A sister of alleged child molester Walter J. Happel testified Tuesday that when her brother was a child, he traveled to South Dakota for a week with a family acquaintance and returned with blood in his underwear.
The revelation came after one of Happel’s attorneys, Daniel McGarry, asked the sister if she knew a man named “Norm.”
“Just give me a second, OK?” she asked as she composed herself on the witness stand.
The sister testified at an evidentiary hearing that will help Ramsey County District Judge Diane Alshouse determine what evidence can be admitted at Happel’s May 18 trial.
Happel, 62, faces various counts in eight criminal cases in Ramsey County District Court. Six cases involve students at St. Paul’s Linwood Monroe Arts Plus school, where Happel was a custodian before resigning in 2014 because of the investigation into his alleged behavior. He is accused of touching one student there.
The other cases involve alleged abuse in the early 1980s of a male relative and a neighbor boy.
Happel’s sister, who is not being named to protect her identity, became emotional when talking about the man named Norm.
The man was someone an older Happel brother had delivered papers to when the Happel family lived in Madison, S.D., she testified. Refugees from Germany, the Happels — parents and four children — were sponsored by the Lutheran church there, and moved to a farm where they worked nine months to settle the debt for their airfare.
They had moved to Minneapolis when Norm took Walter, the youngest of the Happels’ children.
“Norm showed up one day and Walter was still very young,” said the sister, who was 12 at the time and is five years older than Walter.
The older Happel son warned their mother not to let Norm take Walter, the sister said. But their mother didn’t heed the warning.
Norm and Walter traveled back to South Dakota. A week later, Walter was back home.
“I was doing laundry,” his sister testified, “… and I found blood in Walter’s underwear.”
Norm never took Walter again, she said.
McGarry didn’t delve into detail about Norm’s identity, or whether the family believed that Happel had been sexually assaulted. But the implication, reflected in his sister’s demeanor, was unmistakable.
It’s unclear what role, if any, the revelation will play at trial when McGarry and Thomas Donohue defend their client from allegations that he peeked at students in Linwood Monroe bathrooms and sexually penetrated a neighbor boy. But witness testimony from Tuesday and a January evidentiary hearing are providing a glimpse into defense and prosecution strategies.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew R.K. Johnson hopes to admit evidence from the hearings in the two most serious cases against Happel to show that he had a “common scheme plan” when he allegedly assaulted a male relative and the neighbor boy.
Donohue has said that many of the witnesses fabricated or misremembered their stories.
Happel will be tried separately in all eight cases.