At Your Own Risk: Chapter 5

Ralph Lee Smith

On May 24, 1963, Mrs. Jackie Metcalf, a twenty-two year-old Torrance, California, housewife, mounted the steps of a white, one-story building on LaBrea Avenue in Los Angeles and entered a door marked “Dr. Ruth B. Drown, Chiropractor.” Inside she gave three small pieces of blotting paper to Dr. Drown and her daughter, Dr. Cynthia Chatfield, also a chiropractor. The stains on the blotters, Mrs. Metcalf said, were samples of blood from her three children. She asked, to have her children’s ills diagnosed from the blood samples and paid $50 for each diagnosis.

She later testified that in a few days she heard from Dr. Chatfield that analysis of the blood samples showed the youngsters to be coming down with chicken pox and mumps. On an earlier visit Mrs. Metcalf had purchased a “little black box” — a $588 Drown Therapeutic Instrument to treat her family at home. Dr. Chatfield, she said, taught her to set the dials on the machine to cure the children.

Mrs. Metcalf, however, was not just another patient-she was an undercover agent for the California State Department of Public Health. Her three children were not ill. And the blood samples she gave to Doctors Drown and Chatfield were not her children’s blood-they were the blood of a turkey, a sheep, and a pig.

On the basis of this and other evidence, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John W. Miner-the prosecutor in the Marvin Phillips murder case-swooped down on the LaBrea Avenue building with a squad of police and public health inspectors, arrested Doctors Drown and Chatfield and an assistant, Mrs. Margaret Lunness, and took into custody enough Alice-in-Wonderland machines to fill a wing of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Drown died in 1965 while, awaiting trial. Dr. Chatfield and Mrs. Lunness were convicted of grand theft for their part of the operation and in 1967 were sentenced-Mrs. Lunness being placed on probation for three years and Dr. Chatfield receiving an indefinite prison term. They are presently appealing the convictions. [The information in this chapter on the Drown treatment @,l the Drown Laboratories operation is based on testimony at this trial, People v. Chatfield and Lunness, no. 279660, Super. Ct. Cal-, L. A. Co. 1966, and an earlier Federal trial, Drown v. U.S., 198 F 2d. 999 (9 Cir 1952), Cert. Den. 344 U.S. 920 (1953), file mentioned below.]

Ruth B. Drown and Cynthia Chatfield gave conventional chiropractic adjustments to their patients. They also did a lot more. They epitomized two notable tendencies among many chiropractors-love of pseudo-scientific gadgets and a weakness for foolish and dangerous medical theories.

At the time of Dr. Drown’s arrest she had treated 35,000 persons from all over the country with her diagnostic and therapeutic gadgets, and had sold the devices to other parties who had treated an unknown number of other patients. The devices could allegedly diagnose and cure nearly every known affliction from jealousy to cancer, plus a few ailments such as “extra kidney- which Dr.

Drown described as “not unusual” but which medical science has yet to discover. Actually, expert witnesses testified that the elaborate machines that form the basis of the Drown treatment are a hoax. The judge stated that the theory of the treatment is totally invalid.

Ruth Drown got some of her ideas from Dr. Albert Abrams, king of twentieth-century gadget quacks, who died in 1924 after having made millions selling his machines and treating patients with them. According to the Abrams theory, which he called “radionics,” all parts of the body vibrate and emit electrical impulses of different, ascertainable frequencies. What’s more, diseased organs emit impulses of different frequencies from healthy ones. To diagnose illness one “tuned in on the body’s organs with an Abrams radionics machine, noted where abnormal vibrations were occurring, and pinpointed the nature of the illness from the rate of vibration. The “cure” consisted in allegedly feeding proper vibrations into the body with an Abrams machine, thus overcoming the improper ones.

The Abrams contraptions inspired numerous imitations -perhaps as many as fifty. In state and federal legal actions against such devices, experts have repeatedly testified that both the machines and the theory behind them are sheer nonsense. This did not deter Ruth Drown, who took the old master’s notions and added many imaginative twists of her own.

At Drown Laboratories a patient was told to sit beside an impressive console and put his feet on two footpads made of German silver. The console had nine knobs arranged in three rows of three, and each knob had settings numbered from zero through ten. On the console panel there was also an ammeter. Near the right-hand corner of the desk on which the console was mounted was a small rectangular rubber membrane clamped down by a metal frame. Next to this was a cylindrical depression about an inch-and-a-half deep. Seated at the console, Dr. Drown placed an electrode made of lead on some portion of the patient’s body, usually his abdomen. This immediately caused a movement of the needle on the ammeter. With her right middle finger, on which she wore a rubber covering, Dr. Drown then stroked the rubber membrane while making adjustments on the nine dials with her left hand. When her finger began to “stick” or squeak on the rubber, this indicated that the dial settings were beginning to approach the vibration rate of the part or organ of the body that she was supposedly testing.

Next she would open a drawer of her desk and draw forth a number of sealed glass vials, each containing a different chemical. These she would insert, unopened, into the depression in the desk, one by one, while continuing to make careful adjustments on the dials. By this means she supposedly arrived at the exact vibration rate. She would then read off the numbers at which the dials were set, beginning with the upper left dial and proceeding horizontally across the three rows to the lower right. This composite number, taken down by an assistant on a large chart, represented the vibration rate of the illness, which could be looked up in an immense “rate book.”

The “rate book” also indicated the “normal” vibration rate, to be fed back into the body to restore health. In treatment the patient lay down in a small cubicle in the Drown Laboratories, placed his feet against footpads, and applied a lead electrode to the area designated by Dr. Drown. Wires led from the footpads and the electrode to a Drown treatment machine in another room, which was essentially the same as a diagnostic machine except that it had no rubber plate. The nine dials of the treatment machine were set to the numbers indicated in the rate book and the patient supposedly received healing vibrations of just the right frequency.

Another Drown treatment device was a tremendous hollow coil into which the patient, lying on a slab, was bodily inserted. “All we know about it,” Dr. Drown told investigators, “is that a coil with a charge in it seems to straighten up people who walk lopsided.” State officials who impounded the device at the time of the arrests promptly dubbed it “The Tunnel of Love.”

If a patient wished to do so he could buy a nine-dial treatment machine for home use. After being diagnosed at the laboratory the patient would be told where to set the dials for regular treatment sessions at home.

But even this was only the beginning. If a patient didn’t want to bother being hooked up to a machine, either at the laboratories or at home, he didn’t have to. Doctors Drown and Chatfield kept dried specimens of each patient’s blood on pieces of blotting paper. If a patient felt ill he could call Drown Laboratories, and the blood sample would be inserted into a slot in the diagnostic machine. The blood sample supposedly remained in some kind of continuous communication with the rest of the patient’s blood, wherever he might be, and thus reflected any current illness.

Treatment, too, could be “indirect.” For $35 a month Drown Laboratories would insert the patient’s blood specimen into a treatment machine at a specified time each day, set the dials to the indicated healing rate, and broadcast an hour’s worth of treatment to the patient, which would supposedly reach him anywhere on the face of the earth.

Ruth Drown also claimed that her machines could take photographs of the diseased organs of patients, wherever the patients were. She called the process “radio-vision.” Several such photographs were exhibited at the trial, including one allegedly taken by a Drown machine in London showing a blood clot and cancer in a patient in Connecticut. One medical expert called it “completely unintelligible”; another said that it looked to him like a Rorschach inkblot.

Dr. Drown had lots of other ideas. One of them was that jazz music was a cause of cancer. Cancer caused by jazz, she said, could be dissipated by playing such soothing tunes as Carrie Jacobs Bond’s “Perfect Day.”

She also believed that each human body is surrounded by a magnetic field, and that people should be taught how to care for their magnetic fields properly. One of her publications, the Drown Atlas of Radio Therapy, says,

Any patient who is weak and depleted should never take shower baths and stand in the water over the drain, because the patients magnetism is washed down with the water through the drain leaving him depleted. Also, a weak patient, after having had a tub bath should leave the tub and have someone else drain the water and clean the tub, If it is necessary to do this himself, he should leave the tub and put on a robe before starting to drain the tub. Too many people sit in the tub and drain the water while finishing the bath, and their own magnetism is drained through the drain pipes to the ground, leaving the patient with that much less reserve.

As early as 1949 the Drown devices had been shown completely incapable of diagnosing illness. At a University of Chicago experiment Dr. Drown was supplied with blood samples of a number of persons and asked to diagnose their conditions. In one case, after working over her dials for an hour, she announced that the patient had cancer of the left breast which had spread to the ovaries, uterus, pancreas, gall bladder, spleen, and kidney; that she was blind in her right eye; that her ovaries were not functioning properly; and that there was reduced function of various organs including the stomach, spinal nerves, and heart. Actually, the patient was suffering from tuberculosis of the upper lobe of the right lung.

In 1951 Dr. Drown was tried on federal charges of introducing a misbranded device in interstate commerce. At the trial one of the government’s expert witnesses, Dr. Elmer Belt, described the Drown device as “perfectly useless.” “You just do not seem to think much of the instrument, do you, Dr. Belt?” the defense attorney asked, “I couldn’t even use it to amuse the children,” Dr. Belt replied. Dr. Drown was found guilty by the jury and was fined $1,000. She stopped shipping her devices across state lines but otherwise — carried on business as usual.

In 1966 Dr. Chatfield and Mrs. Lunness went to trial in Los Angeles on the state charges. In addition to receiving Mrs. Jackie Metcalf’s firsthand account, the court heard a procession of witnesses relate astounding stories. One testified that Dr. Drown assured him that his son, a diabetic, could reduce his intake of insulin, prescribed by a doctor, if he took the Drown treatment. Another witness, an epileptic, was told by Dr. Drown that she could cure him; she said that he would be able to stop taking the drug dilantin prescribed by his physician, and she continued to treat him even after he had a severe seizure in her office. In another case a chiropractor who used Drown therapy instruments on his patients brought a man to Drown Laboratories who had polyps in his lower intestinal tract. A diagnosis by Drown instruments showed no cancer, and the chiropractor therefore continued to treat the supposedly benign polyps with a Drown therapy device. The patient’s condition worsened; a biopsy, done by a medical doctor, showed the growths to be malignant; and the patient died.

A dramatic highlight of the trial was the testimony of Dr. Moses A. Greenfield, professor of radiology at the UCLA School of Medicine and a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission. Disassembling a Drown device in open court, Dr. Greenfield explained that all it basically consisted of was a length of wire linking together two pieces of dissimilar metal-the German silver of the footpads and the lead of the electrode. The only function performed by the patient was to complete the otherwise broken circuit. With the circuit complete, a small electric current flowed between the two metals, which registered on the ammeter on the console. The entire device therefore operated like a simple flashlight battery. It was even possible to eliminate the patient entirely. Dr. Greenfield demonstrated that the same deflection of the ammeter needle could be produced by clipping the footpad and electrode into a dish of water instead of applying them to a human body.

As for the nine dials with their ten numbered settings, Dr. Greenfield dismounted the panel and showed that only two wires connected each dial to the circuit. Further dismantling showed that the ten positions of each switch were connected together and it therefore made no difference in which position any of the dials was set.

The Drown case demonstrated that leadership in nonsense in chiropractic comes from some of the field’s luminaries and educators. Ruth Drown had been president of the Drown College of Chiropractic. Raymond H. Houser, former dean of the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, testified at the trial that he had used the Drown device for treatment.

With the Drown-Chatfield operation out of business, I wondered if any other chiropractors were treating patients without seeing them. In the spring of 1968 I found one in the Midwest, whom we shall call Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson, I was told, diagnosed patients by mail, using specimens of their saliva. I therefore went to a biomedical laboratory and obtained, on a piece of typing paper, a specimen of the saliva of a female goat. I sent this to Dr. Johnson with the following letter:

Dear Dr. Johnson,

My friend from Chicago who have your treatment find it very helpful, and I write to ask your help. He send specimen of salava, and you tell him of his ailments and send him pills and he is feeling much better.

I am 40 years old, five feet 10 in. tall, weigh 150. Do not always feel well and some days are bad, like today. But do not know the cause. I enclose paper with my salava and hope you can help. If this is wrong way to do specimen please tell me. Pains sometimes severe. Thank you and ablige.

Sincerely yours.

As it turned out, I had done it the wrong way. Dr. Johnson replied promptly, saying, “To make these tests we need specially demagnetized paper, which I am sending you.” The fee, he noted, was $20.

Not having time to return to the biomedical laboratory, I took the slip of “demagnetized” paper to a veterinary hospital, where a veterinarian placed upon it a specimen of the saliva of a happy, healthy black male dog named Steve, who had no illnesses or infirmities. I sent it to Dr. Johnson along with a $20 check.

Again his reply was prompt. “I have just completed a very careful test for you,” he wrote in a letter dated two days after I mailed him the specimen and check from New York:

  • I find-Acidosis-Arteriosclerosis-Heart strain-Malnutrition-Pellagra-Streptococcus infection in the bowel and as a result of that, you have pin worm. I am sending garlic to get rid of that.
  • All glands and organs are low in function, for you are very badly run down.
  • Gall bladder, kidneys, lymph glands, thyroid and prostate are the worst.
  • Your body is starved for minerals.
  • Eat all food as nearly God made it as is possible-not as man has ruined it.
  • Three fourths of the “stuff” (it’s not really food) in the Super Market is not fit to carry home.

Under separate cover Dr. Johnson sent me bottles labeled:

  • Liq-A-Moni-Gland builder
  • 53-D-S-For heart
  • Tercapan-For digestion
  • 2C+-General builder
  • S-G-O-For worms

The bill for the medicines was $28.50.

I never did learn whether Dr. Johnson’s saliva tests involved the use of any gadgets. It is a fact, however, that involvement of the chiropractic field in gadgetry is an old tradition. It began with B. J. Palmer.

One of the beliefs of chiropractic is that subluxations emit heat, like “hot boxes” in the journal bearings of railroad cars. This enables a chiropractor to locate them. In the old days he ran his fingers gently down the patients back, feeling for warm spots. The process was called “palpating the spine.”

It occurred to B. J. Palmer that the process could be profitably automated. In the early 1920’s he came out with a wonder-working machine that he called a Neurocalometer. It consisted of a meter with a quivering needle in a polished wooden housing, and a two-pronged electrode that was run up and down the spine. Particularly sharp deflections of the needle indicated warm spots where the subluxations were supposedly located.

Chiropractors clamored for Neurocalometers, but B. J. played his cards close to his chest. They could not be purchased, but they could be leased for ten-year periods by chiropractors who signed up to take a postgraduate course at the Palmer School. Price of the ten-year lease: $2,200, of which $600 was required as a down payment.

Chiropractors felt that they had no choice. They paid for the lease in whole or in part, and took the PG course.

The chiropractic world was subsequently rocked by the discovery-plain enough to anyone who took two minutes to look at the instrument-that the Neurocalometer was an extremely simple device costing about $30 to put together.* Palmer slashed the leasing price, which only made the original lessees angrier. But wily B.J. easily rode out the storm among his confreres. According to a 1949 New Jersey legislative study, he is reported to made a cool half-million on the venture. Much later, in 1960, Stanford Research Institute scientists got hold of a Neurocalometer and found that the “temperature readings” could be drastically changed by simply applying various degrees of pressure to the electrode as it is moved along the spine.

Since, the Neurocalometer promotion, many chiropractors seem to have developed an appetite for gadgets that neither modern science nor the requirements of the law have been able to abate. Their passion for these chiropractic devices has kept Food and Drug Administration office, Post Office Department inspectors, and federal and state law enforcement officials busy for decades, but they have never really been able to catch up.

In 1959, the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the California State Department of Public Health discovered that chiropractors were being sold a “sound therapeutic vibrator,” a device that could allegedly cure cancer and other diseases by playing tape recordings of popular music and spoken recitations. The device, called a “Sonus Film-O-Sonic 105,” consisted basically of a continuous-tape playback unit of the type used to repeat messages over the telephone. The patient “got the message” in two ways-by listening to the tape with earphones, or by being connected to the machine by two moistened pads and having the vibrations penetrate directly into his body without his hearing them. To cure constipation the machine played a recitation from the Old Testament; to cure cancer, it played “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Illnesses were located and diagnosed by fastening one of the moistened pads to the afflicted person’s arm and passing a hand over his body until a “tingling” was felt in the hand or in certain fingers. Heart trouble, for example, was indicated when, with the hand and fingers in a specified Position, the finger opposite the patient’s left breast “throbbed” while the other fingers did not.

Federal authorities seized a supply of Film-O-Sonics from a Beaumont, Texas, chiropractor who was serving as a dealer. The seizure was contested, so the FDA brought in expert witnesses and prepared for a trial. The day before the trial was to take place, however, the claimant consented to condemnation of the machines. In California, State Public Health officials arrested a San Bernadino chiropractor and a second party, described as the promoters of the same device. It was found that the Film-O-Sonic, which could be made for about $35, was being sold to chiropractors for $500, and California officials estimated that the scheme had brought $200,000. The pair were convicted and sentenced for violation of state medical practice laws.

In 1962, the FDA won a long court fight against one of the most popular of all chiropractic devices, the Ellis Micro-Dynameter, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court action banning it from interstate commerce. The impressive-looking Micro-Dynameter was the centerpiece and the pride of many a chiropractic office — chiropractors even noted in their Yellow Pages phone listings that they offered Micro-Dynameter diagnosis. The machine’s circuit — and its value for diagnosing disease — was the same as that of the Drown instruments. It had the same operating elements: two electrodes of dissimilar metal, and a quivering needle. The patient’s only function was to complete the circuit. Federal officials tried it on two cadavers; it found them in perfect health.

Chiropractors who used the Micro-Dynameter could buy various vitamin and food supplements to go with it. The administration of these supplements was correlated with the Micro-Dynameter readings and with the location of the alleged subluxations. The subject is discussed in an article, “Electro-Analytical Instruments Used in Chiropractic Practice,” by Edwin H. Kimmel, D.C., a member of the faculty of the Chiropractic Institute of New York, which ran in the February and March, 1961, issues of the Journal of the National Chiropractic Association. [The American Chiropractic Association was formerly known as the National Chiropractic Association. It changed its name in the early 1960’s.] “Owners of the Micro-Dynameter (MDM),” says the article, “have already received a chart which correlates the meter readings with vitamins (‘VIVO-TONE’) the patient should be receiving. An example of its application: If the sixth and seventh dorsal are subluxated to the right, it is recommended that vitamin supplement No. 2 be dispensed. If sixth and seventh dorsal are subluxated to the left, vitamin supplement No. 6 is recommended.”

FDA found that more than 5,000 Micro-Dynameters had been sold, most of them to chiropractors, for prices ranging up to $875 each. FDA started rounding up the devices in chiropractic offices and by 1965 about a thousand of them had been located.

Some chiropractors loved and believed in the Micro-Dynameter, and it has died hard. In 1963, I mentioned the federal seizures in an article in the Saturday Evening Post. A Phoenix, Arizona, chiropractor wrote a grieving letter to the editor of the Post. “Give me the opportunity,” he said, “and I will prove beyond a doubt that the Micro-Dynameter is the greatest advance in Physical Diagnosis of the century.” At the Parker seminar in 1967 several chiropractors were discussing diagnostic instruments. One of the chiropractors mentioned the Micro-Dynameter wistfully. “It was a good instrument!” he sighed.

(FDA’s finding that the Micro-Dynameter cannot tell a dead patient from a live one may have been the reason for a phrase in a leaflet by a chiropractor named H. Robinson, describing an updated version of the Neurocalometer, which the author picked up at the Chiropractic Center of New York in 1964. The instrument, Robinson assures chiropractors, “is no good and is useless on a dead body. It is applicable and practical and can be used only on a live body.”)

In a 1963 court action Roy W. DeWelles, a chiropractor, was sentenced to serve ten years for mail fraud. His assistant Richard Broeringmeyer, pleaded guilty and received an eighteen-month sentence. The scheme involved a machine called the Detoxacolon, which according to the Food and Drug Adininistration was nothing more than a pressurized enema device. DeWelles was charged with having claimed that ailments such as cancer, asthma, arthritis, colitis, epilepsy, and high and low blood pressure are caused by toxins in the colon which could be eliminated through irrigation with water and oxygen. This treatment “ignored proven medical facts that point to the dangers of irrigating the colon, including the spreading of infection, possible perforation of the colon walls, and the rinsing out of badly needed salts and other materials required for the colon’s proper function,” says FDA.

According to FDA, DeWelles and Broeringmeyer traveled around the country selling a package deal to local chiropractors. The Detoxacolon-a wall fixture with dials, glass tubes, rubber hose, and an oxygen tank-would be set up in the chiropractor’s office. Thousands of postcards would then be mailed to local residents, offering a free medical examination by a “famous diagnostician.” Persons who responded were told that they had serious disorders and were induced to pay up to $500 for a series of Detoxacolon treatments. DeWelles then turned the rest of the job over to the chiropractor in whose office the machine had been installed, receiving from the chiropractor $2,500 for the machine, plus most of the advance payments that the patients had made. At the trial DeWelles admitted receiving over $500,000 for the sale of more than 200 Detoxacolons. Postal inspectors believe that he made at least an additional $1 million through the use of the device himself, while other chiropractors who bought and used the machine took in over $2 million.

In 1965, following an investigation by FDA officials, Frederick I. Sheldon, a Minneapolis, Minnesota, chiropractor, agreed to destroy eleven “Radioclast” devices that he was using. These devices are large consoles whose panels are a veritable forest of dials, lights, switches and meters. They were manufactured and distributed by L. L. Roby Manufacturing Company and Electronic Instrument Company, both of Tifflin, Ohio. The devices says FDA, are simply low-voltage generators producing a small electric current. “Scientific” reports on the machines were distributed through International Electronics Research Society, whose address was the same as that of L.L. Roby Manufacturing Company. The gadgets were then unloaded on chiropractors and other credulous fringe practitioners for prices ranging up to $1,200 each. FDA states that thousands were sold. [In recent years, some chiropractic groups have cooperated with authorities in attempting to relieve chiropractors of some of the more absurd devices of which many of them have been enamored. Following the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the banning of the Micro-Dynameter, state chiropractic associations have cooperated in rounding up the devices from chiropractor’s offices. In the Sheldon case, the Minnesota State Board of Chiropractic examiners held the hearings that resulted in destruction of the devices.]

Pursuing their path through the chiropractic gadget wilderness, FDA officials visited two chiropractic clinics in Kansas. There they found-and seized-specimens of a gimcrack called “Visual Nerve Tracing Instrument.” Promotional literature accompanying the devices, said FDA, made false and misleading claims that it could locate nerve impingement and diagnose such diseases as pulmonary thrombosis, hay fever, chronic bursitis, digestive disturbances, rapid or slow heartbeat, asthma, and diseased viscera. The U.S. District Court in Kansas issued a condemnation decree in 1966.

Meanwhile, some chiropractic groups apparently decided that money could be made in the endorsement business. The Federal Trade Commission charged that a mattress manufacturer had made a deal with twelve state chiropractic associations and the interstate association, of which the state groups are members, whereby, in exchange for the associations’ endorsement and promotion of the firm’s mattresses, the chiropractors would get a rake-off on each one sold.

FTC stated that, under the terms of the deal, National Mattress Company could claim that its “Posture Queen” mattresses met standards set by the associations, and that they had therapeutic value in spinal conditions. Actually, FTC charged in a complaint against the firm, the mattresses had no therapeutic or health-giving properties and were “not designed in accordance with specific engineering standards established by a chiropractic association.” In fact, said FTC, the alleged standards are nonexistent.” The case was settled in July, 1967, by a consent order in which the firm agreed to give up the health claims and drop the deal with the chiropractors.” [Federal Trade Commission consent orders are issued for the purpose of settling cases and eliminating the activity of which the commission has complained, without resorting to further litigation. They do not constitute an admission by parties involved that they have violated the law.]

FDA’s weary roundup of gadgets continues. In February, 1968, it reported seizure of a “Chiroscope Electronic Detector,” the labeling of which, said FDA, “lacked adequate directions for use for analysis and diagnosis” of certain conditions of the spine. Adequate directions, FDA added, “could not be written, since the device was worthless for its intended purposes.” A default decree was issued and the contraption was turned over to FDA. The use of such devices by chiropractors causes one to want to know more about the schooling that a chiropractor receives.

Contents ||| Chapter 6
Chirobase Home Page