The Fairfield Wives

Dr. John Parkinson, a civic and religious leader in the perfectly suburban town of Fairfield, told women they needed pelvic exams. Long exams. Several times a week. For years. And they believed him.

It is considered an honor to be called into service in the Mormon Church. Church leaders, who members believe are inspired by God in their selections, directly call people to positions at the level of bishop and higher. Those who have been so called are looked upon as possessing particular wisdom and high moral character by members of the church community.

Members turn to those church leaders for both spiritual and temporal needs. From its vast coffers (faithful members give one-tenth of their income to the church), the church provides support -- money, food, clothing, and almost any type of service -- to members in need.

Even after he left his post as stake president, Parkinson continued to teach Sunday school. Many considered him a scriptural scholar. Church members turned to Parkinson for spiritual help, advice and leadership, and medical treatment and counsel, all of which he gave them in a convincing and authoritative way.

The Mormon Church is structured into geographic groupings headed by lay ministers. These ministers have no seminary-type education, and they don't get paid. In fact, church leaders hold secular jobs while they minister to their flocks. Church members are clustered in wards (similar to Catholic parishes), each led by a bishop and two assistants known as counselors. Several wards comprise a stake, and each stake is headed by a stake president and two counselors.

Geraldine Rasmussen and her husband Paul raised horses on a patch of land near the small town of Dixon, and were active in the Mormon Church, where Geraldine occasionally taught Sunday school and participated in the activities of the Relief Society, a women's organization. Dixon is not nearly so grand as its citified cousin, Fairfield. Dixon's only real landmark is the Milk Farm, an ancient restaurant along the side of the highway, where a neon cow jumps over a moon and waves its tail at weary drivers. There is little else in Dixon besides the orchards and fields that surround the area's ranch homes, which range from well-kept to downright dilapidated.

The Rasmussens initially became concerned about Dr. Parkinson in an indirect way. They rented a second home to Geraldine's sister, Anne Aldrich, whom everyone in the family called "Annie" and who was the single mother of a 7-year-old son. In the early 1990s, Rasmussen and her brother, Chance Williams, became concerned about Aldrich. She seemed tired, lethargic, ill, even though she was seeing Parkinson for a variety of ailments with increasing frequency. In fact, Rasmussen and Williams claim Aldrich was seeing Parkinson as often as twice a day, and that he would sometimes come to her house.

"We felt that she ought to get a second opinion. That the relationship she had with Dr. Parkinson was not right," says Williams. "He seemed a little overinvolved. Her health under his care seemed to be deteriorating."

Aldrich insisted that Parkinson was a brilliant doctor. He was kind and generous like no one else would be. They were lucky to have him there.

Geraldine Rasmussen was a bolder woman than most in her ward, and a lot of people in the county didn't like her. She was outspoken, maybe even a little brassy, and enjoyed tracking local gossip as much as tracing family history on her home computer. She didn't like what was happening to her sister, and she didn't trust Parkinson. She was even more upset when her mother, Dorothy Gray, began seeing him. But Gray, too, stood firmly behind the doctor. She had known him for 20 years as a church leader, and she believed in his goodness. For the sake of peace, they basically agreed to disagree within the family.

But as Williams learned more and more about the situation, he felt he had to act. "At that point, I started putting a lot of pressure on Gerry, telling her that you have got to go to the Medical Board," he says. "You have got to start talking to other people."

She did. And the town of Fairfield exploded.
In the spring of 1992, Geraldine Rasmussen officially complained about Parkinson to the Medical Board of California. In June, Rasmussen's aunt, who had been receiving chemotherapy treatments from Parkinson, died of cancer. Rasmussen's cousin, Carolyn Windham, went to see a lawyer about her mother's death. Windham, herself a Parkinson patient, was also uncomfortable with some of the doctor's practices. Parkinson had given Windham a lot of pelvic exams. In fact, she had had a pelvic exam nearly every time she saw Parkinson.

Before any official investigation into Rasmussen's complaint began, Geraldine Rasmussen called a meeting with the leaders of her church. It was held in July, in the offices of the Vacaville stake president, and Rasmussen's bishop. Louis Madsen Jr., a dentist and local Mormon leader -- and Parkinson's good friend-- as well as another counselor in the local stake were also there.

Rasmussen told the church leaders that she believed Parkinson had done bad things to her aunt, and continued to do bad things to her sister, her cousin, her mother, and other women who were his patients. Among other things, she told them that she thought Parkinson gave women pelvic exams -- many, many pelvic exams -- for no medical reason, overmedicated and misdiagnosed his patients, and used dangerous chemotherapy treatments. She also told them that she had filed a Medical Board complaint, and that her complaint was the subject of an investigation.

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