Last week, when TMZ reported that an unnamed source had accused Kevin Clash, a.k.a. “the Black guy behind Elmo,” of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, I didn’t know what to make of it.
Initially there weren’t any facts, just an anonymous accusation. That’s hardly enough for me to start looking sideways at Elmo and Clash, an intertwined pairing after 27 years together.
Clash, 52, insisted that the accusations were false and defamatory, even taking (or perhaps being asked to take) a leave of absence from Sesame Street to fight the allegations. He acknowledged a sexual relationship with the accuser, but insisted it was consensual, and said that although they had known each other for years, sex only occurred when Sheldon Stephens, now 23, was 18.
That last tidbit left me uneasy. To be clear, that was not because of the relationship between two men, but because of the uncomfortably large age difference between them. Clash is old enough to be Stephen’s daddy. What were they doing hanging out before Stephens was legal? And why is a grown-grown man carrying on with an adult teenager? That’s odd… however, not a crime.
Whatever skepticism was in my head about Clash was removed the next day when Stephens recanted his story, reframing his relationship with Clash as “an adult consensual” one. It was later revealed that the statement was part of an out-of-court settlement for which Stephens received $125,000.
So then I wondered if Clash really did have an inappropriate relationship with Stephens when he was underage, because why else would he pay him hush money? To keep him quiet? Well, maybe. And then I wondered, If things really happened as Stephens said, why did he take the money? He waited all this time to speak out, so there must have been some compelling reason to come forward now. But maybe it was about the money all along, as Stephens never pressed criminal charges against Clash. There were too many wild cards for me to make even a guess at who was telling the truth.
And then things got even crazier. Stephens recanted his recant, insisting that he accepted the settlement under duress, was pressured to change his story and had begun interviewing lawyers to help him return the settlement to Clash. A this point, he’s made himself completely not credible, and even seems a bit unstable. So there I was, leaning toward Clash’s version of events again, giving him the benefit of the doubt if for no other reason than he maintained a consistent story.
But this story has more plot twists than an episode of Melrose Place. A second accuser came forward, also claiming Clash had a sexual relationship with him when he was a minor. At a press conference on Tuesday, Cecil Singleton, 24, claimed that “groping, masturbation, and just a lot of intense kissing, touching, that kind of thing. Dry humping,” took place between he and Clash when Singleton was just 15. Singleton added that he did not have sex with Clash until he was an adult. Thank goodness! The allegations of everything-but are bad enough as is.
In the wake of a second accuser coming forth, Clash has resigned from Sesame Street, which is the right thing to do when you work for a family-friendly organization and two different men have accused you of inappropriate sexual conduct with them when they were minors. Admittedly, things don’t look so good for Clash right now, but after the recant and the recant of the recant, I can’t even guess as to what happens next in this story or who to believe. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk