Men in My Town

Sex Abuse Victim Finds Solace in Written Word

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on May 25, 2009

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Monday, May 25, 2009

BY MICHELE ANGERMILLER

EAST WINDSOR — March 1, 1974, was like any other day for Keith Smith.

The then 14-year-old boy attended a hockey team meeting at his coach’s barbershop in Lincoln, R.I., after school. Around 6 p.m., Smith headed home, but made a decision that forever altered his life.

“I decided to hitchhike,” he said. “A car pulled up to me, opened the door, and I got in.” What happened next is every parent’s nightmare — Smith was beaten and raped by a serial pedophile — a 29-year-old man who had been arrested, jailed and released many times before the abduction.

“It is the real story of a 14-year-old kid who was assaulted by a man not familiar to the victim,” said Smith, who now resides in East Windsor with his wife and two daughters. “He was a stranger. I did not know him.”

Smith, who until January was employed as a vice-president at Merrill Lynch, recounts the details of that horrible night in his new novel, “Men in My Town.” It is the story of Smith’s ordeal and the subsequent events that remain a mystery to this day.

According to Smith, his assailant was never convicted of the crime because he was found brutally beaten to death in the streets of Rhode Island one year later. “Men in My Town” is Smith’s catharsis. It is also a fictionalized composite of the characters he grew up with and an imagining of who may have killed the predator.

“The book has a few different angles,” Smith said. “The man who attacked me owned an adult book store, and went to prison for distributing pornography. So maybe the mob killed him. Maybe he had ties to organized crime.”

Another theory in the book is that he was killed for what happened to Smith, although the boy kept the ordeal a secret for 35 years.

Photo by Butch Adams / The Times

Smith retells the events of that night as if it happened yesterday. His voice shakes with the memory as he tells his cautionary tale of what happens when you get into the wrong car, in his case a purple AMC Gremlin.

“I asked him if he could drop me off at a business called ‘Hartley’s Pork Pies,’ and he drove right past it,” he said. “I then told him to pull over at the Fairlawn Lincoln fire station, and he drove right past that. I knew I was in trouble.”

The driver remained silent for an eighth of a mile before he slowed down to make a right hand turn. Smith’s plan was to open the door and roll out of the car, but the man had it rigged so the car door wouldn’t unlock.

“When the door didn’t open, he pounded me on the side of my face with his fist,” he said. “I was trapped in the car.”

Smith then made a conscious effort to memorize the license plate number written on the inspection sticker, which was located on the passenger side of the car windshield. He scratched the inside of the door with his fingernails so investigators would have evidence he was in the vehicle.

“I kept thinking, ‘if I live through the night, I will make him pay,'” he said.

After the attack, Smith was let out of the car. He found a broken cement block on the ground and hurled it at the man’s car as he drove away, smashing the entire rear window.

Smith ran, cowering under parked cars in fear that the stranger would come back to harm him. Eventually, he made it home. His father, Albert, and his brother, Brian, immediately knew something was wrong. After he told them everything, he was brought to the police station.

When the suspect, who Smith calls “Ronald Kohl” — not his real name — in his book, was arrested, the boy was asked to identify the man in a photo lineup. Smith was asked to testify at the indictment that summer, and a trial date was set. “Kohl” was released on bail.

Then nothing happened. A year went by, and no trial. One week before the trial date, in August, 1975, “Kohl” was found beaten to death in the streets of Providence, and left out in the open to rot.

Smith’s book explores the still unsolved crime of the man who assaulted him. The release of the book on March 16 broke the silence he kept for 35 years about what happened that night.

“Why write the book?” he said. “It is based on real characters and real events that happened in my neighborhood. It is also about the men in my town. Some were gamblers; some were car thieves, or organized crime guys. A lot of them were regular hardworking guys.”

“Some people say to me the men in my town were bad men,” he said. “I say they were good men with the capacity to do bad things.”

The seeds of the novel were planted two years ago, when Smith started writing notes to himself as a way of preparing himself to tell his two daughters, aged 15 and 20, what happened. He kept writing, and completed the tome in December, 2008.

“People ask me how long it took to write the book, and I tell them 35 years,” he said.

Smith went to a few agents and publishers, and decided to self-publish with the Amazon.com “BookSurge” program.  He says about 400 copies have sold through Amazon.com. The book is available by “print on demand,” which Smith says is a very “green way to publish.” “You order your book, they print up one copy and mail it to the customer,” he said.

Writing the book has been therapeutic for Smith, who now serves as a trustee of a nonprofit organization called PEI – Kids in Lawrence, helping young victims deal with trauma.

Already Smith has received letters from other victims who found his book online.

“I have gotten e-mails from around the world,” he said. “I heard from a woman that lives in an American Indian tribe in Northern Michigan, on the Canadian border. She told me there is an epidemic with boys being assaulted on Indian reservations, and she is using my book to help teenage boys be comfortable with confiding in an adult if it happens to them.”

Does Smith believe his attacker got the proper comeuppance?

“My neighborhood was safer because he was no longer around,” he said. “That animal that grabbed me was trolling my neighborhood looking for kids.”

Smith says now that his secret is published he is sleeping better at night. His nightmares, long triggered by news stories on television, are less frequent.

“What I want other victims to know is that they shouldn’t feel ashamed, guilty, or responsible,” he said. “I wasn’t responsible for what that guy did to me and I wasn’t responsible for what other people did to that guy.”

Men in My Town, published by BookSurge, is available for $14.99 on Amazon.com and as an “e-book” download for Kindle.  It is also available in the Mercer County Library System and on the shelves of Chicklet Books, an independent bookstore in Princeton.

Email the author at MenInMyTown@aol.com

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