Rife Machine Operator Sued

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
December 10, 2012

The Attorneys General of Wisconsin and Minnesota have sued to stop an unlicensed woman, Shelvie Rettmann, of Prior Lake, Minnesota, from representing that she can cure cancer.

In December 1997, Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle announced that a Wisconsin resident who was diagnosed with advanced colon and liver cancer used Rettmann’s services after being told that she could cure the woman’s cancer [1]. Although medical doctors had recommended chemotherapy, Rettmann had advised her otherwise.

At their first meeting, Rettmann allegedly photographed the woman and her daughter with a Polaroid camera and put the photos in a cup attached to a radionics machine. After telling the mother that she had colon and blood cancer and the daughter that she had breast cancer, Rettmann allegedly advised both to have treatments with a Rife Frequency Generator, a special diet, dietary supplements, a regimen of baths, and foot zoning (a type of foot massage claimed to break up accumulated deposits at the end of foot nerve endings in order to help heal the body).

Both women underwent multiple treatments. The mother paid Rettmann a total of $1,778.85, and the daughter paid $495.30. At their final meeting, Rettmann told the mother that she had been cured. Within a month, however, the mother experienced severe pain that caused her to see a physician. She was told that her cancer had progressed considerably and that the prognosis was hopeless. She died soon after that assessment. The daughter was subsequently examined by her personal physician and told that she did not have breast cancer.

Rettmann allegedly conducted seminars about her products in Ellsworth. Consumers who used her services were allegedly told that she had successfully treated as many as 1,000 patients.

According to Doyle, Rettmann told patients that the government did not want to cure cancer and did not understand what she was doing. She also allegedly provided her customers books and videotapes which claimed that there was a conspiracy to keep the Rife generator from being approved by the FDA and that the government was wrong at Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing. She had been selling the Rife device for about $3,500 and the radionics machine for $1,700. She also sold the nutritional supplements she recommended.

In September 1998, Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III announced that his office had obtained a judgment against Rettmann [2]. The Scott County District Court found that Rettmann had violated state laws prohibiting deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud by selling medical devices without FDA approval and telling consumers she could cure cancer with a “Rife generator” machine, a “radionics” device, “foot-zoning” treatments, and various vitamins and supplements. During a hearing, the FDA provided support and expert testimony confirming that the devices Rettmann sold were illegal.

The judge concluded: (a) Rettmann had sold over $7,000 worth of bogus medical devices, treatments and products to an Anoka, Minnesota, man with pancreatic and liver cancer; (b) Rettmann promised she could cure the consumer’s cancer faster if he stopped taking chemotherapy treatments; (c) relying on Rettmann’s promise, the man stopped chemotherapy after a single session and died four months later; and (d) Rettmann also violated Minnesota consumer laws by saying she was licensed to practice “foot zoning” (essentially foot massage) and she could cure cancer through “foot zoning” treatments. Minnesota does not license the practice of “foot zoning.” The judge prohibited Rettmann from providing health care services or products, ordered refunds upon request to injured consumers, and imposed civil penalties of $50,000 plus the state’s attorney fees and costs.

Rettmann filed for bankruptcy in July 1998. However, the court ruled that the State was still entitled to obtain a judgment. Consumers who paid Rettmann for health care services or products since June 25, 1991 should contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353, or 1-800-657-3787, TYY (651) 297-7206 or 1-800-366-4812. Because Rettmann is in bankruptcy there is no assurance of refunds. However, contacting the Attorney General’s Office will preserve that possibility.

In 2001, the FDA warned Bioray, Inc., of Birmingham, Alabama, that it was illegal to sell the BioRay Light and Sound Generator as a diagnostic or therapeutic device [3]. Some sellers of the device became more cautious about claims on the Internet, but the device is still marketed today.

Background History

Radionics is a pseudoscience based on the notion that diseases can be diagnosed and treated by tuning in on radio-like frequencies allegedly emitted by disease-causing agents and diseased organs. The theory behind it originated with Albert Abrams, M.D. (1864-1924), who developed thirteen devices claimed to detect such frequencies and/or cure people by matching their frequencies. Abrams made millions leasing his devices and was considered by the American Medical Association to be the “dean of gadget quacks.” He claimed:

  • All parts of the body emit electrical impulses with different frequencies that vary with health and disease.
  • Illnesses—as well as age, sex, religion, and location—could be diagnosed by “tuning in” on patient’s blood or handwriting samples with one of his devices.
  • Diseases could be treated by feeding proper vibrations into the body with another of his devices.

During the 1950s, an FDA investigation showed that some of Abrams’s devices produced magnetism from circuits like that of an electric doorbell, whereas others had short-wave circuits resembling those of a taxicab transmitter [4]. Similar devices have been produced by many others and are still marketed today.

One of Abrams’s many imitators was Royal Raymond Rife (1888-1971), an American who claimed that cancer was caused by microorganisms. During the 1920s, he claimed to have developed a powerful microscope that could detect living microbes by the color of auras emitted by their vibratory rates. His Rife Frequency Generator allegedly generates radio waves with precisely the same frequency, causing the offending bacteria to shatter in the same manner as a crystal glass breaks in response to the voice of an opera singer. The American Cancer Society has pointed out that although sound waves can produce vibrations that break glass, radio waves at the power level emitted a Rife generator do not have sufficient energy to destroy bacteria [5].

The bottom line is that radionics devices have no value for diagnosing or treating anything.

For Additional Information on Radionics Devices


  1. Wisconsin Department of Justice. Attorney General files suit against marketer of cancer cures; Doyle says machines and treatments are medical quackery. News release, Dec 2, 1997.
  2. Wisconsin Department of Justice. Humphrey obtains judgment to stop bogus cancer cures. News release, Sept 30, 1998.
  3. Spears LD. Warning to company president Lin Kenny, Feb 12, 2001.
  4. Janssen W. The gadgeteers. In Barrett S, Jarvis WT, editors. The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993:321-335.
  5. American Cancer Society. Questionable methods of cancer management: Electronic devices. CA—A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 44:115-127, 1994.

This article was revised on December 10, 2012.