With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

A Famed Folk Singer Won a Presidential Pardon after Molesting a Child. Did He Prey on Others?

No one from the government notified Barbara Winter about the pardon. Not the White House, not the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, not the prosecutor who handled her case.

She found out from her mother, who read in the newspaper that one of the country’s most famous folk singers, who had admitted to and been convicted of molesting her when she was barely 14, had been pardoned by President Jimmy Carter on his final full day in office in 1981.

It felt, Winter says now, “like you got sucker-punched in the gut. It’s telling him, ‘It’s okay what you did, just don’t get caught next time,’ if that makes sense.”

Presidential pardons often kick up controversy, from Gerald Ford’s pardon of his disgraced predecessor Richard M. Nixon, to Bill Clinton’s clemency for fugitive financier Marc Rich, who had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List alongside Osama bin Laden. Donald Trump, who repeatedly extended mercy to friends and political allies, pardoned or commuted the sentences of 144 people in his final hours as president, including former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

But this pardon by Carter — perhaps the only one in U.S. history wiping away a conviction for a sexual offense against a child — escaped scrutiny when it happened. It was granted just hours before the American hostages in Iran were freed, which captured headlines for weeks.

The Washington Post didn’t write about the pardon until Feb. 7, 1981. Even then, it was buried in the back of the Metro section, and only seemed notable because of who the recipient was: renowned folk singer Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul and Mary, who co-wrote the beloved children’s song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

While Winter, now 66, has lived with the aftermath of the 1969 incident for decades, Yarrow’s crime was mostly forgotten after he served less than three months in jail.

Then, 40 years after Carter’s pardon, another woman stepped forward with an accusation of her own. In a lawsuit filed in New York on Feb. 24, 2021, she alleged that Yarrow lured her to a Manhattan hotel when she was a minor in 1969 and raped her.

Through an attorney, Yarrow, who turns 83 this month, declined to respond to questions about how he acquired his pardon or the new allegation against him.

Read entire article at Washington Post