Aaron Getting / Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org
Additional men have come forward to accuse John Draper, the hacker pioneer and early Apple associate known as “Cap’n Crunch,” of inappropriate behavior, stalking, and sexual assault.
Draper, now 74, was revered by many as an inspiration to early hackers, particularly as a “phone phreak” who discovered in the 1970s that people could place long-distance phone calls at no charge by playing a specific tone into their telephones. He adopted the nickname “Cap’n Crunch,” after the cereal, which included a whistle whose sound was the precise right pitch. Before founding Apple, cofounders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs sold a variant of a device Draper built to mimic the sound.
But his reputation has taken a hit after BuzzFeed News on Nov. 17 published allegations that Draper had acted inappropriately at hacker conventions, pressuring young men to join him for private “energy” workouts in hotel rooms and climbing on the backs of men who agreed. One of the men threw Draper off and fled. Another felt Draper’s erection against his back as Draper urged him to bounce up and down. Wozniak told BuzzFeed News that Jobs told him Draper once urged him to engage in an exercise, an offer Jobs turned down as “out of the ordinary.”
Draper is promoting an upcoming memoir, Beyond the Little Blue Box. Through the book’s spokesperson, Allie McKay, he refused to comment on any of those allegations before they were published and declined a request for an interview. Draper later did speak to the Daily Dot, which had previewed his book in October, and admitted that he “might have had an erection” when conducting exercises, though he denied that he knowingly committed assault.
Since BuzzFeed News’ initial report, three more men have come forward with similar stories, a series of hacker conventions have announced that Draper is no longer welcome at their events, and two organizations have rejected his proposed donation of book proceeds to help fund research into Asperger’s syndrome — a condition Draper now says he has and that may have contributed to his behavior.
“I think that it is possible that someone with Asperger’s could engage in this kind of behavior because of a lack of understanding of what it would mean for his subjects or victims,” Laraine Glidden, a psychologist and researcher at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who specializes in developmental psychology, told BuzzFeed News. “Did it occur in this instance, or is it merely an excuse to get away with the consequences of his actions? Certainly that’s possible.”
Contacted for this story, McKay offered an apology on Draper’s behalf, but denied that Draper had committed sexual assaults.
“Mr. Draper offers a sincere apology if anyone has ever misunderstood his intentions and as a result feel they have encountered him in a negative capacity,” the statement said. “Mr. Draper rejects any claims of sexual misconduct or assault, as well as any claims whatsoever involving nefarious intent or deeds posted on any social media platform at any time.”
The most prominent voice recounting odd interactions with Draper belongs to Matt Blaze, a cryptographer, University of Pennsylvania professor, and public speaker who’s testified before Congress, and who was among the first people to react to BuzzFeed’s initial report. In a series of tweets, Blaze accused Draper of stalking him when he was 14 or 15 years old and in the eighth or ninth grade.
Draper went so far as to place an amateur tap on Blaze’s family phone and once tried to pull him out of school, Blaze said.
Blaze was never actually assaulted, he said, which he attributed to a combination of luck, instincts, and the people around him.
The Parallax, an online security magazine, reported that a man named Jay said Draper had assaulted him in San Diego in 2000, also by rubbing his erection into his back while doing exercises. BuzzFeed’s effort to contact Jay was unsuccessful.
A third man, Craig Ellenwood, who has no direct connection to the hacker community, also has now come forward for the first time. Ellenwood told BuzzFeed News that Draper assaulted him in the summer of 1991. Two of Ellenwood’s friends confirmed he told them about the incident soon after.
At the time, Ellenwood, then a self-described scrawny 24-year-old who weighed 140 pounds, was helping to create a tech and art collective in San Francisco. He attended his first rave, Toontown, in the city’s South of Market neighborhood and found his way into a VIP room, where he met Draper.
Draper, who was 48 at the time, wowed Ellenwood with his stories of phone phreaking and friendship with Apple cofounders Jobs and Wozniak. Ellenwood, under the impression that Draper might be able to lend his programming skills to the project, agreed to visit his apartment.
As the two talked, Draper complained his back was hurting, and Ellenwood agreed to stand behind him to try to adjust it. “I thought, This is weird, but what’s the harm?” Ellenwood said.
“He spun around and forced me to the floor, lay on top of me, and told me these are the exercises he needs to feel better,” Ellenwood said.
“I could feel the sweat dripping from his head onto my neck,” he said. “I was still on the floor facing down, and he was on my back, arms wrapped around me, and I could feel his penis getting erect, pressing on my leg and thigh. He was wearing dark blue running shorts and white T-shirt. He was extremely hairy, especially his legs. I’ll never forget the feeling of his leg hair rubbing on my bare legs and arms. I almost threw up then. I was so exhausted. I wondered if he was going to kill me. I was helpless.”
Draper tried to pull down Ellenwood’s pants, he said, but had trouble because Ellenwood was wearing a belt. When Draper took one hand off to remove it, Ellenwood tried to escape. But Draper beat him to the door, and initially blocked his exit.
“I remember looking shamefully at the floor and asking to leave meekly,” Ellenwood said. “John replied with, ‘You can leave when I let you leave.’”
But Draper did let him leave without further incident.
Ellenwood didn’t file a police report, though he now wishes he had, he said. “Back in those days, you didn’t hear about man-on-man rape, except for prison movies, and I didn’t think the police would believe me or take it seriously,” he said.
After BuzzFeed News first reached out with questions, but before the story was published, the Beyond the Little Blue Box website announced that Draper was on the autism spectrum, and that he would donate 5% of proceeds to the nonprofits Action for Asperger’s and the Autism Society.
The foundations said they would not accept that money. “We do not know Mr. Draper. We never knew Mr. Draper was telling people we would receive donations from his book,” Scott Badesch, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America, told BuzzFeed News.
“If we did, we would either return the money or use it to support a program related to sexual abuse of individuals with autism,” Badesch added. “What Mr. Draper is alleged to have done is not as the result of autism.”
Contacted by Ars Technica, a spokesperson for Action for Asperger’s said, “We do not know this man, and certainly will not and cannot accept any donations from him.”
The official website for Beyond the Little Blue Box then announced that Raymond Johansen, a board member of the International Pirate Party who for months had volunteered to help craft the social media strategy for the book, had left “In light of ongoing negative press and circumstances.” The announcement added, “We have only sympathy and compassion for those who have experienced John in a negative way and feel victimised by this program in any way.”
Johansen confirmed to BuzzFeed News that his departure stemmed from the allegations against Draper. “I am not a fair-weather friend and I will keep my mouth shut in public,” he said, adding that the news left him “sad and surprised.”
In addition, some of the most prominent cybersecurity conferences in the US, including DEF CON in Las Vegas, HOPE in New York City, and ToorCon in San Diego, have since said that Draper will be banned from attending in the future.
Sam Van Ryder, an organizer at Houston’s HOU.SEC.CON, said that he had banned Draper from next year’s conference, where he had been scheduled as the closing keynote speaker.
“Crap like this has to be crushed out,” he said.