Located on a sprawling 40-acre tract of land in Mendham Township, Chartwell Manor School was dubbed a place of "reform and healing" for children whose lives at home had become unmanageable.
The boarding and day school's academic and extracurricular studies were designed to transition struggling students into "happy and enthusiastic" individuals, and later, "self-reliant" adults, Terence Lynch, the British owner and headmaster, told The Courier-News in a 1971 interview.
But Lynch was more than just a strict headmaster who chalked up his credo to his time growing up in England. Former students say behind closed doors, Lynch subjected them to years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
In 1986, two years after the school abruptly closed, Lynch was charged in a 103-count criminal indictment and served seven years of a 14-year sentence behind bars after admitting he abused 14 Chartwell boarding students between 1981 and 1984.
It took years for students to come forward to testify — prosecutors said at the time there was a tacit agreement among pupils to keep quiet — and now, four decades after the prep school shuttered, 54 former students have come forward detailing the pattern of abuse allegedly at the hands of Lynch.
And the number of students may continue to rise as Nov. 30 draws near, the final day of a two-year extension that allows such lawsuits to be filed in New Jersey on decades-old allegations. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law in 2019 that waived the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims for two years.
In two lawsuits filed in Morris County Superior Court, one last month and another on Nov. 17, the former students, who attended at varying times during the school's opening between 1970 and 1984, claim Chartwell employees failed when they did not protect them from Lynch.
Lynch, they said, preyed upon their vulnerabilities as youth and the school staff, including Lynch's wife, who helped run the day-to-day operations, teachers and directors "became aware or should have become aware of (Lynch's) propensity to commit sexual abuse and risk the (students') safety."
Some of the students are named in the suit while others preferred anonymity. The Daily Record has withheld their names due to the sensitive allegations. Two former students say they were 5 years old at the time, while others were 16 years old.
The students are seeking unspecified damages for negligence on the school's part, specifically for failing to protect the students from a known danger, failing to have sufficient policies and procedures and further implement them to prevent child sex abuse and failing to investigate risks of child sex abuse.
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As a result, the former students, who are now in their 50s and early 60s, say they have suffered and will continue to suffer physical, emotional and psychological injuries, the suit states.
Following his release from prison in 1997, Lynch volunteered for Beginnings, a now-defunct Morristown-funded drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Lynch was convicted again after he admitted to assaulting three men between 2004 and 2005 where he posed as a volunteer doctor doing hernia checks, genital exams and spankings. He served one year in the Morris County jail and the men received $780,000 from a settlement agreement.
Lynch died in 2011, about a year after his wife died, according to their obituaries. As of Wednesday, an attorney was not listed on behalf of Chartwell Manor.
Glenn Head, a veteran cartoonist formerly of Madison, is named among the defendants in the lawsuit and has spoken publicly about the assault he said he endured at the hands of Lynch between 1971 and 1973, when he was between the ages of 13 and 15.
Head describes a "gothic, haunting, atmospheric" at Chartwell Manor, named after Winston Churchill's country home, in a graphic novel released in May 2021 that details the years of sexual and emotional abuse he said he suffered. An official trailer for the book's release highlights the multiple newspaper articles from the Daily Record that date back to 1986.
In a statement, Head said he felt the school, which he dubbed the "castle in woods," was "begging for the comic book treatment." Lynch was clownish, exuberant, florid in his speech patterns and grandiose, almost a parody of a boarding school headmaster, he said.
"He was also a pathological liar and a serial abuser of children," Head said. "Too criminal for words, he needed to be drawn!”
Head in an interview with the Daily Record in 2006 said while at the school, he was frequently paddled, slapped and thrown down for throwing a dessert at another student and endured physical exams by Lynch post-showers. Lynch would tell students he "loved them" and often cuddled them when they cried, Head said.
In addition to the two-year window of time that ends this month, adults who claim they were sexually abused as children have until the age of 55 or seven years from the time that they became aware of their trauma to bring a civil case, according to the extended statute of limitations.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Over 50 students claim sex abuse at Morris County NJ school