Pieces of the Casino

Poetry and photos by Sarah E. Murphy

I used to drive by religiously

to make sure it was still there. 

Every time I rounded the Heights Hill

I held my breath

wondering what would greet me at the top

knowing any day it could all change.

And each time I saw the vista of my youth

familiar relief washed over me

like the feeling of the surrounding waves

or the season’s first swim.

Everything was as it should be

when I spotted the barn-like structure

and the seaside deck overlooking Vineyard Sound.

The green and white awning

and the weathered boardwalk we strolled 

with our Great Danes

Ophelia, Sinead, and finally Max.

“Shall we go around the Hill?” Mom would ask

on the way home from St. Patrick’s on Sundays.

A suggestion more than a question 

for the answer was always yes.

Dad would bear right at the island 

past Holiday Cycles and the Chapel

heading left at the Yacht Club. 

But on Thanksgiving

I walked into the kitchen to hear Mom on the phone

updating my uncle on local news.

“Well, the Casino’s gone,” she said. 

“It took a few days to come down.” 

And as her words settled in the air like dust

panic and grief washed over me

as I realized in the holiday rush

I hadn’t gone around the Hill that day.

Checking on the turkey

I saw flashes of summer nights with my siblings

and twilight treks across the ballpark 

for soft serve and penny candy

which later became midnight cocktails.

It was like learning of a friend’s death 

after the funeral had already passed.

Before dinner, Seton and I went for a drive.

“Are you ready?” he asked starting the car.

I hesitated,

for like any other loss

the child in me thought 

that if we didn’t go around the Hill

it wouldn’t really be gone.

Maybe for now we could just pretend.

But I had to see it

to make myself believe it

and as we drove

I remembered the night

I looked through the crowd 

to see my underaged brother

walking across the beach

grinning sheepishly

casually joining us 

on the overcrowded deck.

The older sister in me knew

I should have sent him home

but somehow I didn’t have the heart.

Or dancing with Andrea on Road Race 

to The Gap Band

or with Courtney to Third Eye Blind.

Flashes of countless nights 

once commonplace.

The sun shone disrespectfully 

as we tried to pay our respects.

Neither of us spoke

and as we rounded the Hill

there was nothing to greet us

but a pile of rubble

and a chain link fence.

Monday on my way back to Newton

I returned with my camera

knowing I would regret it if I did

and even more if I didn’t. 

No seagulls soaring for scraps 

where Scoops and Ladders once stood.

Instead a greedy steel bird  

scooping up pieces 

of what was once the Casino.

Copyright Sarah E. Murphy/2007

St. Patrick’s Church: Catholic Crimes on Cape Cod

By Sarah E. Murphy

Many of the names on this long overdue list of 75 priests credibly accused of sex abuse, finally released by the Fall River Diocese on January 7, are no surprise to me, but they’re a sad validation of the work I’ve been quietly doing for the past three years. “Father Bill” Baker is the reason I started this investigation in the first place. He’s also one of the main reasons I left the Roman Catholic religion, shortly after being confirmed at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth as a teenager in the late 1980s.

Jim Scanlan, who is quoted in the article, is a social justice warrior, and one of the first people to support my motivation to expose the Catholic crimes in my hometown. I was introduced to him in 2018 through a dear family friend, although he was already familiar to me as “Kevin from Providence,” the inspiration for a character in the 2015 Oscar winning film “Spotlight,” based on the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking 2002 investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston’s clergy sex abuse cover-up. 

Since Jim came forward about being raped while he was a student at BC High, by hockey coach and teacher Father James Talbot, he has utilized his platform to expose clergy sex abuse and advocate for statute of limitation reform. One of his motivations for doing so was learning Talbot had admitted to abusing and raping up to 88 young men. Knowing he could prevent even one more from the trauma he endured as a teenager, and still endures, was all the motivation he needed, and his testimony was instrumental in putting Talbot behind bars for seven years. As Jim notes, the list is too little too late, and is undoubtedly incomplete. I can see a few omissions from my own research, namely Reverend William Campbell, also from my former parish.

I was just a little too young to be one of Bill Baker’s targets, but he preyed upon several other girls at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth, Massachusetts in the late 1970s, back when my family still practiced Catholicism. One of his victims told me her story in graphic detail; she was an eighth-grader at Lawrence School when he first started abusing her. Another woman, who was able to escape his evil intentions, recalls playing tennis with Baker, and the inappropriate comments he made, in an obvious effort to gauge how far he could take his deviant behavior with the young girl. When he decided that she wasn’t a potential target for his advances, he backed off. Classic examples of grooming behavior. Another one of Baker’s victims died by suicide. 

Bill Baker on right, without his signature dark beard during his brief stint at St. Patrick’s in the late 1970s.

There have been other suicides of St. Patrick’s parishioners spanning generations – some of which I’m certain are a result of abuse and others I’ve always suspected may be related. There have been suicides at Catholic parishes all over Falmouth.

Even as a small child, I could practically hear the whispers about “Father Bill,” as he liked to be called, who tried to come off as “down to earth” and “approachable.” Years later, when I read about Paul Shanley, the notorious “street priest,” who seemed to think he was cool, all I could picture was Baker. My mother and some of the women who taught CCD at St. Patrick’s weren’t falling for his Eddie Haskell facade and expressed their concern to each other about his obvious and unapologetic preoccupation with young girls. She also remembers being in the office at St Patrick’s and hearing him on the telephone “whispering sweet nothings” to someone, without seeming to care if anyone heard. A young priest in his late twenties, carrying on like a lovestruck teenager. One of the more assertive women called the Fall River Diocese, then led by Bishop Daniel Cronin, to register a complaint on behalf of the group, but their observation fell on deaf ears, for parishioners aren’t supposed to question the Church, especially those who are female.

And then just as suddenly as he arrived, Father Bill disappeared one night, with no explanation. When people immediately started asking questions, some of whom were unaware of his predatory ways and therefore devastated by his departure, we were all told Baker had suffered a nervous breakdown, a line now known to be straight from the Catholic playbook. However, my mom recalls asking Father James McCarthy, head of St. Patrick’s at the time, about Baker’s whereabouts and being told swiftly, “Don’t worry. He’s gone and that’s the end of that.” 

I know why he left, and exactly what prompted his abrupt and unceremonious exit. It’s why I’m dedicated to investigating the crimes that were committed in my hometown and honoring the lives that have been shattered, both directly and indirectly, by abusive priests and the bishops who enabled them by looking the other way and shuffling them off to another parish. How many more girls did Baker go on to rape? How many did he rape when he was at his first assignment in Attleboro, before coming to Falmouth? I know of at least one.

Then there’s Joseph Maguire, Father Joe, who came to “St. Pat’s” in the early 80s.  He’s also listed as being affiliated with the Boy Scouts of Cape Cod, and had a gimmicky thing where he’d invite all the children of the parish up close to the altar to listen to his sermons and likened it to telling them a bedtime story. Something about it and him just didn’t ring true to me, or to the rest of my family, for we were some of the Holden Caulfields of the parish, yet we had every reason to call out phonies. What we somehow suspected might be occurring was actually happening, but no one had words for it back then.

Predator priest Joe Maguire, whose last name is often misspelled, was also at St. Patrick’s in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Father Joe was at St. Patrick’s when I had to go on a creepy overnight retreat, a requirement for Confirmation, which I had zero interest in pursuing in the first place, and only did because I thought it was important to my parents. The whole experience was very cult-like, taking us all away from our families, hearing melodramatic stories of redemption from guest speakers, all male, whose qualifications were a mystery, and receiving even more melodramatic letters that family and friends had been instructed to write. Lots of tears for no necessary reason. All of it felt like mind control, and I couldn’t wait to get home. 

Monsignor Maurice Souza of St. Anthony’s Parish in East Falmouth abused my friend Dan Sherwood for nearly a decade. After months of off the record meetings with me, Dan asked me to write his story, and we eventually took it to Vatican City, where he shared it with the world through international media during the Pope’s summit in 2019, which was nothing more than another publicity stunt by Francis. Jose Avila and Gilbert Simoes, who went on to work at Falmouth High School, are both pedophiles and rapists, who targeted countless young men, prior to Souza. When recently visiting the grave of my dear friend at St. Anthony’s, I was perplexed and disgusted to discover they are buried with pomp and circumstance in a special clergy plot behind the parish. One of Avila’s victims took his own life, and his son later died in the same manner. Two generations, an entire family, destroyed by the Catholic Church. Avila and Simoes should be exhumed immediately.

There is so much to write on this topic, it has impacted countless lives, in Falmouth and beyond. This is just the beginning of accountability for criminals and healing for survivors. If you’re a victim of clergy sex abuse, please remember, it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. For resources and outreach, visit SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). If you’d like to share your experience with me, either on or off the record, please contact me at sarah@falmouthstyle.com. Your story will be safe with me, and your wishes will always be respected. 

Chance of Snow

By Sarah E. Murphy

School night snowstorms 

were the highlight of those long, dark winters.

Dad was a misguided meteorologist 

with only the best intentions.

When he professed

“there’ll be no school tomorrow!” 

with cheerful certainty 

we could plan 

on the screech and halt 

of the bus flying down Grand Ave

so we learned early on to be hopeful

when he was doubtful.

I’d peer outside my window 

my nose freezing against the icy glass

staring at the sky for signs

listening for a message in the wind.

Ted would call his friend John,

the superintendent’s son

in an effort to obtain 

classified information.

In the early hours

after restless sleep 

I’d resume my post 

trying not to wake Courtney

to see a torrent of white 

falling under the streetlight 

by the O’Connors’ house 

and into the inky black ocean 

of the Heights.

We didn’t really know

there was magic 

in those moments 

when all was silent but for the hiss 

of snowflakes making contact. 

Later that morning

after the donning of many layers 

we sought satisfaction 

in leaving the first footprints 

at the ballpark

drifts crunching under our feet

as we staggered to meet the McEvoy girls 

barely recognizable 

in their parkas and moon boots. 

At day’s end 

mittens and snow pants 

would swim in puddles by the coal stove 

while we savored our Swiss Miss

celebrating simple joys. 

Sarah E. Murphy/Copyright 2010