By Anne Da Vigo
Forty-two years ago, a gardener working in a Bakersfield yard spotted blood creeping under his client’s back door. Police discovered the beaten and stabbed body of Tommy Tarver, owner of an exclusive beauty salon.
Investigation revealed Tarver led a sordid secret life, sexually abusing Robert, a thirteen-year-old boy. Law enforcement knew Robert—an alcoholic mother had pushed him into prostitution. He’d been an early suspect, but eventually police arrested a college student.
As reporter for the local paper, I covered the trial. The collegian was found guilty of burglary but acquitted of murder. Robert never testified although he may have attended an all-male party at Tarver’s that night.
Questions gnawed at me. Why wasn’t the thirteen-year-old called to testify? Why hadn’t child services rescued him from exploitation?
The murder began a decades-long scandal. Subsequent cases would reveal sex trafficking, cover-ups, and murders involving vulnerable boys and abusive men dubbed the Lords of Bakersfield. Among the “Lords” were the police commissioner, a top prosecutor, and the newspaper executive who’d hired me.
Soon after the trial, I moved to Sacramento. Two years later, a former colleague called. Robert and a friend had killed a prominent man who coerced the boys for sex.
Robert was tried and convicted. His sentence: thirty to life.
I’d never met Robert, but couldn’t forget him.
Years passed, and a child sex abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church. Powerful financier Jeffrey Epstein was alleged to have abused thirteen-year-old girls flown to his island retreat.
In these cases as well as the Lords scandal, some people knew about the abuse but kept silent or blamed the victims. In Bakersfield for example, court testimony by Robert’s probation officer revealed that rather than helping him, she scolded him for “using” his abusers.
Guilt nagged at me. I should have followed up. Had I had adopted the “blame the victim” mindset?
Robert’s story turned personal. I began writing a thriller, the fictional story of a woman’s struggle against abuse of power.
Bakersfield Boys Club creates Suzanne, a widow, who discovers the body of her stabbed and beaten neighbor. While at the scene, she conceals evidence her teenage son Danny may have attended the all-male party that night.
Police investigators target Danny until members of The Club shield him to hide their secrets. As more murders occur, he becomes a victim of exploitation by men whose power gives them immunity.
Suzanne and the father of a teen murdered at one of The Club’s parties collaborate to shatter the group’s stranglehold. She puts everything at stake—home, job, and love—to save her son.
In real life, more Bakersfield youths struck back, killing a millionaire businessman and a prominent lawyer, among others. The final case occurred in the early 2000s, when a distraught father stabbed the assistant district attorney, convinced the obsessed prosecutor had fostered his son’s drug addiction.
Here’s a link to an update on the Lords cases–the release of the boy from prison after 38 years.
Anne Da Vigo is a California journalist and mystery writer. Her thriller, Bakersfield Boys Club, is available on Amazon.