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Fate Of Fetal Remains Unclear As Investigation Continues In Indiana

Sep 19, 2019
Originally published on September 19, 2019 8:11 pm

It has been a week since the disturbing discovery of thousands of fetal remains at the home of a former abortion provider, and authorities still don't know why he kept them.

Ulrich Klopfer had performed abortions at three clinics in Indiana but lived across the state line in Illinois.

The 2,246 medically preserved fetal remains were discovered days after Klopfer died earlier this month at the age of 79. Illinois officials are now turning the investigation over to the Indiana attorney general. Though he may have violated some Illinois laws related to how these remains should have been handled, officials there don't believe there's any role for prosecutors in Illinois since Klopfer has died.

"Over 70 cardboard boxes of various sizes contained these remains," Will County Sheriff Mike Kelley said at a news conference on Thursday. "The remains discovered were inside ... small sealed plastic bags, which contained ... a chemical used to preserve biological material."

Authorities say the boxes were dated with the years 2000 to 2002, indicating the remains were nearly two decades old.

The doctor and his wife, Sherry, lived in a five-bedroom home in Crete, Ill., about an hour outside Chicago. The house was mostly "floor to ceiling junk," according to Kevin Bolger, an attorney for the widow, and the doctor had also filled up the garage and several outbuildings. After Klopfer's death, his widow found the fetal remains when she began going through his belongings, and notified authorities.

"Imagine losing your husband, leaving you with this dump, and then finding out that he's done this," Bolger says. "I mean this is like something out of The Twilight Zone. And she's totally freaked out about it."

Klopfer's medical license was suspended in 2016, and never reinstated. According to documents from the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, officials found a range of issues involving Klopfer and his clinics, including insufficient training and licensing of staff. One document also said that Klopfer had performed an abortion on a 10-year-old girl who was a rape victim and failed to report the rape. Those are some of the issues that authorities in Indiana may be looking at as they continue to investigate how these remains got to Klopfer's home and why he was keeping them there. There is no evidence that he performed medical procedures at his home, authorities say.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that requires abortion providers in Indiana to either bury or cremate fetal remains. Because Klopfer lived in Illinois, the possibility that the remains came from those Indiana clinics complicated "calls about what to do with them," according to The Chicago Tribune. The Will County Coroner's Office in Illinois initially took possession of the remains, but on Thursday, officials said they planned to turn them over to Indiana, since that is where Klopfer worked as an abortion provider.

After the fetal remains were found, lawmakers and anti-abortion activists, including Vice President Pence, called for an investigation. On Monday, the vice president tweeted that Klopfer's "actions should be fully & thoroughly investigated, the remains of the unborn must be treated with dignity & respect & this abortionists defenders should be ashamed. We will always stand for the unborn."

On Thursday afternoon, a few dozen anti-abortion activists gathered outside the county coroner's office in Will County, Ill., to pray and call for formal burial of the remains. They said they want to know more about how this happened and whether anyone still alive is responsible.

It wasn't clear on Thursday what would happen to the remains, but investigators say women who were Klopfer's patients should reach out to the Indiana attorney general's office if they want to know more.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We want to warn you that some listeners may find this next story disturbing. Today we learn more about a case in Illinois involving the discovery of thousands of fetal remains at the home of a former abortion provider. After Ulrich Klopfer died earlier this month, the remains were discovered in his garage. Authorities in Illinois released more information today. NPR's Sarah McCammon attended a press conference at the Will County sheriff's office outside Chicago and joins us now.

Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What are authorities saying about why these fetal remains might have been at this man's home?

MCCAMMON: Well, there are a lot of questions they still can't answer. But we do know that Dr. Ulrich Klopfer died earlier this month. He was 79. He'd been an abortion provider at three clinics in Indiana and was living in Crete, Ill., about an hour outside Chicago. And that was where authorities say his widow discovered these fetal remains in their garage after he died. They say she let authorities know right away. Here's Will County Sheriff Mike Kelley at a press conference earlier today describing the scene.

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MIKE KELLEY: Over 70 cardboard boxes of various sizes contained these remains. The remains discovered were inside small, sealed plastic bags, which contained formalin, a chemical used to preserve biological material. The boxes that contained the fetal remains were mixed among other boxes containing personal property of Dr. Klopfer.

MCCAMMON: And authorities say the boxes were dated with the years 2000 to 2002, and they believe that's probably accurate. They don't know why Dr. Klopfer did this. And they are, at this point, turning the investigation over to the Indiana attorney general because that is where he worked as an abortion provider.

SHAPIRO: I understand Klopfer lost his medical license in Indiana in 2016. Do you know why?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. According to documents from the medical licensing board in Indiana, officials found a range of issues involving Klopfer and his clinics; among them, insufficient training and licensing of staff. One document also said that Klopfer had performed an abortion on a 10-year-old girl who had been raped and failed to report that crime, so those are just some of the issues that authorities in Indiana may now be looking at as they continue to investigate how the fetal remains got to Klopfer's home and why they were being kept there.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that the remains were found by his widow. What has she said about this?

MCCAMMON: Well, I spoke to Sherry Klopfer's attorney, Kevin Bolger, earlier today. He said she did not know that these remains were on her property until after her husband died and that she's very distressed. Bolger described Dr. Klopfer as a, quote, "very serious hoarder," said the house was full of boxes and some outbuildings in the garage. And he said Mrs. Klopfer was shocked at the discovery.

KEVIN BOLGER: You imagine losing your husband - leaving you with this dump and then finding out that he's done this. I mean, this is like something out of "The Twilight Zone." And, you know, she's totally freaked out about it.

SHAPIRO: Sarah, a lot of abortion opponents have had very strong reactions to this. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted about it earlier this week. What's been the reaction from people there where you are?

MCCAMMON: Today a few dozen anti-abortion activists held a prayer vigil outside the county coroner's office. They said they want to know more about how this happened and whether anyone who's still alive might be responsible. And they want the remains to receive a burial. I should also mention one of the clinics was in South Bend, Ind. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who, of course, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has reacted, calling this extremely disturbing.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, where does the investigation go from here?

MCCAMMON: Well, authorities in Indiana are taking this over. And officials say that if any women were patients of Dr. Klopfer and want to know more about these fetal remains, they should reach out to the Indiana attorney general.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.