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America’s most prolific serial killer

Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History. He was the abortion doctor who delivered children alive, then severed their heads and collected their feet. His trial took place four years ago, in relative obscurity. He was convicted, and sentenced to life-without-parole (in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, he waived his rights to appeal). When he went to prison, his story–which already was obscure–became almost forgotten.

Gosnell: The Untold Story of American’s Most Prolific Serial Killer attempts to put the spot-light back on Gosnell’s atrocities and those who allowed them. A new book, co-written by journalists Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, Gosnell represents the fruit of years of research and interviews. It goes deep into the lives affected by the Gosnell trial, giving you a window into Gosnell’s wicked world never before seen.

This is not a pro-life manifesto. It is as restrained as can be, and reads as if it could easily be a long-form piece for a news-magazine. McElhinney and McAleer allow the readers to make their own conclusions about what enabled Gosnell to operate his house of horrors.  

The authors introduce us to the Philadelphia narcotics detective that stumbled upon Gosnell’s murderous operation. We meet the Assistant District Attorney, herself an expectant mother, who has to cut open baby’s skulls to assess their cause of death. We meet some of Gosnell’s barely literate employees. We meet Gosnell, and go inside his home—in the last chapter we even go inside his prison.

We also meet some of Gosnell’s victims. A baby who tried to swim away. Another whom the nurses played with for twenty minutes, and posed for pictures. Still another one, so real and life-like that her body was left on the receptionist’s desk as a prank. We meet the Hindu refugee, persecuted in her native Bhutan, who fled to Virginia for safety, and who was ultimately murdered by Gosnell.

And we meet a handful of the government workers who were responsible for regulating abortion clinics in Pennsylvania, yet failed miserably at their jobs. They didn’t fail because they were understaffed, uninformed, or overworked. Instead, their political ideology combined with their indifference to create a fatal combination. In front of a grand jury, one of was asked why, if she knew that Gosnell was killing people, she refused to investigate. Her response: “People die” (84).

But Gosnell shows you that it’s not simply that people die as a result of pro-abortion sentiment. The larger point is that a handful of government workers turned a blind eye to our nation’s most prolific serial killer out of a commitment to a newly elected pro-abortion (and Republican) governor.

It’s said that commercial plane crashes never have only one cause; instead, they generally feature a lethal series of coincidental failures that combine at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Such is the story of Gosnell.

He is, of course, delusional. He is a liar. He is power hungry, racist, misogynistic, and sexually immoral. He hired drug addicts as “nurses,” became one of Philadelphia’s biggest drug dealers, segregated his clinic so that white people were treated differently, knowing that they might be more likely to report him so the state.

He shouldn’t have worried.  As Gosnell was murdering people, local hospitals complained to the state medical board, doctors and nurses complained to the state’s Home Health Division (in PA they are responsible for regulating abortion clinics), and victims’ families complained to the Philadelphia police.

Nobody followed up. Nobody cared.

How did Gosnell murder his victims? His typical way of doing abortions was to have his teenaged-drug-addict nurses induce labor, then deliver the fetus. A young baby would probably have died by being delivered this early. But Gosnell did hundreds (if not thousands) of abortions on people whose fetuses were able to live outside the womb. For those, if the babies survived delivery, he would cut their necks with scissors. His staff called it “snipping.”

Gosnell goes behind the scenes and takes the reader into the investigation that ended Gosnell’s murderous reign. You learn that:

Mongar, the Bhutanese woman murdered by Gosnell, was directed to Gosnell’s clinic by a DC abortion clinic, who knew she was too far along to legally perform an abortion. They obviously knew that Gosnell didn’t care about the law, and would do abortions on people at any stage (PA’s limit was 23.5 weeks). In fact, it’s estimated by his staff that 40% of his abortions were late-term.

Abortion organizations were aware of how awful Gosnell’s clinic was. They refused to certify him. But they didn’t report him.

Gosnell inadvertently reported himself to the state as routinely doing over-age abortions. Because he wasn’t even licensed to do abortions to begin with, he misunderstood the state law (he thought it was 24.5 weeks). Despite these admissions, nothing happened to him.

The City of Philadelphia did report Gosnell’s clinic to the state. This was because of Gosnell’s insurance fraud, the lack of sanitary equipment, and the absence of trained staff. Nothing happened with this report.

Gosnell kept jars of baby’s feet in his office. Like many serial killers, he has a surreal and abnormal fascination with his victims—in this case, their feet. There were jars and jars of them in his office, presenting a grotesque scene to the first law enforcement officers to enter.

Several days passed from the initial raid on Gosnell’s clinic and the Philadelphia PD’s return for evidence of his murders. The first raid had warrants to investigate his drug dealing. When detectives realized they stumbled upon a serial murderer, they requested more warrants. The State of Pennsylvania’s Home Services division tipped Gosnell off, giving him three days to remove evidence from his clinic. Many of the “fetal remains” he took home and placed in crab traps in the river in his backyard.

The clinic itself was appalling. The cats which roamed the halls had used the basement as a litter-box for decades without cleaning. Instruments were reused on multiple patients. People had abortions performed while sitting in recliners, often three or four in a room (except for white people—they got their own rooms). It was so dirty, wild plants were growing inside. “Fetal remains” were kept in orange juice cartons, lining the many refrigerators.

Civil suits against Gosnell had faltered because other abortion doctors wouldn’t testify against him. The abortion industry is so close knit that abortion doctors wouldn’t break their wall of silence, even after other doctors had sounded the alarm about Gosnell’s clinic.

Abortion remains a mystery to the legal world. Because abortion doctors won’t testify against something as barbaric as even Gosnell, people don’t really know what is normal in those clinics. Is it normal for abortion doctors to keep jars of feet on display? Is it normal for them to keep “fetal remains’ in jugs around the clinic? Is it normal for abortion doctors to lie about they kind of drugs they use? To be unlicensed? The coroner and state medical examiner were unsure if it was normal for baby’s heads to be severed in an abortion. Partial birth abortions were already illegal, but those in charge of enforcing that law aren’t even aware how that would differ from a normal abortion.

Gosnell was only charged with eight murders. Prosecutors felt they could have charged him with hundreds, but that would have an adverse effect on Philadelphia’s crime statistics. So they went with a number small enough to avoid damaging Philadelphia’s image, but large enough send Gosnell to death row and to make a point.

The judges and juries were openly pro-choice.  The judge who oversaw the grand-jury made it clear that she allowed this case to go forward because of the racial angle—had a serial killer been on the loose in a suburb, the government would have acted. But since he was only preying on those in the inner-city, the government turned a blind eye. The prosecution wanted a jury who was pro-choice, because they wanted jurors to believe the mother’s testimony. They were afraid that a pro-life juror might find the state’s witnesses (the mothers who had sought abortions) contemptible.

I have mixed emotions about recommending that anyone read Gosnell. It is a captivating story and well told. But it will make you uncomfortable. Reading it made me feel guilty simply for existing in a country where this kind of evil could be tolerated by so many people. If you read this book, it will shake your world view. It will bring you face-to-face with our nation’s most prolific serial killer and those who allowed him to almost get away with it.

But it will also introduce you to those put the “almost” into that last sentence.