Jonathan Edward Grover died in Scottsdale Arizona just before his 49th birthday. His role in the case against Father Gordon MacRae leaves many unanswered questions.
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by independent writer Ryan A. MacDonald whose previous articles include “The Post-Trial Extortion of Father Gordon MacRae” and “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph Laplante’s Court.”
When I read Father Gordon MacRae’s Holy Week post on These Stone Walls this year, I was struck by a revelation that he offered Mass in his prison cell for the soul of a man who helped put him there by falsely accusing him. I do not know that I could have done the same in his shoes, and even if I could, I am not so certain that I would. His post took a high road that most only strive for.
The unnamed subject of that post about Judas Iscariot was Jonathan Edward Grover who died in Arizona in February two weeks before his 49th birthday. An obituary indicated that he died “peacefully,” and cited ‘a “long career in the financial industry.” Police determined the cause of death to be an accidental overdose of self-injected opiates weeks after leaving rehab. In Arizona, he had charges for theft, criminal trespass, and multiple arrests for driving under the influence of drugs. A police report described him as “homeless.”
In the early 1990s, Jonathan Grover was one of Father MacRae’s accusers. MacRae first learned of Mr. Grover’s death from a letter written by a woman who had been a young adult friend of Grover at the time of MacRae’s trial in 1994. She wrote that she is now a social worker with “expertise in PTSD” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The letter accused MacRae of having “murdered” 48-year-old Grover. This requires a rational and factual response.
Of interest, Mr. Grover’s obituary – despite his being 48 years old at the time of death – featured his 1987 Keene High School (NH) graduation photograph when Grover was 18 years old. I had seen this photo before. It was among the discovery materials in MacRae’s defense files in preparation for his 1994 trial. The photograph raised the first of many doubts about Grover’s claims.
At age 18 in 1987, Grover gave Father Gordon MacRae, his parish priest and friend at the time, a nicely framed copy of that photo with a letter written on the back. It thanked MacRae for his “friendship and support,” and “for always being there for me.” It was a typically touching letter from a young man to someone he obviously admired. It was written before addiction and the inevitable justification of enablers took hold in his life.
Five years later, apparently forgetting that he ever wrote that letter, Jonathan Grover became the first of four adult brothers to accuse MacRae of a series of sexual assaults alleged to have occurred more than a decade earlier. So what happened between writing that letter in 1987 and accusing MacRae five years later in 1992? It is one of the burning questions left behind in this story.
The framed high school photograph and its accompanying letter never found their way into MacRae’s 1994 trial, or into the public record, because the trial dealt only with the claims of Jonathan’s brother, Thomas Grover. Jonathan was the first to accuse MacRae, but a trial on his claims was deferred. His story had many holes that did not reconcile with the facts. Investigators have since uncovered a different story from the one Grover and his brothers first told.
BOMBSHELLS AND BLACK OPS
The two common denominators in the case against Father Gordon MacRae were expectations of money and James F. McLaughlin. In the 1980s, the city of Keene, New Hampshire, with a population then of about 26,000, employed a full-time sex crimes detective on its small police force. In 1988, McLaughlin launched investigations of at least three, and possibly more, Catholic priests in the area including Father Gordon MacRae.
His targeting of MacRae seems to have begun with a bizarre and explosive letter. In September 1988, Detective McLaughlin received a letter from Sylvia Gale, a social worker with the Division of Children, Youth and Families, the New Hampshire agency tasked with investigating child abuse. Ms. Gale’s letter to McLaughlin revealed that she had uncovered information about “a man in your area, a Catholic priest named Gordon MacRae.”
The letter described explosive information from an unnamed employee of Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Manchester, who developed a slanderous tale that MacRae had been “a priest in Florida where he molested two boys, one of whom was murdered and his body mutilated.” The letter went on to claim that the case was still unsolved, and that MacRae was removed from Florida by Catholic Church officials to avoid that investigation.
The libelous letter also named a Church official, Monsignor John Quinn, as the source of this information reportedly told to an unnamed Church employee on the condition that she would be fired if she ever divulged it. The 1988 letter generated a secret 70-page report developed by Detective James McLaughlin. He launched a dogged pursuit of MacRae who was unaware at the time that any of this was going on.
This all began to unfold one year after Jonathan Grover graduated from Keene High School and presented Father MacRae with that framed photograph and letter of thanks. Armed with Sylvia Gale’s letter, Detective McLaughlin proceeded to question 26 Keene area adolescents and their parents who had known MacRae including members of the Grover family.
Up to that point, not one person had ever actually contacted McLaughlin with a complaint against MacRae, but rather it was McLaughlin who initiated these contacts. As reported below, some of them today claim to have been solicited by McLaughlin to accuse MacRae, some with the enticement of money.
I had to read up to page 54 of McLaughlin’s 1988 report before I came across any effort to corroborate the Florida “murder and mutilation” story with Florida law enforcement officials. By the time he learned that MacRae had never served as a priest in Florida and that no such crime had been committed there, the damage to MacRae’s reputation was already done, and the seeds were sown for the Grover brothers to ponder claims yet to come.
Among those approached by McLaughlin armed with Sylvia Gale’s slanderous letter was Mrs. Patricia Grover, Jonathan’s mother. A parishioner of Saint Bernard Parish in Keene where MacRae had served from 1983 to 1987, Mrs. Grover was also a DCYF social worker and an acquaintance of Sylvia Gale. She had previously worked with McLaughlin in the handling of other cases.
Mrs. Grover also knew Father MacRae. According to McLaughlin’s 1988 report, she was alarmed by the Sylvia Gale letter but doubted that MacRae had ever served as a priest in Florida. She nonetheless vowed to talk with her young adult sons about their relationship with MacRae. Four more years passed before the first of them, Jonathan Grover, accused him.
The “fake news” in the 1988 Sylvia Gale letter set this community abuzz with anxiety and gossip about the potentially lecherous and murderous priest in its midst. Later, Monsignor John Quinn and other Diocese of Manchester officials denied having any involvement in the untrue information about MacRae. They also denied that there was ever any priest who relocated from Florida to New Hampshire under the circumstances described.
Four years later in late 1992, Jonathan Grover became the first of four members of the Grover family to accuse Father Gordon MacRae of sexual abuse dating back to approximately the early 1980s. I use the word “approximately” because Grover and his brothers each presented highly conflicting and multiple versions of their stories and the relevant time frames.
As becomes clear below, Jonathan Grover’s claims became problematic for the prosecution of MacRae, but instead of questioning Grover’s veracity, the police detective engaged a contingency lawyer on Grover’s behalf. In a September 30, 1992 letter from McLaughlin to Jonathan Grover, the detective detailed his conversations with Keene attorney William Cleary who ultimately obtained a nearly $200,000 settlement for Grover from the Diocese of Manchester. From McLaughlin’s letter to Grover:
“As agreed, I contacted William Cleary about your case. Bill believes the statute of limitations has lapsed for a civil action, but this does not rule out the church being financially responsible Bill [Cleary] states he would like to meet with you for a conference. You would not be charged for this. Your options could then be outlined and discussed.”
There is reason to question Detective McLaughlin’s police reports in this case. In most of McLaughlin’s prior cases, he practiced a protocol of audio recording every interview with complainants. In many of his other reports that I have read, he made a point of explaining that he records interviews to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Two years prior to the Grover claims, for example, McLaughlin investigated a complaint against another former Keene area priest, Father Stephen Scruton. From the outset, his reports took pains to document his practice of securing both video and audio recordings of his interviews. He even administered a polygraph test on the accuser. All were standard protocol, but McLaughlin did not create a single recording of any type with any accuser in the case of Father Gordon MacRae. This is suspect, at best, and it has never been explained.
It is made more suspicious by the emergence of other information that has been developed by former FBI Special Agent Supervisor James Abbott who spent three years investigating the MacRae case. One of MacRae’s accusers, a high school classmate of Jonathan Grover, recanted his story when questioned by Mr. Abbott in 2008. An excerpt of Steven Wollschlager’s statement may shed light on why Detective McLaughlin chose not to record these interviews.
“In 1994 I was contacted by Keene Police Detective McLaughlin… I was aware at the time of Father MacRae’s trial knowing full well that it was bogus and having heard of the lawsuits and money involved and also the reputations of those who were making accusations… The lawsuits and money were of greatest discussion, and I was left feeling that if I would go along with the story I could reap the rewards as well. McLaughlin had me believing that all I had to do was make up a story about this priest and I could receive a large sum of money as others already had.
“McLaughlin reminded me of the young child and girlfriend I had and referenced that life could go easier for us with a large amount of money… I was at the time using drugs and would have been influenced to say anything they wanted for money.”
In “The Trials of Father MacRae,” a 2013 article by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal, Detective McLaughlin described the above account simply as “a fabrication.” What struck me about Mr. Wollschlager’s statement, besides the fact that he had nothing whatsoever to gain by lying, is that he never went to Detective McLaughlin with an accusation. Instead, he alleges that it was McLaughlin who approached him, and the approach alleges the enticement of money.
Steven Wollschlager was not the first person to report such an overture. Given the nature of his account and others, it is unclear today whether Jonathan Grover and his brothers initiated their first contacts with this detective. This suspicion was a contentious issue in MacRae’s 1994 trial. Thomas Grover, the brother of Jonathan Grover, was asked under oath to reveal to whom he went first with his claims, the police or a personal injury lawyer, but he refused to answer. To this very day, that question has never been answered.
What became clear, however, is hard evidence that placed Detective James McLaughlin investigating at least some of this case, not from his office in the Keene Police Department, but from the Concord, NH office of Thomas Grover’s contingency lawyer, Robert Upton, before MacRae was even charged in the case.
A CONSPIRACY OF FRAUD
In a report labeled Case No. 93010850, Detective McLaughlin produced the first of several conflicting accounts of untaped interviews with Jonathan Grover. Note that the first two digits of McLaughlin’s report, “93,” seem to indicate the year it was typed, but the date on the report is August 27, 1992. The content of this report is sexually explicit so I will paraphrase. The report has Grover claiming that when he was 12 or 13 years old he “would spend nights in the St. Bernard rectory in Keene.” During those nights, he alleged, he was sexually assaulted by both Father Gordon MacRae and Father Stephen Scruton.
But there was an immediate problem. MacRae was never at St. Bernard’s Parish in Keene until being assigned there on June 15, 1983, when Grover was 14 years old. Father Stephen Scruton was never there before June of 1985 when Grover was 16 years old. These dates were easily determined from diocesan files, but McLaughlin never investigated this. The report continued with claims alleged to have taken place in the Keene YMCA hot tub:
“It was during these times that Grover would be seated in the whirlpool and both Father MacRae and Father Scruton would be joined in conversation and they would alternate in rubbing their foot against his genitals. Grover was unsure if the priests were acting in concert or if they were unaware of each other’s actions.”
This report is highly suspicious. Just months earlier, Detective McLaughlin had previously investigated Father Stephen Scruton for an identical claim brought by another person alleged to have occurred in 1985 after Scruton’s arrival at this parish. “Todd,” the person who brought that claim against Scruton, was also a high school classmate of Jonathan Grover.
After McLaughlin’s investigation, “Todd” obtained an undisclosed sum of money in settlement from the Diocese of Manchester. That interview with “Todd” was labeled Case No. 90035705 dated just 18 months before Jonathan Grover’s identical claims emerged. Unlike the Grover interviews, the interview with Todd was tape recorded by McLaughlin. Here is an excerpt from the report:
“Father Scruton was a regular at the YMCA. Todd went to the YMCA with Father Scruton. They decided to use the hot tub… At one point, Father Scruton took one of his feet and placed it between Todd’s legs and rubbed his genitals… The touching was intentional and not a mistake. A rubbing motion was used by Father Scruton… I asked Todd where he stood on civil lawsuits.”
It defies belief that a small town police detective could write a report about a Catholic priest (Scruton) fondling a teenager’s genitals in a YMCA hot tub, then 18 months later write virtually the same report with the same claims of doing the same things in the same place, only this time adding a second priest, but nothing in the second report seemed to even vaguely remind the detective of the first report.
After “Todd’s” YMCA hot tub complaint in 1990 – 18 months before Jon Grover’s own YMCA hot tub story – Father Stephen Scruton was charged by McLaughlin with misdemeanor sexual assault. He pled guilty and received a suspended sentence and probation. One year later, McLaughlin has someone else repeat the same story, only now involving both Scruton and MacRae, but two to four years before either of them was present in Keene.
What is most suspect about this claim of Jonathan Grover involving both priests is that in 1994, one year after writing the report, McLaughlin responded to a question under oath:
“On occasion, I have had conversations with Reverend Stephen Scruton, however I have no recollection of ever discussing any actions of Gordon MacRae with the Reverend Scruton.” (Cited in USDC-NM 1504-JB)
But this all becomes more suspicious still. In the investigation file on these claims was found a transcript of a November 1988 Geraldo Rivera Show entitled “The Church’s Sexual Watergate.” It was faxed by the Geraldo Show in New York to Detective McLaughlin at the Keene Police Department two months after his 1988 receipt of the Sylvia Gale “Florida letter.” It was two years before “Todd’s” YMCA hot tub claim about Father Scruton and four years before Jonathan Grover’s claims. Here is an excerpt:
Geraldo Rivera: What did the priest do to you Greg?
Greg Ridel: Around the age of 12 or so, he and I went to a YMCA. And I was an altar boy at the time. And the first time I was ever touched… he began stroking my penis in a hot tub, I believe it was, at a YMCA. From there it went to what you might call role playing in the rectory where the priests stay.” (“The Church’s Sexual Watergate,” Geraldo Show, Nov. 14, 1988)
Detective McLaughlin’s 1993 police report also had Jonathan Grover claiming that Father MacRae paid him money in the form of checks from his own and parish checking accounts in even amounts of $50 to $100 in order to maintain his silence about the abuse. McLaughlin never investigated this, but Father MacRae’s lawyer did investigate. Father MacRae’s personal checking account was researched from between 1979 to 1988. It revealed no checks issued to Jonathan or Thomas Grover.
However, the attorney uncovered several checks written from parish accounts to both Jonathan Grover and Thomas Grover. All were in even amounts between $40 and $100 and dated between 1985 and 1987 when these two brothers were 16 to 20 years of age respectively. The checks were filled out and signed by Rev. Stephen Scruton.
Days before Father Gordon MacRae’s 1994 trial commenced, his attorney sought Father Scruton for questioning. He declined to respond. When the lawyer sought a subpoena to force his deposition, Scruton fled the state. During trial, the jury heard none of this. Because the trial involved the shady claims of Thomas Grover alone, the defense could not introduce anything involving his brother, Jonathan.
In April, 2005, The Wall Street Journal published an extensive two-part investigation report of the Father MacRae case (“A Priest’s Story” Parts One and Two), but it omitted Father Stephen Scruton’s role in the story – perhaps because he could not be located. Diocese of Manchester officials reported for years that they had no awareness of Scruton’s whereabouts.
In November 2008, former FBI Special Agent Supervisor James Abbott was retained to investigate this case. He located Father Scruton at an address in Newburyport, Massachusetts just over the New Hampshire State Line First reached by telephone, Scruton was reportedly agitated and nervous when he learned the reason for the call. The investigator heard a clear male voice in the background saying, “Steve if this is something that might help Gordon I think you should do it.” Scruton reluctantly agreed to meet.
The former FBI agent drove from his New York office to Newburyport, MA on the agreed-upon date and time, but Scruton refused to open the door. He said only that he had “consulted with someone” and now declines to answer any questions. The investigator then sent Scruton a summary of his involvement in this case and requested his cooperation by telling the simple truth.
Days after receiving it, Stephen Scruton suffered a mysterious fall down a flight of stairs and never regained consciousness. Father Stephen Scruton died a month later in January of 2009. He took the truth with him, and now Jonathan Grover has done the same. But facts speak a truth of their own. Readers can today form their own conclusions about this story.
I have formed mine, and I remain more than ever convinced that an innocent man is in prison in New Hampshire, a blight on the American justice system. Having thus far served 24 years of wrongful imprisonment for crimes that never took place, Father Gordon MacRae still prays for the dead.
“After three years of investigation of this case, I have found no evidence that Father MacRae committed these crimes, or any crimes.” Affidavit of former FBI Special Agent Supervisor James Abbot.
Editor’s Note: Please share this post which could be of great importance to Father MacRae for justice in both Church and State. Ryan A. MacDonald has published extensively in both print and online media. Ryan’s articles include: