WATCH ABOVE: Bobby Hayes talks about being sexually abused by former Saint John, NB police officer Kenneth Estabrooks, and the damage done to dozens of his friends.
This week on 16×9, we update an exclusive report we originally aired in September 2013.
Our story featured the dark memories of survivors of childhood sexual assaults committed by former Saint John, N.B., police officer Kenneth Estabrooks. The abuses spanned 25 years from 1957 to 1982 and it was the first time many of the survivors had ever told anyone their stories. Over a six-month investigation, we uncovered the names of 40 victims and communicated directly with ten.
Then, just two days after our story aired, the City of Saint John revealed shocking new victim numbers that were much higher than anyone had imagined. Investigators hired by the city said they had received information leading them to believe Estabrooks assaulted 263 children, making him one of the worst child predators in Canadian history.
But still, the victims were shrouded in secrecy. They would only speak to 16×9 on the condition of anonymity.
Now, for the first time, one of the survivors is stepping out of the shadows.
His name is Bobby Hayes. He’s 54 years old; blue-collar, Maritime-tough. And he just happens to be one of Saint John’s most familiar faces. His phone rings non-stop, and everywhere he goes, people know him.
That’s because for more than 20 years, Hayes has dedicated his life to helping the city’s most vulnerable children. He runs the non-profit Joshua Group, relying solely on volunteers and private donations to run a community centre for children.
“My heart’s right here, yeah, with these guys. I get up in the morning, and I go to bed at night and I was thinking about … what can I do next, and how can I help them?”
Most afternoons, Hayes can be found driving around Saint John’s roughest neighbourhoods in a big yellow school bus, picking up poor and abused kids. Every kid he sees gets a big smile, and his characteristic greeting: “Hey, Hippie!”
He takes them to the Joshua Group’s headquarters for a hot meal and gives them a chance to ride bikes, go fishing, skating – to simply be kids.
Hayes’s dedication to the kids is legendary. Over the years, it has consumed so much of his time that he says it cost him his marriage.
“I just couldn’t leave them,” he says. “It was almost like abandoning them and they had nobody, and I knew what that’s like.”
He’s asked if “obsession” would be too strong a word to describe that level of commitment.
“How about ‘love’?” he says.
For years, nobody knew why Hayes was willing to spend to much of his life helping the kids. But after our story aired, and the depths of Estabrook’s crimes came into focus, he finally admitted publicly that he was one of the survivors. And the details are sickening.
“You start to think about someone raping you, beating you up, pouring gas on you, urinating on you, following you, terrorizing you, showing you their gun, bullying you, harassing you, picking you up by the hair on your head, slam your head against a wall,” he says, shaking his head.
As close as Hayes can recall, 60 or 70 kids in Saint John’s notorious South End were caught by Estabrooks when he was growing up there.
“This is the sad part, of course. The rest of the community … went on with life,” he says.
But many didn’t.
“No education, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, depression, psychiatric wards, shoving needles in your arms, methadone clinics, pills just to try to forget. And it’s done a lot of damage. It was just ongoing. The police, you look at a policeman not in the way most people do, saying ‘This guy’s here to protect me.’ Not here.”
Like other victims, Hayes says many police and city employees knew what Estabrooks was doing, but did nothing to stop it.
“I said to myself, you think at some point, where does somebody do something?”
In December, Hayes was named lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit launched against the City of Saint John, its Police Commission and its Police Department.
Interview requests from 16×9 to the city were declined.
“I’d like my friends to get proper help,” Hayes says.
“I’d like for the accountability to be done, and these guys to be looked after instead of living in a one-room apartment … sitting there day after day and thinking about a man raping you.”
The fear and shame never go away.
“I’m embarrassed. I had to tell my children, my mom and dad. I had to go over to my house and say ‘Dad, I’m one of the kids.’ And I remember him putting his head down and looking at the floor and shaking his head, and saying, ‘Oh my God.’”
Don’t miss an encore presentation of “Saint John Update” this Saturday at 7pm on 16×9.