But the marriage was on the rocks.
"He wasn't the person I thought he was," Rabe says. "He was like a child, not a husband. He equated sex with anger and hate, not love. But I had no suspicions about him with the children until it was too late."
McCord was doing well at Mesa High. He always seemed to go the extra yard for students, tutoring them after hours, counseling them at their homes. Few realized until later that those students were nearly always boys.

The McCords separated in the summer of 1985. Barbara Rabe kept the children most of the time, but they also spent many nights at McCord's apartment. Then, in November 1985, his charade started to crack.

Six-year-old Jeff was having nightmares and acting up even more than usual. After he complained to Rabe about a sore penis (he wouldn't let her examine it), she spoke to her therapist. The therapist raised the possibility of sexual abuse and told her to seek help.

After a few sessions with a child psychologist, Jeff described incidents of anal and oral sex with his "Daddy--David McCord.

Rabe confronted McCord, who denied wrongdoing. Within days she filed for divorce.

Things moved quickly. Arizona law compelled Jeff's psychologist to tell DES officials what he knew. Rabe also told the boy's caseworker what was happening. The agency contacted the Mesa Police Department.

@body:A few days before Mesa police started their investigation, DES asked McCord to undergo yet another psychological profile. McCord apparently agreed to the exam because he was hoping to gain custody of Jeff in the divorce.

This time, the psychologist didn't buy McCord's protestations of innocence. Dr. Lawrence Allen concluded after the November 25, 1985, session:

"Mr. McCord presents certain characteristics that have been associated with individuals who sexually abuse children . . . It is a concern that he has steadfastly maneuvered himself in a situation giving him social contact with young children and adolescents."
Allen noted that "80 percent" of sex abuse charges brought during divorces prove to be unfounded. But the psychologist recommended no contact between 6-year-old Jeff and McCord until the allegations were sorted out.

Mesa sex-crimes detective Bill Richardson and a DES caseworker soon interviewed Jeff at his Mesa elementary school. Again, the boy described incidents of oral and anal sex with McCord.

A veteran of such cases, Richardson believed the boy.
"I made every effort to trip him up," says the ex-detective, who now works for a Phoenix law firm. "He hadn't been programmed by Mom to get Dad in trouble. Even before we had physical evidence, I had no doubt that this kid had been molested by his 'Dad.'"
Richardson also interviewed Rabe's two other adopted children, a 10-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy. Both children--who are physically and mentally handicapped--also described sexual contact with David McCord.

McCord came down to the station for an interview. He blamed the mess on his estranged wife, telling Richardson: "If I did this, I should be out of this world." As the investigation continued, Richardson and Barbara Rabe contacted Mesa High principal Bob Free separately to tell him what was happening. Free says he didn't know what to believe.

"I really wasn't sure," says Free, who is scheduled to retire in a few days as principal of Mesa Red Mountain High. "McCord told me his wife was making stuff up. There was reasonable doubt both ways."
Bob Free ended up doing nothing. Instead, the principal waited to see what the police would do.

But there were problems with the case from a law enforcement standpoint. The right to cross-examine one's accusers is basic in criminal law. County prosecutors became convinced that a trial judge would declare the children "incompetent" to testify. Without that testimony, the prosecutors believed there would be little chance of a conviction.

On May 5, 1986, Detective Richardson reluctantly closed his McCord file with a short memo: "There was no question as to the believability of the victims' statements."

McCord taught at Mesa High until the end of the 1985-86 school year, when he quit. "He made the decision," says principal Free. "He felt we were closing in on him and he wanted to get out, I think. I wouldn't have rehired him for the following year if I could have helped it."

Free says he "passed along information" about McCord to the school district's Personnel Office, then put the episode behind him. The next time he heard about McCord, Free says, was after the January 1991 arrest.

Free's out-of-sight, out-of-mind manner of handling McCord was not unusual, says David Bernheim, a school board member and longtime police detective in Sierra Vista.

"The good-old-boy system works in a lot of places," Bernheim says. "It's like, 'Let's avoid any embarrassment. Let him resign. We don't want to ruin his career.'

"Like hell we don't."
@body:Barbara Rabe sued David McCord in May 1986. The suit alleged he had molested the three handicapped children repeatedly, causing "severe and permanent physical and psychological injuries."

Around that time, Rabe asked her church for help, appealing to local and state officials. Everyone, she says, turned the other cheek. In August 1986, a church official based in Salt Lake City wrote her a short letter.

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