Written By Andy Cush (Gawker, Black Bag)
On June 19, a fisherman found the body of Dr. James Bradstreet—a forceful proponent of the bunk theory that vaccines are linked to autism—in a North Carolina river, with a gunshot wound through his chest. Three days later, chiropractors Bruce Hedendal and Baron Holt were separately found dead, and eight days after that, Dr. Theresa Sievers was murdered in her home. What the hell is going on here?
The truth-seeking measles-lovers of America would have you believe that an anti-alternative medicine conspiracy is afoot. “5 Holistic Health Doctors Found Dead In 4 Weeks, 5 More Go Missing – After Run-Ins with Feds,” shouts a headline on the reliably paranoid website The Free Thought Project; “5th holistic doctor (age 33) died in Florida making 5 dead and 5 more missing” reads a similar article on Health Nut News. (The fifth doctor is Lisa Riley, a Georgia emergency room physician who was murdered in her home on July 10.) Both articles imply that mysterious forces may have punished the dead and missing doctors for heroically standing up against the FDA’s and pharmaceutical companies’ attempts to poison your children. Needless to say, they’re wrong.
Dr. James Jeffrey Bradstreet
The most visible of these doctors, and the only one with any real link to the FDA, is Bradstreet. Because of his prominence within the anti-vaxxer movement—he twice testified about autism in front of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Washington Post notes—and because the FDA really did raid his Buford, Ga., practice the week before his death, conspiracists began theorizing almost immediately after Bradstreet died. The sheriff’s office in Rutherford County, N.C., where Bradstreet often vacationed and where his body was found, said that his gunshot wound appeared to be self-inflicted, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. But Bradstreet’s family and supporters do not believe he committed suicide: A GoFundMe page with the stated intent of financing “an exhaustive investigation into the possibility of foul play” has raised $38,000 at the time of this writing.
Why did the FDA raid Bradstreet’s office before he died? The anti-vaxxers are probably right that it had something to do with his controversial practices, which were legitimately dangerous and deserving of government scrutiny. TheWashington Post has a good rundown of Bradstreet’s bad medicine: Beyond his conviction that the MMR vaccine causes autism—an idea that has been roundly disproven, and which has led to a new surge of measles cases in the U.S.—there’s also his use of chelation, a practice involving chemicals that remove metals from patients’ blood. Those metals can include mercury, which anti-vaxxers mistakenly believe is linked with autism, but they can also contain necessary stuff like calcium. Forbes reported that the FDA’s warrant cited Bradstreet’s use of an experimental compound called GcMAF.
But that the idea that the federal government would order a hit on an American doctor, then dump his body in a river, is completely ungrounded in reality. That should be self-evident. The real story is likely much sadder than that, and perhaps harder for loved ones to accept: For reasons known only to himself, James Bradstreet decided to end his own life.
The remaining doctors, as Snopes points out in a thorough examination of the conspiracy theory, have nothing to do with Bradstreet or the FDA.
Baron Holt and Bruce Hedendal
The Free Thought Project article crows about how no cause of death was reported for either Holt or Hedendal, which the reader is encouraged to take as evidence of a coverup. However, the Raleigh News & Observer reports that Holt’s family is awaiting an autopsy report, meaning the cause of death has not yet been officially determined, and according ABC affiliate WZVN, 67-year-old Hedendal may have died of natural causes. Both men were ordinary, locally practicing chiropractors with no national media presence or controversies to their names. Despite the Free Thought Project’s misleading headline, there’s no evidence that either had run-ins with the feds. Really, there’s no reason to believe that the FDA or big pharma would be interested in them at all.
Dr. Teresa Sievers and Dr. Lisa Riley
Then there are the murders. Dr. Teresa Sievers, of Bonita Springs, Fla., was killed with what may have been a hammer in her own home in late June. No arrests have yet been made in the case, but investigators told a local NBC affiliate this month that they are pursuing “several leads.” Sievers was what you might describe as a holistic doctor—her website’s “about” page uses phrases like “ancient discipline” and “quantum energy”—but again, there is no evidence of a link between Sievers and the FDA or any other branch of government.
Lisa Riley’s death is easier to pin down: her husband, boxer Yathomas Riley,was arrested for her murder. In 2010, he was charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting his then-girlfriend in the head—the same method by which Lisa Riley was allegedly killed. (Koketia King, Yathomas Riley’s previous girlfriend, survived the shooting.) Moreover, Lisa Riley was an emergency room doctor at a conventional hospital and had no apparent ties to the alternative medicine movement. How her killing fits into the conspiracists’ alleged pattern is unclear.
Finally, the five missing doctors, whose connections to the imaginary FDA plot are just as tenuous as Riley’s.
Dr. Patrick Fitzpatrick
A North Dakotan former ophthalmologist named Patrick Fitzpatrick disappeared while driving near Three Forks, Montana in early July, another piece of evidence in the conspiracists’ logbooks. Like Riley, Fitzpatrick was a relatively small-time practitioner of traditional medicine—not homeopathy. Even if big pharma did have a reason to feel threatened by him, that threat was no longer imminent: he was retired. At 76 years old, Gallatin County Sheriff’s lieutenant Arlyn Greydanus told KPAX, Fitzpatrick “could suffer from confusion.” Sadly, it’s much more likely that he got lost and wandered in the wrong direction than got picked off by jackbooted hitmen.
The Hernandez Party
The remaining missing doctors are four Mexican practitioners who disappeared while traveling through the state of Guerrero. There’s no indication in a deeply reported Daily Beast article about the so-called Hernandez party—named for Marvin Hernandez, one of the missing—that the disappeared doctors practiced anything but traditional medicine. In Guerrero, where drug cartels and vigilante defense forces rule, and murders and kidnappings are horribly common, it’s possible that they were abducted for ransom or caught in some drug war crossfire. If, for some inexplicable reason, the U.S. FDA really did come after them in Mexico, it was way out of its jurisdiction.
If you’re inclined to believe that Obama is a communist and fluoridated tap water is used for mind control, you could look at the above stories and conclude that hey, it’s a lot of doctors to die or disappear in one month. But lots of doctors die every month! Roughly 6,700 people die in America every day; some of them are bound to practice medicine. The theorists’ point about alternative health is similarly tortured, considering that half of the cases used as evidence don’t involve holistic doctors at all.
A federal government-funded murder spree against doctors who give out herbs and gemstones instead of aspirin and penicillin makes for great dystopian fiction. Fortunately for us, fiction is all it is.