By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In 1986, Penthouse Forum magazine sent a writer to Tijuana to investigate Brown’s claim that he could make penises an inch or two longer by cutting the suspensor ligament holding the penis root to the pubic bone. The article, published as "The Incredible Dick Doctor," portrayed Brown as a wildly inattentive driver who backed into other cars, an absent-minded dresser whose pants fell down in the operating room, and a blithe spirit of a surgeon who, when he accidentally made a cut in the penile shaft that sent blood spurting everywhere, casually declared, "I made a boo-boo."
A few years later, the television news magazine Inside Edition followed up on the Forum piece with an investigative story on "The Worst Doctor in America." In it, Brown, who apparently gave the camera crew free run of his clinic, is shown performing a scalp-flap operation to give a transsexual a more feminine hairline. Although the patient is supposedly under deep sedation, he moans and howls all through the procedure, a development Brown dismisses on camera as "nothing unusual."
It seemed unusual enough to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, however, that it launched an investigation that led to Brown’s spending 19 months in jail for practicing medicine without a license (he’d previously been convicted of prescribing narcotics after his license had been revoked and practicing under a false name). The jail term didn’t deter Brown. He’d decided to become a "rebel" long before. "I didn’t like some of the things that organized doctors were doing, so I rebelled," he says. "Later I didn’t like what the government was doing in support of the medical organizations, so I rebelled. I chose to ignore the laws." As soon as he could pull things together (he had to drive a taxi on Coronado Island for a year), he resumed his surgical practice, doing operations in Tijuana and living now in San Ysidro. It was there, in 1996, that he got that first tentative call from a New York therapist and apotemnophiliac by the name of Gregg Furth.
Furth was a Jungian analyst who in 1988 had published a well-regarded and often-cited book, The Secret World of Drawings, which analyzed the artwork of children dying of leukemia for clues to their subconscious (many apparently knew exactly when they were going to die). A handsome, personable man around 50, he was good friends with a much older man, Philip Bondy, a retired Loral (satellite) Corp. engineer and fellow apotemnophiliac who liked to collect photographs, slides and videos of male amputees.
Despite his professional training (and years in analysis), Furth still had no idea where his and Bondy’s apotemnophilia came from. Although Johns Hopkins psychologist John Money, who originated the term, had argued that apotemnophilia was "conceptually related to transsexualism, bisexuality and Munchausen’s syndrome (feigning illness to get medical care)," Furth believed it had less to do with sex and more to do with possession by an alien limb.
"The way he explained it to me," says Deputy D.A. Stacy Running, "is that it’s as if ‘Your leg is attached to my body, and once I get it off, my body is whole. You see me as being mutilated. I see myself as finally being whole. I live with it. I can’t understand it. How the hell do I explain it to you?’"
Officially classified as a "paraphilia" (extreme or atypical sexual behavior or desire), apotemnophilia can be irresistibly intense. Some apotemnophiliacs, when they can’t find a doctor to do the surgery, resort to removing unwanted limbs with chain saws, shotguns, trains and, in one case, a homemade guillotine. Others spend their time looking for a surgeon who will take their desires seriously and not just patronize them with referrals to psychiatrists. In 1996, while passing through San Diego, Furth came across a newspaper article about John Ronald Brown, and suddenly he knew he’d found the man for whom he’d been searching his entire adult life — a competent "fringe" physician who wouldn’t balk at cutting off a healthy leg.
Fearful that Brown would turn him down if he came right out and said he wanted his leg amputated — "I didn’t want to hear ‘no’ over the phone," Furth would later testify — he flew to San Diego to plead his case in person.
It wasn’t a hard sell. Brown says he found Furth likable and persuasive, while Furth thought Brown uncommonly open-minded about a would-be amputee’s right to choose. Brown set the price of the procedure at $3,000, and in February 1997, Furth traveled to the Clinica Santa Isabel in Tijuana, where Brown did his surgery.
Unfortunately for Furth, Brown had neglected to tell the assisting doctor that they’d be cutting off a healthy leg. "He was Mexican, short and round," Furth testified. "He wanted to know what all this was about." When Furth told him, the doctor became enraged. "He kept saying, ‘This isn’t right! You don’t want this!’" Finally, he stormed out of the building, forcing Brown to cancel the surgery.
A year later, Brown called Furth with "good news and bad news." The good news was he’d found another surgeon to help him. The bad news was the cost was now $10,000.