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Justin Fashanu | the final score

Mail on Sunday

Justin Fashanu's end game

Detective First Class Glenn Case of the Howard County police department was first told of the Fashanu matter shortly after noon the following day, March 25. The information came through to his desk at the district public safety complex, a prosaic, one-story concrete slab and redbrick structure shared with the fire department behind a shopping mall, six miles south of Ashton Woods.

Details were sparse. A sexual assault. The victim was a minor. A male. A uniformed unit had responded to a 911 call received that morning from the boy's home on Tamar Drive. After a brief assessment by a sergeant and an officer, the kid, accompanied by his mother, had been ferried for tests to the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital.

Case was 31, with a heavy chin and grey-blond hair cropped tight in military style. His police experience was six years in uniform and three as a county detective. He drove to the hospital, and at 4.25 began the delicate task of taking a statement. The kid seemed shocked, and his mother was angry. The father was out of town. The detective listened as the party was described, the drinking, the marijuana. He heard of the phone calls, the liquor store, the couch and then a blank. The victim thought he was drugged.

DJ said when he woke, at 8am, he found himself in Fashanu's bed. His undershorts were around his knees and his host was performing fellatio on him. He said he yelled "no", struggled up, got dressed and immediately left the apartment. He walked to Tamar Drive, approximately one mile. In tears, he told his mother what happened. There had been no delay. There were no doubts in his mind. He was clear about what had occurred.

Case's questions were intrusive, but the interview wasn't the worst part of what happened at Howard County General. DJ had already undergone the standard physical and forensic checks for a suspected sexual assault on a male. A doctor had recorded a tear in the kid's rectum and noted a quantity of blood. He had looked for pubic hairs that may have been acquired from an assailant. He used a proctoscope for DNA samples.

Next morning, the detective drove to Ashton Woods, where Fashanu appeared polite and co-operative. He gave the impression of being surprised. Case noted a bible lying on the floor. Yes, the kid had slept there, the suspect agreed, but nothing untoward had occurred. He said that he had heard the front door close when DJ had left to go home.

Case explained that Fashanu was not under arrest, but that answering some questions could help. Fashanu agreed, and didn't ask for a lawyer. He had chosen to brazen it out.

"Are you a homosexual?" the detective asked.

"No I am not."

"The boy says that you took him to buy beer. Is that true?"

"No it is not."

The detective had been trained to appear non-judgmental. He kept the heat down by taking slow notes.

Fashanu said that he was concerned about publicity, because he was waiting on news of a job. "I want to get this over with," he said. "I want to clear my name."

"Would you be willing to take a polygraph test?"

"Yes, I would."

"And provide us with a sample of your blood for forensic examination?"

"Yes, of course."

Case left the apartment puzzled by Fashanu's self-assurance. Given the possibility of a rape charge, self-assurance was an incongruous demeanour, whether he committed the offence or not.

The detective, like the kids, knew nothing about soccer. His favourite sport was lacrosse. So a couple of days later, he sat at his desk and accessed the world-wide web. He tapped "Justin Fashanu" into a search engine field, hit return and studied the screen.

There were two particularly helpful sites: one local, the other in Britain. There was first a page called "The Out List" compiled by a guy at Maryland's Washington College: an inventory of "living, famous, or distinguished people who have publicly acknowledged that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual." Among the Fs, Case located "Justin Fashanu, British pro soccer star."

The second site, from South Bank University, London, was titled "The Knitting Circle". This included a condensed biography. Evidently, the suspect was a celebrity. Born 1961. Played for various teams. Ranked 99 in The Pink Paper's list of 500 lesbian and gay heroes. And there was a quote from a book of essays, Stonewall 25, about how he "came out" in The Sun newspaper. "I genuinely thought that if I came out in the worst newspapers and remained strong and positive about being gay," he was quoted as saying, "there would be nothing more that they could say."

Strong and positive about being gay? The detective did not think so.

By now police had spoken to the other kids at the party and had witness statements that Fashanu and DJ had indeed driven out to buy beer. So that was two lies established in the interview. And he was waiting on the forensic tests. The Maryland state crime lab in Baltimore soon confirmed the presence of semen in the samples that had been collected at the hospital. Fashanu hadn't used a condom in the offence. Case was ready to charge.

On Thursday April 2, eight days into the investigation, detectives obtained a search warrant and entered Fashanu's apartment. The suspect, his clothes and personal effects were gone. Case looked in vain for the bible. The telephone was fitted with caller ID, which revealed a string of incoming calls back to Friday March 27, suggesting flight within 24 hours of the interview. He would not now be available for the polygraph test or to give a blood sample to the crime lab.

Next morning, an arrest warrant was sought from a district court commissioner. "DFC CASE has received information that FASHANU has not been in contact with friends or associates since he was interviewed by DFC CASE," the application noted. "DFC CASE fears that FASHANU is a flight risk." The charges cited were first and second degree assault and second degree sexual assault. The maximum punishment was 20 years in jail, although the tariff was closer to 10.

DJ was hoping, even more than the detective, that his assailant would quickly be found. Since word had got out about his ordeal, there had been ugly, whispered speculations. Surely this kid was too strong to be raped. He bench-pressed 200lbs! Maybe he was gay and just didn't know it yet. Why the hell did he stop overnight? With Fashanu missing, there was no chance of silencing those who gossiped that DJ was willing. They conjectured that the kid must have changed his mind. He must, really, have asked for it.

Then there were DJ's more private turmoils, as memories and flashbacks surfaced. He appeared to suffer from rape trauma syndrome, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. What was it that attracted Fashanu's attention? He wanted to know: why him? He felt guilty, ashamed, confused, invaded. He became withdrawn and disliked being touched. He collapsed his social circle to his parents, Laura and his only close male friend, Josh. Previously, people said he was calm, easygoing. Now, he was quick-tempered, angry.

He received weekly counselling, but the therapy was poor. The counsellor had never dealt with men. A consensus has formed among specialists in this field that up to one quarter of all rapes involve male victims, but there is an extraordinary reluctance to come forward. Such few studies as exist show that victims (and also their assailants) are most often heterosexual. And also that in the United States the median age of who are attacked is 17.

DJ's question "why me?" wouldn't be answered. At least, not by Justin Fashanu. On Wednesday April 15, the soccer player turned up in England and travelled to a religious retreat in Leicestershire, to which ten years before he had (unsuccessfully) applied to become a novice monk. He used his mother's maiden name, Lawrence, in an effort to stay hidden, before journeying to London, contacting family and friends, and trying to sell his story to the press. He called his old agent, hoping to place an "exclusive", claiming that his victim was a blackmailer. But his agent, Eric Hall, was ill and never called back. Fashanu's last story went unsold.

Two days later, he was discovered in a garage, hanged with electric flex.

*****

Justin Fashanu | the final score
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