Who was Clarence Osborne?
A Growing Obsession
Osborne’s Viewing of Himself
Men Who Love Boys
Who was Clarence Osborne?
When Clarence Osborne committed suicide and the media exposed his sexual inclinations, most people conjured up a picture of him that was firmly anchored to his paedophiliac activities. There are, after all, few images more frightening to citizens than the proverbial dirty old man handing out candy to young children at the edge of a playground.
‘Dirty old men’ have the same image in western countries that terrorists have—they are assumed to be violent, mysterious, infectiously depraved figures who symbolise an end to the prevailing moral order. Visual symbols spring forth from these semantics. People who had never seen Osborne told me that they pictured him to be ‘large and flabby’ with ‘small narrow eyes’ and ‘big hands’. In fact Osborne was short and muscular, with large and expansive eyes and relatively small hands.
Stereotypes occasionally have some basis in reality and the way Osborne lived his life and the way he was seen by acquaintances and workmates reinforce some, while nullifying other aspects of the paedophiliac image.
I interviewed a number of men and women who knew Osborne — workmates, neighbours, policemen and acquaintances— and there were several points of agreement between them on his personal characteristics. Undoubtedly the major trait that most people remembered was his obsessiveness in pursuing anything he did. Osborne liked detail (what some would call trivia) to the point of alienating all those around him.
His own manuscript and paedophiliac activities bring this obsession out. Every detail of a youth’s penis was carefully tabulated with precise measurements and a massive collection of filing cards lovingly recorded his observations. The recordings he made of the conversations between himself and the boys, which were on 8 kilometres of tape, were carefully transcribed and typed out. He was a precise man who had to get, in his own words, ‘everything right’.
And he usually did. Clarence Osborne was a professional reporter who worked first in the courts and then in the parliamentary reporting bureaux. Not only was he a reporter but also, according to his colleagues, one of the best reporters in the country. According to a man now in a senior position in the Australian Government Reporting Service, Osborne was one of the finest practitioners of his profession in the country. This man said:
Another former colleague of Osborne’s talked about ‘Clarrie’s genius’ when referring to his reporting skills and stated that Osborne could record the thrust of a torrid court cross-examination with more accuracy than anyone else he knew.
But while his colleagues might have admired his reporting abilities they were highly critical of his ability to get on with people. Rookie court reporters were petrified of Osborne’s savage tongue and fearful of incurring his sarcasm when they made an error. Osborne’s professional abilities overawed them and, though small in stature, his enormous ego and biting comments made him a formidable figure.
Many junior reporters spoke of a vindictive trait in Osborne and a tendency to humiliate young cadets who made mistakes. As a colleague put it:
His obsessive nature and perfectionist ideals in work were emulated in his leisure activities. He took, for example, a keen interest in genetics and this was expressed in the breeding and collection of caged birds. His house was redesigned to cater for this hobby and his interest in it culminated in his election as secretary of the local bird society and editor of a magazine dealing with birds.
According to Osborne ‘pressure of work’ forced him to give up this hobby and he began to study human genetics through another animal — the young human male. As an adolescent himself Osborne had joined the Young Men’s Christian Association and while there, took an active part in gymnastics and weight training. After giving up bird breeding he became an owner of a small gym and also executive officer of a church youth society.
In both these places he organised physical training for adolescent to males and often had mothers pleading with him to take on their sons and develop their physiques. Osborne recalled his days at a gym with these words:
It was from the days of running a gym that Osborne’s real hobby developed. He began to take measurements of some of the boys’ physiques, began a complex record-keeping system of his findings and started what was to become an enormous photographic library of the male body.
His obsessiveness with young boys was not lost on his workmates or on some of his neighbours, although few of them considered his interest to have a sexual connotation. A colleague who was junior to Osborne recalled:
And, even with the revelations in the newspapers about the tape recordings, files and photographs, many of Osborne’s acquaintances still refused to believe that he had a sexual interest in the boys. Mothers of boys, some work colleagues and others whom he met of: considered that Osborne’s motives had been misconstrued by the us police and the media and that his only crime was to take a psycho-logical, and not a sexual interest in young males.
Others, of course, were wise after the event and often stated that they ‘knew all along’ that Osborne was physically involved with his young charges. Typical of these was a man who stated with what clearly was only retrospective wisdom that he ‘always knew Osborne was pretty strange and that he had little boys coming into the house.
Apparently knowing Osborne’s propensity for boys was not enough to deter him from allowing his own son to be involved with the older man. Police informed me that this particular man regularly sanctioned his son visiting Osborne and indeed, on some occasions actually encouraged it.
While some workmates or colleagues might have defended Osborne’s motives, few were willing to say that they liked him as a human being. His colleagues were quick to point out his tendency to humiliate his professional inferiors and his verbal aggression towards those he disagreed with.
Two colleagues were willing to say that Osborne was their professional mentor and to acknowledge the career boost they obtained from some of his recommendations to superiors. But they worked uneasily with him and felt unhappy about mixing with him socially. A workmate recalled the occasion when he invited Osborne home for dinner. Osborne was apparently contemptuous of trivial dinner-table conversation and made it abundantly clear that he considered himself intellectually superior to all at the dinner party.
On a later occasion when the same colleague, feeling sorry for Osborne’s apparent social isolation, asked him around for dinner, Osborne arrived with a collection of slides taken during his frequent overseas tours to the Philippines and Thailand. The enormous number of pictures of young boys that Osborne showed during the evening did not unduly disturb the host and hostess — they were bored and felt sorry for Osborne’s lack of social skills.
Most people who knew Osborne saw him as a lonely, isolated man with no friends. But few realised that the loneliness and social isolation were self-imposed. He had no need for adults and did not consider himself lonely. Indeed, he had many friends, nearly all of them boys or adolescents and shared his life with them. It was when he was with boys that Osborne felt happy and relaxed and everything else in life was of minor importance. Clarence Osborne, contrary to what acquaintances felt, did not miss after-work drinks with the boys, female company, or the small talk between people that characterises much social interaction.
So what sort of man was Clarry Osborne? The picture that neighbours, workmates and acquaintances paint is a reasonably consistent one. It is of a man who was obsessively preoccupied with detail and exactness. It is of a man who understood the rules and regulations of his profession, but often could not see the broader picture or understand the politics of the job.
He was not an educated man in a formal sense but he was very well read, particularly in those areas that interested him. But even here, in his ‘research’ — the collection of information about young male bodies — he had no conception of what to do with the material he so carefully documented. It was almost as though he collected material just to collect material. There was no grand plan, no overall strategy, no hypothesis to be explored. In the end he realised that this was what he had lacked and that realisation contributed to the profound a depression that he exhibited while seeing me. At one stage during our conversations he said, ‘If this research is no good my life’s been no good.’
Few around him realised that his life was his research. Instead, they probably (and correctly) saw him as a man who despised incompetence and who was capable of verbal aggression against those he considered intellectually inferior to himself. They also saw him as socially isolated from other adults, a pathetic figure who battled on with life’s vagaries alone and unaided. No one who worked with Osborne or lived near him really wanted to get close to him; nor were they under any illusion that Osborne would allow them to do so, even if they wanted to.
But to say that Clarence Osborne was disliked by all adults would be overstating the case. Some colleagues remember the odd act of kindness, such as remembering a birthday or helping them get a promotion, with warmth. If anything, others saw him as a paltry figure, no real threat to anyone and certainly not dangerous. They often speculated about his upbringing and early adolescence, but one had any idea on just what form that development took.
A Growing Obsession
In his manuscript Osborne constantly referred to his own very strict puritanical upbringing and often described his own childhood as being for this reason ‘hypocritical’. He stated that he was born into a very repressive religion and was not allowed to play with children outside the particular church that he belonged to. He had a brother two years older than himself from whom he was emotionally distanced, but he often wrote warmly about the ‘very cordial relationship that he had with his twin sisters who were four years older.
Osborne did not feel close to any other female figures, including his mother, whom he described as ‘strict’ and ‘aloof. When recounting his first sight of female genitalia he was singularly unimpressed, describing the female organ as ‘a red hairless crack’. [*1]
Sex became very important to Osborne early on in life, however. He recounts, with obvious relish, his frequent and intense masturbatory habits during his childhood. These habits later took the form of mostly ‘pulling up and down on the edges of doors or on an iron bedpost, up to five or six times a day from thirteen to fifteen years of age, with the most devastating guilt feelings’. His religious upbringing undoubtedly contributed to his guilt about sexual matters and he writes in his manuscript that he felt sure he was ‘likely to be struck down dead during a storm while masturbating’.
When this did not happen Osborne claimed that the guilt slowly diminished and masturbation proceeded with vigour. Significantly, Osborne attempts to justify a lot of his actions with his youthful partners on the grounds that he was removing the considerable fears they held about the destructive aspects of sex and masturbation.
Osborne admitted to having sexual relations with the young boys under his care while an executive officer of the church youth society but was confused about his real sexual orientation. Clearly, this must have been a time of turmoil for him because, in his own words, he had three ‘hectic affairs with females and about the same number equally intense with males’.
Uncharacteristically, Osborne steers away from describing the nature of the sexual relationships he had with his women friends. Certainly they involved intercourse, but just what he felt about it is not stated explicitly, although it is pretty clear from the chauvinistic comments throughout his manuscript that he did not have much time for females, either intellectually or physically. His early relations with males seem to have been no better. He states that it was only in later life than an element of intimacy or affection crept into his relationships with others of his own sex. But even here Osborne has reservations about his own ability to achieve intimacy with another human being. In a telling line in his manuscript he states, ‘I now accept that I could not relate fully with another human being.’
Osborne said that his first serious interest in males began to develop when he took an interest in body building and photography. He used to photograph colleagues in training camps during body-building exercises and this hobby continued throughout his life (his files contain literally thousands of photographs taken of many of the boys he had relations with). It was about this stage that his obsessiveness with the male physique began to manifest itself and he remarks:
Although Osborne was, at this stage, refraining from making overt sexual overtures to most of the boys whom he met in the gym, he began to develop a sophisticated and elaborate system of keeping is records on their physical attributes. He admits to his own obsessiveness in obtaining these details:
The boys whom Osborne came across during this period were nearly as interested as Osborne was in their own physical development. He recounts how they would show an interest in whether they had grown ‘bigger’ from the time of the first recording to the last and how they compared with other boys of their own age. They would confess their masturbatory experiences to him in explicit terms and would ask him to tell them about the behaviour of other boys. All this is, of course, not unusual given the fact that male he adolescents are usually fairly ignorant of sexual matters and of their own bodies specifically.
Gradually Osborne began to see himself as ‘a therapeutic tic consultant’[*2] offering young males a service which nobody else was offering. Slowly his card index on young boys grew into a dossier in which the name, the date of birth, the age, the height, the weight, the wrist and ankle measurements and circumcision status were carefully recorded.
Before long additional measurements were added to his card and dossier index, including the size of the penis both when it was flaccid and when it was erect, the width of the eye of the penis and all the variations of sexual activity that young males could possibly engage in either alone or with other partners.
Osborne clearly found measuring boys was a way of getting closer to them physically. He states in his manuscript:
The assistance that some parents gave to Osborne in the pursuit of his interest in boys was sometimes astonishing. Osborne recounts the case of a young mother who ‘through devious means’ brought Osborne into contact with a young boy — her son — and who invited Osborne to their farm in the country and deliberately put Osborne in he bed with her two young sons. According to Osborne the woman encouraged him to take one of the boys on interstate trips and gave him money to buy condoms for the boy in case her son should have a relationship with a girl. It should be noted here that paedophiliac literature gives many other examples of mothers who actively encourage a man to have sexual relationships with their sons and treat them as though they were fathers showing their sons the ways of the world. Osborne states himself that:
From this point on Osborne’s range of contacts kaleidoscoped. He made contacts with boys at swimming pools, beaches, outside toilets, outside schools, but perhaps most of all while they were hitch-hiking. His recording collection was also enlarged as he installed a concealed tape-recorder in his car to supplement the one in his house. Over twenty years this method enabled him to record conversations between himself and his partners ranging from fifteen minute car conversations to two or three hour meetings with his boys at his home.
These were all carefully categorised and sub-indexed into his dossier files and many of them carefully transcribed. To Osborne it was a challenge: to elicit ‘accurate and useful information’. Clearly Osborne was still suffering from some guilt about what he was doing because he says:
His photographic collection was a mixture of erotica and pornography. Many of the films and photographs he had taken himself were studied profiles of the young male body that were tastefully and expertly presented. They would not have gone amiss in an art book on the human body and could easily have graced the pages of a coffee table tome on human anatomy.
Other photographs taken by Osborne were clearly pornographic, however, (no matter how hard one tries to restrict the use of the word). There were pictures of boys pushing their penises into vacuum hoses and plastic pipes, pictures of youth with sperm spurting from their erect penises and a picture of boys with eggs in their anuses emulating hens laying eggs. By no stretch of the imagination could these pictures be called erotic or photogenic, they were clearly distasteful (to most observers) and safely subsumed under the category of ‘porn’.
While Osborne might well have justified the activities of the youths at using his time-honoured excuse of ‘I’m just teaching the boys about sex’, there can be no doubt that many of the photographs were sent to overseas paedophiliac magazines for publication. Some were in fact published and it is clear that Osborne was not particularly concerned in these cases with preserving the anonymity of his partners. Yet to there was no commercial exploitation intended even here. It is obvious from Osborne’s own writings that he simply wanted to share his obsession with young male bodies with all those who wished to listen and look.
Osborne’s Viewing of Himself
While Osborne might have believed he operated ‘in good faith’ many would seriously challenge the legitimacy of his actions. In the next chapter I consider the ways he related to his youthful partners in some detail and readers can judge for themselves the morality of his actions in this regard.
Osborne had some firm ideas about his own morality even if from time to time what he thought of himself changed dramatically. When Osborne first met me and I showed obvious caution in interacting with him, Osborne, with some degree of anger, reacted to my coolness with the following remarks:
His own modus operandi in relating to the boys is of considerable significance when attempting to understand both the motivations of the boys and the psychology of Osborne himself. Osborne was well aware of how important it was to gain rapport with his youths:
Osborne saw himself as a skilled craftsman carefully establishing trust between himself and his youthful charges by using techniques built up over many years. But was Osborne utterly Machiavellian, simply using different techniques with different boys according to what he thought would be most successful? In a significant passage in his manuscript Osborne tries to answer this question:
While Osborne writes that he ‘answered truthfully’ we have to be cautious before accepting his view. He often would not deny that he was a doctor, preferring to say nothing or, alternately, just to say he was ‘doing research’. And a distinct impression is gained from Osborne’s own writings that he would do and say whatever he thought was most effective in getting information from the boys he met or in attempting to obtain sex from them. Thus he writes:
The implication of the ‘ploy’ (to use Osborne’s word) of asking the boys whether they would be prepared to swear on the Bible as to the honesty of what they had said about their sex life was to make Osborne appear more authoritative, professional and therefore acceptable to the boys. ‘Ploys’ in fact were used all the time in Osborne’s attempts to get what he wanted. For example, Osborne writes with amoral truthfulness that a technique he found particularly effective was to pull over to the side of a road or to a parking area to take some measurements of the boy’s penis and to:
Osborne saw himself as a man for all boys. He was supremely confident of his ability to get what he wanted from any of them and unashamedly admitted that he would adjust his technique to the characteristics and situations of his partners:
Osborne was probably no different from many heterosexual males in his approaches to his partners. The ‘end justifies the means’ philosophy comes through time and time again in his writings. He, like many others, rationalised his actions by using’ neutralising techniques. For example, he described himself as just assisting the boys out’. He considered that he helped the lads ‘understand themselves’ and ‘got rid of the guilt about sex the boys had’. It is of course debatable whether his actions led to any of these consequences. What is not debatable is the fact that Osborne deliberately used techniques, or what he called ‘ploys’, in order to fulfil his sexual ambitions.
In the final analysis one paragraph from Osborne’s own memoirs tells us more about how he saw himself than anything else he wrote:
Osborne then was very perceptive about his dominant personality characteristics. He was, as all his colleagues and acquaintances have pointed out, preoccupied with accuracy and perfection and this obsessiveness was recognised by Osborne himself. He was ‘coolly detached’ from many of those around him, although he was quite capable of relating to some of his young partners with feeling and passion. But predominantly he was, to use his own words, the ‘inhumanly objective’, preferring to construct his own morality rather than subscribing to the morality of others. And Osborne’s morality had a Machiavellian quality about it that made, at least to him, the verbal means justify the physical end.
He was not without beliefs and values though. While for Osborne all sex was liberating, some sex was less liberating than other forms. Osborne plays down anal intercourse as a sexual way of relating to boys and is positively antagonistic towards the concept of sex with animals. Similarly, he refers often to ‘dirty old men — even dirtier than I am’ although we are never quite told what ‘dirtier than I am’ specifically means in this context.
Just as he graded paedophiles he also graded the boys. To Osborne the ‘better class boys are those who answer with honesty my questions about their sex life’. He states for example that ‘criminal types, and poor types are the most difficult to wheedle information out of. And throughout his writings he frequently refers to certain boys as being ‘poor types’ or ‘lacking intelligence’ or of ‘a low-class type’.
Clarence Osborne was a man who made many judgements, not only about others but also about himself. If, as he frequently did, he harshly dealt with others, he was even harsher with himself. In the end his self-confessed obsessiveness followed him to his death. A poignant suicide note found in his gas-filled car succinctly summed up Osborne’s predominant characteristic — his attempt to be precise about everything. The note was written while carbon monoxide was pouring into the car from the exhaust pipe as he patiently waited for the fumes and the sleeping tablets to take effect. The scrawled handwriting simply said: ‘I’ve been sitting here ten minutes and I’m still alive….’
His obsessiveness with detail did not lead either to success in life or to a triumphant death.
Men Who Love Boys
Categorising men and women is at best a hazardous business. The idiosyncrasies and variations of human behaviour are enormous and whether we are talking about paedophiles, heterosexuals or homosexuals, the differences within various groups in terms of personality characteristics are as great as the differences between groups. But there are some commonalties in people who occupy a certain marginal position in society and Clarence Osborne’s life typified many of the common characteristics found among paedophiles.
Men who love boys are, like Osborne, generally lonely, socially isolated and sexually inhibited individuals. And, as we have seen in Osborne’s case, they frequently come from homes where sex was a taboo subject and parental sexual instruction completely lacking. They devote most of their energies to pursuing their interest in boys and commonly collect extensive literature — both pornographic and serious — on the subject of paedophilia.[*3]
It is not unusual for them to have scores, sometimes hundreds, and occasionally, as in the case of Osborne, thousands of youthful partners during their lifetime although most of these relationships are short-lived. The high risk nature of their sexual pursuits make their day-to-day existence hazardous, and depression and feelings of loneliness accompany long periods of their life .[*4] Although figures are not available it appears to be very likely that suicide rates are high amongst boy-lovers — an inevitable result of their isolation and marginal position.
Violent tendencies within them are nearly always expressed in words and it is exceptionally rare for them to show aggression, either verbal or physical, towards their partners. They are not adults who deliberately flaunt convention but like Osborne, they are ‘generally timorous, shy characters whose relationships with other adults, even on a non-sexual level, tend to be distant and unsatisfying’.[*5]
While Osborne was typical of many men who love boys he was in some respects different from large numbers of them. The British paedophile organisation, P.I.E. (Paedophile Information Exchange), carried out a survey of their members and 96 paedophiles out of a total UK membership of 114 filled in details of their personal life’.[*6]
The survey showed that adults who are sexually attracted to children are not just old men, dirty or otherwise. Contrary to popular belief there are considerable numbers among younger adults who may well be married. In fact one in five of all male paedophiles was married and the average age was slightly younger than the United Kingdom average for adult men over twenty.
Unlike Osborne the majority of those who responded to the PIE. survey were attracted to adults as well as to children. However a higher proportion of homosexuals (48 per cent) than of bisexuals (33 per cent) regarded themselves as exclusively paedophile, with the heterosexuals being the least exclusive (17 per cent).
Paedophiles were quite specific about the age of the children they were attracted to. Babies and infants attracted very few, but interest increased with each additional year of a child’s growth reaching a peak at the age of ten and eleven in the case of heterosexuals, twelve for bisexuals and thirteen for homosexuals.
The theory that paedophiles are sexually attracted to children because they themselves were seduced by an adult in childhood finds little support. Some said that their first sexual experience was with an adult, but in far many more cases the other person related to was a child of roughly the same age. And even though the P.I.E. survey has limitations, both in terms of sample size and the quality of information obtained, other studies confirm the general picture of paedophiles presented by the British organisation.
Surveys of this type do not allow us to explore the dynamics of the relationships between boys and men. It is only from the detailed study of paedophiles and their partners that a picture emerges as to what really occurs in such relationships. Clarence Osborne’s writings, particularly his propensity to record the conversations that occurred between himself and his youthful partners gives the researcher a unique opportunity to further understand the sexual and emotional components of relationships between men and boys. It is to these topics and conversations that we turn in the next chapter.