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'So Many Victims' : After Two Decades, Molester Is Finally Brought to Justice

March 25, 1993|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — For more than two decades, Long Beach resident Robert William Shewan molested little girls.

His deviant behavior was known or suspected by some parents, fellow church members, his ex-wives, the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, a court-appointed child investigator and a judge, according to court documents, police and people who knew Shewan.

Yet, it wasn't until recently that the 50-year-old businessman was finally caught and convicted of molesting a 4-year-old.

"I can't think of any other case I've done where I found so many victims or a case where I've gone back and found someone who got away with this for so long," said Lianne Osendorf, the Long Beach detective who pieced together a case against Shewan.

The number of girls he molested, some as young as 2, is unclear. According to a sentencing report by a court-appointed psychologist and therapist, Shewan admitted molesting 20 girls since the 1960s. Police, prosecutors and a judge said they suspect the number is greater.

In January, 1992, Shewan was arrested after he was caught molesting a 4-year-old girl who was playing in her front yard. Osendorf checked into his past and found at least eight women who said they had been molested as girls.

Last summer, a jury found Shewan guilty of a lewd act upon a child, and on Jan. 20, a Compton Superior Court judge handed him the maximum sentence--a $10,000 fine and eight years in state prison.

"Mr. Shewan, this is your punishment," Judge Richard P. Kalustian said. "There's been at least one young woman a year who's been molested. . . . You've done something to these lives they will never be able to recapture."

Shewan, in a brief interview at Los Angeles County Jail recently, said talking would hurt his reputation and not help his situation. As he awaited transfer to state prison, he said that those who accuse him are forgetting "the good things I've done in my life."

Asked about the judge's comments that he molested a great number of children, Shewan said the number was exaggerated, but he would not elaborate.

"I was found guilty and there's nothing more I can say," he said.

Shewan grew up in Long Beach, graduated from Millikan High and Cal State Long Beach and was the vice president of a local freight company. He sang in his church choir. Yet this upstanding member of the community had a dark side.

Some of his closest family members said their earliest memories are of Shewan fondling them. Young women who lived in Shewan's Los Altos neighborhood and played with his children said they were victims. So did daughters of fellow church members, who trusted Shewan to baby-sit and give piano lessons to their children.

In the cases uncovered by Osendorf, the six-year statute of limitations has expired and prosecutors cannot file additional charges against Shewan--frustrating authorities who said he should have been stopped long ago.

"This case points out the shortcomings of the justice system when it comes to molestation victims," Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Carbaugh said. "This person could have gotten many more years in prison had responsible persons come forward with this."

The first time Shewan was charged with molesting a child was in early 1992, after he stalked a little girl in a nearby neighborhood.

On Dec. 20, 1991, a man later identified as Shewan was chased by neighbors who saw him putting his hand up a 4-year-old girl's skirt. On Jan. 7, 1992, the girl's mother saw the same man in the neighborhood, but he fled in a car, Osendorf said. Less than two weeks later, he was back again, and the child's mother followed his car and wrote down the license plate number, which was traced to Shewan, Osendorf said. He was arrested later in the month.

While discussing the case with her colleagues, Osendorf learned that Shewan had been charged with indecent exposure in a separate case Feb. 1, 1992, shortly after the molestation arrest. Later, he was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail for exposing himself to two 8-year-old girls at Stearns Park.

Meanwhile, Osendorf began calling Shewan's relatives, and each interview led to more women who said they had been molested by him as children. One woman said Shewan first molested her 26 years ago.

"They said, 'We tried to report and nobody ever did anything.' He got away with this for 26 years," Osendorf said.

Ten or 20 years ago, it was much more difficult to bring such cases to trial, authorities say.

"The law has changed as written and as applied," said UCLA law professor Robert Goldstein. "It is easier to qualify children as witnesses. It's easier to protect them when they testify. It's easier to accept their out-of-court statements."

But what is more important is the change in attitudes, he said. "There is a willingness to take allegations seriously," said Goldstein, who specializes in children and the law.

In Shewan's case, many of the victims said they told an adult, but many of the victims' families failed to go to authorities.

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