Historical Hysterics: Did You Hear About the Doctor Who Robbed a Bank?

It was just over 10 years ago in a federal court when a lab coat loon who lived in Montana confessed that well, yeah, he really did rob that bank in Rexburg Idaho. But they had it all wrong about the homicide of his elderly patient. It wasn’t like he actually . . . you know . . . murdered her.

James DriscollIt seems that Doctor James Bischoff was arrested – that is, the first time – for injecting an elderly woman, Kathryn Dvarishkis, who was under his care at Madison Valley Hospital in Ennis, Montana, with narcotics to speed up her death. She was very ill and he was doing her a favor. That little pickle, which occurred back in the year 2000, was considered a major boo-boo by law enforcement.

Then, before the trial for the lady’s death was even over, and while he was out on bail, the daffy doc decided it would be a good idea to hold up the U.S. Bank branch in Rexburg. So he drove across state lines and did just that. That happened on March 16, 2005, when the doc walked into the bank armed with two handguns and wearing ski goggles and demanded serious cash.

A dorky physician in a bank with ski goggles and a gun in each fist. Now there’s a visual.

But it took a while before they figured out who the robber-doc really was. And during that time his trial continued – not only for the killing of his 85-year-old patient, but for illegally possessing and using the drugs in question. Eventually, in September, 2005, Bischoff confessed to the lesser crime of Negligent Homicide and 2 felony drug charges. The drug charges involved him fraudulently obtaining thousands of doses of prescription amphetamines for himself by using other people’s names.

Quite the patient care professional.

In the end, bad-boy Bischoff was sentenced in September, 2005 by District Judge Brent Moss, to a term of 5-20 years in prison for robbing a bank in Idaho, and 2 years for killing his patient.

Let’s say that again slowly. The prosecution recommended the death penalty for deliberately killing his patient. He got 2 years for killing a patient. Go figure.

At the sentencing when he was allowed to speak, Bischoff apologized for robbing the bank.

San Diego Paramedics’ First Life Saved? It Almost Didn’t Happen


Our first medic shoulder patch looked like this

By 1972 millions of federal dollars became available to counties that agreed to adopt the nationally acceptable EMS template. So in cities great and small, highly trained pairs of rescuers started popping up like dandelions on the landscape. But not so fast, Charlie Brown. Not in some cities and certainly not in our city. Not San Diego.

One of the largest cities in the nation, San Diego was a mere 90 miles down the freeway from Daniel Freeman, Harbor General and L.A.’s Emergency! television medics.  But our burgeoning border metropolis would wait nearly another decade for the level of street medical care enjoyed in Podunk, USA. And why would that be?


If you think San Diego’s most powerful doctors wanted something like this running around town, you don’t know your history. Doctors lobbied the City Council because they didn’t want to see ANY of this. They did all they could to stop it.

In ‘America’s Finest City’ the most vocal opponents of advanced rescue medicine were a handful of MDs who happened to hold pontificating sway over the City Council. Yes indeedy. These politically-bent MDs held a considerable level of contempt toward these “unproven, unnecessary, probably dangerous” rescue changes. San Diego had operated barren police ambulances for decades, and that was quite good enough, thank you. The last thing citizens needed – in the minds of these physicians – was a bunch of pretend-doctors running around in shiny trucks.



When evil struck a San Diego McDonald’s – the author was there. James Huberty shot 41 innocent people. Had the city’s politico-MDs gotten their way, there would have been no medics for this tragedy, either. Go figure.


So the years went by. Eventually, after nearly a decade of hearing little but a litany of negatives from some of the most respected physicians, the City Council decided to put its collective foot down and voted to approve San Diego’s first Paramedic program, to begin in February,1979. Of course a PSA airliner wiping out a neighborhood four months prior, did nothing to strengthen the contrarian physicians’ case. The Mayor – and future Governor – Pete Wilson, was pushing hard for a true EMS upgrade, and had it not been for his vision and persistence, San Diego might have waited another 10 years.

No need to look far for a training program: UCSD School of Medicine in La Jolla was, after all, smack in the middle of town, already generating qualified Paramedics for other, more enlightened cities. The highly-intensive curriculum was directed by Doctor Andrew Rauscher, under the School of Anesthesiology. It was overseen by Doctor Silvia Micik. It was managed by Gail Walraven, whose team of instructors were seriously dedicated, marvelous women, everyone: Ginger Murphy. Margie Nerney. Karen LeBlanc. Josie Harding. Marilyn Sheets, who came along just a bit later, should be included too.

Because it was so late in coming, we find it noteworthy to reference the first Paramedic-level EMS call in the city of San Diego, which occurred on February 2, 1979, at 8:19 in the morning. The emergency was what is known as a dissecting aortic aneurysm and there exists no condition more deadly. Had this gentleman collapsed the day before, he would have been picked up, loaded into a police van and carted away to die within the hour. But not on this day.


For those interested, an excellent overview of America’s EMS evolution

The rescue team – Medevac 2arrived within five minutes and performed a very sophisticated physical assessment of the poor man lying on the kitchen floor. They compared blood pressures on each arm in both sitting and supine positions – a technique likely unheard of by first-aiders who came before. They determined a 100% accurate diagnosis of critical internal bleeding. They placed their patient on high-flow oxygen and inserted two large IV lines, running fluid into the man as quickly as humanly possible. They interpreted his heart rhythm – sinus tachycardia with dangerous runs of premature ventricular contractions via a portable EKG monitor called the LifePak 5. They transported the patient slowly, smoothly – red lights but no ridiculous siren – to Mercy Hospital 3 miles up the street. He was admitted directly to surgery and he lived to tell his grand kids all about his nearly lethal adventure.

San Diego City EMS Case #79-00001 went down in medical history. It did. Mr. Ivan Kosygin, a 66- year-old Ukrainian emigrant – lived 18 more years. The Mobile Intensive Care nurse on the hospital end of the radio that morning was Diana Hunt, with her marvelous British accent. The ER physician of record was Thomas Kravis. The rescuers? Cyndi Stankowski, one of the first women Paramedics in the nation, fresh out of school.

And your author.

Have a happy and relaxed Easter Sunday, readers. And thank you for your ever-growing interest in subjects that we believe truly matter. Perhaps someday one of our scribbled bits of wisdom will save a loved one.

Historical Hysterics: is Anybody on This Earth Stranger than Doctors?

 “Here lies the decayed Girolamo Segato, who could have been totally petrified, if his art had not died with him.” (The strange Doctor Segato’s epitaph)


The strange Doctor Girolamo Segato

To our own personal amazement, the Human race has always shown a peculiar tendency to spawn a wide swath of eccentric characters. And there is ample evidence that no other segment of our homo sapien population has exhibited a stranger collection of freakish people than doctors.

Consider the case of the very odd Doctor Girolamo Segato, who was born in a Catholic monastery in northern Italy, on June 13th, 1792. As he grew into adulthood, this fellow became resolutely focused – not on religion, mind you – but on the methods and the chemicals that could keep dead bodies from decomposing. So at age 26, he traveled to Egypt and studied their mummies.

The man was mesmerized by the art and science of “petrifaction” and did indeed eventually discover a particular procedure – apparently unknown to anyone else on earth – which allowed him to obtain amazing results – far beyond anything the Egyptians ever created. Back home in Italy, Girolamo Segato would gather bodies secretly, without the families knowing, from hospitals and grave diggers. And then, with nary a neighbor the wiser, he set about the midnight business of turning people into stone. Take a look:


A display of Segato’s petrified human body parts can be seen at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Florence, including a woman’s head, breasts and even a table with inlaid designs made of mummified human tissue.  


What look like polished stones in the table are, in fact, human organs – preserved, cut into geometric shapes and designed into a colorful mosaic.


The female head has been studied by modern exams, such as CT scans and x-rays. A 1” hole in the side of the skull is easily seen, proving that Segato did in fact inject something. And although nobody knows what it was, the liquid did extend into even the smallest of blood vessels throughout the body. In order to do this, the blood could not have been coagulated. Which means the head needed to be injected almost immediately after death.


Like doctors the world over, Segato preferred playing with lady parts

Recent studies have disclosed little-known contacts between Segato and American doctors, who were extremely interested in his work. But Segato had destroyed all of his laboratory notes, and his sudden death on February 2, 1836, prevented the world from ever learning his secret methods of turning human bodies into stone.

(We are indebted to the staff of the Universita Degli Studi Firenze, Italy)

Historical Hysterics? No Time to Brag: Someday They’ll Look Back at us, too

Someday, our heirs in the distant future will look back at America’s “healthcare” insanities of the year 2016. They just might wonder why the citizenry thought popping pills that killed a 1,000 of us per week, was a bright idea. They just might suspect we were . . . appallingly stupid, back in the day we know as today.

In ancient Greece the wisest of healthcare males were able to convince the populace that many of the ailments of women-folk were caused by – now you may want to hold your ponies here – “The Wandering Womb” affliction. Oh yes, they did.


So by all means believe everything your doctors say. They’re smarter than you are.

Of course at the time, nearly all respected doctors were males and women – well, they were neither. So who could possibly know more about the female condition than a bunch of horny men?

So the lab-coated males convinced the lesser-educated females of the time that their illnesses were cause by internal emotional factors – loneliness and frustration. Why might a woman be lonely and frustrated? Well, because her uterus had broken free from its pelvic ties, you see, and began a long, slow, sad, meandering journey up towards the lady’s head.


So ladies, here’s your question of the week: Do you know where your womb has wandered?

Now, many of us already know that Plato was perhaps the smartest dude of his era. What did Plato the Genius think about this female medical condition? He expounded that the wandering uterus was in fact “an animal living inside a female animal.” Aretaeus of Cappadocia was perhaps the most famous doctor of the day. In one of his many writings, he said this:

“The womb moves hither and thither within the female flanks. It can move to the right or move to the left. The womb is altogether erratic.”

Hither and thither. We like that. What a cute way to describe a woman’s internal organ vagabondism.

The wisest of men, back in the day, would all scratch their chins and nod in unison. For they recognized that a wandering uterus caused hysteria, which was often fatal. So my oh my, what might a doctor prescribe? What, pray tell, could possibly be the cure for nomadic nether regions?

Why, steamy sex was prescribed, that’s what.

So for no other reason – and we know there could be no other reason because they said so – than to rid Greek society of such a terrible scourge, behind closed doors, the most dedicated and caring of healthcare professionals – male doctors – stepped forward, lifted the reclining patient’s bare legs, and cured her of her wanderlusty womb.

And now you know.

 (Stay tuned next week, and we’ll tell you all about the renowned physician who solved mental illness by shoving ice picks into the eyeballs of his poor patients.)

Have a terrific weekend, readers.

10 Years Ago This Weekend: The Doctor Mark Wangler Murder Case

Dr Mark Wangler 2

The face of innocence? (photo by Jay David)

It was one decade ago, when yet another physician was charged for the death of a spouse:


Doctor Diane Scala Barnett, a forensic pathologist with the Lucas County Coroner’s Office in Toledo, took the stand for the prosecution. Doctor Barnett performed the autopsy on Kathy Wangler on Sept. 5, 2006, a day after the mother of two died from what was determined to be acute carbon monoxide intoxication. Testimony from other prosecution witnesses appearing in Allen County Common Pleas Court focused on a portable generator and other equipment as a possible source of the toxic gas.
Kathy Wangler

Kathy Wangler (center)


Doctor Barnett, who had performed more than 8,000 autopsies and had testified in numerous death cases, said she based her opinion on factors totally inconsistent with Wangler’s story of having found his wife on the bed alive. Her body temperature; lividity (pooling of the blood due to gravity); her rigor mortis (body stiffening generally is noticed about 2 hours after the heart stops) and an evaluation of stomach contents.


At last count, as of late February 2014, prisons in the United States were holding 209  physicians for spousal murder.


Mark Wangler was not the first MD convicted of spousal homicide – far, far from it. And since his “Guilty” sentence was read in Ohio, at least 11 other doctors have been imprisoned for the same crime.


Here’s a medical monster we once knew personally, in the early years of San Diego EMS:


Serial Killer/Doctors: It All Started 120 Years Ago

So, 12 decades ago this month . . .

Holmes Legacy

Dr Henry Howard Holmes

. . . If any house in America should ever be legitimately haunted, the one located at 601 West 63rd Street on Chicago’s South Side, certainly could have been.

Before it was leveled in 1938, the building was simply known as “The Murder Castle” to the local folks. To this day, 78 years later, no one knows how many poor souls were murdered by the doctor who built the place and then made it a point to prowl the hallways. Investigators suspect as many as 100 people walked in but never walked out. Most – but not all – were women. It is believed that they were asphyxiated by gas, or choked or beaten to death. Their bodies were destroyed in basement pits poured full of quicklime and acids. Some of their skeletons and body parts were sold to medical schools by their med-school-trained murderer, who became quite the expert in profiting from the deaths of innocents.

And the expert? Well, he went by the name of Doctor Henry Howard Holmes, although his real name was Herman Webster Mudgett.

Holmes Murder Castle

The Murder Castle: Only the lucky guests live to check out

Seen from the street, what became known as The Murder Castle was simply a huge unattractive building that took up half a city block – one of the architectural monstrosities frequently found in large cities in the 1890s. But the interior – multi-floored with nearly 100 rooms; honeycombed as it was with secret passageways and walled-up rooms and doors that led to nowhere – was the epitome of a seriously nightmarish abode.

It is quite true – looking back – that Doctor H.H. Holmes is well-deserving of his rank as America’s first known serial killer. And the fact that he was trained as a surgeon merely made him a more efficient killing machine. Historians like to reserve the term “monster” for an especially nasty few. A human “monster” ranks above lesser criminals and lesser killers. A monster must meet certain spooky-movie requirements. The poor victims – for one – must be killed over and over in predictable ways; they must be numerous and preferably attractive females; surely the killer will do macabre things to their innocent bodies. The monster ideally inhabits a foreboding house. And finally, he should be some type of “mad scientist” working away feverishly well into the dark of night.

H H Holmes Handiwork

Welcome. The doctor will be with you in a minute or two . . .

And it just so happened that the monster of The Murder Castle possessed all these qualifications and more. He was – they say – a surprisingly nimble swindler; a cheat and a forgerer. He was extremely well-dressed and always well-spoken. He pyramided money by pulling fraud after fraud on anybody with cash. Young, good-looking and funny, he conned business men and seduced lovely young women right out of their shoes – at least three of whom were unknowingly married to him at the same time. Holmes was a practitioner of hypnosis; a fancier of the occult; a devious liar; a skillful manipulator of surprisingly convoluted scams. But above all, he was a killing machine:

  • He caused the disappearance of a little boy in Mooers Fork, New York
  • He killed another little boy in Philadelphia with drugs
  • He murdered the widow Holton and her young daughter, too
  • He killed his mistress, Julie Conner, who was married to one of his employees. He killed her young daughter Pearl too, and sold their skeletons to medical schools
  • Killed his fiancée Emeline Cigrand and sold her bones to LaSalle University Medical School
  • He murdered his girlfriend Minnie Williams and her sister Annie, too
  • He killed his best friend Benjamin Pitezel and all three of his children
  • He killed untold dozens of hotel guests

All of this and a whole lot more, accomplished before age 35, when he was finally convicted and hanged.

The best guess is that Holmes’s murder spree began when he was hired by Doctor E.S. Holton, who owned a pharmacy on Chicago’s South Side. Not long after he started working there, oddly, Doctor Holton passed away. Holmes convinced the widow to sell the drug store to him.  Once the papers were filed, Mrs. Holton mysteriously vanished. Holmes told everyone who knew her that the widow had moved to California to live with relatives. Unfortunately, she left no forwarding address. He was as sad at her departure as they were. They all agreed she was a wonderful lady.

Holmes' Victims

He killed many. Here are but five

Historians now believe the Holtons were very likely Holmes first victims.  Oh, sure, he had been caught stealing cadavers while attending University of Michigan’s medical school. But those people were already dead. So after he owned the pharmacy, he bought the property across the street.  He told everyone he intended to built a hotel in time for the World’s Fair in 1893. And he did. He was really looking forward to filling his hotel with happy guests.

Holmes designed the strange interior himself. He had construction crews install secret passages, trap doors, a dungeon-like basement and torture rooms. Some of the rooms were designed to be air tight so they would function as gas chambers.  Others had metal walls and flame-throwers built into them to burn victims to death.  There was a crematorium and an acid pit for disposal of bodies.  It was all coming together.

 After the “hotel” opened, Holmes had to hire  more staff – nearly all female. The doctor had them take out life insurance policies, naming him the beneficiary. Most of his unknowing victims were blonde women with no local families. They were excited to work for the handsome young doctor. And he didn’t even charge them rent!

And then he started killing them, one by one. And the insurance checks came rolling in – one by one. Life was grand. The suits and  bowler hats he wore were made of the finest materials to be found in Chicago.

Alice, Howard & Nellie Pitezel

Little Nellie & Howard; Mom Alice Pitezel

The doctor particularly enjoyed getting creative murdering people.  And of course he had his gas chambers and ovens for disposal.  He frequently used his large, air-tight vault near his office, where he would send staff members in to gather a file, then lock them in until they just stopped breathing.  He used poison sometimes too, and when they were dead – usually at night – he would flay their flesh from the bone so he could sell the skeletons to medical schools.  The doctor soon discovered he could sell the organs too.  Anything he couldn’t use would be cremated or dessicated in the acid pit in the dungeon. After his arrest, police were horrified to discover his basement workshop splattered with blood and bits of flesh. He had shelves with bottles of poisons, acids and some truly nasty chemicals. He had a table “stretch-rack” for torture.

All gleeful endeavors must come to an end, of course, and Holmes’ days as a free man were numbered.  The smell of the crematorium had the neighborhood talking, for one thing. He left Chicago after the World’s Fair because he couldn’t afford to pay the creditors.  He put caretakers in charge of the building with strict orders not to venture to the top floor, or the basement. That’s where the torture rooms were. He moved to Texas for a time, intending to create another murder hotel, but he really didn’t like Texas much. He ended up in St. Louis, where he was arrested for a previous horse theft, during which time he got the idea to make money by faking his own death. But by this time insurance companies had noticed an awful lot of people had named him their policy beneficiaries.

Holmes’ downfall came when a former cellmate revealed that he was in Boston, where he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for the horse theft in Texas.  As police dug into Holmes’s background, they learned from the custodians of the Chicago hotel that they were never allowed to clean the top floor or the basement. The police investigated and found the macabre remains of Holmes’ victims.

Holmes News Clip

The wicked Doctor Holmes is not exactly the pride of the University of Michigan Medical School. Of course, they are the ones who allowed him to continue his study, AFTER they caught him stealing bodies from the cadaver vault.

In jail for over a year, eventually Holmes grew weary of the cage in which he sat. He knew full well he would never see daylight again. So he confessed to 27 murders. But because of all the missing person reports in the years Holmes was operating the “Murder Castle,” law enforcement believed the true number might be closer to 100-200 victims. He was found guilty of the 27 killings he admitted to, and was hanged on May 7, 1896 at the Philadelphia County Prison.

The doctor’s very last request was to be buried in concrete.  He was terrified that he might be dug up by profiteers and dissected after death. After all, he knew how dehumanizing dissection could be. It was downright Satanic.

Stranger than strange to the very end, the top floors of “The Murder Castle” – where the nastiest of deeds occurred – were destroyed by a mysterious fire in August 1895, a year before Holmes was put to death.

Just as strange, the last caretaker of the hotel committed suicide. His family reported to police that the poor man was “haunted” for weeks and weeks. He had to kill himself to stop all the screaming he could hear, behind doors where no one was.

And so he did. And that made the poor caretaker the very last victim of Doctor H.H. Holmes. He was murdered by a Lucifer in a lab coat.

For those interested, here’s more:




Elvis Presley’s Drug Dealer Passes Away


Dr George Nichopoulos

Doctor spray-tan and the Elvis clan


Doctor George Constantine Nichopoulos — the drug-dealing physician who served as Elvis Presley’s personal “Dr. Feelgood” — passed away this week in Memphis, Tenn. He was 88.

The story goes that Elvis could never really pronounce his doctor’s last name, so over the years he just called him “St. Nick.” – as in . . . you know . . . Santa Klaus. Not because he was chubby and wore freaky red clothes. But because he was a cheerful, white-haired fellow who delivered all the fun nighttime presents on Elvis’ wish list. Fans of Elvis had more colorful words for the physician: hundreds of thousands of them blame Nickopoulos for Elvis’ shocking death at the age of only 42. That’s because it was later learned that Doctor Santa Klaus had written Elvis more than 200 prescriptions for 10,000 doses of drugsamphetamines, barbiturates, narcotics, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, laxatives, and hormones for Presley – in his last 8-months.Dr John Abramson

Ah, the finest “healthcare” money can buy.

So in 1980, 3 years after Elvis was found dead in his bathroom, the doctor was arrested, charged on 14 counts of overprescribing drugs to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and 12 other people. The district attorney in Memphis initially considered that Murder charges were appropriate, but did not press forward because different doctors were expressing conflicting medical opinions on the exact cause of Presley’s death. Pressley had numerous medical problems. But some poor misguided jury concluded that “Dr Feelgood” really had tried, after all,  to act in the best interests of his patients. He was acquitted on all counts.

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners was less naïve, and found him guilty of over-prescribing narcotics. But in a legal twist to beat all twists, they concluded  that the drug-pushing lab coat nutcase  was not “unethical”. They imposed 90-day suspension of his license.

Well, that ought a teach him, right? You know, send a drug pusher to his room?

Guess not.

In 1995, Nichopoulos had his license permanently revoked by the same Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, after it was determined that he really had been pushing drugs for fun & profit to many, many people over the years. Nichopoulos claimed it was for patients who suffered from chronic pain, but the Board knew better. Nichopoulos did finally confess to the Medical Board that he had overprescribed because he “cared too much.”

According to 2 independent medical labs, the following drugs were found in Presley’s bloodstream:

  • Valium
  • Demerol
  • Quaalude
  • Sinutab
  • Codeine, “very high dose”
  • Methaqualone, “very high dose”

Those medications taken in a single day by a non drug addict could kill a person within an hour.

The fact that drug-pushing had made him extremely wealthy, and allowed him to travel in the company of some of the most famous entertainers on the planet, never really mattered to him at all. Riiight.

Elvis Presley, Priscilla and Lisa Marie

Elvis with his wife Priscilla, their daughter Lisa Marie,  Presley’s personal doctor George Nichopoulos and his wife Priscilla Ann. (photo by Frank Carroll)



Nichopoulos actually started treating Presley in 1967 for back pain. Within 3 years, making himself available to issue drugs to Elvis anytime night or day, became his full-time job. And with all the girls in the swimming pools and the food and the night clubs and the sexy music, life was really, really fun. Right up until the morning of August 16, 1977, when his very, very famous patient had to go and spoil everything by – you know – dying next to his toilet.

Damn it, Elvis.

This case – for those of us who look into such things – bears a striking, spooky resemblance to the Doctor Conrad Murray/ Michael Jackson relationship years later. Jackson also was the most famous singer in the world in his era; Jackson also became a totally drug-dependent entertainer with a very strange, private life; and of course there is simply no slicker way to get the drugs you want, than to hire a live-in doctor drug-pusher – one willing to prostitute his profession for serious, serious cash, as well as the seductive access to fame.

elvis-presley Plaque

In the years following Elvis’ death this fellow operated a clinic for a decade, until the state of Tennessee stripped him of his medical license in 1995. He then took a job evaluating workers compensation insurance claims for FedEx , whose main office is also in Memphis. In the last years of his life he sold souvenirs from Elvis at auctions, and at one point had a travelling exhibit, showing off his doctor’s bag with some of the medications he prescribed for Elvis.

Dr Pill Head

A career drug dealer showing off his drug case for money. What could be more appropriate that that?

And you wonder why we call healthcare the Twilight Zone? Really?