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When news broke in November 1955 that the Boise, Idaho, police department had arrested two men for sex with underage boys and a third for sodomy, residents of the then-sleepy city immediately panicked, demanding action from the police, who launched a witch-hunt that played like a reality version of The Crucible acted out on the front pages of The Idaho Evening Statesman.
"It started with allegations of a sex ring of men preying on teenage boys, but as the investigation developed, the focus became consenting adults," says Seth Randal, a Boise-based filmmaker who made the 2006 documentary The Fall of '55 about the scandal.
Incendiary headlines prompted frantic parents to point fingers, while more than 100 teenage boys told police that they'd been seduced by men in the community (some of the claims were later retracted). City officials launched a "morals drive" to weed out homosexuality, resulting in dozens of suspected men being hauled in for questioning and 16 prosecuted, including an attorney, an interior decorator, and the vice president of Idaho First National Bank.
The arrests became a national story--a Time article described the scene as a "widespread homosexual underworld," while John Gerassi's 1966 book, The Boys of Boise: Furor, Vice, and Folly in an American City, said the circumstances were inflamed mainly by the power-hungry editor of the Statesman. The scandal, Randal notes, "had an impact on how a lot of people viewed homosexuality," cementing some people's worst fears and misconceptions about gay people.