In one song by the band that Mr. Merzbacher played repeatedly for his students, the lyrics were laced with tortured yearning.
"I know there's a place you've walked where love falls from the trees," came the words from the classroom stereo. "My heart is like a broken cup, I only feel right on my knees. I spit out like a sewer hole and still receive your kiss.
"How can I measure up to anyone now after such love as this."
Students said Mr. Merzbacher would assign them to write an essay about the song.
The teacher smoked and cursed in class, drank beer with students and took them riding in his yellow Volkswagen bug after school to Sherrie's Show Bar or his house. The same backyard swimming pool where nude dancers had frolicked some 20 years before was now filled with Mr. Merzbacher's eighth-grade friends, more than a half a dozen former students have said they told police. And, as at Highlandtown, his behavior was becoming increasingly erratic.
The next year, the night that his students received confirmation -- the Catholic sacrament that signaled their entry into spiritual adulthood -- Mr. Merzbacher took two of his students on a high-speed ride through the woods near Essex. Empty beer cans rolled on the floor.
"Open the glove box," one of the students recalled him saying. "Give me my gun."
"He took the gun out and just started blasting away at stop signs," said Steve Kazmierski, now 33. "There we were driving down these dark roads, all drunk, shooting off a gun."
At school, Mr. Merzbacher kept the gun in his desk drawer, often brandishing it in class, students said. At least two of them recount the teacher pointing the weapon at them and threatening to kill them if they ever revealed his secrets.
"In the mornings, he would send me over to the utility closet to make coffee for him," said a 32-year-old painter who has testified before a grand jury in the case. "Then, he'd come in behind me, close the door and rape me. Day after day. For three years. After the first few times, I would just go numb."