Through the Spring of 2013, John Ross Eddy, a former opera singer, woke before dawn to unlock the doors at the YMCA sports complexes at Lake Wylie and Tega Cay. He would gladhand the other employees where he worked as a janitor, chuckle and chat with the hundreds of ladies coming in to get dressed in the ladies locker rooms for workouts.
Eddy was almost 60 and seemed to all to be a harmless old man with a quick smile.
Turns out the smile was a lecherous leer.
The whole time from March to June 2013, for almost four months, Eddy tucked tiny hidden video cameras in the ladies shower room, even in a toilet stall, so he could watch and keep recordings of these women at their most vulnerable and private moments. Eddy himself is seen on the tapes, hiding the camera in the toilet roll dispenser, above the toilet, under a sink, then walking off like he apparently thought he was doing nothing wrong.
Miraculously, no children were videotaped. No kids at their most vulnerable in a place that any woman before John Ross Eddy’s voyeurism and lust to see women naked thought nobody could see.
Tuesday, Eddy, now 60 and claiming to be sorry, a man without any criminal record before these crimes that threatened to wreck families and lives and without questioned caused panic for the victims, was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison for crimes Judge Lee Alford said plainly “cannot be tolerated” in not only public places, but anywhere.
Eddy also must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Nobody had to tell his victims that John Ross Eddy is a sex offender. Many looked right at Eddy Tuesday, and a few shuddered with grief. Some of them had been videotaped two, three, even more times as they showered, put on make-up, combed hair.
One camera was right below the sink at belt level where a woman would lean in to get the mascara right in the mirror above.
For the first time Tuesday in Alford’s courtroom at the Moss Justice Center, 15 months after Eddy’s secret taping scheme became unraveled when by sheer luck, a YMCA customer dislodged one of the hidden cameras and the law swooped in, in a courtroom where criminals are hauled in after such appalling violations of personal privacy and criminal laws, many of the victims for the first time saw the real John Ross Eddy in action.
Of the 36 counted victims, about a dozen were in court. Many clutched husband’s arms. Three of these women in court used words to describe what Eddy did as “sick” and “without an ounce of regret.” How Eddy was “outgoing and friendly” and “seemingly genuinely nice” but at the same time was “victimizing” the women who exercised and swam at the YMCA locations.
These victims talked in court, and in letters read in court, of Eddy’s “offensive” behavior that stole not just their trust in public places, but their most private moments. Other victims were just too ashamed, the shame not their own doing but dropped like a bomb upon them and their families by Eddy the voyeur, to even go to court.
An employee of the YMCA, a victim of Eddy, was as upset at Eddy making friends and playing nice for months while at the same time pulling off his dastardly deeds.
“It was offensive not only that he put the cameras up, but that he made friends at the same time,” that woman said.
The Herald is not naming the victims.
All of the victims demanded prison time for John Ross Eddy, the fiendish friend with the grin on his face who said hello one minute and then hid in a dark room with his videos. After Eddy was arrested he was fired from the YMCA but the damage was long done.
Eddy’s wife, Robin, spoke emotionally of how Eddy’s acts were out of character and that she still loved him. She spoke just feet from women who shrank back in their courtroom bench seats from this man, Eddy, who took away their trust and feeling of safety and security.
Eddy’s lawyer, Jim Boyd, talked of Eddy the opera singer, the textile executive, the insurance agent and cancer survivor with five children whose finances were in a wreck careening toward bankruptcy that turned him to take the YMCA janitor job.
The victims had to sit there and listen to an explanation of how any man could tape women on the toilet.
A psychiatrist Eddy started seeing just two days after his arrest in June 2013 spoke of how Eddy knew what he was doing was wrong, knew he would get caught, and even called Eddy’s peeping and recording a “personal, career, and family suicide attempt.”
Yet the psychiatrist said Eddy was not a sexual predator.
The victims had to listen to that - a version that made Eddy into some kind of victim of himself. That Eddy sought some kind of answer to being broke and having a personal crisis by watching tapes of women taking a shower at the YMCA.
Eddy, incredibly, only spent about a minute apologizing to the victims in court.
After pleading guilty to 36 counts of voyeurism - peeping and recording for sexual gratification - Eddy turned toward the victims who did have the courage to face Eddy in a public courtroom that he was “sincerely sorry.”
“I had no right to do what I did, and I wish I could undo it,” Eddy said to the victims as he stood underneath a blown-up courtroom picture taken from the videos of him leering as he installed the cameras last year.
But then Eddy made what happened all about him as he tried to get out of the crimes with probation so he could move to Connecticut and help his elderly in-laws. Eddy told the judge “I want to be the person I used to be,” and “I’d like to have a second chance to be the person I can be.”
Eddy never mentioned how he had set the cameras up so many days and kept the footage to later take home and stare at.
Facing anywhere from probation to life in prison because each of the 36 guilty pleas carries up to three years each in prison, Eddy never mentioned the female children who could have showered and dressed in the viewfinder of his awful cameras.
He just wanted to go to Connecticut and make like it never happened.
But prosecutor Erin Joyner, the 16th Circuit assistant solicitor who handles many of York County’s sex cases, balked at Eddy’s claims of victimhood. After Eddy’s initial arrest in June 2013, police found the second camera. Eddy never told the police about it. Eddy, Joyner said, must go to prison.
“Mr. Eddy got away with this for three months - that we know about,” Joyner told Judge Alford. “He bought the equipment. He had the extra batteries. He saved the footage. And then he did it over and over again. He committed many, many crimes, against many of the women in York County.”
Behind Joyner, in the courtroom gallery, those women victims sat there looking at the man who had tried to use them to excite himself.
That’s when Judge Lee Alford, 72 years old, a judge in probate court and Family court and circuit court for three decades, stood up for those victims. Alford, as the judge of these voyeurism cases that somehow are misdemeanors, could have given Eddy as little punishment as probation. But Alford looked square at the victims that Eddy barely glanced at, and Alford did not flinch.
Alford acknowledged that Eddy’s reckless actions “wrecked his (Eddy’s) life” but Alford made it clear to all in that courtroom that the sentence had to reflect what Eddy “did to these many victims.” Alford also mentioned how Eddy had hurt the other victim - the YMCA.
Justice in this case of so many victims, Alford said, also means “sending a message to anyone else” considering making a homemade peep show that justice will drop on the peeper like a wrecking ball from a crane.
When Alford announced the nine year sentence, John Ross Eddy never looked at his victims. He just shuffled off to a holding cell to start his nine years in prison.
The victims walked out of that courtroom. Many held hands and arms of husbands. They walked out of the building toward the parking lot.
One of the victims said as she walked: “He deserved what he got for what he did to us - and he deserved more.”
Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * firstname.lastname@example.org