book reviews, true crime

Repost: Doc, a horrifying story of a doctor who sexually abused his patients…

This review originally appeared on Epinions.com on September 11, 2011. I am reposting it as/is.

This review deals with the subject of rape.  If you are squeamish about such things, please skip this review.

I have a problem trusting doctors, especially gynecologists.  My issues stem from the very first pelvic exam I ever endured.  The woman who performed this very intimate procedure traumatized me by being way too rough and physically hurting me.  At the time, I was too inexperienced and shocked to say anything to the doctor about the violation, although I know she could tell that I was very upset.  She treated me with condescension and disrespect.  Consequently, to this day over sixteen years later, I still fear most doctors.  Perhaps for that reason, I should not have read Jack Olsen’s 1990 book, Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell.  As it turns out, my curiosity trumped my squeamishness and I did read the book, which I first heard about on Recovery from Mormonism, a Web site for former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Doc was of interest to members of exmormon.org because it’s about the crimes a trusted family doctor committed against some of the women of Lovell, Wyoming, a town heavily populated by Mormons.

Dr. John Story… trusted family doctor and rapist

For over twenty-five years, Dr. John Story practiced family medicine in Lovell, Wyoming.  Though he was a strange and egotistical man, he was a much loved and trusted practitioner.  A staunch Baptist, Dr. John Story knew the Bible and appeared to live by conservative Christian ideals.  He came to Lovell in 1958 because the town badly needed a doctor.  Many of Dr. Story’s patients were female members of the LDS church.  He delivered cradle to grave medical care for all of Lovell’s citizens and did everything from delivering babies to looking after elderly patients. 

Although Dr. Story appeared to be the very picture of propriety, he had a few quirks.  For one thing, he was biased against people of Mexican and German descent.  He held them in contempt, along with those who were indigent or received welfare.  For another thing, he took issue with Mormon doctrine, which he considered false.  He would banter with his LDS patients about religion and appeared to be tolerant of their differences, but deep down, Dr. Story hated Mormons.  Thirdly, Dr. Story seemed to be overly eager to give pelvic exams to certain patients, particularly those who fell into certain groups that he didn’t respect.  A woman might show up at his office, presenting with a sore throat.  She might have tonsilitis, but Dr. Story would somehow convince her that she was overdue for a pelvic exam.  And then he would deliver what seemed to be an overly thorough and painful exam with his penis instead of gynecological instruments.  Only she wouldn’t necessarily understand that she had just been raped by her trusted doctor.

Why did he do it?

On page 319 of Doc, investigators took stock of all of the women who had made claims that Dr. Story had raped them.  At that time, they had interviewed two dozen victims and had the names of several more.  Of the two dozen victims, four were Hispanic Catholics, one was a Lutheran of German heritage, and the rest were Mormons.  One of the investigators surmised that the numbers made sense if one remembers that rape is a crime of hatred, violence, and rage.  Rape is not about sex or passion. 

Dr. Story had openly disparaged Mexicans, whom he’d often referred to as “those people”.  He felt that Mormon doctrine was “satanic” and was enraged by what he considered their blasphemous beliefs.  And for some reason, he had always had a chip on his shoulder about Germans, referring to them as “those damn Germans!” to one of his nurses.

How did he get away with raping women for twenty-five years? 

It’s hard to believe that a woman who is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol could be raped, yet unsure of what happened.  Most women who have ever had sex with a man know what a penis feels like.  At the very least, a woman should be able to tell the difference between hard flesh and hard metal or plastic.  In order to understand how this might happen, one has to consider that Lovell, Wyoming is a very insular community that is home to many Mormons, a religious group that forbids premarital sex and masturbation.  Many of the women who accepted Dr. Story’s services had never been sexually active or had only been intimate with their husbands.  Quite a few of the women were apparently very unsophisticated about sexual matters.  They trusted their doctor implicitly; he had been faithfully serving the people of Lovell for so many years.  Many of the women were not entirely sure about what had actually happened; they only suspected they had been raped.  Moreover, Dr. Story typically delivered his exams without a nurse present. 

Dr. Story’s crimes against the women of Lovell came to an end when a small group of courageous LDS women finally decided to bring him to justice.  A couple of the women had even had children that they suspected might have been fathered by the family doctor.  But Dr. Story had many supporters in Lovell and the brave women who came forward to put a stop to Dr. Story’s abuse suffered backlash.  This case, which was finally tried in the mid 1980s, divided the tiny town like no other.

My thoughts 

I hesitated before I started reading this book, mainly because I find the whole topic of gynecology to be creepy and unsettling.  The idea that a family physician could be so brazenly violating so many women makes me very uncomfortable.  It was shocking and infuriating to read about some of the things Dr. Story did to his patients.  Nevertheless, as horrifying as this story was to me, it was also fascinating.  Dr. John Story is, in my mind, the very picture of a sociopath who believes he is above the law.  Even in prison, he demanded deference and held everybody to standards that he did not himself observe. 

The late Jack Olsen spins this complicated tale masterfully.  His words are engrossing and fascinating, as if they were written for a thriller instead of true crime.  There are no pictures in this book, but I had no trouble picturing the people involved.  Olsen assigns inflections to his dialogue, turning the subjects into characters.  His writing is very engaging; I could tell that he was heavily invested in doing this story justice.

Potential negatives

Doc is now out of print.  There are plenty of used copies available on Amazon.com.  This book might be somewhat offensive to members of the LDS church.  Olsen does not present the faith in the most flattering light.  I didn’t think he went out of his way to be disrespectful, but he does occasionally quote people who have negative opinions about Mormonism.  Doc is also a very complicated story that takes time and effort to read. 

Overall   

While I can’t say Doc makes me eager to get over my gyno-phobia, I do think it’s a fascinating story.  The subject matter is grotesque and distasteful, but it’s also amazing, mainly because Dr. John Story was able to get away with his crimes for so very long and so many people were willing to support him, even though he was accused of such ghastly crimes.  It’s often said the truth is stranger than fiction… when it comes to the story of the women of Lovell, Wyoming and Dr. John Story, I definitely have to agree.

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7 thoughts on “Repost: Doc, a horrifying story of a doctor who sexually abused his patients…

  1. I read that one a couple of years ago. It creeped me out.

    have you ever heard of Dr.Withers from Rexburg? My aunt (my mom’s sister and not one of the crazy aunts) had an experience with him at some point in the very early ’70s. Her husband was completing his residency there, i think. They lived in one of the small towns just outside and maybe slightly above Rexburg. My aunt hurt her finger (actually broke it, she learned when she went to a sane doctor the next day) and, as a voice teacher who needs to play the piano, she didn’t want it healing poorly, so she sought medical attention. Withers was the only one who had any time available. He looked at her finger, then immediately wanted her to get into a gown and take all underclothing off. She walked out without saying anything else. My uncle wanted to deck him, but my uncle’s superiors told him it would be a very bad career move. Withers didn’t really have anyone make a case against him until he retired.

    • I have not heard of him, but reading and hearing about these cases make me have more understanding about my own reluctance to see doctors. There are some real sick puppies out there.

    • Why do they seem to congregate in Mormon circles? Reminds me of that creepy Mormon therapist, Heath J. Sommer, who convinced his clients that having sex with him was “therapy”. I may repost my articles about that case.

  2. Maybe Mormon women are especially vulnerable because they tend to be so sexually repressed that it takes them longer either to be aware or to admit to themselves that something improper is happening/has happened. It’s also harder for them to talk about it. Then there’s the misogyny that’s typically present in a Mormon community, causing those charged with making decisions as to whether or not to take action against the accused to believe the accused rather than the many accusers, along with those in the court of public opinion in a Mormon community who will typically believe a male — all the more so if he’s a respected priesthood holder. Dr. Story, though, got by with it despite not being a Mormon.

    There was a situation in the late ’90’s in Fairfield, CA, involving Dr. John Parkinson, a Mormon physician sexually abusing women, among other abuses of medical practice. One might think that the Mormon influence in California wouldn’t be strong enough for such a person to get away with anything of that nature for any length of time, but one would be wrong. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Fairfield has (if such is still the case) roughly four times as many Mormons as a comparable city (100,00 to 120,00 residents) in California would have. I believe most of Parkinson’s victims were Mormon. Furthermore, until all of this went down, Mormons tended to be over-represented in local government positions. My family lived in Vacaville (ten miles from Fairfield) for almost two years when I was in third and fourth grade. i knew vaguely what was going on because i was already reading newspapers, but we didn’t actually know anyone involved.

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