Author’s Note: Every quote, other than those which came from the obituary, is from a different person and printed exactly as written.
I actually thought he had died many years ago. He seemed quite old when he beat me and raised welts on my face, arms and legs. But then I was only five, and all adults appear old when you’re that age. The reality is that he probably wasn’t much older than I am right now.
Someone, one of the many people who contacted me about him, recently sent me his obituary. He had only just passed in October of 2020. Not even a year ago as of this writing. If I had at all known he was still alive I would have called and confronted him. But for reasons that will be explained later in this piece, he abruptly retired from his dental practice and moved far away from Erie, Pennsylvania.
His obituary glowed with beautiful words of praise indicating that he was a beloved man. He had lived an apparently happy life well into his late eighties.
I had to re-read his death notice. I had to study this old man’s photograph. Was that really him? Was it? He certainly had the glasses. And that huge head of hair! “Trump hair” according to one of the victims who emailed me. Dark , almost black when I was a child. Pure white now. Well? Was it him?
It had to be. The details all lined up perfectly. Pediatric dentist who practiced in Erie, Pennsylvania from the 1960s until the 1980s. Who else could it be?
I read it again. And a fourth time. The praise was effusive. The words described a great man. A wonderful human being. A man of sensitivity and accomplishment.
As I read them I couldn’t help but contrast the description of this man with the words of his former patients. They had been contacting me in great numbers. I wrote a blog piece about my horrendous experience with this childrens’ dentist. I did it for myself. For therapy. I blogged for an audience of one…myself.
For 6 years the story was all but unnoticed. My blog is not monetized and I rarely share the stories. Entire years went by with absolutely no site traffic. Then someone whose memories haunted them in the same way that mine did…still do, found it. She shared it. Suddenly my obscure little blog was getting tons of views. I got site contacts, Facebook messages and emails.
They shared their stories of abuse and terror. So many stories just like mine. A lot of the recollections were so much worse and more terrifying than my memories
I calmed myself down and slowly read the obituary one more time. After every word of praise I stopped and closed my eyes. I compared them with the stories that had been shared with me. I didn’t have to look them up again. They were committed to memory.
“He punched me in the mouth.”
“I came home with so much blood soaked cotton in my mouth I could barely breathe.”
“A loving father…”
“He was a monster.”
“A horrible sadistic man.”
“…truly a renaissance man…”
“I watched him hold his hand over my brother’s mouth and nose. Terrified is mild.”
“Always yelled and screamed.”
“…an avid and skilled sportsman.”
“He threatened to punch me in the face if I moved.”
“My daughter locked herself in the bathroom she was so frightened of him.”
“A voracious reader.”
“Told me if I cried he would throw me out the window.”
“A banjo player…”
“He hit my daughter when she was four. She walked around with a bruised lump under eye and ended up having surgery when she was five. Plastic surgery. But I believed him when he said he didn’t do anything. Stupid me. She had to be medicated before each dentist appointment after that.”
“He hurt me. And enjoyed it.”
“He yelled, pulled me by my head up the chair and insisted I keep my eyes open during the procedure.”
“He put his hands around my neck and told me to stop crying.”
“He loved to share fun.”
“I remember clearly him kneeling on my chest to hold me down while I screamed in pain. I was six years old.”
“Hit me and held my head down by pulling my hair.”
“It was important to him to try to help others.”
“He slapped my little brother and locked him in the closet while working on the rest of us.”
“It was only when my father noticed a bruise on my chin, shaped like a thumb, that anyone believed me and I never had to go back.”
“…passionate love of life.”
“He split my lip open pulling them apart and telling me to shut up.”
“…enthusiastic dedication to everything…”
“He would make you cry then take you by the door to the waiting room and say that you couldn’t see your mother until you stopped crying.”
”He threatened us if we cried.”
“…put his hands around my neck and told me to stop crying.”
“He told them if they cried he would pull out all their teeth.”
“Remembered with love and affection by all those whose lives he touched over the course of his lifetime”
“Till this day when I drive down Peach St. and look at that professional Building…brings back horrible memories as a child.”
“This man caused my fear of dentists to this very day.”
“I was 43 when I had to get dentures due to being too scared.”
“I am 47 and still scared to go to the dentist…”
“The funny thing is I actually became a dental hygienist! I think it’s because I want to make it better for people.”
“OMG! This guy gave me panic attacks that I still have to this very day!”
“I still tense up when I am near his old office on Peach.”
I myself still tense up when I am near that office building on 16th and Peach. It still stands looking exactly the same as it did over 40 years ago. Sometimes I think of walking in and confronting those demons.
So many people wrote to me with vivid descriptions of his office. The toys. The colorful clown pictures that lined the walls. The numerous coloring book pages from all his little patients.
I brought him a coloring book page too. I worked hard on it. Tried my best to keep the crayon within the lines. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted him to gratefully love the picture so he wouldn’t strike me. He gushed over it in the waiting room in front of my mother. I felt relieved because he smiled.
The picture didn’t work. As usual his smile disappeared the minute the waiting room door closed. He grabbed me by the shoulders and slammed me into the side of his dental chair. He never actually placed me into the chair, just held me against it.
But I’ve already recorded my experiences with this monster. And now I’ve heard literally hundreds of other peoples’ experiences as well. So here come the questions. I did say this blog post was going to be about questions, didn’t I?
Firstly, Before any other question is “WTF happened here?!” I mean seriously?! Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s this man abused hundreds of very young children. He raised welts, made children cry, bleed, piss themselves in fear and vomit.
Where were the parents? Where was the dental association? Erie had a dental association back then. No complaints?
Parents were not allowed to go into the exam room. He told the mothers never to ask the children about their dental procedures as it “would just make them nervous.” He threatened the children as well. Told them to stop crying before he would let them out of his office. He told me he would hurt my mother if I told her that he hit me.
Still it doesn’t make sense does it? From all the stories I have gathered there were parents who caught on to his abuse. It doesn’t seem like any of them actually complained. Some people have said “Well, it was the 70s. We didn’t do much about it back then.” It took until about 1985 when someone finally did complain and brought about this man’s career ending “retirement.” We’ll get to that in a minute.
As I’ve stated, Erie does have a dental association. Seems to be an organization in name only nowadays but was very active when this dude was practicing. Problem was he was a stellar member. My current dentist remembers going to lectures and training led by this monster. Perhaps cronyism and his friendships within this group saved him from losing his license.
Did he lose his license? I don’t know. Sometime around 1985 he broke a little boy’s arm by hitting the child with his drill. Maybe even his friends within the Erie Dental Association couldn’t ignore this misstep. The little boy’s mother had the X-Rays to prove it.
Shortly after that, his patients received a letter announcing his sudden retirement. The children couldn’t believe their good luck. One woman told me she actually sobbed with relief. The monster was gone and they would never have to see him again.
I tried to contact the Erie Dental Association to see if they had any records. I found a brief mention on the Pennsylvania Association website. I found a Facebook page. Nobody responded.
Well, I guess I can’t really say that NOBODY responded. Nobody that is actually associated with any local dental organizations replied to me. There was a furious response by a young woman from Utah. Someone who had not even been born when all the abuse had taken place.
I can’t place why she had a dog in this fight. Relative? Friend of the family? She advised the Dental Association to get a lawyer. Said I was “delusional”. Astonishingly, she wrote that I had orchestrated a long “campaign of violence” against this man and his family. She questioned why I waited until the man was dead.
I greatly admire young women who defend others. That she had the confidence to say all this to protect loved ones within her periphery. Good for her but I found her online attack somewhat bizarre considering her complete lack of knowledge about the situation.
Truthfully I am jealous of this young lady. To be confident and outspoken at such a young age is a privilege that some of us don’t get because childhood trauma negates that. Would I have been a more vibrant 20 year old if the very man she was defending hadn’t beat me bloody? If he hadn’t shaken my 5 year old body until my ears rang? If he hadn’t backhanded me and told me to keep my mouth shut about his abuse?
Am I whining? Maybe. There is a school of thought about bucking up after childhood abuse. “It was a long time ago. You’re an adult now.” “Take responsibility.” “Get over it and move on.” “The past is the past.” I get it. There is truth and good advice in all those statements. It ain’t easy though the point is well taken.
I think a lot about all the people who shared their stories. Every single one of them was slapped, shaken, punched and threatened. A lot of them talked about him placing his hands around their necks. Some had their hair pulled. They were all so little, so innocent. It’s sickening what this man did.
He had a preferred age to abuse. Usually from about 5 to 8 years old. Some indicated that he didn’t beat children who were older than 9 or 10. Was that because those were less formative years? Older children are more difficult to intimidate and less likely to keep quiet about being beaten.
So does any of this really matter anymore? The man is dead and has lived far away from Erie for almost 40 years. From his obit I gathered they were 40 happy years. Why does that anger me?
He led an apparently good life here in Erie. He and his then wife were firmly ensconced in this town’s social scene. They attended charity balls, participated in auxiliaries. Ski club, boat racing at the Yacht Club, Sertoma, art committees, galas, teas, Kahkwa Club. They kept company with Erie’s wealthy and elite. Then left all that behind for New England.
He also seemed to have lived a full and happy life in New England. He kept up with his favorite activities like golfing and skiing well into his old age. Although he divorced and remarried, all his family seemed to have kept close to him. They did say he was a loving father, right?
Was he a loving father? He must have been. Can a sociopath with sadistic personality disorder be a kindhearted parent? Did his wives and children never see even one hint of his cruelty? Did they know why he retired from dentistry and got outta Dodge? Did his first wife, seemingly happy with her place in Erie Society, question this drastic move?
Did he leave his intense desire to terrorize children behind in Erie? Can a sadist just stop their behavior? Did the child with the broken arm almost reveal the secret of his 30 years of abuse?
He must have had enablers and protectors. He must have been charming. He had a large circle of friends. I actually remember his charm. The big smile when he came to the waiting room to escort his little patients back to the exam room. The joking. The kind words. The exclamation of praise over my pathetically colored picture. He was going to hang it up in his office because it was so pretty! How he held my hand as we walked away. It must have looked so sweet to the parents in the waiting room.`
The sadistic dentist is an oft used trope. Think Little Shop Of Horrors or Marathon Man. But is it possible that it may be a profession that could attract someone with those proclivities? I’m not slagging dentists. My current dentist is a compassionate and gentle man. He has seen me through dental emergencies with such kindness and I am grateful to him.
I believe I owe this follow -up to all of the victims that had to go through this monster’s “treatment”. All of these people who, like myself, still get nauseous when near that old Professional Building. All those adults, now in their 40s and 50s who still cry with these memories. Who were tiny and impressionable when they got smacked around by the man their parents believed to be a trusted professional. The ogre who had previously smiled at them and took their hand to lead them into his chamber of horrors.
An abused child can feel even smaller than they physically are. Reduced to nothing by an inhuman creature so much bigger and stronger and louder.
To all of you who had the misfortune of passing through his dental practice I want to tell you that you are not alone. So many of you have shared your stories and I appreciate that. I hear you and I believe you. Maybe there were adults in your life back then who didn’t take you seriously. Perhaps they thought you were lying or exaggerating. I know your truth.
None of this was your fault! You had the great misfortune to pass through the aura of a monster. You are here. You have all survived. Every one of you has come a long way. It wasn’t easy. I am proud of you all and wish you peace.