Bill Cosby takes the stage, plops in a chair and kicks off his shoes. Nearly 3,000 college students packed into the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, N.Y., cheer wildly. For two hours on Nov. 10, one of America’s most beloved entertainers treats the crowd to his trademark brand of curmudgeonly comedy, much of it having to do with the perils of being young in a challenging world. “For college seniors there should be a week of being allowed to cry,” says Cosby, 69. “Just break down and cry because you are scared and don’t know what’s next.”
What Cosby never mentioned was the civil lawsuit he settled just two days earlier with Andrea Constand, 32, a former Temple University employee who claimed Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Philadelphia-area mansion in 2004. Constand’s lawyers Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz ended up with 13 witnesses, most referred to in court documents as “Jane Does,” who came forward voluntarily with strikingly similar claims of drugging and or abuse by Cosby. Terms of the settlement, reached before any of the women could testify, were not disclosed. But PEOPLE reporters have interviewed five of the women and share three of their stories now.
As in so many cases alleging sexual assault, these women make imperfect witnesses. They are talking about events two or three decades old. Many of their recollections are fragmentary, and in some cases, they are not even sure what happened between them and Cosby, though that is not unusual in cases where a possible date-rape drug is involved. None of the women ever contacted police with their stories, either at the time of the alleged assaults or in the years leading up to Constand’s revelations, and two of the five women reached by PEOPLE allowed Cosby to pay part or all of their travel and/or living expenses for some time. Three accepted cash from him years after the incidents, and two even went on to have consensual relationships with him.
But none of them stand to profit from suing Cosby for monetary damages; the statute of limitations on all their charges has expired. And their stories, which take place in several cities and span two decades, illustrate the same pattern of behavior, primarily the accusation that Cosby, then one of the most powerful entertainers alive, targeted them because they were vulnerable and gained their trust by promising to help their careers. PEOPLE contacted Cosby to get his response to the allegations; through his longtime publicist David Brokaw, Cosby said he had no comment.
The stories these women tell paint a disturbing picture of one of the country’s most likeable comedians: a man many Americans know as Cliff Huxtable, America’s favorite dad on The Cosby Show (the No. 1 show on TV for five straight years), and a man who remains a crusader for education and personal responsibility (see box). In 2002 Cosby was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Although he admitted to an affair with Shawn Upshaw in 1997 (Upshaw’s daughter Autumn Jackson claimed Cosby was her father, which was never proven, and she then served time for extortion), he has been married since 1964 to Camille, 62. The Cosbys had five children; son Ennis was killed in an attempted robbery in 1997.
Andrea Constand met Cosby when she was director of operations for the women’s basketball program at Temple, Cosby’s alma mater. In 2005 she told police that one year earlier, Cosby had invited her to his Cheltenham home, gave her pills when she complained she was stressed and, after she got dizzy, began “touching her breast and placing her hand on his penis,” according to a police report. Cosby’s attorney Walter M. Phillips Jr. called the charges “preposterous,” and Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor, Jr., citing “insufficient credible and admissible evidence,” decided not to press criminal charges.
But news reports about Constand’s subsequent civil suit are what coaxed Barbara Bowman, 39, out of hiding. The Denver-area native—who first told her story to Philadelphia magazine in November—was an 18-year-old model and aspiring actress in 1985, when her agent Jo Farrell arranged for her to meet Cosby. “It was overwhelmingly exciting,” remembers Bowman, whose first meeting with Cosby took place at a comedy club in Denver. “He questioned me quite extensively about my personal history, my relationship with my father. My father abandoned me when I was 14.” She says now, “In hindsight I look back and I realize what he was doing. He was getting information of where my vulnerabilities lay.” In that first meeting, she claims Cosby gave her an acting exercise that struck her as disturbing: “He wanted me to imagine fully that I was inebriated, that I was out of control, drunk or drugged…. He wanted me to just slump in my chair, and he wanted my limbs to be limp, and he would whisper in my ear what he wanted.” After Farrell arranged for her to move to New York City, Cosby continued to mentor her and even introduced her to costars Phylicia Rashad and Lisa Bonet. “I trusted him totally,” says Bowman’s mother, Pat Hubbard, 68. “Who wouldn’t trust and love Dr. Huxtable?”
It was in a hotel in Reno, claims Bowman, that Cosby assaulted her one night in 1986. “He took my hand and his hand over it, and he masturbated with his hand over my hand,” says Bowman, who, although terrified, kept quiet about the incident and continued as Cosby’s protégé because, she says, “Who’s gonna believe this? He was a powerful man. He was like the president.” Before long she was alone with Cosby again in his Manhattan townhouse; she was given a glass of red wine, and “the next thing I know, I’m sick and I’m nauseous and I’m delusional and I’m limp and … I can’t think straight…. And I just came to, and I’m wearing a [men’s] T-shirt that wasn’t mine, and he was in a white robe.”
A month or two later, she was in Atlantic City and says she was given another glass of red wine and felt “completely doped up again.” Confused, Bowman somehow made it back to her room, but the next day Cosby summoned her to his suite. After she arrived, Bowman says, Cosby “threw me on the bed and braced his arm under my neck so I couldn’t move my head, and he started trying to take his clothes off. I remember all the clinking of his belt buckle. And he was trying to take my pants down, and I was trying to keep them on.” Bowman says that not long after she resisted the assault, Cosby cut off contact with her and had her escorted to the airport for a flight back to Denver. She didn’t tell authorities about what happened, but she did approach an attorney who “wouldn’t take it seriously,” says Margo Singagliese, 52, the friend who went with her to see the lawyer.
Bowman vowed not to let her experiences with Cosby ruin her life. The stay-at-home mom is married to a partner in a private asset-management firm; they have a young son and daughter and live in a Phoenix suburb. Still, when Bowman heard about Constand’s lawsuit, “I said, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit in silence anymore.'” She contacted authorities and got in touch with Constand’s lawyer.
By then another accuser had already come forward. Tamara Green, 58, a former trial attorney who first told her story to the Philadelphia Daily News, says she was a young aspiring model when a doctor she knew introduced her to Cosby in 1970. One day Cosby asked her to lunch, and when “I told him I felt awful, he gave me what he said were Contac,” Green recalls. “Suddenly I felt like I was stoned out of my mind.” She says Cosby took her to her apartment and “started taking off my clothes. He had his pants down and was all over me.” Green resisted and Cosby left. She went on to build a successful career as an attorney and is now only handling appeals. In 2004 the State Bar of California disciplined her for attorney misconduct. “People wonder why I didn’t come forward sooner,” says Green, who is now divorced with one grown son. “There’s no rulebook on how you’re supposed to handle something like this.”
Her story is similar to the one told by Beth Ferrier, who was a model and recent college grad when Jo Farrell introduced her to Cosby in the mid-’80s. “I was very vulnerable,” says the Colorado native, whose father had died and who had just survived a serious car crash. Cosby “came on as a mentor, almost a father figure,” she says. “He was there to help me with everything.” But then one night, after drinking a cappuccino in his dressing room in Denver, she claims she blacked out. “I woke up in my car in the parking lot with my clothes all a mess,” she says, still not sure exactly what transpired. “It’s one of the pieces that keeps bothering me. I was definitely drugged. All I had to drink was coffee and the room was spinning. Then I wake up with my clothes a mess and my bra unhooked. I wondered, I still wonder, ‘What did he do with me? Why was my bra unhooked? What happened?'” When she later asked Cosby about the incident, “He said, ‘We’ll never speak of this again.'”
Ferrier, then separated from her college sweetheart, divorced in 1985 and, she says, began an on-and-off consensual affair with Cosby that lasted several years. “He kept luring me in,” she says. “I felt like I couldn’t say no.” Now a single mother of three and living in Denver, Ferrier, 47, says her experience with Cosby made it hard for her to trust other men. “She was so burdened by this,” says her friend Lee Vittner, an escrow manager who says she first heard Ferrier’s story five years ago. “Cosby is powerful, but not being the only one out there made coming forward a little less scary for Beth.”
PEOPLE asked Jo Farrell about introducing Ferrier and Bowman to Cosby; now retired from show business and working as an image consultant, she says she only supplied Cosby with tapes and portfolios of her clients. “He wanted to look at children and girls for his show,” says Farrell, 75. “I wasn’t in on personal interviews.”
Some of those who know Bill Cosby well say the charges are hard to believe. “Bill is good-hearted, he really is,” says his longtime friend and former journalist Chuck Stone. “He and Camille are very close.” The women, however, say that by coming forward they have begun to lift their burdens and, they hope, prevented others from suffering the same fate. “This isn’t some vendetta against Bill Cosby,” says Beth Ferrier. “But he needs to get help, and he needs to stop taking advantage of women.”