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I know I know. That's. OK. Is there any family here. That Are you with a leather belt in it. No I don't but ok when i think about family or anything. I don't suppose so. OK OK but. You know how it is found by the. Woman But the maid but the maid came to you say there were two men that came to see him. They so they know that he's gone. Now I heard you say the body laid out on where he was an out of town businessman who suffered a fatal heart attack during the night. The body becomes the temporary responsibility of Richard Curtis wooers M.D. for 12 years. County's chief medical examiner he certifies and if necessary investigates all deaths affecting the public interest which include accidents murders suicides and any deaths where a physician has not attended 36
hours preceding expiration. To generalize they are frequently deaths with Ambien tragedy and randomness. Before he leaves this room he will learn of two more in Polk County. It is disquieting to accompany him. Aside from the understandable resistance to witnessing a mortality Chronicle one quickly realizes that almost every destination for the big white car is permeated with sadness. The job is not the most sought after in government. RC waters is good at it. And Joy. And is therefore almost assured reappointment every two years by the County Board of Supervisors a medical examiner differs from the more familiar coroner in two ways. He is not elected and is required by law to be a licensed doctor of medicine and surgery. In either case a peripheral requirement would seem to be that he be able to come to grips with the fragility of life. They have both. A three and a half month old baby that. Was
D.O.A. at Methodist. Have a motorcycle accident happens. I do. Last night in my twenty eight years in practice I've dealt with death. Happily not too often but doctors don't like to lose patients and in a general practice you know you take care of all types of illness and when your whole training all through medical school is aimed at promoting health and preserving life and that many doctors tend to shy away from having anything to do with death it's understandable in a way because certainly helping people to have a. Healthy and fruitful life is important. But death is an inevitable thing and that's one of the things that we all face sooner or later and there's some fairly objective about it. I have a rather strong feeling that some people think that death is the worst thing that can happen to you and you see people and situations death certainly isn't the
worst thing that can happen to you or. He is deeply religious and electronics and on a perpetual diet though not a certified insomniac you may as well be always on call. He never sleeps in a bed but in an easy chair fully clothed. Fortunately he has become a fan of TV on the cable system. His wife Lucille their son and daughters have at some time apparently acclimated themselves to another facet of his personality. He is an inveterate accumulator and the depository for his affection is the basement. It is more or less a legend among his friends to a visitor it is simply astonishing. It's always all my life I've been in there's been anything mechanical or electrical. After several
years I could deal with the electronics. In fact I used to think when I was in school and I always thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer but I always thought I wanted to do kids like just love working in a chemical things electrical thing. At the time I got into about the 10th grade. I. Suddenly realized that being an electrical engineer didn't and it didn't involve working with electric motors and transformers and wires and wire cutters and the like it involve work with a slide rule and mathematics and mathematics was not my long suit by any mean. This is your husband. So sorry for having my room.
Just collapse right here. I don't think you suffered a dog or a piece. Of the grief situation and the grief reaction is understandable and most common and in fact is so common of this is that we tend to expect that a person when they are going to hear this news will break down and weep and some people become hysterical and so oftentimes well-meaning friends will say now can't you give her said Eva can't you do something. And this I don't believe is right except in rare cases where you have a person that just loses all control and becomes hysterical and I think it's probably well but normal grief I mean weeping is normal that's and that's part of the grief process and it's important to get this out. Again. Occasionally you find the person whose anger I had the experience of a delegate started to
swing at me and I. Know it. It really shook me up. Oh person. I've also seen a person put his fist through a wall. But certainly better than putting it to my face but. I just. Dealt with this egregious thing wells up with its hostility and I can provide a shoulder for them to cry on. There's a lot of pros and cons about the get our funeral services whether they are a worthwhile thing or not. There are groups that feel that it's. Not right to go through all this to get part of everything you know so it's not I personally feel that if you know service well conducted by reputable directors is a worthwhile thing it's up to you to see the reality of death. We like the person is dead. So I think people say this and they get a big until they see the person casting. Their trouble with lies and that's really happened.
Right. I have in my car something I got from just the other day. A crime scene investigation form only about a fifth of his job concerns violent or criminal circumstances. But when it does he operates in the area of forensic pathology an imposing term made recognizable to the public by Kojak and Quincey. Most simply put it describes the intersection of medicine and the law although it is not exclusively concerned with crime communicable diseases and even natural death where insurance claims are involved are also a context for forensic medicine. With crime it often carries Conan Doyle overtones. Theoretically leading to dramatic revelations that can break a case for a strand of hair on the new piece of skin. A drop in pressure of dried blood can yield up prodigious amounts of information to a trained investigator. As a practicality However its limits are often exaggerated. Most criminal investigation is still
very hard very dirty work. This doctor would address on that homicide victim. See this is a pull to the chest. There's just no room here at all. Wait. That's something. I investigate perhaps 75 or 80 deaths a month. And of those we do about eight or 10 autopsies a month. So it's only a small percentage maybe 10 percent of the cases that I investigate that are autopsies my autopsies are all done by a board certified pathologist. And when we have a homicide I Always a system of the autopsy so that in most cases I can testify in court. The autopsy is used to solve the decision determine whether or not a person died accidentally or naturally some years ago I had a man worked out there. Power and Light plant and he was on a ladder over a
very large coal bin and he fell from the ladder fell on a pile of coal and was covered the coal caved in on him and it by the time that the fire rescue people got to him I got them to the body and got them uncovered he was dead. The question was did he loses his grip on the ladder and fall into the suffocate from the effects of being covered with the coal. Or did he have a heart attack or a stroke or something and fall from a ladder because of that. So in that case we got top seed and found in fact that he had had a fatal heart attack and was dead by the time he hit the coal pile we always do an autopsy on every homicide case. You need all the evidence you can get right with that could have been a great reason you got Belushi's move right and get a win. Maybe that would help the body giving us. No doubt you can't blame them but that.
Is better. OK. OK. You probably see these kinds of murders and that kind of thing with more frequency even than the police because during the first trimester of 1978 the city of Des Moines saw an incredibly disturbing and disproportionate 13 murders committed Arcee Waters was often asked by the press to extrapolate from this bizarre statistic and impossibilities since crime figures are notoriously inaccurate and further are much more useful politically than scientifically what we often perceive as a crime wave is actually a crime reporting wave. But the homicides in the mind were real RC waters became the linchpin for the investigatory agency statements the public saw in that way because most of the news gatherers did he has one of their favorite sources. Not only is he often their only immediate source but is very accessible. Nevertheless the good
gray goose of the press turned its attention to him not as a source but as a subject in the fall of 1977. The Des Moines Tribune and The Sunday Register reported that wood hers had used morphine for over 20 years. The story is both front page appeared three years after successful completion of treatment for the addiction and suggest as columnist James Reston says that a story does not have to make good sense to make good news. Very few government officials could have survived this sort of publish particularly with an incendiary subject like drugs. It is a measure of Dr. Wood or his community stature that he did at the time. I heard that the story was coming out I was really for a short time I was really upset naturally because it's been something that I've hidden for 25 years I guess. And you know it's interesting that since the story came out I felt so much better it's really a load off my mind all of the dosage in the way of taking it wasn't such as to affect my behavior significantly as far as I know I always had this in the back of
my mind that doing something illegal I was you know an honorable profession. I wanted to be an honorable person and that was actually practicing living a lie and B C. Ordering drugs using illegally for my own use and on the pretense of using them for patients. The situation came to the fore. A drug inspector from the state promised the board came to the office and. Said that he wanted to review my records I didn't quibble with and I said well I won't waste your time and mine. Frankly I read I have been using the drugs myself I have no records of a patient to use on the drugs. He was very compassionate and said well this happens often he said. We sort of suspected that and he asked me what I wanted to do I said well I don't want to get cured. So I guess at his urging I went to get it while he was still there and made an appointment to
get myself admitted to the University of Minnesota for a withdrawal and treatment of the addiction. That's the way to do it. Find hope. You're a good guy and you're healthy. OK all right. Thanks for being with us.
The chapter in the code describing the medical examiner's duties sige the deceased relatives only once and then in reference to delivery of the corpse officially obligation to the survivors and is there. And quite often the task of breaking the news of a death is left to police officers on the scene. It is a moment No one relishes. It is also a moment that distinguishes our sea waters from an ordinary bureaucrat. He personally so used to the unhappy task in every instance possible. Carolyn Lowery of Demond saw him on the day that her husband died. My nephew is a preacher. He began to pray but in the meantime I had prayed you know to save Frank and Dale when I knew he was dead you know I just sort of went to pieces and I didn't even want him to pray for me. I had been tearing down you know. Yeah. That's sort of like you know I didn't want anybody to say anything to me you know just this feeling you get like it happens to you but. Then when he started
talking to me and asked me questions and you know understanding you know how I didn't feel that way toward him. The way I look at this is a room with furniture. You can take expensive furniture and look like much and some people can take two or three pieces of furniture. And I feel he's that a way with words he can say a few words to make you feel so much better than a person it was a beautiful thanks to Dr. Woodruff from the past 12 years. I would say during that time we've had many occasions to work with him Funeral Director of Carmelite. Or he is called. Pronounced the person dead and so
on. Over the past 40 years. Norquist. Any number of medical examiners and formerly called corners and. Just men were just tops them all as far as I'm concerned and you've got more compassion than any man I've ever seen in this position. And we had just brought out. Tragic tragic things happen in our family just a few weeks ago when Dr waters had to come out to our home and. Tell myself and my wife of the death of our son and heard a lot of accident. This little creation here beavering campaign where this Conley boy was killed made examination determined the nature of the injuries got identification from the billfold. Found that the
boy lived in agony and so I decided to. Head up there to find out if he had a family up there and if the name was Conley Paul Conley it didn't name didn't register with me at the time but when I got up to Anthony I stopped a police officer I have radio contact with the Yank anyplace there and stopped to ask where the location is what he says what I believe. That's down over to the west I think. I think that could be close to any funeral home. And he said would you say that name as I said calmly you said let's see if there's a picture in his billfold. We got it out he says yeah that's Polk eyepieces I think that's Joe comedy's boy will Joe Conley is the funeral director he's been a friend of mine for years and it was then that I realized this was a joke on my son that was killed. So I went over to the funeral home and knocked at the door rang the doorbell and he said Jill get a sad duty to perform this children and you will see
and she will grace me and. I. Just couldn't do enough. After I regain my composure somewhat. And he walked up the stairs into our bedroom and. Sat on a bed with me and my wife had been killed. Naturally the. Better part of our. Children come out of things like. Hell
better than he did. He just had to live out in the. Possible. Anything like. That. Appreciate what he did for us. She has no place to. Go with me to the fact that a wife and. Five. Years. I don't think I could have handled a
part of dealing with families next to him and coping with death in general if I didn't have a very firm belief that there is more to life than what we see here. You know it's just a difference between saying well it's all over everything it's done or if you have a. Certain sure and certain hope that there is more that there is life after death that makes all the difference in the world. It means a great deal to me. How you feeling. Very sorry. For you. Derek was killed in the end.
Doctor Wooters
Producing Organization
Iowa Public Television
Contributing Organization
Iowa Public Television (Johnston, Iowa)
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Program Description
The camera follows Doctor Richard Wooters- a state medical examiner who investigates tragic and random deaths.
Program Description
1978. 30 min. Film. County chief medical examiner. Producer/Director/Writer: John Beyer. Director of cinematography & editing: Ron Burnell. Finalist, Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards for Excellence in Journalism. First Place Documentary Award, Iowa Broadcasters News Association. Created by Iowa Public Broadcasting Network (IPBN), now Iowa Public Television (IPTV).
Created Date
Asset type
Law Enforcement and Crime
IPTV, pending rights and format restrictions, may be able to make a standard DVD copy of IPTV programs (excluding raw footage) for a fee. Requests for DVDs should be sent to Dawn Breining
Copyright IPBN 1978
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Moving Image
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Director: Photography: Burnell, Ron
Producer: Beyer, John
Producing Organization: Iowa Public Television
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Iowa Public Television
Identifier: 1B8 (Old Tape Number)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:31
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Chicago: “Doctor Wooters,” 1978-06-14, Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Doctor Wooters.” 1978-06-14. Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Doctor Wooters. Boston, MA: Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from