Part 2: Eye Team Investigates: Sex Offenders Targeted Young, Homeless Men, Police Say
Police say male victims of Kent Thomas and Kelvin Norris are reluctant to report the crimes out of "embarrassment." Also, though Thomas and Norris are convicted sex offenders, they’re not listed in registry because of Alaska Supreme Court ruling
ANCHORAGE—On May 10, 2008, at about 3:30 p.m., Anchorage police were called to a Holiday gas station at Old Seward and Tudor.
“In that case, a passerby had called to report a older white male leaning over and assaulting a young white male with a gun in his hand,” said APD special victims unit Detective John Vandervalk.
Kent Rodman Thomas
The younger man told police it all began earlier that day in a Chevrolet conversion van, where he and Kent Rodman Thomas, who’s now 65, had been drinking Everclear.
He passed out and said he awoke to find Thomas, half-naked, performing oral sex on him.
The teen told police: he then slashed Thomas with a pocket knife, but Thomas then began pistol-whipping him, and the two tumbled out of the van.
“The DNA from that case stayed in processing for quite a while and we finally got the results from that back in 2010,” said Vandervalk, who says Thomas’ DNA was found on the teen.
Two years later, on May 17, 2010, at about 2:30 a.m., Anchorage police were called to the Inlet Inn, where a man in his 20's said someone had just threatened to kill him if he didn't perform oral sex.
He identified that man as Thomas.
“Similar mode of operations from Mr. Thomas in the second case also, wherein he seems to favor the older teenage group of males to be his victims and then he provides them with alcohol to the point where they pass out or are incapable of taking care of themselves,” Thomas said. “Then does what he wants to, sexually, to them.”
Police say the victim in this case had a 0.158 blood alcohol level, but he refused a sexual assault exam.
He later told investigators: he was too embarrassed.
“Right now we have two victims,” Vandervalk said. “I do know of anecdotal reports from possibly other victims with Kent Thomas. If there are any other victims out there, I would encourage them to come forward and either contact the police department or Standing Together Against Rape.”
But chances are slim other victims will step forward.
“Male-on-male sexual assault happens in our community a lot more than people realize,” said Erin Patterson, the lead advocate with Standing Together Against Rape, where one in 15 clients are male.
“If we were to look at all male victims STAR has worked with, and we focused in on a particular group of men who were, let's say, very, very strongly heterosexual, they may be very likely to not report for the fear that others would question their sexual preference,” Patterson said.
Anchorage police investigate multiple sexual assault cases in any given week, but those are only the ones that are reported.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of only 10 to 15 percent of the sex crimes with a traditional male-on-female victim ever get reported to police,” Vandervalk said. “When you move into the male-on-male category such as this, it probably doubles or triples that non-reporting rate.”
The men who do report the crime or seek help afterward are tormented with questions of self-doubt.
“They ask: ‘How did I not protect myself?’” said Patterson. “(They say) ‘I always thought I was strong enough and tough enough to protect myself.’ ‘Does this mean I'm gay?’ ‘Will this change the appearance I have in the community?’ ‘What does it mean now that I am a victim?’ ‘I'm supposed to be this strong, tough man and I'm having these new emotions that I’m dealing with.’”
Police and advocates stress, however, that the blame lies with the offender.
In Thomas’ case, investigators say he booked a hotel room at Inlet Inn, close to the downtown bus depot, where homeless and semi-homeless youth are known to hang out.
Vandervalk said Thomas then lured the victims back to his hotel room with alcohol and cigarettes he bought with unemployment checks.
“In this case, you have victims who are young, intoxicated at the time of events and possibly on the fringes of the law themselves because of their homeless state and other things they're doing to simply survive,” Vandervalk said. “Because of their vulnerable state, that is what makes them likely targets and victim of these predators.”
But police say Thomas has a history of preying on young homeless boys. He's actually a convicted sex offender.
“He has a previous sexual-based conviction in Washington state for also having a male victim in that same age group also down there,” said Vandervalk.
But try searching for Thomas on the state's sex offender registry, and you’ll find he’s not listed.
That’s because of a 2008 Alaska Supreme Court decision, in which the justices ruled that sex offenders who committed their crimes before August of 1994 do not have to register.
“The sex offender registry helps the public,” Vandervalk said.
But because of the court ruling, half of the more than 4,000 sex offenders originally listed in the state registry were removed from the list three years ago.
Also missing from the registry: Kelvin Norris, 53.
Kelvin Earl Norris
On Aug. 7, Anchorage police responded to a local emergency room, where a man asked for treatment after a brutal beating.
He told police: It had began a few days before that, on Aug. 4, at Bean's Café, when he met Kelvin Earl Norris, a 53-year-old who’s also known on Anchorage streets as “Kevin” or “Ice Man.”
He said Norris had invited him to drink with him in his room at Mush Inn. They drank heavily. Then, he said, Norris asked for sex. The younger man refused.
That's when he said Norris beat, kicked, strangled and raped him for 12 hours.
This is not the first time Norris has been accused of assault or sexual assault, however.
“Mr. Norris is a convicted sex offender,” said Vandervalk, who says Norris is one of the worst criminals he’s investigated.
“Kelvin Norris, in addition to the sex crimes, physically assaults the victims—usually rather severely,” Vandervalk said. “The latest victim ended up with a broken nose and one of the victims from the 2009 cases also had a broken nose.”
In 2009, Norris was charged with sexually assaulting three other young men.
Police said Norris selected his victims at Brother Francis or Bean’s Café, and picked them up as they hung around Carr’s grocery story on Northern Lights, which is near Norris’ apartment.
Norris then lured the teens back to his home on the1400 block of West 27th Avenue in Spenard or to his downtown hotel room at the Econo Lodge with promises of alcohol or girls.
Once the young men were drunk, police said, Norris sexually assaulted them after beating them up.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the violence that men endure in a sexual manner is very, very physically violent,” Patterson said.
Vandervalk said, in many cases, if it weren’t for the physical assaults that require medical attention, police probably wouldn’t even know about the sexual attacks.
Still, Vandervalk says, he had a strong case against Norris, but “the cases fell apart at grand jury” because the victims failed to show up to testify.
Patterson said victims often balk at reporting sexual assaults out of “shame, sense of guilt, humiliation, fear that what they're saying won't be believed as not a consensual act, and also the fear that their sexual history will be called into question and they'll have to provide a bunch of information they don't feel comfortable doing.”
The three cases against Norris were then dismissed.
But Norris’ lengthy rap sheet includes other cases, like drunken driving, assaulting a police officer and multiple other sexual assaults, including rape of a minor in 1985.
“Mr. Norris went to prison for that, and while in prison, was convicted of another sex offense while he was in prison,” sad Vandervalk.
When Norris was released, police said he immediately began re-offending, targeting young, homeless teens and men, getting them drunk, beating them up and sexually assaulting them.
“Mr. Norris felt confident enough that nobody would come and look at him for what he was doing,” Vandervalk said.
Until victims step up and break their silence, police and advocates say, convicted sex offenders like Norris and Thomas will only create more victims.
“It really is not about sex,” Patterson said. “It really is about hurting people.”