Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Death of DD Palmer: Attempted Murder by His Son?

The cause of DD Palmer's death has always been controversial. His son, BJ Palmer, was tried in court for supposedly deliberately driving into him with his car. The case was thrown out, and the event has later been termed a myth by some. He later died, possibly from the injuries, although the official cause of death was listed as typhoid fever. Needless to say, in a town controlled by chiropractic (IOW by BJ Palmer), a fair trial would be impossible, so the real truth of the matter will likely never be known at this late date.

Here are several different references to this matter:

In July, 1913, the Palmer School of Chiropractic held its annual Lyceum and Homecoming, complete with a parade through the streets of the town. B.J. Palmer rode in an automobile in the parade. Suddenly a ghost materialized on the sidewalk -- Daniel David Palmer. Waving a small American flag, he insisted on leading the alumni procession, but was prohibited from doing so by the marshal of the parade, who was a student at the school. An altercation ensued. B.J. drove up in his automobile. Words passed between father and son. What happened after that depends on whom you believe. Daniel David claimed that B.J. struck him with his automobile, and D.D's friends and allies later produced affidavits of witnesses to prove it. B.J. flatly denied it, and produced many more affidavits to this effect than D.D.'s cohorts were able to muster.

That night Daniel David Palmer left Davenport for the last time. Three months later he died in Los Angeles. He stipulated that his son was not to come to his funeral.

The executors of the father's estate filed a civil damages suit against B.J., alleging that B.J. had struck Daniel David with his car and that this had contributed to the father's death. After pending in court for several months, the action was dropped without prejudice, and was never reinstated. The Scott County District Attorney also sought a murder indictment against B.J., but two grand juries refused to return a true bill.


Despite this success, Palmer was mired in controversy. He had been charged by the state of Iowa for practicing medicine without a licence and was jailed. Later D.D. was arrested on the same charge in Santa Barbara, California but was never jailed there. Though his school was popular, Palmer soon found himself in heavy debt as competing schools came on the scene.

In 1906, Palmer was again charged by the state for practicing without a certificate, and was found guilty. The sentence was a fine or 105 days in jail.

During his incarceration in Iowa, D.D.'s son B.J. took over the administration of the school and his wife Mabel Heath Palmer became heavily involved in both teaching anatomy and in the school's operations.


Even the events surrounding Palmer's death were controversial. Invited to take part in a parade at the Universal Chiropractic College in Davenport Iowa, D.D. stepped out in front of a car while attempting to lead it. B.J. was driving the car and didn't see his father until it was too late. A case charging B.J. with murder was thrown out of court. D.D. died several months after the accident in Los Angeles. According to Palmer's death certificate, the official cause of death was typhoid. And so, even in death there is an air of mystery surrounding David Palmer.


The great discovery of chiropractic came on Sept. 18, 1895 when, using his hands, readjusted the spine of a deaf patient, and the man regained his hearing. Reluctant to share his theories, he kept silent for a few years, but after a near fatal accident, he decided to teach the technique as fast has he could. In 1903 he founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic, but after many difficulties with authorities over his methods, he was jailed for practicing without a certificate.

After being freed from prison, and the failure of his original school, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent his last years as a prolific writer and lecturer. Ironically, it was after being invited to speak at his son's school, he was struck down by a car driven by his son B.J. Palmer, and he died of his injuries, on October 20, 1913.


Figure 7: This is a view of the parade of chiropractors (mostly DCs and students from the PSC and the Universal Chiropractic College) during August 1913 festivities. It was during this parade that B.J. Palmer, driving a car with Wisconsin state Senator Tom Morris at his side, was supposed to have struck his father down. Three subsequent grand jury investigations thoroughly exonerated B.J., but rumors that this nonevent led to D.D. Palmer's death in Los Angeles two months later would haunt the younger Dr. Palmer (and the profession) throughout his life (Keating, 1997, pp. 97-103).


Myth 4. Old Dad Chiro died of auto injuries sustained when B.J. Palmer attempted patricide: This contention is absurd in several respects. Firstly, we know that Dad Chiro's death certificate indicates typhoid fever as the cause of death (Gielow, 1981); I am unaware that trauma is considered an etiology for this disorder. We also know that Joy Loban, DC, executor of DD's estate, voluntarily withdrew a civil suit claiming damages against B.J. Palmer, and that several grand juries repeatedly refused to bring criminal charges against the son. More importantly, the claim of patricide is absurd on its face. If BJ had desired to murder his father, why do it at the front of a parade with many witnesses? Lastly, Dr. Carl Cleveland Jr.'s grandmother, Sylva L. Ashworth, DC, a 1910 graduate of the PSC, related to Carl that she had been there on that fateful day in August 1913, had witnessed the events, and recalls that DD was not struck by BJ's car, rather, that the founder had stumbled and that she had helped him to his feet. So why has this myth persisted so durably? Perhaps because BJ gave the profession so many other reasons to dislike him, and some of us cannot resist finding homicide credible? Yet logic and the available facts really do not support the perpetuation of this myth.


This is from vol.22 og BJ Palmer's "green books." It is BJ's account of the problems with his father and what happened during the parade that led to his murder charge. He was definitely not an impartial party to the events, but his account is still interesting:

WHEN CHIROPRACTIC was a toddling kid, D. D. Palmer had a “treating room” with a mirror on the wall. As the patient lay on the straight one-piece board table, he could look in the mirror and see what D.D. did to his back. D.D. caught one patient doing this. He took down the mirror and it never went back. Why? Because D.D. had in mind the keeping of the Chiropractic art a family secret to be handed down from father to son, etc. If Chiropractic was what D.D. said it was, if it could do what he said it could, no man could adjust all the vertebral subluxations in one city, state, or country—let alone the world. If it was a question of service to the sick, then many Chiropractors would be needed. Here was a division of thinking between the father who wanted to maintain Chiropractic a family secret, and the son who thought it better to teach many to spread its work broadcast. This created a split in the family. Many hot and unpleasant words passed between. It finally split father and son, which made the father bitter toward the son. It was a breach never patched, even to the time of the death of the father, who stipulated that the son was not to come to his funeral.

On one occasion, the father came to Davenport to an Annual PSC Lyceum, in August. A photo was being taken of a group in front of the PSC buildings. D. D. Palmer stayed across the street, observed the doings, but refused to come across and be in the group, although invited to do so. Following the photo, the annual parade through the streets of Davenport took place. First came the U.S. flag, then the PSC and UCA flags, followed by an auto which was set aside for D. D. to ride in. He refused to ride; said he was going to walk at the head of the parade, ahead of all flags. Following his car was the car in which rode Governor Morris, National Counsel for the UCA, and B. J. Palmer. The day was exceedingly hot. What would Davenport think, with D. D. Palmer, an old man, “being compelled to walk in the boiling hot sun? and the young son riding in a luxurious car? B. J. insisted D. D. ride in the car set aside for him. He refused. He was asked to get out of the parade. Several times he got out, but came back in again. Finally, B. J.’s car drove up along side of D. D., leading the parade, and asked him to get on the sidewalk and stay there. At this juncture, D. D. got out of the parade, ran down the sidewalk to the Universal Chiropractic College, went into their building and told them he had been run into, knocked down and run over, injured, etc. A short time later, however, D.D. appeared on Third and Brady-three blocks away-and started to get into the parade again. A policeman took him out and to the police station. A few days later, the Universal Chiropractic College, under the leadershipof Loban, Moyer, Rheuleman, Sol Long, Willard Carver, and others, started to collect money to prosecute B. J. for injuring his father, contending the statements made by D. D. were correct.

Several months later, D. D. died in Los Angeles, of typhoid fever. It was then the Universal group got actively busy contending D. D. died from injuries sustained at the hands of an automobile driven by B. J. in the parade in question. Affidavits were secured from “eye-witnesses” who said they saw B. J. run into his father; saw him knocked down; saw him run over, etc. Evidence was conflicting but sufficient to justify taking the matter to the prosecuting attorney of Scott County who presented the evidence on a charge of murder to the Scott County Grand Jury. This was done three times with no “true bill” being reported as many times. This forced B. J. to gather evidence to the contrary. It was later found that prosecuting affidavits were forgeries; additional evidence was later typewritten into the signed originals. All this tremendous mass of evidence, pro and con, has been gathered and published in a book titled With Malice Aforethought. Three incidents occurred which brought the issue to a head:

1. That D. D. was sick several months later, was true. That he died, was true. The attending physician signed the death certificate stating “typhoid fever” as the cause of death. Attending D. D. at the time was a nurse. She signed an affidavit for the UCC gang “that D. D. Palmer came to his death as the result of an accident from an automobile being driven at the hands of B.J. Palmer, in a parade on the streets of Davenport, Iowa,” even to stating day and occasion of a PSC Lyceum. How could she swear to such when she had never been in Davenport, did not see the parade or the purported accident? When confronted with this affidavit it was purported she signed, she swore it was a forgery; that all she gave in her affidavit was that “D. D. Palmer died of typhoid fever,” etc. She issued a counter affidavit stating the true facts, further stating that extraneous matter was added to her original affidavit after she had signed it.

2. All original affidavits held by attorneys for the UCC gang were in an envelope which lay on the desk one spring day. The window was open, desk was open; a sudden spring rain-wind storm came up which blew the envelope off the desk onto the floor. The janitor swept the papers into his basket and took them to the furnace room. He was a patient in the evening clinic of The PSC. It just happened that he told B. J. about having seen some papers of something about a murder against him, and asked “Would you like to see these papers?” In this way, B. J. secured the originals, putting him in a position to track down the forgeries and other affidavits never sworn to by some names purportedly signed thereto.

3. At the time this matter was up before the Scott County Grand Jury, The PSC had in its clinic a charity patient from Arkansas. He was a charge on county expense. The prosecuting attorney called B. J. and told him it would be better if they sent this case home and took him off the county poor fund. The attorney asked The PSC to reimburse the county for money paid out for his keep. A check was issued and sent to the prosecuting attorneys office for that purpose. At time check was given to P. A., Sol Long., attorney for the UCC gang was sitting in the anteroom. He saw the check pass hands. He immediately jumped to the erroneous conclusion that the reason he could get nowhere with his suit was because B. J. was buying off the P.A. He rushed to the UCC and that day issued a mimeographed letter stating in no uncertain terms that B. J. was buying off the P.A. B. J. secured a copy of this letter next day, sent it to the P.A., which enraged him to such an extent that he immediately dropped all further interest in their case.

One can hardly realize to what dire extents the UCC group were forced, without reading With Malice Aforethought in its entirety and weaving through the sordid details. Presumably, about $15,000 of good Chiropractic money was wasted on both sides to prosecute and defend this unpleasant episode in the life of B. J., to protect Chiropractic in its purity for posterity. Long since, B. J. has been completely exonerated of charges implicated. Long since, practically every one of the traducers is dead and buried—Loban, Moyers, Rheuleman, Sol Long, Willard Carver, etc. The episode has long been forgotten, but it raged bitterly while it lasted for more than three years.

(Thanks to chiropractor "Hughgr" (user name at Wikipedia) for providing this information.)

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