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Tapes and photos depict horrors

LOS ANGELES – "Them beatings takes their toll…a man can only take so many and then he dies."

Those are the words of a guard on duty at Farview State Hospital, recorded without his knowledge by a patient who escaped 6 ½ years ago.

The words are part of six hours of taped conversations with guards and other staff members as well as about 100 photographs and 150 feet of 8-mm movie film that the former patient, William J. Thomas, covertly compiled with hidden equipment in his eight years at Farview.

Thomas has provided the material to The Inquirer as part of its investigation of Pennsylvania's maximum-security mental hospital.

Thomas, who now owns a Los Angeles printing firm, has copyrighted all the material for use in a book and a motion picture he intends to produce.

There is no question about the validity of the material. It is clear to anyone who has visited the institution that the movie footage and the photographs were indeed taken at Farview. Both interior and exterior scenes are unmistakable. And on the tape recordings, voices of guards who are still at Farview are readily identifiable.

The taped conversations include:

The photographs show patients sleeping on and under hard wooden benches; patients injecting themselves with hypodermic syringes; whiskey stored in staff lockers; lighter fluid in open availability; guards sleeping in rocking chairs while supposedly dangerous patients, declared criminally insane and committed to maximum-security confinement, sit beside them; hacksaw blades smuggled into the hospital by guards; and pornographic pictures that are brought into the hospital by guards and then sold or rented to patients.

The movie footage shows a homosexual advance by one patient on another who, Thomas says, was too "out of it" to defend himself; patients drinking from bottles of whiskey, which, if combined with certain drugs, can produce fatal complications; inmates shooting up with a syringe; and a dice game in progress during "yard out" (outdoor time) while guards look on with a group of kibitzers.

After a three-month investigation of Farview, The Inquirer disclosed a pattern of violent death, organized brutality, sodomy, gambling, theft, extortion, contraband, neglect and lack of treatment. The Inquirer also disclosed that the state had conducted at least two investigations into conditions at Farview, but had made neither public and had taken no further action.

Since the articles were published, a legislative committee headed by State Sen. Henry J. Cianfrani (D., Phila.) has begun an investigation of Farview and Welfare Secretary Frank Beal has advocated closing it.

On Friday, Gov. Milton J. Shapp said that Farview's remote location was "totally wrong," but he said he was not yet prepared to endorse Beal's plan to spend $50 million on two substitute hospitals at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Farview's defects were evident to Bill Thomas long ago.

"I only know what I saw and what I heard," Thomas said in an interview last week in his apartment in Los Angeles. "I know I lived through an eight-year nightmare. I only had cameras and tapes the last year I was there, 1969."

Thomas entered Farview in 1961, in lieu of a trial on charges of assault and battery and malicious mischief. He acknowledges that he was mentally upset when admitted, having just experienced, in a brief period, the death of his father, the birth of a severely retarded child and the loss of his business in York, Pa.

"I flipped out and even admitted to crimes I didn't know anything about except what I read in the newspaper," he says now. "I wanted to be locked up, to be sent somewhere for mental relief. I thought that going to Farview would probably be a good thing for me. I knew I needed treatment."

What he saw, he says, shook him and he began to fight for sanity and a trial on his charges immediately.

One of the most disturbing things he saw, he says, occurred less than two years after he was committed to Farview.

"It was sometime between Christmas and New Year's," he recalls. "In fact, it may have been New Year's Day, 1963. I was walking down the hallway near K-3 dining room when a bunch of guards, it looked like eight or ten of them, came out of the door dragging a patient who was struggling with them.

"Then, right there in the hallway, the guards were kicking the patient and stomping on him, and he was moaning and trying to cover himself. Then they dragged him down the hallway leaving a trail of blood."

Thomas says he asked another patient who the beaten patient was.

"I was told that it was Russell Sell," Thomas recalls. "Then I heard about a week later that Russell had died on R Ward (the medical unit). It looked to me like he was already half dead when he left K-3 dining room."

As The Inquirer noted in its earlier series on Farview, the official cause of death for Russell Sell listed in the hospital records and on the death certificate was acute coronary occlusion.

An autopsy conducted on Sell's body disclosed that he had three fractured ribs, but the official explanation, one accepted by State Police investigators who later inquired into this and other deaths at the institution, was that Sell's ribs probably were broken when he hit the corner of a steam table in the dining room during the fracas with the guards.

Witnesses questioned in the 1975 police investigation said the fracas began when Sell accused the guards of stealing meat that was intended for patients.

In a taped conversation with a guard, recorded without the guard's knowledge about six years after Sell's death, Thomas asks how the Sell death was "covered up."

"They killed him," the guard says. "He didn't die on our ward, he died on R Ward (medical unit). They never die on the ward. No, nobody dies on the ward. If you drop dead right here, right now, I'll load you up on a wheelchair... you died on R Ward.

"I mean, so he dies of natural causes. Ninety percent of the time the family ain't gonna claim him."

At another point in the taped conversation with the same guard, the name of another patient comes up. The guard says, "we just put the boots to him.

"He'll wind up like (John) Rankins. They'll send him over to R Ward and he'll die over there. All the beatings catch..."

"Is Rankins dead?" Thomas asks in the tape recording.

"He's dying," the guard says. "All them beatings caught up with him. It was a year ago we worked them over on D Ward... a year and a half ago... fact is some guys you got to lace them once a month."

The conversation was recorded on July 3, 1969. Rankins died, at age 45, July 26, 1969. The cause of death was officially given us "generalized carcinomatosis, carcinoma of right lung."

The taped conversations with the guard occurred as he stood in the doorway of the room where Thomas lived in a "privilege ward." Other conversations took place in the main kitchen, and while Thomas was cutting guard's hair in the main kitchen.

In his ward room, Thomas had the tape recorder under the bed, with a microphone behind his arm as he lay on his side, his head propped up on his elbow. At other times, he had the recorder hidden under his clothes, with the microphone wire down his sleeve and taped to a wrist.

In his final year at Farview, electronic challenge provided him with something to occupy his mind. Before that, he was something of a model patient, working hard at a variety of projects and trying to make the hospital a place which would provide some kind of therapy.

He started a hospital newspaper named Focus. He worked with a social worker to try to start a program for teaching automobile repair and repainting. He also tried to get the hospital to train patients in cooking.

But invariably, the hospital halted his plans.

In fact, says Thomas, one occupational therapist finally insisted that Thomas work under his direction instead of the social workers.

"He complained that he didn't like the idea of a patient walking around with an attaché case." Thomas recalls, laughing. "Then the job training guy simply stopped my working on such projects.

"So instead of turning people to go outside and be productive individuals, they did nothing to help them. And if the patient got out, all he could do was something wrong that would send him back into some institution.

"It was totally frustrating."

It was also frustrating for Thomas, who worked in the main kitchen, to see the best pieces of meat go to the guard's dining room and what seemed like scraps go to the patients.

In fact, in one recorded conversation with the dietary staff member, Thomas complained:

"They (the guards) seem to think that what they're getting is patients' food. Christ, they eat better than the patients."