News that a former Saint John police officer may have abused more than 260 victims has left many Maritimers stunned.
Investigators now suspect Kenneth Estabrooks sexually abused as many as 263 children. If the numbers prove to be true, the former Saint John police sergeant could become Canada’s worst sex offender.
“I wasn’t surprised. The numbers could be much higher than 263,” says Elsie McGraw, a survivor of child sexual abuse.
Allegations against Estabrooks first surfaced in 1975 when he was a 22-year veteran of the Saint John Police Force.
He resigned immediately when confronted with the allegations of two teenaged boys but no charges were laid and Estabrooks was quietly transferred to the city works department.
After new complainants came forward in 1997, another investigation began that ended with Estabrooks being convicted of indecent assault on four of his six accusers in 1999.
He was sentenced to six years in prison and died in 2005 after a battle with cancer.
More alleged victims have come forward in recent years and on Monday a private investigation company hired by the city of Saint John released the numbers, which they say may continue to climb.
“When you’re reviewing someone’s statement from memories long ago, there are issues that come up with credibility,” says Maryann Campbell of the UNBSJ Centre of Criminal Justice.
“How reliable is this person’s memory of what actually happened? Is it possible they are making a false allegation because of an alternative motive?
Investigators have spoken with 53 of the alleged victims and have information on 33 others who are now believed to be deceased.
The city is offering free unlimited counselling services to anyone who alleges they were a victim and a Halifax law firm is working on a class-action lawsuit.
McGraw is pleased the city has stepped up and offered an apology and support for the victims, but she doesn’t believe a public inquiry would be the best decision.
“We know he shouldn’t have been transferred and allowed to continue to sexually abuse kids. We know that now, so what would an inquiry tells us? The same thing,” says McGraw. “Did people around suspect? Did people around know? Yes.”
While the city is offering free counselling, it has refused to discuss compensation.
Investigators expect the case to take another six to 12 months to complete. They hope to speak with every alleged victim in the case and will then provide a detailed report to the city.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ashley Dunbar