JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press GREGORY KATZ, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With his British accent and precise diction, Scott Rogers might’ve seemed out of place in Baton Rouge, but the Mississippi River city embraced the local TV host and beloved civic booster.
He served as judge for the jambalaya cook-off, raised thousands for at-risk kids and opened his own church. He co-hosted the Baton Rouge Christmas parade and even moderated a 2010 lieutenant governor debate. A 2011 Louisiana Senate resolution took three pages to list his good deeds.
So when Rogers, 52, was shot to death in August by his son-in-law, who authorities say then took his own life, their adopted hometown was stunned.
Then the revelations began.
Rogers’ son-in-law, Matthew Hodgkinson, was also his long-time lover, whose marriage to Rogers’ daughter was an immigration sham, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said. Hodgkinson, one of two young Englishmen who accompanied Rogers and his daughter to Baton Rouge 15 years earlier, lived with Rogers, while his daughter lived separately. Rogers and his daughter both had U.S. citizenship.
More shocking still was the reason authorities gave for what they called a murder-suicide pact: Rogers was under federal investigation, and a dark secret he thought he had left behind years earlier in England was likely to resurface.
“It was coming full circle again,” Stassi said. “He was held in high esteem in Baton Rouge, and that was all coming to a crashing end.”
In late August, Hodgkinson left a voicemail message at the TV station that broadcast “Around Town,” the early morning weekend show featuring local people and events. Hodgkinson and Rogers’ daughter worked on the show. “Scott is facing a family catastrophe. We don’t know what’s going on or why at this point but I have made the decision to cancel future shows. I hope you can keep us in your prayers as we move forward,” he said.
The following day a woman from Rogers’ church who was staying at his home “because he had a lot of pressure on him” called the sheriff’s office, saying she had heard gunshots, Stassi said.
Rogers was dead when sheriff’s deputies arrived. Hodgkinson died after eight days in a hospital. Each had been shot once in the head.
The sheriff said he believes Rogers persuaded Hodgkinson to kill him and then commit suicide: Only Rogers’ and Hodgkinson’s fingerprints were on the gun, and Hodgkinson left a note reading, “They broke our happy, loving home. They do not get to take Scott, too.”
What few people knew was that Rogers was under investigation by a federal grand jury, and his daughter and the second Englishman who had moved with him to Baton Rouge were scheduled to testify the day he was killed, Stassi said.
Kim Scott-Rogers, Rogers’ daughter, does not have a listed home phone number and did not return calls to 1stCo Productions Inc., a video production company that lists her as president. That number has since been disconnected.
Authorities had also taken away Rogers’ adopted 10-year-old son and 2-year-old foster son, whom he also was trying to adopt, attorney Seth Dornier told The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge. Dornier, whom Rogers retained two days before his death to handle the custody case, did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
U.S. Attorney J. Walter Green confirmed federal investigators had been looking into Rogers, but would not say why. “The federal investigation closed after that day,” he said.
Stassi said the investigation began with a tip that Rogers may have lied in his adoption papers and on federal documents, such as immigration papers.
Authorities quickly found that behind the shiny image Rogers polished in Baton Rouge lay a scandal in an English town.
There, he was known as Richard Scott Rogers or Richard Scott-Rogers, and ran a dance and theater school that trained about 500 students, sending some on to careers in TV and theater.
Hodgkinson had been a student at the Academy of Dancing and Performing Arts.
But the school in the small cathedral city of Bury St. Edmunds about 80 miles northeast of London came under a cloud. In the early 1990s, Rogers was charged with molesting a boy. In 1993, a jury found him innocent of one charge and the judge dismissed two more when the jury could not reach a verdict. Then he faced a civil case. Under British law, details of that case cannot be reported.
In November 1995, the Suffolk County Council issued a starkly worded statement warning parents of serious problems at the academy. The council raised concerns about its “unhealthy” atmosphere, with school leaders pressuring pupils to switch their allegiance from their parents to Rogers.
Asserting the school operated like a cult, the council said it could not recommend students attend it.
The next week, the Bury Free Press published an investigation, quoting parents who said their children were subjected to psychological abuse and describing how Rogers had sleepovers with favored pupils.
That put an end to Rogers’ academy.
The scandal had infuriated some students who were loyal to Rogers, even though they had seen his dark side, said Camille Berriman, 36, who studied at the academy for nine years as a child.
“At the time, I didn’t believe what they said about Scott, so when the council spoke out, I was really hurt, really angry,” she said. “I cared for him, and I loved him. I hated that the council had done that. Loads of people took their children away (from the academy) and Scott had financial problems and then Scott disappeared. It was a really sad time for us.”
She said Rogers was “very charismatic” and could charm students into doing anything he wanted.
Though she attended sleepovers at his house, she said she witnessed nothing untoward.
But over the past two decades, she has re-evaluated her memories of her former teacher.
“He never sexually abused me,” she said. “But there was psychological abuse. One year when I was 15 or 16 he tied me up in front of everyone and made them all stand around and laugh at me as I struggled to get out of what he tied me up with. It was literally wrists to feet. He used to get people to bully me. It was cruel.”
Rogers disappeared from England with his daughter, Hodgkinson and a second male student. They apparently lived in Texas from about 1997 until 1999 or 2000, when they moved to Louisiana, public records show.
He quickly ingratiated himself in Baton Rouge’s civic life, befriending the late U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola and other local luminaries.
Rogers became a minister and opened his own church at a shopping mall. He won the state’s Department of Children and Family Services 2012 Media Advocate Award.
“He did a lot of work for the community,” said B.J. Militello, a local Chamber of Commerce board member who said she was close to Rogers. “That’s really all I’m going to say. He did a lot of charity work for many, many, many charitable organizations.”
Rogers seemed to have put the scandal behind him until authorities received the tip.
Rogers talked about group suicide with Hodgkinson and the second man who emigrated with them, but that former student, who was under federal protection and not publicly identified, balked, Stassi said.
“One of them decided that wasn’t the way he was going out. He went over with the feds … He was going to be a star witness,” Stassi said.
The deaths and the details of Rogers’ past stunned Baton Rouge.
Kellee Hennessy Dickerson, Rogers’ “Around Town” co-host, said she was “in shock and disbelief.”
“My husband and I were around him and his daughter for many, many years, and the other gentlemen that he raised as sons,” she said. “I just never knew or never suspected.”
Rogers’ death also reopened the wounds of Bury St. Edmunds.
Berriman and a male former student called former classmates to tell them.
The results were dramatic: Some of the men told Berriman about repeated sexual abuse. Suffolk police say three men have since come forward to say Rogers abused them.
“Within 12 hours, we had discovered that everything they were saying about Scott was true. He had been a pedophile,” Berriman said. “Deep down, I think I must have known.”
McConnaughey reported from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Katz from Bury St. Edmunds, England.