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The Story of Billy

By Ralph Cipriano

He told his doctors he was a paramedic and a professional surfer, and that he used to weigh 220 pounds.

“Billy Doe” is a 148-pound former altar boy turned heroin addict whose testimony was responsible for sending three priests and a Catholic schoolteacher to jail.

In the criminal courts, Billy Doe gave wildly conflicting statements to authorities. Now the legal battle over his allegations has shifted to the civil courts, where the 26-year-old Doe is suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for damages.

Lawyers are sifting through 854 pages of medical records covering a nine-year period between 2004 and 2013, when Billy Doe was a patient at 14 different hospitals and drug rehabs.

In the medical records, Billy Doe has given critics who consider him a habitual liar some more ammo.

On Dec. 1, 2011, Billy Doe told a doctor, “He lost his license to practice as a paramedic due to going to jail.” Billy Doe, however, is not listed on Pennsylvania state health department records of active Emergency Medical Service practitioners nor practitioners who had been disciplined. He did work as a driver for a Philadelphia ambulance company. An emergency medical technician with the same name as Billy Doe was licensed in 2007; that license expired in 2010.

There’s a big difference between being a paramedic and being an EMT. It takes at least 1,200 hours of study to become a paramedic, and be licensed to administer medications. You also have to pass a criminal background check, and a drug test, which would have been difficult for a drug addict like Billy Doe with multiple arrests. It takes at least 120 hours to become an EMT, and EMTs are not allowed to give medications. 

Several sources familiar with the case said that Billy Doe was never a paramedic, and that they had never seen any evidence that he was ever a professional surfer. As for weighing 220 pounds, sources say the Billy Doe they knew was always a lightweight.

In his medical records, Billy Doe gave his doctors three different explanations for the youthful trauma that allegedly turned him into a heroin addict.

First, he said he had a pleasant childhood, but was traumatized as a freshman in high school by his grandmother’s death. Then he said he was sexually abused by a neighbor. Finally, he said he was raped as a child by two priests and a Catholic school teacher in fifth and sixth grade, after which he underwent an immediate personality change.

In his medical records, Billy Doe told his doctors on Feb. 2, 2005 that he was a “born salesman” who was planning to become “a famous surfer as well as start a very successful business.”

On Nov. 28, 2005, Billy told his doctors his adopted older brother had been arrested for sexual assault, so Billy “is out of [the] hot seat for a while.” The doctor who takes the statement, however, wrote, “I’m not trusting patient right now. I think he is doing something and not telling me.”

The doctor had good instincts. The brother has no criminal record and has never been arrested for anything, say sources familiar with the case.

In his medical records, Doe blamed a dysfunctional family for his drug and mental problems. On Dec. 1, 2011, Doe told his doctors he had uncles who were alcoholics, and a grandfather who drank a lot and committed suicide. Doe told his doctors his mother was bi-polar and had obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

Sources familiar with the case expressed skepticism about what Doe had to say about his family.

“His mother and father are the salt of the earth,” said one criminal defense lawyer familiar with the case. “His father’s a cop, his mother’s a nurse. They go to church every Sunday, and they raised both their sons to be altar boys.”

“I wouldn’t believe anything that kid says,” said another source.

None of the lawyers involved in the case had anything to say publicly. Neither did District Attorney Seth Williams, who’s been stonewalling questions about Billy Doe for the past nine months.

During the ongoing civil case, defense lawyers for the archdiocese are expected to argue how can a jury trust an alleged victim who tells tall tales and can’t get keep his stories straight. And lawyers for the plaintiff are expected to counter that Billy Doe was so traumatized by being repeatedly raped as a child that it took him years to sort it all out.

One of the priests Billy Doe sent to jail was Msgr. William J. Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s former secretary for clergy. Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country imprisoned for failing to adequately supervise a priest with a history of abuse from raping Billy Doe.

Lynn remains in jail, serving a 3 to 6 year-sentence. Meanwhile, the battleground for the civil case will be Billy Doe’s medical records.

On Dec. 23, 2004, Billy Doe, then 16, was asked by a psychiatrist about his childhood. The psychiatrist recorded Doe’s responses: “Childhood – Pleasant, very active …”

The psychiatrist was trying to discover the source of Billy Doe’s heroin addiction. In the records, the psychiatrist wrote in capital letters and underlined: “ISSUES BEGAN FRESHMAN YEAR HIGH SCHOOL. MAJOR LIFE CHANGING EVENT: his grandmother died of cancer, age 61 “ in December, 2012. The doctor noted the patient was “very close to” his grandmother, and that “she died at her home and hospice.” “I was primary caregiver,” Doe claimed.

On Jan. 16th, 2013, at the trial of Father Charles Engelhardt and former Catholic school teacher Bernard Shero, Billy Doe testified his feisty Italian grandmother was like a second mother to him. Doe told the jury that’s why he had a large crucifix tattooed on his back with the legend, “In Memory of Maggie.”

The story that Billy Doe was traumatized by his grandmother’s death was told by Doe’s mother when she appeared before a grand jury on Nov. 12, 2010, and was questioned by a prosecutor:

Q. Did there come a time when you noticed a change in [Billy's] behavior?

A. Yes. At age 14, as he entered high school, freshman year at high school, he wasn't the same child. He was very troubling to us.

Q. Ok. Prior to that, what was his personality?

A. He was basically a very pleasant, active, happy person prior to that and he was defined by some people as either Dennis the Menace or the All-American boy up to that point.

…Did he ever tell you why this pattern [of drug abuse and bizarre behavior] started developing?

… He would never give us a reason … But my husband and I both felt it was because my mother had died during [Billy’s] freshman year, beginning of freshman year in December, and then his like bizarre behavior began in February.

But on March 7, 2007, Billy Doe, then an 18-year-old heroin addict, told doctors at Eagleville Hospital a different story. Asked why he used drugs, the patient replied, “to take away the pain of past trauma.”

The patient, the records say, has a past history “of sexual abuse by a neighbor, and has not addressed the issue.” That same year, Billy Doe was diagnosed as bipolar, with a major depressive disorder, and “opiod dependence.”

On Dec. 1, 2011, when he was 23, Billy Doe said he was raped “by a priest in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. He did not talk about it until two years ago,” the records note. “The patient has significant symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares. He completely avoids priests or church.”

Also in 2011, Billy Doe told his doctors that “following sexual abuse from priest, he began to isolate himself from peers and subsequently began to exhibit some behavioral/grade problems.”

The medical records detail several alleged suicide attempts reported by Billy Doe to doctors. On Dec. 5, 2008, Billy Doe, told doctors he allegedly tried to kill himself by injecting five bags of heroin, drinking or injecting bleach, and attempting to electrocute himself by throwing a radio in a bathtub.

On Nov. 29, 2011, Billy Doe told an addiction medicine physician doctor he was unemployed and living with his parents.

“When I asked him how he was supporting himself,” the doctor wrote, “He very clearly told me that he was selling drugs and this is how he made a profit.”

On Jan. 11, 2012, at another drug rehab, a doctor noted in a progress summary, “[Billy Doe] learned his primary defense mechanisms of rationalization and denial.”

Billy Doe had told many contradictory stories. In the criminal case, the victim first told social workers from the archdiocese that Father Charles Engelhardt attacked him in the sacristy, and anally raped him for five hours, after which the priest threatened to kill Billy Doe if he told anybody. But when Doe told his story to the police and grand jury, the anal rape disappeared from the story. Instead, Billy Doe said he and the priest engaged in masturbation and oral sex, and afterwards, it was Billy Doe who threatened to kill the priest.

In the case of Father Edward Avery, Billy Doe first told archdiocese social workers that Avery punched him in the head, and when Doe woke up, he was naked and tied up with altar sashes. After which, Father Avery anally raped him so brutally that he bled for a week. But when Billy Doe retold his story to the police and grand jury, the punch in the head, the altar sashes and the bloody anal sex all disappeared from the story.

In the case of former school teacher Bernard Shero, Billy Doe told archdiocese social workers that Shero had punched him in the face and wrapped a seatbelt around his neck before raping him in the back seat of a car. But when Billy Doe told his story to the police and the grand jury, the punch in the face, and the seatbelt wrapped around his neck all disappeared from his story. Billy Doe also gave authorities three different locations for the alleged rape.

In the civil case, while defense lawyers will concentrate on pointing out inconsistencies in Billy Doe’s stories, the plaintiff’s lawyers will probably cling to the story line laid out in the most recent entries in the medical records.

On May 13, 2013, Billy Doe was the subject of a “psychological treatment summary” by an Elkins Park psychologist who began seeing him on Sept. 12, 2011. The doctor recorded she had 42 therapy sessions with the patient, during which Doe required “several hospitalizations for drug rehabilitation.”

Billy Doe told the doctor about being sexually abused “at the hands of two priests and one teacher.” This was “an extreme traumatic stressor,” the doctor reported. “He experienced intense fear, helplessness and a sense of horror from this experience which caused an instant change in his behavior …”

Billy Doe told the doctor he was traumatized by the prospect of his upcoming appearances in court. The patient dealt with “his sense of shame and sense of being damaged … He was fearful that he would have too much anxiety and be too repulsed by seeing his perpetrators in court to be able to talk.”

During therapy sessions, the doctor noted, Billy Doe expressed fears about “not wanting to be picked apart in an open court.” He also wondered, “Will women see me as damaged?”

But after the trial last year of Msgr. Lynn, and the trial this year of Father Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, Billy Doe felt much better.

“He dealt with his court hearing beautifully,” his doctor noted. “Though he was filled with anxiety, it was also a healing experience for him; not only personally, but in relation to his strong extended family.”