New sexual allegations raised against ex-teacher

January 09, 1994|By Jim Haner and Peter Hermann | Jim Haner and Peter Hermann,Staff Writers Staff writer Anne Haddad contributed to this article.

An article in last Sunday's Sun about former schoolteacher John Merzbacher might have been interpreted as implying that Derek Rosenbach is among the former Merzbacher students who were alleged victims of sexual abuse. In fact, Mr. Rosenbach is not.

The Sun regrets the error.

John Merzbacher -- the former teacher charged with raping and molesting at least 10 students at Catholic Community Middle School during the 1970s -- claimed other victims a decade earlier at an East Baltimore public school, two of his former students said yesterday.

Shortly after he graduated from college in 1962, Mr. Merzbacher took a job teaching sixth-graders at Highlandtown Elementary School.

Students said that within months, he began taking boys on lunch-time outings in his fastback Mustang sports car to a topless bar on Pulaski Highway.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Merzbacher, whom the children called "Merz," bragged that his parents owned the bar.

"On one occasion, he took us to a movie and then to his mother's house," said a 40-year-old man who is now a Baltimore City employee. "He got me in a room and tried to force me to have

oral sex with him. I don't remember whether he got me to do it or not. But I do recall vividly that he fondled me for a long time.

"There's another whole 10 years worth of victims out here that nobody knows about," he continued. "There were at least five or six of us -- boys and girls -- in my class alone."

The new allegations came one day after Mr. Merzbacher was jailed on 86 counts in 23 indictments charging him with raping, sodomizing and sexually assaulting at least 10 students between 1972 and 1979 when he was an English teacher at Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore.

P. McEvoy Cromwell, a lawyer who works for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on investigations of sexual misconduct, said the church is urgently looking into accusations that school officials may have known about the teacher's activities and failed to stop him.

"It seems to me the aspect we will focus on is how this kind of misconduct went on for an extended period of time without anyone at the top learning about it," Mr. Cromwell said. "Monitoring, supervisory procedures were obviously inadequate.

"It might happen once, or for a few days or a week, or a month. But, holy smokes, not for an extended period of years."

Fear continues

Classmates of the middle school students provided additional support yesterday for their contentions that Mr. Merzbacher openly fondled children in front of teachers in the hallways of the school between classes -- and threatened his students behind closed doors so severely that some continue to fear him after 20 years.

"I remember -- I remember a lot," said Derrick Rosenbach, now 33. "But I'm not going to have my name attached to anything accusing him. The law is a funny thing, you know. How can I be sure Merzbacher's not going to get out? When you can guarantee me of that, I'll talk to you."

Mr. Rosenbach echoed several former students who said that the teacher used a cadre of larger boys in the class to enforce his will, employing them as a kind of personal security squad and rewarding them with weekend beer parties at his house.

'Wonder where they are'

One woman who was a student at the school said Friday that Mr. Merzbacher raped her at gunpoint in a supply closet next to his classroom, then invited the boys to take turns doing the same.

"They were like his little henchmen," Mr. Rosenbach said yesterday. "And if he didn't like you, he'd send them after you. There were stories about pool parties at his house. He treated them real well. And if he'd tell them to come after you, that was it. You were going to get your ass kicked. I can't help but wonder where they are today."

Another former student, Steve Kazmierski, 33, said that Mr. Merzbacher once lifted him off his feet and threw him through a radiator cover in the classroom in front of fellow students.

"There was no way any of us was going to speak up against the guy, especially when we saw him doing some of this sexual stuff right in front of other teachers and nuns -- and getting away with it," he said.

In the hallways between classes, Mr. Kazmierski said, Mr. Merzbacher would openly fondle girls and pat boys on their behinds in front of other teachers.

'Like they were embarrassed'

"And all these other teachers would just turn away like they were embarrassed. What was a bunch of little kids supposed to think about that? You tell me. We thought it was some kind of joke. Well, it's not a joke anymore."

The pattern was familiar to the public school students in Mr. Merzbacher's sixth-grade class a decade earlier at Highlandtown Elementary School.

"He hit me so hard in class one day that he lifted me right out of my chair," said the 40-year-old city worker, whose name is being withheld by The Sun because of the nature of the assaults against him. "It was a couple of days after he had tried to force me into oral sex at his mother's house."

Just out of college

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