Jailbait

How does a 65-year-old behavioral biologist explain being exposed as an Internet masher hot for 15-year-old girls?

But there's blame to be spread around, Rundle adds. "How many parents let their children go on the computer, out of sight, out of mind? There's some twisted individuals out there. I'm jaded on this. I see all the bad stuff."

Clueless parents. Concerned cops. Eager vigilantes. Ratings-hungry TV stations. Kids and computers. Men with a taste for young sex partners. It's a combination that promises many more public outings of men through sting operations in the coming years, many more pillars of the community caught in the glare of TV cameras.

Even a guy like Jim Welles, an author of scholarly books about stupid people.

But what happens after the TV cameras are turned off or after, in this case, police and prosecutors lose interest?

After Welles' case worked its way through the court system for more than a year, his case was dropped after he agreed to sign a letter admitting guilt, to get counseling, and to do community service. He won't even have to register as a sex offender.


Somehow, after becoming the country's laughingstock, Welles plowed ahead.

In the days after his arrest, he was furious with himself, inconsolable. "When I first got it, I went boom, suicidal, depressed, had to take pills to go to sleep," he says. "It was the most traumatic thing in my life. I was devastated, terribly down on myself. It was just a monumentally horrific experience, the worst experience of my life."

The first people to call him were his brother, Chris, and one of his closest friends, country music lyricist Hugh Prestwood (Randy Travis' "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart," Collin Raye's "On the Verge"), who asked him what the hell the cops down in Florida were doing. Other acquaintances, people he scarcely knew, sent their support. Some avoided him altogether, which made his transgression all the more acidic.

The jokes in the aftermath of the arrest were predictable. But imagine if you had spent thousands of hours contemplating the great blunders of history, then were condemned to grind one of your own into yourself like a cheese grater.

"He has very high, perhaps unrealistically high, expectations of how people should behave," Prestwood says from Long Island. "Based on the relationships I've seen him in, he expects perfection from people, which makes it tough."

Welles claims that the consequences of his arrest were so harrowing, he needed no further punishment. He'd learned his lesson, and being forced to attend court-mandated therapy sessions really drove it home, he says.

Here was a room with guys who had, you know, real problems. Like the guy whose idea of fun was to hide in his car or behind some bushes and masturbate as young girls walked past. "He did it about a thousand times before he got caught," Welles recalls. "So now he's in the wringer, he's in group, he said to us, 'I still feel this compulsion.' I think this guy's just absolutely nuts. Now if he gets caught, he goes to prison for ten years or something. It can't possibly be worth it." Another man confessed to molesting a 3-month-old. "He was changing her diapers," Welles says. "That's as depraved as it gets."

Welles clearly didn't think that he belonged in the group. But a court-appointed psychiatrist found that Welles posed a high risk of reoffending, Welles recounts with a scoff. Maybe it was hard for Welles to accept, but there was that matter of a prior history. Though he wasn't arrested, Welles admits that, 18 years earlier, he had exposed himself through a window to a neighbor girl.

But Welles doesn't see himself as a sex offender with a long-term problem. His chances of getting involved with a minor before his arrest were zero, he says, and that's still the case now.

In the days and weeks and months and years since he first posted bail, Welles would consider his case at all hours. Discussing this one morning, he walks into his bedroom — remarkable only in its austerity, all white walls and green bedspread — and retrieves a three-ring binder packed with one-and-a-half-spaced typed pages of notes to himself, containing his thoughts on his predicament. In four plastic snap-top cases, he has marshaled hundreds of index cards, each one representing a burst of insight or inspiration that Welles typed to himself, often in the dark morning hours when sleep was impossible. During what he describes as the most harrowing, traumatic months of his life, Welles coped in the way that a student might prepare a dissertation.

Asked for a look at the cards, Welles obliges, apologizing for their disorder. "I never thought anyone else would read them," he says. One representative card, dated August 17 of last year, reads: "I was pushing for a meeting. I was not pushing for sex. I would say, 'I'm looking forward to meeting you.' I never said, 'I'm looking forward to having sex with you.' [Detective Dwyer] was of a mind that meeting = sex. For me, meeting was an opportunity to decide whether to have sex or not..."


Welles' one-bedroom condominium looks down 100 feet below to the sand of Pompano Beach and beyond, to the north, the pier jutting into the Atlantic. His living room is clean and orderly, with one abstract painting on the wall, white tile throughout, a couple of rugs, a metronome on the windowsill above the piano, binoculars hanging by the patio door. On his coffee table one recent weekday morning is a book by gadfly polymath Howard Bloom, The Lucifer Principle, a contemplation of the genetic sources of human evil. In the margins, Welles has scribbled his own notes and critiques.

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