Matt Wilke headed up Masemore Road in Baltimore County, a spiral notebook on the passenger seat of the car, a teddy bear tucked next to the stick shift. In the back was a 10-foot coil of plastic pipe.
He turned the red Volkswagen GTI down a grassy lane and drove deep into a cornfield. It was an August day last year, and Matt had been thinking of his father and his brother, Justin.
He also had been thinking of Peter Dudley Albertsen II, the man who a decade ago had betrayed Matt's family.
Matt was 13 when the secret games began. His brother, only 11. "Pete," as the boys affectionately called him, was 24.
Years later, in a letter to Justin, Pete would recall the games they played, the secrets he admonished them never to tell.
"Did I injure you? What was the extent and the nature of the injury? Did I destroy you? What was the mechanism of the destruction? Were my actions careless? Were they criminal? Did I trick you or fool you?
"Were you my quarry or prey?"
Next month, a federal judge in Baltimore will determine Albertsen's role in the obliteration of the Wilke family and decide what price he should pay. Matt and Justin will not be there. But prosecutors plan to tell their story by bringing Justin's paintings and poetry into the courtroom. It is a legacy the brothers left for other young people and their parents. It teaches the lessons of deception and the dangers of secrecy.
It allows Justin to say to Pete:
What's the problem here
I thought I was one in a trillion
Just another kid
You are not talented
Full of lies and promises to tickle the fancy of mine
I do not hate myself for you, that I would spend half of my life
With promises of secrecy and tales not to tell
Camp Puh'Tok is a postcard-perfect haven for children in the wooded hills of Monkton near Gunpowder Falls State Park. Matt and Justin met Pete there in June 1985.
The boys, 11 and 9, were curious and cute, with bangs of sandy brown hair. They spent their days at the pool, their nights around the fire ring. Pete was a lifeguard who played the dulcimer, and taught arts and crafts to the children.
"He really identified with the kids," said Tina Mason, a Puh'Tok camper who became one of Matt's closest friends.
And the kids identified with Pete. With his ponytail and mustache, he was cool and confident, college-smart. He was grooming himself to become a teacher, preparing to study elementary education and psychology at Towson State University. This was his seventh summer at Puh'Tok.
Don and Susan Wilke considered Pete an ideal role model for their boys. When camp broke, Pete kept up with the brothers by writing letters. During the summer of 1986, while working at Puh'Tok, Pete slept over at the Wilke home near Hereford. Don and Susan wanted to spare him the commute back to Baltimore.
Don was a bookish, bespectacled manager at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. At home, he tinkered with cars, cameras and computers. He shared his passions with his sons.
His wife, Susan, was a free-spirited corporate secretary. They found 6 acres high in the horse country and built a brick rancher on Mount Carmel Road, where they thought their boys would be safe from the big-city dangers of Baltimore 31 miles away.
Pete felt a sense of security here that he never knew growing up.
Raised in Annapolis, he was the son of a nurse and a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer. He later told psychologists his family was in constant conflict.
"'You'll never amount to anything,'" Pete said his dad liked to remind him. "I was dreadfully afraid of him."
When his parents divorced in the late 1970s, Pete called it "a relief." It was around the same time, he said, that he first acted on his sexual feelings for children. Pete was 18 when he approached a 13-year-old neighborhood boy.
"When I told him I had fallen in love with him, he was afraid of the idea, so I foolishly pushed him away," Pete later wrote. "I stopped speaking to him all together. That was my mistake, part of my crazy 'all or nothing' thinking."
Pete wouldn't make the same mistake with Matt and Justin.
The summertime stays at the Wilke home in Baltimore County strengthened Pete's bonds with the boys. He bought them Laffy Taffy and Berger's cookies. He taught them how to use his Canon camera. In late 1986, he asked Don and Susan whether their sons could spend weekends at his Hampden rowhouse on Poole Street, overlooking the Roosevelt Park playground.
Don and Susan approved. By then, Pete had become like a third son, a big brother to their boys.
"This was the life," Justin would later write. "This was any kid's dream. I wanted to be as mature as Pete. And in my mind, I was. I would do anything to keep the relationship. I knew that he was the best friend any kid could ever have. ... So I thought."
For Matt and Justin, the goal of the games seemed simple: fun. For Pete, the goal was sex.
For nearly a year, Pete proceeded cautiously. He wrestled and tickled the boys, hugging and touching them in acceptable places. Over time, the horseplay turned sinister.
Psychologists say pedophiles typically begin this way. The younger the child, the easier it is to play the games.
The brothers were too young to understand their sexual feelings. They wanted to please Pete. So they played the "Wrinkle Game" and "Belly Button Golf," and they kept them secret.
As the boys grew older, Pete began to separate them and play the games in private. When Justin turned 11, Pete proposed a new game: Pete would be the photographer, Justin the magazine supermodel. First, Pete asked Justin to pose in his cutoff shorts and T-shirt. Then he persuaded Justin to wear jeans, nothing else.
During a summer stay in 1987, Pete told Justin it was time to complete the photo shoot. It was 9 o'clock, the end of a hot day in Baltimore, and Pete set up a camera tripod in the living room.
"I just watched, wondering what kind of interesting project he came up with now," Justin wrote in an account of that night.
"Go sit down," Pete told him.
Justin plopped down on the couch and started to strike animated poses. He preened like a movie star. He snarled like a wild animal. He roared like a dinosaur. He was 11. Pete was 24.
"You know the picture I have of you in your jeans that's hanging upstairs?" Pete asked.
"Yes," Justin said.
"Well, I want to do a series of other pictures like that. I want the one of you in your jeans, one of you in your underwear, and one of you with nothing on. I want to do a variation on a theme like that with clothing, but I thought you wouldn't want to put more clothes on. After all, it's hotter than hell."
Pete adjusted his Canon on the tripod. He took a video camera out of its case and set it up on the coffeetable next to the TV set. He pushed the record button. As the red light flashed, Pete clicked the shutter of the Canon, directing Justin's every move.
It was all for the sake of art, Pete promised.
"OK, take off your clothes," he said. "Slowly."
Justin removed his T-shirt. He unbuttoned his cutoffs. He slipped them over his Keds and sat back on the couch, the cameras soaking up his image.
"I felt as if I weren't even there, as if I were watching a movie," Justin wrote. "I didn't feel as if this was a game anymore. This did not feel like art. I sat there frozen on the couch with Pete staring and staring. I did not look up. But I could feel his eyes dancing up and down my body."
He felt like crying.
"Take off your underwear," Pete directed. "Sit in the same position you sat in for the picture with the jeans on. I want to be able to see each step of you taking your underwear off. It will be a cool project. It will be like a flip book. Do it slowly. Take them off now. Do it slowly."
Justin slid off his underwear, kicking it aside with his Keds. He sat back on the couch, exposed. He tried to look away.
Then, Pete touched him.
"I remember that day. I remember confusion. I remember emptiness and the sickening feeling of helplessness," Justin wrote. "I can still feel the blackness of being his photo sex model at 11, and his best friend in the meantime. I can still remember thinking: 'How in the hell can those two mix?'"
When it was over, Pete treated Justin to hot dogs and burritos, one of the boy's favorite meals.
A collage by Justin Wilke
Pete stares from the canvas, life-size, holding a three-dimensional Canon. Inside the camera lens is the image of a boy, partially clothed. Scrawled in the paint: "Keep a Secret Until I Die."
From the beginning, Matt was uncomfortable with the games. He squirmed. He stood up. He walked away. He was afraid to tell his parents, and he couldn't say no to Pete, until one day in 1988, when he wrote him a letter.
"Hey Pete," the 13-year-old began. "I've been doing a lot of thinking. ... I've decided to stop coming over your house. I saw a T.V. show on child pornography and that's what started me thinking."
Pete wrote back, explaining his thoughts, like a teacher to his pet.
"I have never tried to hide either my feelings or my attraction to you," Pete wrote. "Throughout my life I have walked along a trail that is very close to that of a child molester and I have been warned, reminded and reprimanded just about every step of the way."
Pete told Matt pedophilia is a matter of personal choice, not morality.
"Why do I follow a trail that so many people have insisted that I shouldn't?" Pete wrote. "Because after looking at all sides, I made up my own mind that there is something of value on that trail, something that is important to me."
Matt stopped going to Pete's house, but he didn't tell his parents why. Psychologists say most children blame themselves for their molestation; they feel they must have done something to seduce their abuser. They fear their parents will hold them responsible -- first for consenting, then for keeping it a secret.
After writing to Pete, Matt confided in Tina Mason, the friend he met at Puh'Tok.
"He said he was molested by Pete," Mason recalled. "I asked him what happened. He wouldn't tell me. He just said, 'I stopped it, and it's OK.'
"I said, 'Matt: It's not OK.'"
Matt said Justin was still spending weekends at Pete's house. He wanted to help his brother, but didn't know how.
"He said, 'I'm just worried about Justin. I don't know what to do.'
"I said: 'You have to do something. You have to tell someone.'"
With his degree from Towson State, Pete embarked on his career. He had spent years placing himself in postions of trust with kids in Baltimore, teaching troubled boys and girls at the nonprofit Children's Guild, substituting at Medfield Heights Elementary. Now he was off to England to tutor fourth-graders at the Perymount School in London.
While Pete was away, Matt decided to tell his mother. On June 16, 1990, after Pete had returned from London, Susan confronted him. Pete confessed. He said he had touched Matt. He said he had fondled Justin. Then he told Susan he was in love with her younger son.
"Mrs. Wilke told Peter to never contact her sons again," a police report says.
But Pete didn't stay away from Justin.
On Aug. 16, 1990, Susan turned him in. A week later, a Baltimore grand jury indicted Pete on charges of fondling and having oral sex with Justin, and fondling Matt.
Convicted of those charges, Pete could have been sent to prison for years. But prosecutors plea-bargained the case, dropping all but one count -- a third-degree sex offense for abusing Justin.
"Hindsight is always 20/20, but we thought at the time that in the interest of protecting the children, we not put them on the stand," said Haven H. Kodeck, deputy Baltimore state's attorney.
As he had done with the Wilkes, Pete won the confidence of the court psychologists who were preparing his presentence report.
"I believe the defendant is genuinely remorseful about his behavior and properly motivated to be involved in psychotherapy," a court psychologist wrote in a Nov. 30, 1990, report. "He is an intelligent and competent person and, we believe, deserving of a suspended sentence."
The report makes no mention of the 1988 letter Pete wrote to Matt confessing that he felt compelled to have sex with children because there is "something of value" in pedophilia. The letter was part of the investigative file.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti accepted the recommendation. He gave Pete a three-year suspended prison sentence and five years' probation. He ordered him to see a psychologist and to stay away from children, including Matt and Justin.
Don and Susan took their sons to counseling sessions, but after six visits, the family called it quits. The brothers weren't comfortable talking about Pete. Neither were their parents.
"I just wish that the entire problem of abuse could stop being a locked-away emotion, and come to the surface as something that we must all deal with, so we can go on," Justin would later write. "Help me, God."
After the sessions, Don and Susan decided to keep the abuse secret. It's a choice many families make. Psychologists say the results are almost always disastrous.
Guilt and anxiety envelope the family. Isolation intensifies. Children begin to believe the abuse is their fault, not the pedophile's -- a crushing burden for a child to carry.
"What's going to happen now?" Tina Mason asked Matt.
"I don't know," Matt said. "We're all separate people living in the ,, same house."
A family portrait by Justin Wilke
A rowhouse towers behind the family. Pete is depicted as the devil, hanging on Susan's back. Don is bent over, ghostly white. Matt and Justin are portrayed as one boy, staring into a family photo album.
Matt went on long rides on his Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike, taking risks and bashing his body like never before. He seemed to be punishing himself.
He was 16, a junior at Loyola High School, when he volunteered in 1991 at St. Vincent's Center for abused and neglected children. Matt was hard to miss. Wearing his hair long and his ball cap backward, he was a poet who read Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll. He rarely left home without his Nikon camera. His ++ favorite subject: children. He turned the images into greeting cards for his friends and signed them with peace symbols.
For nearly 20 years, the Rev. Ray Chase, a Catholic priest, has supervised the "special friend" program at St. Vincent's, which pairs high school students with children at the center in Timonium. Matt befriended a boy who later would be diagnosed with brain cancer.
He watched over him like a big brother -- the way he wished he had done with Justin.
Matt couldn't shake his guilt over the abuse of his brother. When Matt was a senior at Loyola in 1992, he turned the barrel of a family rifle on himself and pulled the trigger. Without a pin, the rifle wouldn't fire.
A year later, while attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Matt drifted deeper into depression. One day, while driving to St. Vincent's with Father Ray, Matt began to cry.
What's wrong? the priest asked.
Matt said he was afraid he would become a child molester.
What makes you think that?
"Pete told me," Matt said.
Fearing he would be perceived as a pedophile, Matt had stopped photographing children.
In 1993, Justin followed Matt to St. Vincent's. He was a senior at Loyola, a 17-year-old renaissance kid who liked the Beastie Boys and Beethoven. He helped his father restore pipe organs salvaged from vaudeville theaters. He transformed his red Volkswagen GTI into a high-performance speedster. His paintings were the pride of his art classes.
At St. Vincent's, Father Ray proposed an art project to Justin, a way to help people understand the psychological trauma of sexual abuse and educate them about pedophiles. The project became his passion.
Justin penned poems and stories. He began to sketch and paint. Piece by piece, he stitched the words and artwork together, slowly revealing the landscape of two deeply troubled lives, and a disturbing portrait of the man who had betrayed them.
"Dear God," Justin wrote for the project. "Something seems to haunt me. I am constantly followed by a certain numbness which I cannot escape."
For Matt, there seemed to be only one path to take.
In 1993, he tried to kill himself again. He broke into a neighbor's house and stole a rifle, making sure the firing pin was set. He slashed his wrists before aiming the rifle at his belly.
The gun fired. But the bullet passed through him, missing his vital organs. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital.
Matt went home 10 days later with a prescription for the anti-depressant Prozac. He found his family splitting up. Facing claims of infidelity, his mother was moving to Florida.
"Susan decided to desert the family at the worst possible time, when the going really got rough," Don wrote in his journal, now part of an investigative file.
For the Wilkes, it would get a lot rougher.
Self-portrait by Justin Wilke
A female figure sits in a cell-like room, legs pulled to her chest. The eyes are dark, hollow. Hidden in her dress is the image of a screaming boy, a hand clutching his throat.
Justin stayed busy, painting and writing. His art project at St. Vincent's was becoming an exhibit that would be shown to therapists and abused children along the East Coast. He won a scholarship to the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and Father Ray had found him a job at the Framers' Vise, a picture-framing shop in Timonium.
For as long as he could, Justin kept his abuse a secret from his friends. He also didn't tell them that Pete was stalking him, sending him desperate love letters.
One day, in 1994, Justin and his girlfriend, Alba Hollister Ruiz, went to Towson Town Center. They spotted a man wearing a trench coat and a black hat on the escalator.
"I'll be right back," Justin said.
Ruiz watched as Justin caught up to the man. The two spoke, and the man removed his hat, showing Justin something he had sewn inside. When Ruiz approached, the man walked away.
"That night, Justin told me about Pete," Ruiz said. "He just said that Pete was obsessed with him. He said Pete had put Justin's name inside his hat. He said he was molested by Pete."
After his graduation from Loyola in 1994, Justin went to a party with Ruiz. When Justin got home, the phone rang. It was Pete. He said he had attended the ceremony.
"Justin got scared," Ruiz recalled. "He started to think that Pete was following him everywhere."
Then the envelopes started to arrive at Justin's house, each one containing a letter from the alphabet. Justin was about to turn 18. The letters were spelling H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y.
Matt called her "Mom." Dana Blair-Glessner is a plain-talking trade-school teacher and the mother of Matt's best friend, Jamie Blair. A foster parent for 11 children, Blair-Glessner sensed Matt was in trouble. When he was released from St. Joseph's in 1993, she invited him to live with her family in Timonium.
Matt wore his sadness like a shield. Whenever she tried to hug him, he pulled away. "He had a real hard time with personal contact," Blair-Glessner said.
A few months after moving in, Matt lowered his defenses. During a Fourth of July party in 1994, he said he had a secret to share. His eyes were glassy with tears.
"He told me what happened when they were little," Blair-Glessner recalled. "I kept telling him, 'Matt, it's not your fault. It's not your fault.'"
The more Matt talked, the more his spirits lifted. He rode his Rockhopper bike during the day with Jamie Blair, and worked as a liquor store cashier at night. In the mornings, he brought Jamie's little sister, Ashley, to school and watched over her pet turtle and gerbil. Matt felt as though he had finally found a family.
In May 1995, his mood darkened again.
"What's wrong?" Blair-Glessner asked.
"It's Pete," Matt said. "He's back."
The package arrived in time for Justin's 19th birthday. It was dated May 11, 1995, and postmarked in Germany, where Pete, then 33, was traveling on a student visa.
Sifting through the contents, Justin found a card, a 23-page letter and two pictures of Pete modeling a vest. It was fashioned from green and maroon material and safety pins. Pete wrote that the pins -- 2,088 of them -- symbolized his ties to Justin.
The photographs disturbed Justin, but even more troublesome was a videotape he found inside the package. Pete wrote that it contained scenes of childhood sex that are illegal in the United States. Justin couldn't play the tape, recorded in Germany, on his American VCR. He felt sick with the possibility that the tape held explicit pictures of himself filmed at Pete's house.
The more Justin read the letter, the more convinced he became that Pete would never leave him alone. Pete wrote that he was creating symbols to "honor" Justin. The vest was one. The hat he showed Justin at the Towson mall was another.
Pete said their relationship was based on the feelings they had for each other, not sex. He echoed the words he had written to Matt in 1988.
"Clearly, I was always aware that an adult being involved with children is one of the things that purportedly should not be
done," he wrote.
L "My personal reaction to 'That can't be done' is 'Why not?'"
He asked why Justin was not responding to his overtures. Pete told him to say "f -- - off" if he wanted him to stay away.
The package became a rallying point. Justin was not on the videotape. But other children were, captured in scenes of illicit sex. By mailing the tape to the United States, Pete had committed a crime.
The package also drew Justin, Matt and their father together. This time, Matt would protect his little brother. This time, Don would stand up for his sons.
"My brother, father and I do share at least one thing in common," Justin wrote. "We all hate Pete, and we would give up everything we had to turn back time, and avoid the hell that seemed to create the paths of the rest of our lives."
To help the family, Father Ray had introduced Justin and Matt to an attorney. As long as Pete was in Germany, he couldn't be arrested. But he could be warned to stop writing and stay away.
Justin told his mother the attorney was writing a letter to Pete.
"Why don't you leave that poor man alone," Justin recalled her saying. "Don't you think he's been through enough?"
Justin was stunned.
"I certainly would not be at his defense," he told his mother, who refused requests to be interviewed. "I would castrate him with a chain saw."
The more Matt thought about Pete's letter, the more depressed he became. He locked himself in his room and lashed out at those closest to him.
Don also felt powerless to help.
Susan, who had been gone for nearly two years now, was asking for a divorce. A doctor had placed Don on Prozac to treat his depression.
"Why am I falling apart like this?" he wrote in his journal Nov. 4, 1995.
Ten days later, the federal government shut down, placing Don's Social Security job on hold. He asked Justin to stop by. He and Alba Hollister Ruiz were shaken by what they saw when they stepped inside the Wilke home. Don was unshaven, pale.
"I never felt this close to killing myself," he told the couple.
On Nov. 25, 1995, two days after Thanksgiving, at 10:30 p.m., the phone rang at the Ruiz home. It was Justin.
"He was hysterical. I couldn't tell if he was laughing or crying," Ruiz recalled.
Justin shouted: "You have to come. You have to come."
"I didn't know what was going on," Ruiz said. "Then he started to cry: 'My dad, my dad. He's dead.'"
Don had pulled his Volkswagen inside the garage of the family home, fastened a hose to the tailpipe, snaked it inside the car and started the engine.
A portrait by Justin Wilke
Don is sitting in his Volkswagen, his eyes closed, clouds of
carbon monoxide rising from the floorboard.
At first, Justin couldn't cry. Not when he called work to say he needed time off. Not when he narrated a slide show documenting his father's life at his funeral. Not when he moved in with Ruiz and her parents.
A few days after the funeral, Justin turned on the TV to find a program on trains, a passion he shared with his father. He got up to call him -- to say, 'Tune in, Dad' -- and then he remembered.
"He broke down," Ruiz said.
Justin and Matt turned to each other. Justin had completed his project at St. Vincent's and he dedicated it to Matt.
"May this help you understand me, for you are the one with whom I silently endured this trial of emotion," Justin wrote in an introduction to what would become known as "J's Exhibit."
"May these writings and artwork open a door through which we can both reflect on what has happened to us, and what will happen in the future. Please try to understand me, and help me lift this wall of silence between us. I love you, bro."
The two began to make plans for their future. Justin wanted to invest his inheritance in a house in Hamilton, and he asked his brother to be his roommate. Bill Wilke helped his nephew inspect the house. They figured out the financing. They developed a bidding strategy.
"Then, Justin just lost interest," Bill Wilke said. "He didn't return any of my calls."
Justin was showing up late for work. Or not showing up at all.
"Why was I dealt such a bad hand at childhood? God, can you answer it?" Justin wrote for the exhibit at St. Vincent's. "Please listen to my silent cry of agony, for I feel more than others the sorrow which surrounds my family."
Weeks after his father's death, Justin began talking about taking his own life. In January 1996, he discussed it with a friend from the Framers' Vise, Siiri Poldmae.
"He felt haunted by Pete, hunted down by him," she said. "He was in despair about having to live his life. He said people always said to him, 'You have such a bright future. You have so much to look forward to.'
"Justin said: 'I hate it when people tell me that. I want someone to tell me something that could really make it all better.'"
That month, Justin also revealed his worries to Doug Schuele, his boss at the framing shop. "He said he thought about ending it. He was saying how hard it was with his father being gone and his mother in Florida. But after we talked for a while, he seemed to feel better."
On Feb. 7, 1996, Schuele, Poldmae and Justin went skiing. A novice at the sport, Justin borrowed a ski suit, and they headed to Whitetail Ski Resort in Pennsylvania.
"By the end of the day, he was really excited," Schuele said. "He couldn't wait to go again."
When they returned to Timonium, they stopped for a few beers at a restaurant near the framing shop. Schuele left Michael's 2119 around 10 that night. Justin and Poldmae stayed behind.
Again, Justin started to talk about ending his life. He told Poldmae he felt trapped. He didn't know where to turn, where to live, what to do.
He drove Poldmae to her Baltimore home early the next morning. "I was concerned, but I thought his mood had changed," she said.
Justin returned to Timonium and pulled his Volkswagen into the parking lot of Padonia Auto Sales off York Road. Across the alley, he could see the delivery door of Lemmon Funeral Home, where the arrangements for his father had been made.
Justin tried to fashion a piece of cardboard into a pipe. When that didn't work, he turned the ski suit he had borrowed into a makeshift tube. He slipped it over the tailpipe, shoved it through the hatchback and climbed inside the car.
On Feb. 8, 1996, at 8:30 a.m., an autoworker found the car. On the dashboard was a photo of Justin at age 5. On the passenger seat was a note.
"Sell everything I have and donate the money to St. Vincent's. I love you all, Justin."
He ended the note with an answer for the man who had tormented him for nearly 10 years.
"I hate you, Pete," Justin wrote. "F -- - off."
What remained of the Wilke family rallied around Matt. When he moved out of Blair-Glessner's house, his uncle helped him find an apartment in Cockeysville. Bill Wilke gave his nephew advice about getting a job and going back to school. He encouraged him to go biking out West.
When Matt returned from the trip last spring, he stopped by to see his uncle. He had a secret to share.
"He told me that Justin had been abused. I told him I already knew that from Father Ray," Bill Wilke said.
"Then he said, 'Well, both of us were abused.'"
"Both of you?" his uncle asked.
Sitting on the sofa, Matt began to cry, burying his face in his hands.
Matt was confused about his future. But he was clear about one thing: He wanted Pete to pay for what he did. In March 1996, U.S. customs and postal agents started to investigate the illegal videotape.
Matt was thrilled. He phoned Tina Mason, the friend from Puh'Tok. "I'm meeting with the feds," he told her. "Justin's finally going to have his day."
On Easter Sunday last year, Matt's aunt, Stephanie Franzoni, invited her nephew and Father Ray for a family dinner at her Lauraville home. It was a cool, overcast day. Matt took his aunt's 4-year-old grandson outside.
Standing on the back porch, Matt and the boy blew bubbles.
"Matt was laughing so much," Father Ray recalled. "I never saw him like that before."
A few weeks later, Matt took another bike trip. When he returned, his aunt and his friends planned a birthday party. It was May, the month that Matt, Justin and their father were born. Matt was turning 22.
"I felt like if we could get him through May," Franzoni said, "we could get him through anything."
The party was a surprise. Among the gifts he received: bottles of bubbles.
During dinner a month later, Matt told his aunt he couldn't stop thinking about Justin.
"He felt guilty because he couldn't protect Justin," she said. "I tried to tell him he was just a little kid back then."
That summer, as federal agents prepared a warrant to arrest Pete if he returned to this country, Matt dropped by the homes of those closest to him, unannounced. In July, he showed up at Tina Mason's house in Edgemere, driving Justin's red Volkswagen GTI. He told her Pete might finally be arrested.
"It won't all be a waste," Matt said.
During the second week of August, he visited Blair-Glessner. He apologized for missing her birthday, and gave her a stone carving of two people holding hands. Then, he hugged her. It was the first time in the three years that she knew him.
"I love you, Mom," he said.
Driving his brother's car, Matt followed the grassy lane off Masemore Road for a half-mile before stopping and stepping out into the silence of the cornfield. He pulled the coil of plastic pipe from the Volkswagen, fit one end over the tailpipe and wrapped it tightly with silver duct tape. He slipped the other end through the hatchback.
Matt got into the car, the teddy bear at his side.
"I do not want to spend another fall or winter without my dad or my brother," he wrote in the spiral notebook. "I have no one to go home to. I have no one to come home to."
Matt listed four requests: Give nothing to my mother. Sell my belongings to benefit "J's Exhibit." Keep my ashes with my brother's and father's.
Finally: "Please forgive me."
On Aug. 15, a farmer found Matt's body. Eleven days later, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Peter Dudley Albertsen II. He fled Germany for Copenhagen, Denmark, where he tried to take his life, plunging a knife into his chest. He was arrested four months later, the day after Christmas, while visiting his mother in Baltimore.
He has been behind bars since. He refused requests to be interviewed.
Albertsen will not be prosecuted for stalking Justin. He cannot be held legally responsible for the suicides. In March, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Baltimore to trafficking child pornography.
NTC In state court, a judge is considering whether Albertsen violated his probation in the 1990 case by contacting Justin. If the judge finds him guilty, he could send Albertsen to prison for three years.
On July 11, Albertsen will face the federal charges. The penalty U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson hands down will depend on how he perceives Albertsen's actions.
If Nickerson views the videotape as an isolated crime, he could order Albertsen, now 35, to serve a short prison term.
But if he views the tape as a continuation of Albertsen's abuse of Justin, and determines that it inflicted extreme psychological trauma, the judge could impose the maximum: 10 years behind bars without parole.
Mailing the videotape, Nickerson could find, was Albertsen's final act of terror.
Without taking the witness stand, Justin and Matt will testify about how Albertsen destroyed their lives. Prosecutors plan to place easels in the courtroom to cradle "J's Exhibit." They will show Justin's paintings to the judge. They will read his writings and poetry.
Justin will have the final say:
Do not talk of him without emptying what is left
In my heart that is the horror of him
Waste not your breath on speaking of the good things
For my scars will last past eternity
Into the darkness from which there is no escape for me.
Where to call for help
Each year, nearly 140,000 cases of child molestation are reported in the United States. But national experts say the number of victimes is closer to a half-million because so many parents keep the abuse secret. Therapists warn that parents should never stay silent. By reaching out for help, they can protect their children from the long-term psychological trauma of sexual abuse.
Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland: 410-576-2414
Family and Children's Services of Maryland: 410-366-1980
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678
Parents Anonymous: 410-889-2300
St. Vincent's Center in Timonium: 410-252-4000
Pub Date: 6/22/97