On a Saturday morning, Marion Culp stands beside the guard desk at the maximum-security prison in El Dorado, Kansas. The 77-year-old grandmother knows the dress code. No see-through blouses. No slit skirts. No spaghetti straps.
Marion smooths her “church dress,” a calf-length skirt and simple blouse. She drops a neatly folded tissue — it might contain hidden drugs — in a nearby wastebasket. In a cagelike room, a German shepherd circles the tiny woman, sniffing her clothes for marijuana and crack cocaine. Somber guards wave metal-detecting wands up and down her legs.
“Hold out your wrist.”
A guard stamps an invisible insignia on her arm. Another guard passes a black light over it and motions her through a metal door that bangs shut behind her as she steps into a grassy courtyard. Eventually reaching the visitors’ building, Marion waits on a seat attached to a hexagonal table in a room lined with vending machines. A bearded inmate wheels in her 77-year-old husband, Louis Culp.
When Marion saw Louis a couple of weeks earlier, his shaggy white hair was overgrown, and a full beard poked from his chin. Today he is clean-shaven, and his hair is trimmed. The couple kisses once, which is all the rules allow. They’ve been married 56 years. Marion sits beside Louis’ wheelchair and tries to be strong, but the tears come anyway. By now, Louis also knows the rules. He slides a napkin he’s saved for his wife across the table, and she dabs at her eyes.
“They’re good to me here,” Louis assures Marion. “It’s a lot like a nursing home.” Because he is legally blind and unable to walk, his cell is in the prison’s infirmary, part of the maximum-security unit.
Marion tells him about the basket she keeps on their coffee table in Kansas City, Kansas. It’s filled with cards and letters from his patients. Louis tells Marion that he worries about the other inmates, how their lives seem to have little hope.
Two hours later, Marion retreats through the heavy steel doors; a friend waits for her. Marion walks to the car, her head down, her pocketbook clutched to her abdomen.
On the three-hour ride back to Kansas City, Kansas, Marion naps and dreams about razor wire and armed guards. In one dream, Marion tries to get into the prison to see Louis, but door after steel door locks her out.
“I hope we don’t have to do this for five years,” Marion says after waking. “I don’t think he’ll make it.”
The police detective’s call came to Culp’s family practice one afternoon in October 2000. Culp stood at the front desk with the receiver to his ear for a long time.
“Well, I’ll sue her,” the doctor said abruptly and hung up the phone.
“What did you do, Louie?” asked the office manager. “Tell someone a joke?”
“I didn’t tell her any joke,” Culp replied. A new female patient had accused him of fondling her breasts. During the examination, no third person had been in the room. She claimed he’d performed a vaginal examination on her without her consent and said crude things while he touched her. Three days after the appointment, having consulted a lawyer, the 42-year-old woman went to the police.
Culp’s office manager remembers the patient because she’d scheduled a follow-up appointment at the end of her visit. But over the next few weeks, Culp’s staff noticed letters from an attorney in the mail. His children urged him to hire Johnson County defense lawyer Carl Cornwell.
That winter, the lawyer and the doctor would spend a few evenings at the Culps’ dining room table talking about the patient’s accusations. Later, Culp’s daughter, Nancy Ninon, would join them, but Marion never sat in for more than a few minutes.
“Mom would go out on the back porch and cry while Carl was here,” recalls Nancy. “She would get really upset.” Nancy had worked with her father as office manager off and on until 1998. Nancy couldn’t imagine her father hurting anyone, especially a patient. “We never took it all that seriously,” she says. “That was our big mistake.”
Marion spent hours shivering on the patio. Light reached from the house across the yard to the dormant rose garden and fallow vegetable plot that her husband had tended. If only he had listened to me, thought Marion. If only Louie had retired.
Culp had been a meteorologist in the Army during World War II but later changed his profession to medicine because he preferred people to research. When Culp opened his family practice at 18th and Washington in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1953, the fee for an office visit was three dollars. His practice was open to everyone.
“You’re not going to take coloreds, are you?” a doctor in the same building asked Marion in the hallway one day.
“Well, we don’t really go by color,” the soft-spoken woman replied and politely walked away. Marion worked at the office with her husband, and the couple saved money to send their five children to college.
Most of Culp’s patients knew him as “Doc,” a man who got down on his hands and knees to play with frightened toddlers. Like an old physician in a Norman Rockwell painting, Culp would listen to the heartbeat of a child’s doll until the child was comfortable with letting him listen to her own.
“He even brought patients here to the house,” recalls Nancy. “One year, an elderly woman whose son ignored her came over for Thanksgiving dinner. He really cared about his patients. He would sit down and cry with them if he had bad news.”
Louis’ patients confided their marital and physical troubles to him. They brought the doctor gifts — bow ties, puppets, wall hangings with homespun rhymes.
Twelve years ago, Louis moved his practice to 89th and Parallel, beside Providence Medical Center.
“He was so kindly and took good care of his patients,” says Dr. David Jacobs, a retired pathologist who ran the Providence laboratory. Culp reminded him of “Dr. Christian,” a country doctor from a 1940s radio program.
“He was the least self-concerned doctor I’ve ever met,” says Jacobs. “He wasn’t concerned about his own income so much as getting his patients better.”
But Culp was also known for the dirty jokes he told colleagues and patients. Most people brushed them off. Others joined in with indelicate cracks of their own. On one birthday, a patient brought the doctor what Marion calls the “boob cake,” which was molded in the figure of a naked woman.
Culp believed that joking with his patients put them at ease and took their minds off being prodded and poked. “It was just his way,” says Bonnie Schaeffer, a patient of Culp’s for thirteen years. “He’d say silly things, like, ‘Did that feel good?’ after a [gynecological] examination. After going to him for so long and knowing him so well, you just knew it was a joke. It just wasn’t something to be taken seriously, and you knew that.”
Not everyone found Culp’s comments amusing, however. In 1998, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts sought to limit Culp’s medical license after two patients complained that the doctor had made “inappropriate comments of a sexual nature” during examinations. After hearing all the evidence, however, the medical board dismissed the complaints.
“Dr. Culp didn’t dispute the fact that he made the inappropriate comments,” says Lawrence Buening, executive director for the board. Although a prosecutor would later use those old complaints to lock up the doctor, there were no allegations at the time of anything other than off-color jokes. “Had there been evidence of something beyond these jokes, the board counsel would have prosecuted the case,” Buening says.
At the 1998 hearing, Culp told the Kansas medical board that he would likely retire soon. He set a date several times but repeatedly postponed his retirement.
In recent years, though Culp was weakened by arthritis and trembling hands, he continued to practice medicine. Each morning, Marion helped him put on leg and hip braces so he could walk without throwing his prosthetic hips out of joint, and she drove him to work.
Instead of going from patient to patient in his office’s numerous exam rooms, the doctor stayed mostly in one room, seated on a metal stool, dealing with one patient at a time. Eventually, Culp’s physical ailments so disabled him that he rarely left the house except to go to work.
“You go on to church,” he’d tell Marion on Sunday mornings. When she returned at noon, he’d have brunch prepared. The couple chatted over black coffee and omelets with hot peppers from the garden.
“You should think about retiring, Louie,” Marion often told her aging husband.
“But medicine is all I know,” Louis told Marion. “What else would I do?”
On January 19, 2001, the Wyandotte County district attorney’s office charged Culp with rape for the October 2000 allegations. Cornwell escorted him to the police station, where he turned himself in and posted $5,000 bond.Out on bail, Culp returned to work. “We were being extra careful because of the accusations by the first woman,” says Culp’s office manager, Julie (who has asked the Pitch not to use her full name). She was often present during examinations because Culp could no longer afford a nurse. “Then in April, this other girl came in.”
The 21-year-old woman, a first-time patient, had gone to Culp for a pap smear and pelvic exam. Culp did a breast exam on the woman by himself, then brought in Julie for the rest of the appointment. According to Julie, who stood beside the patient’s head during the pelvic exam, nothing seemed out of the ordinary other than the patient’s letting out a short gasp at the beginning. Julie asked whether she was all right.
“She nodded yes,” recalls Julie. “She was smiling, and we were talking. She was fine.” Later that day, though, that patient told police that the doctor had touched her sexually. Detective Michael York of the Kansas City, Kansas, police department interviewed Julie at Culp’s office.
“I told Detective York I’d take a polygraph test,” says Julie. “I even took him in the room and showed him how far I was from her vagina.”
Culp had done nothing improper, Julie told the detective.
“Could you see 100 percent?” York asked.
“I could see enough to know he’s not a molester.”
Three days later, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts placed an emergency suspension on Culp’s medical license and called a disciplinary hearing for the next week. In April 2001, facing both a charge of rape and a new complaint, Culp went before the board again.
I’ll just go talk to them,” Culp had told Cornwell, his lawyer. “I don’t need you to be there.” Perhaps Culp thought he would persuade the board to dismiss the counts against him, which it had done in 1998. Culp had also faced state scrutiny into whether he’d self-prescribed painkillers. Early in 2001, he had surrendered his federal license to dispense narcotics, which ended that state board investigation.On April 12, 2001, Marion drove him to Topeka but didn’t attend the hearing.
“In my mind, I was composing a letter to the board defending him,” says Marion, who admits she was also angry at Louis because he hadn’t listened to her warnings about his off-color jokes.
“He didn’t listen to me or the girls who worked at his office,” says Marion. “I couldn’t stay angry at him, though. He says dumb things, but that’s just his kind of humor.”
At the hearing, Culp faced his accuser, along with the state agency’s investigators and its attorney.
“This doctor didn’t want me there to examine me,” testified the first accuser, who had filed charges in October. “He wanted me there to mess with me.” D.H. (only her initials appear in the transcript) had been sent to Culp by her employer, a discount retail store, after she had fallen from a stepstool and injured her shoulder and tailbone.
Culp had examined her breasts, but “it was more of a fondling than a breast exam,” testified D.H., who said that after Culp lifted her shirt to examine her breasts, he pinched her nipples, asked her if they leaked and proposed that he suck on them.
D.H. also testified that Culp had placed a tuning fork on her crotch after checking her reflexes and asked whether it excited her. During his examination of her lower back and abdomen, the doctor had put his fingers inside her vagina and moved them around, said D.H.
“At that point, I had already left my body,” testified D.H., who said she had been sexually abused in the past. She said Culp had asked her to make another appointment to “start up again where he had left off.” According to D.H., Culp had also suggested that he perform oral sex on her.
D.H. had gone straight home and told her boyfriend, who advised her to “call a lawyer right away,” she said.
The second patient, whose complaint to the medical board prompted the emergency hearing, was absent, but a board investigator read her affidavit. Culp had examined her breasts without anyone else in the room, which made her uneasy. During the pelvic exam, while Culp’s office manager was in the room, the woman said that Culp had moved his hand back and forth across her clitoris.
“She felt that it was more an attempt to stimulate her sexually rather than a pelvic exam,” said the investigator.
Culp denied that he had done anything wrong. He testified that even though D.H.’s X-rays revealed no fractures, he’d been checking her pelvic bones from inside her vagina for hairline fractures because she had complained of pain. The woman had reported a history of ovarian cancer and said she’d had lumps in her breasts in the past, Culp said, so he did a thorough examination in addition to the injury exam. “She distorted things and twisted it around,” testified Culp, who claimed the woman had actually been the one to propose oral sex.
The second woman had complained of a “horrible” vaginal discharge, said Culp. He suspected the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia and was being thorough in his search for symptoms. He hadn’t intended to bump against her clitoris, if he had at all.
“As I get older, I’ve got a real bad tremor … and I shake like the dickens,” Culp testified. Even in front of the serious board, Culp couldn’t resist a joke: “I’ve even had some patients tell me I must have a built-in vibrator.” A board investigator, Peter Massey, testified that during the 1998 investigation, Culp had spontaneously told him several jokes.
“He asked me if I knew why he got out of meteorology … to become a doctor, and I said no … and he responded, ‘Well, it’s a lot more fun studying breasts and vaginas than it is clouds and icicles,'” Massey testified.
Another investigator, Steven French, had looked into the allegations that Culp had self-prescribed narcotic painkillers. Culp had pointed to various body parts he claimed no longer worked, then “reached down and grabbed his crotch, making the comment, ‘And it’s like I tell my patients, my pecker doesn’t work anymore,'” French testified.
Culp told the hearing officer that he planned to retire the next month and hoped to get his license back so he could refer his patients to other doctors.
“My patients like me as a doctor, and they want me to get in one last [examination],” Culp said. “They tell me I do a heck of a lot better physical than anybody they’ve been to.”
Two months after the April 2001 hearing, the board revoked Culp’s medical license. Julie sent letters to his patients informing them the doctor had retired. Many came to say goodbye.”I couldn’t shut down the office,” Julie recalls. “Waves of people would come in crying and asking what happened. They’d say, ‘I don’t want anybody else for a doctor but Louie.’ We had so many patients who had had deadly cancers and were about ninety years old now because he’d found it so early.”
In August 2001, the district attorney’s office charged Culp with rape again, this time for the second accuser. Cornwell negotiated a deal to reduce both charges to aggravated sexual battery and persuaded Culp to plead no contest to both charges on September 21, 2001.
“I was there when he convinced him to sign the no-contest plea,” Nancy says. “Carl assured us that he’d never end up in prison. The impression was that this is not an admission of guilt. He’s old and tired. We were hoping this would put an end to it. He didn’t want to go through a trial.”
As far as the court was concerned, though, Louis had pleaded guilty.
“[Cornwell] told Louie he didn’t think he was guilty, but he wanted him to plead no contest,” Marion says. “We tried to follow what he said. It was like it was a compromise to make it go away.”
Culp’s plea would keep him out of prison only if he could be helped by a treatment program that promoted “offender reformation.” If he were accepted into such a program, a judge could grant probation.
In an evaluation to decide his eligibility for a sex-offender treatment program, the doctor admitted that he sometimes told patients that they “have a nice bottom” and that he told dirty jokes to relax his patients.
“[Culp] states that he does not need treatment because he has done nothing wrong,” wrote the therapist. “He blamed the patients who were offended by his remarks, stating that they took it wrong.”
Culp told the therapist that he’d learned to do examinations before technological advances such as sonograms and mammograms. “He focused a great deal on how he would do examinations by feeling and touching rather than [relying] solely on X-rays and tests,” the therapist wrote.
“He expressed no empathy or remorse for what the victims are alleging they went through,” wrote the therapist, who noted that Culp didn’t comprehend that his behavior might be offensive. After seven sessions with the evaluator, Culp still maintained his innocence.
“Mr. Culp was reminded that in order to be accepted into this treatment program, he would need to admit to a sexual offense, as he could not be treated for a problem that did not exist,” wrote the therapist.
“At the present time, Mr. Culp does not appear to be amenable to treatment,” the therapist concluded.
On March 8, 2002, Cornwell argued at Culp’s sentencing hearing that his client should be granted probation and admitted to a sex-offender treatment program. Culp was legally blind and couldn’t walk by himself. Even D.H. testified that she didn’t want Culp to go to prison.”Seeing the age and problems he’s having, I don’t know that serving time would really do him any good,” D.H. told the judge. “But I do want to see the man get some help and get some therapy. I hope he … has a lot to think about and does try to make restitution for us.”
The second accuser was less forgiving.
“It’s a violation of my rights, my body and my life,” she testified. “He did the crime. He should do the time.”
Arguing for prison time, Assistant District Attorney Sheryl Lidtke told the judge that Culp’s psychological tests revealed him to be “deceptive, manipulative and sneaky” and that he obviously hadn’t learned from his past mistakes. Culp committed the second crime while out on bail, Lidtke insisted.
“I just think that shows his attitude,” Lidtke argued. “He thinks he can get away with anything.”
“I don’t find a single ounce of remorse. I don’t find a single ounce of understanding,” said Judge John McNally, who called Culp a “product of his generation” in how he acted toward women and sentenced him to five years and three months in prison. McNally allowed Culp a few days’ freedom to get his things in order before turning himself in.
“I wanted to resolve the case without my client going to the penitentiary,” says Cornwell, who had urged Culp to express remorse and agree to participate in sex-offender therapy. “Had he done what I’d told him to do, he wouldn’t be in the penitentiary today.”
Marion had been at the no-contest pleading, but the morning of the sentencing, she stayed home, still hoping that Louis would get probation, that it would all go away. Nancy, who had been at the sentencing, drove her father home.
“We didn’t even talk,” recalls Nancy, who says she was in shock. “I couldn’t even cry for several days. It never even occurred to me that he could go to prison. The prosecutor and judge were so angry. I remember thinking, ‘They’re not even describing my father.'”
Before the sentencing, Culp lost a lawsuit to one of the women by default because he had no lawyer working on the civil case. D.H. was awarded $750,000 in February and $130,000 in punitive damages in June.
The other woman has also sued Culp, but she won’t have it so easy: A new lawyer is defending Culp against the woman’s motion for a $200,000 default judgement, and dozens of former patients — women of all ages — have come to Culp’s defense.
At trial, their testimony and other evidence could raise doubts about Culp’s guilt.
The two women — who each saw Culp only once — lived in the same trailer park in Kansas City, Kansas, according to police reports. Their rental unit addresses were about a block apart, separated by a couple of paved parking lots. Yet after Culp had suggested in his pre-sentencing evaluation that the women might have known each other, the comment was used against him. “He blamed one victim of trying to conspire with the other because they know each other in some way,” the therapist wrote.
Lidtke, the prosecutor who had argued for prison time, told the Pitch she was unaware that the two women lived in the same mobile home complex, though their addresses were on the police reports that supported her case. “Nobody ever brought anything like that up in the course of this case,” Lidtke says. “This is the first time I’ve heard anything about that.
“That wouldn’t have changed the fact that he committed the crime,” Lidtke says. “These people do not know each other from Adam.”
Cornwell, Culp’s lawyer, hadn’t noticed that the two accusers lived near each other, so he never investigated whether the women had a relationship. He also hadn’t acquired a copy of the transcript of the Kansas Board hearing, a document with crucial information about allegations against his client. Cornwell didn’t interview patients Culp had treated for years.
“I had statements from the alleged victims,” says Cornwell, whose work on the case (for which the Culps paid him about $16,000) consisted mainly of conferences with Culp and plea negotiations with Lidtke. Cornwell is appealing Culp’s sentence for the judge’s “lack of discretion,” because he says the judge could have granted probation.
When asked why he accepted the Culp case, Cornwell told the Pitch, “That’s what I do, and he had the money to hire me.“
Julie says that she had called Cornwell several times to give him her version of the second woman’s examination, but the lawyer never called her back. Julie even went to the Culps’ home when Cornwell was there, urging him to listen.
Julie says Cornwell “was real fidgety, and he didn’t want to listen.” She says that after she told Detective York that nothing improper had happened to the woman, York said he would investigate but never got back to her. (York did not return numerous phone calls from the Pitch.)
A March 2001 psychiatric evaluation from D.H.’s civil lawsuit reveals that D.H. had a personality disorder and a long history of emotional instability, alcoholism and drug abuse. D.H. told the psychiatrist that she had been sexually abused at age five by her father and again — by a physician — at seven years old.
“I couldn’t imagine this happening to me again,” she told the psychiatrist when describing the alleged assault by Culp. D.H. had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous, but two weeks after the incident with Culp, she had returned to frequent drinking binges in which she often blacked out. The most recent blackout had occurred just two weeks before her session with the psychiatrist.
D.H. had returned to work but walked off the job two months later. Female employees “began to make fun of me — talking about me. Said I was making it up, being upset to get attention,” she told a psychiatrist.
D.H. also told the psychiatrist that she’d tried to commit suicide at least twice in her life. But a month later, at the Kansas Board hearing, she testified that since the alleged attack by Culp, she had attempted suicide “three or four times.” She told the board, “I was in AA for three years, and I went back out drinking.”
In a recent interview with the Pitch, though, D.H. told a different story, saying that before the alleged attack, she had been in AA for nine months and sober for five years. Following her encounter with Culp, she’d returned to drinking, she said, but has been sober for ten months and has recently started a job as a cashier.
D.H. said she didn’t misinterpret anything about Culp’s examination. “He was fondling me and molesting me.” (“He’s been a dirty old man for fifty years!” yelled a gravelly voiced woman in the background during D.H.’s telephone interview with the Pitch.)
Although the Pitch pointed out to D.H. that she and the second accuser were neighbors at the time they’d gone to police, she said she had not met the second woman until Culp’s sentencing hearing. The news that they had lived in the same trailer park was “shocking,” D.H. said.
“He did what he did, and I wasn’t going to walk away from it,” said D.H. “I ended up losing my job over it. I feel what he did was wrong, and I deserve something over this.
“On the morning that Louis was to report to the Wyandotte County jail, where he would wait to be taken to prison, Marion got up early. She spread her husband’s best dark blue suit on the bed next to a white short-sleeved shirt. She picked out a black bow tie.”I felt like he should look like he always did when he went to work,” says Marion. “I helped him put his brace on over his clothes.” The night before, a family friend had come over for “the last supper.”
“That’s what we call it now,” says Marion. “I didn’t think it would be the last supper forever.” Louis packed an overnight bag for himself, as if he were going on a short trip to an out-of-town medical conference.
“He took a bag with his razor and some other things,” Marion recalls. “He probably had his pajamas in there, for all I know.” A friend chauffeured the couple to the jail.
“We didn’t talk much that morning,” recalls Marion. “We didn’t know what to say. He just never thought it would get to that point. I didn’t either.” As they pulled into the circle drive on the north side of the Wyandotte County Courthouse, a throng of fifty or so of Culp’s patients stood by the entrance.
“I had no idea there would be four TV cameras facing us,” Marion says. Louis’ patients, who had read about the sentence in The Kansas City Star, had come to support him. Randy Culp waited with them.
“It made me feel good to see all of his patients there,” recalls Randy. “I was proud of my dad. He did something right in this world to have so much warm support.”
Inside the jail, Louis removed his flashlight pens from his shirt pocket. He surrendered the magnifying glass he’d used when he could still barely see to read. Guards took his clothes, the small bag he had packed, his orthopedic shoes and even the disabled man’s leg and hip brace. (“That could be used as a weapon,” an intake deputy told him.)
After Marion left the courthouse, she couldn’t cry for two days. It still didn’t seem real that the man she had loved for 56 years would likely die in prison.
“I could have taken his death better than prison,” Marion says. “It would have been easier to go to his funeral than it was to leave him there.
“After images of Culp’s arrival at the jail were broadcast on television, Marion’s phone rang constantly. Within two days, more than a hundred people, most of them Louis’ patients, had called in disbelief.”He was the most upright, honest gentleman,” Adelaide Hartung tells the Pitch. Hartung says that Culp’s imprisonment “was like a death sentence to me.”
Another former patient, forty-year-old Elizabeth Frenick, recalled that the doctor and his wife had come to the funeral of her father, who was one of Culp’s patients. “I think he cried harder than any of us when my dad died,” says Frenick. “The man has got such a big heart.”
Frenick says Culp found lumps in her breasts in need of biopsy. “He was so thorough. He made sure,” she says. She’d trusted him since 1977, when another doctor giving physicals to cheerleaders at her school told the then-fifteen-year-old that he and the other physicians had flipped a coin to decide who would examine her because she was “the only one with a chest.”
“I ran out, and my mom took me to Dr. Culp for the physical,” recalls Frenick. “When I told him what happened, he was furious. He told me not every doctor was like that.”
A Pitch reporter interviewed thirty of Culp’s former patients, all of whom described a kind doctor known for his thoroughness and medical knowledge. One woman says Culp got her alcoholic husband into treatment. While the family struggled, Culp continued to treat her children, letting the woman pay the bills when she could.
“I could not believe it, and to this day, I still do not believe [the sexual accusations],” she says. “He didn’t do it, and he can’t do it. He’s not that type of person.”
Some patients admitted that they didn’t care for the jokes Culp told them but chuckled to be polite. Others told Culp they didn’t like the jokes, and he stopped telling them. But even his crudest comments were funny to some.
“Hey, Mom, know what Dr. Culp said to me?” one twenty-year-old man asked his mother after being treated by the doctor for strep throat. “He told me to take my medicine — and stop eating pussy!”
“He saved the worst jokes for the men,” says Julie. “When he said stuff to women, it wasn’t nasty, the way some men can talk.”
In the years that Marion worked in the office, she’d heard her husband tell many off-color jokes. “Oh, Louie,” she’d say, rolling her eyes in embarrassment. She had told him many times that he should stop. “He never told them to me,” says Marion. “He knew I didn’t approve.
“All the former patients interviewed were outraged at the doctor’s prison sentence, especially because of his age and ailing health.”It just seems horribly harsh to me that a man who spent his entire life taking good care of people has received such a harsh sentence,” Jacobs says. “He is a kindly and gentle man. I could never imagine this man doing anything aggressive to anyone.”
“He’s in real bad health,” says Edward Rychlec, Culp’s patient since 1963. “What good is society going to gain by putting him behind bars? It’s costing society money [around $20,000 a year, according to the state corrections department] to keep him there. I just wish the lawmakers would see that he shouldn’t be there at all.”
Some of Culp’s patients have organized a campaign to request a pardon for him, and scores have written to the parole board. Their letters, along with the parole board’s recommendation, will go to Kansas Governor Bill Graves.
The governor rarely grants clemency, says Colene Fischli, parole board administrator. “There have been thirteen cases of executive clemency, pardon or sentence commutation in the last twenty years. Since Governor Graves has been in office, there have been none.”
Cornwell says that his client should not be in prison.
“It’s hard for me to think he’s down there in El Dorado, Kansas, sitting in a cell, with his family having to drive all that way,” Cornwell says. “This is just tragic. I told him to cooperate. I’m just going to leave it at that.”
Lidtke is confident that she did the right thing in asking for prison time. “He had the gall to commit a second crime while he was out on bond for the other one,” says Lidtke, who won’t name or disclose the number of women she says reported similar experiences with Culp. “I don’t want to get bogged down with numbers,” Lidtke says. She refused requests from the Pitch to set up interviews with the new accusers who had called her. The Pitch also contacted attorneys in the civil suits against Culp. D.H.’s attorney said he could not refer the Pitch to any other complainants, although he’d received two calls from other women with allegations that he had not pursued. The second woman’s lawyer declined to comment.
“They all win except my dad and his family,” Randy says. “They all get their money and can move on with their lives and forget about what happened.
“In Marion’s back yard, a tiny, weather-beaten sign is planted at the edge of Louis’ flower garden: “He who plants a garden plants happiness.” Marion tries to maintain the roses but doesn’t have much heart for the task these days.Inside their modest home, Marion sits alone at the kitchen table. She no longer passes the time with crossword puzzles. Too many prison-related clues, she says.
Now that Louis is in prison, the government has stopped Marion from receiving his Social Security payments of $1,300 a month. Because she worked without pay to put their kids through college, Marion’s monthly Social Security benefit is just $249. Marion is still adapting to her new role of “prisoner’s wife,” which comes with newfound cynicism.
“I look at those other men in the prison with Louis, and I’m not so sure that all of them belong there,” says Marion. “I never believed any of it. You can’t be married to someone for 56 years and not know if he had that type of problem. I knew him too well.”
Marion clings to the hope that her husband will be the one person in eight years to whom Governor Graves grants clemency, or that Cornwell’s appeal will succeed.
Louis calls Marion from El Dorado every night. In his cell in the prison infirmary, feeling close to death, Culp’s hope has drained away during four months of imprisonment. He does not believe he committed sex crimes, and he regrets underestimating the punishment he’d receive for pleading no contest.
“I couldn’t help but laugh that the charge at that time was rape,” he tells the Pitch. “I couldn’t take it seriously.”
Marion doesn’t always dream of prison walls and guard towers. Sometimes in her dreams, she is sitting at the kitchen table with Louis, reading to him from his scientific journals over coffee. In those dreams, there are no prisons.
“I never thought I would go to a prison,” says Marion. “It’s scary. Every time I see those wires and fences, I think, What am I doing here?”