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The pretender

For 50 years, he had counted on silence--and fear, and the distance that separated people who possessed pieces of the truth.

The Rev. Harvey Wesley Cutting had built his life around deceptions. But he was adept at pretending, and put on the constructs of his imagination like a cowl.

To fellow teenagers in his youth group at a fundamentalist church in Milwaukee many years ago, he was the aspiring man of God--the "most likely to succeed" among Bible-thumping youngsters who vied with each other for greater demonstrations of Christian zeal and disdain for worldly things.

To his parishioners in a succession of evangelical churches, including the Dallas area's Mayflower Congregational Church, he was a charming, strikingly handsome man and a mesmerizing preacher--a skillful orator who wielded the scriptures persuasively.

But at home, he dropped his righteous garb. His first wife--whose existence he hid for many years--remembers him as a tyrant, a physically and verbally abusive man who controlled every aspect of his young bride's life.

Today, her memories of the man are mercifully few, and those she has are recalled with tears a half-century after the fact.

The reverend's secret life away from the pulpit may have hit bottom with his second family, however. His daughter, Linda Katherine Cutting of Boston, has published a book in which she details her memories of repeated molestations by her father from the age of 2 1/2 to adolescence. She also describes the suicides of both of her brothers, and her own attempts to take her life.

Memory Slips, released in January by HarperCollins, has brought with it national attention--as well as controversy, since Linda Cutting's recollections are "recovered" memories, some of which intruded into her consciousness as she played piano for The Boston Pops Orchestra.

Cutting, now 41, tells of hearing footsteps approaching the piano just a few measures into her opening of Beethoven's Sonata in E. On stage, she experiences a terrifying "memory slip": Losing her place in the music, she connects the footsteps with the sound of her father approaching her bedroom as a child.

"It took about 17 seconds to recover the music I forgot in the Beethoven," she writes. "It has taken 10 years to recover the life I forgot I had lived. The life that began before music or words."

Linda Cutting's story has been told on NBC's Today Show and in several major newspapers and magazines. Reporters have tracked down the 75-year-old Rev. Cutting in Sun City, Arizona, where he still serves as a minister in a Methodist church.

To suddenly be the subject of such scrutiny must be overwhelming for the Rev. Cutting, an obscure, small-town preacher and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. His charm, his threats, and his posture as a man of God no longer seem to yield the same results.

So late in life, the Rev. Cutting appears to have lost his control over the truth.

I have been in pursuit of the man behind the pretender for several weeks now.

That's because the Rev. Harvey Cutting is my grandfather: my grandmother's first husband and my mother's father. Not my real grandfather, mind you--by real, I mean the Milwaukee man who cared for me, took me fishing for the first time, and taught me to play chess. It just so happens he isn't related to me by blood, something I only found out as an adult.

But I can't get this shadow grandfather out of my mind--even though I've never met the Rev. Cutting and only recently saw his photograph for the first time. (He is handsome--or was. My only photo dates from the 1940s.)

A few months ago, Linda Cutting, whom I've also never met in person, called and asked me to corroborate something she'd heard about her father's first marriage: that my grandmother left him because he was abusive toward her.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother would confirm this publicly at the time, and reporters from all over the country wanted something to hang their stories on besides Linda's recollections, which are vulnerable to attack because of questions concerning the validity of recovered memories.

The theory behind recovered memories holds that recollections of traumatic experiences can be repressed, even to the point where the victim manifests another personality to keep the memories hidden from outsiders. Therapy can involve recalling incidents of childhood sexual abuse that supposedly took place decades earlier.

Critics are suspicious of the therapist's role in retrieving those memories. They say there's no way to determine whether recovered memories spring from real or imagined events without corroborating evidence.

In Linda Cutting's case, that evidence appears to be lacking. Both of her brothers are dead, and her younger sister apparently will not comment on the allegations in Memory Slips. (Skip Simpson, Harvey Cutting's Dallas attorney, says the sister recalls no abuse--physical or sexual--in their family.)

 

What's immediately obvious, though, is that Linda Cutting's memories--whatever their origins--are terrifyingly real to her. Her appearance on The Today Show in late January was a stunner. She fixed her gaze and spoke somberly about her father's "darker side."

"It was the other side of him that, for some reason, couldn't keep hands off of his children and beat my brothers and beat me, came into my room late at night and did unspeakable things," she said.

Skip Simpson suggested many possible motives for Linda's allegations in a written statement to the Dallas Observer--such as "an explanation for why her life has not gone well," and "attention, acceptance, financial rewards, the most recent public martyr in the sexual abuse category." What Harvey Cutting knows for certain, Simpson says, "is that he never did sexually abuse her."

Linda is outraged by these speculations about motives. "Rather than false memories, what we've been given were false narratives for real memories," she says. "False narratives to cover up, to lie, to pretend things didn't happen, and to paint a picture of a happy family where everything was fine."

One such "false narrative" was that her younger brother had died in a car accident. Linda claims her mother and father instructed her to lie about the suicide; she refused. Today, Skip Simpson says the Rev. Cutting never misled anyone about David Cutting's death. But my mother, Joanne Cutting-Gray, says Cutting lied to her about her half-brother's death when she re-established contact with her father in the 1980s.

When Memory Slips was released, I knew that my family held what might be the missing connection in lending credence to Linda Cutting's memories of abuse. It made me want to know just who this man is--what he might have done to my grandmother and what role he might have played in the tragedies of Linda Cutting's family. That family yielded two suicides; Linda's numerous attempted suicides; and her claim that her father French-kissed her as an adult and sent her sexy lingerie as a gift. These are not recovered memories. These are things that would make anyone ask questions.

I set out looking for answers, and searched many places: in Harvey Cutting's first marriage, at his seminary, at the church he founded in Flower Mound. I didn't find anything that directly corroborated Linda Cutting's harrowing claims, and I didn't really expect to.

But just about everywhere I did look, I found evidence of deceptions.
It is sad that at this time when the Rev. Cutting wants so badly to discredit his daughter's claims--and has retained a lawyer to mount a nationwide defense--one merely scratches the surface of his life, and finds lies.

I suspect no one will ever be able to prove with absolute certainty the veracity of Linda Cutting's allegations. But in my attempts to get at the truth, I had one, brief, illuminating

conversation with the reverend several weeks ago. Unaware that he was speaking to his own granddaughter--I identified myself as a journalist--he incriminated himself on matters far more mundane.

I gave him a chance to come clean. Instead, he flat-out lied.

I had to muster some courage to ask my grandmother about Harvey Cutting. She'd refused to give any interviews to the national press. A devout Christian, she told me she'd forgiven Cutting and didn't want to resurrect any memories of their disastrous six-year marriage.

But that was before she and Linda Cutting compared notes, all through me. Linda said her father had told her how he'd waged some colossal, Kramer vs. Kramer-type custody battle to hang on to his oldest daughter--my mother, who was the only child born to his first marriage.

That was a bit more than my grandmother could bear. "That's a total lie," she shot back, launching into a story about how her ex-husband showed little interest in raising his daughter. Then for an hour, she told me the true story, cutting it off abruptly when the weight of those memories began to overwhelm her.

Afterward, I wondered. What is it about this man that my grandmother didn't once speak about him to me until now, other than merely to acknowledge his existence? (And even that wasn't divulged until I was in my twenties.)

To find the answer to that, you have to go back to the dark ages of Christian fundamentalism--the 1940s, when Emily and Harvey Cutting married and divorced. They met in Milwaukee, the factory town where I was born. Specifically, the working-class South Side, terminus for various migrations of German, Polish, and Italian immigrants.

 

Emily, my grandmother, grew up there in a second-generation German immigrant family. Her home life was not pleasant. So when a handsome, intelligent, Bible-talking man named Harvey Cutting entered her life, it didn't take much pushing to get her out of her parents' shabby house.

"I had no decent job, I'd graduated from high school, and it wasn't nice at home with my father drinking and fighting all the time," she says. "He was what they called a drunk. He always worked and put bread on the table, but he was an embarrassment, because the girls would tease me that he'd be drunk carrying coal.

"Many a night, he'd be lying in back of the coal truck, and the horses would bring him home. They knew how to come home, and my mother would unbuckle them and feed them and drag my father into the house."

At the age of 16, Emily had gotten "saved" during a gospel revival at a neighborhood church. She began attending that church, joining its youth group. It was here she met Cutting.

Knowing she came from a defiantly heathen clan of immigrants, the church ladies steered Emily toward Harvey. They figured a relationship with the strait-laced Bible boy would keep her head screwed on tight.

"They looked down on my family because they were drinkers," Emily says. "They put it in my head that I should get out of that atmosphere. I thought it was God's will to do that--that I shouldn't live where there was drinking."

And dancing. Emily was a natural dancer, and her mother clung to dreams of stardom for her. She took her around to neighborhood taverns and put her on the stage to tap dance. All of that ended when she married Harvey. "I loved to dance, but I gave it up," she says. In fundamentalist circles, "you couldn't move at all to music, or you'd be hoochie-coochie-ing."

Even their wedding was austere: no drinking, no dancing, "no nothing," Emily recalls. They simply exchanged vows in their pastor's house; she was 18.

What had seemed attractive about Harvey to an impressionable young Christian woman, however, quickly gave way to reality. "I was so mixed up, because I wanted to do what God wanted me to do," Emily says. "Harvey wanted to be a minister. He was a control freak--real cocky. I can't tell you how cocky he was--he was somethin' else."

So cocky, in fact, that he'd go to the Lutheran church Emily's family sometimes attended and argue scriptures with the senior pastor. He'd perch on a street corner and preach hellfire and brimstone to passersby. "It was all, 'you can't do this, you can't do that,'" Emily says.

Harvey had a knack, it seemed, for detecting evil in everyone but himself. One day, his young wife brought home a women's magazine--full of colorful illustrations, recipes, sewing tips. Harvey blew into a rage when he saw the magazine, with its vapid representations of worldliness, and--worst of all--photographs of movie stars.

He physically dragged Emily into the basement; he commanded her to destroy the magazine. She obeyed, ripping it to shreds, feeding the pieces into the fireplace.

It wasn't the only instance when Harvey lifted his hand against his wife. Even after the birth of a daughter, Joanne, Harvey "slapped me around," Emily says, and attacked her with demeaning words.

One night, Emily couldn't take it anymore. She feared that Harvey would turn his rage on their daughter. It was a bitterly cold Milwaukee night, and Emily grabbed Joanne, ran out of the house, and boarded a streetcar headed across town. She sought refuge in the home of a trusted Sunday-school teacher.

"You need to go home," the woman advised her. And with nowhere else to turn, Emily did.

The hitting and berating continued. So did the steady diet of church meetings and revivals, with Harvey often taking center stage. He was ever the aspiring minister, though he made his living as a draftsman.

The abuse stopped only when Harvey went to war--serving in Germany in 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge.

When he returned home in 1945, though, he'd become even worse. And this time his rages were magnified by a heavy drinking habit he'd developed overseas. (Linda Cutting would later be surprised to hear that her father ever drank heavily.)

Those days after the war Emily remembers as some of the worst of her life. "That memory of when he came back, it's so terrible I don't even want to think about it," she says, unwilling to offer any details. "I knew then that this is not a marriage, because he was such a freak."

Emily found the courage to leave Harvey for good. She'd always managed to protect her daughter from his angry fits, but she feared he'd turn on her next.

 

Ironically enough, Emily ended up finding peace in the home of her parents--the neighborhood heathens. My mother Joanne, who was about four when she moved in with her grandparents, has tender memories of those days. Her grandfather had mellowed out and stopped drinking, and she remembers being loved.

She recalls virtually nothing about her real father. That, she figures, was providential.

Listening to this tale, I found myself wondering if there'd ever been a time when Harvey Cutting looked at himself and shrunk back in revulsion. I wondered if he'd ever gauged the vast distance between himself and the pretender, and asked what was wrong.

There was something else I was dying to know: Did he ever show any remorse?
My grandmother paused for a long time when I asked her. "Well," she said, "I heard from a relative that one night after I left him, he got drunk and stumbled up and down National Avenue, crying about how he wanted his family back."

He'd smothered any pangs of conscience by the time he reached divorce court, however. Harvey threatened to take their daughter away. Emily, young and naive, figured he could do it if he tried--though he'd shown no interest in raising Joanne himself.

Her fears that she'd lose her daughter got her ensnared in a sort of swindle. The judge had ordered a $500 settlement to Emily, but Harvey told her he'd tattle on her to the court about how he'd seen her walking out of a neighborhood tavern with Joanne in tow unless she paid her own settlement. And he had seen her; Emily's German family often sent her to the corner pub to fetch a pail of beer.

Emily figured she was backed into a corner. She borrowed $500 from a loan shark, gave it to Harvey outside the courtroom, then watched as he handed it back to her in front of the judge.

Her divorce was granted on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment.
Immediately afterward, Emily returned to the loan shark and repaid her $500--plus $50 interest.

It wasn't long before Harvey was talking about attending Dallas Theological Seminary, known even then for its purer-than-pure fundamentalist teachings.

Gathering dust in the library of Dallas Seminary today is Harvey Cutting's master's thesis. The slim blue volume is dated May 1951, and graded "A."

I started reading the typed, onionskin pages, and something immediately caught my eye. Cutting was writing about predestination--the Christian doctrine that some people are "saved" and destined for heaven no matter how much they sin. Specifically, Cutting quoted the great theologian John Calvin. A man's salvation, he wrote, "...cannot be moved or altered by any storms of the world, by any assaults of Satan, by any changes, by any fluctuations or weaknesses of the flesh."

I seized on those words--I thought I'd found the key to understanding the real Harvey Cutting. The entire paper was a rationalization for the evil he'd done, while still claiming his status as a minister, and as a member of God's "elect."

My theory brought back some memories to my grandmother. The divorce had gone through in 1947, and soon after, Harvey began harassing her about their daughter Joanne. He needed to get into Dallas Seminary, but there was one problem: The school generally didn't accept divorced students, and would do so only after interviewing the ex-wife. Surely, Harvey didn't want that to happen.

But he had a card to play. He threatened to sue for custody of Joanne unless Emily wrote a letter to Dallas Seminary stating she was at fault in the divorce.

This time, Emily refused. How Cutting managed to get into Dallas Seminary, no one knows. Emily says no one from the seminary ever called to get her side of the story.

Emily retained custody of Joanne without a fight, contrary to Cutting's Kramer vs. Kramer fantasies. She eventually remarried, and her new husband adopted the girl. Cutting would never see his daughter again until she was an adult.

The Rev. Cutting you see today is the inevitable result of a life that emphasized form over character.

But surely, I hoped, he wouldn't go so far as to lie about his first marriage, which ended so long ago. Surely he'd come clean--admit to some flaws, some mistakes. "We were so darn young," Emily says about those early days. "I have forgiven him. The thing is, my heart is so tender. I'm so afraid of bringing hurt on Harvey and his wife. But he has to be exposed, I know that."

 

As for me, I didn't know whether I should feel anything for this man. He is my grandfather, but that blood tie doesn't buy a place in my heart.

Yet I found myself getting extremely nervous when I dialed the Rev. Cutting at his Sun City home in February. His second wife answered; Cutting came to the phone moments later.

I can't say exactly why, but I didn't have the heart to tell him I was his granddaughter. I identified myself as a reporter; my name brought no recognition. (He'd obviously made the family connection by the time his lawyer called me a day later, however.) I heard Cutting's voice for the first time; smooth, seemingly eager to please.

He quickly refused comment on his daughter's book, and referred me to his attorney, Skip Simpson. "I'm sure you'll find

him a delight to talk to," Cutting said.
"One other thing," I said. "The Boston Globe said that your first wife divorced you because you were abusive toward her. Is there any truth in that?"

"Well, the...the Denver Post talked to her--talked to my daughter by that marriage--and discovered that that's hardly the truth."

He was referring to my mother--who'd never talked to the Denver Post.
"But...uh...that's, uh, we, uh, we would just vehemently deny that that, uh, has any validity to it whatsoever," he added.

"So there was no abuse in that--"
"Absolutely none," he said, cutting me off. "Absolutely not. But, uh, I'm not an expert in the area of recovered memory therapy..."

He continued with this abrupt change of subject, referring me again to Simpson. I felt myself getting angry.

"OK. But when you said 'absolutely none,' you were talking about the first marriage, right?" I asked.

"No, what I'm talking about...the program Linda has been through, it's called recovered memory therapy."

"Right," I said. "I'm not trying to badger you here or anything, but I just want to make sure I'm clear on this. As far as your first marriage, you said there wasn't..."

"There was absolutely no abuse whatsoever."
"OK," I said. "So whatever your first wife is saying--that it was abusive--that isn't true."

"Yeah," he replied.
Must have been a memory slip.


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