Standing at the bottom of his driveway, a concerned neighbor crossed his arms and waited like a sentry while disgraced teacher and coach Joseph Doyle visited his two young sons at Doyle’s former home.
Doyle’s estranged wife, Diane Stelfox Cook, was supervising the meeting — but her neighbor wasn’t taking any chances.
After all, Doyle had been charged with attempted solicitation of a minor over the internet for sex.
“I just broke down and cried,” Cook, 57, tells The Post in an exclusive interview. “In a way, I got the neighbor’s motivation. But that was tough.”
It was just one of the humiliations the Massachusetts mom suffered as the spouse of a suspected — and ultimately convicted — sex offender.
In her upcoming memoir, “So Many Angels: A Family Crisis and the Community That Got Us Through It” (She Writes Press, out in September), Cook chronicles the darkest period of her life, revealing how she battled to protect her kids from the scandal and struggled to keep her sanity in the face of the devastation caused by her husband.
On May 12, 2003, Cook was in the car with her sons, then 8 and 11, when she received a call from Doyle. After telling her to pull over, he announced that he’d been arrested in New Hampshire for soliciting an underage boy over the internet. “Can you come and bail me out?” he asked.
Cook was hit with a wave of nausea.
“I held on to the hood of the car to steady myself,” Cook, 41 at the time, writes in her memoir. “I was dizzy . . . I felt as if I were going to collapse onto the dirty parking lot.” Panicked, she told her husband, “I am not bringing our kids up to bail you out, so I guess you should call someone else.”
Over the following hours, Cook — who couldn’t bring herself to tell the boys the truth yet — fielded calls from newspapers and TV stations. Doyle was a high school teacher and hockey coach, so the scandal was front-page news, especially in the wake of the recent sex-abuse scandal among Boston priests.
The following morning, Cook sent the boys off to her best friend’s house while other friends stopped by. One bought a copy of the Boston Globe, which had Doyle’s mug shot on the cover.
Reading the article, Cook learned that he’d been the target of a police sting by undercover Detective Jim McLaughlin, who had posed on the internet as a 14-year-old boy. The pair had exchanged explicit emails. Doyle planned to meet the teen at the YMCA in Keene, NH, to watch him swim and then have sex in his car. McLaughlin was waiting in the lobby, and the teacher was arrested.
Cook couldn’t wrap her mind around it: She had thought her 14-year marriage was a happy one. “I was brokenhearted, and it made me wonder whether it had all been fake,” she says. “I wondered whether he had ever cared about me at all.”
Even more horrifying: What if her husband had been abusing her boys? Her gut said no, but could she even trust her gut?
That night, Cook sat down with her second- and fifth-grader for a tough talk: “Daddy has been arrested for trying to do something inappropriate with a young kid.”
“I remember them being so quiet and their eyes being so big,” she says.
In the meantime, Doyle pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, and his mother paid his bail and brought him home with her. Two days later, he called Cook to ask her to send some clothes. “I was like, ‘Really? You’re worried about what to wear?,’ ” she says.
Although Cook “held it together” in front of her sons, once they went to bed, she screamed at her husband over the phone. “I’d tell him, ‘Do you know how much damage you’ve caused? Do you know what we’re going through?’ ”
She called her pediatrician for advice on how to help her kids through the ordeal. “I don’t know,” the doctor told her. “I have never dealt with anything like this before.”
“Holy s - - t!,” Cook recalls thinking. “If she can’t help me take care of my kids, who else is going to?”
Thankfully, friends and co-workers stepped up. They donated money to assist with everyday living costs as Cook struggled to cope as a single mom, a harrowing experience worsened by a multiple-sclerosis diagnosis that same year. “One woman used to slip me gift cards when I was about to check out at the grocery store,” says Cook. “I was surrounded by angels.”
She also found a family counselor for herself and the boys, where her worst fears were assuaged: Doyle had never molested their kids.
‘I’d tell him, ‘Do you know how much damage you’ve caused?’
It wasn’t until August 2005 that Doyle’s case came to court — and this time, he pleaded guilty. His therapist testified that he had admitted in group therapy that he had molested boys he was coaching in baseball 20 years earlier. Sentencing him to 1 ½ to five years in state prison in New Hampshire, Judge David Sullivan said, “We have to send a message.”
Cook didn’t attend the hearing, but agreed to visit her now-ex-husband in prison with their sons a year into his sentence, in the fall of 2006. “It was so terrible to bring my wonderful little boys to that god-awful, scary, creepy place,” she says. “As a mother, I felt no day was ever going to be as tough as that day.” They never went to visit again.
Although that distance helped her power through her days with the boys, her anger would bubble to the surface when Doyle reached out to their kids from prison. “He sent pictures of things like the Hogwarts castle in great detail with all these intricate colors,” says Cook. It made the single mom bitter and angry. “I would open the envelope and think: ‘Really? That’s what you are doing all day? Shouldn’t you be digging ditches?’ What the hell kind of punishment is drawing?”
Doyle was released after serving two years and is no longer in touch with Cook, who lives in Hopkinton, Mass. His sons, now 24 and 27, speak to him occasionally, but relations are strained.
Cook went on to remarry in February 2009. Sadly, her second husband died suddenly at the age of 54 in March 2018.
Today, the mom and teacher feels relieved to be able to tell her story. “I wanted to celebrate my boys and the angels who helped me,” she says.
“Sometimes we shy away from situations. Who wants to bring up death or the divorce or the sticky situation? It’s easier not to mention it. But I believe it’s our responsibility as humans to reach out to one another.
“It can make all the difference.”
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