A Sicilian boy by Wilhelm Von Gloeden. / Wellcome Images

Really, Really Bad: Michael Jackson’s Bibliophilia

A Sicilian boy by Wilhelm Von Gloeden. / Wellcome Images
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The British cable channel Sky Arts caused a fracas last month when they announced that Joseph Fiennes would be playing the late Michael Jackson in a one-off comedy about a road trip Jackson reportedly took with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor to escape New York City after the terror attacks of 9/11.

According to a 2011 Vanity Fair article about the last decade of Taylor’s life, she and Brando were in New York to attend two nights of Jackson concerts at Madison Square Garden. After the towers were hit, the trio of icons was trapped in the city unable to charter flights out of Manhattan. Ever the diva, Jackson maintained that they would be targeted next. Elizabeth Taylor, a staunch defender of Jackson in all things (including during both rounds of child molestation accusations against him, in 1993 and 2003, which ended with Jackson being cleared of wrongdoing), must have agreed. The group rented a car and made it as far as Ohio, stopping several times along the way to go to KFCs and Burger Kings at Brando’s insistence.

In spending more time than I’d like to admit Googling photos of Michael Jackson to find any that bore a resemblance to Fiennes (in truth, Courteney Cox would have been a better choice), I came across a court document from Jackson’s 2005 child molestation trial. While less sensational than the claims made by his alleged victims, it certainly gives a different edge to those public and chaste sleepovers Jackson would conduct with pre-pubescent boys.

According to this particular court document, after thirteen-year-old Jordan Chandler accused the singer of molestation in 1993, a police raid on Jackson’s home surfaced the following:

 – Boys Will Be Boys: a photo book featuring young boys, containing full frontal nudity of young boys.

– In Search of Young Beauty: a book containing photographs of young children, both boys and girls, some nude.

– The Boy: A Photographic Essay: black-and-white photos of a young boy, some nude.

In 2003, when another young boy, Gavin Arvizo, accused Jackson of molestation, the police raided Neverland ranch and found a new batch of books had replaced those that had been snatched ten years before:

– Dress Up: Playacts and Fantasies of Childhood: a 1978 book that contains three pictures of teenage boys naked.

– Room to Play: an art book featuring photos of children’s heads morphed and altered on to older bodies, some in sexualized scenarios.

 Before The Hand of Man: a photo book containing nude photos of young men.

– Taormina: Wilhelm Von Gloeden: An anthology of photos from the German photographer who captured many nude teenage Sicilian boys in the late 1800s. Some photos contained pairings of older men and younger boys in sexually suggestive poses. 

In Jackson’s nightstand were seven pornographic magazines and DVDs with several more in his bathroom.

Surely, adults who keep porn magazines and tasteful art books of cherubic young Italian boys posing like forest nymphs at the fin-de-siecle in their bedrooms are not all pedophiles or child molesters. Indeed, you can buy several of the books listed above on Amazon without raising red flags with Interpol. However, when you combine having books that portray young boys and girls naked and frequent all-boy slumber parties, the sum does point to a particular profile.

Many pedophiles don’t act upon their sexual attraction to children, they just fantasize—this is a distinction that is becoming increasingly important in the psychiatric research and treatment of pedophilia, which is thought to afflict 1 to 5 percent of the global male population, while half of molesters are not attracted to children so much as to harming. But it’s common for those pedophiles who do act on their desire to use erotic or pornographic material to introduce sex to children who only have a vague understanding of the act. With enough time and access, and with affection, gifts, and praise, a pedophile can groom a child into participating in a sexual act, which makes the child feel culpable. 

In 2014, I attended the civil trial of a convicted pedophile who explained this grooming routine. The trial was intended to determine if he was fit to re-enter the community after a prison sentence and fourteen years in a mental hospital. The outcome depended on the petitioner, a self-declared pedophile called Kevin Michael Reilly, demonstrating total commitment to a process of radical transparency. Therefore, Reilly admitted to showing his young victims a book called the Sex Atlas, which featured illustrations of young boys and girls in various states of undress. In testimony Reilly described gaining the children’s trust and showing them the book, then play wrestling or tickling with the children before molesting them. Reilly explained how he put himself in situations where he would have access to young children. He would offer neighbors free babysitting, his wife opened a day care out of their home, and he would go to a community pool frequented by children.

For Jackson, an international pop icon, surrounding himself with kids was not difficult, particularly when his Neverland compound in Southern California had a mini amusement park that regularly hosted large groups of children for parties. Indeed, in the late eighties and early nineties Jackson was often seen holding hands with young boys on the red carpet and on his world tours.

Even Elizabeth Taylor noted that access to children had become too easy for Jackson. The Vanity Fair article quotes a source close to Taylor who says that she finally put her foot down when “Marlon Brando’s son Miko, who was working as one of Michael’s bodyguards, was rounding up kids for Michael’s sleepovers. Elizabeth got wind of it, and she really came down hard. She knew it wasn’t right—she had grandchildren of her own—and that, even if they were the innocent little sleepovers Michael claimed, he was still on dangerous ground.”

In the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson by journalist Martin Bashir, Arvizo, then 13, is shown holding hands with Jackson and resting his head on the singer’s shoulder. Arvizo tells Bashir that he and Jackson are “very close” and “best friends.” Bashir then questions Jackson about their sleeping arrangements:

Bashir: When Gavin was there he talked about the fact that he shares your bedroom?

Jackson: Yes.

Bashir: Can you understand why people would worry about that?

Jackson: Because they are ignorant. [ . . . ]

Bashir: But is it really appropriate for a 44-year-old man to share a bedroom with a child that is not related to him at all?

Jackson: That’s a beautiful thing.

Bashir: That’s not a worrying thing?

Jackson: Why should that be worrying, what’s the criminal . . . who’s Jack the Ripper in the room? There’s some guy trying to heal a healing child . . . I’m in a sleeping bag on the floor. I gave him the bed because he has a brother named Star, so him and Star took the bed and I went along on the sleeping bag. [ . . . ]

Bashir: But is that right Michael?

Jackson: It’s very right. It’s very loving, that’s what the world needs now, more love more heart.

Bashir: The world needs a man who’s 44 who’s sleeping in a bed with children?

Jackson: No, you’re making it—no, no you’re making it all wrong . . .

Bashir: Well, tell me, help me . . .

Jackson: Because what’s wrong with sharing a love? You don’t sleep with your kids? Or some other kid who needs love who didn’t have a good childhood?

In the end Jackson was cleared of Arvizo’s charges, the jury finding him not guilty largely due to Arvizo’s inconsistent testimony about the molestation: There were discrepancies as to who first introduced Arvizo to masturbation, whether clothes were on or off, if the molestation took place under the covers. Arvizo’s younger brother, who allegedly witnessed the molestations, also gave conflicting testimony. A decade before, Chandler had been able to accurately describe Jackson’s penis and genitals to police officers. Chandler had known of a dark spot on Jackson’s penis only visible when the penis was lifted. When Jackson had been strip-searched by police, that same dark spot matched Chandler’s description. One could assume, at the very least, that Chandler had seen Jackson naked. However, a grand jury had not felt that it was enough to indict Jackson on molestation charges. The singer had ultimately settled with the Chandler family out of court for over twenty million dollars. 

Surely, adults who keep porn magazines and tasteful art books of cherubic young Italian boys posing like forest nymphs at the fin-de-siecle in their bedrooms are not all pedophiles or child molesters.

It’s unclear if Jackson had a sexual relationship with Arvizo, but looking at the Bashir footage, it’s obvious that the singer conducted an inappropriate and disturbing relationship with the young boy, undeterred by his previous brush with the law. 

As a crime reporter who has spent a fair amount of time in sex offender proceedings, I suspect Jackson fits the mold of a particular kind of predator: those who identify emotionally and romantically with children. These are known as seductive pedophiles. Rather than being violent, a seductive type yearns for his victims’ approval, manipulates them with privileges and care. He presents one of the hardest treatment challenges because he gains his primary love and acceptance from children.

It’s believed that pedophilia—if that is indeed what Jackson “suffered” from—cannot be cured, only managed through rigorous therapeutic intervention; and the current medical consensus is that treatment is only effective if the afflicted person is willing to commit to it. Reilly, the man who was put in a mental hospital after his prison sentence, had himself castrated. Still, because initially he would not comply with therapy—which includes admission to all sexual transgressions committed, even those that were unknown to law enforcement—Reilly was denied release by hospital staff until, eventually, he agreed to therapy, and, after several years of active participation in treatment, was set free.

Jackson was never convicted or confined. Years after the Chandler accusation and the settlement, he was able to drive from New York to Ohio with his pals, eating junk food along the way. Real funny.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is a criminal justice reporter in Los Angeles. She tweets from @natashavc.

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