

"We tried to get him to be a normal Chilton guy but his sexual orientation was such that was impossible. You probably know about the failed dalliance with a prostitute in town. If she couldn't arouse him, prudish Mrs. Reynolds wasn't going to."

Asked to comment on the charges, the district attorney's spokesman chose not to do so. "We can't comment at this point. The indictment is currently sealed and any public statement on it at this time would jeopardize our case. Let's just say she had improper sexual contact with a minor, and that's a crime."

Several elderly, former classmates of Lee have come forward. They deny the bullying Lee claimed took place at Chilton and have cast doubt that anything between Lee and Mrs. Reynolds actually happened. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one said that Lee was incapable of engaging in the act that rumor has ascribed to the encounter between the boy and the house master's wife.

"We tried to get him to be a normal Chilton guy but his sexual orientation was such that was impossible. You probably know about the failed dalliance with a prostitute in town. If she couldn't arouse him, prudish Mrs. Reynolds wasn't going to."

Lee, in his meeting with reporters, was asked why he waited 60 years to expose Mrs. Reynolds.

"I liked her a lot. She was a good house mistress." There were some muffled snickers from the reporters at that point and Lee quickly explained. "She gave us tea and sympathy. And I needed a lot of the latter because the other guys were bullying me. She got me through to graduation with her concern for my welfare. But she didn't need to do what she did. I would have made it without that."

Asked specifically to recount what it was she did, Lee hesitated. "That will come out at her trial. I don't need to discuss that now. But obviously the D. A., who knows the details, thought it was pretty serious."

An attorney for Lee noted that Chilton will be sued and that he is seeking damages of slightly over a million dollars.

Lee did add one closing comment, quoting a statement by Mrs. Reynolds that he thought would guarantee her conviction. "Just before we did what we did," he said, seemingly with great reluctance, "She said to me: 'Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind. Oh, and please don't tell the district attorney.' "

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Ralph E. Shaffer