Dr. Betty J. Kuffel, a retired internal medicine specialist at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish with experience in trauma and the emergency room, has experienced some uncomfortable things in her career. However, for Kuffel, there’s nothing quite as unsettling as spending years in the mind of a convicted child predator.
Kuffel recently released her book on the infamous Great Falls child molester, Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, titled “Eyes of a Pedophile: Detecting Child Predators.” She will host two presentations on her book, on April 17 and April 25, which will include tips on identifying pedophiles and how to keep children safe.
Bar-Jonah was arrested in 1999 in Great Falls, and eventually convicted and sentenced to 130 years in prison for kidnapping, assault and sexual assault charges. He was found guilty of molesting three young boys, and was suspected of killing and cannibalizing Zachary Ramsay, who disappeared and has never been found.
Bar-Jonah died of a blood clot in prison in 2008.
Kuffel was working in the Great Falls emergency room at the time Bar-Jonah was arrested, and already had connections to law enforcement through her job.
Once she decided to write about child predators, Kuffel said law enforcement encouraged and helped her. She had “very good” input from the detectives and prosecutors who worked Bar-Jonah’s case, and she also gained insight into the case when Bar-Jonah gave her permission to access his defense files.
Kuffel also made a trip to Massachusetts, where Bar-Jonah grew up and committed his first crime at age 10.
In 2003, Kuffel went to Deer Lodge to visit Bar-Jonah in prison. She spoke with him for an hour and a half, and said the visit was disconcerting. Pedophiles are known for their ability to deceive adults and children, Kuffel said, and Bar-Jonah was as manipulative as she had expected.
“(Going in) I fully understood pedophiles, but I didn’t expect to like him,” she said. “After talking to him, I could fully understand how he could convince women to leave children with him.”
Kuffel posted clips of her interview with Bar-Jonah on her website, www.bettykuffel.com.
Kuffel hopes her book and presentations will help people understand and identify child predators’ troubling behavior. Most child predators ingratiate themselves into the community and have places of power over children, Kuffel said.
Bar-Jonah had a strong presence at his church, and was known to bring food dishes to activities. He also held garage sales, primarily consisting of toys, to draw in children, collected games and movies and invited children to come over and play, and was a youth leader. He also befriended women with kids the age he desired, Kuffel said, which usually meant 10-year-old boys.
“(Pedophiles) are so good at concealing their true motives,” Kuffel said.
Part of the reason Bar-Jonah was so dangerous in Great Falls was that he did not have to report prior kidnapping and attempted murder convictions, stemming from his life in Massachusetts when he abducted two boys.
He was convicted in 1977, and changed his name from David Brown to Nathaniel Bar-Jonah in 1991. He was released that year, and moved to Great Falls to live with his brother in a neighborhood full of kids and near a grade school.
“It’s like having an alcoholic live next door to a liquor store,” Kuffel said.
Bar-Jonah also had distinctive eyes, one blue and one brown, which he used to menace people, and his considerable girth was used as a weapon against his small victims.
“He stared at people; he was very intimidating,” Kuffel said. “He used his eyes as a weapon.”
Kuffel said parents should know who their babysitter is and be suspicious of overnight stays, and they should never let their children walk or bike alone. Pedophiles are difficult to identify, she said, and are more prevalent than people like to think.
“I thought this was unusual, but unfortunately it is usual,” Kuffel said.
During her research, she found out three of her relatives had been molested, and the perpetrators varied across socio-economic and educational backgrounds.
Parents should be open to talking with their children, she said, and be observant of how they react around different people.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said law enforcement in this arena has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade, though the problem still persists.
Curry doesn’t think the numbers are any higher these days than they were in the past, but there is more openness about sex abuse now.
“I think that it just went very unreported, unrecognized,” Curry said. “And I think that’s not the case anymore.”
Law enforcement recognizes that most child predators were victimized as children, Curry said, and the goal is to interrupt that cycle. The sheriff’s office is part of a multi-jurisdictional task force dedicated to protecting children, Curry said, and their methods have evolved rapidly.
“We spend a lot of time on these cases now,” Curry said. “Half of the detective division works almost solely on sex crimes, and honestly, there aren’t a lot of adult sex crimes.”
Up until a month ago, Doug Overman was one of two detectives at the Kalispell Police Department specializing in child sex crimes. He had held the position since 2004, but needed a break and is now a patrolman.
Overman said he received a lot of specialty training, and saw the department dramatically improve how it handles these cases since he was hired in 2000. Kids are treated much more gently, he said, and aren’t forced to do multiple interviews with uniformed officers anymore.
He can’t verify if there are more cases these days after having been saturated with them for seven years, but believes law enforcement is more adept at handling them and educating the public.
“I think we’re just better and we’re more aware,” Overman said.
Anyone wishing to report child abuse can call the police or sheriff’s office directly or call 911, or can report to the state Child and Family Services Division at 1-866-820-5437.
Kuffel’s April 17 presentation will take place at 7 p.m. at the Columbia Falls High School theater, at 610 13th St. W. The April 25 presentation will be at the Whitefish Community Center at 12:30 p.m. at 121 Second St.
The presentations are sponsored by North Valley Hospital.
Though it is a bleak and dark subject, Kuffel believes there is hope through education. If publishing her book saves at least one child from suffering, Kuffel wrote, it will all be worth it.
“I’m excited because I think the time is right to talk about this,” Kuffel said.
Copies of “Eyes of a Pedophile” can be purchased at www.amazon.com/Kindle-eBooks, and can also be printed on demand. There are also copies available at The Bookshelf in Kalispell and in Whitefish at Bookworks.
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