October 24, 2014

The Strange Case of Walter Lee Williams: Renowned Gay Writer on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List Captured

Posted on 21. Jun, 2013 by in Features, News

On Tuesday, June 18 the FBI added Walter Lee Williams, 64, to its Ten Most Wanted List. Williams was being sought for sexual exploitation of children, travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places and criminal forfeiture, according to a Department of Justice statement.

Williams story is lurid and difficult to fathom. A renowned gay academic, writer and archivist, Williams was a Fulbright Scholar with a substantial and impressive resume. Now he’s in custody, facing up to 100 years in prison. Video of Williams being taken, in handcuffs, through LAX airport in Los Angeles shows a gray-haired man, bent over at the waist, trying to avert his face from photographers. It’s a very different look from a photo taken two years ago in the Philippines showing a tanned and relaxed Williams reclining on a boat with some young men.

Less than 24 hours after Williams had been added to the FBI list, he was arrested in Playa del Carmen, a pretty little resort town in eastern Mexico, while drinking coffee near a local café. Williams was caught unaware, according to police. He was taken back to his house in Cancun, and from there to the police station. Late Wednesday, June 19, he was deported back to the U.S. where he will be arraigned in Los Angeles.

A Los Angeles police department spokesperson said Williams was turned in by a Mexican citizen who recognized him from the FBI photo. A $100,000 reward was offered for his capture.

The sordid criminal tale began in January 2011, when Williams fled the U.S. for Mexico. Williams had returned only a week earlier from a trip to the Philippines where the FBI says he had gone to meet two 14-year-old boys for sex.

According to LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore, the LAPD had been alerted that Williams was trolling for minor boys on the Internet to have sex with in 2010. Moore said a student of Williams’ had contacted police after a series of conversations online. The student is not a minor. But at that time, Moore said, there was “insufficient evidence for a warrant,” so even though the police were suspicious, they could only watch Williams.

Williams made that relatively easy. In January 2011 he went to the Philippines, allegedly to have sex with two boys, both 14, with whom he was already engaging in Internet webcam sex.

The trip to the Philippines provided the turning point. The FBI was waiting for Williams. They confiscated his laptop computer which allegedly had photos of minors in sexual situations as well as “evidence of sex crimes with boys overseas.”

Williams was questioned by the FBI and after learning he was being investigated on suspicion of engaging in sex with children and acquiring and making child pornography, he fled across the border to Mexico immediately after being questioned.

According to the FBI, a strong case was built against Williams based on numerous statements. Williams was indicted and a federal warrant for his arrest was issued earlier this year. The FBI contacted at least ten alleged victims who ranged in age from nine to 17. All the victims were boys in different Asian countries. None were American. The FBI is still investigating to see if Williams has victims in Mexico, and have requested that victims in the U.S. come forward as well, believing that there are victims in the Los Angeles area. Both the FBI and the LAPD have made statements describing Williams as a serial predator.

The FBI describes the hunt for Williams as “piecing together the pieces of a puzzle.” But part of the puzzle is the nagging question of whether Williams entire career charting different native groups was, as the FBI asserts, just a means to prey on young boys of color in poverty-stricken areas of the U.S. and other countries.

Williams’ story is a tale of two identities: respected professor and indicted serial pedophile.

Until he fled the U.S. to escape indictment, Williams was a tenured professor at the University of Southern California (USC). His LinkedIn profile states he is a professor of Anthropology, History and Gender Studies. He also taught Transgender Studies. An ethnographer, Williams’ resume lists traveling throughout the American Southwest to study Native American tribes, notably the Cherokee and Sioux, as well as travel in Asia and South America. Williams describes one of his areas of research as “sexuality of the South Pacific.”

Williams is the founding editor of the International Gay and Lesbian Review, “the first academic journal to be published entirely on the Internet”(gaybookreviews.info), as well as a dozen books. His most recent book, Spirit of the Pacific, was published in February by Lethe Press. The novel’s cover copy reads, in part:

This is the story of Eddie Freeman, an African American slave from South Carolina, who escaped slavery in 1860… Eddie was attracted to his own sex, and in 21st century nomenclature would be called gay. But in his day he was just a young man trying to find love and give affection….This is a story about learning to transcend the polarities of slave and free, sacred and profane, love and hate, human and animal.

Lethe publisher Steve Berman told me that “Lethe feels it is the responsible action to pull Walter’s books from distribution until legal issues become clear.”

Another Lethe publication by Williams, a well-received novel of historical fiction, Two Spirits: The Story of Life with the Navajo, was published in 2005.

Berman had posted on Facebook immediately after Williams went on the most wanted list:

I just want to go on record stating that Toby Johnson and I are aware of the situation with Walter L. Williams. I made sure to contact the FBI this morning [June 18] and have had a couple conversations with agents. Lethe has stopped distributing the print editions of Williams’ books and will be doing the same with electronic versions (which takes a bit longer as there are more venues). Obviously, we were very much surprised to hear about the situation.

Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

What’s difficult to imagine is how Williams explained his sudden move to Mexico—leaving his job at USC literally overnight, right before the beginning of the spring semester—and what he told friends and colleagues.

Williams’ bio in Spirit of the Pacific states that Williams founded ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, which is “the world’s largest collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender materials.” The bio also states that Williams is the co-founder and chair of the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History for the American Historical Association and that he is an officer of the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists.

How did Williams explain he would be handling these roles from Mexico—forever?

Williams’ academic treatise, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, published in 1988won the Gay Book of the Year Award from the American Library Association, The Ruth Benedict Award from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, and the Award for Outstanding Scholarship from the World Congress for Sexology. The book was widely reviewed and a revised edition was released from Beacon Press in 1992.

Yet over the two decades since that work was published, Williams is alleged to have used his research as a cover to travel to countries where child prostitution is common.

The FBI’s initial report alleges that Williams used his research as an excuse for traveling throughout Southeast Asia—notably Thailand and the Philippines where he would lure young boys with money and gifts. The FBI stated, “Williams has an extensive history of travel throughout the Southeast Asia region, specifically the Philippines.” The FBI also stated that Williams had lived for extended periods in Indonesia, Polynesia, and Thailand. Williams’ academic bio notes that he taught English as a second language in these countries and has a blog called Easy English Learning.

According to the United Nations, UNICEF and HumanTrafficking.org, a human rights group, Thailand is the world’s sexual tourism center. There are 2.8 million sex workers in Thailand, 40 percent of whom are children. Of the tourists who visit Thailand, 70 percent are Western men who have traveled there to have sex with prostitutes, especially minors. In February, ABC News “Nightline” team investigated Americans in the Philippines engaged in sex trafficking of minors.

Williams was allegedly able to have Internet webcam sex sessions with the two boys he went several thousand miles to see. But while prostitution is largely ignored in Thailand—where it is a thriving business, even though it’s illegal—in the Philippines, prostitution is illegal and prosecuted harshly. If these allegations are true, Williams was taking quite a risk, going to the Philippines for child prostitutes.

As the Williams case unfolds, more is likely to be revealed about his supposed involvement with other boys as well as what others knew about his activities. In the meantime, because of Williams’ background as a respected academic who was openly gay and involved in myriad LGBT organizations as well as teaching Gender Studies, a major story in the news might be conflating gay and pedophile—a conflation the LGBTQ community has tried for decades to refute.

 

[Photo: William Lee Williams via FBI]

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her literary criticism has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. She was book critic for the Baltimore Sun for 17 years and reviewed for PW for 20. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novels, Ordinary Mayhem and Cutting will both be published in late fall 2014. @VABVOX

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16 Responses to “The Strange Case of Walter Lee Williams: Renowned Gay Writer on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List Captured”

  1. Jon 22 June 2013 at 5:22 PM #

    This sounds like a major witch hunt, and I’m surprised Lambda Literary is playing along so well. Gay men like Williams have been singled out unfairly by the FBI and police for decades because of “illicit” sex with minors. The issue here is not only warning the public against conflating “gay” with “pedophile,” but the extremely biased prosecution of “sexual predators” who happen to be successful gay men engaging in consensual sex with younger boys. Shame on you, Lambda.

    • Liz Craven 28 June 2013 at 8:23 AM #

      I strongly disagree that “Younger boys” can engage in that kind of informed consent. Sex with children is illegal because of the issue of informed consent-

  2. Toby Johnson 28 June 2013 at 10:41 AM #

    I posted a reply to the L.A. Frontiers article by Karen Ocamb which Ms. Brownworth missed. I was Walter Williams’ literary editor. I knew little about his personal life. My job was to offer advice about plot development and structure, and then to check punctuation. The novels from Lethe Press do not have pedophile characters or plot themes. To Karen Ocamb’s article I replied: “Walter Williams apparently made enemies among those who knew him. A lot of bad things are being said about him. I did not know him personally, but I was his editor and collaborator on two novels. I’ve corresponded with him off and on for twenty years by mail and then email. I’ve read his writings on the Internet. I know what is in those two loving, sweet, sensitive, gay-positive, life-positive, spiritually-astute novels. The man I know seems so totally different from the man being written about in these posts.”

  3. Perry Brass 28 June 2013 at 2:01 PM #

    This situation is horrible and tragic: Walter Williams’s life will be destroyed by the Feds who will now go into full attack to destroy him; in fact, they will make it their job to do it. Somehow or another, he has been made an easy target—and the fact that he was apprehended on a large reward only proves this. I just wonder how many kids will start coming out of the woodwork whom Williams has never even met—but their testifying will be rewarded. If Walter Williams is fixated on small kids, he needs help with this—instead, his whole life will be gutted, all the wonderful things that he did, the successful things he did, including founding the One Archive—will mean nothing. I really mourn for what is happening to him. I know that a lot of very self-righteous people will join in a virtuous chorus to destroy him, just like they have done in the past to God-knows how many men in situations where they were pre-judged and pre-convicted. Perry Brass

    • Victoria Brownworth 28 June 2013 at 10:24 PM #

      Perry, I agree that this situation is horrible and tragic, but we see different victims here and I am saddened that you have chosen the wrong one.

      One of the basic tenets of patriarchy is that powerless sex objects are chattel–be they women or children.

      The fact that Williams had to leave the country to engage in sex tourism–the fact that there even IS sex tourism–is indicative of the fact that this is not a consensual series of acts. It is also a factor of racism and classism, which LGBT people should both be hip to and especially sensitive to. How many of OUR LGBT kids have been forced into street prostitution after being ejected from their disapproving families. I am currently doing a series in Philadelphia on transwomen sex workers and these are ALL young people who were thrust onto the streets–poor, of color and now the victims of men with money paying for their services and also using and abusing them.

      It is a commonplace to blame the victim in sex trafficking and sex crimes. As a rape victim and someone who has worked to stop sex trafficking for over a decade, I can attest to this. I have interviewed countless victims of sex trafficking–male and female. Their stories are depressingly similar, their victimizers almost always the same: white men with money.

      A 64 year old man with a 14 year old–either a straight man or a gay man–is not a situation of consent. Just because wealthy white men CAN “buy” poverty-stricken children doesn’t mean that it’s right.

      The argument that Williams’ life will be “ruined” totally misses the point of whose lives are being ruined here.

    • Victoria Brownworth 28 June 2013 at 10:41 PM #

      In the priest sex abuse scandal, the argument from the Church has been the same: That these dangerous, wily, duplicitous CHILDREN and teens have lured these poor, defenseless adult priests into sexual situations, or have just accused them without merit.

      When I was sitting in the Special Victims Unit in Philadelphia waiting to talk to a detective about the rape that almost killed me, the first thing the detective said to me was,”If you are lying, we will prosecute you.” Across the room from me was a young boy–12, 13, 14–I’m not sure. I know he was told the same thing, but he wasn’t an award-winning reporter who had been dealing with police on the job for years.

      Williams traveled to find accessible victims–all of color, all 14 and under, all poverty-stricken.

      If Williams had a rationale for all the videos and photos of himself with children, why did he flee Los Angeles for Mexico, leaving behind his job, colleagues, friends, roommate?

      Many people argued that Roman Polanski, a convicted child rapist, had had his life “ruined” as well. Because orally, anally and vaginally raping a 13 year old (remember, he was convicted)was somehow okay because he was a filmmaking genius.

      Williams may (although talking to colleagues certainly argues against this) be the best ethnographer since Margaret Mead. But if he’s also an uncontrolled serial child rapist,then he belongs where he is now: in jail, away from more potential victims.

      • Rick 3 July 2013 at 12:21 AM #

        I feel bad for our lesbian sisters who work their asses off, against not only homophobia, but sexism, on behalf of gay civil rights, only to find themselves having to, time and time again, apologize for and/or embarrassing behavior on behalf of gay men. Jon’s and Perry’s brainless comments don’t help matters much.

        • Victoria Brownworth 3 July 2013 at 8:57 AM #

          Thanks, Rick, for having an appropriate response to this story. It’s heartening. The goal of LGBTQ activism should not be to make it possible for a small group of rich white gay men to traffic young boys of color who are only having sex with them to put food on their families’ tables.

          People like Williams should be the concern of our entire community. They don’t shame me personally–I’m not a gay man. But they DO shame the vast majority of gay men who would never entertain a second’s thought to abusing a child of color in another country just because they have the money to do so. Men like Williams draw that link between pedophilia and gay together when most of us who are activists have been striving to sever it for decades.

          The victims here are the boys Williams is alleged to have bought and videotaped and photographed and raped. Not Williams.

          • BobN 9 September 2014 at 2:23 PM #

            Williams no more draws a link between pedophilia and gay than Ted Bundy drew one between serial killer rapist and straight. Sure, some people will try to make the connection. YOU shouldn’t. You feel no shame over what Williams has done. I don’t either. I’m not him.

      • Surya 7 August 2013 at 10:47 AM #

        The children in the FBI most-wanted announcement ranged from ages 9 to 17. The age of consent in Thailand is 15.

        The two Filipinos in the indictment are 14. Though the age of consent in the Philippines is 19, the only prosecutions (as rape) are for sex with those 12 or less (or less than 12). If the Philippine government wants Williams extradited, I support it, but boys who have sex on camera for a man before meeting him seem to me significantly different from altar boys preyed upon by priests in a position of sacredotal authority.

        Also, in many Asian countries, prepubescent girls are married to men decades older than them, and these men don’t always wait to demand “conjugal duties.”

        • Victoria Brownworth 9 August 2013 at 10:42 PM #

          This is a truly ugly comment. The excuses men make for why they have sex with children so poverty stricken that their parents are pimping them out to strangers are despicable as well as criminal. If you have to leave your own country to do something–because it’s ILLEGAL where you live–that says something.

          These Asian countries with lax laws about child prostitution are not to be LAUDED, they are to be CENSURED. And parsing over a year here or there is as absurd as it is disgusting. In the recent trial over the killing of Trayvon Martin, he was referred to as a child: he was a few months short of his 18th birthday. So telling me that THIS child–the 14-year-old victim of Walter Lee Williams–isn’t “really” a victim is just cant from the pedophile playbook.

          Adult men using kids–be they girls (most common)or boys–for sex isn’t a positive thing. Children worldwide who are sex trafficked have vastly shortened life-spans. They are highly likely to become HIV-infected, become addicts, die. Making excuses for participating in that hell is nothing short of vile.

          It’s truly despicable that men make excuses for themselves and other men using children for sex. If this weren’t a CRIME, Walter Lee Williams and others like him wouldn’t be arrested.

          It also typifies male behavior of victim-blaming to say that a child prostitute is somehow less of a victim than an altar boy. No child wakes up in the morning and says,”Wow, today I want to be raped by a 65-year-old man for money!” It’s the twisted vantage point of middle-aged/old men who can’t get a willing partner who think sex workers WANT them. They don’t. It’s JOB–and an awful one. But for desperate people like the kids in this gruesome tale, it’s often the only thing between them, their families and starvation.

          Being a participant in the racist destruction of children in other countries should shame anyone involved. That it doesn’t is why law enforcement has to hunt people down and remind them that what they are doing is a crime.

          It’s the 21st century, not the 5th. We no longer think it’s acceptable to steal a child’s early life and give it to an adult for a few dollars. The days of feudalism are over. The sooner men realize that, the better it will be for children everywhere.

          • Surya 23 September 2013 at 9:43 PM #

            There weren’t dollars in the fifth century and Brownsworth is similarly ignorant about the recency of 14-year-olds being considered “children,” especially in Asia. I find the conduct alleged (and not yet proven) creepy and her refusal to consider that there is any difference between an authority figure (a priest to whom parents entrust a boy) having sex with his charge and webcam sessions leading to meetings shows a lack of sense of nuance to accompany her ethnocentric sex-phobic self-righteousness. Perhaps a trial will give us information on how the 14-year-olds thought of the arrangements, which Ms. Brownworth has decided for them

          • Victoria Brownworth 24 September 2013 at 3:41 AM #

            Surya has mulled this over more and yet still comes up with the wrong answer (as well as an incorrect spelling of my name).
            This isn’t the 5th century, so I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. Nor do I know what “recency” is.
            Williams was a university professor who preyed on young boys.Men who believe that poverty-stricken kids are willingly having sex with 60+ men are delusional. The racism and classism isn’t new. It harkens back to the slave/owner and serf/feudal lord eras. But I will reiterate: It’s illegal. Period.

            What’s creepy here is that you’re standing up for the pedophile and not for the child. In every society on earth children are supposed to matter. I’m sorry that in your personal society they do not.

            FYI, prostitutes get raped, too.

  4. Steve 26 November 2013 at 5:40 PM #

    If only Williams could take some time to find some baby-faced boys aged over 19 or whatever legal age for having sex, he would be safe…there are plenty of Asians who look younger than their age. He needs not have sex with a minor.

  5. I find that the U.S.A.is as backward on sex as Islam. They both preach the same thing about abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality,lesbianism different religions and they all do the same thing. They kill in the name of GOD, ALLAH & any other
    deity that can possibly be named. I do
    feel sorry for W. Lee Williams because his
    life is over now. I myself am fed up with this country’s persecution of gay people,
    but I just don’t know what there is left to do. “GOD BLESS” AND I DON’T MEAN THE “christian,” “jewish,” “muslim,” “buddist”
    or any other faith on this POOR OLD GLOBE CALLED EARTH—–BUT THE ONE TRUE god !!!!


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  1. | Gayness -vs- Paedophilia: Renowned Gay Writer on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List CAPTURED! | | truthaholics - June 28, 2013

    [...] The Strange Case of Walter Lee Williams: Renowned Gay Writer on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List Capture… ~Victoria Brownworth, Lambda Literary.  [...]

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