Government Action against the Fremont Christian Clinic (1961)

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
August 20, 2020

The Freemont Cancer Clinic, which operated in California, was shut down in 1961. The following account, obtained from the files of the California Cancer Advisory Council, describes how they defrauded patients.

The Freemont Cancer Clinic was operated by four individuals—the ringleader of the group, Roy W. DeWelles, a chiropractor; two elderly physicians, W.W. Sherwood, M.D. and Charles L. Hawk, M.D; and a business manager named Schickadanz. On February 29, 1960, Mr. and Mrs. B.P. went to this clinic because of an intestinal condition in the wife. She was given a short physical examination, and X-rays of the chest and colon before and after a barium enema were taken.

In consultation with Dr. Hawk, she was told that the right lung was full of cancer and that the left showed a beginning of cancer. Hoxsey medication was prescribed. The total cost for the physical examination, laboratory work and Hoxsey medication was to be $580, but, since there was only $190 in the checking account, DeWelles, who had now taken over from Dr. Hawk, suggested that the husband write two checks: one for $190 and the other for $390, and he would hold the latter until a transfer from savings to checking account had been made. The wife was also told that her intestinal condition would require additional colonic therapy which would cost approximately $400.

After return to their home, the wife was examined by a local physician and no cancer was found.

In June 1959, Mr. T.P.M. received a diagnosis of tumor in the bowel and an exploratory operation was recommended. The patient was ready to submit to surgery but was diverted to the Fremont Christian Clinic by a friend. The usual diagnostic studies were performed there and he was told that he definitely had cancer. The Hoxsey treatment was prescribed for him, as well as intestinal treatments consisting of the instillation of oxygen into the large bowel. The price was between $800 and $1,000. He took the oral medication and the oxygen treatments but became progressively weaker. This continued until December 10, 1959, when he had a massive intestinal hemorrhage and was taken to a local hospital. A week later, surgery was performed and a large malignant tumor was noted.

At his ninety-day checkup after surgery, the wife was told that his cancer had metastasized widely. The patient died in May, 1960. His conventional treatment had been delayed six months while he was treated with the worthless Hoxsey medication.

S.J.M., a 2½-year-old child, had a diagnosis of sarcoma of the lower leg made at the University of California and an amputation was recommended. This was declined and, on April 9, 1960, the child was taken to the Fremont Christian Clinic where a diagnosis of cancer was confirmed without biopsy. Krebiozen was prescribed, and three injections were given in Los Angeles. This treatment was continued by the family physician when they returned to their home. After a dozen injections, there was no improvement in the child’s condition and the Clinic was so informed. Following this, the parents received a package of various pills and liquids which were identified as the Hoxsey treatment. The pills were too large for the child to swallow, and the liquid was refused because of its taste. The child expired on August 3, 1960. A refund, which had been promised the parents by the Clinic should the child die, was not made.

On June 22, 1960, an undercover operative visited the Clinic for the Department. She was given a superficial examination, X-rays of the chest were taken and, although she had no signs of cancer recurrence, the Hoxsey remedy was prescribed “to prevent a recurrence.” The total bill was $545.

On July 22, 1960, another undercover operative visited the Clinic. Everything about the Clinic—the instruments, the enema tube, the surgical gowns, the dressing room floors and a blanket were described as dirty. She was given a superficial examination, including an anoscopic, but a diagnosis of cancer was not made until she stated that, since she did not have cancer, she was not going to pay almost $600 for the Hoxsey medication and the examinations. At this point, Dr. Hawk reversed his diagnosis and stated that cancer did show up on the chest X-rays.

It later was learned that a supply of X-ray films was kept in the view box and were represented as belonging to the patient whose diagnosis was then being considered. One of the persons working in the Clinic in a clerical position finally became suspicious and reported her suspicions to the bunko squad in Los Angeles. The incident which finally convinced her that there was a fraudulent operation going on in the Clinic occurred one day when a male patient was told that he had cancer in both lungs. He was shown an X-ray of the chest which they said was his but actually was from a female patient and the breast shadows of the latter patient were pointed out to the male patient as representing cancer in both lungs. After he had purchased his medication and departed, the operators of the Clinic laughed uproarously over the whole incident.

The bunko squad, on receipt of the above-mentioned information, reported it to the Bureau of Food and Drug Inspections of the State Department of Public Health and this Bureau desired to take criminal action. Consequently, the administrative action of the cancer quackery program was deferred pending results of the criminal action. The principals of the Clinic were arrested on March 29, 1961 and, after a Grand Jury indictment, the trial began on January 15, 1962 and lasted ten weeks. It ended with a hung jury. The second trial began in June, this time without a jury and, after two or three weeks, the judge found all defendants innocent of all charges. Prior to the arrest, the cancer quackery program had held investigatory hearings on September 28 and October 19, 1960 and the accusatory hearing, initially scheduled for the spring of 1961, was deferred as indicated above, awaiting the criminal trial. In July of 1963, both Dr. Sherwood and Dr. Hawk consented to the issuance of Cease and Desist Orders which were then issued on August 29, 1963. After the trial, Dr. DeWelles, the guiding light of the Clinic, disappeared from the State, but word about him was received a year or two later. It seems he had been carrying on a diagnostic racket in Indiana and a federal agency had determined this and had him convicted of fraud, receiving a 10-year jail sentence. Subsequent to that, it was learned that the Bureau of Internal Revenue had assessed him for approximately $160,000 for unpaid income taxes

Dr. Sherwood has retired from practice, but Dr. Hawk is in practice by himself and specializes in weight reduction—much of it probably directed to the pocketbook.