book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: my review of The Sins of Brother Curtis…

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote of The Sins of Brother Curtis, the sordid story of a Mormon convert who molested a number of young boys.  It was not a comfortable read for me, but it was a well-written and fascinating book.  I gave it five stars. I originally wrote this piece for Epinions.com in 2011. I am reposting it as/is.

Because my husband is a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), I have done a lot of reading about Mormonism.  I also have an interest in true crime.  Some weeks ago, someone on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site posted about a book called The Sins of Brother Curtis: A Story of Betrayal, Conviction, and the Mormon Church (2011).  The poster made the book sound compelling, so off I went to Amazon.com to download it for my Kindle.

The premise

Written by Lisa Davis, a veteran journalist who once wrote for Village Voice Media, The Sins of Brother Curtis is about a man named Franklyn Curtis and the many young boys he molested while a member of the LDS church.  In 1991, Curtis molested a 12 year old boy named Jeremiah Scott.  In 1997, Scott sued the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alleging that the church knew of Curtis’s penchant for child molestation and did nothing to protect him or other boys in the church from Curtis.  Moreover, Curtis had a long rap sheet acquired before he had become a Mormon and got involved with various church callings that allowed him to charm families and ingratiate his way into sexual relationships with boys. 

Scott’s Seattle based lawyers, Tim Kosnoff and Joel Salmi, had a hell of a job on their hands.  The church’s lawyers fought back vehemently against the allegations against the LDS church’s involvement in Curtis’s crimes.  Scott’s lawyers tracked down over twenty different men who, as children, were victimized by Frank Curtis, who held church callings that put him into contact with boys, even though he had been excommunicated three times, twice for infractions that were related to his penchant for molesting children.  Curtis’s crimes against children stretched back decades and across several state lines. 

In her well-written expose, Davis unravels the complex story of a man whose perversions ruined lives and the church that apparently covered it up.  She also explains in detail the convoluted and challenging process Scott’s lawyers navigated to try to get justice for their client.  Franklyn Curtis was not involved in the civil suit or prosecuted for his crimes because he died in 1995 at the age of 92.

My thoughts

It took awhile to get through this book.  That’s not because it wasn’t interesting; it’s more because the subject matter is very disturbing.  Davis writes in an engaging style that is easy to read and follow, but she includes information that is frankly pretty nauseating.  I don’t fault her for including the information, but will warn to squeamish types that the sins of Brother Curtis may make their skin crawl.

Davis includes photos, pictures of legal documents, and even a picture of a blank disciplinary form used to document church members’ infractions of church rules and disciplinary actions taken.  The LDS church was forced to reveal its records of disciplinary actions taken against Frank Curtis, though it fought hard to keep those records confidential.

Davis reveals that the lawyers involved in this landmark case were somewhat disappointed in the outcome, even though it led to a sizeable financial settlement for their client, Jeremiah Scott.  The lawyers were eventually approached by other victims who had suffered in silence and they have gone on to bring suits against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Catholic church, Boy Scouts of America, and the Salvation Army.  There have also been other attempts to sue the LDS church for covering up sexual abuse toward minors.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit unnerved and skeeved out reading about how so many young people are abused by adults involved in religious organizations.  The young people no doubt trusted these people because they were members of their church.

I suspect that this book will be very uncomfortable reading for devout members of the LDS church.  Some might feel defensive as they read about this case.  Indeed, Lisa Davis once worked with the late Deborah Laake, a former member of the LDS church and a vocal opponent of it.  Laake wrote a book called SecretCeremonies, which was published in the 1990s.  It was a scathing account of her time in the church and was widely criticized by outraged Mormons.  However, I have read that book with my husband and he has verified that it’s not full of lies.  In her acknowlegements in The Sins of Brother Curtis, Davis thanks Deborah Laake for her bravery and for leading her to write her own book.  Lisa Davis is not now and has never been Mormon, so I imagine some readers will claim that her viewpoint is skewed.  I found her reporting fair and thorough, though it definitely does not cast the church in a flattering light.

Overall   

While The Sins of Brother Curtis is ultimately a book about unspeakable crimes commited by an elderly pervert that will be unpleasant reading for many people, I think it’s an important book.  I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading about true crime, especially those involving religious organizations.  I would also recommend it to anyone researching legal cases involving religious organizations and sexual abuse.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard