Eric Cross: The Child Seducer Part II
This article and editorial is reprinted from TROPIC, the Miami Herald Newpaper's Magazine, October 9, 1983, and was written by John Dorschner. Eric Cross was heavily involved with many other pedophiles in the nudist/naturist movement in the late 1970's to mid 1980's.
He was never added to the AANR's Caution List even tho the man continued to exploit children with nude modeling and other scams while he was in jail, and still may be for all anyone knows.
As this is being written , Eric Cross has yet to be charged with anything concerning his behavior at Avon Park. [Cross was subsequently convicted of violating Federal Child Sexual Exploitation statutes and is currently in Federal prison.] At least three sheriffs departments, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the FBI are still conducting investigations. Many of those involved won't talk to a journalist. The parents of the Tampa children are silent, ("It wouldn't do us any good to try to explain," one mother says). The photographer and the head of the modeling agency have been told by their lawyer to be quiet. Eric Cross will not talk. Nor will Robert Lodge in Seattle. Ruksana Diwan, a mysterious Tanzanian woman who became a central figure, cannot be located. (The Florida Department of Corrections has interviewed her, but refuses to divulge her location.)
What follows is based upon interviews with two persons who knew Cross well at Avon Park, with investigators, with attorneys of some of those involved - and with some of those who Cross apparently conned.
There is an old saying among detectives: Any con game requires some larceny in the heart of the victim. An easy way to make big money.
The parents in the Tampa Bay area were told by Cross that their daughters could be another Brooke Shields.
Listen to a talent agent who has heard many producers' promises: "If parents were not so utterly stupid, this wouldn't go on. . . 'Oh, so and so told me, "if you want a movie contract, your daughter has to take her clothes off ' "It's like if someone said, 'Jump off the bridge, 'would you jump off the bridge? This thing about Brooke Shields and the nude pictures that her mother allowed made of her - to me that's sick. But there are mothers in Tampa - and Miami, I'll bet - who see this and say, 'Well, it's necessity. So we'll have nude shots. "
Sometime, perhaps last September, Eric Cross began writing the Dott Burns Talent Agency, the largest in Tampa, a fixture after 12 years in a business where agencies often open and close in a few months. Dott Burns was a well respected woman in her 40s, she was a polio victim. She ran her business from a wheelchair.
Cross explained that he was a British movie producer who had come to Florida looking for a "new face." A girl between 8 and 12. He planned to make a children's movie, Susan's Magic Carpet, in which the star would fly all over the world, landing on her carpet and learning about the local culture. An educational movie.
Dott Burns' attorney, Victor Pellegrino, says she tried to check out Cross' credentials, that she queried the Screen Actors Guild, which had never heard of him. She had also, the attorney says, written to a British film group, but hadn't received a response.
Her doubts, however, didn't appear to be intense. The agency, was communicating with a man in prison by writing to him at P.O. Box 1 100, Avon Park. That is the post office box for prisoners.
'A REALLY NICE MAN'
Cross could only do so much by letter. Prison rules require that all incoming and outgoing mail will be opened and read (though in practice, this isn't always done). And any calls from the compound pay phones must be collect, the operator says the person is calling from the Avon Park Correctional Institution. Cross needed a way around that.
Enter Jerry Schaefer, serving two life sentences for murdering two teenage girls in 1973 at Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce. Cross and Schaefer became friends.
Cross told Schaefer about Viewfinder, Incorporated and his plan to photograph schoolchildren with animals. Some money could be made in this, Cross said.
But before they could do anything, Cross said, they needed a telephone. And so one day at the visitors' park, Schaefer introduced Cross to his father, Gerard Schaefer, Sr., a retired paper salesman who lived in a large old house in central St. Petersburg.
Cross told him about his plan for an educational series of photographs, posing schoolchildren with animals. He even had posters, letters of support and instructional materials from RARE, the Rare Animal Wildlife Effort, an affiliate of the National Audubon Society.
Jerry Lieberman, director of RARE "He seemed like an enthusiastic volunteer. We can't check out every volunteer...He offered us half the profits, about $5 a photo."
Cross wanted the elder Schaefer to install a "conference line." That way, he could call Schaefer's house. Schaefer could accept the collect call, then re-dial any number that Cross wanted. Cross would pay for the calls with money his mother sent him from Canada.
Schaefer Sr. "He seemed like a really nice man, well educated, well spoken. To me, it all sounded according to Hoyle.'"
"I HAVE MR. CROSS'
A voice on the telephone, no matter how skilled and cultured, can be an impersonal way of doing business, and that was where a chubby African woman named Ruksana Diwan came in.
Jerry Schaefer had become a pen pal of hers, and they had exchanged stamps. She had written that she was president of a Tanzanian Lions Club.
Last year, she flew to Atlanta, for an International Lions Club convention, then told Jerry Schaefer that she wanted to "defect" from her socialist homeland. Jerry told her she could stay in the vacant downstairs apartment at his father's house in St. Petersburg.
Ruksana Diwan began visiting the prison. She turned out to be in her mid-20s, light-complected, short and rotund. She hid her figure behind flowing African dresses and gawdy jewelry.
At the prison, Cross talked to her for hours. He needed a secretary for Viewfinder, Incorporated. Good money could be involved. She agreed enthusiastically.
As soon as the conference line was installed, Cross began working in earnest. Several times a day, he went to the pay phone in the sun-baked prison yard.
Ruksana waited beside the phone in St. Petersburg. The operator would say that Eric Cross was calling collect from prison. Ruksana would say she'd pay for the call, and then re- dial the number Cross wanted.
"Hold on a minute," she'd say. "I have Mr. Cross on the line."
Cross began talking regularly to Dott Burns about his movie plans. The star would get $1,800 a week, and Burns would get a commission.
Her agency sent him more than 100 model composites of young girls. Cross' favorite was taped to the wall of his cell. He cut out another and kept it in his billfold.
He rejected some girls because he didn't consider them pretty. Others were "too mature."
The calls continued. One day he'd say he was talking from Los Angeles. The next from New York. "It's colder than blue blazes," he complained, before talking business. He often said he was calling from airports, about to hop off to somewhere else. That's why the agency couldn't call him.
That might have sounded vague, but Ruksana Diwan dropped by the agency occasionally, to drop off a letter or to pick up photos. Everything was going smoothly.
Cross placed an ad in a Tampa newspaper, looking for a free- lance photographer for a major project. He received more than 50 replies. Dean Cason was selected. He had done work for Dott Burns in the past, and he was apparently impressed when Cross told him he could be the head of a 50-photographer organization that would be taking pictures of schoolchildren with animals.
Neither the photographer nor the talent agency, says their attorney, ever guessed that Cross was talking from inside a prison.
SOME TEST SHOTS
Cross called Dott Burns and told her he had selected 20 semi- finalists from the model composites. But there was a problem.
The movie was going to have several scenes requiring nudity: Swedish sauna baths, where people sit without clothes before jumping into frigid lakes, Japanese girls diving nude for pearls, a "Brazilian Indian fertility rite."
Americans might consider nudity abhorrent, but Susan's Magic Carpet was to be a European-produced movie. Europeans, he explained, had a much more casual attitude about nudity, especially among children.
What was necessary, he said, was that Dean Cason take some test shots of the girls nude, to see how they looked and how they behaved without any clothes on.
To Cason he was more specific: he wanted complete nudity. "No fig leaves." He needed to see full views of the side, the rear and the front.
According to at least one report, Dott Burns and Cason were both at first hesitant. Cross talked to them repeatedly, reassuring them. Then he called the parents directly and explained the problem. He promised to return the photos as soon as he had examined them.
Many parents refused outright, but he persisted with those who showed any interest. He wrote the girls letters, tales filled with promises of what he could do for them.
The parents of seven girls agreed to the nude sessions.
More than 50 color slides of the girls made their way to Cross inside the prison. How they were smuggled into - and out of - Avon Park is still a puzzle to investigators.
Two prisoners have told officials that there were two couriers, one of them a staff member. The other was the Tanzanian woman, Ruksana Diwan, who is said to have hidden them in her clothes to escape the cursory inspection given visitors. Investigators have interviewed the staffer and have found nothing to support the charges.
A prison investigator "It seems obvious that someone had to be helping him, but we don't know as yet who it was."
However the slides were carried into the prison, one thing is certain Cross hated the results.
Says one prisoner "He was raging mad."
The slides were washed out, the color was wrong, the lighting was bad, the poses were amateurish. "Coppertones," they're known as in the trade, simple unenticing nudity like the old Coppertone ads. One shot showed a girl, holding her hands over her genitals, with a pained facial expression on her face.
Says a prisoner who saw the photo "This little girl is not doing this of her own free will."
For two days, Cross paced the compound, decrying his luck after so much work. He screamed out loud about the poor quality.
Only one shot, two sources inside the prison say, was what a pornographer would consider "top quality" in facial expression, lighting and full nudity. Two sources inside the prison say that Cross arranged for this shot to be shipped to a well-known child pornographer in Europe. The others were sent to Robert Lodge in Seattle, who is believed to have copied the slides and returned them to St. Petersburg, where they were handed back to the parents.
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