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Local News

Clinician, patient, documentary filmmaker recall Indiana abortion doctor's life

Clinician, patient, documentary filmmaker recall abortion doctor’s life

It’s been six years since Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer performed his last known abortion.

The vacant clinic building at
2210 Inwood Drive has cobweb-veiled windows and gas station coffee cups lined neatly along the window sill, suggesting the property has been neglected for years.

But residents who live and work nearby each have their own stories about the frail, gray-haired abortion doctor who, for years after the office closed, visited the building every week. He slept in the basement and left town the next day like clockwork.

“He would make the drive from Crete, Illinois, and best I could tell just went into the abortion facility and spent the night,” said Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, which has a building next door to the clinic. “And the next morning you’d see him, depending on the season, either shoveling snow or trimming bushes.”

Klopfer, who acquaintances described as “lonely” and “reclusive,” died of natural causes Sept. 3. The discovery of more than 2,200 preserved fetal remains stored in cardboard boxes in the garage of his Will County home has left his family, former patients and colleagues in disbelief.

Many have speculated about why the abortion doctor, described as a “hoarder” by his neighbors in Crete, might have held on to those remains. Some, such as Dr. Geoffrey Cly – who was Klopfer’s backup physician for three years – wonder whether it began as an attempt to cut corners and avoid the cost of safely disposing of biohazardous materials.

“Could he have started that process because he didn’t want to pay extra money?” Cly wondered. “ … Maybe that was an initial thought, but then it seems like it morphed into a pathological behavior, just collecting them and collecting them.”

Cly said Klopfer prided himself in helping women “avoid suffering” by ending their unwanted pregnancies, but the harm he caused them through “sloppy” procedures seemed to add to the women’s suffering. One woman had to undergo a hysterectomy after Klopfer operated on her, Cly said.

Early career

Klopfer received a medical degree from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1971, and was licensed to practice in Illinois, Florida and South Dakota by the time he went to South Bend, Indiana, in 1978.

Klopfer began his career in 1974 performing abortions in Chicago. He would go on to operate three Indiana-based clinics in South Bend, Gary and Fort Wayne. Klopfer established his Fort Wayne clinic in a building across the street from the Statewood Baptist Church, and Humbarger soon established her Right to Life facility next door.

“As I looked out my window, I could see people going in and out of the abortion facility. It was especially heart-wrenching on procedure day, which was Thursday,” Humbarger said. “I would see the women go in, and then when they came out after their procedure, many of them would be stumbling down the steps. They would have an arm around the person who brought them and an arm around a staff member from the abortion facility, staggered to the car and pretty much collapse in the back seat.”

Serena Dyksen was 10 years old when she received an abortion from Klopfer. She described the experience as the most “excruciating pain” she’d ever felt. During the procedure, Klopfer told her to “stop making noise,” she said.

“Many years later, I would find a journal of my mom’s where she wrote she could hear me screaming in the waiting room, but they would not allow her to come back with me,” Dyksen said.

When women began regularly presenting at emergency rooms with pain, infections and fetal remains in their uteruses, Cly wondered who was performing these seemingly “botched” abortions, and why he or she was allowed to practice medicine.

“That’s when I found out about this abortionist who only comes into town one day a week and then leaves, does not provide any coverage or emergency care for the patients he’s doing abortions on,” Cly said.

In 2010, Cly agreed to work as Klopfer’s backup physician and provide care for patients who required treatment after their abortions. They met in person only once, to finalize paperwork regarding their relationship.

“He had a guard who was outside, and she was reportedly pretty tough,” Cly said. “I remember her having a weapon – she was an armed guard, and she would sit up on the stairs out there.”

Early in their conversation, Klopfer offered a troubling piece of information about his childhood in Germany, where he witnessed the Allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II, in which more than 22,000 people were killed.

“He was somehow relating that to … how many lives of women and children were killed in the bombing, and somehow that was OK then, but it’s not OK to have abortions now,” Cly said.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. Is he getting revenge on the Americans because of what the Americans did to his people during the war?’ That was a question I had in my mind, and now knowing the keeping of several thousand babies’ remains and the other perverted stuff that I heard he was saying to women, and the way he treated women during abortions, I think that is a more valid theory now.

“It’s sad, sick and disgusting.”

Bombing in Dresden

Mark Archer, a documentary filmmaker who interviewed Klopfer in October 2018 at the Fort Wayne clinic, said the trauma Klopfer endured during the firebombing of Dresden played a big part in shaping him.

“The gospel of George Klopfer goes like this: ‘In the beginning, the air forces bombed my home and destroyed everything, and I saw a bunch of people die,’ ” Archer said. “That painted every aspect of his life after that.”

Klopfer was 4 years old and living with his aunt near Dresden in February 1945 when hundreds of British and American bombers attacked the city in a series of raids, burning more than 1,600 acres of the city and killing civilians, many of whom were women, children and the elderly.

Archer and his wife, Amber Archer, spent a year filming a documentary about the abortion doctor’s career.

“Toward the end, he really seemed like he was looking for an answer for his life,” Amber Archer said. “He really did.”

During their interview with Klopfer, he spoke candidly about his experience in Dresden.

“Where we lived at that time, the Russian soldiers were driving through the fields with their AK-47s, shooting at anything and everything,” Klopfer told the Archers. “The house across the street from us was destroyed in the bombing – [not] the Dresden bombing, but another bombing, and most of that family got killed.

“So, ahh ... the effects of the war may have probably not have had a positive effect on my perception, OK?”

The Archers later confirmed that Klopfer could have lived in Dresden at the time of the bombing raids, and the story seemed to check out, they said.

“No. 1: I was very sad for the boy who became the monster,” Mark Archer said. “No. 2: Whereas most people would see living through a horrific event like your home being firebombed, and they would take away from that, ‘Let’s promote peace, let’s promote life,’ and George took away from that, ‘Let’s replicate that thousands of times over.’ ”

Klopfer’s downfall

Between 2010 and 2013, Cly said he treated only one woman with an infection related to an abortion procedure performed by Klopfer.

“In those three years, he cleaned himself up and he wasn’t as sloppy. … He didn’t leave any more pieces inside women, so I felt like some of the women were protected.”

By 2013, complaints against Klopfer became more frequent, however.

“I would tell [women], ‘Look, if you’re going to do an abortion, do not do it in town,’ ”
Cly said. “Do not do it with George Klopfer because your life will be in jeopardy.”

That year, Klopfer was accused of failing to report that he had performed abortions on 13-year-old girls in Gary and South Bend, and of omitting information on mandatory reports, among other complaints.

“At that point I said … ‘What you’re doing is awful,” Cly said, “and I’m no longer going to be that backup physician for your emergencies if they happen.’ And that caused him to not be allowed to do any more abortions.”

In 2014, Klopfer was charged in Indiana with failing to report to state officials within three days of performing an abortion on a 13-year-old girl. He ultimately entered a pretrial diversion program and was sentenced to $330 in fees and 24 hours of community service.

The same year, the Indiana State Department of Health filed a complaint to close Klopfer’s Women’s Health Pavilion facility in South Bend, where Klopfer performed his last documented abortion Nov. 5, 2015.

His license to practice medicine in Indiana was suspended the next year.

The remains

It’s unclear to police and prosecutors why the well-known abortion doctor was hoarding the remains of thousands of fetuses in the garage of his Crete Township home.

Investigators have determined the fetal remains dated from 2000 to 2002. The remains were sealed in small, plastic bags, containing formalin, a chemical used to preserve biological materials, and stored in 70 cardboard boxes.

Will County authorities are working with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to transfer the remains to their custody for their investigation.

Only hours before a news conference, investigators with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office and local police began searching Klopfer’s Fort Wayne clinic. After spending more than seven hours searching through the clutter reportedly inside, investigators began loading boxes of Klopfer’s belongings into a large U-Haul truck Thursday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what, if anything, was found. A search of the doctor’s Indiana clinic turned up no more remains, but thousands of patient medical records were discovered, authorities have said.

“It all goes to the God complex,” Mark Archer said. “He was just nasty. He was just a disgusting, nasty person.”

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