RADIO QUACK MADE MILLIONS OFF HIS LISTENERS

By Bartee Haile

Dr. John R. Brinkley, the most notorious quack in America, filed for bankruptcy in a Texas court on Jan. 17, 1941 in a last-ditch attempt to fend off creditors and lawsuits.

Traditionally susceptible to health-care charlatans, Americans between the World Wars seemed especially vulnerable to con men in white coats. But no one came close to Dr. Brinkley, who in less than 20 years fleeced the faithful for $20 million. A lowly railroad relief agent in his youth, the future master of the flimflam dragged his wife and three children from town to town. Searching for more than a hand-to-mouth existence, he enrolled in medical school around 1908. Unable to endure the academic grind, he dropped out and never set foot in another classroom.

After abandoning his destitute family in 1913, Brinkley bought a medical degree from a “diploma mill” in St. Louis. An itinerant preacher assured him that he did not have to be a bona fide sawbones to cure the ills of the world. Several lean years later, Dr. and the second Mrs. Brinkley settled at the obscure Kansas crossroads of Milford. Inside a month, he completed his first goat gonad transplant, and the aged recipient subsequently fathered a baby boy named Billy. In Brinkley’s day, such off-the-wall fads were common, and the most popular was the rejuvenation craze sweeping Europe and the U.S. The amazing advances of medical science made trusting laymen sitting ducks for the preposterous claims of fast-buck artists.

 

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