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Former priest accused of abusing dozens of boys found murdered in Las Vegas

Former priest accused of abusing dozens of boys found murdered in Las Vegas
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The 70-year-old — bald, his former wrestler’s frame rounded out and stooped – lived on a street of identical houses topped with terra-cotta roofs and fronted by gravel yards, occasionally chatting with neighbours as he walked his black lab. He had put 4,000 kilometres between himself and the allegations that shadowed his name in New Jersey.

“You never know who your neighbours are,” a local resident told Las Vegas’s Fox 5 this week.

When Capparelli failed to appear for a few days this month, Henderson police officers conducted a wellness check at his house last Saturday morning. They found Capparelli dead on his kitchen floor, according to Fox 5. He had been shot through the neck. The death was ruled a homicide.

In Henderson, the death initially made headlines as the third homicide notched in the city of 300,000 this year. Back east, however, Capparelli’s murder detonated with considerable more shock.

A Catholic priest from 1980 to 1992, Capparelli had been accused by at least two dozen men of sexual misconduct. The allegations included groping and forcing young men to wrestle in swimsuits while he photographed the encounters, according to NJ.com. Even after he was suspended from the church in 1992, Capparelli continued working with children as a public school teacher.

That career came to an abrupt end in 2011 when the Star-Ledger reported on the past allegations against the ex-priest, and also revealed his ties to the operation of a fetish website. He was never criminally charged with any wrongdoing, and always maintained his innocence.

But Capparelli’s past continued to haunt him until this year. Last month, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses released a list of 188 members of the clergy who were “credibly accused” of child abuse. Capparelli was included.

A month later, he was killed in Nevada, where he had been living since 2016. Authorities in Henderson have not released any details about possible suspects or motives. The ex-priest’s death comes as dioceses nationwide begin to excavate decades of abuse allegations and coverups.

“The world is a safer place without him,” Rich Fitter, one of Capparelli’s accusers, told NJ.com. “The guy had a 40-year record of abuse. Whatever lead to his death, it’s a certain amount of karma.”

“The murder of the former priest John Capparelli is shocking and sad,” Robert Hoatson, the head of sexual abuse survivor nonprofit Road to Recovery who has treated some of the ex-priest’s alleged victims, told USA Today. “That’s not the way we want people to be handled. We want them to go through the proper procedures. We hope the victims are taking care of themselves and that the murderer is brought to justice.”

According to the list released by the church in February, Capparelli was ordained in 1980, and served at a number of parishes and as a teacher at parochial schools throughout the 1980s.

Fitter told the Star-Ledger in 2011 his abuse began when he was on the wrestling team at Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, N.J., in the early 1980s.

“Sadistic is probably a pretty good word to use,” Fitter told the paper. “There were times he would grab your genitals and squeeze.”

Fitter alleged that Capparelli took sexual satisfaction out of aggressively wrestling with students. “He would put a head scissors on you, and your face would be right in front of his crotch,” Fitter told the paper.

A second accuser, Chris Nolan, told the Star-Ledger that when he was an eighth-grader at a parish school where Capparelli taught, the priest pressured him into taking part in “submission wrestling.” Nolan, who told the paper he was never groped by Capparelli, did say he was suspicious because the priest allegedly handed out Speedo bathing suits to the boys, then photographed them while they wrestled.

According to the Star-Ledger, a third accuser, Andrew Dundorf, filed a lawsuit against Capparelli in July 2011 alleging he was abused by the priest for more than a decade, including at trips to Disney World and a Boy Scouts camp where Capparelli worked. (The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.)

In 1989, following complaints about his behaviour with boys, Capparelli was sent to a New Mexico treatment centre that specialized in alcoholism and pedophilia, the Star-Ledger uncovered in 2011. In 1992, Archdiocese of Newark suspended Capparelli.

But a year later, he was back in the classroom, teaching math to ninth-graders at a Newark public school.

After the paper first reported on the past allegations against Capparelli in October 2011, two dozen additional accusers stepped forward with their own complaints about the ex-priest’s behavior. The paper also later linked Capparelli to a fetish website he was running out of his home that featured young men wrestling in Speedo-style bathing suits.

In 2013, Capparelli agreed to a settlement with the New Jersey State Board of Examiners that resulted in the revocation of his teaching certificate. His attorney acknowledged at the time the settlement included no admission of wrongdoing, and allowed Capparelli to keep his pension from his $96,000 annual teaching salary.

“He had a great career in Newark, and now he has a chance to retire with dignity,” his attorney told the Star-Ledger.

The same year, the Catholic church laicized – or officially expelled – Capparelli from the church.

Authorities in Nevada say the investigation into the murder continues. But for Capparelli’s alleged victims, the murder settles nothing.

“I always wanted him to be held accountable,” Fitter told 8 News NOW Las Vegas on Tuesday. “I knew I would never get an apology from him.”

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