LIKE A CHILD hiding a caramel from a playmate, Jim Cryer conceals the plastic key chain with puckish delight. He is about to tell what he calls a nasty joke." ²In his native Tennessean twang, he begins with what seems like a well-rehearsed question: Have you ever been on Mission Impossible?"
Then Cryer opens his calloused, work-worn hand, revealing the key chain. Dangling from it is a piece of plastic on which is a cartoon of a naked, obese man and woman with their big bellies touching. They're obviously frustrated. Mission Impossible!" says the caption beneath the drawing.
Jim Cryer giggles.
The portly, 62-year-old retired contractor and father of five grown children thinks jokes like this are very, very funny. You can tell right away by looking around the makeshift office in his northwest Phoenix home. There is a Jokes for the John paperback on a table, and, on a bookshelf, a little carving of a man with an erection. On a desk are stacks of photocopied, crudely drawn, risque cartoons-the sort of soft-core porn that gets passed around in offices and factories. Near the door is a small mountain of girlie magazines.
On one wall of the cluttered room hangs a portrait of Cryer's father, who stares sternly at the opposite wall, where there's a calendar picture of a sexy cover girl caressing a power tool.
Cryer built this room many years ago for his aged parents to live in, but they stayed only a month because they couldn't take the desert heat, he says. Now it's his hideaway, a place where he can relax without being pestered by police officers, prosecutors and angry parents.
Practically the entire neighborhood in this pocket of quiet streets near 43rd Avenue and Thunderbird contends that Jim Cryer is dangerously obsessed with children.
Cryer denies this. I don't know what they're trying to do," he says of his neighbors. Get me out of my house, maybe."
At least 75 neighbors are so upset with Cryer that they signed a petition last November saying, essentially, that police don't take them seriously when they complain that Cryer is a threat to kids.
Among those who signed the petition were mothers and a school crossing guard. They say Cryer regularly cruises in his car past the school and park, always when school gets out, as though trolling for children to show his off-color treasures to. And when the kids mock Jim Cryer-the mothers admit the kids call Cryer pervert" and ol' faggot" to his face-Cryer can sometimes get violent, parents and Phoenix police reports both say.
On two occasions in the past year, according to police reports, Cryer chased youngsters with an open pocketknife and threatened to castrate them after they taunted him when he showed them some of his racy trinkets.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has charged Cryer with aggravated assault for one of the alleged castration threats.
Jim Cryer has pleaded innocent. He awaits a February trial.
According to police reports, Cryer admitted pulling a knife on the kids and making the threat, but told investigators that he was only kidding." In an interview with New Times, however, Cryer says the whole business with the pocketknife never occurred. But he casually admits to spanking" one youngster with a board after the foul-mouthed" child hit him in the forehead with a pickle. He says he also has turned a garden hose on other children who were foul-mouthed."
They called me an `MF' and `SOB' and `faggot,'" he says. I told them, `Shut up, don't talk like that, there are little children around.'"
The boy involved in the pickle incident says Cryer invites neighborhood kids to his business room" to look at the dirty stuff." Parents say the same thing.
Cryer denies ever sharing his nasty jokes" with any neighborhood child younger than the age of 18. Maybe I told some jokes to some of the older kids," he says, but he insists he always asks youngsters their age before letting them peek at the cartoons or the famous ball-point pen that shows a picture of a naked lady when he turns it upside down.
Jim Cryer calls the situation with his neighbors unreal." He says some of his neighbors like him, and he offers the name of one who he says is a particularly good friend.
But that neighbor, who asked for anonymity, seems ambivalent about Cryer. The neighbor says he feels sorry for Cryer, who he thinks may be nothing more than a lonely man who is being persecuted by parents of spoiled, rude children. But even this neighbor is cautious about Cryer when it comes to the neighbor's own children, saying, I don't permit my kids to go into his house." I don't bother children," says Jim Cryer. Nice children like me. Their families like me." WHEN VANESSA FULLER moved into this northwest Phoenix neighborhood last August, she figured she and her husband had found a perfect place to raise their three children, ages 13, 8 and 4. The neighborhood was full of kids the same ages. Plus, nearby Acoma Park looked like an ideal place for the children to play. And it was only a short walk to Ironwood Elementary School from the new house.
Vanessa Fuller's rosy view of the neighborhood changed after school began at Ironwood Elementary. During the first week of school, when she took her kids to class or picked them up, she noticed an old, blue and gray car inching along the streets around the school.
She says she saw the same car the next day on streets around the school and park. And the next. And the next.
Fuller's maternal instincts fired up. She learned from the school crossing guard, Joanie Helms, that many parents were worried about Jim Cryer's cruising.
Fuller says she began fearing-still fears-for her children's safety. I'm afraid to let my kids walk to school alone, and they can't play in the front yard and they can't go to the park," she says. Crossing guard Helms watches Cryer like a hawk. She says that ever since she became the school crossing guard two years ago, she has seen Cryer regularly drive around the school, then around nearby Acoma Park where the kids hang out after school. I don't understand why a grown man would do something like this," Helms says. ÔWhat is scary about this is that he may do something to someone or someone may do something to him."
Helms says she complains to school administrators when Cryer gets out of his car to talk to children. She says the administrators call the police, who step up their patrols of the school and park for a few days. For a while, she says, the blue and gray car disappears. Then it's back.
Steve Salomone, the principal of Ironwood Elementary School, says he has put some parents who are worried about Cryer in touch with one another, but says he can't do anything else. That's because Cryer has never wandered onto school property. Salomone points out that he is powerless" to do anything other than call the cops, who patrol the area.
Vanessa Fuller thinks police ought to do more than patrol the area.
One weekend in October 1991, Fuller noticed Cryer in the park with a group of boys. She immediately called police.
According to a police report, the boys told police that Cryer had driven up to them about a half-hour before. Wanna see my girlfriend?" the boys remembered him saying. Then Cryer pulled out the nudie pen. After the giggles died down, Cryer pulled out a couple dozen of his photocopied cartoons, the boys said. The boys said they teased Cryer about being a pervert.
They said that's when he pulled out his pocketknife, opened the blade and threatened to cut off their testicles.
According to the police report, Cryer denied to investigators that he made the threat, brandished the knife or showed dirty pictures to the boys.
It was the second time in 1991 that Cryer was reported to police for allegedly chasing children with a knife and threatening castration.
Vanessa Fuller remembers the cops telling her that they thought Cryer was mentally ill.
`So what?'" Vanessa Fuller recalls answering. `What are you going to do about all this?'"
Nothing at this time, the police told her. They pointed out that Cryer had no prior criminal convictions-his record was as clean as a whistle.
Fuller says she was angry that the police seemed to believe Cryer and not the boys.
Phoenix Police Department spokesman Kevin Robinson won't comment on the Cryer case, citing pending litigation. Robinson says parents should always report adults who seem obsessed with children.
A lot of good that does, is the way Vanessa Fuller sees things.
After the October incident, Fuller and other mothers began circulating the petition. Addressed to no one in particular, it stated: This petition is being signed by citizens of this area who are very concerned with James Cryer. Due to countless reported incidents, with no justifiable action taken, we are joining together in hopes that we as a community can rectify the situation and eliminate any future problems with James Cryer and his victimization of our children."
Fuller gave the petition to one of the deputy county attorneys prosecuting the Cryer case. She says she was told that the petition would come in handy at a trial-maybe.
She says she's never taken the petition to Cryer or spoken with him directly. Bottom line is I'm afraid of him," she says.
Fuller acknowledges that she isn't sure what, exactly, the cops should do. I don't know what the answer is," she says. I don't want him locked up. All I'm asking is for him to keep away from our kids. Whatever he does in the privacy of his own home, well, I could care less.
Police need to listen to us. Instead of looking at isolated incidents, they need to look at the whole picture."
Fuller points out there have been two alleged incidents involving threats and knives. In February 1991, eight months before the October incident, Cryer had allegedly pulled a knife on another group of boys in the same park. Two boys told police at the time that Cryer came up to them at Acoma Park when they were playing football, showed them what they later called dirty pictures," then became enraged when one of the boys reportedly said, Get out of here, you old pervert."
According to the boys, Cryer chased them with the knife and said he would cut off their testicles, a police report says. Cryer admitted to police after the February 1991 incident, according to police reports, that he pulled out the knife and threatened castration.
But he said he was only kidding" and wanted to teach the foul-mouthed boys" a lesson, according to the reports.
Cryer was charged with two counts of aggravated assault. One count was later dropped when one of the boys became confused during pretrial testimony, says Pete Reinstein, a deputy county attorney involved in the prosecution of Cryer.
It made me mad when they dropped the charge," says the 13-year-old boy. They should have put him away."
Cryer's trial on the other felony assault charge stemming from the February 1991 incident is scheduled for next month. (No charges have been filed concerning the October 1991 incident.)
He just snaps," says Tammy Pelfrey, a mother of three who lives several houses down from Cryer. Pelfrey says she called the police about a year ago, after Cryer whacked her 12-year-old son, Josh, with a two-by-four. The police, says Pelfrey, had a talk with Cryer and then drove off.
If I had done that, Child Protective Services would have carted Josh away," says Pelfrey.
This particular incident centered on a dill pickle.
Cryer says Josh hit him with a pickle when he was on a walk, and that Josh screamed filthy-mouthed" things at him. Cryer admits going down to a home that was being remodeled at the time, finding the board and spanking Josh.
Josh, now 13, says Cryer was not hit by the flying pickle, and that Cryer wasn't the target in the first place. Josh says the pickle was intended for a friend, and insists he didn't taunt the old man.
But Josh admits that kids in the neighborhood call Cryer pervert" and tease him. Josh thinks the name is fitting. He claims Cryer invited him and other neighborhood kids to what the kids call his business room" to see his dirty stuff." Cryer himself admits he's clashed with kids-always, he says, because the kids are foul-mouthed." For instance, he admits that he once turned a hose on some kids who were taunting him. They turned the hose on me first," says Cryer.
JIM CRYER HAS LIVED in this neighborhood with his wife for 17 years. About five or six years ago, Cryer says, he retired because he had heart attacks that prevented him from working at his construction business. During an interview, he shows off blueprints of award-winning custom homes he says he built for wealthy people.
My customers send me things from all over the world," he says, pulling out his Mission Impossible!" key chain with pride. One of my customers even gives me a subscription to Playboy." Next to a pile of girlie magazines, he has another treasure in print, a yellowed copy of the Arizona Republic, dated December 15, 1981. The article details how Cryer helped a department-store detective hold down a thief until police came.
At the time, Cryer said the whole thing was an unreal situation." Then he added that he helped the detective because I think it's a citizen's duty."
I'm for the law," Cryer still says.
He says he cannot understand why he's having these clashes with his neighbors. Cryer says once he retired, he began taking numerous short walks around the neighborhood to lose weight. When the walks began, he says, so did the trouble with the neighborhood children.
As he tells it, he began drawing the ire of neighbors after a child dug into his pocket while Cryer was on a walk and found the nudie pen. It was the child's fault, he says, for digging in his pocket. After that, the children began lying to their parents about him, he says, and they began calling him the foul-mouthed" names.
I don't know why these children come up with lies about me to their parents," says Cryer, who adds that it's all the Ôcourt stuff" that really bothers him about the neighborhood movement against him. Their parents have never said anything to me. It's crazy."
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Cryer says the war with neighborhood children has been very hard on his wife. She's miserable," he says. The kids have egged my car, got the car good. I didn't call the police on them."
Sometimes, he says, he daydreams of returning to Tennessee, where he says he has land with big timber, enough to build a modern log house." There's a creek full of big fish" that runs along one end of the lot, and maybe he could divert the creek into his property and create an artificial lake, he says. That would make fishing easy.
I could get away from all this," he says.
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