In just over a year, more than sixty holistic health practitioners have died suspicious deaths, and the media refuses to acknowledge that these deaths might be linked.
On 19 June 2015, a controversial doctor named Jeffrey Bradstreet was found dead in a river by a local fisherman from what the local sheriff’s office later determined was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest. Bradstreet was an outspoken proponent of the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism, as well as a practitioner of and an evangelist for a fringe remedy derived from human blood known as GcMAF (illegally advertised as a cure for everything from cancer to autism).
His death came just days after his Georgia clinic was raided by the federal agents looking for GcMAF or other unlicensed medical treatments. On the day he was found, a Swiss clinic associated with a company that Bradstreet had frequently promoted and which used GcMAF, was raided after five patients died (though it is not clear if those five patients died from GcMAF or some other cause).
His family, not convinced in the official conclusion that his death was a suicide, hired a private investigator to look for indications of foul play, which provided fodder for internet conspiracy theorists — many suggested he had been murdered by someone working for the pharmaceutical, medical, and regulatory establishments.
Erin Elizabeth, the founder of Health Nut News, has taken this sentiment and run with it, arguing that Bradstreet’s death was not only suspicious, but far from an isolated incident. Her post on Bradstreet provided a gateway into what would become the central focus of her work over the next year and a half — unraveling the mystery around what she claims are the suspicious deaths of over 60 doctors of holistic medicine.
Her efforts have caught the attention of countless other conspiracy-minded web sites, including Natural News and Alex Jones’ InfoWars. Aspects of the narrative are allegedly being developed into a movie, and on 30 April 2017, Elizabeth was featured on an episode of Investigation Discovery Channel’s “Scene of the Crime, with Tony Harris” that focused on Bradstreet’s death.
Elizabeth first wrote about Bradstreet’s death on 23 June 2015, in a post implying (but not demonstrating) there was more to the story than met the eye, and citing Bradstreet’s family and friends’ doubt over the official cause of death as proof. Building off of the success of that article, Elizabeth has expanded what she calls her “unintentional series” to include over 50 posts on Health Nut News.
Frequent “breaking” headlines and Elizabeth’s repeatedly stated fears for the safety of partner, Joseph Mercola, a prominent holistic doctor with an extensive web site, have added a sense of urgency. Her posts, often devoid of details that provide any tangible link between events, almost invariably tie the deaths if not directly, then by not-at-all-subtle innuendo, to the conspiracy narrative created in the Bradstreet story.
This-bait-and-switch started right away. For example, in her report on the case of chiropractor Bruce Hedendal on 1 July 2015, who was found dead in his car, reportedly of natural causes, she implies (but never expands on) a link to Bradstreet:
The second doctor is Dr. Bruce Hedendal, DC, PhD of Boca Roton, Fl. who died suddenly on Father’s Day, leaving behind a beautiful family. Sources tell me that he was found dead in his car; there had been no accident and it wasn’t running. He had exercised earlier at an event, but we don’t want to speculate as the authorities have yet to rule on his cause of death. […]
Both Dr Hedendal and Dr. Bradstreet had dealt with run ins with the feds in the past. In fact, Dr. Bradstreet’s office was just raided by the FDA days before he died.
In this post, we critically and systematically examine each person that Elizabeth has included in her series to see if suggestions of linked causes or outright conspiracy hold up. In doing so, we demonstrate that Elizabeth’s series fails to a) coherently articulate the conspiracy, b) consistently utilize the same list of victims, or c) demonstrate any connection between the victims whatsoever.
What Is the Conspiracy?
Elizabeth, who repeatedly stresses that she has no proof of a connection between any of these cases, generally suggests that there have been a large and underreported number of holistic doctors whose deaths were suspicious or unexplained. In its early iterations in the summer of 2015, the claims suggested a local Florida connection (Bradstreet had moved from Florida to Georgia), as she wrote in the 21 July 2015 post:
Yet another doctor was just found murdered inside his home here on the East Coast of Florida. This makes six doctors to be found dead in the last month, from this region of the country alone. Four out of the six were found dead here in Florida.
As the series progressed, however, the geographic and chronologic window widened, with later reports coming from numerous states across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the Caribbean island of Grenada, and the United Kingdom. Chronologically, the series has expanded retroactively to include incidents that predate Bradstreet’s death, going back as early as the summer of 2014.
Other aspects of the story that have been broadened with its telling and retelling are the defining characteristics of the alleged victims of the conspiracy. In some cases, the doctors that Elizabeth includes have no connection to holistic medicine whatsoever (despite her headlines), and in other cases the link to holistic medicine is extremely tenuous and based on observations such as liked Facebook pages, veganism, or an openness to preventive medicine.
Elizabeth herself does not offer any suggestions or explications for motive, but strongly suggests the link lies within their alternative approach to medicine, as she does in her most recent recap of the “series”:
Some of the biggest skeptics, those who rolled their eyes at the first few deaths, are now wondering if there isn’t a connection. There have been theories, from GcMAF to CBD oil, but I don’t think all doctors used both of these treatments. I’m not convinced either is the smoking gun, but might hold part of the answer.
There are several unsolved murders here (and some alleged suicides, most still under investigation), and I sincerely hope they get to the bottom of this as again, we knew several of these amazing doctors personally.
The dubious (and unsubstantiated) shared connections of GcMAF and CBD oil — a non-psychoactive component of cannabis used primarily for pain management — among these doctors is about as close to a motive as you will find on Health Nut News. Still, it has been enough fodder for others to attach their own pet theories to—some conspiracy peddlers focus on GcMAF despite the fact that almost none of the other doctors were involved in it, while others tie the conspiracy more generally to the heavy-handed interference of the federal government.
Who Are the Victims?
Elizabeth claims that “well over 60” victims, who are “mostly holistic” doctors have died suspiciously. She has not published a definitive list, but when she recaps the growing list of departed doctors, she posts a photo montage of the alleged victim’s faces.
Without a clear tally from Elizabeth, we took it upon ourselves to generate a list of the doctors whose deaths she has said were suspicious. The task proved complex because many of her reports come with the caveat that they are “not part of the official series” but are nonetheless included in her photo montage. Elizabeth told us via email that this inconsistency stems from advice she got from a reporter:
After talking to a seasoned reporter in NY, I decided he was correct I couldn’t pick and choose who to put into this ‘series’ so I included all of them and usually wrote about right after their deaths were announced.
Our list includes 61 doctors (provided for your own fact-checking pleasure on this Google spreadsheet) and is derived from Elizabeth’s posts, reverse image searches of the collage of victims’ faces, and discussions with Elizabeth herself. 56 of the doctors on our list come from her collage (which includes two duplicate faces). Elizabeth sent us links to an additional five posts about deaths that she has not yet included in the photo montage.
As we will show below, of these now 61 doctors, all but five can easily be excluded from any conspiracy attacking alternative medical practice. The remaining five cases, while perhaps not without some intrigue, are far from sufficient proof of of any large scale conspiracy against alternative health practitioners.
Elizabeth Herself Has Already Excluded 14 of the 61 Cases
As Elizabeth’s conspiracy claims have expanded, she has taken to posting about deaths that even she admits are not part of her list of dead holistic doctors. Yet, she includes these doctors in her photo montage and has posted about “questions” surrounding their deaths on Health Nut News.
I’m not including these officially in my holistic series of doctors who have been found dead or murdered, but have had more than one of their patients write me saying that they would like me to do a story on them.
Elizabeth also wrote a post about four doctors (none of whom practiced any form of alternative medicine) killed in accidents (Christopher Spradley, Robert Grossman, Anthony Keene and Dick Versendaal) that come with this caveat:
I don’t think these four in accidents were probably foul play. I just included them as a few asked me to. These doctors weren’t holistic (that I know of- I haven’t researched) I guess the lesson is that wearing a helmet, even when simply riding a bicycle, doesn’t necessarily protect you. It also shows how quickly our lives can be taken away from us or those around us so treasure every moment with your loved ones.
Another six posts about individual doctors’ deaths come with disclaimers or updates admitting that their deaths were not mysterious. Despite that admission, Elizabeth continues to include their faces on her dead doctor collage. These doctors, only three of whom practiced alternative medicine, are Jamie Zimmerman, Nabil El Sanadi, Lorraine Hurley, Kenneth Rich, and Alan Clarke.
Seven of the Remaining 47 Cases Can Also Be Excluded as Accidents
We found another seven cases that are clear and incontrovertible accidents — though Elizabeth has not admitted as much. This includes John Louis Lombardozzi, a chiropractor killed in a motorcycle accident (listed as suspicious because he was an “experienced rider”); Wade Shipman, an osteopath who died in a bike accident; John A. Harsch, a holistic doctor killed in a car accident; Thomas Bruff, an occupational medicine doctor who died in a plane crash; Mark Buller, a bioterrorism expert who died after being struck by a car; and surgeon Anita Kurmann, who was killed in a bike accident. Finally, Linnea Veinotte, a researcher who had a teaching post at St. George’s University in Grenada, was killed in a hit-and-run for which the perpetrator later turned himself in.
Fourteen of the Remaining 40 Cases Are Murders Unrelated to a Medical Conspiracy
Fourteen of the doctors in Elizabeth’s series were murdered. Although each case is disturbing, in all but one the likely perpetrator has been identified — and in the remaining case, the victim was a retiree who clearly posed no threat to the medical establishment.
One of the cases Elizabeth most often refers to in hers series is that of Teresa Sievers. Dr. Sievers was involved in holistic medicine and her murder was complex and mysterious enough to be featured on the CBS program “48 hours.” However, the investigation ultimately ended in the arrest of her husband on the suspicion that he paid a man to kill her for a life insurance payout. The case is still working its way through the courts.
Another notable case involved the brutal and premeditated killing of a Southern California doctor who combined conventional and holistic medicine, Weidong “Henry” Han. Dr. Han, along with his wife and five year old daughter, were killed by a former business partner for financial gain, as reported by the Associated Press:
A California man was charged Tuesday with murder in the slaughter of the family of a Chinese herbalist, including his 5-year-old daughter, in a crime authorities say might have been caused by a business dispute.
Pierre Haobsh, 26, of Oceanside was charged with murder with special circumstances that he used a handgun, killed for financial gain and committed multiple killings.
Santa Barbara County prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty. […]
A loaded gun and property belonging to one of the victims was found inside the car where Haobsh was arrested, Sheriff Bob Brown said last week.
As horrific as this event was, the likely perpetrator in this case was known to the victim, making it unlikely to be part of a larger conspiracy. The same can be said about these deaths included in the Health Nut News series:
- Jenny Shi, acupuncturist (murdered by her sister-in-law, charges based on DNA evidence)
- Tiejun Huang, Chinese medicine practitioner (killed by a man who believed the victim was having an affair with his wife)
- Lisa Riley, osteopath (killed by her husband, a boxer named “Terrible Thomas” with a history of domestic violence)
- Vibeke Rasmussen, professor and holistic doctor (killed by a mentally disturbed neighbor who lived across the hall)
- Ronald Schwartz, doctor (killed by a former employee)
- Mary Yoder, chiropractor (poisoned by an ex-employee that once dated her son)
- Robert Sowers, chiropractor (killed in a murder-suicide by the husband of his receptionist)
- Juan Gonzalez, naturopath (killed by the husband of a former patient over complaints his expensive herbal remedies were not curing her cancer)
- Ferdinand ‘Fred’ Mejilla, chiropractor (killed in a murder-suicide by the husband of his receptionist, who was also once his patient)
Three more doctors were murdered in three random acts of violence that, despite involving assailants unknown to the victims, involved either a perpetrator who is now in custody, or a victim not plausibly related to any medical or regulatory conspiracy:
- Jessica Colker, wife of a holistic doctor (killed by a convicted rapist recently released from jail who later turned himself in)
- Mark Ernsting, cancer researcher (killed in a robbery gone wrong by a man caught on surveillance footage who has a criminal record)
- Mary Rene Bovier,retired chiropractor (killed by an unknown assailant in an unoccupied house she kept her cats in)
Ten of the Remaining 26 Cases Involve People With No Tie to Holistic Medicine
In many instances, Elizabeth includes individuals in her “series” who have no documentable tie to holistic medicine. Among the most tenuous connections to holistic medicine is the case of Cheryl Deboar, who was employed in a non-research role at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and had a degree in chemistry.
Also notable is the inclusion of Jeffrey Whiteside, a pulmonary/critical care doctor who, despite a complex and potentially mismanaged investigation that ultimately concluded that his death was a suicide, did not practice or have ties to any form of alternative medicine. Elizabeth uses the problems in the investigation to generate suspicion but fails to make any link to a larger narrative about the threat she thinks alternative medical practitioners are facing.
Other tenuous connections included in this category:
- Hakeem M. Abdul-Karim, dentist (who died of a heart attack and whose proffered connection to holistic medicine is based on pages he liked on Facebook and his use of the term “preventative dentistry”)
- Nadeera De Silva, clinical cancer researcher (who did not practice holistic medicine)
- John Marshall, surgeon (whose connection to holistic medicine comes entirely from a Facebook comment left on Health Nut News’s page)
- Christopher Robert, chief of anesthesiology at the Hennepin County Medical Center (with no proffered tie to alternative medicine)
- Rose Polge, junior doctor (a 25 year-old British junior doctor whose alleged connection to holistic medicine is her support of a junior doctor strike in the UK in April 2016)
- Laura Skellchock, dermatologist (Primarily a cosmetic dermatologist known for her work treating excessive sweating with botox, whose purported connection to holistic medicine comes from her background in integrative medicine and general interest in wellness and nutrition)
- Robert Ashton, thoracic Surgeon (who took his life two weeks after a divorce from his wife, whom Elizabeth connects to holistic medicine through her role as an ABC News correspondent whose former boss was anti-vaccine)
- Jerome Block, medical doctor (who had recently been convicted of medicare fraud, and who had jumped to his death in a clear suicide)
11 of the Remaining 16 Cases Cannot Plausibly Be Considered Suspicious
In ten of the remaining cases, the cause of death is known and generally accepted. This includes the death of Alfredo “Dr. Sebi” Bowman, an alternative health guru and traditional healer who died in an Honduran jail where he was being held on money laundering charges. Bowman was an important figure in the alternative health world, but conditions in Honduran prisons are notoriously harsh, crowded, and unsanitary, making it unsurprising that an 82 year-old with pneumonia did not survive his detention there.
Similarly, 56 year-old anesthesiologist and libertarian presidential candidate Mark Feldman, who was anti-vaccine, died in a motel where he was found by an unidentified woman. Authorities determined that his death was caused by a heart attack.
In other cases, Elizabeth barely makes an attempt to draw the deaths of these individuals into a larger narrative, as with chiropractor Armon Burt — the victim of a heart attack whose inclusion in the series stems from Elizabeth’s barely-articulated hunches that minor details surrounding his death are strange:
Dr. Armon Bert, who was reported missing by his family, was found in his car in the parking lot of a Kirkwood Lowes store (St Louis suburb), the “apparent’ victim of a heart attack (how do they clock his death at exactly 10:04 AM if they found him in the car?).
The remaining cases here are those in which Elizabeth challenges the reader to prove a negative — that there is not evidence that it wasn’t suspicious — without providing any tangible evidence that there is cause to doubt the official cause of death:
- Michelle M. Hartley, holistic doctor (a 32 year-old who died of a heart attack and for whom Elizabeth provides no additional information).
- Paige Adams, nurse practitioner (Elizabeth uses her support for Bradstreet to make her death look suspicious, despite the fact her obituary clearly states she died of Lyme disease).
- John Hicks, a medical doctor with some alternative medical views (who died of a heart attack)
- Marie Paas, a holistic doctor (who apparently committed suicide in Georgia, and whom Elizabeth learned about entirely from Facebook posts).
- Bruce Hedendal, chiropractor (a 67 year-old found dead in his car of reported natural causes).
- Baron Holt, chiropractor (whose ultimate cause of death is not reported online, but whose obituary mentions “health problems” albeit ones that they had assumed were not life threatening).
- Jyrki Suutari, chiropractor (who took his life on Mother’s Day 2016)
Finally, Rod Floyd, a professor at Palmer College of Chiropractic, whose suicide Elizabeth casts doubt on by saying that she heard things but is unable to elaborate on them as “even [she] doesn’t know all the details.” There is no verifiable evidence of foul play in his death.
Five Cases Involving ‘Holistic Doctors’ Remain
After eliminating the above 55 doctors from the “official unintended series”, we are left with only five cases involving individuals who practiced some form of alternative medicine and whose death could arguably (though this is a stretch) look suspicious. This includes the death of Jeffrey Bradstreet (discussed earlier), the incident that spawned this whole “series” in the first place.
Elizabeth includes another indisputably prominent figure in the alternative medicine scene, Mitchell Gaynor, in her series. As with Bradstreet, Gaynor’s death was ruled a suicide, which Elizabeth questions for spurious reasons. She argues that Gaynor, who supplemented his traditional treatment with natural remedies, wouldn’t have committed suicide because he had recently beat the flu and survived a car accident:
I’m confused because his close friend and patient (also a doctor) told me that they were told he had walked away from a car accident, but then days later he was found in the woods at his country home in Upstate New York.
I’m also confused because posts on his personal Facebook page (which you might only be able to see if you are friends with him or have mutual friends) had colleagues saying that they were so sorry he missed the conference he was supposed to attend last weekend because allegedly he said he had the intestinal flu.
So, let’s say the information we were given was true. Let’s say he survived a car accident (we don’t know the details yet) and walked away from it, then he gets the intestinal flu (apparently survives that too) and then kills himself (allegedly in the woods at his country home, according to a patient and friend)?
We are unsure what these details have to do with his state of mind, but it should be noted that surviving both the flu and a car accident are not necessarily indicators of mental health.
The other notable figure is Nick Gonzalez, an oncologist who practiced controversial and unproven alternative cancer treatments. Gonzalez died at age 67 of cardiac-related issues. His death sparked its own conspiracy theories and memes, as he once joked that pharmaceutical companies might target him for his work, as Vitality Magazine reported:
The keynote speaker at this year’s Whole Life Expo is Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez of New York, one of a small number of doctors whose success in treating cancer exceeds that of mainstream oncology by a wide margin. His work thereby puts the lie to pharmaceutical propaganda that fuels a cancer industry bringing in hundreds of billions of dollars while fooling millions of desperate and bewildered patients. “I’ve been told drug companies know about my work but hope I get hit by a bus,” Dr. Gonzalez observes wryly.
The two remaining cases included here involve people who had connections to holistic medicine, but were far from national figures in the movement and could barely be considered primary targets for a hit job:
- Curtis Clogston, a medical doctor (who had at one point wrote about acupuncture and whose body was found in his car near his house after having been missing for a disputed amount of time)
- Alex Shvartsman, a holistic dentist (who also reportedly committed suicide, but whose death Elizabeth categorizes as suspicious because “his patients are posting on my Facebook page (and sending emails) that they don’t believe it was suicide”
These five cases, and perhaps even some suicides mentioned above, form a kind of Rorschach Test — if you are looking for evidence of a plot against alternative medical practitioners, you will likely be drawn to them.
However, recognizing that nearly every story included in Elizabeth’s “unintended series” is demonstrably unrelated to each other means that any conspiracy made must be crafted from the deaths of three prominent doctors — plus two doctors who, despite having experience with alternative medicine, were not national figures or a plausible threat to any medical establishment.
A Collection of Unrelated Tragedies
As we reported in the earliest debunking of this conspiracy theory, between 6,500 and 8,200 doctors can be expected to die each year in the United States alone. These five deaths over the span of a year and a half, from a statistical standpoint, are not abnormal. Further, outside of vaguely defined philosophical beliefs, there is absolutely no connection between any of them.
In fact, amongst the whole series, the only true defining similarity between all the cases described on Health Nut News is that Elizabeth promises to keep people updated on their developments if they join her email list.
Because the claim of “over 60” dead doctors cannot be demonstrated even by Elizabeth herself, and because nearly all of the cases she uses can be easily excluded from a larger conspiracy, we rate the claim as false.
There is no conspiracy afoot. Instead, there are simply 61 individual tragedies that have been inelegantly strung together by an alternative health website whose not-so-subtle innuendo has subsequently echoed through the darkest and most paranoid corners of the internet — and which has begun to leak into mainstream media outlets as well.
Correction [26 March 2018]: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Jessica Colker as Jessica Corker.