Years of silent fear: 6th person accuses Conlin

Conlin takes photo after accepting award at Baseball Hall of Fame.
Conlin takes photo after accepting award at Baseball Hall of Fame. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: December 22, 2011

LINDA STELLA said that she was just a girl when Bill Conlin pulled her onto his lap and began "flexing his leg muscles" during a family birthday party at his house in South Jersey. She leaped off his lap and looked back. She felt confused when she saw the wet spot at the crotch of his white pants.

"I was a kid, I didn't know what it really was," Stella told the Daily News last night. "It looked like he had peed in his pants."

Stella, who was friends with Conlin's daughter at the time, said that she tried to avoid Conlin after that. But later, the burly former Daily News sports columnist, in two separate incidents, grabbed her by the arm, pulled her into his bedroom, forced her onto his bed and fondled her breasts and genitals, she said.

Stella, now 50, is the sixth person to allege sexual abuse as a child at the hands of Conlin, the paper's Hall of Fame former baseball writer. The Inquirer reported on last night that a fifth woman - not Stella - who didn't want to be identified said that Conlin, now 77, repeatedly abused her when she was about 7.

The Inquirer broke the original story Tuesday, reporting that three women and a man said that Conlin had abused them when they were children in the 1970s.

Prosecutors in Gloucester County, where some of the alleged abuse occurred, took videotaped statements last year from the four alleged victims, but could not bring criminal charges because assaults before 1996 fall outside the statute of limitations.

The Inquirer story prompted Conlin to retire Tuesday. Conlin referred calls and emails from the Daily News to his attorney, George Bochetto. Bochetto did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, although he had said earlier that Conlin was "floored" by the accusations. Bochetto said that Conlin hired him to "do everything possible to bring the facts forward to vindicate his name."

Bochetto's silence coincided with the news that three alleged female victims - including Conlin's niece, Kelley Blanchet, a municipal prosecutor in Atlantic City - had retained an attorney.

"This isn't a he said/she said," Slade McLaughlin, the attorney for those three women, told the Daily News yesterday. "It's a he said/they said, and the 'they' includes not just the victims but also their parents, and I think that makes the story a lot more powerful."

McLaughlin said that his law firm agreed to provide the women with legal advice on a pro-bono basis, and the women have no interest in money or fame. McLaughlin said that the women have no plans to file a civil suit; under current law, they would be barred from doing so, anyway.

Stella, who was between 7 and 9 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, said that she never told her parents because she feared that they wouldn't believe her.

But two years ago, Stella said, she told her fiance, Joe Kennard, about what Conlin had done to her as a child.

Kennard told the Daily News last night that he was so sickened by what Stella had told him that he called Conlin's extension at the newspaper and left him three voicemail messages.

" 'What I'm calling about is of utmost importance. Call me right away' ," Kennard said he told Conlin in the messages.

Conlin never called back.

"I just thought it was despicable," Kennard said. "It was something that really bothered me. . . . I wanted to put the fear of God in him.

"I would have told him that I'm going to tell everyone about this," Kennard said. "I want to tell the paper about it."

Kennard, 53, a manager at a tool store, said he feared that he wouldn't be able to control himself if he met Conlin in person.

When asked why he never called Conlin's bosses, Kennard said: "This guy is beloved in the sports world, and here comes me. Who's going to believe me?"

When the allegations surfaced Tuesday, Kennard and Stella said, they were horrified.

"When you think of someone doing something like that to a child, it's the most horrible thing ever," Kennard said. "You mess people up forever."

Stella said she had thought she was the only one.

She lived about 10 houses away from the Conlin family in the Whitman Square section of Washington Township. She was close friends with Conlin's daughter.

Stella said that after the birthday-party incident, she twice was at Conlin's house to see if his daughter could play, but the daughter was busy with homework.

Both times she didn't think Conlin was home because she didn't see his car. But as Stella left the bedroom of Conlin's daughter, Conlin suddenly emerged from his bedroom, gripped her by the hand and pulled her into his room, she said.

"I didn't know what to do," she said. "He didn't say a word. He just pushed me on the bed.

"He stuck his hand down my pants and he was rubbing me there and rubbing me on my breasts. I got up and I ran out."

She never returned.

When Stella got married for the first time, in 1983, she struggled to be intimate with her then-husband, she said. "I just couldn't stop crying during and after sex," she said.

Stella, who still lives in Washington Township, said that as an adult she encountered Conlin twice. The first time was at her brother's wedding, where Conlin bounded up to her cheerily and said, " 'Hi. How are you?' " she recalled. She looked at him icily and walked away, she said.

The second time was about a year and a half ago, when she was working at Office Max and he came in to buy supplies. She couldn't bring herself to wait on him, she said, so she walked away.

The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office, in a statement yesterday, said that an "exhaustive investigation" was initiated by the Major Crimes Unit once the alleged victims came forward.

The Inquirer reported Tuesday that Detective Stacie Lick, of the prosecutor's office, wrote in an email to one of the women last month: "So many people have been victimized by this man, but our hands are tied by the law, which does not let us prosecute."

The prosecutor's office declined to comment further on Conlin.

Conlin, a fixture at the Daily News since the 1960s, received the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

On Tuesday night, Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which selects the Spink award winner, said that the group would not rescind the award, saying that "the allegations have no bearing on the award, which was for his work as a baseball writer."

Yesterday, the baseball-writers association seemed to back away from Conlin.

"We were shocked and saddened to learn of the allegations involving Bill Conlin and we extend our sympathies to everyone involved," BBWAA President Bill Shaikin said in a statement. "This is a matter far more serious than baseball and, at this point, a matter best left to the proper authorities."


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