How a Random Message Board Post Re-Ignited the Penn State Investigation

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A post on a Penn State fan forum was the key break in the Jerry Sandusky case, because it led investigators to Mike McQueary, who finally "unburdened himself" about what he knew about the ex-coach's sexual abuse of children.

According to an in-depth look at the legal side of the Sandsuky case, pulled together by The New York Times, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office had long suspected Sandusky of being a serial molester, but had been unable to find anyone close to the coach who could speak to the allegations — other than the victims who were mostly unwilling to talk.

Then they stumbled upon a random post on a PSU football message board that suggested there might be a Nittany Lion coach who saw something and wasn't talking. Investigators narrowed the options down to McQueary, then set up a secret meeting away from the prying eyes of Penn State fans. Once he was approached, they say, McQueary needed little prompting to tell them what he knew.

From there the case snowballed, but also led to suggestions that other Penn State officials were not only aware of the charges, but actively sought to cover them up. For example, even though McQueary, head coach Joe Paterno, the athletic director and the school president all knew about the 2002 incident that McQueary saw, none of them ever mentioned it the university's general counsel, the one person whose job it is to protect the school from any legal troubles. Was that because the lawyer would have been required to report what he knew to law enforcement?

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Investigators also discovered when they dug into Sandusky's Second Mile charity, that several years worth of his travel and expense records had gone missing. Possibly an honest mistake, but also "suspicious" given the circumstances.

The Times story arrives along with a lengthy Sports Illustrated cover story that also suggests that Sandusky's behavior was an open secret in the Penn State community. Sandusky retired in 1999 at age 55, pretty young for a coach of his stature. One local in State College says there was speculation about his crimes even then. ("This is a small town. It's been in the rumor mill for a while.") According to one of the story's authors, Jon Wertheim, “People at Penn State wanted to talk; they were resentful and wanted this story out there."

If the folks at the local barbershop and anonymous fans on the internet knew what was up, it's hard to believe that Sandusky's closest colleagues and allies were not aware as well.

One other update on the scandal: The State College judge who was overseeing the case has been replaced, due to her close to ties to the charity that Sandusky founded. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.