on a balmy night in June 1989, Bernard Lefkowitz, an investigative
journalist and associate professor in the writing program at Columbia
University, attended the graduation of the Class of '89 in Glen Ridge,
N.J. Less than a month before, the manicured, upper-middle-class town
had made news when four of its popular athletes were accused of raping
a 17-year-old retarded girl. The boys, all high school seniors, lured
the girl into the basement of one of their homes with the promise that
if she joined them, she would be able to go out on a date with their
friend, a boy she idolized. Once there, they raped her with a
broomstick, a baseball bat and another stick while several other
boyscheered them on. Six in the group eventually left the basement,
but not one tried to stop their friends or intervene. The next day, a
group of 30 boys tried to convince her to return to the basement for a
repeat performance, but she refused.
The girl -- who had no friends, attended a special school for retarded
children and had long been the target of jokes and pranks -- did not
actively resist the boys and was reluctant to report the assault
because she regarded them as her friends and desperately sought their
approval. But when the story finally emerged, many people found the
leafy town's reaction to the rape as stunning as the attack itself.
"It's such a tragedy," remarked one of the parents at a graduation
party Lefkowitz attended after the ceremony. It took Lefkowitz a
moment to realize that the man was not talking about the victim, but
about the boys who had raped her. "They're such beautiful boys and
this will scar them forever."
Eight years and 250 interviews later, Lefkowitz's book, "Our Guys: The
Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb," is a
chilling examination of the character of the boys and their town.
Lefkowtiz writes that the gang rape -- which town residents
euphemistically called the boys' "alleged misconduct" -- provoked no
community introspection in Glen Ridge. Instead, adults and fellow
students rallied around the accused athletes -- twins Kevin and Kyle
Scherzer, Christopher Archer and Bryant Grober -- and dismissed the
victim, who had the mental age of an 8-year-old, as a slut. During the
five-month trial, neighbors donated over $30,000 to the families of
the defendants to defray their legal bills. Rather than exploring the
incident with students, the staff at Glen Ridge High urged them "not
to be judgmental"; the female superintendent of schools went further
and asked them to "stand by our boys."
Lefkowitz paints a portrait of a town willing to go to almost any
extreme to keep the image of its community and its favorite sons
untarnished. It is a town that had paid little heed to a 1941 Yale
University study that declared the local high school placed "too great
emphasis on producing winning teams at the expense of important social
values." In Lefkowitz's surreal picture, parents seem like mere
spectators on the sidelines, closing their eyes as the behavior of
their "beautiful boys" grows increasingly disturbing and brutal.
Horrible events go ignored and unpunished by both the boys' own
parents and those of the numerous girls they mistreat along the way.
The boys' torture of the victim, whom Lefkowitz calls Leslie Faber,
began at the age of 5, when they convinced her to lick the point of a
ballpoint pen that had been coated in dog feces; by the time she was
16 and knocked on the door at one of their homes while selling Girl
Scout cookies, they talked her into letting them stick a hot dog in
her vagina. Students recall one of the boys openly masturbating
through his sweat pants in class and occasionally fondling his penis
openly, tapping on the shoulders of girls sitting nearby to make sure
they saw. ("There's Kevin, with his hands down his pants again," sighs
a teacher on one occasion.)
After Lefkowitz piles up enough shocking stories to convince the
reader that these boys and this town must be an aberration, he
produces a battery of statistics and studies intended to demonstrate
just how much the Glen Ridge story fits into the classic pattern of
gang rape: that elite groups who tend to be above suspicion --
football and basketball players and fraternity brothers -- are most
likely to be involved in college rapes, that football and basketball
players are reported for sexual assault 38 percent more often than the
average male college students, that 81 percent of female public school
students report that they have been sexually harassed. Not only could
it happen elsewhere, says Lefkowitz, it probably has.
The final outrage in the Glen Ridge story came when justice was at
last handed down. Although three of the four young men were found
guilty of first-degree rape, they were allowed to go free for years
while their cases were appealed. Just six weeks ago, they received
relatively light sentences. This didn't surprise prosecutor Robert
Laurino, who remarks in the book that sexual offenders usually receive
lighter sentences when the victim is retarded. Even the judge seemed
to feel that that the damage done to the lives of the boys outweighed
that done to their victim. "If it hadn't been for that horrible day,"
writes Lefkowitz, "they would have been someone's all-American boys."
Salon spoke recently with Lefkowitz in New York.
_Why were you interested in writing this book?_
One reason was the large number of young men who were involved in one
way or another in this crime. There were 13 boys in the basement and
seven of them stayed throughout the rape. On the day after the rape,
some 30 boys gathered in front of the house where the rape had taken
place and passed around the bat and broomstick that had been used to
violate this retarded young woman as if they were trophies after a
sporting game. And it seemed to me that with such large numbers of
young men involved -- we're talking about 30 to 40 percent of the
males in the high school graduating class -- this was part of the
larger culture. It wasn't a case of one or two young men who turned
out to be bad apples, but it was something that reflected the values
embedded in the larger culture.
A second thing was the amount of support that the defendants of the
case, the boys who were accused, received from the community at large.
I wanted to know why so many people in the community felt it necessary
to support the young men. And what's important to realize is that
regardless of whether this was a crime, there was no question about
the moral transgression that had taken place; it wasn't as if this was
a gray area subject to ambiguity. We were talking about someone with a
49 IQ, someone who had been targeted for a long time by these young
men. So I wanted to understand something about the culture that had
produced these young men.
And of course, when I began to examine that culture, I realized that
Glen Ridge was not atypical but reflected the values of communities
across the country. Since the book has been published, I've gotten
hundreds of letters and phone calls from people who've had similar
experiences with young men who were lionized in their high schools and
communities when they were growing up. But I saw it as a crucible for
understanding events that occur later such as the sexual offenses we
read about every day in the papers that are committed by commanders of
military bases, young men at the Citadel, professional athletes and
fraternity members. I think that when we try to respond to men who
commit crimes when they're in their 20s and 30s, we're way too late.
Their values have been shaped when they were 12, 13 and 14 years old.
Clearly that was the case with these young men.
_You attended the graduation ceremony. What was it like?
_It was in the early evening, and the first thing I was struck by was
what they were wearing. The young men were dressed in tuxedos and the
young women were dressed in evening gowns that must have cost $1,000.
And a significant number of them, nearly half the women, were wearing
yellow ribbons on their dresses. I asked them what they were for, and
I was told that they were in memory of the four young men who had been
arrested a few weeks before on the charge of rape and had not been
allowed to attend the graduation. This was their way of recognizing
these young men and proclaiming their loyalty to them.
Another thing that was striking about the graduation was that there
were three African-American graduates, and one of them was Charles
Figueroa, the only young man in the school who told his teacher what
he had heard about what had occurred in the basement on March 1. And
when he was called up to receive his diploma, you could hear the
shouts of "snitch, snitch" go through the audience. He had broken the
code of loyalty -- or, I should say, the code of silence -- that
distinguished this town. He had done the honorable thing when so many
other young men had not, and yet he was chastised. There were parties
that were held after the graduation and he decided not to attend any
of them. He was a massive kid, maybe 300 pounds, a football player and
a wrestler. In the book I've written about how he went home and
started to cry. For a long time he was the villain in the community.
_Why did the adults of Glen Ridge look away from the behavior of these
kids when they were growing up?
_I think there are a couple of reasons. The more obvious one is that
because these kids were athletes and had formed an athletic clique
early in their lives, they were regarded as something special, as
athletes often are in our culture. And they were held to a very
different standard. As long as they performed on the athletic field,
and as long as they provided a way for the people in Glen Ridge,
particularly the males, to relive their own youth, they were spared
the judgment of influential adults. But I think equally important was
the unwillingness of Glen Ridge, and so many other communities like
it, to confront sexual issues regarding youngsters. When we read about
school district reprimanding a young man who tries to kiss a girl in
elementary school, the tendency is to snicker that the school has
tried to do something about it. But in fact, the school is behaving
honorably and is trying to teach a lesson to the young people
involved. In this community, it was regarded as a taint on their
reputation, a scandal, to engage any of the boys who misbehaved. So
something that started as bra snapping in the hallways of the middle
school evolved into exposing oneself in the classrooms of the high
_I found it unbelievable to read that Kevin Scherzer masturbated in
the middle of class.
_Yes, it sounds unbelievable, but I was struck by how banal it seemed
to the young women who were describing it. Because this had become
such a part of the routine of their life that they were incapable of
the rage and resentment that you and I feel when we hear about it. One
of the real tragedies of this whole experience was that young women in
this community came to feel that the price of acceptance was
submissiveness. Unless they were submissive to the demands of these
guys and guys like them, they would not be socially accepted in their
community and in their school. And they knew that from the beginning
and that was the price they continued to pay throughout their
_Were the parents aware that their sons were involved in such
predatory sexual behaviors?
_They may not have known all the specifics, but in a general sense it
was very clear that these boys were exceeding normal, conventional
bounds, and you couldn't miss it. Several of these boys stole hundreds
of dollars from girls at a high school dance, and the principal wrote
to the parents about it. The parents were called in for conferences
frequently. The behavior, in a general sense, was quite well-known to
responsible parents in the community.
_I'm curious about the way that the boys, and the girls as well,
divided all girls into the two familiar categories of "good girl" and
"bad girl." There were the girls you call the "Little Mothers," who
fawned over the jocks, and then there were the sex objects. How does
that perception of femininity develop?
_Partly it forms because these boys grew up, for the most part, in
isolation. Their lives were really contained within this athletic
clique. So from a very young age, they were very separate from the
general school population. When they met girls, they either perceived
them as acolytes, as servants, to tend to their needs or support them,
or, as they grew older, as sexual objects. But they never were really
put in situations where they came to see young women as individuals,
as people whom they needed to deal with and relate with as human
beings, like they treated their own male friends. To some extent, I
think that schools, and Glen Ridge schools are not alone, are to blame
for permitting that isolation, for not requiring these young men to
participate in events and experiences as part of their education on an
equal footing with young women.
Another thing that's crucial in understanding how these boys developed
is that of the four defendants, three had no sisters. So in addition
to growing up in a male clique, they also didn't have day-to-day
experiences encountering young women as human beings. Also, in their
families, their fathers were avid in their enthusiasm for sports, and
I think exercised a powerful, if not dominant, role in the family.
_I'm always amazed to hear about how so many communities value sports
so much. I didn't grow up myself in that kind of environment, so it
seems somewhat alien to me.
_Well, we live in a fragmented society in which there aren't that many
things that hold a community, or even a family, together. And in
suburban communities, there is this idea that sports is something that
people can rally around, rather than books or the arts. Also, sports
provides a way to escape class boundaries. For some of these young men
who came from relatively working-class or blue-collar backgrounds, if
they excelled in sports and were recognized for their performance, it
was a way for the families to gain at least a temporary equality with
much more affluent families. This was an upper-middle-class community
at its heart, but there were lots of people who worked in well-paying
but blue-collar jobs. And if your son was the quarterback on the
football team or the cleanup hitter on the baseball team, for that
moment, you've gained a certain recognition and fame that puts you on
a somewhat equal footing at the country club.
_Whereas if your son or daughter is the valedictorian, people wouldn't
care so much?
_Right. You know, people would certainly go through the customary
rituals of saying congratulations, but it sure wouldn't be the same as
if your son scored a touchdown on a Saturday afternoon when
1,000people were cheering him on.
_Did you speak with the parents of the defendants?
_I spoke briefly with the parents of a couple of the defendants, but I
did not do extended interviews with them. They were disinclined to
participate. But I did interview at great length the parents of some
of the young men who were in the basement when the rape occurred and
who were present the next day when the bat and the broomstick were
A number of these parents were really ambivalent about what had
happened. On one level, they were pleased that their sons had left the
basement before the rape was consummated. But on the other hand, they
were deeply distressed that their sons had been there in the first
place and didn't come forward and tell anybody about what had gone on,
and particularly hadn't done anything to help the young woman.
I spent a great deal of time with the mother and father of Philip
Grant, one of the young men who had been in the basement. His mother,
Linda Grant, is a feminist who is responsible for establishing the
sexual assault unit of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office long
before this had happened. She had long tried to dissuade her son from
being a part of this clique of guys because she knew about their
behavior and knew how they were treating young women. But she wasn't
entirely successful, and to this day, she has regrets that Philip
sought out his friends in this group. But it shows, I think, that even
a concerned, well-intentioned and highly sensitive parent has
difficulty influencing her son unless the rest of the community
supports that effort.
_What made the rape victim, Leslie Faber, vulnerable?
_To start with, in 1987, about a year and a half before the rape
occurred, she was tested by her high school and was found to have an
IQ of 49 and a performance level of a second grader. So she did not
perceive things that other people with more sophistication might. She
was also an athletic youngster and loved sports and loved
participating in sports. For her, these guys were in the pantheon of
Glen Ridge social life. We are talking about the standout athletes in
the community. And to be accepted by them meant, to her, that she
could have a social life. There was no greater honor than to get a
smile or a greeting from them. One of the truly heart-rending moments
came after they raped her with a bat and a broomstick. They told her
to leave the basement, and for the next half hour she wandered around
the playing field, walking between home plate and the pitcher's mound,
hoping that the young man who had been promised to be her date would
show up. And of course, he never did.
_What has Leslie been doing in the last few years?
_She works in a mall in New Jersey in a department store. She does
menial jobs. And she socializes with other youngsters who have
handicaps. But no matter how hard her parents try for her to live a
normal, mainstream life, I think the scars that have resulted from the
rape will never heal. I know that her parents and the prosecutor's
office have worked hard to make her understand that she performed a
valiant role by testifying in this trial against her hometown heroes.
Although the defendants in the case and their friends try to make her
feel guilty for taking the stand, I think that the support she's
gotten -- not only from her family and the prosecutor but also from
people around the country who've written and called -- has made her
realize that what she did was a courageous thing, and that people
respect her for it.
_What have the defendants been up to since the rape?
_Eight years after the rape, two of them were sentenced to maximum
terms of 15 years and one to a maximum term of seven years. In
actuality, that means that if they behave themselves, two will be out
in two years and one will be out in 10 months.
Before that, Chris Archer went on to college, where he was accused of
raping someone before this case went to trial. But the charges were
never pressed by the woman who accused him. I think she feared the
pain of having her life exposed. Because the primary defense with
Leslie, of course, was to savage her reputation, and anybody else who
brought charges against these guys would undoubtedly have met with the
same defense strategy.
The two twins, Kevin and Kyle Scherzer, worked for a floor finishing
firm in New Jersey and lived in the same community with their parents,
which was not Glen Ridge but another community.
We should also remember that there was a fourth defendant, Bryant
Grober. He was convicted of conspiracy and the judge, in his infinite
wisdom, sentenced him to three years of probation and community
service, and he was not sent to jail. Grober had fellatio with the
victim in the basement. His was the first act and set the stage for
what was to come. But his lawyer was particularly skillful in
separating him from the other boys in the basement and was able to
persuade the jury to convict him on a lesser charge.
_In order to arrive at a guilty verdict for first-degree rape, the
jury had to consider two separate counts. They had to find that the
defendants had used coercion or force or that the victim was "mentally
defective" and that the defendants knew it. Which count did they find?
_The jury convicted on both counts. It wasn't necessary for the jury
to convict on both. It would have been sufficient to find first-degree
rape only on one count. But the jury, in its wisdom, convicted on
both. This year the appellate court struck down the force and coercion
count but sustained the other count, that the boys knew or should have
known that she was "mentally defective," which is a legal term. This
was a very questionable decision, in my view.
One of the things that made the case so compelling is that this was
not a victim who had been beaten or tortured. It was not a victim who
fled the scene or demanded she be released. It was a victim who really
had no defenses against being seduced and hustled and conned into
doing this. And yet the boys did have to threaten her, because they
themselves knew that what they were doing was wrong. When she left
that basement, she knew they could retaliate. And for all of that, the
appellate court thinks that no force and coercion were used, but I
think they have to place themselves in the mentality and state of mind
of this young woman.
_What motivated Charles Figueroa to step forward?
_As Charlie would tell you himself, he didn't cast himself in the role
of the hero. He was talking to another young man about the rumors that
were going around the school, and he was overheard by a male teacher.
The teacher said, "What are you talking about, Charlie?" And then
Charlie had to make a decision, and I think his decision was shaped by
his feelings about how he would respond if his own sister, who was 10
or 11 at that time, would have been the victim.
_Do you think his status as an outsider because he's black led him to
sympathize with Leslie?
_I'm sure it did, because even though he was an athlete, he was not
accepted by these guys. He was tolerated. They had to get along with
him because he was part of the team. But he was not trusted. He was
not part of the inner circle of the group of confidantes and he wasn't
present at many of their social events. So many of the young men in
this clique were exceedingly racist. When Kevin Scherzer found out
that Charlie had told about what had happened, he said, "The nigger
told on us." Charlie was often referred to as "nigger." He came from a
highly intelligent, morally sensitive family. The family felt that he
should try to integrate himself into the community and get along with
others and not stand out, but they also made him very much aware of
what was morally the right thing to do.
_Why do you think the judge let the defendants free after the verdict,
until after their appeals were decided?
_When the judge looked out on that courtroom, what did he see? He saw
upper-middle-class families with their grandchildren and their
relatives and their elderly grandparents and with priests and
ministers and with teammates and classmates, all looking a hell of a
lot like the people the judge knew in his own New Jersey suburb every
day of his life. And who was missing from this courtroom? A
marginalized, retarded young woman. I think he was overly concerned
about the future welfare of the families of the defendants. There were
legitimate and genuine issues in this case that would be heard on
appeal, but there are legitimate and genuine issues in many, many
cases. I think his views were reflected when he said, "I don't think
they're going to go out on a rape spree." The fact that they had raped
this young woman in the most atrocious, horrible way you can imagine
was not enough to send them to jail.
_What can parents do to ensure that their sons develop into men who
value women as equals?
_I think there are a number of things that are very important, and I
don't think we should limit this to just parents, because we know how
limited their roles can be. We need to think about the schools and
other influential adults and what they can do.
The terrible flaw in Glen Ridge was that achievement was divorced from
character. I think parents need to understand that character is an
important thing and that achievement can't be regarded separately. For
instance, if the participation in high school athletics for these guys
had been preconditioned on qualities of character as well as the
ability to throw a football, then they might have turned out a whole
The other crucial element is that young women need to be taught to
understand that they have support from their parents and other adults,
that they can be assured that their complaints will be heard and that
they will be defended, that their self-esteem will be supported. The
tragedy in Glen Ridge is that there was one victim of a terrible
crime, but there were dozens and dozens of other girls whose childhood
was scarred, and will be scarred forever, by the submissiveness that
was required for them to be accepted. It's really important for
parents to say: If the price of social acceptance is submissiveness,
we've got to take you someplace where you'll be accepted and you won't
have to pay that price.
_Aug. 13, 1997
_Leora Tanenbaum is writing a book about girls labeled "sluts" by
their peers. She has written for Ms., the Nation, Seventeen and
++++The Glen Ridge Rape and
++++the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb"
++++By Bernard Lefkowitz
++++University of California Press
_E X C E R P T
T_here was nothing about Mary Ryan that would have qualified her as
a Jockette. A year older than the students in the Class of '89, she
was extremely shy and spoke in a whisper that could turn into a whine
when someone was mean to her; she dressed conservatively in white
blouses and pale-blue and tan cardigan sweaters; she did not wear much
makeup, and her brown hair was not permed or streaked or frosted or
sprayed into an arabesque monument, as the popular girls did with
theirs. Mary Ryan was never known to call attention to herself --
except for one time, and that misjudgment would change her life.
In the Jocks' sophomore year, during the first week of February 1987,
the shy junior stood up in the school cafeteria and said: "My parents
are going to be away next week. I'm going to have a big party.
Everybody come." Mary Ryan's secret wish was to be popular, to have
people notice her. In Glen Ridge people noticed you if you threw a
party when your parents were away. But giving advance notice within
the hearing of a hundred or so high school students could be
The risk was heightened if the Jocks weren't good friends with the
hostess. "First of all, she was a girl none of us like," Tara
Timpanaro recalled. "If someone didn't like you, they're not going to
have respect for your home." Charles Figueroa, a wrestler and football
player, wasn't her close friend, but he liked Mary. "She smiled a lot
and tried to be nice to you, but people wouldn't accept it. She had a
kind of weak way about her. She tried not to offend anybody, so people
thought they could roll right over her."
There were decorous nonalcoholic parties in Glen Ridge. There were
rowdy alcoholic parties. And there were parties that turned violent.
Before Tara transferred to Glen Ridge, she "had known for years that
Glen Ridge was a major party town. Somebody is always having a party.
I can remember my father telling me a guy jumped through a bay window
during a party."
Fights often broke out at parties. But what got the Jocks really mad
was being barred from a party. One of the proudest moments for the '89
Jock clique -- a moment that was celebrated in their senior yearbook
-- was the time they beat up older boys on the lawn of a host's house
in Glen Ridge. The reason for the fight: The boys who lived in the
house didn't want the Jocks at their party. Indeed, earlier in their
sophomore year, on October 11, 1986, Kyle and Kevin were reported to
the police when they crashed a party, refused to leave, and "had to be
Parties could turn ugly when the adolescent partygoers decided they
would use the party as a vehicle to hurt, one way or another, the
party-giver, who in almost every case was a young woman. These scenes
became known among the youth of Glen Ridge as "revenge" parties. The
specific reason for the punishment seemed less important than the
opportunity to hurt the girl. "If you're a girl and they don't respect
you and they don't like you, forget it," said one of Chris Archer's
wrestling teammates. This wrestler and other Jocks described what had
happened to one of the Jocks' Little Mothers when she drank too
much at a party. Like a bag of garbage, the girl was dumped in a
closet as the party wound down; the guys locked the closet door and
left her confined in the dark to gag on her vomit. Again, the Jocks
noted the incident in the yearbook as one of the bright moments of
their school years.
Kids who weren't in the cafeteria when Mary Ryan issued her invitation
heard about it soon enough, and word traveled swiftly to students in
other communities. February was the wrestling season, and high school
wrestlers for miles around were told of the impending party. That's
how it worked. Wrestlers told wrestlers; cheerleaders told
cheerleaders in other towns. Why so much excitement? Parties with
parents absent were not uncommon. But this one had the makings of
something special. For Glen Ridge kids, the big attraction was that
Mary Ryan, a tuition student, lived just across the town border in
East Orange. They thought that if the cops busted the party, the guys'
parents were less likely to find out. "When you got out of Glen Ridge,
you go crazy," one of the athletes recalled. "There are no neighbors
to stop you or tell your mother."
The other inducement was Mary's passivity. She was not known as a
strong-willed kid, she didn't have many friends to protect her, and
her family was not friends with the families of the Jocks. "If Mary
said 'no,' who'd listen to her?" Charlie Figueroa said. "She didn't
have anybody who'd fight for her."
Along with everything else, the timing was perfect. The date set for
the party was Saturday, February 14, 1987, Valentine's Day. That
Saturday also fell in the middle of a three-day weekend, Monday being
Washington's Birthday. "It was, like, a party that could go on
forever," one Ridger said.
Instead of on Saturday, the party began spontaneously on Friday,
February 13. By sundown every parking space for three blocks around
the Ryans' house was taken. There were kids from Caldwell, Montclair,
Bloomfield and Verona. From private schools and public schools, from
middle school and high school. There were older guys who had graduated
three or four years ago. There were even kids from East Side High
School in Newark. There were Jocks and Guidos and Giggers,
cheerleaders and majorettes, and even a few "band fags." There were
girls who looked too young to get into a movie alone and some who
seemed old enough to be married and have kids. There were kids who
brought bottles, and kids who lugged cases of beer on their shoulders,
and some who rolled kegs up the front steps into the kitchen.
They all converged on a narrow three-story white shingle house with a
semifinished basement and a small balcony facing a nearby park. The
location was perfect for a nonstop party. There were only a few other
houses on the block, and they all adjoined the park. You could make as
much noise as you wanted with little likelihood of interference.
The kids who got there early made for the upstairs rooms. It was the
only place where you could hear yourself talk. The ones who arrived by
10 or 11 o'clock wedged themselves into the kitchen or basement. Sixty
or seventy kids jammed together, drinking, smoking, and screaming.
Mary Ryan had given up asking who the kids were and where they came
from.Despite all the kids and booze, there was relatively little
damage on Friday night. One guy did take out all the crystal glasses
and pitchers in the kitchen cabinets, line them up on the table, and
fling them, one after the other, against the wall. But that happened
at a lot of parties. It was nothing to get excited about.
John Maher, a student who later would be indicted on a charge of
conspiracy in the Leslie Faber case, was working on Friday night. "My
friends were saying it was a great party, the best," he would say
later. "I couldn't believe what was happening. So I made sure I was
Saturday night, February 14, Valentine's Day. More kids. More booze.
There were so many bodies in Mary Ryan's house, so many kids jammed
into a small smoky space, that they had to open all the windows and
the doors. With all the runs to the fridge, the beer couldn't be kept
cold. So they gave up on the fridge, cleared everything out, and left
the door hanging open.
They started taking the furniture apart. Within an hour the legs had
been broken off everything that was standing -- coffee tables, kitchen
chairs and table, side tables. A couple of guys got the idea of using
a leg from the kitchen table as a battering ram. One-two-three --
charge. The leg smashed through the plasterboard, leaving a hole the
size of a saucer. Back up and start all over. The hold got bigger and
bigger, maybe two, three feet in diameter. Okay, let's start on the
Then some people decided that the amputated remains of the furniture
were cluttering up the place. In five minutes every tabletop and chair
seat had been heaved into the backyard.
One wall was covered floor to ceiling with a bamboo stand to hold
decorative objects. The stand had been attached to the wall. "Betcha
can't break that in half," one Jock challenged another. As if he were
working out in the school exercise room, the other Jock stood with his
back to the bamboo, his arms raised behind his shoulders. A deep
breath and pull. The entire bamboo stand, with everything that rested
on it, came crashing to the floor. A few minutes later some guys were
breaking pieces of the bamboo over their heads and using them as
swords in make-believe duels.
One guy stood in front of the fish tank. Thinking. Then he went into
the kitchen and returned with a container of Comet detergent. He
emptied it into the tank. A half-hour later another kid saw the fish
floating dead in the water. He and a friend carried the tank to the
door and emptied its contents into the snow.
Mary Ryan would wave her hand in a futile plea to halt the
destruction. But one of the girls would take her by the shoulder and
guide her out of the room. "We'll help you clean up later," she'd tell
Sunday night, February 15, 1987. It seemed as if the whole world under
the age of thirty had turned up for the third act at Mary Ryan's
house. Among the new notables were the wrestlers from Glen Ridge. They
had been forced to miss the Saturday-night festivities because they
were competing in a match. Rock-solid and brimming with energy, they
could always be counted on to liven up a party.
It was a true gathering of the clan: Richie Corcoran and Kyle and
Kevin; Peter Quigley, his companion, Tara, and Peter's older brother,
Sean; Chris and Paul Archer. They had no problem finding the house.
"You could hear the noise from like a mile away," said one Glen Ridge
wrestler. "When you got on the street, it was amazing. It was so cold
out and snow was on the ground and there were dozens of kids standing
outside. One of the kids I recognized was holding a neon tube over his
head and then he smashed it right on his skull. All the lights were on
in the house, and you could see people in every window. As I was
walking in, part of the frame over the door was hanging down and I
almost ran into it.
"There were like a million people in there, all of them drunk. And
right away I saw all the wrestlers from the school and I know they can
get a little crazy at a party, and I thought, Whew, there's gonna be
all sorts of shit tonight. I kept thinking, I'm walking into a movie."
Charlie Terranova, one of the Glen Ridge Giggers, stayed about fifteen
minutes. "I went into this place and the things I saw I could not
believe. I once worked for a construction company, and there were
rooms in this house that looked like a construction crew had gone in
there with the crowbars and the pikes and just destroyed the place. I
just left. I couldn't stand it."
Some kids may have experienced a letdown when they surveyed the
wreckage on the first floor. Really, what was left for them to do? The
people who had been there the first two nights seemed to have
exhausted all the possibilities. But, on reflection, it was apparent
that they hadn't. There were two upstairs floors and a basement, and
that left lots of unfinished work.
Chris Archer took the basement. People who were there remembered him
rushing down the stairs with a can of spray paint in his hand and
spraying every wall with painted graffiti. Another Jock, partygoers
recalled, charged upstairs, followed by a pack of football players and
wrestlers. First thing they did was dismantle Mary's parents' bed. One
kid had the idea of setting the mattress on fire, but another thought
that was a stupid idea since it was a waterbed. Let's puncture it, one
guy suggested, and start a flood. Some guys began stabbing it with a
screwdriver and a kitchen knife.
Other kids carried the bed frame to the top of the landing and, using
it as a makeshift toboggan, tried to slide down the stairs. But the
frame was too wide to make for a level ride. The kids smashed all the
balusters that held up the stair rail. Now there was enough room. The
guys sat on the frame, their legs straddling the sides, and slid down
Mary Ryan had retreated upstairs to her parents' bedroom, where she
sat on the floor with another girl and Charlie Figueroa. They heard a
roar coming from downstairs and rushed to the door; they saw a bunch
of kids charging up the stairs as the boys were sliding down the bed
frame. The boys leaped over the mattress and burst in to the Ryans'
bedroom. There, they pulled open the dresser, flinging the underwear,
blouses, and other clothing on the floor.
Holding their findings over their heads, they marched down the stairs.
"Hey, wait a second," Mary shouted, fear in her voice. But who was
listening? They put up on the mantelpiece all the personal possessions
they had taken from the Ryans' bedroom dresser. Mary sank down in a
corner of the room, her knees up against her chest. "She looked to me
like she was getting smaller and smaller, like she wanted to
disappear," Charlie said.
Now dozens of kids formed a row, and began snake dancing past the
mantel, as though they were performing a religious ritual before an
altar. Someone had come up with the perfect description for what was
going on. And the snake dancers began to chant it, as they weaved
through the room: Ryan's Wreck. Ryan's Wreck. Ryan's Wreck.
It must have got through to Mary that the party was out of control.
This had to stop. It wasn't only her life that was being trashed; it
was her parents' life, too.
Now she saw a boy pick up her cat by the back of the neck, hanging him
high for the crowd to see, and then push him into the microwave. She
heard one terrible yowl, smelled burning fur. She screamed: "Stop,
you've got to stop." Somebody pulled the cat out, but few people were
listening to Mary Ryan.
Mary ran up the stairs, rushed into a room, and flung open the window.
She stepped outside onto the balcony. It was not very high, ten feet
or so above the ground, but high enough so she could hurt herself if
she fell. She leaned against the rail of the balcony and peered down
through the darkness at the mob of teenagers who had gathered on the
snow-covered incline. "Oh, my God, my house, my house," she screamed.
"If you don't stop, I'll jump."
Alarmed, one girl urged her, "Come on, come back in, Mary.
Everything's okay. We'll go home." But instantly the sound of her
voice was drowned out by dozens of kids chanting: _Jump. Jump. Jump.
Charlie Figueroa, standing in Mary's bedroom, decided that all this
had to stop. He knew that what he was about to do would break the
first rule of Jock solidarity -- never squeal. Charlie called the
At about 11:15 Officers Chwal and Marinelli, patrolling in East Orange
police car number 23, got a radio message: "Loud party in progress.
Proceed to the scene." A second police car was also dispatched. When
the police got there, kids were still standing beneath the balcony
urging Mary Ryan to jump. But they weren't there for long. As soon as
they saw the two flashing reds wheeling around the corner, the kids
The party was over. "Ryan's Wreck" had now passed into the folklore of
Glen Ridge High School.
East Orange has a lot more crime than Glen Ridge. The East Orange cops
weren't going to spend time chasing a hundred or so kids through the
brambles of a park at midnight. But even these experienced cops were
impressed by what they found in Mary Ryan's house and recorded in
their report: "The reporting officers noticed the front door wide open
and the downstairs in shambles ... Further investigation showed the
entire residence, three floors, in shambles."
The two officers called the crime "malicious mischief" and described
the "weapon" used to commit the crime as "physical force." The police
detained eleven juveniles, all from Glen Ridge or Glen Ridge High
School. These included a boy who would be selected as one of the
captains of next year's football team and another football player,
Peter Quigley's older brother, Sean, who had already completed his
football career at the high school. Also held for questioning was
James "Tucker" Litvany, a Class of '89 football player, who would be
later cited as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Leslie Faber case.
These youngsters were questioned briefly, their parents were informed
and that was the end of that. None of them was charged with a crime.
None of them was punished or reprimanded by Glen Ridge High; none of
them lost his athletic privileges or eligibility.
Mary never came back to Glen Ridge High. Her parents moved out of
their house, and she was reportedly sent to live in another part of
the state. A sophomore recalled that one of his teachers heard about
the party and briefly discussed it in class: "The kids commented on
how drunk people were, how they were breaking things, but how Mary
deserved it. Nobody said they were sorry. Nobody offered to clean up
the place. And nobody wanted to pay for the damage."
Two years later the memory of that party remained fresh in the minds
of the Jocks and the Jockettes of the Class of '89. In a section of
their yearbook, where each student listed personal highlights, many of
them cited their participation in "Ryan's Wreck" as an outstanding
event of the past four years. "It just showed what can happen to a
girl when we didn't like her," one Jock would recall. John Maher,
another Class of '89 football player, would say years later, "That's a
party that everybody still talks about."
For that nucleus of sophomore Jocks, this was not a formal initiation
rite on the order of their first high school football game. But it was
a benchmark experience on their high school years. There had been
destructive parties before in Glen Ridge, and there would be others
later. But it was under the tutelage of upperclassmen -- older,
admired football players and wrestlers -- that they learned at Mary
Ryan's party how much they could get away with. They also learned that
the girls who attached themselves to the Jocks could be as pitiless as
The primary lesson was that a bunch of high school kids could raise
hell and inflict tremendous pain without being penalized at home or in
school. But the party also taught a more advanced lesson. To one
father whose daughter was in the Class of '89, the boys who
participated most enthusiastically at the party behaved as if they
were gaining more legitimacy and authority as a group each time they
victimized a woman. "If I think back about that period, I can see the
group getting stronger, closer, every time they got together and
humiliated a girl," he said. "What they enjoyed in common wasn't
football. _This_ was their _shared_ experience. For them, this was
what being a man among men was. My daughter would come home with
stories -- I'd just shake my head and wonder if they thought a girl
_Aug. 13, 1997
_Bernard Lefkowitz, an Edgar award-winning author, has written three
earlier books on social issues, including "Tough Change: Growing Up on
Your Own in America" (1987). He teaches journalism at Columbia
Excerpted from _Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of
the Perfect Suburb,_ by Bernard Lefkowitz, published by the University
of California Press.