For decades Ed Foulk used sleepovers, theme park trips and Ferrari rides to prey on young boys, including his adopted son. Christine Pelisek on how a serial sex abuser was finally stopped and punished.
In early September 2009, Rick W., an area director for a northern California provider of healthcare personnel, was making calls in Napa Valley to drum up business for his company. Having 40 minutes to kill before his next appointment, he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop by Napa State Hospital. Despite having no appointment, he was hoping the director of nursing would squeeze him in.
Rick drove his blue Volvo 940 turbo sports car onto Napa State Hospital’s sprawling grounds, past cottage-style bungalows, a defunct post office, and dilapidated employee lodgings—some of which had old signs reading, “single nurse’s home “and “married nurse’s home”—to the administration building. Five minutes later, he was standing in line at the front desk. It was then that he noticed a man who looked to be in his early 60s, dressed in a wool vest and bow tie, walking down the hallway. The man glanced in Rick’s direction before ducking into an office. A short time later, the man reappeared, then stepped out of view again. Rick was immediately struck with the feeling of déjà vu. Why did the man look so familiar?
Overwhelmed with curiosity, Rick asked a nurse who the man was. Ed Foulk, she responded—the hospital’s executive director. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Rick recalls. He vaguely remembers thanking the nurse, walking quickly out of the hospital and getting back into his car. “I put the Vulcan death grip on my leather steering wheel,” he says. “The name hit me. I repeated it to myself a couple of times. I got chills down my spine. I said to myself: ‘This is the guy who molested me.’ ”
Rick W., who is 46, a 260-pound former high school football star and the married father of four boys and one girl, recalls that he began to tremble uncontrollably. “I had never thought about it, never thought about him,” until that day in 2009, he says. “It was the first time in 34 years I had thought about it.”
He drove back to his office and didn’t say another word about what had happened to anyone—not even his wife—for a week. “It was eating me up inside, and I needed to tell someone,” he says. “I wanted to drive back to Napa and pull him out of his office and start wailing on him.”
“The name hit me. I repeated it to myself a couple of times. I got chills down my spine. I said to myself: ‘This is the guy who molested me.’ ” —Rick W.
Rick realized that fate had delivered him an awful opportunity. He called an old high school friend who was now a police officer in Long Beach, where Rick grew up and where the abuse occurred. His cop friend told him he needed to report the abuse, even all these decades later, because child molesters don’t stop. “Don’t you want to protect other kids?” the cop asked.
The following month, Rick was sitting in the office of Long Beach Police Department sex crimes detective Jennifer Kearns. Although the statute of limitations had run out, Kearns listened to his terrifying tale.
So began a police investigation that would cover four decades and become one of the most notorious cases in Long Beach history. It is notable in the annals of law enforcement because of the determination of Rick W. to seek justice for others, if not himself; the determination of Kearns in pursuit of other victims; and the eventual decision of one of these victims, Foulk’s adopted son, Jonathan, to bring charges.
On February 23, Foulk, who ran the largest of five hospitals in California’s mental health system, was sentenced to 248 years in state prison. He had been charged with 35 counts of oral copulation, sodomy by use of force and forcible lewd acts on a child, all involving Jonathan, whose case falls inside the statute of limitations because of a provision in the California penal code that allowed his claim to be resurrected.
At Foulk’s five-day trial in Long Beach in late January, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Danette Gomez described him as a skilled manipulator who lured young boys—some of whom were related to him, others of whom were foster sons, and one whom he legally adopted—on trips to his parents’ weekend cabin, visits to theme parks, and rides in his Ferrari.
Gomez painted a chilling portrait of a meticulous, relentless predator, who, despite the heavy demands of his high-paying jobs, found ample time to prey on troubled or abused boys to feed his perversion.
The jury listened to disturbing testimony from five now-adult victims, including Rick W., who described horrifying tales of sexual abuse that began in the mid-1960s, when Foulk was a young nursing student in Long Beach.
Foulk would play “psychological mind games with 9-year-old boys who were not his match,” and threaten to return them to foster care if they didn’t comply, said Gomez.
Pictured in photographs of the time wearing a tight vest and pants, with a comb-over and fuzzy mustache, Foulk visually lived up to almost every cliché of what a child molester is supposed to look like. His fondness for young boys did not seem to hinder his career or his ability to obtain guardianship of children from the California Department of Children & Family Services. After receiving his nursing license in 1974, he quickly moved up the professional ladder, becoming the head of pediatric nursing at one hospital before landing a job as the chief operating officer of several private community psychiatric hospitals around Southern California. In 2001, he was hired as the chief of program, policy and fiscal support at the California Department of Mental Health in Sacramento.
In February of 2007, the secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency appointed Foulk executive director of Napa State Hospital, which houses sexual offenders among its patient population. His salary, $97,956 a year.
Foulk took up residence in a quaint, yellow cottage-style bungalow on the grounds of the hospital, two doors away from the Sunshine & Rainbows Preschool and Daycare, where staff children were enrolled. Described as a James Bond aficionado, Foulk drove around scenic Napa in a $100,000 Aston Martin, the same type of sports car featured in numerous Bond films.
It all began to unravel for Foulk in the studious quiet of Kearns' office. Rick W. told her that in 1975, when he was 10, he became best friends with Foulk’s 10-year-old foster son, Donald, at Burbank Elementary School in Long Beach. Rick was soon invited for Saturday-night sleepovers and weekends at Foulk’s parents’ cabin in Lake Arrowhead. During the day, the boys shot BB guns and rode mini bikes. At night, they would watch 007 movies and eat pizza.
One night, Rick recalled, Foulk made Donald go to bed early. Rick didn’t think anything of it until Foulk placed his hand on his leg. It slowly progressed to touching and then oral copulation. “I didn’t tell him to stop,” Rick later testified. “I didn’t say a word the whole time.”
The encounters ended when his father, a pipe-fitter, moved the family to Mississippi.
Kearns was moved by Rick’s story, but knew there wasn’t much she could do with it. But she had a feeling that if she dug deep enough she would find more victims. Before Rick left her office, he gave her a list of his childhood friends.
Three weeks later, Kearns was standing on the doorstep of the Riverside County home of Donald M., Foulk’s first foster son. “The first words out of Donald’s mouth were that he had prayed this day would come,” she says.
Donald, a recovering alcoholic, told Kearns he met Foulk in 1974 when he was a 9-year-old diabetes patient at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Foulk was his pediatrics nurse. Once he was released from the hospital, Foulk began taking him out for lunch and trips to theme parks. A few months later, Foulk approached Donald’s mother, who was single, broke and had two other kids, and offered to care for him and treat his diabetes. Donald moved in to Foulk’s penthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The abuse began a few weeks later.
Donald, who ran away from Foulk when he was 21, gave Kearns a list of some relatives and more neighborhood boys. Kearns spoke with them and most admitted to being abused by Foulk. But, like Donald and Rick, they were beyond the statute of limitations.
However, Donald remembered that Foulk adopted a boy named Jonathan in 1994. Could this be the break Kearns needed?
After months of searching, Kearns tracked down Jonathan Foulk in Atlanta. “I sent him a letter, but there was no response,” she says. “I thought he was probably not the guy I was looking for.”
“I remember the day I got the letter,” Jonathan, now 27, testified at the trial. “I was walking my dog. I opened up my mailbox and thumbed through and saw a letter from the Long Beach Police Department, and without opening it I knew what it was.”
Jonathan called Kearns two weeks later but threw her a curve ball. He didn’t want to cooperate. “Part of me was thinking that this would go away,” he said. “I didn’t want to relive my past.”
Abandoned by his schizophrenic mother at birth, Jonathan lived in 15 different foster homes, witnessed the murder of his foster brother, and had already been sexually abused by another foster-care father by the time he met Foulk at the age of 8.
“There was someone interested in me,” he testified about Foulk. “None of my foster parents wanted to adopt me. No one bought me a toy growing up.”
Kearns persuaded Jonathan that the other boys, now men, needed closure. “I think that is what made him think, ‘I need to do this—to help other people,’” says Kearns. Jonathan reported the abuse in mid-January of 2010.
A month later, on the morning of February 24, Kearns and her partner, Louie Galvan, arrested Foulk as he was parking his golf cart in front of the Napa hospital’s administration building. Two employees, who were just pulling up for work, cheered. Detectives found an 8-by-10 black-and-white photo of James Bond on Foulk’s bedside table. His Aston Martin was parked in the garage.
Hours after Foulk’s arrest, the California Department of Mental Health fired him. A spokesperson for CDMH told The Daily Beast that Foulk never had any contact with the hospital’s staff childcare center.
News of Foulk’s arrest had barely broken when calls from other alleged victims began flooding into Kearns’ voice mail. Two days later, the number had risen to 11. Unfortunately, none of the victims was within the statute of limitations, so their cases could not be prosecuted.
Christine Pelisek is staff reporter for The Daily Beast, covering crime. She previously was a reporter at the LA Weekly, where she covered crime for the last five years. In 2008, she won three Los Angeles Press Club awards, one for her investigative story on the Grim Sleeper.