three pairs of lovers with space

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. DOOLEY, 1955

 

The remarkable story of the prosecution of Dr. James Dooley has been the subject of two magazine articles, and the court proceedings have also been published in two books of legal cases.

The first article about it was published anonymously as “The Strange Case of Dr. Dooley” in the third issue of the recently-founded conservative  magazine National Review. A weekly journal of opinion on 7 Dec. 1955.[1]  However, it is the other magazine article that is presented here as a broad survey of the subject, followed by the court proceedings, which supply interesting further detail.

 

Strange Case of Dr. Dooley

Published in the first issue of the short-lived magazine Unbound in San Francisco in 1986 (pp. 9-19).

The strange case of Dr. James Milton Parker Dooley took place in 1955; the McCarthy era. It was the time of witch hunts. Communists and homosexuals alike were uncovered and thrown out of their jobs. The witch hunts, begun by Democratic President Harry S Truman was carried on by the generally left-of-cènter Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. And this climate is what makes the case of Dr. Parker so strange.

Dr. Parker was on trial in rural Northwest Connecticutt for having sexual relations with young boys. His trial had all the makings of a hysterical media crusade but it didn’t happen. His trial had all the ingredients necessary to encourage mobs of angry citizens to storm the courthouse demanding his execution, but that didn’t happen either. Instead, the papers were quite kind to Dr. Dooley and the leading citizens of the area came out in his defense. All this in spite of the fact that he readily admitted to having had sex with numerous boys.

Dr. Dooley was in his early 50’s when he was arrested. Born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1902 he had graduated from Illinois Wesleyan College in 1923. He went on to Johns Hopkins Univeresity for medical school[2] and in 1927 became a two-year resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

John Hopkins University, Baltimore

It was at this time that fate stepped in and brought Dr. Dooley to the small town of Kent, Connecticut. Rev. Frederick H. Sill, an Episcopalian minister and headmaster of Kent School, contacted Johns Hopkins seeking help. He asked the hospital to investigate several unexplained deaths at his highly regarded prep school on the Housatonic River. The Hopkins panel recommended a school physician and Dr. Dooley was suggested for the position. From 1924 to 1939 he diligently fulfilled that position while simultaneously doing nationally respected medical research.

In 1934 Dr. Dooley left Kent, not knowing that in just a few years he would be back and standing trial as an accused pedophile. In 1934 he took a full-time teaching position at Cornell Medical School and then five years later joined the Pediatrics Department at the University of Chicago.

The summer of 1946 was quite hot but Dr. Dooley had accepted an offer from the Haitian government to do medical work in the primative villages. But when he arrived in New York City he found that no ships were available. Seeking relief from the heat he went back to Kent.

It was there that he rented a cabin from an elderly spinster, Myra Hobson. The Hobson farm was well over 1,000 acres and on the farm, near a small pond stood an old wood cabin. It had no electricity, no plumbing, heat or telephone. And it was here that Dooley waited for his ship, a ship he was never to board. During his wait he broke his leg and had to give up his trip to Haiti.

But the town people knew he had rejoined them and they began bringing patients to him. Soon he joined a local clinic and his popularity grew. It is said that he had over 2,000 children as patients. He became the school physician for the local government school and helped found a new Health Center. And during all this time he continued to live out in the woods, alone, choosing to walk the four miles into town each day.       

Kent School, Kent, Connecticut

Dr. Dooley had another interest, one that would win him the admiration of many people, and ultimately be responsible for his term in the state prison. He was concerned about young boys with behavorial problems. They were called delinquents and unmanageable. Their ages were from nine to sixteen.

Dr. Dooley called his program “the cabin project” because the  boys would come and live with him for extended periods of time at his rustic cabin. It would be just him and the boys with most staying between two and four years. In all twenty-two boys stayed with Dr. Dooley. His success at getting through to these boys was undeniable. Even William F. Buckley’s conservative National Review wrote, “The disorders of many of the twenty-two were lessened under Dr. Dooley’s care: and it is generally believed that in some cases the improvement was outstanding.”  

But it was one boy in particular and his unusual problem that resulted in Dr. Dooley’s arrest. A ten-year-old, referred to by the Court as “George”, suffered from lycanthropy. This unusual affliction caused the boy to periodically howl quite loudly. These unexpected yelps made him unwanted at the local school and he had few friends. The boy’s parents, quite concerned, approached Dr. Dooley and he agreed to take the boy into the “cabin project”. That’s how all the boys came to Dr. Dooley, at the request of parents, judges and school officials. The most respected members of his community regularly supplied him with young boys who needed help.

George moved in with Dr. Dooley and for some time so did both of his brothers, one 13, the other 9. The two other boys didn’t stay long but long enough to have had sex with Dr. Dooley. It was the nine-year-old, who made a brief mention to his mother of what had happened and soon the entire village of Kent knew what type of therapy Dr. Dooley used to achieve his magnificent results.

On August 14, 1955 Dr. Dooley was arrested by the State Police. He was charged with “indecent assault and risk of injury to a child.” Bail was set at $7,500 and though Dooley could have easily raised the money he waited patiently in the Litchfield jail for his trial.

Litchfield County Jail, Connecticut. A postcard of 1943

At his trial Dr. Dooley readily admitted that he was sexually active with the boys under his charge. He entered a plea of nolo contendere, meaning he waived a jury trial and place himself at the disposal of the court. Judge Elmer W. Ryan of Superior Court heard the case and Charles Ebersol represented Dooley.

The evidence in the case basically consisted of a statement by Dr. Dooley admitting everything, along with letters and affidavits from many citizens defending Dooley. On October 5, Judge Ryan found the defendent guilty. The Judge said Dooley was “a sex pervert” and clearly “the aggressor in these acts.” Dooley was sentenced to from one to six years in the Wethersfield Penitentiary.

The leading citizens of Kent turned out to support Dooley. And by their support they earned the anger of Buckley’s publication. According to National Review, “On the day of the trial, the bare room in which the Court sat, open to the public, as demanded by the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition even for such a case as this, was filled with spectators. These were not the farmers, artisans, merchants and labourers; nor, except for a marginal few, were they mere idlers. More than fifty of them, well dressed and assured in manner, were a selection of the region’s intellectual elite. Most of them were women, the women recognized as community leaders, who head charity drives, belong to clubs, run the Parent-Teacher Association, the Association for the United Nations, the League of Women Voters. Almost without exception they were Liberals, by their own classification—though of course many who think of themselves as Liberals were not there, and would not have agreed with those who were.” Neither Mr. Buckley nor his publication explained how they knew Dr. Dooley’s supporters were “Liberals” except perhaps that only Liberals would do such a thing.

A doctor giving a boy a medical check-up, U.S.A., 1950s

It was Dr. Dooley’s defense that was most unusual. He claimed that he had sex with the boys as a form of therapy. And he readily admitted that his “therapy” was not limited to the three brothers but to many other boys as well. Defense attorney Ebersol recounted, at the instruction of his client, several such encounters in clinical detail.

Dr. Dooley even wrote the local paper explaining his motivation for having sex with the young boys. His letter was printed on October 6. Dr. Dooley wrote: “I have not been a reader of the Lakeville Journal nor do I know your name [the editor’s]. Someone sent me a clipping from the August 18 (?) issue of your paper, telling of my arrest and imprisonment. This account was so sympathetic that I thought you might be willing to publish a statement from me about my work at Kent.

“The work in question was a project for the study of disturbed and sick children in residence in a woods cabin on a lake, part of an old farm four miles from the village. During nine years, twenty-two children stayed there for long periods: and many more, for a short time. This project was separate from my clinical pediatric practice in the village.

“The people in this locality grew accustomed to seeing derelict children become respectable junior citizens of the community. The methods used to accomplish these results were always experimental and unortohodox, and occasionally illegal.

“The first two children in this study were from the middle west, and were placed in my care because their parents were familiar with my work in Chicago. With no exception, each subsequent child came because the parents or some agency had first hand knowledge of the results in the case of some child who had been at the cabin.

“In the management of disturbed children many general approaches have been used, among them: force, admonition, kindness, and traditional psychiatric medicine. None of these has been so successful that a further search for methods is not indicated.

Towel advert. by Brown Co., 1954

“In this project, the approach was to induce the child to go back in his life to an age when his trouble started, and then to guide him anew up to his present age along lines which would be more comforting to him and more acceptable to others. Some observers thought that the children’s progress was because I was so nice and the woods so pretty. Actually, accompanying a child in a deep regression may be a raw and bloody business, not a trip for the squeamish.

“Naturally I don’t enjoy losing my freedom, but the fact remains that I knew the law, and knowingly violated it. That the methods used on occasion may have been technically illegal does not invalidate the soundness of the results.”

The State’s Attorney brought up the case of a boy, who at the time of the trial was sixteen. At Dr. Dooley’s instruction Defense Attorney Ebersol responded: “Mr. Wall has referred to the case of another child, a sixteen-year-old boy; and I shall refer to him as Robert. A homeless ward of the State, no usable family, he came to the cabin on Thanksgiving Eve, 1952. He was still there when the Doctor was arrested. He came on the request of the juvenile courts. From that day on, except for a rare day when he visited elsewhere, and for three or four weeks in this summer, the Doctor spent some part of every one of approximately one thousand days with him; and for many weeks of those days, early in his stay, he was never out of the Doctor’s hearing. Upon his arrival, about all the Doctor knew of his history was his unusual record of eight runaways from foster homes and institutions. Only several months later, after repeated requests, did the Doctor obtain from the Division of Child Welfare of the State Department of Welfare a social summary of the information on the boy.

“The Doctor then learned, for the first time, that he was an illegitimate child, and that in addition to his chronic runaway, there was chronic truancy from school and chronic school failures, and chronic sex offenses.

“Quoting from the State report which the Doctor got several months later, 1951: ‘A report from the director of the county home revealed that he displayed homosexual behavior at the County Home to the extent that he became ostracized from his own age group. In April, 1952, he was in trouble again: and the juvenile court authorities advised his [social case] worker that he was taking a short cut through some fields in his neighborhood on his way home from school and, upon encountering two younger boys, he took ten cents and a jackknife away from them. He then made homosexual advances to the other children, but the juvenile court took no action on this.’ End

“Here, then, was a radically, desperately sick boy with whom the agencies the State and the court, did not know what to do.”

Mr. Ebersol summarized the results of Dr. Dooley’s unorthodox “therapy”. He told the Court: “This was the situation when, three runaways later, he [Robert] was brought from the juvenile detention home in Hartford to Dr. Dooley at the request of the juvenile court. A radical case requiring radical, unorthodox and experimental treatment when all else had failed. As a psychologist wrote of Robert, ‘Robert needed someone to love him’ and that the Doctor did, being father, mother, brother, or whatever and whenever the boy needed him.

The Second-Grade Mind by Tom Lovell, 1952

“…As for results, it has been reliably reported to us that a psychiatrist examining Robert after the Doctor’s arrest, found him to be a well-integrated boy, and could not, after reading the report on him, written before his going to the cabin, believe that he was, in fact, the very same boy he was examining.”

But Attorney Ebersol was not alone in his defense of the Doctor. From all across New England people came to his defense. The headmaster of a private school wrote: “We… are desperately sorry that your wonderful work has had to be interrupted.” The president of the Massachusettes Parent-Teacher Association wrote: “It appears to us that you are suffering a penalty that often lands on forerunners, both in science or art. The threat of popular disapproval of law infringement is set up to warn off the fainthearted or the criminal… so, in the doghouse or the jailhouse we find the best and the most mixed-up together or, rather, to use a less harsh term, the most creative and the most destructive…. In a sense both are threats to stable status quo society; and yet the first group are the seeds of tomorrow’s best harvests.

“…The size and character of your practice is evidence enough that your ways are sound and practical. No doubt it would be easy to find points where your methods carried you across the frontiers of the legal or the moral codes and made you vulnerable to accusations like the present ones; but we do not see that such pin-point out-of-context challenges have any validity. They may be true, but, lacking the whole truth, they are a kind of lie about you and your purposes.”

In the courtroom a leading authority on child guidance and her husband encouraged the Doctor. The two of them ran a school for disturbed children and they wrote the judge: “The Law necessarily follows, rather than precedes human experience. But if scientific exploration ceases until legal processes catch up, where would human progress be? History has presented us, again and again with the dilemma of brave men of insight and vision who have elected to proceed at whatever personal cost with the task of blazing new trails…

“One could hardly imagine that the seriously disturbed children brought to Dr. Dooley, the so-called hopeless cases, could respond to anything or any person external to him. To use psycho-lingo, their transference was to him. It seems obvious that these youngsters had to work through their anxiety in the acquiescence and acceptance of his own person.

Boys frollicking in a favourite swimming-hole on a hot summer day in Connecticut, Life magazine July 1948

“Knowing what small amount I do about children, it seems to me that Dr. Dooley did an enlightened act of professional and personal giving of himself that could be conjectured to have made cure possible for these children…

“Scientifically he has given us clues to understanding children and the deep roots of their disturbance that few other scientists have even dared to look at, let along expose.

“I feel that my own knowledge of children and effectiveness to them in time of trouble has been vastly increased by these observations.”

A colleague of Dr. Dooley’s, another doctor from the clinic, wrote: “His actions, as described by himself, represent the exploration of little known problems with equally little known techniques. The problems were unorthodox: the approach equally so. To assume that he allowed himself to indulge in self-gratification ignores a completely selfless past and loses sight of the incredible amount of time and energy devoted to maintaining, feeding and teaching the boys under his care. This was a twenty-four-hour, seven-day job without interruption. This was the work of an exceptionally devoted man, for a man with very unusual singleness of purpose.

“There is no doubt in my mind, speaking as a physician, but that Dr. Dooley’s actons represent an extension of scientific research into the sexual problems of adolescents. I am not competent to judge as to the value of what he accomplished with them or discovered. I have no doubt as to his motive.”

Even Dooley’s seventy-nine-year-old landlady came to his defense. She shared the farm property with him and wrote: “The cabin provided a place of his work and I have been close enough to be acquainted with many of the problems of the children, and to observe the day to day progress of these patients…. You may rest assured that the innate integrity that is Dr. Dooley’s has in no way been impaired; rather has it been all the more demonstrated…. The treatments used surely in time shall be considered justified by the results achieved… It is my fervent hope that in time he may return to the cabin on the mountain.”

The Housatonic Regional High School, Connecticut

The principal of the Housatonic Regional High School wrote the local paper: “This case is without question one of the most confusing that I have ever known… As one grows older, the more he is convinced that seldom is black all black or white all white, but that the pervading color in this world is some shade of gray!... I cannot defend Dr. Dooley for the particular acts that brought about his arrest and imprisonment because I do not know all the facts… The Regional High School has been the richer that Dr. Dooley lived among us.”

And another man wrote, “As to Dr. Dooley’s ‘illegal method’ in the case of the ten-year-old boy, only the very cold fact itself was the matter of the accusation leaving completely out the spirit in which it was done.”

Was Dr. Dooley’s sexual experiences therapeutic for the boys? Yes, of that there can be no doubt. But as Dr. Thomas Szasz has pointed out virtually anything can, under the right circumstance, be therapeutic. Dr. Dooley’s methods were not scientific, not in the classical strict sense of the term, but they were beneficial. It is likely that both the good Doctor and his boy patients derived much pleasure and happiness from them. And the boys, long considered “problems” by the institutions set up to “look after” them, needed desperately to feel completely loved and wanted. As all humans innately know sex when combined with love is the most gratifying of experiences. There can be no doubt that these boys, as sexual beings, experienced the intensity of Dr. Dooley’s total love.

The Saturday Evening Post, 28 May 1955

The tragedy in this case was that a careless remark brought down the full force of the law. A kind and gentle, loving man was torn away from the boys he loved and helped. A town was deprived of one its most benevolent leaders. And the boys were sent back to the institutions that helped destroy them in the first place. Was anyone damaged by Dr. Dooley? No such evidence was given. Were the rights of any individual violated? No, all actions were consenting.

But as tragic as the state intervention was there is something wonderful and unusual in the response of the townspeople from Kent. They stood by the man they had grown to know and love. They had witnessed the miracles that can happen in a boys life when he is totally loved by a man. They saw the difference Dr. Dooley made in the life of these boys. And, even though they learned his love was also physical, they stood by him.

 

State v. Daniel Richard Martin

The following account of the court proceedings was published by Jay Katz in his Experimentation with Human Beings. The Authority of the Investigator, Subject, Professions and State in the Human Experimentation Process, (New York, 1972) pp. 470-82.

As is made clear, “Richard Martin” is a pseudonym.  He and the fictitious Connecticut town of “Littletown” in which he is said to have had sex with boys are clearly recognisable from massive identical detail as Dr. Dooley and Kent.

                                                 

[1] The similarity of the content of that article (though not of its tone) to the one presented here may be judged from the following abstract: ‘Details the case of Dr. James Milton Parker Dooley who was arrested, charged and convicted of indecent assault and risk of injury to a child. Background in the medical education, practice and research of Dr. Dooley; Reputation established by Dr. Dooley in his pediatric practice in Chicago, Illinois and New York City; Information on the circumstances that led Dr. Dooley to stay in a village in northwest Connecticut; Highlights on the trial of Dr. Dooley; Arguments of the prosecution and defense; Text of a letter by Dr. Dooley published in the "Lakeville Journal." ‘

[2] In Baltimore. His degree of Dr. of Medicine was conferred on 14 June 1927, according to university records.