Editor's Note: This is the second story in a two-part series.
The streets of downtown Seattle were a dangerous place for runaways back in the 1980s. But it took a series of scandals, murders and revelations of pedophilia in high places to finally raise awareness about this urban ecosystem of youth exploitation.
The Donut House at First & Pike was in the middle of it all. Rocked by scandal in the early '80s, the infamous hangout for young street kids was closed and its owner sent off to prison for running a robbery ring that recruited youngsters to do the dirty work. In the eyes of the law, the man who had run the shop, Guenter Mannhalt, was a modern-day Fagin, an exploiter of the exploited.
Mannhalt certainly wasn't the only exploiter on Skid Road, but the Donut Shop became a legend nonetheless. The scandal came at a time when the public was becoming more aware of the plight of Seattle's street kids. Indeed, the Donut Shop goings on likely helped raise that profile.
Roberta Joseph Hayes was a former Donut House regular who appeared in the 1983 documentary “Streetwise,” a chronicle of Seattle's homeless youth. Hayes would eventually become a victim of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, who preyed on the Northwest’s young runaway population from the early 1980s on. The plodding progress on the Green River case, and the fact that most of Ridgway's victims came from the streets, emphasized both the dangers of the street lifestyle and the seeming reluctance of law enforcement to catch a killer who targeted prostitutes and young runaways. The fact that Ridgway acted with impunity for so long and killed so many was seen as the failure of a society that preferred to look away.
Seattle's Monastery Church. Credit: georgefreeman.com
The Donut House wasn't the only dangerous nightspot in the city. The Sanctuary (above), also known as The Monastery, was a disco on Boren Ave. near downtown, which attracted young people and met every "den of iniquity" criteria: public sex, drugs, child prostitution. Check, check and check.
Many Streetwise-era kids partied in The Monastery's parking lot. That is, if they couldn't sneak inside; the place was known for its underage patrons and gay sex.
Monastery founder, George Freeman, operated his establishment as a Universal Life Church, arguing that his club was a haven for gay kids in a homophobic society. A crackdown by law enforcement forced the disco to shut its doors and spawned the city’s restrictive Teen Dance Ordinance in 1985. Freeman saw the disco/church as "a family of dancers in primal communion." The judge whose ruling in a civil case that closed The Monastery for good, disagreed, calling the club "a dangerous nuisance and a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse that attracted many of the weakest, most confused and disturbed children in our society."
In 1988, Seattle learned that Gary Little, a prominent city judge, had for years been molesting and manipulating young boys, including the street kids he encountered in his juvenile courtroom.
One of Little’s victims was Justin Reed Early (at left), a Donut House regular and Streetwise star. When Little's out-of-court contacts with some juveniles was first officially and quietly investigated in the early '80s, he justified his actions as necessary interventions to save the troubled boys. Right before the full nature of his predatory behavior was about to be made public by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Little killed himself.
Ken Conder, a police officer who patrolled the First & Pike beat on foot during the Donut House heyday, says that "walking police" like him tried to get their SPD superiors to do more about the problems of street kids. But back then, says Conder, addressing "the exploitation of urban youth was not a high priority."
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!