November 10th, 2004 Taylor Clark | Special Section Stories
 

THE ORGAN GRINDER

Dr. William J. Brady

     
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Dr. William J. Brady
IMAGE: STEPHEN VOSS
Dr. William J. Brady had a spotless reputation. Over his medical career, he performed 10,000 autopsies and signed 20,000 death certificates. In 1964, he became the state's last elected coroner, having made a campaign pledge to eliminate the office and establish a medical-examiner system in its place. Brady kept his word, modernizing Oregon's death-investigation system and serving as the state's chief medical examiner from 1969 until 1985.

But it's amazing how fast one little scandal can sink all that.

In June 1985, The Oregonian revealed that Brady's office had been harvesting skin samples and pituitary glands from cadavers--without the knowledge of the victims' families--and selling them.

Brady funneled the cash, which totaled $16,000 over nine years, into office amenities such as flowers, coffee, interior design, a sofa for the lunchroom--even an office Christmas party.

You could say Brady's career was dead on arrival.

With his frost-white beard, booming laugh, and cold hands, Dr. Brady looks like he just stepped out of the basement of the morgue.

"The law was unequivocal that we had the right to remove and submit these glands for research purposes," Brady says. "I ran the office with dignity and respect for the families of the people whose bodies we handled. Always have."

Each pituitary gland--a pea-sized part of the brain that regulates growth--fetched $2 to $4 from the National Hormone and Pituitary Program, which used them to produce growth hormone for stunted kids.

"Some kids would not grow to normal height without these injections," Brady says. "At that time, the only source of the growth hormones were pituitaries collected from cadavers."

Though Brady broke no laws, he offered to resign. Kristine Gebbie, the state Health Division administrator, declined his offer--but three months later gave Brady the ax.

Convinced he had done nothing wrong, Brady filed a lawsuit for termination without due process.

During the trial, grisly stories about Brady and the autopsy business emerged. One tale--later repeated in The New York Times by columnist Bob Herbert--claimed that Brady saved the drained human blood from autopsies and used it in his home garden. Brady says these stories were rubbish.

"During the summer that this hullabaloo took place, there was an intense level of emotion," he explains. "A lot of fairly crazy stories came out."

In March 1987, a jury awarded Brady $300,000 in damages. The ruling stood up all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, Brady thinks he didn't "win."

"I lost and everybody lost," he says. "I got a lot of money from the state of Oregon that I didn't want, so the state lost. The program lost, and my family lost. So nobody wins in a case like that. I got caught in a political crossfire, and it was ugly."

Today, Brady enjoys a prosperous forensic-pathology practice consulting privately for malpractice and workers'-comp court cases, and also on behalf of the defense in criminal cases--much to the chagrin of his former colleagues at the state medical examiner's office, who are usually testifying for the other side. Some have criticized his methods, notably the Times' Herbert, who called Brady "truly a piece of work" for his involvement in an Idaho case where his conclusions in a murder investigation helped land an innocent man on death row for 21 years. But Brady says his full schedule is a testament to the quality of his work.

Brady still lives in the house where he lived in high school and walks to work at his Northwest Portland office every day. He and his wife enjoy having their five daughters and 15 grandkids nearby. At age 72, Brady has no plans to slow down soon.

"So long as the phone keeps ringing and I enjoy the work and I can do it, I'll keep working," he says. "I have a hard time saying no."


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Intro | Tonya's Mob: Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly & Shawn Eckardt | The Crusader: Gordon Shadburne | The Meteor: Billy Ray Bates | Satan's Pilgrim: Rex Diabolos Church | The Firebrand: Ron Herndon | The Bad Boy: Frank Peters | The Broken Halo: Michael Stoops | The Crack Mother: Anita Nichols | The Veejay: Kennedy | The Girl from Electra: Treva Throneberry | The Perfect Victim: Azalea Cooley | The Grappler: Dutch Savage | Wonder Boy: Pat Gillis | The Ex-Files: Marcia & Steve Moskowitz | The Witness: Dave Mazzella | The Prankster: Igor Vamos | The Intern: Monica Lewinsky | The Runaways: Diane Walden & Peter | Top Cop: Mark Kroeker | Sprawl Kitten: Kate Schiele | Authority Figure: Rocky Balada | The Hulk: Dry Dock 4 | The Candidate: Gail Shibley | The Super: Ben Canada | The Organ Grinder: Dr. William J. Brady | Pillars of the Community: The Lovejoy Columns | The Survivor: Giles Thompson | The Contender: Andy Minsker | Space Invader: The Phantom Dialer | The Red Menace: Ma Anand Sheela

 
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