Ralph Erdmann: Unraveling the Troubled Legacy of Botched Autopsies in Texas
After we die, we hope that our bodies will be handled with care as we travel into the afterlife.
After death, whether natural or unnatural, our body has to be checked by a medical examiner, and sometimes an autopsy has to be performed. Perhaps, it is because of murder or unexplained death, or maybe the family just needs some questions answered. Either way, one hopes that the person performing this task is on the up and up.
When the truth came out about Ralph Erdmann, a medical examiner in Texas, it created chaos in multiple counties and shocked the entire country. Ralph Erdmann falsified multiple documents concerning autopsies, and charged counties for autopsies he never performed.
Why would Ralph Erdmann do what he did?
Greed? Insanity? Because he could?
It all started in 1991, the family of a man named Robert Newman began questioning the credibility of Erdmann and his autopsy findings. Erdmann determined that Newman died from cocaine poisoning. The autopsy also included information about the weight of Newman's spleen and gall bladder. However, Newman had had his spleen and gall bladder removed years before his death. After exhuming the body of Robert Newman, it was found that an autopsy had never been performed, and after a reexamination of the exhumed remains, it was determined that Newman had died from natural causes, not cocaine poisoning. Robert Newman was just the beginning of the medical examiner's troubles.
The floodgates of Ralph Erdmann's misconduct opened
This wasn't the only time Erdmann had lied or falsified autopsy reports. The body of 72-year-old Hilton Merriman was exhumed on claims that Erdmann's autopsy was not done correctly. During the trial of the men who killed Merriman, Erdmann presented the requested tissue samples to the DA's office, but instead of providing Merriman's, he turned over the wrong tissue samples. These were of a 29-year-old male.
The stories of botched autopsies go on and on and on
Erdmann was the medical examiner in the 1989 death of Anthony Culifer in Tulia, Texas. Culifer was an infant son of Rhonda Fore. Rhonda Fore was the girlfriend of David Johnson at the time of the baby's death. Johnson was accused of killing the infant. If the name David Johnson sounds familiar it is because David Johnson was tied to the 1999 Tulia Drug Busts. Erdmann during the autopsy had determined that the baby had died of pneumonia. After Erdmann's wrongdoings came to light, the death was re-examined and other experts and medical examiners determined that the baby did not die from pneumonia, but might have been killed. Johnson was arrested and charged with the baby's murder in 1998. The jury was swayed by the testimonies and convicted Johnson of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Erdmann had once lost the head of a victim. The missing head meant missing evidence, and without the evidence, there could be no conviction. How do you lose a head?
The trail of destruction he left was so fascinating 60 Minutes covered this twisted tale in 1993
Now, if Mike Wallace was coming to my home, I'd have a cleaning service in for three weeks before and make sure that my tie, shirt and suit were brand new, and my kids were well scrubbed, etc. This guy brings Mike Wallace into his lab and opens up the refrigerator where he keeps his toxicology specimens. There's a bottle of Coke, a sandwich, urine and blood specimens, etc. all mixed in with important autopsy biological specimens. - Cyril H. Wecht, Legal Medicine and Forensic Science: Parameters of Utilization in Criminal Cases, pg 14, 1996
The chaos Erdmann created all over Texas was boundless.
Many prosecutors and families wanted to know if Erdmann, botched or lied about their cases or their family member's autopsy.
Ralph Erdmann had performed over 3000 autopsies just in Lubbock County in 1990. He charged $140,000 per year for his services. The smaller counties he worked for paid $650 for each autopsy.
The damages were done and now it was time for punishment
Dr. Erdmann was indicted on February 26, 1992, on two counts, theft by a public servant and tampering with government records. Overall he ended up pleading no contest on seven felony charges. He was sentenced to 10 years probation, 200 hours of community service, and ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution for exhumation expenses, autopsy fees, re-examinations, and reburials. He was also required to surrender his medical license.
After the conviction, Erdmann moved to Washington State, even while other counties were deciding if they were going to bring charges. While in Washington he was able to obtain employment at a local school in Redmond. but was later let go. On May 3, 1995, he was arrested in Redmond, Washington on suspicion of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Erdmann had 122 guns in his possession including handguns, rifles, and a M-16 assault rifle.
Immediately, after finding out from Erdmann's probation officer in Washington, Hockley County DS Gary Goff had begun the process to revoke Erdmann's probation in Texas. Washington State charged Edmann on May 8th for possession of a machine gun. He was sentenced to one year in jail for Felony Firearms Possession.
On November 8, 1995, Erdmann was sentenced to 8 years in prison after violating his probation.
Ralph Erdmann died on July 23, 2010, at the age of 83 in Fort Worth, Texas, part of his obituary read,
was a man who believed in hard work, integrity, and had a deep compassion for the welfare of others.
Let's just say this man led a very long and interesting life, what possessed him to do the things he chose to do with those he was entrusted with after death, the world will never know.