Accused Mo. sex predator had Alabama contact

Published 10:29 pm Monday, September 21, 2009

A former assistant director of a Christian camp in Branson, Mo., accused of sex crimes against 14- and 15-year-old boys was a guest speaker at a retreat at Camp Lee near Anniston in February attended by busloads of youth from Selma.

Last week the Taney County, Mo., prosecutor charged Peter Newman with second-degree statutory sodomy, two counts of sexual misconduct with a child under 15 and enticement of a child under 15 years old.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Merrell confirmed the crimes in the charges occurred between 2005 and 2008, but documents filed with the court and used as a basis of the charges said the 33-year-old Newman may have abused children between 1999 and 2009.

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Although he was based at the Christian-values based sports Kanakuk Kamps in Branson and other locations in southwest Missouri, Newman was a popular speaker for youth groups and appeared at many camps or youth gatherings across the country. He had spoken at Camp Lee several times.

In the probable cause statement that lead to the charges against Newman, authorities said Newman became friends with his victims by attending family dinners, Bible studies and taking vacations together. Called “Pete” by many who knew him, he would hold one-on-one sessions in his hot tub at his home and “would request they be naked. Pete would discuss life’s struggles.”

Victims told investigators with the Taney County Sheriff’s Department those discussions led to fondling, mutual masturbation and, on at least one occasion, oral sex.

Authorities said Newman wrote an eight-page letter last June to Kanakuk Kamps owner Joe White in which he confessed and offered an apology.

Merrell said Newman surrendered to authorities in Taney County last Tuesday. Newman and his attorney made a court appearance during which he was released on bond.

“One condition of the bond was that he have no contact with children under the age of 17,” Merrell said, adding he did not remember the amount of the bond.

Newman pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Merrell said his office has received numerous telephone calls from concerned parents and others asking about the charges. Some of those telephone calls may lead to an investigation on “new things that have come to light since people caught wind of the case.”

None of those telephone calls have come from people affiliated with Camp Lee, Merrell added.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Troy King in Montgomery said his office had no comment about the charges because the Alabama office did not participate in the investigation or the arrest.

“Not every camp is like this,” said Maggie Davies of Selma, who works closely with abused children as an advocate against sexual predators. “Most church camps, and camps for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are very safe and the people there do not want to hurt children. People should not jerk their children from camping experiences because of this.”

The White family, who owns the Kanakuk Kamps in Missouri, fired Newman last spring. Joe White sent an e-mail statement last week to parents of children who had attended the camps.

“When we became aware of this situation we took immediate action, terminating Pete Newman’s employment,” a portion of the statement read. “Since that time, we have been working closely with the affected families and appropriate authorities. We reported what we knew to investigators and stayed in contact throughout the process, providing whatever assistance we could. We have also offered our assistance to the impacted families.”

The statement also said all staff members are trained and go through pre-employment background checks.

Newman, who is living in Memphis, Tenn., is expected to return to court on Oct. 29 at 10 a.m.

Anyone who has information about Newman is encouraged to call Merrell’s office at 417-546-7260 or through the Web site at

“We need to find out who the victims are,” Merrell said, “so we can be sure to get them what they need.”

Those who wish to remain anonymous may do so, the prosecutor said. “We can’t disclose a whole lot about the case,” he said.