James A. Kowalski was the original cool dad.
Punk rock, eternal bastion of youthful arrogance, has always abhorred maturity:
“I don’t wanna live to be thirty-four,” the Circle Jerks sang on “Live Fast, Die Young;”
and when the Clash equated growing up and calming down with embracing political fascism we believed them.
Unbowed by the scene’s open distaste for geezers, print company executive James Kowalski refused to allow his relative decrepitude to quell his dreams of punk glory; in 1977 the balding thirty-seven year old and his teenaged son Glenn formed White Boy—performing under the names Mr. Ott and Jake Whipp, the duo are largely credited as one of Washington DC’s first punk bands. A consummate showman, Mr. Ott was known for his outlandish stage persona and outré outfits—clad in a tuxedo and fright wig, Kowalski would flail on stage like a maître d’ with St. Vitus dance, yowling obscene lyrics while dandling his crotch with a filthy pair of tighty whiteys. It may sound trite now, but in the days before free internet porn Mr. Ott’s shtick was revolutionary.
Described as a “great frontman” by no less personage than hardcore icon Ian MacKaye, Kowalski as Mr. Ott prided himself on embodying the self-stated White Boy ethos of “bizarre subject matter done in a bizarre way.” The band’s songs were designed to shock: “Electronic Suicide,” “Just an Old Fart,” “I Could Puke,” all released on the Kowalski’s own Doodley Squat record label, brimmed with irreverent humor and scatological word play. “I Could Puke” was a particular crowd favorite; Major League Baseball player David Wells allegedly played the raucous ditty as part of his winning pre-game pitching ritual.Five years later, however, the cacophony of punk rock was losing its luster for Mr. Ott; as Jake Whipp became more musically accomplished Kowalski grew bored with White Boy’s increasingly commercial sound—in 1983 Kowalski decided to hang up Mr. Ott’s bespangled tuxedo and bedraggled tighty whiteys for good. If nothing else, music’s loss was decorum’s gain.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the demise of White Boy left nary a gap in Kowalski’s busy social schedule. In addition to his vice presidential duties at print company Holladay Tyler, Kowalski, then in his early forties, had numerous and varied interests including travel, real estate, and the burgeoning subculture of computers and cyberspace. And also boys; did I mention boys? Lots and lots of boys. The irony of White Boy’s second single “I’m So Straight” wouldn’t be revealed for several years, but by that time it was too late—many lives would be ruined, and at least one life would be lost in the truest sense of the word.
Now that his own children were older Kowalski’s life no longer teemed with the jailbait buffet
of their playmates, and luring prey began to require more ingenuity.
As various pedophilia scandals have taught us, however,
where there’s a will to molest children there’s always a way,
and in the early ‘90s Kowalski befriended a dying man named Roger Duprey,
father of two young sons who shall hereinafter be called Victim Uno and Dos.
Duprey, afflicted with a fatal brain tumor,
was grateful for his new friend’s seemingly-paternal interest in his boys, then aged seven and nine.
Kowalski lavished Victim Uno and Dos with baubles and gimcracks,
treating them to fun-filled outings their ailing father was conveniently too ill to attend.
Roger Duprey’s last request, issued from his deathbed, was that the Catholic Church
formally declare Kowalski godfather of his soon-to-be fatherless sons.
The Catholic Church, ever the vigilant guardian of vulnerable little boys, granted the dying man’s final wish.
After their father’s death
Victim Uno and Dos resided with their mother Gloria Pettit in Brentwood,
a small working class community located approximately a mile outside Washington DC;
Kowalski soon became a fixture in the neighborhood, buying pricey presents
not only for his newly-minted godsons but also for their ragtag circle of friends.
Brentwood was a hardscrabble community; its native sons lived lives largely bereft of luxury,
and Kowalski’s trinkets and all-expenses paid water park and skating rink excursions
were much appreciated.
In those more innocent times it wasn’t as obvious that free gifts from creepy older men invariably feature invisible price tags.
Even in those halcyon days of yesteryear
Kowalski’s personal Boys Town was so blatant onlookers grew concerned.
Perturbed by the steady stream of urchins pouring forth from chez Kowalski,
neighbor Hugh Turley contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for advice;
the agency sent literature (AKA Pedophilic Grooming for Dummies),
which subsequently confirmed Turley’s suspicion
that Kowalski’s modus operandi was kid-tested and NAMBLA-approved.
After his direct entreaties were rebuffed—Kowalski told him to mind his own business—Turley
wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI
detailing his suspicions and demanding an investigation. Law enforcement did nothing.
It would take more than an unsigned complaint to put an end
to Kowalski’s twisted Big Brother mentoring program;
tragically, ten months after Turley’s tip a ten-year old Brentwood boy went missing, and Kowalski’s dark deeds were dragged writhing into the light. As Mr. Ott would howl: “I could puke, I could puke.”
George Stanley Burdynski Jr, known to all as Junior,
was a friend and neighbor of Kowalski’s godsons;
although not a regular habitué of Kowalski’s miniature Neverland Ranch
he’d attended at least two Kowalski-funded junkets—trips to a swimming pool and art show—after
his parents were assured by Gloria Pettit, mother of Victim Uno and Dos,
that Kowalski was a trustworthy chaperone.
After Kowalski returned Junior home from the second frolic hours later than promised,
however, Junior’s parents forbade their son to accompany him again.
Perhaps a bit less naïve than many Brentwood residents of the time,
the Burdynski clan sensed something amiss with Kowalski’s free-spending generosity:
“I told Junior that it was strange that an older man would give young boys expensive gifts,”
paterfamilias George Burdynski told a reporter from The Washington Post.
“I told him to stay away from that guy.”
Money was tight in the Burdynski household, and both parents toiled long hours
to provide for the family’s four children; Junior, described as “a little hustler” by a neighbor,
wore his older brother’s hand-me-downs and mowed lawns and did odd jobs for pocket change.
At 3:30pm on May 24th, 1993 the entrepreneurial fifth-grader promised his mother
he’d be home by dark and pedaled off on his red 1950 series Schwinn.
Like so many things in Brentwood, Junior’s bike was in disrepair—a rear fender was missing, and a spare tire rim had been trussed around the bicycle’s rusting handlebars.
Later that afternoon Junior was slated to meet an adult male friend, Robert Violet,
and scheduled to mow Violet’s mother’s lawn.
Although a witness later claimed to have spotted Junior near the Violet home
the sighting is unconfirmed, and Violet maintains that Junior never arrived. The missing child was last definitively seen at approximately 8:30pm as he cycled past a nearby gas station.
He had promised his mother he would be home by nightfall,
but Junior did not reappear at the Burdynski home that evening or on any of the roughly six thousand evenings since.
The brown-eyed boy with a crooked smile had pedaled his rickety Schwinn into the abyss,
and though the much-loved son and brother has never been seen again his disappearance would change the lives of far more than the many friends and family members who knew the vanished boy and loved him.
After Junior was reported missing law enforcement scoured the tiny burg of Brentwood,
yet the last vestige of the missing ten-year old was located not by investigators
but by his father George—the spare rim tied to Junior’s handlebars
was found near a local tennis court three blocks from the Burdynski bungalow on the 4300 block of 40th Place.
The 90s may have been a kinder and gentler time,
but during interviews with Junior’s friends investigators recognized
the unmistakable grooming machinations of archetypal stranger-with-candy James Kowalski,
and eventually Victim Uno and Dos admitted their godfather had been plying them with more than fancy gifts—Kowalski had been raping both boys for years.
Once the floodgates opened boys and young men from Brentwood and beyond spewed forth tales
of exploitation and depravity—for more than two decades Kowalski had been molesting male juveniles
in the DC area and abroad; apparently the wealthy boy-lover didn’t vacation in Costa Rica
solely because he enjoyed the climate.
A typical account of Kowalski’s vile methodology, from a child assaulted after his tenth birthday party, was printed in the June 30th, 1994 edition of The Washington Post:
“The boy…spoke softly and quickly as he described how Kowalski treated him,
his younger brother and several of their friends to a spring Saturday
of pizza, roller skating and video games. That evening, the boy testified,
he and three other boys went to Kowalski’s house. They all got into bed
together and watched a ‘dirty movie’ before Kowalski committed the sex act
on one boy after another, the boy testified.”
Like the song says: “I could puke, I could puke, I could puke.”
For fans, listening to White Boy’s music now seemed subversive for an entirely different reason;
the Washington DC hardcore scene suddenly realized where Mr. Ott had secured
his seemingly endless supply of crusty underpants.
Though his godsons were unsure if Kowalski had molested Junior,
the fact that the missing child had spent time in Kowalski’s presence
provided probable cause to obtain search warrants for Kowalski’s numerous homes in the DC area.
During the search, conducted three days after Junior’s disappearance,
investigators found several objects of interest, including a brand new passport,
a map charting the land route to Kowalski’s vacation home in Costa Rica,
and a large cache of Costa Rican currency—items that seemed to indicate the well-heeled pederast was preparing to flee. Investigators also seized three thousand videotapes and several personal computers, somewhat of a rarity at the time.
What investigators did not find in any of Kowalski’s homes, however,
was evidence indicating Junior Burdynski’s current whereabouts. When questioned,
Kowalski claimed he barely knew the boy, and had no idea Junior was missing—yet
when detectives viewed the thousands of hours of video seized during the search
the tapes told a different story.
Junior appeared in several scenes, although never in an overtly sexual context,
and despite Kowalski’s assertion that he was unaware of Junior’s disappearance he’d videotaped extensive news coverage of the event.
Although he steadfastly denied any untoward behavior with the missing child,
Kowalski did eventually confess to abusing his godsons and several of their playmates,
claiming his actions were “consensual” and stating he’d established a rule
that “nobody has to do what he doesn’t want to do.”
Kowalski had reportedly begun frequenting rentboys in 1961, and his May 25th, 1993 arrest capped a twenty-five year sodomy spree which left a trail of violated boys on two continents.
Kowalski was not the only person arrested in the wake of Junior’s disappearance.
Two of his friends, Stephen Bruce Leak and Joseph Lynch,
were also jailed for assaulting Kowalski’s godsons and
sundry other Brentwood youth—Kowalski’s trove of videotapes provided cinematic evidence
of the depredations of all three men. The press described the trio as a pedophile ring,
and Deputy State’s Attorney Deborah Johnston told The Washington Post: “This is one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse that has ever occurred in this county.”
on June 17th, three weeks after Junior’s disappearance,
Gloria Pettit, mother of Kowalski’s beleaguered godsons, was jailed for hindering prosecution
for lying to authorities about the last time she’d seen the missing child.
When questioned soon after his disappearance Pettit claimed to have seen Junior in the neighborhood at 7:30pm,
but during a subsequent interview—conducted on June 4th, after Kowalski’s arrest for molesting her sons—-Pettit admitted she’d lied about the sighting,
claiming to have done so at Kowalski’s behest.
The phone company registered four calls from Kowalski to the Pettit home the day after Junior’s disappearance, but police have never revealed Pettit’s account of these conversations or the amended time of her final glimpse of the missing boy.
The Washington DC area is a jurisdictional hodgepodge,
and Kowalski, who owned homes in both Maryland and Virginia,
faced charges in four separate venues for his various transgressions. All in all, the onetime “great frontman” faced eighty-four counts of crimes against children—charges including
indecent liberties with a juvenile, child pornography and forcible sodomy—committed on six victims, ranging from age seven to thirteen. Kowalski would spend more time in court than he ever had onstage.
Notably missing in Kowalski’s roster of indictments
was any mention of the still missing Junior Burdynski;
although Junior had inarguably visited at least one of Kowalski’s homes—Junior’s name
had been signed in on several game sites from Kowalski’s IP address—investigators were unable
to find any conclusive evidence tying Kowalski to his disappearance.
Detectives had gone so far as to travel to Costa Rica to search for the missing boy,
but no trace of Junior Burdynski or his aging Schwinn has ever been found.
A little less than a year later, on March 8th, 1994,
obstruction charges filed against Gloria Pettit were dropped;
authorities have never announced the reason for this dismissal,
and the Burdynski family remain dismayed by the DA’s failure to prosecute their neighbor and onetime friend.
Pettit has never spoken publically about her involvement in the case,
but her lawyer told The Washington Post his client was a pawn,
manipulated by Kowalski and arrested solely as a “Gestapo tactic”
when police couldn’t find the boy’s true abductor. Civil libertarian though I am,
if indicting someone who actively hinders the search for missing children constitutes a Gestapo tactic
I’m voting National Socialist for a change.
Kowalski eventually pled guilty to the portion of his indictments which dealt
with molesting Pettit’s sons Victim Uno and Dos—the world’s worst godfather
was sentenced to fourteen and a half years in prison
and fined six thousand dollars for the boys’ psychiatric care. This monetary award
seemed insufficient to Pettit, apparently, and on February 9th, 1994 she filed a civil suit
against Kowalski’s estate on behalf of herself and her children.
The attorney’s fees from Kowalski’s myriad criminal hearings had gutted his once-substantial wealth,
but he still possessed an untapped asset Pettit though she could finagle:
four homeowner’s insurance policies issued by the Erie Insurance Exchange.
Gloria Pettit vs. Erie Insurance Exchange is a landmark case,
still cited quite often today.
Claiming his abuse of Victim Uno and Dos constituted negligent supervision,
Pettit sought access to Kowalski’s homeowner’s policies which specifically excluded
intentional injury by the policy holder.
Although Kowalski testified he did not intend to harm his godsons—his pedophilia caused him
to believe raping children was beneficial to them, he claimed—the court disagreed.
Henceforth in American jurisprudence, the ruling unequivocally decreed,
intent to sexually molest a child would equate to intent to harm the child.
Pettit was thus denied access to Kowalski’s homeowner’s policies, a decision I wholeheartedly support.
As was clear to anyone who saw White Boy perform, James Kowalski’s perversion was intentional—the only negligence in this whole affair, in my opinion, was Gloria Pettit’s negligent supervision of her own two defenseless children.
the ghastly extravaganza of kiddie porn and lewd To Catch a Predator-worthy web-chats on Kowalski’s computers
gave FBI agents their first inkling of the cesspool of depravity
that lurks online.
In 1995, as a direct result of the Burdynski investigation
the Bureau launched the Innocent Images National Initiative;
under the auspices of its task force agents pose as minors and underage porn-purveyors online
in a bid to stanch the proliferation of child exploitation in cyberspace.
As of 2013, Innocent Images has been responsible for 11,400 arrests; Junior Burdynski has been missing for more than two decades, yet still his influence lives on.
Ironically, detectives no longer believe James Kowalski was involved in Junior’s disappearance;
as part of his plea agreement in the molestation of his godsons
Kowalski was obligated to provide any
and all information he harbored regarding the missing child,
and investigators claim they’re satisfied with his cooperation.
As a detective from the Fairfax County Police Cold Case Squad told The Washington Post regarding Kowalski’s elimination as a suspect: “[W]e’ve steered away from him for a number of reasons,
including interviews we’ve had with him where we’ve found him to be candid and truthful.”
It’s certainly possible, of course,
that more than one predator stalked the blue-collar boys of Brentwood;
there’s no shortage of evildoers in the world, and truth be told,
the media’s description of Robert Violet as Junior’s “adult male friend” has always given me pause.
Although James Kowalski has been eliminated as a suspect the search for Junior Burdynski goes on;
in 2002 detectives received a tip indicating the missing boy had been murdered
shortly after his abduction,
but investigators have never revealed the name of Junior’s purported killer
and the lead has apparently come to naught.
In 2004 a vagabond selling magazine subscriptions in Western Massachusetts
bore a striking resemblance to Junior’s age-progressed photo,
but authorities were never able to locate the individual for questioning. As time marches on,
so does the Burdynski family’s grief;
Junior’s loved ones still have no answers to the questions that have haunted them for nearly twenty-five years.
Although I have no idea what type of evidence law enforcement is withholding,
I can’t help but wonder if James Kowalski has been prematurely ruled out
as a suspect in Junior’s abduction.
My mind keeps returning to the obstruction charges against Gloria Pettit;
if Kowalski had nothing to do with Junior’s disappearance, why would he ask her to lie?
How could James Kowalski possibly have known, only hours after the boy went missing, that there was even anything worth lying about? Junior could’ve been staying with a friend, or off on a lark—yet James Kowalski seemed to know
less than twenty-four hours after the boy went missing
that Junior Burdynski was never, ever coming back.
There will never be a White Boy reunion.
Despite his attorney’s plea during one trial—“I’m trying to show that Jim Kowalski is not the big bad wolf”—
James A. Kowalski was eventually convicted of more than eighty counts
of crimes against children and is currently serving two hundred and thirteen years in prison;
his codefendants Stephen Bruce Leak and Joseph Lynch were convicted of lesser charges
and Lynch has since been released.
Now seventy-four years old, tipping the scales at three hundred pounds,
James Kowalski will almost certainly die behind bars. Mr. Ott will never again
don his beglittered tuxedo and gambol onstage for adoring fans—-Kowalski will die alone,
in an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit,
shackled to a bed in a prison hospital fetid with the stench of feces and despair.
Very few people will mourn his passing.