Like the Jacqueline Smith case in the previous decade, the strange events surrounding the death of 19-year-old Barbara Lofrumento have become almost an urban legend. But the tale of Barbara's tragic death and its aftermath is all too true.
Barbara, a 19-year-old college student, informed her parents that she was pregnant. Mr. and Mrs. Lofrumento cast about for a reputable abortionist and were referred by an acquaintance to Dr. Harvey Lothringer. Lothringer (right), a Princeton graduate, examined Barbara on June 2, 1962, and assured the parents that although Barbara's pregnancy was 5 months advanced, there was no danger. He arranged to pick up Barbara and her mother, Rose, and took them to his office, which was in his home in a wealthy section of Queens.
This was typical of the "back alley abortion" -- a reputable physician would make sneaky arrangements to do abortions at the site of their legitimate practices, taking the woman in "through the back alley" rather than the front door. In fact, by far the bulk of criminal abortion were performed by doctors.
They arrived just after 3 AM on the 3rd. While Mrs. Lofrumento waited, Lothringer sent Barbara into a room where she removed her underwear and reported feeling unwell from the injection Lothringer had given her. Lothringer then took Barbara into his office and left Mrs. Lofrumento in his waiting room.
At about 5 AM, Lothringer told Mrs. Lofrumento that Barbara was all right, but that she needed some oxygen. Sources disagree as to what happened next. Milton Helpern says that at 7 AM, Lothringer told Rose that Barbara was resting quietly, and that she should go home and get some rest. The New York Times says that Lothringer told Rose that he was going to hospitalize Barbara for a minor complication. Both sources indicated that Lothringer instructed Rose to return later to get her daughter.
Lothringer sent Mrs. Lofrumento to Grand Central Station, where he had arranged for her husband to pick her up and take her home. Instead, the couple went straight to Lothringer's home, where they found no sign of Lothringer or their daughter. They went home and repeatedly called Lothringer, getting no answer.
The next morning they returned to Lothringer's home, where they found several patients waiting outside. No one had seen Lothringer. Mr. Lofrumento waited for several hours, then went home, and contacted the police to report Barbara missing.
Sources diverge again on what happened next.
According to Milton Helpern, later that day, Lothringer called a policeman who was a friend of his, telling him that he was away on business and asking him to call Roto-Rooter about the stopped-up toilet and to let them into the house.
The New York Times, on the other hand, said that Lothringer's father discovered that the drains were clogged, and called somebody to come attend to them.
Whoever called the worker in, the man found the toilet backed up, partially flooding the bathroom, and more water in the basement. Investigating the main house drain, the worker found the source of the problem -- pieces of bone and flesh. Somebody called the police, and an investigator took the tissue to be examined.
Soon the authorities had workers digging up the sewer lines from Lothringer's house. They found pieces of Barbara, her clothing, and her baby. The largest fragments were only a few inches long. Barbara had been dismembered and flushed down the garbage disposal and the toilet. Barbara's parents identified the clothing fragments, and Barbara's orthodontist identified a section of jaw with the teeth still in it along with several isolated teeth.
Lothringer, who had already been under surveillance for suspected abortion activities, appeared to have fled the country, accompanied by a Cuban-born former stewardess who was serving as his receptionist. Lothringer was well-to-do, with reports circulating that he kept as much as a million dollars cash in safe deposti boxes. An international manhunt was launched, with Lothringer first being traced to the area of his family's hunting lodge about 60 miles from Montreal. Eventually he was extradited from Andorra, where he was discovered in 1962.
Lothringer told police that Barbara had developed an air embolism. He had tried to dispose of her body, he said, to keep his receptionist from being implicated. He plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter in Barbara's death and was sentenced to 2 to 8 years. Barbara's mother reportedly screamed and fainted when she heard of what she considered a light sentence; Barbara's father called it "discount justice." But Lothringer's lawyer reported receiving numerous calls from Lothringer's woman patients, in support of the doctor.
Lothringer's medical license was revoked. He served four years in prison, and in 1968 he was releaed on parole.
Lothringer petitioned the medical board in 1972 to get his license restored, but the request was denied. In 1973, after Roe vs. Wade was handed down, Lothringer tried again, and this time he succeeded. On October 17, 1973, he was put ono a five-year probationary status and given his license back.
The New York Times said, "State officials said that records explaining why Dr. Lothringer's license was restored were in archives and not readily available."
Lothringer practiced psychiatry with no disciplinary actions or trouble until 1996, when he was working as a prison doctor. He ordered that the antidepressent 17-year-old Nancy Blumenthal was taking be disconintued, on the ground that the girl complained that the medication made her violent. Despite pleas by Nancy's mother, Nancy was not put on any other medication to address her depression. A month later, she hanged herself in her cell.
For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion