Man guilty of molesting two boys

November 01, 1994|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.

John A. Hardingham found his victims in the children's section of the Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.

In the midafternoon, he would sit in the children's reading section and wait for parents to let their preschoolers loose to saunter along the shoulder-high bookshelves filled with Dr. Seuss tales and Hardy Boys novels.

There, Hardingham would signal the preschoolers over to him and force them to perform sex acts, according to police records. He was caught in the act twice -- in 1991 by a parent and in January by a librarian -- but both times he walked out of the library before police arrived.

However, a persistent police officer pursued the case, and Hardingham, 63, of the 1000 block of Rock Hill Ave. in Violetville, was sentenced to 23 years in prison yesterday by Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz.

Hardingham, who has a history of sex offenses and other crimes, pleaded guilty yesterday to a second-degree sex offense involving a 4-year-old boy that occurred in January. On Wednesday, a jury found Hardingham guilty of a 1991 attempted second-degree sex offense, indecent exposure and battery in a case involving a 2-year-old boy.

Police also had charged him with the 1991 molestation of a 3-year-old girl in the Catonsville library, but prosecutors said they decided not to try that case because it was not as strong as the others.

Police reports show that Hardingham was a familiar face around the library.

One librarian, Julie DeMatteis, told police she ran Hardingham out of the library after catching him with the 2-year-old boy in January. Another librarian who caught him with the 3-year-old girl in 1991 told investigators that he drove off in an old, lime-green Dodge station wagon.

But he remained unidentified and uncaptured until stolen license plates, the persistent police officer and the claims of a 14-year-old girl in an unrelated sex case helped snare him on the latest charges.

The 14-year-old girl said she spotted Hardingham on Jan. 26 while she was playing at a trash bin against her mother's orders. The girl alleged that Hardingham fondled her there but said she waited weeks before telling her mother, fearing that she would get into trouble for admitting that she was playing around the bin.

The girl's mother called the police and told Officer William P. Harmon that the man who fondled her daughter drove an old, lime-green Dodge station wagon.

Officer Harmon tracked the station wagon down and noted that it had stolen license plates. "I saw the car for a month and a half" before catching Hardingham near the vehicle, Officer Harmon said.

Officer Harmon arrested Hardingham on stolen tag charges on March 12, took his photo and showed it to the 14-year-old girl.

The girl told police Hardingham was the man who had fondled her. Police then charged him with a third-degree sex offense. But in July, a Circuit Court jury found Hardingham innocent. However, by that time, police had already filed the library charges against Hardingham and held him until last week's trial.

Catonsville librarian Linda Stone cautioned parents about leaving children unattended in any library.

"Unfortunately, parents see the library as a safe haven," Mrs. Stone said in July during the trial of the 14-year-old girl. "We do encourage parents to stay with young children. If you have 10 toddlers with you, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on all of them."

According to court records, Hardingham has a history of criminal offenses dating back nearly 40 years.

In 1955 and 1958, he was convicted of burglary in Texas and Maryland. In 1968, he was sentenced to 20 years for breaking into the home of a Woodlawn man and assaulting his 16-year-old daughter with intent to rape. In 1973, he was convicted of an escape attempt, which added six months to that sentence.

In 1985, he was convicted of indecent exposure in Baltimore County. And in 1991, he was convicted of two third-degree sex offenses involving a 14-year-old girl in Baltimore City. He served four months of a three-year sentence for that crime.

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