Former student alleges elite school failed to keep students from being abused.
New York’s Saint David’s School in Manhattan is a prestigious all-boys private school which rakes in roughly $50,000 per year in tuition. And, yet, inside there were long-kept secrets that are less than admirable – namely, students being abused by teachers. It’s something Peter Defeo III, now 59, will never forget.
Five decades ago, Defeo was abused repeatedly by teacher Robert Ludlow, now deceased. He remembered being 8 years old and being molested when a female administrator walked into the hallway. He thought she would witness the crime and turn Ludlow in, but instead, she looked the other way. The molestation continued for another two years.
The victim submitted a $20 million Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit in late May against the prestigious school alleging “administrators knew of pedophiles like Ludlow in their midst and failed to act.” In the suit, Defeo recounts the very first time Ludlow preyed on him. He was left unsupervised in a classroom and the fourth-grade teacher walked up to him, “rattled off addresses for the third-grader’s home and his father’s office, threatening to kill the boy’s family – then groped him.”
“He scared the sh-t out of me from the git go,” said DeFeo, who filed the claim under New York’s Child Victims Act. He added, “I knew everything that was going on was wrong, but I didn’t have anybody I trusted that I could turn to. I thought I was the only one. I can’t stress enough how this incident really shaped my entire life.”
In 1971, Ludlow suddenly disappeared from school in 1971 after another victim’s parents reported abuse. And, DeFeo left Saint David’s for a boarding school where he said he started “drinking alcohol at age 12, abused drugs, has been hospitalized for depression, and has been unable to keep a job or relationship” since because of what occurred in his childhood. It left a residual impact that DeFeo has been unable to shake.
“Saint David’s didn’t tell police, or anyone else, about the abuse allegations, and instead deliberately unleashed an active pedophile on the public – then, incredibly, replaced Ludlow with another pedophile teacher,” the suit reads.
Teacher Reynold Buono worked at Saint David’s from 1967 to 1975. His father, Frank Buono, was warden of the now-shuttered Rikers Island, a complex known for violence and neglect. Buono, 74, eventually left Saint David’s to work at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, where in the 1980s he allegedly sexually assaulted more than twelve students. He was extradited from Thailand in 2018, returned to the U.S. to face child rape charges.
“He was a monster,” said attorney Eric MacLeish, who represents Buono’s victims from Milton Academy. DeFeo was in Buono’s classroom at Saint David’s before his transfer, where the teacher once invited him on a cycling trip but later rescinded the offer. Eventually, it would be made public that these trips were used by the teacher to engage in sexual acts with students.
“I’m just lucky Buono didn’t start off where Ludlow left off,” DeFeo said.
In December Saint David’s sent a letter to alumni of the prestigious institution, which stated it “encouraged any individual who had experienced or was aware of inappropriate conduct by anyone while at the school to contact us. We are committed to investigating allegations and we recognize that as a school community we have a responsibility to make sure victims of sexual abuse are heard.”