Five Holistic Doctors Dead

Alternative health sites claimed that five (or six) "holistic health doctors" died under suspicious circumstances in 2015, but the assertion didn't hold up to closer scrutiny.

Published July 21, 2015

In mid-July 2015, a number of articles on the subject of recently deceased alternative health practitioners began to circulate on social media. One of those (articles ("5 Holistic Health Doctors Found Dead In 4 Weeks, 5 More Go Missing — After Run-Ins with Feds") appeared to have inspired several other similar articles, but the claims they made were mostly congruent.

The web site HealthNutNews published one of the first iterations, offering a list of recently deceased physicians, chiropractors, and osteopaths:

June 19th, 2015 – Dr Bradstreet ... was found with a gunshot wound to his chest in a river. The small town locals ruled the death almost immediately as a suicide; but many have their doubts. This same day in Mexico ... three doctors were traveling to the State Capital in Mexico, to deliver some papers. They were reported missing that day.

This portion of the article referenced one of the five "holistic health doctors" who was found dead, as well as three nameless doctors who went "missing" in Mexico in circumstances seemingly related to each another only by date. No information was provided about what readers were supposed to infer from this information. The deceased doctor to whom the author referred was James Jeffrey Bradstreet, a controversial figure found dead of a gunshot wound in a river in June 2015. Bradstreet, 61, was subject to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raid shortly before his death, which police said appeared to be suicide.

As for the missing Mexican doctors, a 9 July 2015 article in the Daily Beast profiled their case and gave no indication that the individuals affected were in any way affiliated with alternative medicine or were on the radar of the FDA. In fact, there are no clear parallels between the deceased "holistic health doctors" included in the conspiracy theory and the missing Mexican doctors that we could find.

Another portion of the article stated:

June 21st, 2015 — Father’s Day: We have two dead chiropractors, Dr. Holt [33] and Dr. Hedendal [67] (both reported to be fathers), in Florida; both found on the East Coast, both were presumably healthy, and both were described as very fit. We still have no cause of death listed in the articles we can find on either one.

A definitive cause of death for Hedendal has indeed been difficult to turn up, but Florida television station WBBH cited "natural causes" as a possibility. (Hedendal was 67 at the time of his death.) Comments on an online obituary for Hedendal included remarks (#41) from an individual named Rudy Vlaardingerbroek, who noted that:

I knew Bruce well for almost twenty years. I enjoyed chatting with him and throwing the discus. On Father's Day he was at the Sunshine State Games and felt dizzy throwing the discus and even fell once. He just didn’t look good acc. to other throwers, although his last throw was 133. He was given water and Gatorade, went to his car and passed away sitting there. He must have died of severe hydration, which may have led to a heart attack. We will surely miss him.

As for Holt, his cause of death was indeed not readily available in searches (which have now been crowded out by conspiracy theory ramblings). An article on his death published in Raleigh News & Observer reported that that information was still pending:

[Holt's] unexpected death last month while on a trip to Jacksonville, Fla. has been a blow to his family and the community he'd created through his work. Though he had been struggling with recent health issues, none were thought to be life threatening by loved ones. His family is awaiting the results from an autopsy report<.

We found no indication that Hedendal or Holt had experienced run-ins with the FDA (as had Bradstreet) in recent months.

The next portion of the original article stated:

June 26th, 2015 — Dr. Patrick Fitzpatrick MD goes missing. He was traveling from North Dakota, to neighboring Montana (which he did often as his son lived there), and his truck and trailer were found on the side of the road. The search has expanded, but authorities say it’s like he vanished without a trace. He’s 6′ tall, and described as Irish-looking, with a goatee; and details can be found on the links.

Actually, Dr. Patrick Fitzpatrick of Bismarck, North Dakota was last seen on 2 July 2015. Dr. Fitzpatrick did not seem a likely candidate for a massive big pharma hit job, nor was he an "alternative health" practitioner of any description. Articles published about his disappearance described him as a retired ophthalmologist known for forays into nature preserves, who'd grown increasingly frail in recent years:

[Lieutenant Arlyn Greydanus] says the 74-year-old suffers from medical conditions that require medicine and could suffer from confusion. He also struggles with walking great distances and walks slowly, but is believed to have possibly gotten a ride from the area where his car was abandoned.

"From where the vehicle is stuck there are many different directions he could go. He's actually stuck in what's called a pea field. It’s very difficult to walk through that that field was searched extensively by helicopter and you would have been able to see if someone walked through there. There's a two-track road that he drove in on and possibly walked out on," Lt. Greydanus said.

The article continued with the following:

June 29th, 2015 — The beloved holistic Theresa Sievers MD was found murdered in her home. Jeffrey Whiteside MD a pulmonologist went missing, vanishing when he simply "walked away." Dr. Whiteside, known for his successful treatment of lung cancer, disappeared in Door County, Wisconsin, while vacationing with family. They say he was on foot, and had no vehicle; and numerous reports call it "mysterious," saying he too, vanished without a trace.

On 29 June 2015, Theresa Sievers was bludgeoned to death in her Florida home. An investigation into Sievers' murder remains open, and law enforcement officials have declined to comment on what they've found so far. But again, we were unable to turn up any evidence suggesting Sievers had an adversarial relationship with the FDA or any other large, powerful public health agencies before she was brutally murdered, and whoever killed her left a remarkable amount of evidence (incongruent with a calculated corporate hit).

On 28 February 2016, 47-year-old Mark Sievers (Dr. Sievers' spouse) was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in what police alleged was a for-hire plot to cash in on several life-insurance policies.

Another entry read:

July 10th, 2015 — Lisa Riley DO (Doctor of Osteopathic medicine) is found in her home with a gunshot wound to her head.

Lisa M. Riley, 34, was indeed a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and not an MD, but her field of practice was listed as the decidedly uncontroversial "emergency medicine." If Dr. Riley had cause to murderously enrage the medical establishment, that cause was well hidden.

It's true that Riley's death occurred under exceptionally suspicious circumstances. She was found dead of a gunshot wound by her husband in her home on 10 July 2015, and ten days later the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced that Riley's husband, Yathomas Riley, would be charged in connection with her death:

The Americus Office of the GBI is announcing the issuance of arrest warrants for Yathomas Riley in the death of his wife, Dr. Lisa Riley. A Lee County magistrate judge issued warrants today charging Riley with Murder, Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault in the death of Dr. Riley. The charges stem from an investigation initiated by GBI agents and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office when her body was reported discovered by Yathomas Riley at their Northampton Road residence in Leesburg on July 10, 2015. Riley has remained in custody at the Lee County Jail since his arrest on July 10, 2015 for charges unrelated to his wife’s death. The extensive investigation into the matter is still ongoing.

Yathomas Riley was implicated in a similar situation in 2010 involving his then-girlfriend Koketia King. That woman was shot in the head as well, and Riley claimed the wound was self-inflicted. King survived.

Later articles also tied the death of Dr. Ronald Schwartz, 65, to the conspiracy. Schwartz was found shot to death in his Jupiter, Florida, home on 19 July 2015, but the deceased was neither an alternative health practitioner nor embroiled in any controversy at the time of his apparent murder. Schwartz, an obstetrician and gynecologist, was licensed in Tennessee and Georgia (not Florida) and believed to be functionally retired from medicine. His neighbors described him as quiet and reclusive.

So while Bradstreet died of an apparently self-inflicted wound under increasing FDA heat (and following a recent raid), none of the other doctors subsequently tacked on to conspiracies regarding his death led similar lives. Of the four missing doctors, one was elderly and retired, and three vanished in Mexico (where they lived and worked). Dr. Holt's passing was a shock to many, but autopsy results are pending. Dr. Hedendal was 67 and passed away after a day of strenuous physical activity (presumably of natural causes). The murder of Dr. Sievers remains unsolved but was unlikely to have been carried out by high-level hitmen. Dr. Riley's husband (implicated in a similar shooting in 2010) was charged in connection with her suspicious death.

Update: On 28 August 2015, police in Missouri arrested two men in connection with the murder of Dr. Sievers. The arrests were announced in a press conference that day; Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said that two "vicious killers are in custody," but declined to elaborate with respect to the circumstances of the murders:

Two men were jailed in Missouri in connection with the slaying of Bonita Springs doctor Teresa Sievers, and one of the suspects is an old friend of her husband, Mark Sievers.

Curtis Wayne Wright Jr., 47, and Jimmy Rodgers, 25, face second-degree murder charges.

Wright, who goes by his middle name, Wayne, has been friends with Mark Sievers since their high school days in Hillsboro, Missouri, according to mutual friends.

Scott would not answer questions from reporters, saying the case was active and ongoing. He did not reveal the cause of death, manner of death or a possible motive, but he did say the case was the "most complicated, intricate set of circumstances that most of us have ever seen."

those who deeply distrust medicine and science might take the list's assertions as plausible, but under the slightest scrutiny its claims disintegrate. Given the breadth of fields in which these individuals practiced (e.g., chiropracty, obstetrics, ophthalmology), millions of Americans could conceivably be counted among their ranks. Even if all the deaths and disappearances were suspicious (which most of them appeared not to be), five people out of millions is a very small percentage. The claims were not unlike the "Clinton Body Count" rumor, by which every dead person who had the slightest link to the Clintons was drafted into a broad, vague conspiracy theory. This rumor (like its predecessor) cherry-picked information that fit its narrative (such as timeframe) while discarding the facts that didn't fit (such as mainstream area of practice or later-explained circumstances/arrests).

Update: On 23 July 2015 the web site Freedom Outpost published an article titled "Two More Doctors Found Dead — That Makes 7 in a Month," and on 24 July 2015 the Free Thought Project web site published an article titled "Another Florida Doctor Murdered, Bringing Total to 8 Dead & 5 Missing in Just the Last Month."

The former claimed that the July 2015 murder of Dr. Amanda Crews (along with four other individuals) was one of the "latest" suspicious doctor deaths (Crews was not a holistic doctor and practiced general family medicine). Dr. Crews (along with her two children, another child, and her partner's mother) was found dead on 18 July 2015. However, Crews' former romantic partner was identified almost immediately as a suspect:

Martin Martinez, 30, has been formally charged with killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old toddler last October. He was also a suspect in the Saturday homicides of girlfriend Dr. Amanda Crews, their 6-month-old daughter, her 6-year-old daughter, his mother and an unidentified 5-year-old girl. All of the deaths occurred in the homes Martinez shared with Crews, 38.

Police haven't disclosed the cause of death for the five people killed in Modesto or discussed possible motives. Martinez isn't charged with their deaths, but police say he's their prime suspect.

A lengthy profile published in People magazine about Dr. Crews' life and career detailed the circumstances of her family life and provided additional details about her death.

Freedom Outpost's article readily admitted that Dr. Crews (who, again, was not a "holistic doctor") was likely murdered by a romantic partner in an act of domestic violence. The site explained that the multiple murders were likely unrelated to any other doctors' deaths, even after insinuating that doctors were being targeted and killed in a wide-ranging conspiracy:

Are these doctors' deaths all related somehow? The Crews death does seem strangely off, especially considering there is a suspect in custody and that he is also suspected of killing a child in October 2014. Other than that, it seems that doctors are facing a high rate of deaths, eerily similar to bankers in the past couple of years.

The Free Thought Project also cited the July 2015 death of Dr. Norm Castellano, a Tampa-area dentist, among the list of "mysterious" doctor deaths. Castellano (again, not a "holistic doctor") died on 13 July 2015, and multiple Facebook posts published by grieving friends and patients indicated that his cause of death (while not publicly disclosed) was in no way suspicious or unexplained.

That web site also referenced the 21 July 2015 death of Dr. Nicholas J. Gonzalez. (While the article's title suggested a cluster of doctor deaths occurred in Florida, Gonzalez was based and died in New York.) Gonzalez was an alternative medicine practitioner, but the circumstances under which he died (as described on his web site) were not suspicious:

It is with great sadness that the office of Nicholas J. Gonzalez, M.D. relays news of his untimely death on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. The cause of death was cardiac related, it appears, as he suddenly collapsed and was unable to be revived. Dr. Gonzalez was in excellent health otherwise so his passing is quite unexpected.

The rumor (currently attached to a number of separate and ostensibly unrelated tragedies) continued to suggest imaginary or tenuous links to support an assertion that the deaths were somehow connected. While headlines crowed about deaths in Florida, several of the doctors died in other states and had no obvious link to that state. Moreover, the claims centered upon the purported targeting of alternative medicine doctors despite the fact that several of the individuals included were mainstream, science-based medical providers. As the rumor spread, the inclusion of mainstream doctors across several states highlighted that the death of any doctor in July 2015 was likely to be conscripted into the (still unarticulated) conspiracy, whether or not that doctor lived in Florida or practiced alternative medicine.

(Some sources have attempted to link all the deceased doctors together through the common thread of their advocacy of Globulin component Macrophage Activating Factor, or GcMAF, a protein that a handful of doctors have claimed can cure anything from cancer to autism by boosting the human immune system. However, only Dr. Bradstreet has been connected to its use.)

As of March 2015, there was an estimated range of 897,000 to just over 1,000,000 doctors in the United States, and per every 100,000 people (of all vocations) each year, approximately 821 die. Going by those numbers alone, between 6,500 and 8,200 medical doctors will statistically die of myriad causes in any given year. Each month approximately 700 doctors would die (based upon the number of American doctors and the number of overall deaths), thirteen of whom could be expected to live in Florida before accounting for rate fluctuations based on whether a state (like Florida) is exceptionally populous. As such, six to eight deaths is well within the realm of expected doctor deaths.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.