By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Although increasingly ambivalent about the surgery, Furth testified, he also felt he couldn’t turn down such a rare opportunity. One reason: His good friend Philip Bondy planned to have his own leg cut off as soon as Furth had his done. So when Furth told him the day of the surgery that he was having second thoughts, Bondy "scolded" him, Furth testified, telling him that if he backed out now, "You’ll regret this the rest of your life."
But on the taxi ride to the Clinica Santa Isabel, Furth found his attitude changing anyway. By the time he got there, he knew beyond any doubt that he did not want his leg removed. "It was over. It was finished. [My compulsion] had died. I went out and told Brown, ‘Absolutely not.’"
Thinking perhaps that Furth was merely nervous, Brown offered him a sedative. But, Furth testified, he didn’t want to be sedated. He wanted out of there. Before leaving, however, he suggested what he thought would be a win-win solution for everyone. Even though he no longer wanted the operation himself, he knew someone else who did. "Maybe we could switch it around," said Furth. "Philip [could] take my place."
Brown performed the operation on a Saturday morning. Bondy was happy at first, even though, as he would later tell Furth, he had felt Brown "sawing" on his leg. As it was just as illegal to amputate a healthy leg in Mexico as it is in the United States, right after the operation Brown drove 15 miles out into the desert on the old road to Ensenada and threw the leg out the window for the coyotes to eat. Then, before driving Bondy to the National City Holiday Inn, he gave his patient some lessons in walking with crutches. ("He kept falling down, " Brown says in some exasperation. He couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of a three-point stance — he’d put his remaining foot between the crutch tips, not in front of or behind them.)
By Sunday, Bondy was feeling hungry and dehydrated, and his voice was sounding raspy. Furth, who was staying in an adjoining room, brought him food and water and sat up with him past midnight, talking about the surgery and what it all meant. Around 8 Monday morning, Furth testified, he came back to see what Bondy wanted for breakfast and discovered a "horrible," "traumatic" and "chaotic" scene.
Bondy was lying half on the bed and half off, with blood oozing from a blackened and gangrenous stump. "I saw the phone tipped over," Furth said. "I saw the wheelchair upsided. I saw the sheets pulled out. I touched the top of his head. Rigor mortis had set in. This man did not have a peaceful death."
As the medical examiner determined, Bondy had died from clostridia perfringens (also known as gaseous gangrene), a ã fast-moving flesh-eating bacteria that lowers blood pressure and causes the heart to stop. According to Jack Fisher, the bluntly outspoken UC San Diego plastic surgeon hired by the prosecution to critique Brown’s medical skills, Brown had failed to leave himself a large enough skin flap to cover the bone and stump. As a result, the skin was stretched too tight for any blood to flow. This killed the flap and allowed clostridia perfringens to feed on the dying flesh.
The photographs of Bondy on his deathbed reminded Stacy Running of an inmate at a concentration camp. "He was very thin, very emaciated. There was not an ounce of excess flesh. The skin on his face followed the skull. The mouth was open. It looked like he was screaming or crying when he died — to God or I don’t know whom."
It was clear to Running that Brown had amputated Bondy’s leg. It was equally clear that Bondy had paid him to do it. The question was why? Then she got a call from Gary Stovall, who was in New York searching Furth’s apartment.
"I can remember to this day," says Running, a petite, articulate woman with an open, guileless manner that reminds me of Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. "I was working here. Gary calls. ‘Stacy, are you sitting down? Listen to this.’ And he started reading to me from a piece of literature [on apotemnophilia].
"That was when we first realized what we were dealing with — that Phil Bondy wanted his leg cut off for a reason we couldn’t comprehend. We were in shock. And we are people who see the worst that humanity has to offer. We see people do horrible things to their wives, their husbands, their children and their friends. We’ve seen just about everything you can see. And then something like this comes up and knocks you for a loop."
Prosecutors have cases where they don’t have enough evidence. They have cases where the evidence is contradictory. But rarely do they have a case where the evidence is abundant, bizarre and thoroughly documented on videotape.
When Detective Stovall searched Brown’s San Ysidro apartment, he found not only bloody shoes, bloody pillows, used needles, silicone vials and two or three dozen empty tubes of Krazy Glue, but bloody towels in the bathtub soaking in bleach, bloody swabs in a travel bag, and dozens of returned advertising brochures (apparently the remnants of a recent mail campaign), which read in part:
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city