In the New Haven Evening Register of Jan. 18, 1960, on a back page near the weather report, ran two nearly identical articles on the exact same topic, the kind of mistake made by an editor on very tight deadline, or by an editor shaken by a disturbing story. The story in the left-hand column has the bureaucratic headline “Officials Hold Conference on Probe at Yale.” The second story, five columns to the right, is titled “Conference Due for Discussion of Yale Probe.” In each case, there is that word “probe”—probe of what?
The left-hand article contains this lead: “City Attorney Vincent Villano and Assistant City Attorney Gilbert Winnick will confer this afternoon in order to reach a decision as to whether warrants will be issued for a dozen Yale students involved in a morals case with a 14-year-old Hamden girl.” A Yale spokesman had confirmed that 10 sophomores and two juniors had “resigned from school.” Yale’s campus police chief had resigned from his post. In the one paragraph given over to the 14-year-old girl from Hamden (a middle-class suburb north of New Haven), we learn that she “was arrested Friday and turned over to juvenile authorities for prosecution. She has since been placed in the custody of her parents, pending disposition of her case.”
On the same day, the Associated Press moved a wire story that was picked up by The New York Times. The AP story included news of the first arrests in the case: “Three Yale undergraduates were arrested by New Haven police today in their investigation of a dormitory morals case involving a 14-year-old girl.” The AP story names the three men arrested, who, unlike the girl, were over the age of 18 and thus fair game for the press. “Their bond was set at $500,” the article reads, and a court appearance “was set for Jan. 27.” The charge was “lascivious carriage,” which the Times called “a charge used by the police in Connecticut to cover a variety of minor wrongdoings of a sexual nature.”
On Jan. 19, the Evening Register reported a plane crash in Virginia, a burglary on Church Street, and the latest information on the Yale case: New Arrests Expected in Yale Probe. The girl had identified three more students, according to the article.
“The alleged intimacies with the girl,” the article read, “are said to have occurred in Calhoun College, which she visited on two occasions, according to the police.” Yale is divided into twelve residential “colleges,” Gothic and Georgian dormitories built around courtyards. The first Register article had said that most of the students who had withdrawn had lived in Calhoun—a college, like most of the others, where students live in suites of three or four students, in bedrooms organized around living rooms. To anyone who knew Yale, the dots were cohering into a picture of sex parties, in which friends or roommates passed around a young girl. That’s not what happened, as it turned out, but at the time people thought all sorts of things.
Within days, multiple wire services were covering the case. A Jan. 19 story from the UPI, published in newspapers around the country on Jan. 20, brought the total number of arrests to six, the total number of suspects to 18, including the students who had already “resigned” from Yale. The same day, the Evening Register quoted a Yale official saying that the university would take no disciplinary action “until the case is disposed of in City Court”—a statement that left unclear the status of the twelve students already gone from campus. Had they been expelled? They were already gone from the city, as it turned out, a fact that augured some embarrassment for Yale, which had let its boys slip away before the city could work up charges against them.
The front page of the Evening Register of Jan. 21 had nothing on Yale. But two days later, Yale returned to the news, in the Evening Register, The New York Times, and other newspapers, as an eighth student was arrested in what the Register, with an Eisenhower-era deafness to double-entendres, once again referred to as the “morals probe.” The UPI story, which ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune and elsewhere, said that a “14-year-old girl has identified at least 19 Yale University undergraduates as having been involved in immoral relations with her.”
The case disappeared from the news for several days, yielding space to topics like Ted Williams’s contract for the 1960 season, New York housewife Jane Baldasare, who had spent 100 hours and three minutes underwater in a 9-foot-deep tank in Pensacola, Fla., suffering, according to the AP story, “nothing worse than dishpan hands.”
Then, on Jan. 26, eleven more students were arrested; these students were among the twelve who had left town. “The arrests total 19,” the story continued. Police captain William F. Holahan “said that all the students involved had been identified from their yearbook and then picked out of a line-up by the 14-year-old Hamden girl.” They were released on $500 bonds; trial was set for Jan. 27. Those arrested now included men from Pierson, Davenport, and Silliman Colleges, which tested the theory that this was some sort of Calhoun College sex ring.
During 10 days in January, the story was picked up by newspapers from Tucson to Abilene, from the Kane Republican in Kane, Pennsylvania, to the Las Vegas Daily Optic to the Denton Record-Chronicle in Denton, Texas. Time magazine, America’s news source of record, ran a brief item about the “14-year-old nymphet.” And then, on Jan. 27, it ended. That day, 20 Yale students, or ex-students—it’s not entirely clear how, or when, a twentieth student was caught in the dragnet—appeared in a New Haven courthouse to plead no contest to charges of lascivious carriage.
According to the AP, some parents were present in the courtroom, which was “crowded to its 300-person capacity.” The judge, Frederick L. Greenberg, accepted their pleas “in an atmosphere heavy with embarrassment.” Four lawyers were present on various students’ behalf, and they “urged leniency, stating the youths had been subjected to ‘shame and humiliation,’ as well as the effect on the parents.” City attorney Vincent Villano helped the young men’s case by stressing that “actually no sexual intercourse occurred.” Seventeen of the men were sentenced to pay $25 fines, while three others were assessed $50. One of the men received the heavier fine “because he was involved in a snowball throwing riot at Yale 10 months ago,” a March event in which 42 students were arrested after attacking local police with snowballs.
The AP article did not mention the fate of the girl. The Times said only, “The girl was not present. Her case is pending in juvenile court.”
The girl was named Suzi. It’s not a fact I learned from any of the newspaper reporting at the time, all of which scrupulously concealed her name. Besides her age and hometown, all that can be learned of the girl from news reports is that she was a “member of a highly respected family,” as the AP wrote in its article on the sentencing. I knew her name was Suzi because many living people remember hearing that her name was Suzi. In that small, privileged world, in which Yalies had prep-school friends at the other Ivy League schools, and in which the men of these schools traveled to Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley to hunt for wives or just dates, Suzi’s given name—Suzi was Jewish, so I stop myself before writing “Christian name”—was widely known.
The Ivy League press paid special attention to the case. Editors at the Cornell Sun, Columbia Spectator, and Harvard Crimson all covered the story, no doubt with a mix of gleeful schadenfreude and worried there-but-for-the-grace-of-God empathy. At the Harvard–Yale football game the following autumn, in November 1961, the Harvard band mocked the Yalies by playing some bars of “If You Knew Susie (Like I Know Susie!),” Eddie Cantor’s chart-topping hit of 1925, which tells of a fun girl with morals not unlike those, it was presumed, of the 14-year-old girl from Hamden. On Nov. 8, 1963, two weeks before the assassination of one of its alumni would put more pressing matters in the newspaper, the Crimson ran an essay about the rules of dorm visitation written by Hendrik Hertzberg, now the executive editor of The New Yorker. “Up until 1960,” Hertzberg wrote, “Yale’s parietals were among the most liberal in the country, but the Suzy Affair changed things considerably.”
The name Suzi got passed down in Ivy lore—and it’s been mentioned to me by numerous “Old Blue” Yale alumni. The late chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr., whose sermons brought civil rights and antiwar activism to Yale in the 1960s, told me about Suzi when I interviewed him in 1996, my senior year. Two years later, I met Kevin Buckley, Yale Class of 1960, who covered the Vietnam War for Newsweek; when I asked him how Yale had changed from his era to mine, we got around to sexual mores, and that quickly brought him to Suzi. In Make Love Not War (2000), his history of the sexual revolution, David Allyn devotes a page to “a local 14-year-old girl named Susie [who] had become well-known on campus for her willingness to perform oral sex for any Yale student.”
Having heard about Suzi, from time to time, for 20 years, I lately found myself wondering about her. Over the past school year, as I read about the alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, reported in the article that Rolling Stone famously had to retract; as I read about Columbia senior (now graduated) Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a mattress around campus to protest what she said was the school’s mishandling of her sexual-assault case; and as I heard, from a Yale undergraduate woman I know well, how she was singled out by a fraternity for ridicule of a sexual nature, as part of their initiation of new pledges—as I assimilated all these stories, with their complicated and tangled narratives, their resistance to full comprehension, their elusive truths, and their potential to live forever within all the involved parties, female and male, like unexploded mines that can be tripped years after graduation, I decided that I had to learn more about what happened to Suzi.
Maybe, if you came of age before everyone talked about trauma, there was less of it.
I was driven in part, I’ll admit, by my reporter’s simple amazement that not so long ago, before the internet, people carrying the label “convicted sex offender” could carry on, their names receding into the mists of time. The Yale students’ names were in dozens of newspapers, after all. But after some time away, they had been allowed to return to Yale, and some even graduated on schedule. After graduation, no Google search had informed prospective employers about their criminal pasts, and they went on to lead lives of distinction: several architects, a doctor, a small-business owner, a painter. Wherever Suzi was, nobody knew where she had been. That’s probably what she wanted, and she got it.
I wanted to understand how the actors saw things nearly five decades on. Suzie would be 69 or 70, the men five or six years older. I wondered if the men were remorseful, and I wondered if Suzi was vengeful. Did she feel abused by Yale and by a city that sees Yale as the company of its company town? Perhaps she had simply moved along. It occurred to me that maybe if you came of age before everyone talked about trauma, there was less of it. Perhaps—I had to concede the possibility—all of them had stoically gone on with their lives, their tactful friends and family making sure not to mention what had happened, no computers around to remind them, indulging a luxury that would never be permitted a college student today, still less a 14-year-old girl: the luxury of forgetting.
Nobody knows how the administration first heard about the 14-year-old Hamden girl paying visits to the residential colleges. An internal Yale memo, which I found in the papers of Yale President A. Whitney Griswold, shows that the school tightened visitation policies on Jan. 15, three days before the newspapers picked up the story. If Suzi visited campus multiple times, it’s likely that some of her visits were in December, before the holiday break. Students talked, obviously—one of them could have said something to a professor or a dean, either accidentally or after an attack of conscience. One theory was that Suzi’s father somehow figured out that she’d been visiting Yale.
The snowball riot of the previous March was the latest act in a centuries-long drama of town-gown tension. News that Yale boys had been getting blowjobs from a townie—a freshman townie—was bad news indeed. It could have been worse: She could have been an Italian or Irish girl from New Haven proper, which would have been a ferocious species of kindling for the local anti-Yale element. Better, for local amity, that it was a middle-class Jewish girl from the suburbs. The respectable suburban Jews weren’t likely to riot. Still, this was the kind of thing that Yale might want to cover up. The Yale Daily News insinuated as much in an editorial of Jan. 28, the same day the students’ court appearance appeared on page 1. “We are all too aware,” read the editorial, “that the principal concern of the deans and everyone involved in the investigation of the incident was to protect the careers and reputations of students who had, by their complete lack of judgment as shown by their actions, forfeited their right to any such consideration.
“Nevertheless,” continued the editorial, mercilessly, “no successful relationship can be maintained between Yale and the city of New Haven if the chief of New Haven police must be informed of Yale’s ‘hidden scandal’ by an out-of-town newspaper of more than dubious journalistic reputation.”
I have not been able to track down the specifics of this charge—the “out of town newspaper” that first brought the story to the city attorney’s attention, nor the evidence that this is how the city learned about what happened. But this charge, along with the evidence that Yale knew what was happening before Jan. 15, suggests that Yale would have preferred to resolve the matter internally. It was not a paramount concern that the men who had received oral sex from an adolescent be prosecuted or even shamed. On this matter, it was left to their fellow students, including those on the newspaper, to be the university’s conscience.
I tracked down Jim Ottaway, the chairman of the Daily News that semester, who probably wrote the editorial. We had a very chummy breakfast, during which we talked about his lifelong career in newspaper publishing. But he hardly remembered the Suzi case. I also sent an email to Lance Liebman, the student reporter who wrote some of the Suzi articles for the Daily News. He is now a professor at Columbia Law School and the school’s former dean. “There are hundreds of topics from my 73 years that I would be delighted to talk to you about,” he wrote back to me. “On this one, I have no memories whatsoever. I am not running away, just can’t remember.”
The Suzi Affair disappeared from the news by the end of January 1960, but it remained a pressing matter for Yale President Griswold, whose mailbox continued to receive a steady stream of reminders about that dark month. “God help you and Yale if you attempt to re-enroll … any one of the 20 pigs,” read one anonymous letter from Jan. 31. But that was the only letter, of perhaps two dozen to Griswold preserved in Yale’s archives, that expresses any condemnation of the students. More numerous were the letters written to offer Griswold compassion and solidarity. “Dear Whit,” wrote Frank Altschul, Class of 1908. “I know you well enough to realize how deeply you must have been hurt not only by the publicity but by the circumstances that occasioned it.” The president of Brown University, Barnaby C. Keeney, sent an encouraging note. “Dear Whit: I am sorry about all the trouble you have been having lately. My sympathy is doubled by my realization that this sort of thing can and is likely to happen to a great many of us at any time.”
The general tone of these letters, assuring Yale’s ongoing “reputation” and urging Griswold to stay “amiable,” was one that might be used to console a rower after a dishearteningly poor showing at a regatta. Other letters were mildly chastising, but toward Yale, not the boys. Louise and Jacob Rosenthal, “parents of a Yale undergraduate,” implored Griswold not to double down on the boys’ punishment: “We are deeply concerned lest the lives of otherwise very fine and worthy boys be seriously hurt by adding to their punishment by the state, the additional punishment of suspension.” Two women related to Yale alumni wrote with their concern that Yale, which had abolished compulsory chapel in 1926, had failed these boys by not offering proper moral instruction. “It is undoubtedly true that the Chapel exercises should be restored and attendance should be made compulsory as in the former days,” wrote Mrs. Catherine Tinker Patterson and Miss Corinne Babcock, in a joint letter of Feb. 3. “When students are so lacking in morality … it clearly shows that the emphasis on scholarship has far outweighed other values.”
But a greater share of the letters blamed Yale only insofar as it had allowed its fine young men to be caught in this adolescent girl’s snare. The Rev. Matthew Warren, head of the prestigious St. Paul’s School, whose charges then included future Secretary of State John F. Kerry, sent a note of concern. “During the last few weeks,” Father Warren wrote, “I have read with distress the messy business of some Yale students and a very messy little girl.” Mrs. Gerald H. Castle, chairman of the board of Cincinnati’s Waterman School, which according to its letterhead offered “wardrobe design” and “charm” classes for high-schoolers, wondered “just where was the 14-year-old girl’s mother and father while all this misconduct was taking place?” J. Stanley Cohen, M.D., of Philadelphia, wrote a letter on Feb. 9 on behalf of one of the 20 Yale boys, the son of friends of his. “This boy has always had an excellent reputation as an individual, a fine student and an athlete,” Cohen wrote. “Let us stop for a moment and compare these 20 boys with one young brat who on repeated occasions entered the dormitories of her own free will and spread confusion among a group of inexperienced, immature young men.”
Griswold’s replies, several of which survive in the archives, are cordial and rather neutral; to the angriest letter-writers he offers no assent, just thanks for taking the time to write. Occasionally, he emits a quiet note of resignation. “[T]he real solution lies in the moral fiber of the American family,” he wrote to alumnus DeWitt Peterkin. “It is there, in permissive parenthood, that most of this undergraduate amorality gets its start.” Only one reply has any teeth, and it was written not by Griswold but by Carlos F. Stoddard, an alumnus of the Class of 1926, who had returned to Yale to help oversee its public relations. Perhaps freer than the boss himself to play bulldog, Stoddard wrote to Mrs. Castle, the Cincinnati charm-school mistress, that the “young woman involved in these distressing events is seriously unbalanced in certain respects.”
And then Stoddard offers a revelation that I think his boss, the circumspect Griswold, would have disapproved of, an accidental glimpse of the narrative on which the Yale administrators in Woodbridge Hall must have settled. “Far from guarding her, or providing either counsel of psychiatric treatment,” Stoddard wrote, “her parents gave her a private telephone. This she used to call Yale students, seldom if ever indicating the true nature of her interest. She received many, many refusals to meet her, but 19 boys, most of them as young in years as they were lacking in judgment, did fall into what I think it is scarcely an exaggeration to call ‘the trap.’ ” It probably counts in Stoddard’s favor that, in the end, he argued for compassion over contempt. He concludes his letter by saying that he feels “more sadness for her than bitterness over the harm” that she has caused. “I can only hope the girl wins out and makes sense in the long run.”
Several of the newspaper stories from 1960 had listed the names and hometowns of the students. They were from towns like Wayzata, Minnesota; Columbus, Ohio; Rutherford, New Jersey; and Indiana, Pennsylvania. If one had to guess, most of the names belonged to white Protestants. A couple were German, one or two possibly Jewish. There was one “Jr.,” one “III,” and one “IV” (although the Times did not run the “IV”). It would have been impossible to say much more about them.
But of the 20 men arrested for being with Suzi, I was able to find most of them. Two were dead. I tried to learn something about their lives. One of the dead men, Christopher Blaisdell, known in college as “Jake,” had never returned to Yale. When he died in 2009, a classmate published a recollection on a Class of ’62 website: “Jake was very southern California, into surfing and the casual lifestyle. He used Valley Girl speech before most of us knew anything about it. For example, he was the first person I ever heard use the word ‘bitchin’ to mean something very good, as in, ‘There’s bitchin’ surf at Malibu today.’ ” Jake eventually graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and then became a lawyer in Palm Springs. His family suggested that memorial contributions be given to Paws & Hearts, of Palm Desert or the Palm Springs Animal Shelter.
The other dead man, Stephen Sink, also never returned to Yale. He served in the Marines and then worked for his father’s Coca-Cola bottling business in Indiana, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, in 2007, he was the proprietor of the QuickPic and Laundromat. According to a man I’ll call Sam, another one of Suzi’s men, who’d stayed in touch with Stephen, he killed himself after he got so sick that he could no longer run his small convenience store. “He didn’t have big financial resources, and he had a little store, and he was alone,” Sam said. “He wanted to go into work, and he had a Marine background, a gun background. I actually saw him a week before, and he’d just found out he had cirrhosis. He had very little money, and he was negotiating with doctors for every bill.”
Of the remaining men, several did not return my phone calls, while three of them did talk to me, but only long enough to tell me never to call again. One of the men I found was too sick to talk. When I called his mobile phone, his wife answered. “We’re in the hospital,” she said. “He’s dying of cancer.” She asked what my call was about, and I mumbled something about a Yale alumni matter, then hurried off the phone.
In the end, four of the men agreed to talk with me, provided that I conceal their names. I spoke with three by telephone, one in person.
I’ll call one of them Frank. After Yale, he studied architecture, and he now runs a firm that designs and builds McMansions in a major Southern city. On the phone, he talked like a businessman, brisk and efficient, as if he had somewhere else to be. “She knew my first name,” Frank recalled, “and when she gave that to the police, and when there were two other guys involved, who I was quite friendly with, they associated me.” When I asked what it felt like to be accused of such a crime, Frank said that it was “shameful,” but then he hedged that description. “My family handled it pretty well,” he went on. “There was not a lot of weeping or wailing or cursing or swearing or anything like that. They had the attitude, ‘This guy is such a wild man anyway, I am not surprised he was involved.’ ”
That was pretty much Yale’s attitude, too. “We were thrown out,” he said, “and we were welcomed back. I took the time and went into the Army, served my two years there, came back, and was a much calmer, more studious person.”
I asked if people remembered the incident, ever brought it up.
“It wasn’t a disgrace,” Frank said. “It wasn’t like walking around campus with a big ‘A’ on your forehead. There were no issues. I continued to be involved in extracurricular things, like Glee Club, a singing group. Everything was back to normal.”
I asked if he knew what became of Suzi.
“I have no idea,” he said. “She was a very deranged little girl.”
“Did you regret what you did?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. But only “the shame of it, getting caught. … The act itself—it was just a sexual act, nothing new. None of us were virgins. … Nobody assaulted her or asked her to do anything she didn’t want to do.”
“What can I say?” said Campbell (as we’ll call him), whom I reached by telephone. “It was a sad thing. It was a really sad thing.”
Of the men I located, Campbell is the one I’d most like to be friends with, I think. Like Frank, he went to architecture school, but his interest is urban planning, which he has taught and written a book about. He’s spent his life trying to improve neighborhoods and revitalize cities, in part by getting cars out of people’s way. His first job in architecture was during the semester he was suspended from Yale, before he was readmitted.
“This was a young girl who was going around campus giving blowjobs,” Campbell said. “Nobody knew anything about her. The rumor was she visited 800 guys. I am sure that was off by a factor of 20 or something. … The word was, she was going to somebody’s room in one of the colleges. So I went over there, stupidly, in the middle of the afternoon. It sounded like a great idea. She started to take my pants down, and she had her underwear on, and I decided it wasn’t a good idea. I don’t think I ever touched her.”
Campbell said that they had a conversation and that he suggested she get some help. “It was evident to me as soon as I met her that she was a little confused. And she was young.” Some time later, she called him on the telephone in his room. “She wanted to chat,” he remembered.
When he heard that men were being pulled before the administration, Campbell went to talk with William Sloane Coffin Jr., the university chaplain. He told Coffin that he was thinking he ought to turn himself in. “I said, ‘This is what I’m thinking about doing.’ He heartily agreed, said that made sense.” He found a campus cop he knew and told the cop that he needed to talk to a dean about what was going on. “The dean wanted me to implicate others, and I didn’t really know anybody. I had a roommate involved. I didn’t name my roommate.”
“It wasn’t fun,” Campbell said, summing up. “But worse than that was having the Harvard side of the stadium singing, ‘If You Knew Susie.’ ”
“I always presumed it was the parents of the young woman” who told the university, said the man we’ll call David. He has retired from a long and lucrative career at a white-shoe investment bank, a place you’ve heard of. Of all the men I spoke with, he had suffered the most from the episode; his voice was jagged with pain.
“To be identified publicly as stupid, as we were, was not pleasant. My major regret is that I had a sister in high school that suddenly had her big brother in the newspapers in an unflattering way. … I have always put in on my arrest record—you fill out forms for employment—I have always listed it because the worst case would be to be disclosed as hiding something.”
At the time, he had a serious girlfriend, who broke up with him when she heard the news. “Long story, but I ended up marrying her,” he said.
“She is now deceased. … I don’t know if other individuals had girlfriends at the time, but it caused a serious interruption in my relationship with that woman. We were married 20 years. But first, we were separated, married other people, partially as a result of this. We were then reunited, and together for maybe six years. And then I lost her to breast cancer.”
How, I asked, did he meet Suzi?
“She was calling around, just calling rooms on the telephone,” he recalled. “I don’t even remember whether I picked up the phone or one of my roommates did. It wasn’t anyone being really clever and hanging out in bars or on the street picking up women. She was calling and inviting herself over.” He remembered his picture being carried by one newspaper, taken after his arrest or arraignment. I haven’t been able to find such a picture.
“They were arresting people for several days,” David said. “My parents retained an attorney for me … and [my father] said, ‘Tomorrow, you will go surrender to somebody.’ I assume we were fingerprinted. I don’t have any memory of it. I remember standing in the courtroom for a trial, all of us standing in a single line in the courtroom.”
After fall-term exams, which were then held in January, David went home to upstate New York, where he got a job in the supermarket where he’d worked the previous summer. I asked him if people at home knew why he was back. “Oh, yes. If The New York Times put me on the front page, why wouldn’t the newspaper there? I had a younger sister, and the high school was very protective of her.”
I wondered about his steady girlfriend, the one who left him after the story broke. Was it OK, back then, at all-male Yale, where all girlfriends were some distance away, to cheat on a steady?
“I didn’t know if there were any rules or not. Sexual behavior was so much more restrictive at the time. … It was just—you won the lottery.”
Like Campbell, the man I’ll call Sam also told me that he never actually received oral sex from Suzi. (Sam is the one who stayed in touch with Stephen Sink, who committed suicide in 2007.) Sam and I met in his small apartment in San Diego, where he had moved for the weather, and where he now spends his days painting with oils. After years of a marijuana addiction, he got sober in 1982. He is unmarried and he rarely sees his son, who lives in Washington, D.C. He is a follower of Kirpal Singh, the Indian guru who died in 1974, and every day he tries to talk with a few other followers, on the telephone, in virtual community.
When I visited him last winter, Sam served me a glass of water, and we sat in his small living room, the door of his small second-floor rental open to the warm California air. Sam told me that he was from a Jewish family, which put him in a small minority at Yale. “I was in the closet as a Jew at Yale,” he said. “I wasn’t saying I wasn’t a Jew, but you know, I wasn’t volunteering it.” I asked how he met Suzi, and he gave me an answer that, if true, meant that Suzi may have been visiting campus all fall, from August through December. It began in football season, he said—before football season, in fact.
“I got invited back to the varsity camp before the season starts,” he said. “And I think it was at that time, there was a couple of friends of mine who were on the team, they told me about Suzi, that there was this girl who was—the story I heard was that she was jacking guys off in a car. And, so, I—my eyes lit up. I mean, this is the addiction kind of thing. I know now that I’m kind of a reckless person. … I heard this woman was doing this, and this excited me, even though I was in love”—with his high-school girlfriend, two years younger, back in Illinois. “It didn’t even occur to us, this idea of being true to your girlfriend. We looked at the sexual thing as, I don’t know, you got as much as you wanted or needed.”
They made a date, and Suzi came to Sam’s room in Yale’s Pierson College. “I remember making out with her, like kissing, standing up, in the room,” he recalled. They began in his living room, and then he led her to his bedroom, where she undressed. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was a virgin. I mean, I had no idea how to even go about it, sex, or what it was. I mean, the actual mechanics. I had done some pretty hot stuff with women, a couple girlfriends, but it wasn’t real sex.” And so, with a naked girl on his bed, he couldn’t go through with it. “She immediately got dressed and left.”
Sam said he had no idea that she was visiting other men in their rooms, and he certainly wasn’t part of any sex parties. “I knew nothing about these guys in Calhoun, until at some point I was contacted by somebody, I don’t know whom.” He never knew how the administration, or the New Haven police, got his name.
I asked Sam if he knew that Suzi was 14.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t, really. I don’t know. I probably, you know, knew she was a young girl. She honestly could have passed for 18, but for some reason I don’t think it was a big issue. We just sort of felt entitled.”
Sam’s conviction shadowed him, a little. He ran for president of DKE, his big-man-on-campus fraternity, but he lost, because of the taint of the Suzi affair, a friend told him. Then, after college, he was rejected for a job driving a cab; on the job application, he had responded truthfully about his plea for lascivious carriage. “They turned me down, said that that meant sodomy, in New York,” he recalled.
I called Jim Gambrill, who graduated from Yale in 1962, because I was curious how the scandal played out for students who were not caught up in it. I had already learned that two of the Yale Daily News reporters who worked on the story had little or no memory of it. Was that true for everyone? Did it loom that small? I knew Gambrill’s daughter from my Yale days, and she was the kind of sane, sensible person who, one figures, would have a likable dad. So, when she popped up in my Facebook feed one day, a bell rang inside my head—“Isn’t her dad an alumnus? I wonder what year.” 1962, it turned out. She put us in touch.
Gambrill, a retired lawyer and Episcopal priest, lives in Maine with his second wife. He speaks with the soft, attuned cadences of a pastor. He never met Suzi. But, as he tells it, she changed his life.
“Two of them were my roommates,” Gambrill told me. “I lost two roommates out of that deal.” One of them was Jake Blaisdell, the bitchin’ Californian who tore out of town in his VW bus, never to return. The other was the man I’ve called Campbell, the urban planner. It surprised me, although perhaps it shouldn’t have, that Gambrill, the roommate, the bystander, had the most vivid memories of all.
“I didn’t get involved in it,” Gambrill said. “I am very thankful I didn’t. I think what sticks in my mind is we all knew it was coming. I remember quiet conversations on the phone with this poor Suzi. And they couldn’t wait to have this happen.”
When it was over, Gambrill and other men who had stayed away would make fun of the men who had been with Suzi. But for Gambrill, anyway, it wasn’t funny, not really.
“It’s one of the things I feel worst about,” he said. “It changed my life, in a way. I know in my heart that if I had told the two guys I roomed with that this was a bad thing, they probably wouldn’t have done it. I always felt bad I didn’t try to tell them. I felt I failed them. Nobody I know said anything about it beforehand, but afterward, we sort of ganged up on them. And afterward she went to her father, and all hell broke loose.”
Gambrill remembers a terrifying week on campus, arrests coming every couple of days.
“That was very ugly, them sweating, waiting to see what would happen to them,” he said. “For a lot of us, it really consumed us. … Some double-digit number were involved in this thing, went out in the car with this girl and got their fellatio, for lack of a grosser word. This was over the course of two or three weeks or something. And it was a source of merriment at first, and ‘Isn’t this amazing this could happen?’ and ‘Wow, what a lucky break’ to all of a sudden mockery and remorse.
“It was a bad time, a bad time. The worst part of my life. I wasn’t really affected. But these poor guys had to go home. They were children, 18 or 19 years old. They didn’t know what they were doing. And a 19-year-old now knows a shitload more than a 19-year-old in 1959.”
Gambrill seemed certain that he was no better than his friends. Just lucky, that’s all. “I think it was offered to me,” he said, “but I was sort of naïve—a moralistic child, I suppose. Didn’t appeal to me at all. I’m very glad I didn’t do it. It wasn’t any credit to me. Just that I was scared of my own shadow.”
As Gambrill remembers it, Jake was too upbeat a guy to spend much time second-guessing his actions—“Everything was ‘cherry’ or ‘bitchin’’ if it was good. He said that. He was not an introspective person.” Campbell, on the other hand, “was haunted afterward.” He remembers sitting in their rooming suite, in Davenport College, while Campbell waited for his father to arrive, before the court appearance. “I remember his father strutting up the path to the room, past the window … and their shaking hands in a very somber way. He had been awake the whole night before, and he had said to me, ‘Can you lend me some money so I can help pay for my father’s trip?’ I didn’t have any money.”
Gambrill had entered college planning to be a lawyer, but the chaplain Coffin’s Sunday sermons in Battell Chapel spoke to him, and they got him thinking about ministry. And the Suzi episode, his failure to stop his friends from going through with it, pushed him in that direction, too. “This incident made me feel I was more connected with other people than I had acted on,” he said, “and maybe the way to go was to be a priest. So, I became an Episcopal priest and served in churches for 20 years.”
Gambrill said it was “hard to relate” to his college years now. It was a different time, so different. “This was before Jack Kennedy was elected, let alone killed,” he said. “It was a very simple, sweet time.”
Was it better?
“Oh, God no. It’s like going back to the Garden of Eden. I wouldn’t ever want to go back. It had its sweetness, but it only looks that way looking back.”
Suzi hasn’t gone by “Suzi” since her teenage years; before high school was out, she took a different first name, something a bit more exotic, less Betty Crocker. Then, when she got married, she took her husband’s last name. And none of the old police notes or court records from her case have survived. So finding her might have been impossible, except for one bit of luck: Two of the men remembered what her full name had once been. I used a web search to turn up a little bit of information from the 1960s on a person with that name, and with that lead, I found a contact who helped me track her down. Today, Suzi lives far from New Haven, in a part of the country that’s remote and beautiful.
We met in a local restaurant, where she kept telling me to keep my voice down. It’s a small town, and while people know a lot about her, there is a lot they don’t know. The men she once serviced would never recognize the blond, voluptuous teenager they knew. She is fat (that’s the word she uses) and white-haired, and on the day we met, her eyes were swollen from an allergic reaction.
After we sat down and ordered, she said that she had looked on my website and read some of my writing. “I noticed that you were Jewish,” she said. I said yes, I’m Jewish. She said that as a child she’d loved Purim, the holiday where Jews are commanded to get drunk and make a lot of noise. She’s not a big believer, she said, but she’s gotten more observant in the past few years, and she was part of an informal group of Jews who met to celebrate the holidays, without much ritual but with a lot of spirit. “As we say at our gatherings, ‘They tried to kill us. We won. Now let’s eat!’ ”
‘A 19-year-old now knows a shitload more than a 19-year-old in 1959.’
We talked about dogs and cars. We talked about the landscape visible from the restaurant window. She talked about what she was like as a child: precocious, bookish, a reader by age 3. By puberty, she felt much older than the girls around her, both more intellectual and more sexual. “Lots of hormones, you know?” she said.
Suzi seldom thinks about the events of 1959 and 1960, she said. When asked about them, she sounds neither embarrassed nor traumatized. She’s not especially proud of what happened, but she’s not not proud. She does not agree with the men’s assessment that she was crazy or disturbed. It’s just that it was all a long time ago. And, more important, what happened then had very little bearing on the abundant life she’s led since. Although she’d been a sexual adventurer from a young age, she had proceeded through life, it seemed, with a rather old-fashioned, pre-Freudian attitude about childhood: you put it behind you, forged ahead, never looked back, kept living hard. Forgetfulness was a useful habit of resilience. Time remembering was time wasted.
“OK,” she said. “At the age of 14, I monopolized the family telephone. And so for my 14th birthday, they gave me my own phone, with my own number, which was in my bedroom. And I started making phone calls. I don’t know why. I went to the phonebook, and at that time, you could tell where people lived—Davenport College, Calhoun, whatever the things were.” This much was true. Even in the 1990s, when I was at Yale, our dormitory phone numbers were listed in the New Haven Whitepages. “It was kind of random—‘Oh, this person lives there,’ and I’d call them up.
“And they’d talk to me. They’d ask me how old I was, and I told them 16.” She said that she gave them a fake name, an Italian-sounding name. “I’m fat now—it’s because I don’t exercise, it doesn’t bother me—but when I was 14, I was beautiful, long blond hair, curves. And I was very sexual. And I went and hung out there. I never stayed over. And nothing was ever done to make me feel bad. I would remember that, believe me—I wouldn’t have gone back …
“I don’t even know how long this went on. A couple months, I guess. It’s all a purple haze there.”
She said “there was no intercourse,” but “there were other things. I had a good time. And yes, I had to lie to my parents. But, teenagers do that.” The specific lie was that she was going to the orthodontist. “I had braces. I could tell them I had a long orthodontist appointment.” Or she told them she had a choir practice. She took the bus into downtown New Haven, during the day and then came back by nightfall.
Like the men I’d spoken with, she wasn’t really sure how Yale, or the police, had found her story. It was not, as some of the men believed, that she had told her father.
“What I was told was that one of the people confessed to his priest or whatever and that it was passed on,” she said. She didn’t remember being arrested, exactly. The police got her and took her to “juvy hall” to scare her straight. She was required to see a psychiatrist. And her relatives were horrified. But she had little regret, then or now. “I was not a victim,” she said. “I pursued these people. It was easy. They said, ‘Come over,’ and I did … My whole life, I was sexually free.”
During her teenage years, Suzi saw a series of therapists. At one point, she worked with a doctor who had her attend group therapy sessions. “And he got mad at me because I’d seduced one of the other people in that group,” she said. “You weren’t supposed to do that.”
Suzi’s main regret was how her behavior affected her father, whom she was very close to, and who died when she was 16. “I was a wild child, and that didn’t tame me—when he passed away, I was just crazier. He and I were very close, and he was disappointed—I think that would be the word—in what had happened.” Her mother was less forgiving. “I think she was kind of aghast,” Suzi said. “She didn’t know what to do. You know, she died a few years ago. We came to peace. We were friends.” Her mother, she said, came to love her husband, although it took many years. At the time of her wedding, Suzi and her family were estranged. “I wasn’t talking to my family at that point. So none of them came to my wedding.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because I was the—I wouldn’t say the ‘black sheep.’ I was the whole herd.”
Because of what had happened at Yale?
“Oh, just in general. That was part of it. ‘Bad influence.’ ”
Suzi didn’t slow down during her teenage years. One time, she was hauled in by the police after being caught with a boy in a car on the beach in Westport, Connecticut, a half-hour’s drive from New Haven. “Public beach, no clothes, this guy and I,” she recalled. “And all of a sudden this big light comes on from the sheriff. Oh boy! He made us get dressed, and then he called my mother … Our stupid mistake was we threw beer cans out the window, and they saw the beer cans.”
After leaving the Hamden school district, Suzi attended a boarding school for a little while, where she got kicked out. Her father threatened to send her to a convent school in Vermont (he was “half kidding”); she agreed to behave and ended up graduating from the public high school in the town where her family had moved right after her encounter with the law; it was only a couple dozen miles away, still in Connecticut, but in that era, a little distance meant a fresh start.
During high school, Suzi worked briefly for Yale. “I did LSD experiments on animals,” she said. After graduation, Suzi tried college, “several” of them. “I enjoyed it up to a point,” she said. But she got in trouble and was expelled from not one but two schools. “Promiscuity,” she said, when I asked why. “Seriously.”
“Well done,” I said.
“Hey, yeah! I had a good time. I was a good student, but I did what I wanted to do.” She paused for dramatic effect. “Hopefully some of those guys remember me fondly.”
She moved to Spain for a year, then under the Franco dictatorship, which mattered not at all if you were a tourist, she said. Plenty of fun to be had. “Wild scene there,” she said. “Tons of dope, and as a young blond woman—are you kidding? I had a good time.” She traveled around Europe, ending up in Greece. She came home, but she couldn’t stick around New Haven. One of her cousins told her that something was happening in San Francisco. “I took the bus,” she said, “went out to Haight Street, and that was that.” It was 1967. “Summer of Love. Fantastic place.” For a time, she said, she lived at 1090 Page St., the famous Victorian house in the Haight owned by Rodney Albin, older brother of Peter Albin, the guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company, known for its work with Janis Joplin. “You paid rent every month, and I paid in marijuana. Downstairs in the house had been a big ballroom. Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis, they’d practice downstairs. Jerry Garcia would dance.” After she left 1090 Page, she moved elsewhere in the Haight, to a house in the Panhandle district. “And Jimi Hendrix and the Dead and other people would give free concerts right outside our window.”
Her reminiscences went on: a fight with Bill Graham, the concert promoter; how things went bad in the Haight, when the “bad drugs” moved in; but mainly, how wonderful things were before they went bad. “It was perfect without thinking about it,” she said. “When you walked down the street, you never thought anybody was going to bother you.”
One day, Suzi was reading the Berkeley Barb, the old underground paper, when a personal ad got her attention. The paper “was famous for its ads, most of which were sexual,” she said. “This one was not a sexual ad. He was going to San Francisco State … 21-year-old male historian, and he underlined male, desires female companion who likes Ruben and the Jets”—an early Frank Zappa band—“dining at Xan Wo’s, in Chinatown in San Francisco, and camping in the real outdoors.” She called the number in the ad, and it was busy. She called again and got through to the man who’d placed the ad. “And he insists, years later, that I said to him, ‘If you have anything to do with speed, methamphetamines, hang up now.’ ”
He didn’t have anything to do with speed, and they had their first date at the zoo at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco. “We got married a year later,” Suzi said. “And we have no secrets. He knows everything about my life and vice versa.” They have been together 45 years, and their life has been filled with joy and adventure. She is a devoted wife to a man who returns her love. To earn money, Suzi has worked as a translator and has authored guidebooks for travelers. She has also published poetry. She and her husband never wanted children, never had any. She subscribes to The New Yorker, Mother Jones, and Smithsonian. They have lived in Guatemala, Nepal, and the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Suzi sounded sad only when she talked about her family, whom she might have liked to see more of. For years, she said, anytime one of her siblings, or even one of her cousins, messed up, somebody attributed it to Suzi’s example. “Anything that happened, it was me. Bad influence.” She kept in touch with her younger sister, who told her what the family said about her. “She wanted to come to my wedding,” Suzi said of her sister. “She was 14 when I got married.” Their mother wouldn’t let her go.
Of course, there are huge differences between what happened to Suzi (if that’s even the way to put it) and what Emma Sulkowicz, the mattress-hefting Columbia graduate says happened to her; and still more of a gap between the story I’ve just written, which is entirely true, and the Rolling Stone story about rapes at the University of Virginia, which the magazine retracted after large portions of it were shown to be false. I don’t mean that there are perfect analogies. I’m only suggesting that sex scandals predate the co-ed campus, predate the 1960s, predate even the modern American university. And that maybe by looking at how earlier eras reacted to such events, we can learn something about how far we have come, and how far there is to go.
In 1642, “lascivious carriage,” the charge brought against the Yale boys, was made a crime by the General Court, or legislature, of Connecticut. Because other laws dealt with bestiality, homosexuality, adultery, and rape, lascivious carriage seems to have been intended as a “residual” charge, capturing lewd stuff that other laws didn’t capture. An 1811 court decision clarified that the law was meant to suppress acts “flowing from the exercise of lustful passions, which are grossly indecent and unchaste; and which are not otherwise punished as crimes against chastity and public decency.” In other words, if an unmarried man and a woman do something together that is consensual but that strikes proper folk as going a bit too far, they might be guilty of lascivious carriage. Hand-holding and mild petting on the porch swing? Probably OK. Sixty-nine? Anal? Oral? Lascivious carriage.
This legal-historical explanation doesn’t get us very far into some of the questions I wanted answered. For example: Why were the boys not charged with statutory rape? (Possible answers: There was no intercourse; Suzi would not have been a sympathetic witness; a jury, eager to spare these Yale boys a criminal record, might not have convicted.) Better still: Why was Suzi taken into custody, and what for? Nobody seemed to have a good answer for that one.
I expected to find an angry older woman, her voice shaky as she recounted the myriad men who had used her for play; or perhaps a moody, reflective introvert, finally at peace after a lifetime of fragility. Instead, I met a contented, energetic woman, a model of late-in-life baby-boomer vigor, proud of her adventurous past, who seemed to believe that what she’d done in 1959 would have been the perfect caper if only her parents and the police had remained clueless. Where I had expected to find a story about white male privilege, what I found instead was something else.
Was Suzi’s story, in fact, a missive from an earlier, and in some ways more civilized, time? After all, if Suzi’s story broke today, her name would be public knowledge, omitted by the most reputable news organizations but easily available to anyone with Google, including future employers. Every boss, every potential date on eHarmony.com, and every neighbor who bothered to check up on where the registered sex offender in their ZIP code lived—they’d all know everything, about everyone involved. There would be no going back. No early release for time served. No second chances.
Most of the people I have told about Suzi are sure that she was “seriously unbalanced,” to borrow the words that dripped from the pen of Carlos Stoddard, President Griswold’s aide. And maybe she is, or was; it is important to remember that she was only 14, and the men involved were only slightly, if significantly, older, and still in school. All we can know is that she is a secure, unrepentant woman, in a longer, more stable marriage, as far as I can tell, than any of the men I talked to who were arrested for being with her. Insofar as she thinks about her mental state, she judges herself to be well.
“I’m kind of ‘be here now,’ ” Suzi said to me, just before I got in my rental car and drove off. “You can say, ‘Yes, I’m happy I did that.’ Or, ‘I’m happy I went somewhere.’ Or, ‘I’m happy I met someone.’ But it’s a characteristic of mine—I’m here, it’s a beautiful day, let’s enjoy.”
Mark Oppenheimer is a Senior Editor at Tablet. He hosts the podcast Unorthodox. He has contributed to Slate and Mother Jones, among many other publications. He is the author, most recently, of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood.