Crash ends pedophile's life of silent torment Sherrill's keen, quiet manner hid a child molester's cravings

July 16, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

His death in a fiery collision this month on an Ohio highway was an apocalyptic end for Kyle Winston Sherrill, his life wracked by a silent torment that turned a college graduate with an IQ of 134 into a pedophile who roamed the country looking for children to rape.

Sherrill, 54, spent 21 years in Maryland prisons for child sex offenses. But since being released from prison two years ago, he had tried to live the straight life, keeping his past as a serial child molester a deep secret.

He joined and made friends in the Maryland chapter of Mensa, the society for the super-intelligent. He worked at a McDonald's in Baltimore. He refused to drink or even speed in his car.

"He was trying to do everything right," said Kevin Davis, the 20-year-old son of an Ellicott City couple who befriended Sherrill through a Mensa prison program more than a decade ago. "It's hard to believe what he really was."

Sherrill had told the Davises, as well as others in Mensa, that he served his prison time for the armed robbery of gas stations. He told no one of his sex crimes in the late 1960s, when he abducted children in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Tennessee.

"He was very quiet anyway, the kind of person you'd have to carry the conversation with," Kevin Davis said. "You could get him to talk about cars once in a while, that was about it."

Friends said Sherrill took pleasure in his hobbies, such as tinkering with a used IBM-clone computer he bought and competing at Games Night, one of the many social activities offered by the Maryland Mensa group.

Then, in the middle of June, Sherrill seemed to snap almost overnight.

It began on June 19, when he allegedly molested the 5-year-old child of a couple he was living with in Catonsville. Police and social services officials were notified, but no charges were filed; Sherrill denied the incident, and there were no witnesses.

Two days later Sherrill left the state, a violation of his probation. The Davis household, where his mail was delivered, got an overdraw notice from Sherrill's bank, showing he had withdrawn all his money and bounced several checks.

"We never saw him after that," Kevin Davis said. "It was weird because he had been trying so hard. It was like once he made his first slip, he just didn't care anymore."

Within a week Sherrill became the prime suspect in the kidnappings of a 6-year-old girl in Columbus, Ohio, and a 5-year-old girl in Schaumburg, Ill. In the latter incident, a witness said the abductor was disguised by a wig.

Described as a 'predator'

Authorities issued a nationwide alert, describing Sherrill as a "predator" and emphasizing that his soft-spoken nature, easy manner and high IQ were all factors he used to lure children -- typically between age 3 and 8 -- into his car.

When he died July 6 in the head-on crash with a tractor-trailer, he was trying to flee from an Ohio patrolman.

"It's hard to say what was going through his mind at the end," said Sgt. John Born of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. "He had driven in the wrong lane dodging cars for about a mile and a half, and there were some skid marks seeming to indicate evasive maneuvers. But we may never know."

Sherrill was a former Army lieutenant who graduated with an anthropology degree from the University of Texas at Austin,

His pedophilia will remain a mystery to his family. "I've thought and thought for many years about what could have made him the way he was," said his 49-year-old sister, Linda Sherrill, who still lives in his native Dallas. "And I come up with no explanation at all. I don't think he can really be understood."

In his conversations with prison counselors, Sherrill said he was never sexually abused as a child, a corrections official said. But he said he nevertheless felt "emotionally neglected" growing up and began noticing when he was a teen-ager that he was sexually attracted to children, the official said.

Dr. Fred S. Berlin, director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma in Baltimore, said pedophilia isn't a chosen personality trait.

Like an alcoholic's craving

"In all pedophiles, the behavior is a manifestation," Dr. Berlin said. "These are people afflicted with a psychiatric disorder.

"They have a strong attraction toward kids, and like an alcoholic, there's a strong craving there that they often can't control," Dr. Berlin said. "If you give in to the craving, even after having resisted it for a long period of time, the problems tend to start all over again."

Sherrill grew up in an apparently stable household of four, his father a Dallas lawyer and his mother a legal secretary in her husband's office. Although Sherrill was "moody" as a child and had "a definite lack of interpersonal relationship skills," he belonged to the Boy Scouts and had a few friends around the neighborhood, his sister recalled.

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