Secret tapes: ‘Moment I confronted my sexual predator’
WHEN Philip Wright reached out to shake the hand of Werner Otto Schwarz, his heart was racing, his mouth was dry and he felt like throwing up. He was scared and nervous. But mostly, he was repulsed.
He hadn't been this physically close to the former Armidale dentist since he was a boy. Three decades had passed, but the trauma Philip suffered from fortnightly sexual abuse at the hands of this highly regarded man in this picturesque town in country New South Wales was still fresh.
"It was the coldest, most revolting moment," Philip, 51, told news.com.au in an exclusive interview. "It was a moment of pure repulsion. It was a moment of having to muster everything within my being to not do anything untoward to him."
What Schwarz didn't know was that Philip was wearing a police wire. After decades of living with the damage inside his mind, Philip had come back to ask one question: Why him.
Philip was now a fully grown man. But he says he could tell Schwarz, 82, recognised him instantly.
The old man had a smile in his eyes. Seconds later, a sad, troubled look washed over his entire face when he realised how he knew the man standing in front of him.
While Schwarz's voice wavered in confidence, it was familiar. It was the voice that told Philip as a teenager to take off his shoes and socks and unbutton his pants. To lie down on the examination table and close his eyes. The voice that told Philip to relax and insisted he was safe. The voice that counted down from 10 to lull him into a state of hypnosis. And it was the same voice that threatened him when, after more than three years of organised sessions of sexual abuse, Philip put an end to the torture.
"I was wondering if maybe we could have a chat?" Philip asked the elderly man.
In the lush, historic town, Schwarz was celebrated as an upstanding member of the community. As well as his dental practice, he refereed junior soccer matches and participated in local events. His wife Helen Schwarz taught at O'Connor Catholic High School - where Philip was a student - and the couple were parents to four children. Mrs Schwarz and her children are not accused of any wrongdoing.
He was awarded a citizenship citation in 2010 for his community contributions and drove the heritage bus around the city in his old age.
But Schwarz had a dark, twisted secret. He used his position to facilitate his sickening fantasies. A skilled hypnotist, Schwarz placed his young victims in a trance and made them his puppets.
Last week the former doctor was sentenced to a maximum of 16 years in prison with a non-parole period of eight years for hypnotising and sexually assaulting young patients at his dental practice in the 1980s. He was found guilty of 17 sex offences against four boys aged under 16. The youngest victim was nine.
In the Sydney District Court, Judge Helen Syme described the abuse as "horrific and systemic".
The trial sent shockwaves through the town and has divided the small community.
Philip says his 81-year-old mother, who still lives in Armidale, has been unfairly and cruelly told she's a bad parent and has been shunned.
Widowed, her husband died seven years ago of a broken heart. He aged "almost instantly overnight" when Philip finally revealed to them what had happened to him.
"In my family we call it Harm-idale," he said.
Schwarz was celebrated in the region for using hypnosis techniques as a substitute for needles and anaesthetic to manage pain in dental procedures.
Neil Smith, a dentist once employed by Schwarz at his surgery, told the court of Schwarz's skills in hypnotism. He recalls watching on sometimes as his boss placed a subject in a hypnotic state in just a matter of minutes.
Parents were also told Schwarz's hypnosis skills could help fix their children's fear of the dentist. Some believed the doctor's skills in hypnosis could improve behaviour, concentration and school marks.
Philip was told hypnosis could help him relax and alleviate a stubborn habit of bed-wetting. But it created problems far worse.
'HE LINGERED. AND THEN HE TOUCHED'
"He had revolting breath," Philip recalls of Schwarz.
"It was like the smell of stale cloves. To this day I can't stand the smell of cloves. It was a strong putrid smell. Even his hands stunk."
When Philip was referred to Schwarz for a dental examination in late 1980, he was just shy of 15 and had already been undergoing routine sexual abuse at the hands of another man in the community - who cannot be named - who also practised hypnotherapy.
Schwarz was suggested because of Philip's fear of needles. For this first introductory appointment, Philip's mum chaperoned him.
"He seemed to be a weedy kind of a character. I didn't have any particular outstanding impression of him at the time," Philip recalled of this first meeting with Schwarz, who was in his early 40s.
"Did he seem trustworthy? I don't know. I've wrestled with that question. I don't know what he seemed like. He wasn't an over the top personality that was worthy of note. Just another adult who was trusted by my parents."
He attended the second visit alone and Schwarz used hypnosis for pain management purposes during a routine dental procedure. Follow-up appointments were suggested to deal with Philip's struggles with bed wetting. Schwarz encouraged further "relaxation therapy".
The next session was just days later. It was after-hours, when other staff at the surgery had gone home. That's when things changed.
After checking the boy's fillings in the dental chair, Schwarz led the boy into a back room. He remembers it smelt like disinfectant and even now the smell gives Philip chills.
The dentist told the boy to take off his shoes and socks and undo his belt before directing him to lay down on the examination bed. Philip closed his eyes and the hypnosis began.
Relax, imagine the beach, the boy was told. Schwarz instructed him to think about palm trees and the sound of the ocean. He began to count down from 10, telling the boy he was feeling deeper, relaxed and more sleepy at each number.
Schwarz began to touch the boy's feet before moving his hands further up.
"He would basically linger and then he would start touching and fondling," Philip told news.com.au.
"[Under hypnosis] You're aware of what's happening but you don't have the feeling of any control and whatever is suggested is what follows. So you don't have any power. If there's a suggestion to you, you don't question it - you just do it.
"For me ... it was a feeling of being present but it was a feeling of a similar state to when you first wake up. You're not one hundred per cent in control ... Your body's not as responsive."
As Philip woke out of the trance and his mind came back into the room, the feeling of a black cloud formed above his head.
Now, Schwarz was cold, clinical. He sent the boy home.
THE OTHER MAN IN THE ROOM
Philip recalled feeling physically sick each evening he rode his bike home from these visits. One night he stopped under the Stephen's Bridge in Mush Street where he threw up for 15 minutes until he was dry retching.
"From the moment you're out of the hypnosis you're questioning yourself, you're questioning is it real or not real," he said. [You're wondering] Am I to blame? Did I put myself in this situation?
"[There are] Feelings of guilt, anguish, hatred. Feelings of just being distraught with what had happened to you and that you didn't stop it and you couldn't stop it and you felt like you wanted to stop it and you tried to stop it but nothing stopped it."
For more than three years, Philip would ride to the Barney Street surgery, park his bike at the back of the building as instructed and chain it to a downpipe.
The abuse in each session continued in the familiar, repetitive pattern. Counting, palm trees, oceans. Hovering, touching. Sometimes it progressed further. And on some occasions, he says there was another man in the room.
Under hypnosis, Philip sometimes sensed Schwarz walk to the door and let another person in the room. He never saw a face. The person stood in the periphery.
He could hear the voice of a man instructing the dentist. The voices of the men changed. But sometimes, Philip recognised the voice of a particular man. It was the voice of a man who had abused him before.
'YOU WON'T REMEMBER ANYTHING'
"Have you told anyone?" Schwarz would ask Philip about his sessions and the bed wetting.
"Well good. Because this would not be good for you if it got out."
Philip's attitude began to change - a shift he attributes to both the hypnosis and the abuse.
He was demolished.
"My attention for life just faded and disappeared. The life had been sucked out of me," he said.
It drove a wedge between him and his parents and at 16 he moved out of home and was living at De La Salle Brothers.
In his final years at high school, Philip realised he wasn't alone.
"Just like a junkie knows a junkie and an alcoholic knows an alcoholic, a victim can always recognise a victim," he said.
Other boys at school or around town would look at each other. And they would know.
The court heard from three other victims who detailed the abuse they suffered at the hands of Schwarz.
The youngest was nine when he first saw the dentist and endured fortnightly visits for two years. Schwarz told the boy he wouldn't remember anything. The dentist would place his hands on the boy's forehead and chest before pulling down the child's pants and underwear, the court heard.
The abuse escalated, with the victim recalling how he felt scared, paralysed and robotic in those terrifying moments.
Since then, he has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and suffers psychosis, according to court documents. He's scared of blowflies and mosquitoes because he thinks they have cameras in them. He obsessively picks his skin and thinks people are following him.
'YOU DON'T GET IT. I'M NOT COMING BACK'
It was because of a former classmate that Philip finally broke the cycle of terror in early 1984 aged 17. The boys weren't friends. They barely knew each other. But their shared suffering brought them together.
"I took steps that [he] told me had worked for [him] and I just did the same thing," Philip said. The details of those steps to end the abuse are too hard for Philip to talk about.
That other boy is now dead - one of seven students who attended O'Connor Catholic High School during that period who Philip says committed suicide.
Philip remembers the afternoon he put an end to it.
"It was at the beginning of the appointment and I broke the cycle there and then and told him I wasn't coming back," he said.
"He [Schwarz] said, 'Oh, that's OK, you can come back next week [at the] same time. It's OK, we can have this week off'.
"And I said, 'You don't get it. I'm not coming back. Ever'."
Schwarz became threatening, telling the boy that without the sessions his bed wetting would come back, his focus on school would drop and all the work they had done for years would be wasted and reversed.
Just after 5 o'clock, Philip walked out the back door of the surgery, grabbed his bike and left. He remembers peddling aimlessly around the streets of the small town. He should have felt free but he didn't.
"I was unsure of what was going to happen next," he said. "I was unsure of what threats would be carried out and what wouldn't. I was very nervous about what would happen next."
One of the threats - that no one would believe him - came true.
Philip says he told a priest in the Catholic Church and the Armidale police in the late 1980s but nothing happened.
'WHY DID YOU PICK ME?'
For 30 years Philip fought to repair the damage. Family and friendships have been destroyed. In 1993 he told his parents in limited detail about the abuse and it left them shattered. He's
struggled with relationships and intimacy. His professional life has suffered. Traumatised, he has only been to the dentist five times since Schwarz and had a tooth collapse with a nerve exposed. On his darkest days, Philip has been suicidal.
Prompted by the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse he decided to go back to the police one final time in 2013.
"It was now or never. There would never be another chance to come forward safely ever again," he told news.com.au.
Detectives from the Sex Crimes Squad formed Strike Force Holbeach and Philip was asked by investigators to approach his abuser in 2014 and secretly record the confrontation. He hadn't been face-to-face with Schwarz in a confined space since that final appointment when he broke free in 1984.
Now, he was shaking the man's hand.
"His demeanour changed. His language changed. His posture changed. His facial expressions changed. His pupils dilated. That's how close I was. My heart was racing," Philip said.
Philip looked him in the eye.
"Seeing you again reminded me of the stuff that happened up in Barney Street in the back rooms and I sort of got a whole bunch of questions that come to mind," Philip told him.
Standing outside the information centre, Schwarz led Philip inside the heritage tour bus that he drove on tours around the town and said he didn't remember him at all. Inside, Philip asked his abuser one simple question: "Why did you pick me?"
In the recorded conversation, obtained by news.com.au, Philip can be heard reminding his former dentist how their sessions somehow became centred around the topic of bed-wetting and the benefits of hypnosis.
"And then ... Um ... And then you abused me. Many times," Philip said.
Schwarz played dumb.
"Did I? Like, meaning what?" he asked.
Philip didn't back down.
"You sexually abused me," he said.
Schwarz stumbled as he acted puzzled by the accusations.
"Well that doesn't fit into my … Oh God, I don't know. I'm not aware of that …"
For an hour, Schwarz stood at the front of the bus with Philip sat three rows back from him.
As the former dentist continued to insist he had no recollections of the events, Philip reminded his abuser in exact detail how those afternoons in the back room played out over three years.
Schwarz wasn't shocked or aggressive. He simply claimed Philip's memories didn't "ring any bells".
"I just don't see how I can help you because it just doesn't ring any bells for me and it just seems so out of everything to me ... And if you reckon it happened, for God's sake, I hope you get closure somehow or other."
On Friday January 12, 2017, four of the men who suffered the cruel torture at the hands of Werner Otto Schwarz watched as the old man's face drop when his sentence was read out. A maximum of 16 years in prison with a non-parole period of eight years. He will be 90 when he's eligible for parole in 2026.
In an instant, the doctor's confidence fell away. The privileged life that protected him for decades was in tatters. Once seen as a hardworking, trusted resident in the small country town, the skilfully constructed act was no longer fooling everyone.
With Schwarz appearing on video link and dressed in prison greens, the four boys looked at the monster that abused them. And for the first time, they were in control.
Know more? email@example.com | @hellojamesweir
If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support right now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.