Admitted molester from SC ended life with knife thrust

FBI's call for help identifying victims brings 'large' response

loberle@beaufortgazette.comApril 24, 2014 

On the day he ended his life with a knife thrust to the chest, serial child molestation suspect William James Vahey checked into two hotel rooms in a small Minnesota town.

Vahey, a part-time Hilton Head Island resident, got the first room at the GrandStay Hotel in Luverne on March 21.

He did not stay the night, a hotel receptionist who asked not to be identified said Thursday.

Hotel staff knocked on his room door after his brother called looking for him, the receptionist said.

Vahey wasn't there.

The 64-year-old, who told the FBI he drugged and molested at least 90 boys in the course of his teaching career, was only about 500 feet away at the Quality Inn.

There, police found him dead of the knife wound, according to the Star Herald newspaper of Luverne.

"He must have checked in here, kept his room as a coverup, checked into the other hotel and committed suicide," the receptionist said.

The FBI, which is conducting an investigation, has no explanation as to why Vahey was in Luverne when he committed suicide, but acknowledges the possibility he had family in the town of 4,745.

As the FBI continues its international search for Vahey's victims, more details about the serial molester are emerging on Hilton Head and across the world.

CALL FOR HELP HEEDED

Over the past 40 years, Vahey taught at 10 American International schools in nine countries, including Nicaragua, Great Britain, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Iran, Spain and Lebanon.

He was fired from the American Nicaraguan School in Managua on March 12, where he taught ninth-grade history, after a USB flash drive containing pornographic images of boys was turned in to the FBI, according to an FBI news release.

Through those images, the FBI has identified at least 90 victims.

On Tuesday, the bureau asked for the public's help in finding more of them.

Spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap of the FBI's Houston Division said Thursday there has been a large response to that call for help, but would not comment on the number of victims who have come forward or their location.

"We're getting responses and we're getting new information, but I'm not going to comment about any specifics," Dunlap said. "We released information in an attempt to reach out to victims. Typically we're not going to release any information or details of an ongoing investigation, so I'm not going to be releasing a daily count of how many victims have come forward."

Dunlap also declined to comment on whether the FBI has evidence Vahey might have had a sexually transmitted disease he could have passed on to his young victims.

There were other developments Thursday.

The Southbank International School in London, where Vahey taught history between 2009 and 2013, said images of between 50 and 60 students were found on his computer drive at the school, according to The Associated Press. Some of the pictures depicted students being molested.

Dunlap would not confirm whether those images were being reviewed by the FBI, or if the victims in those pictures were included in or are in addition to the original 90 the bureau reported.

Vahey founded the Travel Club at Southbank International, in which students and teachers traveled to places such as Jordan, Panama and Nepal, according to Focus, a London-based magazine.

In Indonesia, the Jakarta International School, where Vahey taught from 1992 to 2002, released a statement Wednesday saying the school recently learned of the investigation by Escuela Campo Alegre American international school in Caracas, Venezuela, where Vahey taught from 2002 to 2009.

The headmaster of the Jakarta International School said it's cooperating with the investigation. Headmaster Timothy Carr said school officials were "devastated" by the allegations. The school will make sure that such a "horrendous event" never recurs, he said.

The school also sent out an email encouraging the school community to complete a confidential FBI questionnaire or contact the FBI if they know anyone affected by Vahey's actions.

AN UNREGISTERED OFFENDER

Vahey maintained two residences -- one in London and another on Hilton Head.

British police searched the London property on Tuesday in connection with the case, according to The Associated Press.

Neither Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner nor Dunlap would comment Thursday on whether Vahey's Hilton Head residence at 8 Green Wing Teal Road in Sea Pines has been searched.

According to the Minnesota newspaper's Wednesday article, law enforcement there is not involved in the investigation.

Tanner would not comment Thursday on whether his agency is assisting the FBI.

"I've known about this case for probably a couple months solely because he had a home in Beaufort County," Tanner said. "I'm not going to talk about the case. It's not my place to be talking about their investigation."

Vahey acquired the Sea Pines home in 2008, according to Beaufort County tax rolls.

His Sea Pines neighbors -- many of whom also are part-time residents -- said they either didn't know Vahey and his wife, Jean, or did not remember them.

Vahey has owned a number of homes on Hilton Head since 1980, according to county deed records.

Hilton Head lawyer Herbert Novit had power of attorney to close on the sale of one of them, at 1616 Port Villas, in 1986.

"I saw him in the paper this morning, but I don't recall ever hearing the name before," Novit said Thursday.

The lawyer said the power of attorney probably indicates Vahey was not on Hilton Head to close on the home.

"When someone's here, of course, they sign for themselves," Novit said. "Quite often people buy property on the island and they cannot be here for the closing, so they sign limited powers of attorney."

Other details of Vahey's personal life remain largely a mystery.

He was married at the time of his death and had two adult sons. Both of them graduated from Jakarta International School -- one in 2000 and the other in 2001, according to Classmates.com.

His wife, Jean Vahey, is executive director of the European Council of International Schools based in London and is currently on leave, according to the council's website. She was the superintendent at Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas from 2002 to 2009, during which time William Vahey worked there as a middle school history teacher.

A November 2009 bulletin of the American International Church in London welcomed "Bill and Jean Vahey" as new congregants, according to the church's online bulletin.

In 1969, Vahey was arrested in California on six counts of child molestation, and pleaded guilty to one.

He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation. He was also required to register with the state of California's sex offender registry every year for the rest of his life.

Vahey, however, apparently never renewed his California sex offender registration.

He is not listed in the South Carolina, California or national sex offender registry.

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

Related content

Details emerge about admitted serial child molester, April 23, 2014

Indonesian school: We'll cooperate in abuse probe, April 24, 2014

London school says students abused by US teacher, April 24, 2014


Document

WARNING: This search warrant application CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS. Read at your own discretion. Also, The Island Packet editors removed pages 4-10 of the original 24-page document because they contained "boilerplate" material that did not pertain to the Vahey matter directly. The full document can be found here.

Vahey thumbdrive search warrant request

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