In this 1967 photo, Brother Lawrence Sandstrom, right, supervises as Emile… (Los Angeles Times )
The preschooler's hair was falling out in clumps. He had stopped playing with other children and barely spoke to his teachers. He woke screaming each night, and during the day clung to his mother.
What's wrong, she asked again and again. Finally, he told her: His big brother, adopted seven years earlier from the Maryvale Catholic orphanage in Rosemead, was molesting him. Devastated, she rushed the older boy to a therapist's office, where he offered a harrowing explanation.
"He said that Brother Larry had done it to him at Maryvale — him and other children," his mother recalled years later.
The man he named was Lawrence Sandstrom, a brother of the Holy Cross religious order and the subject of molestation allegations in Los Angeles stretching back to the 1960s. Over the years, claims against Sandstrom have cost the Catholic Church more than $3 million in civil settlements. But unlike in the L.A. Archdiocese, which released 12,000 pages of internal records on abusive priests in January, there has yet to be a full accounting of the church's handling of Sandstrom.
That will change this summer when the Holy Cross brothers and a host of other Catholic orders make public the personnel files of as many as 139 priests, brothers and nuns accused of abusing children in the Los Angeles area.
Although the failings of the archdiocese in dealing with abuse have been well documented, the response of independent religious orders, who minister around the world, is less known. Orders such as the Jesuits, Salesians and Carmelites had more clergy working in the region than the archdiocese itself when some of the worst molestation occurred. Oversight of those priests rested not with the archbishop but with the superiors of some 50 far-flung orders headquartered across the country.
Among those whose files will be made public are a Piarist father who was prosecuted in both Los Angeles and Texas for sexual assault of teenagers and a Dominican priest who fled to his native Philippines after another priest discovered a 17-year-old in his bed.
The contents of Sandstrom's confidential file hold particular interest because what is known publicly about his case is conflicting. The young and psychologically troubled children at the orphanage in 1983 made for less than reliable witnesses, and authorities were divided about the validity of their claims. Prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to file criminal charges against Sandstrom, but a judge overseeing foster children found that he had sodomized 4-year-olds. Sandstrom insisted on his innocence, and his superiors in the order and at the orphanage backed him up, writing glowing letters of recommendation to help him get teaching jobs at Catholic high schools.
A lawyer for the Holy Cross brothers said the order's file on Sandstrom runs hundreds of pages and could become public as early as this month. Sandstrom, 73, resigned from the order in 1997 for reasons the order said were unrelated to abuse allegations. He now sells kitchen countertops in New Orleans and did not return messages seeking comment.
Chief among the long-unanswered questions is what the order knew about Sandstrom when he was sent to be executive director of Maryvale, an orphanage for especially vulnerable children run by an order of nuns.
Elizabeth Gori, who became the guardian of a second boy allegedly molested by Sandstrom, said she hoped the files might "uncover all this stuff the church has been hiding for all those years."
"I only had bits and pieces at the time, and I was trying to focus on what would help" the boy, she said.
Court filings, archdiocese records and interviews provide a partial picture of Sandstrom's troubles in Los Angeles. The boy Gori cared for was one of several Maryvale children who returned from an outing with Sandstrom in the San Bernardino Mountains displaying behavior one orphanage social worker described as "unusually sexual."
"They kept referring to a secret," social worker Mary Jane Landrock wrote at the time. She called a child abuse hotline. In interviews with detectives, one boy described in detail how "Brother Larry" sodomized him, but the other children's statements were less clear.
"One of the children only talks in riddles & another is called a liar by the other children," a prosecutor wrote of the boy later cared for by Gori and a girl who went on the outing. Two boys ultimately accused Sandstrom of molesting them.
Sandstrom denied harming the children but declined to be interviewed by investigators or take a polygraph test. Ultimately sheriff's detectives and county social services workers said they could not substantiate the claims. When Landrock kept voicing her suspicions, Sandstrom fired her. The orphanage later paid her $25,000 as part of a settlement in which she agreed never to disparage Maryvale employees.