Full disclosure: The author of this report knows Bill Murdock. Murdock was one of the reporter’s teachers at Erwin back in the 1980s and was also a coach of an athletic team on which the reporter played.
By Chad Nesbitt
Buncombe County – Last week a CNN online investigation revealed explosive accusations of sexual abuse against Asheville resident and former Erwin High teacher Bill Murdock, who, until recently, was head of Eblen Charities. Asheville Pulitzer Prize journalist Sally Kestin co-conducted the investigation with CNN editor Ashley Fantz.
The story reported that Shelley Love Baldwin, now in her 40’s, alleged Murdock, who was Baldwin’s eighth-grade teacher at Erwin High School, sexually abused her during her freshman year. Murdock plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of indecent liberties with a child. He said he took the plea because he didn’t have the money to fight a stronger indictment of felony indecent liberties with a child.
In response to the article, Murdock issued this statement: “I have had the opportunity to review the CNN.com story. Thirty-one years I have not change (sic) the facts, and the allegations remain untrue,” Murdock said. “I am grateful for the support of the board and so many in the community with whom I have worked to help those in times of need. I respect the family and only wish them well.” Still, Murdock retired from the charity in the wake of the story.
The Leader did some additional investigation into the story and obtained court documents which revealed Baldwin made allegations against at least two other men, one being her ex-husband. Another man told the newspaper they were also accused by Baldwin of sexual abuse. Two women who were close to Baldwin also recounted conversations that they had with Baldwin.
Tammi Prestwood says she was close friends with Baldwin. She says her now ex-husband Kelly and their two daughters went to the Baldwins home regularly and attended Bible study together. That was before the accusation that would force Kelly out of the house and bring in the Buncombe County Department of Social Services (DSS).
Allegations against Kelly Prestwood
Kelly Prestwood admits he had an affair with Shelley Baldwin. “Shelley and I had a consensual one-month affair, he said. Ten years later she decided to tell Mark (Shelley’s husband). Two weeks later my family is dealing with DSS and the law,” he told the Leader.
Tammi and Kelly Prestwood eventually divorced. Tammi tells the Leader that she and Baldwin were best friends for years and once the secret of the affair came out, Tammi said, “I forgave her.” Then, two weeks after the revelation of the infidelity, the accusation of sexual abuse surfaced.
Court records show that in 2007 Kelly Prestwood was charged with indecent liberties with a child. Buncombe County Detective Anne Benjamin interviewed Shelley Baldwin’s daughter. The investigation said the child alleged Kelly touched her inappropriately. The investigation also claimed that Prestwood’s own daughters were touched inappropriately and the “girls corroborated the allegations and circumstances” of Baldwin’s daughter.
Former Detective Benjamin now lives in Wyoming. The Leader sent her court documents of the case, but she told the Leader she could not remember details of the case or why the charge of indecent liberties with a minor was dropped.
Now 22 years old, Kelly’s daughter, Emma Prestwood, tells the Leader she denies seeing her father touch Baldwin’s daughter inappropriately and denies she and her sister were sexually abused. Emma Prestwood said, “We never said our dad touched us like that.”
Then-Buncombe County Assistant District Attorney Kate Dreher was the prosecutor for the case. Local Attorney Sean Devereux, who represented Kelly in the case, says Dreher was well-known for prosecuting sex offenders to the full extent of the law. “She was tough,” Devereux told the Leader. An attempt was made by the newspaper to contact Dreher who has since left the district attorney’s office, but she never responded to our efforts.
Tammi said, “Two years we waited. No visits. Not even supervised. DSS likes to make you wait, so you admit something and then go through treatment.” Tammi said, “The social worker said they, [the children], showed no signs of abuse and after two years he had a psychological evaluation that said he had no tendencies whatsoever and immediately came home.” Court records show the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge of indecent liberties with a minor against Kelly and he was free to see his children.
The dismissal form did not list why Prestwood’s charge was dismissed, but Kelly told the Leader he eventually plead guilty to “dissemination of obscene writings or pictures by coercion.” Asked what the plea was about, Kelly said, “In English, it means I showed an adult male, not a child, a pornographic photo of an adult female, and he didn’t want to see it.”
Accusations against Rob Burbank
While no charges were ever filed Tammi and her ex-husband, Kelly Prestwood, both told the Leader Baldwin made a public claim to everyone at a Bible study that Rob Burbank, another member of the Bible study, sexually assaulted her. Burbank was at the Bible study when the accusation was made.
Contacted by the Leader, Burbank confirmed the Prestwoods’ claim, and said, “We were friends with Tammi and Kelly Prestwood and Mark and Shelley Baldwin and some others that were part of the Bible study. We were in Asheville for about five years and in that Bible study together almost that entire time,” Burbank explained that the families were close friends and went on camping trips. Burbank said, “We just went everywhere together.”
Burbank went on to say, “She [Baldwin] accused me of trying to kiss her. That was the specifics, and that was just not the case. The most I ever done [sic] with her was hug her and, as this unfolded, I shared that with my friends in that Bible study. She was kind of like my sister,” said Burbank. “I was basically ‘called out on the carpet’ at a Bible study amongst a group of my peers and friends just a few days or weeks before Kelly became accused. It was a crazy time obviously for however long it was until Kelly was exonerated of all that.”
Accusations against Dean Brown
The Leader also found court records of a domestic violence accusation between Shelley Baldwin and her ex-husband, Dean Brown. In the document, Baldwin alleged her ex-husband communicated threats saying, “Has told my eight-year-old son that he would harm me. When I get my hands on her she will be hurting, bleeding, on the ground, kill my husband Mark, kill my parents, …(unreadable writing on the report)”
In a 1998 document, Baldwin claimed, “He told [Shelley Baldwin’s son] that he would hurt him if he told my husband and I certain things that have occurred during visits. His wife…(unreadable writing on the report)…also made vague threats toward [Baldwin’s son].” According to court records the domestic violence case against Brown was dismissed.
According to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, the recidivism rate among pedophiles is 98%. The recidivism rate amongst sexual assault is 70%. The Leader could not find any additional charges of sexual abuse regarding Bill Murdock, Kelly Prestwood, Rob Burbank or a Dean Brown.
The Leader tried several times to contact Shelley Baldwin for comment about this story, but she did not return our messages. The CNN article, though extraordinarily in-depth, did not mention these other allegations uncovered in this article.
The Leader tried to contact CNN reporters Sally Kestin and Ashley Fantz to ask if their research uncovered any other allegations made by Baldwin. The two reporters did not return the Leader’s messages and neither did CNN. The Leader would have liked to ask the question, “Why a national news outlet assigned the national reporters to cover a local news story?”
Editor’s note: This report is only being published in the interest of adding to CNN.com’s story. It is not meant to dispute anything reported or inferred in the article.