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Category Archives: Rhoads

Departamento de Energía Ocultó Documentos Sobre Experimentos de C. P. Rhoads con Radiación en Humanos

Decisión y orden del Departamento de Energía de Estados Unidos con las cuales oculta documentos sobre experimentos con radiación del asesino Cornelius P. Rhoads
Case No. VFA-0302, 26 DOE ¶ 80,201
July 11, 1997


Name of Petitioner: Pedro Aponte Vazquez
Date of Filing: June 16, 1997
Case Number: VFA-0302

On June 16, 1997, Pedro Aponte Vazquez (Aponte) filed an Appeal from a determination issued to him in response to a request for documents submitted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, as implemented by the Department of Energy (DOE) in 10 C.F.R. Part 1004 and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, as implemented by the DOE in 10 C.F.R. Part 1008. The determination was issued on May 15, 1997 by DOE's Chicago Operations Office (DOE/CH). This Appeal, if granted, would require that DOE/CH perform another search for responsive documents.

I. Background
On August 30, 1995, Aponte filed a request with DOE's Office of the Secretary for "copies of documents regarding the medical, scientific, and experimental work of Dr. Cornelius Packard Rhoads for the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission (1945-1959)." Letter from Aponte to Hazel O'Leary, DOE (August 30, 1995). DOE's FOIA/Privacy Act Group (DOE/HQ) acknowledged receipt of the request on September 28, 1995, and searched the files of the History Division of the Office of the Executive Secretariat and the Coordination and Information Center (CIC) in Nevada. During the search, DOE/HQ learned that Dr. Rhoads(1) had been involved with cancer research at Memorial Hospital(2) in New York. DOE/HQ then transferred the request to DOE/CH to perform a further search because DOE/CH was responsible for the administration of contracts with MSK. On November 4, 1996, DOE/HQ issued a final determination, concluding that no responsive records were found at headquarters. Along with the letter, DOE/HQ enclosed a list of documents available at CIC. On November 14, 1996, DOE/CH issued a final determination stating that no records exist regarding Memorial Hospital in New York. Aponte responded to DOE/CH in writing, referring to mention of total body irradiation (TBI) (3) experiments at Memorial Hospital in the Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (October 1995) [hereinafter Final Report]. He also expanded his request to include "documents of any kind pertaining directly or indirectly to such scientific work, from 1945 to 1959, even if no evidence exists that Dr. Rhoads was involved in them in any fashion." Letter from Aponte to Group Manager, Acquisition and Assistance, DOE/CH (November 20, 1996).

On May 2, 1997, DOE/CH acknowledged receipt of Aponte's November 20, 1996 letter, and apologized for the delay in receiving his request. DOE/CH conducted a search of MSK contracts in its office, but could not find any documents relating to TBI. Letter from DOE/CH to Aponte (May 15, 1997). On June 16, 1997, Aponte filed this Appeal of DOE/CH's final determination.

II. Analysis
In responding to a request for information under the FOIA, it is well established that an agency must conduct a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Truitt v. Department of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (Truitt). Accord Oglesby v. Department of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990); Master v. F.B.I., 926 F.Supp. 193, 196 (D.D.C. 1996) (Master). "The standard of reasonableness which we apply to agency search procedures does not require absolute exhaustion of the files; instead it requires a search reasonably calculated to uncover the sought materials." Miller v. Department of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1384-85 (8th Cir. 1985) (Miller); accord Truitt, 897 F.2d at 542. We have not hesitated to remand a case where it is evident that the search conducted was in fact inadequate. See, e.g., Glen Milner, 17 DOE ¶ 80,132 (1988).

In reviewing the present Appeal, we first contacted DOE/CH to ascertain the scope of the search. The Contracts Division of DOE/CH promptly sent us copies of supporting documentation, including correspondence with the requester and internal memoranda relating to the searches performed. After a review of the file and conversations with employees at DOE/CH, it appears that the search focused on two areas: (1) current MSK research grants were reviewed for any responsive material, and (2) historical records were searched for responsive material relating to Memorial Hospital.

A. Search of Current MSK Research Grants
Two employees of DOE/CH were assigned to search the three active and one inactive MSK research grants currently administered by their office. They examined nine files of a 1986 MSK contract and found no reference to TBI, but admitted that they did not understand the technical jargon and had only perused the first few pages of each file. In addition, they did not know the meaning of TBI and were unable to locate the Final Report reference that Aponte submitted as evidence of TBI research at Memorial Hospital. Memorandum from David Ramirez (undated). We easily found the Final Report reference on the Office of Human Radiation Experiments (OHRE) web site, along with an entire chapter entitled "What is TBI?" Final Report, Chapter 8.(4) The employees readily admitted their lack of familiarity with the subject area, and referred the request to two scientists experienced with MSK research grants.
Both scientists in the Office of Energy Research (DOE/ER) stated that the current MSK research grants did not involve TBI. One wrote that the current grants were "non-existent during the period 1945 to 1959." Memorandum from Dr. Prem Srivastava, DOE/ER to David Ramirez (May 13, 1997). The oldest of the active grants could only be traced as far back as a parent grant initiated in 1977, many years after Memorial Hospital ceased to exist. Id. In addition, the Final Report explains that TBI research substantially decreased after the mid-1970s. Final Report, Chapter 8. Thus, we find that the scientists' statements are credible and their search was adequate.

B. Search for Historical Records of Memorial Hospital
Various groups in DOE/CH searched for records of Memorial Hospital, but found none. An employee of the Acquisition and Assistance Group was able to find a reference to two boxes containing files for Memorial Hospital, but these boxes were "closed out" in 1983 and destroyed in 1989. We contacted this group again to discuss the search and determine if any records from 1945 to 1959 might still exist. DOE/CH informed us that when files are no longer used on a regular basis, they are "closed out," or retired, and moved to an interim facility for destruction at the end of the retention period (six years and three months). An employee who uses the records storage facility told us that, although some records older than six years and three months do exist, the oldest records she has seen in the storage room are from the 1970s. Thus, it is highly likely that records of TBI research at Memorial Hospital from 1945 to 1959 were destroyed many years ago. DOE/CH believes, and we agree, that a search of the entire facility would not only be unreasonably burdensome, but would also be unlikely to locate any responsive material. See Lois Blanche Vaughan, 26 DOE ¶ 80,165 (1997) (unreasonable burden to require agency to search thousands of files for records that are not likely to exist); Nation Magazine v. U.S., 71 F.3d 885, 892 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (concurring with the district court's determination that a request to search 23 years of unindexed files would impose an unreasonable burden on an agency).

Therefore, we find that DOE/CH performed a search reasonably calculated to uncover material relating to TBI research at Memorial Hospital from 1945 to 1959. The office reviewed current grants with MSK, the successor to Memorial Hospital, and also looked for documents referring to Memorial Hospital during those years. Because DOE/CH has a policy of destroying unused documents after six years and three months, we find no reason to expect DOE/CH to retain Memorial Hospital records for over 40 years. Accordingly, this Appeal is denied.

It Is Therefore Ordered That:
(1) The Appeal filed by Pedro Aponte Vazquez on June 16, 1997, OHA Case Number VFA-0302, is hereby denied.
(2) This is a final Order of the Department of Energy from which any aggrieved party may seek judicial review pursuant to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a) (4) (B). Judicial review may be sought in the district in which the requester resides or has a principal place of business, or in which the agency records are situated, or in the District of Columbia.

George B. Breznay
Office of Hearings and Appeals
Date: July 11, 1997

(1)Dr. Rhoads was director of Memorial Hospital from 1940 to 1943, and director of Sloan- Kettering Institute from 1945 to 1959. He was also a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission. He died in 1959.
(2)Memorial Hospital and Sloan-Kettering Institute merged in 1960 to become Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).
(3)Medically administered total-body irradiation involves the use of external radiation sources that produce penetrating rays of energy to deliver a relatively uniform amount of radiation to the entire body. Final Report, Chapter 8. TBI was used as a medical treatment prior to becoming the focus of experimentation from 1944 to 1974, and is still used today. By the late 1940s, TBI was accepted as a treatment for certain cancers. In the 1950s, chemotherapy was risky and only marginally effective against some cancers, so interest in TBI continued. However, this interest waned by the late 1960s as chemotherapy became more effective.
(4)This web site is located at It provides Internet access to DOE's 3.2 million cubic feet of records related to Cold War radiation research on humans.

Carta del Dr. C. P. Rhoads traducida al castellano

Texto de la carta en la cual el asesino en serie Cornelius P. Rhoads le confesó espontáneamente a su amigo Ferdie el 11 de noviembre de 1931 que había asesinado a ocho pacientes y les había trasplantado el cáncer a varios más mientras hacía experimentos en el Hospital Presbiteriano en San Juan de Puerto Rico bajo el auspicio de la Fundación Rockefeller de Nueva York. (Traducción: Pedro Aponte Vázquez).

Estimado Ferdie:

Mientras más pienso en el nombramiento de Larry Smith, tanto más me disgusto. ¿Has oído de alguna razón para justificarlo? Ciertamente es extraño que se le haya otorgado el puesto a un hombre ajeno por completo al grupo de Boston, despedido por Wolbach y hasta donde sé, carente por completo de reputación científica. Algo anda mal, probablemente con nuestro punto de vista.
La situación en Boston está resuelta. Parker y Nye manejarán el laboratorio conjuntamente y Kenneth o Mac Mahon será el ayudante; el jefe se quedará. Por lo que alcanzo a vislumbrar, mis oportunidades de encontrar un empleo en los próximos diez años son absolutamente nulas. Uno ciertamente no se siente estimulado a intentar adelantos científicos cuando viene a ser un obstáculo en lugar de una ayuda para progresar. Aquí puedo conseguir un empleo requetebueno y estoy tentado a tomarlo. Sería ideal excepto por los puertorriqueños —ellos son sin duda la raza más sucia, más vaga, más degenerada y más ratera que jamás haya habitado la esfera. Enferma habitar la misma isla con ellos. Son hasta más bajos que los italianos.
Lo que la isla necesita no es labor de salud pública, sino una ola gigantesca o algo que extermine la población. Entonces podría ser habitable. Yo he hecho lo mejor que he podido para adelantar el proceso matando a 8 y trasplantándoles el cáncer a varios más. Esto último no ha causado muertes todavía… La cuestión de la consideración por el bienestar de los pacientes no desempeña papel alguno aquí —de hecho, todos los médicos se deleitan en el abuso y tortura de los desafortunados sujetos.
No dejes de hacerme saber si te enteras de más noticias.



Dr. Rhoads’s Confession of Multiple Murders was no Joke

©2004 Pedro Aponte Vázquez

(Excerpt from The Unsolved Case of

Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads: An Indictment)


It seems that some historians are capable of being really stubborn no matter how closely the historical facts stare at them in the eye. A case in point is an article by a Puerto Rican historian who evidently has only read superficial and hastily written news reports on [the decision by the American Association for Cancer Research to remove Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads’s name from one of its awards].[1] José Curet not only sprinkles his article with data bred by his imagination, but goes the extra mile and leaves the door open to the possibility that perhaps doctor Rhoads stopped short of killing the people he bragged he had “killed off”.

Curet, who evidently misunderstood the news about the cancellation of the Rhoads award for year 2002 pending the investigation by Dr. Jay Katz, said that “The recent news that a scientific research award would be named after doctor Cornelius P. Rhoads, has once more given life to the history of an infamy. In letters dated in 1931, we have been reminded, doctor Rhoads told about having sterilized several Puerto Ricans and inoculated cancer into others, obviously without the consent of the patients, in a personal attempt to ‘exterminate’ our population. While these facts apparently could not be corroborated then, his written confession and his disdain towards Puerto Ricans is reason enough to disturb us. And, in fact, such has been the case.”[2]

I pointed out in an article of my own that his article contains “inaccurate data,” but that, rather than the “concrete data that do not coincide with the verified historical facts, the reason I write is Mr. Curet’s assertion according to which ‘the facts apparently could not be corroborated at the time’.”[3] Curet immediately explained that he was quoting almost directly from local dailies and had been misled by information published in Primera Hora, the previous October 15, where Dr. Héctor Pesquera, he said, is quoted as saying that “‘We need to establish the veracity of the allegations before taking action’.”[4]

He added that he erred when he wrote “‘sterilized’” where “more appropriately“ he should have written ‘exterminated’.” Curet further explained that his intention had not been to “examine” Rhoads’s actions, about whom he said he knows “only what the press has published,” but “the image of science we have formed or deformed since the beginning of the past century” and that he stands firm regarding the “accuracy and veracity” of the data he published within that context. He closed by saying “I firmly believe in criticism, but not only in the one that takes datum after datum, but in the one that encompasses the vision of the whole. And I believe that we lack good critique on those visions; above all now, when a ghost has reappeared and insists in again turning history into an execution wall.”

Curet is not alone. When it began to look as if the Rhoads affair finally would begin to be accepted by the scientific community as the serial murder case it actually is, Science magazine has published an article that is reminiscent of the backward times of Time  magazine’s “Porto Ricochet”.[5] In “Revisiting a 1930's Scandal, AACR to Rename a Prize”, journalism professor Douglas Starr, of Boston University, causes the impression that, although  it is true that  doctor Rhoads indeed piqued the “locals” — as he refers in his article to Puerto Ricans— actually he did not kill anyone.

Evidence of this is the fact that he asserts, without any solid foundation whatsoever, that “Few people seriously believe that Rhoads injected patients with cancer cells […].” When I asked Starr for the research design of the opinion poll he conducted that led him to that conclusion,[6] he answered: “I came to that conclusion after off-the-record discussions with scientists who are familiar with the case and additional research into source material.”[7] To base such conclusion, significant as it is, on mere discussions, whether off the record or not, unequivocally shows a flagrant disregard for the scientific method in the search for truth.

Even if it were believable that the “scientists” he discussed the issue with, no matter how many they were, know enough about the Rhoads case as to give an educated opinion, he had no scientific basis for his conclusion. Moreover, when I asked Starr to share with me whatever he meant by “additional research into source material” he didn’t answer.

At the outset, Starr hints that, as a journalist, he is going to follow the example of Machiavellian Time editor Henry Luce in “Porto Ricochet” for, in his lead —that is, in the first sentence of his first paragraph— he characterizes his confession of murder merely as an “offensive boast” and refers to Rhoads’s victims as “patients”, not as experimental subjects. Furthermore, he points out in his second paragraph that Rhoads never mailed the letter, an allegation made in 1932 not only by the confessed killer himself, but also by the U.S. authorities in Puerto Rico and others who participated in the cover up. The point was important back then, because it went hand in hand with the explanation that, rather than a voluntary and spontaneous confession of murder, the letter was “a playful composition” he had written for his own diversion —for which reason he didn’t mail it. Since he didn’t mail it, he couldn’t even be accused of libel, as the so-called Prosecutor pointed out in his report in no uncertain way.

Starr was aware of the fact that the reason Rhoads did not mail his letter was that he forgot to take it with him and left it on top of the desk where he had written it. There it was found shortly thereafter by Betty Guillermetty, the person who worked at that desk. Next day, laboratory technician Luis Baldoni-Martínez found it next to his microscope, but didn’t read it. Subsequently, it was found and read by Aida Soegard and other of his fellow workers upon reporting to work.

I know that Starr was aware of these facts and many others he chose to ignore, because he discussed with me by telephone several times from Boston the contents of the many documents I had lent him. During these conversations I emphasized the fact, among others, that Rhoads and the Rockefeller Commission did not come to Puerto Rico to give poor people the medical care they urgently needed, but to experiment with them without their knowledge and consent. Yet, Starr stresses that Rhoads and the other members of the Rockefeller Commission saw over 250 “patients”, once again depicting him as a regular physician, not as a scientific researcher. I also emphasized the fact that the main issue here was not that Rhoads attempted to kill people by means of transplanting cancer, which he himself made clear “ha[d] not resulted in any fatalities so far…”, but that he had already “killed off eight” human beings.

It was more convenient for the authorities and [Rhoads’s] supporters then, as it is today for his sympathizers, to concentrate on the supposed impossibility of transplanting cancerous cells from humans to humans —and without seeing this as attempted murder— than to confront actual murders of real people.

His insults to the Puerto Rican nation, were still easier to deal with, especially then, after only 34 years of the military occupation of the island. This made it easier for the AACR to say  that “there was an incredibly racist element to all this”, without going into the criminal aspects of his confession, and then refuse to make public the report on the basis of which it reached its conclusions. The AACR further expects the people of both, Puerto Rico and the United States, to believe that its release of its decision on April 21 —coincidentally, 38 years to the day of death of Pedro Albizu-Campos— and the publication of Starr’s article in Science in that same week was only a very happy coincidence.

As if he still were not sure that he had put his point across, Starr quotes doctor Margaret Foti, Chief Executive Officer of the AACR as saying that “The contents of the letter were not acceptable —then or now”— and that “they were certainly inappropriate for a physician and should not be associated with this award,” in reference to the Rhoads award. The purpose of that quote seems to be to drive home the idea that the only important part of Rhoads’s letter is the one in which he insults the “locals”.

In order to strengthen his position in defense of Rhoads so as to lighten the burden of the AACR, as Luce tried to lighten the burden of the Rockefeller Foundation, Starr goes as far as describing Rhoads as a “noble” person, in case that a probability remains of someone seeing Rhoads as a murderer. “TIME magazine,” Starr announces, “headlined the incident as ‘Porto Ricochet’ (using the Anglicized spelling of the time), implying that the doctor’s noble efforts had come back to bite him.”[8] (Emphasis added). Who told Starr that such was the intention of whoever wrote the title? I suggest that the fact that the news of Rhoads’s confession traveled fast through­out the island, bouncing from town to town, may have given place to the title. But then again, this explanation leaves out the possibility of bringing in Rhoads’s “nobility”.

In a struggle against the truth that by now should seem desperate to anyone that knows the intricacies of the Rhoads case better than the scientists he claims to have interviewed in private, Starr tells the unsuspecting editor and trusting readers of Science magazine that “Dr. William Castle had conducted a case-by-case investigation of the 13 patients who died during Rhoads tenure and found nothing suspicious.” I will not address the multiple errors in Starr’s article pertaining to content, but this is a detail I must not overlook. I assure Science readers and others, that I made available to Professor Starr a copy of a letter from Castle where he shared with “Dusty” the fact that he had “abetted” the investigation, but in which Castle in no way even tries to imply that he conducted an investigation of any sort. What Castle actually did was to abet the cover up of Rhoads’s murders —something he did for his own good.

In a letter dated January 29, 1932,[9] Bill Castle tells “Dusty” Rhoads:

Dear Dusty:

This is a copy of a statement I have made to the attorney General in charge of the official investigation. Payne is also sending one to the Foundation. If you care to, show it to Drs. Flexner and Cole.

It is very fortunate that I had not left before this started. Garrido Morales and Morales Otero are the medical men associated in the investigation with Qunmes (sic) the fiscal (sic).

Everything will of course come out all right, and as there is nothing to conceal I am abetting the progress of the investigation in every way possible.

The associated  press (sic) is going to get a cable today from Hull. I recommend that you make no statements without consulting Dr. Flexner or Dr. Russell.

As ever


I hope to sail Thursday, Feb. 4th.[10]

The allusion to “Hull” and The Associated Press (AP) refers to Castle’s conspiracy with a reporter to tamper with the truth. Howard Hull was a reporter for AP in San Juan and correspondent for The New York Times. In a cable dated in Washington, D. C., January 30, 1932, Hull attributed to Puerto Rico so-called Resident Commissioner in Washington, attorney Félix Córdova-Dávila, a statement he did not make according to which the charges against Rhoads were a “Nationalist publicity stunt”. When Córdova-Dávila protested, AP rectified.[11]

The documented truth is that Castle did not conduct “a case-by-case investigation of the 13 patients who died  during the experiments Rhoads and the others carried out in San Juan”, nor any other kind of investigation into this matter. He did provide the “General Statement” quoted entirely above, a copy of which I lent Starr for his article, but did not even testify under oath during the so-called investigation. Thus, Castle was neither a witness nor an investigator. In fact, as Baldoni implies, as far as the laboratory workers were concerned, he rather was a suspect.

It should be noted in this regard that Payne was not satisfied with Castle’s attitude. In the chronological report to the Rockefeller Foundation (quoted above) on how he had handled the scandal, he says that “Doctor Castle refused to co-operate with me in this. He claim­ed complete ignorance of the contents of the letter and would have no part in clearing up questions concerned with it. This was in spite of his knowledge that there was agitation which had not yet manifested itself in official action.” In that report, Payne states that Castle’s attitude improved after the issue began to look “serious”. Says Payne in reference to a joint press interview with Dr. William Galbreath, director of Presbyterian Hospital:

Dr. Galbreath then gave a general denial of the supposed crimes and I concurred with him. This interview was conducted in Spanish and for that reason we did not ask Dr. Castle to be present. Shortly afterward I asked him to prepare a statement and to be ready to interview reporters with me, should it be necessary. He readily agreed and from this time on we had his active help in all that had to be done. In the afternoon a weekly paper ran an extra in which the case was featured with scare-heads and cartoons.

In what one could reasonably suspect is another effort to lead his readers away from the truth so as to soften the impact of the case on the AACR, Starr even changes the date when an event he considers relevant was alleged to have taken place.

It was argued then that Rhoads, rather than a victimizer, was a victim of ungrateful and backward natives who stripped his car one night while he was at a party where he allegedly got drunk. Since Rhoads wrote his confession of murder on November 11, Starr conveniently reports that the party where Rhoads supposedly got drunk took place on November 10.

The correct date, however, is November 5, according to Payne himself, as well as to Castle’s close friend Celia Núñez, who stated under oath:

That Doctor Cornelius P. Rhoads, at my invitation, attended the dance that took place on the night of November 5, 1931, for the benefit of the Second [School] Unit of Cidra, in the Packing House of the R. Day Co.

That he came by himself, arriving approximately at ten, he danced several times, and his attitude was of being in a normal state.

That he left at eleven, more or less.

That I knew about the robbery (sic) three days later because he told me when I visited the Presbyterian [Hos­pital].

That this is all I have to say and that what I have said is the truth and nothing but the truth.

A sworn statement dated February 2, 1932, by Francisco Matos, farm keeper of R. Day Plantation, establishes that Rhoads did not get drunk during the party. Matos declared that “a quite tall and fat American of some age” that turned out to be doctor Rhoads “arrived there by himself, at about 10:00 at night”; that “he was in normal conditions” and did not show “any signs whatsoever that he may have used alcohol at all”; that he behaved “correctly” and danced mainly with Miss Núñez, “with whom he seemed to have a close friendship”; that he, Rhoads, “left for San Juan at about eleven, more or less, when the dance  was over”,  and that,  he, Matos, had no knowledge of anything happening to his car there that night “and, much less, that anything was stolen from his car.” He added that “there were more than 20 cars and nobody complained about missing anything.”

In a memorandum to the Chief, Bureau of Detectives, with which he sent the sworn statements of Matos and Núñez, Police Sergeant Buenaventura Rosario said:

Miss. Núñez can give a more ample statement than the present one; she was willing to inform something else, but it seems that somebody insinuated to her that she abstain from extending herself with other details she knows pertaining to the doctor of reference. I believe that she could give a better statement before the Hon. Prosecutor that is dealing with this matter.[12]

Did anyone interfere with witness Núñez? Apparently, the Prosecutor or the Chief of Detectives didn’t want to know, for there is no reference whatsoever to this issue in the Justice Department’s documents pertaining to the investigation —which, by the way, took only two weeks.

In opting to assume the unsustainable position that Rhoads was a racist, all right, but not a murderer, Starr and the director and officials of the American Association for Cancer Research may have been inspired by the daring content of an essay by historian Susan Lederer, of Yale University School of Medicine, who asserts —also without any evidence whatsoever— that Rhoads's confession of murder indeed was a joke, no doubt about it. Lederer is so sure that Rhoads was only joking, that her essay is titled “‘Porto Ricochet’: Joking about Germs, Cancer, and Race Extermination in the 1930's”.[13]  In it, Lederer says at the outset that Rhoads’s confession of murder was no more than a “bizarre claim”. She then directs her readers to “brief discussions of the Rhoads letter” by two North American authors who scarcely know anything about the case: Truman R. Clark[14] and Laura Briggs.[15]

Before considering Clark’s and Briggs’s “discussions”, let’s take a look at Lederer’s essay on what she calls a “juicy scandal”.[16]

After a truncated quote of Rhoads’s letter —which she chooses to describe as “confidential”— Lederer asserts that "Both, the Beverley investigation and an internal investigation undertaken by the Rockefeller Foundation uncovered no evidence that Rhoads had in fact ‘exterminated’ any Puerto Ricans." There certainly is no basis for such assertion insofar as the Rockefeller Foundation did not undertake any kind of investigation. It only asked and received information from its own representative in Puerto Rico and from the very government that suppressed evidence material to the case. At any rate, an investigation by Rhoads's employer would have been as valueless as Beverley's. I see no reason for Lederer to substitute “killed” —the verb Rhoads used— with “exterminated,” but it certainly would be interesting to speculate.

Professor Lederer tells her readers, moreover, that:

a) "following the theft of several personal articles from his Ford Roadster, the Rockefeller researcher composed the letter to his friend" —regardless of the fact that no evidence was ever provided that Rhoads had been the victim of any theft;

b) that Rhoads "subsequently" identified his friend "Ferdie" as "Fred Stewart" although it was in the letter itself that he wrote "F. W. Stewart", without spelling out “Fred”;

c) that Rhoads left Puerto Rico "with the remaining American members of the commission", though he left all by himself and the others, except Castle, were said to have left previously. In fact, Flexner, who sustained frequent correspondence with Rhoads, wrote to him on December 14, 1931, and sent him and Castle “best greetings for Christmas.”[17] Judging by the fact that the sera and bone marrow biopsy material Rhoads sent on November 5 reached New York four days later, it seems safe to speculate that he arrived in New York on the same day Flexner wrote his letter, for he departed December 10. Thus, it seems that Flexner did not expect Rhoads to return any time soon.

d) that "Baldoni gave a copy of the letter to Albizu Campos", but it was the original he gave him;

e) that Presbyterian Hospital director William Galbreath had "made his own inquiries", while he just formulated questions here and there,[18] and that

f) Baldoni testified before prosecutor Quiñones, but there is no evidence that he did.

Furthermore, Lederer stresses the fact that Rafael Arroyo-Zeppendfelt “challenged” in a public letter “Baldoni’s graphic account of unsterilized needles and callous treatment of study participants” and gives full credibility to Castle’s general statement. Should this not be sufficient, Lederer makes reference to a translation of a press interview in which Galbreath “repeatedly made reference to the hospital’s registers as evidence that no excess deaths occurred during Rhoads’s tenure at the hospital and that the actual number of deaths [13] did not match the number of deaths he claimed to have caused [8].” The truth is that, although Galbreath reportedly did give that misleading information to El Imparcial,[19] not even the Prosecutor denied that, out of those who had died, the number of persons Rhoads said he had “killed off” do match the number of persons he had “examined”. (Lederer quotes elsewhere in her essay the Report in which the Prosecutor points this out).[20]

Galbreath made reference not only to the Hospital’s own register of deaths, but also to the municipal register. The problem with this is that autopsies at the time were not required by law and, to further complicate matters, Rhoads himself had made three autopsies and no autopsy was made to three others of those who died within the group of eight he had examined. Dr. Enrique Koppisch performed the autopsies of the other five, but neither he nor Rhoads were interrogated and, since there was no trial, they were not cross-examined.

The fiction that Rhoads was the victim of theft and that, for this reason, he decided to write his letter to “Ferdie”, is so meaningful to Lederer that she repeats it twice in one page.[21] The original tale claimed that Rhoads even tried to fight with some bystanders, very likely agricultural workers or just plain typical jíbaros whose custom was to carry under the arm a long, sharp machete with a shiny edge of about an eighth of an inch wide. As this was typical of the peasants, the Penal Code allowed it with the seldom observed provision that the machete be wrapped up.

“One of the Health Officers has just reported to me”, Payne told Howard, “that on the night of the Cidra party Dr. Rhoads made a disturbance when he found his car stripped and tires flat. He tried to fight some by-standers (sic), then went to the Police Station and made a disturbance there. This may throw light on the environment and stimuli which gave rise to the letter, but it should not be accepted at face value until I can investigate it,” said Payne.[22]

It is not known whether Payne investigated and reported his conclusions, but Lederer and other historians have chosen to believe the story even though Payne himself was not sure of its veracity.

In her conclusions, Lederer describes the confessed serial killer as “possessed of a healthy, masculine sense of humor” and adds that: “Rhoads’s joke about germs and cancer may have served an adaptive function in his situation, but its particular expression —involving germs and cancer— also suggests the historical contingency of the joke itself.” We know, of course, that Rhoads didn’t say anything in his letter about germs, so Lederer must be using some kind of literary license.

Moreover, Lederer insists, as did Starr after her, that Rhoads wrote his “joke” for “his personal pleasure and private consumption”[23] even though she knows that it was addressed to a person that actually existed: F. W. Stewart. I provided Lederer by electronic mail a draft of my comments on her essay and received some answers and the promise to respond later at length, but as I write this, I have not received her additional comments.

The fact that Starr, Lederer, Briggs, Clark, and others, omit the rest of Rhoads’s letter in their writings —as did the news media in the U. S., but not in Puerto Rico— deprives their readers of the opportunity to see the context of his confession and to realize that he makes no mention whatsoever of a theft that is supposed to have been what caused him to write the letter in the first place. When he was writing the letter, Rhoads was “disgusted” —to use his own word— but it was because of envy due to the appointment of Larry Smith. It may have been that anger what caused him to tell his friend about the crimes he had committed.

”Larry” Smith was —so it seems— Dr. Lawrence Weld Smith, a pathologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1920.[24] From 1920 to 1922, Smith was instructor of pathology at Harvard and from 1922 to 1923 he taught pathology and bacteriology in the Philippines. He returned in 1923 to Harvard as faculty instructor until 1926. That year he was appointed assistant professor, a position he held until 1928. It should be noted that Dr. S. Burt Wolbach (wrongly referred to in transcripts of Rhoads’s letter as “Wallach”), graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1903 and was associated with Harvard University since 1905.[25] He was appointed Shattuck professor of pathological anatomy in 1922 and remained in that position until he retired in 1947. This places Wolbach and Smith as professors at Harvard at the same time —from 1920 to 1922 and from 1923 to 1928. In 1923, when Smith was appointed faculty instructor, Wolbach began at Harvard a study of vitamins and their relation with nutrition and in 1935 received the Mead-Johnson Award for his work on vitamin A.

Let’s turn to Dr. Truman R. Clark, who is among the worse sources ever —perhaps even the worst— on the Rhoads affair and whom Briggs mentions as one of those who “read parts” of her book. He is one of those researchers who have disseminated the convenient version according to which Rhoads’s confession of murder was only a “playful composition” written for his solace and entertainment, and that he “discarded” the note only to be found in a waste basket by one of his “servants”. But Clark was not to allow anyone ever to even come close to surpassing his creativity and asserted, in anticipation, that Rhoads “wrote fictitious letters expressing the anti-Puerto Rican sentiments of some continental residents he knew, intending to use the material some day in a novel”— a plot that escaped even Ivy Lee’s fertile imagination.

Briggs, on the other hand, makes reference in an extensive footnote to documentary sources at the Rockefeller Foundation Archive Center, and mentions the fact that a second letter “perhaps more damaging, was successfully suppressed by the Governor and Attorney General.” That’s the letter governor Beverley described as being “even worse” than the first and which Prosecutor Quiñones was supposed to have destroyed.


If readers follow Lederer’s advice, here is —with emphasis added— what they will find on the Rhoads letter in Briggs’s book, the research for which she says was “aided by grants from the Rockefeller Archives Center”:

Albizu’s Puerto Rican Nationalist Party emerged from obscurity in 1932. It brief­ly occupied center stage by accusing a Rockefeller Founda­tion doctor of gross medical malfeasance in perpetrating deadly experi­ments with cancer on the island. The evidence was a bitter, vicious letter written by North American physician Cornelius Rhoads in which he heaped abuse on Puerto Ricans as a group and claimed to have killed several “and injected cancer into seven more” in his capacity as a physician. Rhoads, with characteristic insensitivity, shrugged the letter off as a “joke.” Ultimately, an investigation of the health status of Rhoads’s pa­tients exonerated both the Rockefeller program and Rhoads (who went on to an illustrious career on the mainland, including the directorship of the Sloan-Kettering Institute and medical oversight of the now-infamous chemical weapons tests on unprotected U. S. soldiers during World War ll). Nevertheless, the incident generated considerable discussion in insular newspapers and (appropriately) cast a long shadow over the integrity of U. S. philanthropic efforts on the island and the benevolence of North Americans' intentions more broadly.4

To say at the outset, when making reference to the Rhoads case, that “Albizu*s Puerto Rican Nationalist Party emerged from obscurity in 1932", tends to suggest that Rhoads’s letter is something the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party must be grateful for. Historically, it is almost true that the Nationalist Party emerged from obscurity in 1932, but it is not so. The Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico —which is the literal name— was not Albizu’s party —at least, not yet— for he had assumed the presidency only in May, 1930 and, contrary to widespread belief, he was not its founder.

It is not correct either that the Nationalist Party “briefly occupied center stage” following the Rhoads scandal, for it actually remained in “center stage” for years to come as a result of its overt and clandestine actions against U. S. imperialism as a result of which he was jailed in the Atlanta federal penitentiary from June, 1937 to June, 1943; in district jail La Princesa in old San Juan from November 1950 to September 1953, and in the “state penitentiary” from March 1954 to December 1964. (He died on April 21, 1965).

What is most important, Albizu accused Rhoads of murder, not of mere “medical malfeasance”. This phrase can serve no other purpose than to turn attention away from the truth, strength­ening the unfounded version —adopted by the AACR— that Rhoads can only be accused of racism for having, as Briggs asserts, “heaped abuse on Puerto Ricans.”

Moreover, Briggs wants her readers to think of Rhoads’s letter not as a confession, but as a “claim”; as an allegation; and to view his work in Puerto Rico not as that of a scientific researcher that jeopardizes the lives of his unwitting subjects, but as a regular physician that is taking good care of patients —as some actually do.

Rhoads’s confession of multiple murders and attempted murders must not have been a very important “incident” as Briggs puts it, for she misquotes Rhoads as saying that he had “killed several” and had “‘injected cancer into seven more’.” In fact, he said he had “killed off 8" and had “transplanted cancer into several more”

It is incomprehensible, moreover, that Briggs considers the U. S. Government’s “investigation” credible in spite of the fact that she is aware of the suppression of evidence by the Governor and the Prosecutor.

Interviewed by electronic mail on her assessment of the case, after providing her a draft of my own statements, Briggs said:

I appreciate your sharing your forth­coming work with me. I'm sorry that you take exception to the way I framed the issue, and I appreciate your correction of any mistakes. I'm a little taken aback that you see me defending Rhoads or the Rockefeller Foundation; as I think the rest of the book makes clear, I certainly see U.S. and the RF's "benevolence" in Puerto Rico as a cover for imperialist policies. I actually went out of my way to mention Rhoads's letter because I thought it made that point clear; as you know, the book is not really about the RF or cancer, but about birth control and reproduction, and the inclusion of Rhoads is a bit of an aside. Here are my reasons for qualifying what otherwise might have been stronger statements:

   –According to the subsequent investigation by the RF, Rhoads did not have 8 patients who died of any cause, at least not that anyone could find, and because I read the documents pertaining to the investigation, I was persuaded that the records from the clinic were thoroughly re­viewed. To me, this cast doubt on the literal truth of the letter. I also read a great deal of unrelated correspondence about how much the New York RF staff disliked Rhoads, so I wasn't convinced that they would've engaged in a massive cover up on his behalf. –Cancerous cells are normal human cells that, for some reason that no one has yet fully been able to figure out, start growing wildly in places they are not meant to. Again, this made me qualify any statements about the precise, literal truth of the letter. However, I did think it spoke clearly to the man's morals. I included the discussion of the mustard gas experiments to make clear that he acted without ethical regard for human life, in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.[26]

The main points in Briggs’s explanation are the following:

1. The Rockefeller Foundation investigated the Rhoads case.

2. She read the documents pertaining to the Rockefeller Foundation’s investigation and realized that “the records from the clinic were thoroughly reviewed.”

3. The investigation revealed that “Rhoads did not have 8 patients who died of any cause, at least not that anyone could find.”

4. She “wasn't convinced” that the staff at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York “would've engaged in a massive cover up on his behalf” because they disliked him.

5. “No one has ever been able to induce cancer in human or animal subjects by injecting cancerous cells from another organism.”

Inasmuch as the Rockefeller Foundation conducted what may be considered a sort of administrative inquiry, but not a criminal investigation of its employee’s confession of murder or anything that could properly be considered as such, I asked Briggs which specific document of the ones she cites in her book led her to her conclusions. “What I can tell you about my source on that,” she said, “is that it's from the Rockefeller Archive Center, in their Rhoads file. I cite that file specifically in the footnote you mention, so you could get the exact location by looking at that. I don't have a copy of the document, but it's the result of the RF's investigation on Rhoads.”[27] Quite appropriately, there is no reference in Briggs’s cited endnote to any investigation by the Rockefeller Foundation, for there was no such investigation.

The Rockefeller Foundation indeed wouldn’t have “engaged in a massive cover up” on Rhoads’s behalf. It did it for its own benefit. In Payne’s letter to Howard on February 22, 1932, partially quoted above, he complained that “Dr. Rhoads did his cause and ours much harm with his explanation.” (Emphasis added). 

As to whether or not it’s possible to induce cancer through transplantation, the issue is immaterial to the Rhoads case because what’s important here is that he believed it could be done and repeatedly tried it out on unwitting subjects.

During a meeting in Chicago of the American College of Surgeons about the results of transplanting cancer to humans, a prominent physician said that a cancer patient allegedly allowed her doctors to graft her own living cancer cells under her skin because, it was claimed, she wanted to be “useful to humanity”. She was under treatment at Memorial Hospital in New York where she was operated on several times to have cancer tissues removed for culture in test tubes and laboratory animals. The doctor said that:

After the cancer cells had been growing for several months outside the patient’s body, the crucial test was made to see whether the cells were still human cancer cells. Proof of this came when they were back-transplanted under the patient’s skin. They grew actively and, when pieces of this cancer were removed for microscopic examination, they were seen to be identical with the other cells removed for examination so long ago.[28]

The prominent physician telling the story was none other than doctor Cornelius P. Rhoads in April 1954, while he was director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and Albizu was in prison in Puerto Rico. (That is, the killer was at large while his accuser was in prison.) Rhoads had been acting director of Memorial Hospital before 1943, so he may very well have been the researcher who performed that experiment and still others. “Ferdie” became acting director of Memorial Hospital in 1943, when Rhoads presumably joined the Army. Even if it turned out that the transplanted cells were rejected by the recipient, the experiment shows beyond doubt his disposition to cause harm to others in the name of science.#



In 2005, the authors of American Gunfight, so as not to be left behind, also portrayed Cornelius P. Rhoads as a brilliant medical doctor who, although clearly racist, had in no way committed the murders he spontaneously confessed. Although they mention The Unsolved Case of Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads in their bibliography, they chose to disregard the facts contained therein and preferred to repeat the falsehoods Lederer and others have joyfully propagated.


Pedro Aponte Vázquez

February, 2006


[1]. “A la sombra de la ciencia”, El Nuevo Día, Revista Domingo, January 5, 2003, pp. 6-7.

[2]. Ibid., p. 6.

[3]. Pedro Aponte Vázquez, “Más sobre el caso Rhoads,” Claridad, January 31-February 6, 2003, p. 36.

[4]. José Curet, “Aclaración,” Letter to the Editor, Claridad, February 7-13, 2003, p. 39.

[5]. Douglas Starr, “Revisiting a 1930's Scandal, AACR to rename a Prize” in Science, Vol.300,Num.5619,Issue of 25 April 2003, pp. 573_574 <


[6]. E-mail letter from the author to Starr, April 28, 2003.

[7]. E-mail from Starr to the author, April 28, 2003.

[8]. I have a different interpretation of the title. I think that the editor of Time was referring to the fact that news of the scandal reverberated throughout the island.

[9]. RAC.

[10].This date is confirmed in a letter from Payne to Howard, February 3, 1932. RAC.

[11]. La Correspondencia, March 29, 1932.

[12]. Document No. 525, Distrito de Cidra, P. R., February 2, 1931 [should be 1932] from B’Ventura Rosario, Sergeant, Insular Police, District Commander, to Chief, Detectives Bureau, in reference to Declaraciones Juradas Caso Vs. Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads. PRNA.

[13]. American Literary History. Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 720-746.

[14]. Puerto Rico and the United States. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973, p. 154.

[15]. Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U. S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkley: University of California Press, 2002.

[16]. Lederer says that: “I did not characterize the Rhoads incident as a ‘juicy scandal’. That's how the incident was characterized in a newspaper clipping that I cite in my article. I believe I always used quotations when I referred to it as ‘juicy.’ That was a contemporary characterization and not my own. E-mail, Lederer to this author, June 10, 2003. But the fact is that the phrase in her essay has no quotation marks and no attribution.

[17]. Letter from Flexner to Rhoads. APS.

[18]. To this, Lederer responded: “I take seriously your points about the use of evidence, although I think you may be splitting hairs in some cases, i.e. in e) Galbreath made his own inquiries when you claim he made questions here and there. I did not state that he made a formal inquiry, merely that he asked questions (made his own inquiries). I will look over the material and respond at greater length. E-mail, June 10, 2003. The fact is that Lederer uses the concept of “inquiry” undistinctively. She refers to the so-called investigation by Garrido-Morales as a “medical inquiry” (p.731) and previously said (p.726) that “In addition to Governor Beverley’s investigation, W. R. Galbreath … made his own inquiries into the letter and the number of patient deaths” — not “about,” but “into.” She then adds that “The Rockefeller Foundation also instituted another investigation ….” Emphasis added.

[19]. ”Lo que dice el Director del Hospital Presbiteriano sobre el asunto del Dr. Rhoads”, El Imparcial, 26 enero 1932, pp. 1, 3.

[20]. The Quiñones Report, pp.5-6, PRNA, reproduced above: “The Prosecutor’s Report”. Lederer visited the RAC and was able to see there English translations of some of the documents, but did not have access to those at the PRNA. In addition, since her Spanish she says is “halting”, she had to have material translated to her. E-mail, June, 9, 2003.

[21]. Ibid, p. 731.

[22]. Letter dated in San Juan, February 22, 1932. (oZ43 Anemia), cited above. RAC.

[23]. Lederer, op. cit., p. 725.

[24]. The Jaques Cattell Press, op. cit.

[25]. “Dr. S. B. Wolbach, Pathologist, Dies”, The New York Times, March 20, 1954, p. 15:3.

[26]. E-mail, June 13, 2003.

[27]. E-mail, June, 19, 2003.

[28]. ”Patient Given Cancer,” Science News Letter, April 17, 1954, p. 245.

La irrisoria coartada del asesino Rhoads

Cable en el cual el asesino doctor Rhoads le dice al gobernador de Puerto Rico, James R. Beverley, que su confesión de asesinato, escrita de su puño y letra, era en verdad una parodia que escribió para su propio entretenimiento. ANPR (copia en Colección Aponte Vázquez-Ortiz Roldán).

Cartas, Procurador General, 1932





Pedro Aponte Vázquez

En la denominada conferencia magistral sobre los asesinatos que el médico norteamericano Cornelius Packard Rhoads confesó haber cometido en Puerto Rico en el año de 1931, este trágico y, para algunos, inconveniente asunto, hace su entrada una vez más en el ámbito de la intelectualidad del país. El mismo formó parte de una serie de conferencias que auspició el Instituto de Historia de las Ciencias de la Salud (IHICIS) del Recinto de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico y su presentación tuvo lugar en el Ateneo Puertorriqueño el 23 de marzo de 2010 (Tercera Cumbre de Historia de Ciencias de la Salud). Este autor expuso la seriedad del asunto por primera vez en la Revista del Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico en febrero de 1982 bajo el título de “Necator Americanus” (Vol. 43, No. 1, págs. 117-142).

Uno de los propósitos del IHICIS fue el de conmemorar el cuadragésimo aniversario de la fundación de la Escuela de Salud Pública y no pudo ser más acertada la elección del caso del notorio médico, pues en su confesión de múltiples asesinatos había afirmado que en aquel momento histórico Puerto Rico no necesitaba labor alguna de salud pública. Lo que sí necesitaba, afirmó en su carta a su amigo “Ferdie”, era un oleaje gigantesco o algo que exterminara la población —en términos de hoy día: un descomunal tsunami.

La doctora Annette Ramírez de Arellano, autora de la ponencia, tiene excelentes credenciales para realizar una erudita investigación histórica dentro del campo de salud pública y, sin duda, también dentro de otros campos pertinentes a la historia en general y a las ciencias de la salud en particular según su propio historial académico en la red. Sin embargo, en lo que al caso Rhoads se refiere, su ponencia no refleja su talento, pues es esencialmente una somera adaptación del libro The Unsolved Case of Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads, por lo que nada nuevo aporta a la historiografía excepto unos pocos datos de trasfondo de naturaleza acumulativa. La historia misma es testigo de que los hechos fundamentales de las fuentes imprescindibles a las que alude ya habían sido expuestos, analizados, discutidos o interpretados en trabajos que sobre el caso ha publicado este autor en diferentes medios a lo largo de las últimas tres décadas. Además, su revisión de la literatura pertinente parece haber sido superficial, ya que no expone las implicaciones históricas de su contenido. (Dicho sea de paso, su afirmación de que The Unsolved Case of Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads fue escrito en 1982 es incorrecta y no es correcto el subtítulo de la obra de teatro que menciona).

Más aún, la autora omitió otros hechos muy pertinentes a cualquier exposición fiel, por breve que procure ser, del contenido, el manejo y las implicaciones históricas del caso de los asesinatos que aquel médico confesó. No nos dijo, por ejemplo, que después de su servicio militar, el asesino confeso fue asesor médico de la Comisión de Energía Atómica de Estados Unidos hasta su muerte en 1959; que durante años condujo experimentos con radiación atómica en humanos sin el debido consentimiento para beneficio de las fuerzas armadas de ese país; ni que presidió un comité que se ocupaba de la distribución de isótopos radiactivos.

Es de alta relevancia el que Ramírez de Arellano optara por omitir estos datos ante la alta probabilidad —fruto de la investigación histórica— de que Rhoads haya sido el autor intelectual de las torturas con radiación que alegó desde la cárcel La Princesa el prócer Pedro Albizu Campos, histórico asunto que también omite.

Además, aunque la ponente alude al hecho conocido de que Rhoads manifestó que el doctor Eduardo Garrido Morales estaba en deuda con él porque le había curado a su mamá de una larga enfermedad, no mencionó que ese dato, a primera vista baladí, cobra suma importancia cuando consideramos que fue el propio Garrido Morales y no el fiscal José Ramón Quiñones quien condujo los interrogatorios durante la mal llamada investigación criminal del caso. En lugar de ello, dice que la investigación estuvo a cargo de “peritos médicos”, lo que constituye, cuando menos, una crasa exageración. Médicos eran, sí, pero no “peritos”.

La Fundación Rockefeller, la entidad que financió el experimento con humanos que la denominada Comisión de Anemia del Instituto Rockefeller para Investigaciones Médicas —hoy Universidad Rockefeller— vino a repetir en Puerto Rico so pretexto de curar a niños y adultos enfermos de anemia en estado grave, quedó muy bien parada en la referida ponencia, ya que, aunque Ramírez de Arellano forzosamente la incluye como una de las entidades empeñadas en salir indemnes del escándalo de magnitud internacional, omite el hecho ampliamente divulgado de que sus esfuerzos por encubrir la verdad se remontan hasta 1981, cuando los más altos jerarcas de la Fundación —incluido el sacerdote católico Theodore Hesburgh— actuaron concertadamente para no responder a mis preguntas.

Pasó por alto la conferenciante, además, el hecho de que todavía en el presente siglo hay quienes insisten, como su colega Susan Lederer, de la Escuela de Medicina de la Universidad de Yale, en proyectar la confesión de múltiples asesinatos de Rhoads como inicialmente lo hizo Ivy Lee, el agente de relaciones públicas de los Rockefeller: como una mera broma del jocoso y generoso doctor Rhoads. Por algo los sindicalistas lo llamaban “Poison” Ivy (en alusión a la planta urticante).

La ponente, quien ha estado vinculada como investigadora histórica precisamente con el Centro de Archivos de la Fundación Rockefeller y con la Universidad Rockefelller desde 1983 hasta el presente, soslayó la complicidad de la Fundación y de Garrido Morales y en su lugar optó por difamar a Albizu nada menos que en el Ateneo y a solo unos pasos de donde sus restos fueron velados hace 45 años (luego de estar expuestos en la funeraria Jensen) concluido su viacrucis.

Sobre el heroico papel que desempeñó Albizu ante las escandalosas admisiones del médico genocida, la historiadora dijo que: “Albizu, quien había asumido la presidencia del Partido Nacionalista en 1930, no escatimó esfuerzos en sacarle provecho al asunto. Lo que a todas luces parecía ser la confesión de intenciones y actos genocidas por parte de Rhoads representaba una oportunidad publicitaria única para el Partido y su líder”. Con esa afirmación sin fundamento y ya por décadas desacreditada, Ramírez de Arellano no dejó lugar a dudas sobre su intención de restarle seriedad al caso mismo que se proponía reseñar al tiempo que le dio el beneficio de la duda a Rhoads con la frase “parecía ser”.

¿Cuál habría sido el juicio de Ramírez de Arellano si Albizu se hubiese abstenido de intervenir en el asunto por suponer que al cabo de ocho décadas todavía habrían de surgir voces que lo describirían gratuitamente como un ser oportunista? #

Carta manuscrita de Oscar Collazo

Sobre de la carta de Oscar Collazo

Carta de Oscar Collazo (Colección  Aponte Vázquez-Ortiz Roldán).

Carta del patriota Luis Baldoni Martínez

Carta y sobre de don Luis Baldoni Martínez, 25 ago 81. Colección Aponte Vázquez-Ortiz Roldán.

Vinculado Rhoads con experimentos con radiación

Por  Pedro Aponte Vázquez

(Claridad, 21–27 febrero 1997,  pág. 32)

Documentos de la Comisión de Energía Atómica de Estados Unidos hasta ahora desconocidos confirman que el doctor Cornelius P. Rhoads, presunto autor intelectual de la muerte del prócer Pedro Albizu Campos, tenía fácil acceso a materiales radiactivos desde mediados de la década del 40 y que desde entonces estuvo directamente  involucrado en experimentos con radiación en humanos.

Según se desprende de documentos que obtuvo este redactor bajo la ley federal de libertad de información, el doctor Rhoads estuvo vinculado desde la década de 1940 con el llamado Proyecto Manhattan, como se le llamó al proyecto para la construcción de la bomba atómica, al tiempo que dirigía el Hospital Memorial, hoy Sloan-Kettering, en Nueva York. Esto implica que estuvo ubicado en las más altas esferas de la comunidad científica y que tenía acceso a información de alto  grado de secretividad. Este hecho siginifica, a su vez, que el doctor Rhoads no era un elemento desconocido para el  director del FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, quien, como se sabe, intervenía directamente en la persecución del líder Nacionalista.

Los documentos confirman, además, que el doctor Rhoads, quien en el año de 1931 se jactó de haber matado a ocho personas en nuestro país y de haberles trasplantado el cáncer a varias más,  estuvo vinculado con experimentos con radiación en humanos para las fuerzas armadas de Estados Unidos aun después de los que realizó en el campo de la guerra química mientras servía en el Cuerpo Médico del Ejército antes del año de 1945. Por esa labor, el ejército lo condecoró con la Legión del Mérito.

Su vínculo con el Proyecto Manhattan, luego Comisión de Energía Atómica y hoy Departamento de Energía, así como su fácil acceso a materiales radiactivos, surgen de una carta que le envió el 28 de noviembre de 1945 al doctor Merle A. Tuve, un investigador científico del laboratorio de física aplicada de la Universidad Johns  Hopkins, en Maryland. En la misma, Rhoads alude a los pasos que deberán seguirse para solicitarle isótopos al Proyecto Manhattan para su uso en proyectos de investigación.

Una nota manuscrita firmada con las iniciales “SW” revela que Rhoads no estaba autorizado a divulgar en ese momento el contenido de una reunión que sostuvo con el coronel Stafford Warren, el capitán James Nolan y un civil de apellido Marinelli. Durante la referida reunión, Rhoads aludió a la designación de  Warren, de Tuve y del propio Rhoads,  para servir de enlaces entre el Proyecto Manhattan y el Concejo Nacional para la Investigación Científica. Las designaciones obedecieron a una carta del Secretario de la Guerra, hoy  llamado de Defensa, del anterior 13 de noviembre. Las mencionadas iniciales “SW” parecen corresponder al coronel Stafford Warren.

Su participación en experimentos con radiación en humanos queda confirmada  por el contenido de un informe hasta ahora secreto titulado “Programa de Colaboración entre las Divisiones Médicas de los Laboratorios Nacionales Broookhaven y del Hospital Memorial”, el cual le envió al doctor Lee Farr, del Instituto Alfred I. Dupont de la Fundación Nemours. El informe, sin fecha ni firma ni otras señas, iba acompañado de una carta de trámite de Rhoads con membrete del Hospital Memorial y fecha del 14 de enero de 1949.

Según el referido informe, Rhoads proponía unos “estudios” de  pacientes “con cáncer de la tiroides tratados con yodo radiactivo y el “estudio y tratamiento de pacientes expuestos accidental o intencionalmente a grandes cantidades de radiación”. Obsérvese la alusión a la exposición “intencional” a grandes cantidades de radiación, las que más adelante califica de “masivas”.

Rhoads procede a renglón seguido a enumerar los “procedimientos diagnósticos y terapéuticos” que se proponía realizar “inmediatamente” en los casos de “exposición de individuos a cantidades masivas de radiación proveniente de materiales radiactivos”.

 Sus planes contemplaban establecer un programa para admitir “un constante flujo de pacientes” que subsiguientemente serían canalizados hacia Brookhaven para “hospitalización prolongada”.

Rhoads, enemigo de Albizu desde que éste lo acusó de genocidio en el año de 1932, dijo sobre los potenciales pacientes que: “Allí [en el laboratorio Brookhaven] podrían servir como útil material de estudio y de instrucción para el staff en desarrollo. Cuando se les requiera, podrían ser devueltos al Hospital Memorial para procedimientos especiales que al presente no están disponibles en Brookhaven”, agregó.

Aunque el informe no tiene firma, es lógico concluir que es de la autoría de Rhoads por tres buenas razones. Primero, en el mismo se  pone el hospital a la disposición del Laboratorio Brookhaven y se hacen otras ofertas de carácter académico y administrativo, decisiones que son de la incumbencia del director de la institución. Segundo, se trata de un escrito secreto y, como tal, su preparación no era delegable. Tercero, es el propio Rhoads quien envía este informe secreto.

Desde principios del año de 1951, Albizu denunció que estaba siendo expuesto a radiación en la cárcel La Princesa, en San Juan, lo que dio lugar a que el gobierno de Puerto Rico decretara en el 1953 que sufría de paranoia y lo expulsara de la cárcel. Aunque mostró quemaduras en sus piernas y en otras partes del cuerpo y un continuo deterioro de su salud, anteriormente excelente, predominó la incredulidad.

El doctor Rhoads murió en el año de 1959 de un ataque al corazón, mientras Albizu estaba recluido en el Hospital Presbiteriano como preso político, víctima de lo que el Partido Nacionalista catalogó de “linchamiento a la altura de la era atómica".

Recordando el caso Rhoads

Conferencia en el Museo de la Masacre de Ponce

Pedro Aponte Vázquez
18 de marzo de 2003 

Buenas noches. El Museo de la Masacre me ha invitado a reunirme con ustedes esta noche aquí con el fin de recordar los asesinatos que impunemente cometió en Puerto Rico aquel médico norteamericano que se llamó Cornelius Rhoads. Haré una breve exposición que nos sirva de base para iniciar un período de preguntas y respuestas y dedico mi presentación a la memoria de las víctimas del doctor Rhoads y de la Masacre de Ponce.

La Comisión Médica

El 15 de junio de 1931, llegó a Puerto Rico una comisión médica auspiciada por la Fundación Rockefeller con el expresado fin de buscar la causa de la anemia perniciosa y modos de curarla.

La anemia perniciosa era entonces una enfermedad mortal, razón por la cual la comunidad médica la denominaba Necator Americanus, latín para "asesino americano". La Comisión utilizó el laboratorio del Hospital Presbiteriano y condujo experimentos con 83 personas que, según se había comprobado, padecían de anemia "severa" asociada con parásitos (hookworm) y no tenían infecciones ni sufrían pérdida de sangre por otros motivos.

Casi todos residían en barrios en condiciones de pobreza extrema y en el grupo había niños y adultos de uno y otro sexo. Otros 32 sujetos residentes en el barrio Bayamón, del municipio de Cidra, que habían sido estudiados por la maestra rural Celia Núñez, fueron incluidos en los experimentos. Algunos pacientes fueron recluidos en varios hospitales y otros acudían periódicamente a un dispensario expresamente improvisado en el Hospital Presbiteriano con ese propósito. Además, ajenos a lo que estaba ocurriendo, algunos médicos le refirieron a la Comisión pacientes privados en la creencia de que serían atendidos mejor.

El plan general

Tratándose, como se trataba, de experimentación científica, el plan general consistía en observar el efecto de procedimientos individuales bajo condiciones controladas, especialmente, el efecto sobre la formación de la sangre. Los procedimientos individuales, según la Comisión, fueron:

     a)    eliminación de parásitos
     b)    dieta alta en proteínas
     c)    administración de extractos de hígado y
    ch)    administración de sales de hierro.

Algunos de estos experimentos tuvieron lugar en Cidra con los campesinos en el estudio de Núñez.

Respecto del estado de salud de los sujetos utilizados, los investigadores señalan que "los pacientes fueron seleccionados primordialmente por la severidad de su anemia". 

Recalcaron los investigadores que:

"La severidad de la anemia de los pacientes seleccionados puede ser juzgada partiendo del hecho de que solamente 5 de 83 pacientes tenían valores de hemoglobina de 50 por ciento o mayores".

La Comisión Rockefeller indicó, además, que la mayoría de las personas afectadas por anemia asociada con parásitos eran campesinos que trabajaban en el cultivo de la caña de azúcar, café y tabaco, cuyas escalas de salario eran bajas y quienes tenían "numerosos dependientes". Agregó la Comisión que "varios de los pacientes […] dependían completamente de la caridad ajena para su alimentación".

Rhoads confiesa asesinatos

La historia tomó otro rumbo el 12 de noviembre 1931 cuando empleados puertorriqueños de la Comisión Rockefeller encontraron, leyeron, fotocopiaron (sí, había fotocopiadoras) y circularon por el Hospital Presbiteriano la siguiente carta sin fecha escrita el día anterior de puño y letra del doctor Rhoads, alias "Dusty":

Estimado Ferdie:

    Mientras más pienso en el nombramiento de Larry Smith, tanto más me disgusto.  ¿Has oído alguna razón que lo justifique?  Ciertamente es extraño que un hombre rechazado por el grupo entero de Boston, despedido por Wolbach y, hasta donde sé, carente en absoluto de reputación científica, haya conseguido el puesto.  Algo anda mal, tal vez con nuestro punto de vista.
    La cuestión en Boston está resuelta.  Parker y Nye dirigirán conjuntamente el laboratorio y Kenneth o McMahon será el auxiliar;  el jefe se quedará.  Por lo que veo, las oportunidades de conseguirme un trabajo dentro de los próximos diez años son prácticamente ninguna.  Uno ciertamente no se siente estimulado a intentar avances científicos cuando esto viene a ser un obstáculo más bien que una ayuda para progresar.  Aquí podría conseguir un trabajo requete bueno y me siento tentado a cogerlo.  Sería ideal, si no fuese por los puertorriqueños — éstos son sin duda la raza de hombres más sucia, más vaga, más degenerada y mas ratera que jamás ha habitado el planeta.  Da asco habitar la misma isla con ellos.  Son hasta más bajos que los italianos.
    Lo que la isla necesita no es labor de salud pública, sino un oleaje gigantesco o algo que extermine la población.  Entonces podría ser habitable.  Yo he hecho lo mejor que he podido para acelerar el proceso de exterminio matando a 8 y trasplantándoles el cáncer a varios más.  Esto último no ha resultado en muertes hasta ahora…
    La cuestión de la consideración del bienestar de los pacientes no desempeña papel alguno aquí — de hecho, todos los médicos se deleitan en el abuso y la tortura de los desafortunados sujetos.
    No dejes de hacerme saber si oyes alguna otra noticia.



Por circunstancias desconocidas,  Rhoads dejó la carta sobre el escritorio de Betty Guillermety, donde la había escrito,  y la misma apareció el día siguiente sobre una mesa de trabajo al pie del microscopio del técnico de laboratorio Luis Baldoni Martínez.  El papel estaba doblado en tres partes y en un lado, al dorso, decía "F. W. Stewart". Baldoni lo desplazó hacia el área de trabajo de su compañera Aida Soegard, quien, al encontrarla, procedió a leerla.  El contenido de la carta les causó "horror" y "terror" a las  empleadas y cuatro de ellas circularon copias por todo el hospital.

Si bien esto no motivó que el director de la institución, doctor William Galbreath, iniciara o solicitara una investigación, si dio lugar a que procurase obtener el original.  Con ese fin envió al bacteriólogo Américo Pomales donde Baldoni, quien para entonces se había interesado tanto en aquel papel que ya se había apoderado del mismo.

Galbreath le aseguró a Baldoni, a través de Pomales, que si el documento original llegaba a sus manos, se abstendría de nombrar a Rhoads al cargo de subdirector del hospital, al cual éste alegadamente aspiraba.

Baldoni rehusó la oferta, prefirió ponerla en manos de Albizu y, "en vista de que se había cometido un crimen tan horrible sin que se llevara el correspondiente castigo el autor del mismo" y por cuanto el Hospital Presbiteriano "no iniciaba la debida investigación ante una situación de vida o muerte para todos", renunció a su empleo con la Comisión el 26 de diciembre de 1931.

Es así como la misiva personal de Rhoads con su confesión de asesinatos en serie, se convirtió en documento público el 25 de enero de 1932. El asesino, sin embargo, había huido ya hacia Nueva York el 10 de diciembre anterior en circunstancias misteriosas.

La “investigación”

La divulgación de la carta en la Prensa, en inglés y español, causó un gran revuelo en el país y el asunto ocupó en días subsiguientes la primera plana de los periódicos.  Al enterarse por el semanario Florete, el Jefe de la Policía, coronel Lutz, le pidió al gobernador James Rumsey Beverley que ordenase una investigación del caso.

Beverley, quien en una carta al director de la Fundación Rockefeller calificó la misiva de Rhoads de "confesión de asesinato" y de "libelo contra el pueblo de Puerto Rico",  le encomendó la investigación al fiscal especial general José Ramón Quiñones el 29 de enero de 1932, víspera, precisamente, de la asamblea del Partido Nacionalista, el cual habría de participar en las elecciones de ese  año.

En medio del furor causado, el fiscal Quiñones les pidió al Departamento de Salud y a la Asociación Médica de Puerto Rico (AMPR) que le proveyeran cada uno un asesor para ayudarle en la pesquisa — o sea, en el encubrimiento.   La encomienda recayó sobre los doctores Eduardo Garrido Morales y Pablo Morales Otero, respectivamente.

Pero, aun cuando el Fiscal hubiera tenido las mejores intenciones, su logro inmediato fue restarle credibilidad a su investigación antes de comenzarla y poner en entredicho a la AMPR. La institución de médicos había dado lugar a la desconfianza al dar a conocer, luego de haber sido publicada la carta, que ya se había enterado de "rumores" que venían circulando en torno a las manifestaciones del doctor Rhoads, a pesar de lo cual guardó silencio. La AMPR expresó luego su "desagrado y profunda pena" por haber sido diz que "injusta y arbitrariamente censurada" por quienes debían defenderla.

Además, Morales Otero, quien años después fue Representante a la Cámara por el Partido Popular Democrático, era para aquel momento presidente de la Junta Examinadora de Médicos y como tal rehusó tomar acción en contra del doctor Rhoads cuando varios médicos puertorriqueños lo acusaron ante ese organismo rector de ejercer la medicina en Puerto Rico sin autorización alguna.

Por si fuera poco, el hermetismo del Ministerio Público durante la investigación en nada contribuyó a disipar las dudas en la opinión pública en cuanto a la validez de la misma y, para colmar la copa, resultó ser precisamente Garrido quien le advirtió a Rhoads que su carta había sido objeto de una acalorada discusión en el seno de la Asociación Médica.

El Fiscal dio por terminada su encomienda el 11 de febrero de 1932, a penas dos semanas después de haberla recibido y, por supuesto, no encontró causa alguna para acusar al médico asesino.  Dijo el fiscal Quiñones:

En vista de las manifestaciones falsas e injuriosas expresadas en la carta por el doctor Rhoads para determinadas personas, para la clase médica de Puerto Rico y para los portorriqueños (sic) en general, cuando después se retracta de lo escrito por él, haciendo constar que su opinión es todo lo contrario, debido al contacto que ha tenido con estas personas, tenemos que llegar a la conclusión de que el doctor Cornelius P. Rhoads es un enfermo mental o un hombre poco escrupuloso.

El fiscal Quiñones no estimó necesario interrogar al asesino confeso ni al director del experimento, doctor William B. Castle, ni mucho menos exhumar los cadáveres como parte de la investigación –digo, del encubrimiento.

El hecho de que el caso Rhoads fuera relegado al olvido durante años y fuera mencionado tan sólo "de paso" y sin otro fin que el de restarle credibilidad, resulta más sorprendente aún a la luz de la negativa del procurador general interino, Arturo Ortiz Toro, de poner a la disposición del Partido Nacionalista la prueba examinada, so pretexto de que lo impedían las normas de la agencia.

Al igual que Morales Otero, Ortiz Toro se convirtió subsiguientemente en legislador, pero por el Partido Estadista Republicano. Garrido, por su parte, sustituyó al doctor Antonio Fernós Isern en el cargo de Comisionado de Salud en el 1933.

El Partido Nacionalista

El secretario general del Partido Nacionalista, Rafael Rivera Matos, solicitó el expediente del caso con el propósito del partido  "someterlo ante la consideración de una Comisión médica de prestigio internacional” que investigara los sucesos.

Mientras tanto, en Estados Unidos, la revista Time ya había exculpado a Rhoads y había atribuido el escándalo de proporción internacional a una "agitación típica del prejuicio con el cual la Fundación [Rockefeller] está obligada a contender en muchos países atrasados". El New York Times, por su parte, informó que el caso había sido cerrado con la exoneración de Rhoads "del cargo circulado por los nacionalistas" según el cual el  médico de la Fundación Rockefeller "había procurado llevar a cabo un plan de Estados Unidos para el exterminio de la raza puertorriqueña."

Para el Partido Nacionalista, no obstante, el caso no quedó cerrado y el mismo repercutió luego de dos décadas como secuela del ataque a la Casa Blair por Oscar Collazo y Griselio Torresola el primero de noviembre de 1950.

Resurge el caso

En el año de 1982, luego de tres años iniciales de investigación y 50 años después del encubrimiento, di a conocer muchos  de los hechos de este caso en un ensayo que titulé “Necator Americanus: O sobre la fisiología del caso Rhoads”, el cual el la Revista del Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico publicó en su Número 1 del Volumen 43. Dirigía la Revista entonces el doctor Carmelo Delgado Cintrón.

Luego de encontrar muchos otros documentos originales en el Archivo Central de la Fundación Rockefeller, en Nueva York, así como en el Archivo Nacional de Puerto Rico, pude publicar datos de los mismos diez  años después, en el 1992, en un libro bajo el título de Crónica de un encubrimiento y el subtítulo de Albizu Campos y el caso Rhoads.

Los documentos no aparecieron de primera intención en nuestro Archivo Nacional. De que se hiciera una minuciosa búsqueda se ocupó la archivera Carmen Alicia Dávila, labor que, según me dijo, sus compañeros realizaron con mucho empeño.

Setenta años habían transcurrido desde la publicación de los hechos en la prensa y el subsiguiente encubrimiento por el llamado Departamento de Justicia de Puerto Rico y, cuando parecía que el asunto había quedado enterrado una vez más, el doctor Edwin Vázquez, un joven biólogo y profesor de la UPR en el recinto de Cayey, se enteró fortuitamente de que la Asociación Americana para Investigación del Cáncer, había establecido en el año de 1979 un premio con el nombre del asesino en serie con fondos que había recibido de una fuente que, contrario a la costumbre, puso como condición permanecer en el anonimato.

El doctor Vázquez dio la voz de alarma inmediatamente y el doctor Héctor Pesquera, del Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, respondió al llamado con una campaña dirigida a lograr que se le retire el nombre de Cornelius P. Rhoads al premio. La mencionada Asociación confiere ese premio desde el 1980 a algún médico joven que se haya destacado en la investigación del cáncer sin saber que al hacerlo, está reconociendo a un asesino en serie.

La entidad le encomendó a un prominente abogado y psiquiatra norteamericano de origen judío y estudioso del mal uso de la experimentación con humanos, el doctor Jay Katz, hacer su propia investigación del asunto y someterle recomendaciones. Confiamos en  que la misma está en proceso y que terminará con la única recomendación lógica que los hechos históricos sustentarían.

Muchas gracias.

En efecto, la Asociación Americana para Investigación del Cáncer retiró del premio el nombre de Cornelius Rhoads según se lo recomendó el Dr. J. Katz.