A jury will decide next week whether Ronald Reo Timm will ever get out of state custody. But the question remains: How does someone molest 24 children in Spokane over a period of two decades and essentially remain out of public view?
The answer, according to prosecutors and Timm’s own admission, is that he sought his prey in broken homes and bought their silence with toys and candy.
“I would have children spend the night … and set them up for victimization,” Timm said in an interview taped for court proceedings. “How can I put this? Kids like adults unconditionally. What I’m trying to say is they were not as likely to say no.”
According to court testimony, Timm befriended single mothers who struggled financially. He provided rent, paid other bills and ingratiated himself until the mother would allow him to baby-sit her little girls as their “special father.”
Of the 24 children he claims to have molested, all were between the ages of 3 and 7 and one was a boy. A couple of the victims were part of his immediate family.
Assistant Attorney General James Buder, who – along with colleague Tricia Boerger – is attempting to civilly commit Timm as a sexually violent predator, said Timm remained out of the public eye through careful manipulation of his victims.
“He definitely has a pattern to his offenses,” Buder said. “He identifies young women who have young children and he gains their trust. And then he offends. Children trust adults unconditionally and that’s why he targeted them.”
Buder said he could track Timm’s offenses back to 1975. Timm first was convicted in 1989 of first-degree statutory rape. Then in 1996, Timm pleaded guilty to first-degree rape of a child and received a 10-year prison sentence.
During those years, Timm wasn’t exactly anonymous, said Jerry Keller, a former Spokane Police detective who investigated the 1996 case.
“He was a person of interest in several cases during that time,” said Keller. “He was just very smooth … very smooth.”
In 20 years of investigating sex crimes, Keller said he saw many cases where offenders would go after mothers to get access to their children.
“There are several that stand out,” Keller said. “This was one of them.”
Before his scheduled release in 2006, the state started its legal effort to civilly commit Timm as a sexually violent predator.
During the preparation of that case, Timm told investigators that his problems began in grade school where he would lift up girls’ dresses and pay other girls to undress for him on the playground. That evolved into molesting, which broke up his first marriage.
Sally Neiland, the state’s sex-offender treatment supervisor, testified Wednesday about her interactions with Timm as he sought out counseling in prison.
Neiland described how Timm would approach his victims after bedtime.
“The majority of his offending occurred in the context of baby-sitting,” Neiland said. “He listened to the rhythm of their breathing to determine their level of sleep. It was his belief that they wouldn’t be harmed and they wouldn’t be able to tell on him.”
A 63-year-old grandmother, the legal guardian of one of the girl victims, said Timm was able to charm his way into her daughter’s life even though the family knew he was a sex offender from the 1989 conviction.
“The grooming process was amazing to see,” the grandmother said. “The first time I noticed it, he bought (the girl) a little toy saxophone. He would get on the floor and play with her and try to teach her how to play. I remember my husband and me saying, ‘We don’t see any problem.’ He was able to convince adults.”
But then the grandmother was baby-sitting her 3-year-old granddaughter when the toddler began complaining how “Daddy Ron” hurt her private areas.
“I freaked out. I confronted (the girl’s mother) … and she said (the girl) complains about that all the time,” the grandmother said.
The grandmother took her daughter to the courthouse and obtained a restraining order against Timm. But it expired two weeks later and the daughter eventually allowed Timm to return to the home where he lived off-and-on for another three years.
“Money,” the grandmother said, explaining how Timm got access. Her daughter “was a single mom on welfare. She was struggling. He helped her buy food and pay expenses.”
Keller said he recalled interviewing Timm before his arrest in 1996. Timm described living in the home with several small girls as a test because it was like “fantasy land.”
“Then months later I learned what happened to” the girl, Keller said. She “didn’t have a chance.”
The girl is now 19. She attended the opening statements of Timm’s trial, but was not called to testify.
“Oh my, I can’t even begin to say all the harm it’s done her,” her grandmother said. “She keeps it all bottled up. She says she doesn’t want to remember because she knows it would explode … and she wouldn’t be able to handle it. I detest him. There are no words for it.”
It was that girl’s image which further contributed to Timm’s problems.
Neiland testified that she learned during her counseling that Timm might be hiding something in his cell.
A search revealed that he had a picture of the girl and photos of several other victims. The cache included birthday cards and children’s drawings. Timm also had somehow been able to contact state agencies to learn where his biological children had been placed in protective custody.
“I’m an old man. I don’t need more trouble,” the 59-year-old Timm said on tape. “I don’t need to make any more victims.”
Buder asked Timm why, then, he had pictures of his victims in his prison cell while he was undergoing counseling.
“That’s my family,” Timm said.