Decades of sexual battery allegations surface against 84-year-old suspect with Bethel ties

By Blake Spurney

Newton Now

At least four more people have come forward with allegations about Ted Mueller, who faces three misdemeanor sex offenses related to an alleged incident in 2018, according to North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan.

The allegations extend back into the late 1990s, he said. Those who contacted police include German exchange students who attended Bethel College and at least one non-student. He said he forwarded all the new information he received to County Attorney David Yoder.

“I can officially say the case is still under investigation, and we are still interviewing other persons,” Yoder said. “I can’t say more charges are forthcoming, but there certainly is an active investigation.”

Mueller is charged with two counts of sexual battery and one count of lewd and lascivious behavior. He allegedly groped a woman at his residence and exposed himself.

Mueller, 84, remains free on bond.

Jordan said the more recent reports about Mueller didn’t involve allegations more serious than sexual battery. “But it’s bad enough,” he said.

Jordan said he received a report via e-mail from Germany, and he called back to follow up.

Yoder said he personally was leaving the investigation to police and that he couldn’t confirm that exchange students had made complaints.

“I don’t know how far back this goes,” he said.

Jordan referred to a statement from Bethel President Jon Gering, which referred to a pair of Title IX complaints made against Mueller in 2016 and 2017. Gering wrote that both “cases were resolved per federal guidelines” and that Mueller’s “behaviors were not criminal.”

“I don’t know how this could be going on so long and law enforcement not be getting involved,” Jordan said. “This isn’t criminal? I don’t know who made that call because, law enforcement, we were never involved. I don’t know who made the final call at Bethel that these weren’t criminal […] because we didn’t know.

“Think about that statement. They said it wasn’t criminal, but once we start the investigation — lo and behold, yeah, it is criminal,” he said.
Former Bethel College employee Jessie Kaufman said he blocked Mueller’s access to student records. He was working as the web developer at the time in the mid-2010s.

“It was brought to my attention that Ted had access to the student directory,” he said. “It was supposed to be available only to students, faculty and staff.”

Kaufman said he wasn’t sure what kind of account Mueller had other than the type that gave him access. He said he received word that Mueller bragged about having unprecedented access to student information.

“What I had been told was he was looking up information in the directory and calling up students and asking if they were actually living at the address in the directory,” he said.

Mueller and wife Berneil formerly were hosts to German exchange students. Terra Wiens majored in German when she was a student at Bethel beginning in 2007 and was close to a lot of exchange students from Wuppertal, Germany. She said exchange students were used to public transportation in their home city and felt isolated upon coming to North Newton. Without a vehicle, the students had no connection to the outside world.

“So I think that put them in a vulnerable position to be preyed on by Ted,” she said.

Wiens said people were told not to tell the Muellers the names of German students, but Ted always found out. She also recalled warning exchange students headed to Bethel to stay away from Mueller during the semester she spent abroad in Wuppertal.

Jordan tried to put the mindset of an exchange student in perspective. He said a student who felt violated probably felt she had nowhere to turn.

“They don’t feel comfortable because they don’t want to make someone feel mad in Germany,” he said. “That’s just a terrible situation for them to be in. That’s the position they were in. It just shouldn’t be that way.”

Jordan said sex crimes potentially involving multiple victims affected an entire community.

“People are feeling betrayed because of what’s transpired,” he said. “You know, a lot of healing has to take place right now, especially for the victims. One way to help with that is for everyone recognizing that we as a community and a society can do better for victims.

“We have to do better so victims feel like they can report an assault, that it can be taken genuinely and looked into regardless of social status or socio-economic status. We have to get past that,” he said.

As Newton Now previously reported, Mueller was arrested Oct. 31 on a warrant charging him with two counts of sexual battery and one count of lewd and lascivious behavior.

In that situation, a woman made the allegations to North Newton police Jan. 11. All three charges in the arrest warrant are misdemeanors.

Jordan said it was not uncommon for victims of sex crimes to delay reporting an incident to authorities due to the trauma associated with such cases. He said oftentimes society didn’t make it easy for victims to come forward.

“I think when you look into Ted and his connections and those types of things, perhaps that made it even more difficult for her,” Jordan said.

Bethel College President Jon C. Gering issued a statement Monday directed to members of the Bethel College community addressing the Mueller situation and stated that Mueller volunteered as a data analyst for several years at the Kansas Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, an affiliate organization of the college. Gering also noted that Mueller’s wife, Berneil, and daughter, Kimberly J. Mueller, both previously served on the Bethel board of directors.

“As an institution rooted in Christian theology, Bethel College does not tolerate sexual violence in any form,” Gering wrote in his statement. “We support survivors. We extend our prayers and support to those who may have been affected by Ted’s alleged actions. We pray for any victim who may have been harmed by the incidents set forth in the press release from the Harvey County Attorney’s Office. We pray for strength for community members who may have felt burdened by Ted’s behavior. We also pray for Ted’s immediate family who must carry on in the face of serious criminal charges.”

Gering noted that Mueller was entered into the Title IX reporting system in 2016 and 2017. Title IX requires colleges that receive federal funding to protect students and staff from sexual discrimination, including sexual violence. The legislation requires colleges to establish procedures for handling complaints of sexual discrimination and violence, and the school is required to investigate all complaints, even if law enforcement is not involved.

The statement noted both incidents were resolved per federal guidelines.

Jordan said he interviewed a lot of people during the investigation of Mueller’s behavior. He also said multiple women made allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Gering noted in the statement that the college received an informal complaint about Mueller from a student in 2016. That statement expressed that the student didn’t want any action taken on Bethel’s part and did not want her name shared with Mueller. The substance of the complaint involved a verbal comment in a public setting, according to the Gering.

“The Title IX Committee gave Ted a warning and denied him access to areas with sensitive information,” Gering wrote. “In 2017, Bethel College received a formal report of unwanted touching (on the back) and suggestive comments about hair color, both of which occurred in a public setting. Following the formal complaint, the Title IX Committee required Ted to undergo mediation. The mediation concluded at the request of the student.”

Jordan said he couldn’t go into the Title IX complaints.

“I can just tell you there were some that I was not aware of until I conducted the investigation,” he said.

Jordan learned of the complaints after he executed search warrants for documents from Bethel.

“There were some foreign-exchange students mentioned in the investigation by people we interviewed, but we were not able to substantiate any of those,” he said. “But the investigation is still going.”

Patty Meier, owner of Mojo’s Coffee Bar, said three or four employees had filed complaints against Mueller.

“I’m pretty sure the first ones talked to Title IX and made a choice not to pursue,” she said.

Meier said one employee filed a formal complaint in 2017. She said every incident of which she was aware involved verbal comments. She added that none of the incidents happened in her presence.

“He was careful,” she said. “But I completely believe everything I heard and 100 percent supported anybody who wanted to take anything further. I just wish we had known there was so much more.”

Gering noted that both Title IX complaints the college received were resolved per federal guidelines.

“Both cases used a proportional response in the context of the complainant’s wishes and Ted’s actions,” Gering wrote. “Ted’s behaviors were not criminal.”

Gering claimed that the college met or exceeded what is required by federal law. He thanked the “significant work” of the college’s Title IX coordinators and the faculty and staff who volunteered to carry out the difficult duties of the Title IX committee.

“Their performance has been exemplary,” he wrote. “We also make regular improvements aimed at increasing awareness and prevention of sexual harassment. For example, our Office of Student Life initiated bystander training in Fall 2019.”

Gering’s statement noted that Mueller’s alleged actions on Aug. 1, 2018, were shared during a congregational meeting at Bethel College Mennonite Church, which does not fall under the aegis of the college.

“After learning of the allegations, we removed Ted from his volunteer position at KIP-COR and restricted his access to campus, effective on January 4, 2019,” he wrote. “We also demanded that Ted refrain from communicating with international exchange students and reminded our partners that they should communicate only with employees of Bethel College. When asked to do so, we have cooperated with local law enforcement agencies in the ongoing criminal investigation. We took these actions to ensure the physical and emotional safety for all students, faculty and staff.”

The Rev. Dawn Yoder Harms, lead pastor of Bethel College Mennonite Church, said congregational leadership offered Mueller conditions for his continued participation in the church.

“He declined to sign the agreement, and in so doing he excluded himself from participation,” she said.

Meier said her employees were contract labor through the college. She said when employees informed her of inappropriate comments, she let those employees take the lead.

“I did not know he was banned from campus until Randy Jordan told me,” she said.

Jordan pointed out that Mueller’s no-trespassing notice to stay off Bethel College property was issued Jan. 4. He said he didn’t learn of its existence until police obtained records from its Jan. 17 search warrant. Typically, police are notified when such notices are served, because it would be a law-enforcement function to enforce it.

“We were not notified,” he said. “It’s hard to understand.”

Meier said she never banned Mueller from her business. She also said she wished she would have approached him, because she thought he was just being stupid.

“I’m just so thankful,” she said. “I’ve been so impressed with Randy Jordan and North Newton Police.”

Meier said Jordan reached out to her during his investigation. She added that she contacted her former employees who might want to talk to police.

“Everyone who spoke with Randy Jordan has felt validated by him and his office,” she said.

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