Part II: Following Abuse, Scouting Officials Work to Avoid More 'Unfortunate Publicity'

A newly released Boy Scout file from 1961 details how officials responded when a group of Redmond scouts returned early from a camping outing and accused one of the trip leaders of sexual abuse.

Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-day series on a Redmond abuse case that is included in the so-called Boy Scout Perversion Files. For Part I, click here.


A 51-year-old King County Superior Court case file on Neil Stensland is straightforward but brief.

Available on a manual microfilm reader on the sixth floor of the courthouse in Seattle, it indicates that Stensland, who was 35 and living in Redmond in 1961, was charged with two counts of indecent liberties toward a minor and two counts of "indecent or obscene exposure of his person." The file lists two victims, ages 13 and 14.

Stensland, the court file says, pleaded guilty to the charges of indecent liberties and obscene exposure involving one of the boys and was sentenced Nov. 9, 1961, to three months in jail with credit for time served, and five years of probation. He was also ordered to "thereafter have no contact with minors."

Nowhere does the file mention the Boy Scouts of America. 

But previously secret so-called “perversion files” just released by the Boy Scouts under court order mention Stensland.

Criminal charges

After five Redmond Boy Scouts suddenly left their troop camping trip in July 1961, leaving Stensland and his brother, Scoutmaster Dick Stensland, worried parents gathered with scout officials and Redmond Police Chief Russell Thorp to decide on a next step.

The idea of hiking in immediately was at first rejected, although “several local men” apparently hiked 11 hours to retrieve the remaining boys, according to a letter from an unnamed mother, one of several letters contained in the Boy Scout file.

Thorp apparently forwarded the matter on to the King County Sheriff's Office, which arrested Stensland when he returned from the hike.

A case summary report from King County Sheriff Tim McCullough, dated Aug. 16, 1961, and included in the secret Boy Scout file, indicates Stensland was interrogated July 31 and Aug. 1, and that he admitted sexually abusing six boys in the troop between March and July of 1961.

McCullough's letter to Seattle-based scouting officials states Stensland was charged with indecent liberties involving two of the boys and jailed under $3,000 bail. The sheriff said his office intended to add more severe charges and "possibly one or more additional charges of indecent liberties, all of which he admitted committing with one or more of the six boys at various times."

For unknown reasons, the other charges appear to have never been filed.

Attempting to avoid 'unfortunate publicity'

The file released Oct. 18 contains several instances of Boy Scout officials expressing a desire that the case not be made public. A report from Donald E. Hall, the director of camping for the Chief Seattle Council, states that one local radio station, KVI, reported Stensland was arrested but adds that "there was no mention of the Boy Scouts of America."

"Chief Thorp asked the radio station KFKF in Bellevue not to mention it, and it is my understanding that they cooperated," continues Hall's report, dated Aug. 17, 1961.

Osborn's letter to Basil F. Starkey, the organization's New Jersey-based director of registration, also mentions the Chief Seattle Council had its own search and rescue group but that he advised against sending its members to retrieve the remaining campers because the scouts who would be tasked to help with the mission "would obviously have to be advised of the reason for the expedition, which would involve more boys, more conversation, and more unfortunate publicity."

The letter also suggests that concerns raised by the unnamed mother brought adverse attention to the alleged victims from within the Redmond community, which at the time included just 1,513 residents inside city limits.

"It is a matter of serious concern to the juvenile (police) officer that in discussing the matter throughout the community, as Mrs. (name redacted) has done, it has seriously injured the reputations of the boys involved to the embarrassment of their families."

Osborn's letter concludes that although "hindsight now shows that Neil Stensland is a juvenile sex offender and must be removed entirely from scouting, I am positive that we came to the right decision as subsequent events provided." 

A letter from George K. Myers, executive of the Chief Seattle Council, to Starkey indicates that the Redmond American Legion, which sponsored Troop 423, was "embarrassed by the whole affair and the council is now working ... to restore confidence in the program and the troop. We feel a new Scoutmaster should be selected since confidence has been lost in Dick Stensland although his record is clear."

'Next time it may be worse'

The Stensland family has ties to Redmond dating back to the 19th century. The local American Legion post was founded in 1939 by Halvor Stensland, the father of Neil and Dick Stensland, who died in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

Osborn's letter from 1961 indicates that following the incident the American Legion was "attempting to have Neil Stensland sent to a Veterans Hospital for treatment, as every indication is that he is mentally sick and not a criminal."

Reached by phone last week, David Sartin, Neil Stensland's son-in-law, indicated Stensland's surviving family members were not aware of the secret Boy Scout file and declined to comment on its contents. Sartin's wife, Stensland's daughter, was born in 1965 and "has only fond memories" of her father, Sartin said.

“From the time that I knew him, also, he was just a sweetheart kind of guy,” Sartin said.

After serving his sentence, Stensland petitioned King County Superior Court on Dec. 13, 1966, to withdraw his plea of guilty and dismiss the two charges against him. His request was granted on Jan. 11, 1967, according to the criminal case file.

Perhaps sensing an issue that could extend beyond the Redmond troop, the unnamed mother who wrote the 1961 letter in the file—and who apparently brought the Stensland case to the attention of the national Boy Scout officials in the first place—implored the organization in 1961 to take the alleged abuse seriously.

"It's time that the Boy Scouts got prepared for such emergencies," the letter writer continued, underlining the word "prepared" in an apparent reference to the organization's motto. "This case is bad enough. Next time it may be worse.

"This sort of problem ought to be the business of every self-respecting human being."


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