The founder of a former Bury St Edmunds performing arts school likened to a ‘religious cult’ who was accused in court of sexually abusing one of his pupils was shot dead at his US home as secrets from his murky past began to catch up with him.
Scott Rogers, formerly known as Richard Scott-Rogers when he presided over the Academy of Dancing and Performing Arts, in Fornham Road, is thought to have been killed by his son-in-law and Mathew Hodgkinson at his home, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as he faced mounting legal and personal troubles.
Mr Hodgkinson, who was a student at the academy and lived with Rogers in the US, is then said by police to have turned the gun on himself – but survived and was taken to hospital. He died on Friday afternoon, according to US reports. Authorities in the US have confirmed Mr Hodgkinson had been in a sexual relationship with Rogers.
Brett Stassi, Sheriff of Iberville Parish, said the crime looked like a murder and failed suicide attempt with Rogers shot in his bed, under the covers and tucked in neatly.
The sheriff released details to the Bury Free Press of a suicide note which he believes Mr Hodgkinson wrote before shooting himself.
It reads: “They broke our happy loving home. They do not get to take Scott too.”
A case against Rogers over allegations of fraud was being heard by a grand jury on the day he was shot over allegations of fraud.
An adopted child and a foster child had also recently been taken away from him by authorities.
Mr Stassi said the grand jury case was ‘in reference to adoption and foster parenting paperwork’ over claims he had not used his real name or disclosed information about his past.
He believes Rogers, who found fame as a TV star in Baton Rouge, decided ‘there was no coming out of this and the cards were on the table’.
The case has sent shockwaves across England and the US with sources coming forward revealing how Rogers tried and sometimes succeeded in taking pupils at the Bury academy away from their families through a catalogue of emotional manipulation and control.
Meanwhile, residents in Baton Rouge say they are ‘accepting that a demon existed undetected in our midst for many years’.
While Rogers was known to the Bury Free Press for his role at the academy, it was only in June 1993 that issues about his conduct came to light when he stood trial at the Inner London Crown Court accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old pupil.
He allegedly molested the boy on three separate nights when he stayed overnight at Rogers’ home, in Fornham Road, in June and July 1991, and in early October 1991.
The court was told of ‘unorthodox’ behaviour at the academy, which was based in former British Rail buildings, in Fornham Road, with all students bowing to Rogers every time he entered or left the room. He gave ‘Russian wedding rings’ to special pupils saying they were married to the academy.
The boy said: “He makes all his pupils look to him as a father figure. His way of thinking is to pull you out of your family.”
After deliberating for seven hours, the jury acquitted Rogers of committing an unnatural act with the pupil. The jury failed to reach verdicts on three further charges of indecent assault and two of indecency. The judge then entered verdicts of not guilty on these charges after the prosecution offered no evidence.
Two years later in November 1995, Suffolk County Council took the unusual move of warning parents of the ‘perceived risk’ of sending children to the academy, which at the time was one of the biggest dance schools in East Anglia with about 500 pupils. The school was founded in 1983 and opened its studio, in Fornham Road, in 1988.
Following the conclusion of a case heard in the High Court in 1993, a ‘number of findings and observations were made regarding the academy and the conduct of a senior member’ - later identified by the Bury Free Press as Rogers.
In its statement, the council voiced ‘concerns about the unhealthy atmosphere at the academy and an environment in which some pupils moved their allegiance from their parents to that senior member and the academy’.
The authority ‘felt the situation was reminiscent of those cases in which parents sought to extricate a child from the influence of a religious or supposedly religious cult’.
There was also ‘considerable anxiety felt as to levels of intimacy that existed between the senior member and pupils’.
The following week the Bury Free Press published the results of its own two-year investigation into the academy’s affairs.
It told how Rogers took one boy – later revealed as Mathew Hodgkinson – away from his parents by constant pressure.
Other parents took their children away when they felt the academy was taking over their lives and said Rogers wanted to ‘control’ his pupils.
Former students recalled ‘sleep-overs’ by young children at his house when Rogers cuddled them in their sleeping bags.
They said he also got them to stroke his hair and massage his back and told them the academy was its own religion.
One former student accused Rogers of ‘brainwashing’ them and another told how they were coached to cry to persuade their parents to let them stay overnight at the academy.
Claims of pupils being given Russian wedding rings to show pupils they were ‘married’ to the academy were again repeated.
Parents said they were discouraged from forming friendships and if they were seen talking together Rogers would send a student to ask one of them to come to the office to break up the conversation. When their children left the academy, parents started getting together to compare notes and a family support group was set up in 1993 to help those whose children attended the academy against their parents’ wishes.
At the time the academy denied the allegations in the council statement with then principal Rachel Richards saying: “I don’t think there is any substance in the statement because it was not written by people who have ever been to the academy”.
Following the revelations, Thurston Upper, Mildenhall Upper, Stanton Primary and Great Cornard Middle Schools banned the academy from using their facilities.
The academy was later split into two separate schools.