Main Line Doctor Says Lower Merion Schools Ignored Her Sexual Abuse Allegations
With the Pennsylvania legislature in the middle of a debate over the statute of limitations for sex crimes, psychiatrist Liz Goldman is ready to share her story publicly — one she’s been trying to tell for years.
Bill McKendry was once a popular fixture at Bala Cynwyd Middle School in the Lower Merion School District, where he began teaching in 1969. Known to students and parents as Mr. Mac, McKendry taught history and coached the boys wrestling team. But according to Bryn Mawr–based psychiatrist Liz Goldman, the now-retired McKendry was also allegedly her sexual predator while she was a student there.
Now a 46-year-old mother, Goldman has come forward publicly with allegations that in the mid-1980s, beginning when she was 13 and he was 40, McKendry gave her gifts, wrote her “love” notes, made promises of marriage, and eventually sexually assaulted her repeatedly. McKendry, now 72, does not dispute the existence of an “inappropriate” relationship with Goldman, but he insists to Philadelphia magazine that everything was “consensual” and that nothing sexual happened.
Goldman is pushing legislators in Harrisburg to pass a new law that would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to take legal action long after the statute of limitations has expired — a proposal that has its roots in the aftermath of the Catholic sex abuse scandal.
This is the first time that Goldman is sharing her story in such a public forum, and she was inspired to do so both by a patient of hers who has come forward as a sexual assault victim of disgraced USA Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar and by the aforementioned debate in Harrisburg.
But it is by no means the first time that administrators at the Lower Merion School District have heard Goldman’s claims. Far from it.
“Remember … We Must Use Discretion”
Goldman first met McKendry in September 1984, when he was her seventh grade homeroom and history teacher at Bala Cynwyd Middle School. By the time she turned 13 in February 1985, she says that he had befriended her and that they began spending time together both in and out of school.
“There were hours and hours of conversation,” Goldman tells Philly Mag. “We talked about everything: When I got my period, when I started to wear a bra, sexual things, and also non-sexual things. It was what I would have called at the time a special and important friendship, but looking back, it was a very calculated, deliberate grooming of someone.”
Goldman remembers that there was hugging between her and McKendry in seventh grade but no sexual contact. She also recalls him doting on her when she got blisters on her feet due to her participation in field hockey.
“I had blisters on my heels and he would tend to my blisters,” she says. “He would pop them and put band-aids on and then put my socks back on my feet.”
At the end of her seventh grade year, Goldman says that McKendry told her that he had picked her to be the assistant manager of the eighth grade wrestling team that he coached, starting the following September. And she maintains that the start of eighth grade and wrestling season brought a new level of attention from McKendry.
According to Goldman, McKendry would call her at night on a separate home phone line that she shared with her brother. When there were late openings at school, she says that McKendry would pick her up and take her out to local restaurants.
“I had this adult who would buy me cheese fries at Hymie’s on a Friday morning,” Goldman recalls.
After school, Goldman would stick around to organize equipment in the wrestling room, and it was here that she says that her physical contact with McKendry went from hugs to something more.
“He pushed me up against the wall in the wrestling equipment room,” Goldman alleges. “There were plenty of times that I was trapped in that room. And there was lots of kissing and hugging and touching. It was very confusing for me at 13 years old. It felt good and not good. It felt threatening and yet safe. It was a really odd juxtaposition of opposites.”
Goldman says that this new level of physical contact began during the last two months of 1985. And as Christmas approached, she says that McKendry began giving her lots of gifts — a gold ring, gold earrings, a ring with hearts on it — and sending her cards and notes.
Philly Mag has reviewed several pieces of written correspondence from January and February of 1986 that Goldman says were from McKendry to her when he was 40 and she was 13 and 14. (She turned 14 at the beginning of February 1986.) They are signed “Mr. Mac”. Here is an excerpt from one:
I thought of you constantly…. I miss your hand in mine. Your hugs and x’s! You know you’re doing something to me…. Love you soooooo much! … P.S. Hope these things I’ve said are only between you and I. Remember, if we make it, we must use discretion.
Goldman also alleges that McKendry sexually abused her in his car when he would drive her home after wrestling practice. According to her allegations, McKendry would park his car in a quiet corner of the Wynnewood Shopping Center, next to Clover Hill Road, and the two would get into the back seat.
“Pretty much every day, I was in his lap,” claims Goldman. “He’d have his hands all over me, kissing me and telling me how much he loved me… He’d have his hand between my legs… He’d tell me that he wanted to kiss every square inch of my body and he wanted me to tell him I wanted to kiss every square inch of his body. I was a barely pubertal, non-precocious middle schooler. I was not there. This wasn’t my thing.”
“This Would Ruin His Life”
Goldman says she became overwhelmed by all of it around President’s Day weekend in 1986, just after she had turned 14. Her parents were away for the weekend, and Goldman, who was staying with a friend, says that McKendry kept pressuring her to spend the night somewhere with him while her parents were out of town. She declined. And as soon as her parents got back home, she pulled her mother aside.
“On some level, I knew I couldn’t handle it,” Goldman remembers. “I told my mom the teeniest piece of the story… I told her about the gifts and that I was afraid that he wanted to be more close to me than I thought I could handle.”
“I was stunned,” says her mother, Debbie Goldman, who went with her since-deceased husband to Bala Cynywd Middle School within a few days of their daughter’s revelation to meet with McKendry and a guidance counselor, who is now dead. “[McKendry] promised never to do it again. He said he was ‘so sorry.’ And then the guidance counselor told us that [McKendry] was a young man with a family and that this would ruin his life.”
Goldman says she was told to stay away from McKendry and that McKendry was told to stay away from her.
“This PhD-level guidance counselor told me, ‘You stay on the eighth grade floor,'” recalls Goldman. “And they told him to stay on the seventh grade floor.”
Her parents decided to let the matter rest.
“We were stupid,” says Goldman’s mom. “And we paid a price. There was lots of guilt.”
According to Goldman, she didn’t talk to McKendry again until two years later, in 1988, when she was a 10th-grader at Lower Merion High School. She decided to go back to Bala Cynwyd Middle School to confront McKendry, and she brought along her close friend, April Callahan, a fellow student at Lower Merion. As Goldman remembers it, McKendry apologized for upsetting her and insisted that the “love” they had was “real and genuine.”
Callahan, who now lives in Delaware, says that McKendry kept pleading with Goldman to stop talking.
“It was dreadful,” Callahan tells Philly Mag. “I remember putting my head down and not being able to look at him. I just stood behind Liz and waited for it to be over. She had told me about the gifts and the love letters and them being in the car together when he would kiss on her and stuff. And I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t really want to know more than that. It was so uncomfortable.”
Soon after she confronted McKendry, Goldman says she revealed some details of her interactions with him to Philip Selim, a since-deceased teacher and administrator in the Lower Merion School District.
“I knew Dr. Selim from my work in student government,” Goldman says. “And I needed an adult I respected to tell me that what [McKendry] did was not good. He did not do that. He confirmed that the school knew and that he knew, at least about the gifts, and he said he was aware that there was some inappropriateness. Then he tells me a story about something that happened between two people when he was in grad school. It was like, These things happen. And in the end, he told me I couldn’t do anything about it, because the statute of limitations — which was two years at the time — had passed.”
Goldman says that was the first time that she had even heard of a statute of limitations, and she wasn’t even sure what it meant.
She continued to share parts of her story with her girlfriends, but she never really told anybody the full story until she was an undergrad at Penn.
“Liz and I were on the same hall freshman year at Penn,” remembers Abrielle Rosenthal, now an attorney and a managing director of an international private equity fund in New York. “We quickly became very close friends, and as one does at that age, we talked about our past relationships. She described this as a ‘bad relationship’ that she had. I said, ‘This is not a bad relationship. You were in middle school and he’s a grown man and your teacher. This is abuse and inappropriate and horrible.'”
And just like that, a switch went off in Goldman’s head.
“This was the first time that anybody said that to me,” she says. “That this was about sexual abuse. It really stopped me in my tracks. I started going to therapy and was really able to give this a form called sexual abuse.”
Later, when she was in medical school at Case Western in Ohio, Goldman says that another switch went off when she was taught the concept of “doing no harm.”
“I realized that I was doing harm to young girls, because he was still at the school,” Goldman says. “I had this panicked sense that I was complicit and that I needed to do something.” (Philadelphia magazine is not aware of any other allegations against McKendry, and he has never been charged with a crime, according to a background check.)
In 1999, she went back to Lower Merion School District and met with two administrators, Marge Andersen and William Kearns. (Philly Mag was unable to locate Kearns, and Andersen referred us to the Lower Merion School District spokesperson.) For the first time, she provided the written correspondence that she had saved. She describes that 1999 meeting as “hostile and antagonistic” and says that the administrators simply told her that there was a “note in his file.” Goldman claims that they almost didn’t return the correspondence to her. “You’re lucky we’re even giving you back these letters,” she recalls them telling her.
“This Matter Is Closed”
In 2005, six years after she first presented the letters and notes to district officials, Goldman went back to the school district again. She had recently had her first child, who was born two months early, and having a sick child made her reflect on her life.
“Having a baby in the NICU really drove another dagger into my conscience,” she says. “I still have a lot of complicated thoughts about this, my own victim mentality of, Oh, I let it happen or Oh, I didn’t do more. But what was uncomplicated once I had this baby was that I had to make sure that my own children would be protected and I again had that same overwhelming panic about the other girls out there who came into contact with my perpetrator over all those years that he worked there.”
Goldman demanded a meeting with the school district. She wanted them to disclose details of whatever investigation they may have done into her allegations. On May 6, 2005, she met Andersen and Marty Yoder, who was the director of human resources for the school district. (Yoder did not reply to our requests for comment.)
“They were as cool as a cucumber,” Goldman remembers of that meeting. “They were basically like, We looked into it, we investigated, we hold employees to high standards, and we’re done with this. It was a complete, in-my-face We don’t care.”
One week after the meeting, Yoder sent Goldman a letter, which Philly Mag has reviewed, insisting that the district had already conducted a “complete investigation” into her allegations and that the “Lower Merion School District considers this matter closed.” Yoder added that the district was unable to provide further details about that investigation for legal reasons.
And so, Goldman made copies of all of that written correspondence and fired the dossier off to six school district officials, among others, on May 20, 2005.
“I have been informed that the Lower Merion School District considers this matter to be closed after conducting an internal investigation in 1999,” Goldman wrote in an accompanying letter. “That being the case, I feel that it is my civic duty to share copies of these letters with all of you. Mr. McKendry has worked closely with hundreds of adolescent girls every day at Bala Cynwyd Middle School for almost 20 years since his abusive relationship with me occurred and likewise since the disclosure of this information to the school’s administration. He is still teaching at Bala Cynwyd Middle School.”
Within days of her package being delivered to its recipients, McKendry resigned. He had worked at Bala Cynwyd Middle School since 1969 and for nearly 20 years since Goldman’s parents first complained about him.
Reached at his home in Berks County, McKendry told Philly Mag that his relationship with Goldman was “inappropriate” but “consensual.” He acknowledged that he had sent her correspondence expressing his love for her.
“I never sexually assaulted anyone,” he claims. “I was going through some tough times. Depression. And at that time, there were no avenues for someone to get help. But I know that I did nothing wrong in terms of sexually. No way.”
We pressed McKendry to expressly confirm or deny whether he had touched Goldman sexually. He said that he hugged her but that there was no other physical contact between them. Then we told him about Goldman’s specific accusations against him — the kissing, the “hand between her legs” in his car, the touching in the wrestling equipment room.
“I’m not saying she’s lying,” he replied. “But I don’t think there was anything sexual. That’s what I remember. I was drinking a lot … There were a lot of times that I considered doing away with myself.”
McKendry says that he completed district-mandated mental health treatment and that he “never did anything like that before that or since then.”
We asked the Lower Merion School District for more details on its handling of the McKendry allegations, and district spokesperson Amy Buckman told us that the district could not disclose certain information due to personnel policies as well as student confidentiality. But Buckman said that the district did investigate and that the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office was involved as well.
“The District Attorney’s office did not prosecute the employee in 1999 or 2005, apparently due to statute of limitations restrictions,” Buckman told us. (The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office was unable to respond by deadline to a request for a comment on this matter.)
In an earlier statement to Philly Mag, Buckman wrote that since McKendry left Bala Cynwyd Middle School, the Lower Merion School District “updated its policies and methods for investigating situations where improprieties may have occurred.”
But Why Now?
It seems like whenever there is a story about an accusation of a sex crime that comes days, weeks, months, years, or decades after the crime allegedly occurred, people want to know, Why now? Why did it take her so long to come forward?
In Goldman’s case, she’s been coming forward in one way or another since 1986. But her decision to come forward so publicly right now was sparked by a female patient of her psychiatric practice. That patient is a victim of disgraced USA Gymnastics national team doctor and convicted child molester Larry Nassar, and she gave Goldman permission to share these details with Philly Mag.
“I’ve been able to go through this entire journey with her,” says Goldman. “And I’m not an envious person, but when I watched her as she got a chance to confront her perpetrator in court, I had a deep envy for that opportunity. And when Larry said he was so wounded by these girls’ stories and the judge told him to shut up, that was beautiful for me to watch.”
That was in January. Then came word in May that Attorney General Josh Shapiro was going to release a scathing grand jury report about the Catholic sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania. And when that report was finally released in August after a two-year investigation, it included recommendations that Pennsylvania remove the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims and create a two-year window in which victims could sue for damages even if the civil statute of limitations had passed.
Once Harrisburg started debating those changes to the law in recent weeks — and already inspired by her patient’s victory over Larry Nassar — Goldman says she knew it was time to act. She recently appeared in this video for the Window to Justice campaign, which is supporting the proposed law.
On Monday, Goldman felt victory in the air when the House overwhelmingly passed the bill. But on Wednesday, word came that Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate had significant issues with the bill, putting it in jeopardy, especially considering that there are just days left in the Senate term.
But if the bill is defeated, Goldman says she won’t give up.
“I have a duty and a responsibility,” she says. “I want to be the solution as opposed to complicit in my own silence. The more I am silent, the more I am as bad as the Catholic Church and the Lower Merion School District. How do I live with myself? I want to wake up every day and say that I live an honest and a happy life.”