In 1950, a Los Angeles magician hypnotized teens for a twisted school sex ring

In 1950, a salacious scandal erupted in Los Angeles schools when it was discovered that a popular 63-year-old professional magician named William Van Berkel had hypnotized two 14-year-old girls to engage in sexual activities with at least 17 boys during school hours.

The girls said Van Berkel, known as a "veritable Svengali," used his "almost hypnotic power" to manipulate them into initiating sexual encounters with classmates. As reported in a 1950 LA Daily News article, Van Berkel instructed them inthe "esoteric" aspects of "the love relationship" and coerced them into seducing students while he performed his magic shows, billed as a "miracle of magic, mirth, and mystery."

One girl told the paper, "It was awful. It seemed that he had some terrible power over us. And we just couldn't say no to his suggestions no matter how much we tried."

According to their testimony, Van Berkel would create opportunities for these encounters by luring boys backstage, insisting that "all others be strictly barred from going backstage." On other occasions, he would invite boys for car rides to secluded spots and "induce the youngsters to participate in sexual acts while he gloatingly looked on."

Upon arrest, the "little gray-haired magician broke down into hysterical sobbing." He confessed, saying, "Something came over me for the first time last October and I just couldn't resist instructing the girls about sex." He admitted to teaching them "how to walk so that they would attract the boys—and what to do after they had picked them up."

"Van Berkel, who lives with his wife and aged mother, has been a popular entertainer in the schools during the past two years," reported the paper. "And after a week of intensive checking of the accusations, [investigators] arrested Van Berkel on a felony morals charge."

I couldn't find much about Van Berkel online. Magicpedia has a short entry about him. It says, "In 1950, he plead guilty to "moral offenses" involving young boys and girls that he used as assistants for his popular school assembly magic shows." And "It was reported in Genii 1973 January that Van Berkel, at the age of 86, was not doing well as he fell from the steps of his home and cracked eight ribs."

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