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AOA EXCLUSIVE -- Her Name Was Vivian: Clues From the Age of Autism’s First-Born Child

Vivian ancestry

By Teresa Conrick, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill
We found her.
Eight years after setting out to identify the 11 children in the first medical report of autism, we have found “Virginia S.”, the eldest child in that landmark paper -- and thus the first-born child of the Age of Autism.

Her real name: Vivian Ann Murdock. Born in 1931, Vivian was placed in a Maryland institution at age 6 and died in a state-run home in 1987, age 56. She was the daughter of a prominent Baltimore psychiatrist, Harry M. Murdock, and his wife, Margaret.

The Rosewood State Training School, Owings Mills, MD Stuart Dahne Photography

The key to finding her real name was the recent online publication of the 1940 U.S. Census – allowing one of us (Teresa) to test her hunch about the institution to which"Virginia" had been committed as a child: The Rosewood School in Owings Mills. The hunch was correct; the Census listed an "Inmate" there named Vivian Murdock, age 8 in 1940, who we conclusively identified as "Virginia S."

In Dan and Mark's The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic, published in 2010, we described the seven children we'd identified to that point, and wrote of “Virginia”: “We continue to search for this eldest child of the Age of Autism and whatever clues her identity may hold.”
Now, having spoken with family members, and pored over countless records and archives, we believe her identity does offer important clues, ones remarkably consistent with the other cases in that first report -- exposure to new mercury compounds in their families. 
Vivian was directly in the path of at least three mercury vectors:

-- the first use of mercury-preserved vaccines in Baltimore -- a drive to vaccinate every infant with those shots began the month she was born;

-- her parents' avocation of orchid growing and breeding, which required intensive application of chemicals including mercury;

-- and her father’s psychiatric career, which brought him – and probably his family through second-hand exposure – in contact with mercury treatments for a common form of insanity.

Mercury is no longer used in agriculture or mental health treatment. But each year, 100 million children worldwide get vaccines containing thimerosal, the ethylmercury preservative first used in those shots in Baltimore. In the United States, flu shots, most of which contain mercury, are recommended for pregnant women and for infants beginning at 6 months of age.

Our research on Vivian and the other first cases of autism suggests that is a very bad idea. 

Vivian’s identity also offers insight into how the damaging idea of “refrigerator parents” – supposedly cold and neglectful mothers and fathers responsible for causing their children's disorder -- got its start. We will explain these clues and conclusions in detail, but first the basics about the discovery of Vivian Murdock.


Seventy years ago this month, in April 1943, a psychiatry journal called The Nervous Child published an article titled “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.” Written by Leo Kanner, a Johns Hopkins child psychiatrist who is widely considered the founder of the field, it begins:
“SINCE 1938, there have come to our attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits -- and, I hope, will eventually receive -- a detailed consideration of its fascinating peculiarities.” Elsewhere, he called it "a behavior pattern not known to me or anyone else theretofore."
The three of us have always found those words remarkable, coming as they did from an acknowledged authority who eight years earlier had catalogued every known childhood mental disability in his landmark 500-page book  “Child Psychiatry.” Those pages contained not a whisper of autism, or anything that in retrospect looks similar.
Our own research convinced us the autism rate before 1930 was effectively zero (it is now 1 in 50). A handful of cases over several centuries might conceivably qualify, but there was nothing approaching the cluster of children whose worried parents brought them to see Leo Kanner in the years between 1938 and 1943.
Curious whether the family backgrounds of those first 11 cases might point to common environmental exposures, we began trying to identify them in 2005. The eight boys and three girls were described in the paper only by a first name and last initial. But because Kanner gave birth years for each child, we knew that “Virginia S.” was the oldest; her birthday was listed as September 13, 1931. Even as the number of autistic children seen by Kanner rose in later years, none appears to have been born earlier. (In a 1955 update, Kanner revisited his first 42 cases. The oldest autistic person at that point was 24 -- born in 1931 and presumably Virginia S.)

 We began our hunt with Kanner’s original 1943 "Autistic Disturbances" report and a follow-up paper he wrote in 1971. (In the latter paper, he slipped once and referred to “Virginia S.” by what we now know is her real first name, Vivian.) In “Autistic Disturbances,” he quoted a psychologist noting that Virginia “could respond to sounds, the calling of her name, and the command, ‘Look!’

 “She pays no attention to what is said to her,” the psychologist said, “but quickly comprehends whatever is expected. Her performance reflects discrimination, care, and precision. … She is quiet, solemn, composed. Not once have I seen her smile. She retires within herself, segregating herself from others. She seems to be in a world of her own …”

But what was responsible for this strange behavioral syndrome? It was clear Kanner found Vivian’s parents lacking; what is surprising is they did, too. Kanner wrote: “Virginia, the younger of two siblings, was the daughter of a psychiatrist, who said of himself (in December 1941): ‘I have never liked children, probably a reaction on my part to the restraint from movement (travel), the minor interruptions and commotions.’”
Of his wife, the father said: “She is not by any means the mother type. Her attitude [toward a child] is more like toward a doll or pet than anything else.” When Vivian’s older brother, "Philip," was interviewed at Hopkins, he burst into tears. “The only time my father has ever had anything to do with me was when he scolded me for doing something wrong.”
“His mother,” Kanner reported, “did not contribute even that much. He felt that all his life he had lived in a ‘frosty’ atmosphere with two inapproachable strangers.” Philip had a stutter that in the circumstances must have been viewed as psychological as well. That emotionally “frosty” image would haunt autism parents for decades; to the extent  that it placed responsibility for autism within the family unit, rather than outside in toxic exposures, it arguably still does.
At the end of his 1943 report, and with Vivian’s parents no doubt top of mind, Kanner wrote: “One other fact stands out prominently. In the whole group, there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers. For the most part, the parents, grandparents and collaterals are persons strongly preoccupied with abstractions of a scientific, literary, or artistic nature, and limited in genuine interest in people.”

Within a few short years, Kanner was calling the mothers and fathers of autistic children “refrigerator parents,” claiming that must have something to do with the genesis of the baffling disorder. Time magazine wrote in 1960 that “Kanner has sometimes written of the 'refrigerator' type of parent...highly intelligent, organized, professional parents, cold and rational...who just happened to defrost long enough to produce a child.”
Kanner later abandoned that idea entirely, as has the medical community, but not before Bruno Bettelheim ruled autism orthodoxy, and ruined untold lives, with his claim that infants retreated into “the empty fortress” of autism in fear of their mother’s homicidal feelings.

Vivian did not marry or have children. But we located and spoke with her three nieces and nephews – Tim, Laurie, and James -- all of whom were surprised to learn of her role in the history of autism. Their father, Vivian's brother “Philip” in the 1943 study, is Bruce P. Murdock, who now lives in a Baltimore retirement home and was not able to be interviewed.

 “Do you know who my grandfather was?” Tim asked, describing Harry Murdock’s long tenure as medical director of the Sheppard Pratt mental hospital, which still occupies a sprawling, manicured campus just north of Baltimore, adjoining Towson State. A behavioral health non-profit, it has 2,500 employees and 33 programs in 11 counties.
When Harry Murdock died in 1982 at the age of 79, the Baltimore Sun obituary quoted Sheppard Pratt’s director at that time on his “extraordinary human kindness and understanding” along with “outstanding clinical competence and administrative skill.” Survivors were listed as his son, Bruce, and Bruce's three children. His daughter, Vivian, though living, was not mentioned. His wife, Margaret, died in 1977.

Murdock obituary

When we read Tim Murdock the description of his grandparents from Leo Kanner's 1943 study,  he told us: "That’s point-blank accurate. My father has always made reference to the fact that there was zero connection with his parents. They didn't have time for him, to the point of my father apologizing for not being a father because he didn't have a father."
Tim’s sister, Laurie, had similar memories when we spoke with her. She said when she was born, her parents felt uncomfortable bringing her around the grandparents, apparently because of their sadness over their own daughter, Vivian. The third grandchild, James, recalled Harry and Margaret as “aristocratic" -- even Christmas was a rather formal affair, as if handing out presents was “scheduled,” rather than the free-for-all in many families with young children. 

The Murdock grandchildren knew of Vivian’s existence, but few details. Tim Murdock said he knew she had been institutionalized from an early age; he believed she was mentally handicapped; his father seldom spoke of her, and he did not know she had died until we told him. James says he learned of her in the 1980s, when he and his wife were about to have their first child; his father was worried about a family predisposition to having a mentally handicapped child.
After we contacted Tim, he went online to look at our reporting. When he called back, he said he was struck by our description of a plant pathologist who also lived in Maryland.
“Is that my family?” he asked. It wasn’t, we explained. It was another of the first 11 cases, whose father, Frederick L. Wellman (below), was a scientist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in the Washington suburbs of Maryland. Wellman’s archive showed him experimenting with plants, seeds and mercury compounds – including the new ethylmercury seed disinfectant Ceresan -- over a long career. (The brochure below is in his papers at North Carolina State. We gave a detailed look at the agricultural connection to mercury in the early cases.)

Wellman plant


Then it was our turn to be surprised: Tim told us why he focused on the Wellmans. His own grandfather, while a psychiatrist by profession, was an avid orchidist. (“Outside his fields of medicine and psychiatry, he was a founder and early president of the Orchid Society of Maryland,” his obituary said.) Harry Murdock was, in essence, an amateur plant pathologist.

“The strong connection in my mind is the connection between plant pathology,” Tim Murdock told us, speaking of the Murdocks and the Wellmans. “I know for a fact my grandfather developed a strain for a particular orchid. My father was always saying how my grandfather and his mother galloped in the greenhouse nude developing all this orchid stuff. There's all kinds of mercury connections" in the chemicals used to breed and raise orchids, he said. Sister Laurie also remembered the orchids, and the chemicals.

Harry Murdock and his wife spent hours in the large greenhouse in the back yard of their residence, a stately home called Auburn House on the Sheppard Pratt grounds. (It is now the Towson State athletic director's office.) According to James, the greenhouse was around 20 by 40 feet, about 80 feet from the house. He remembers “a rain forest” atmosphere inside, and recalls putting his nose close to smell the flowers. When his grandparents moved to a private home off the Sheppard Pratt grounds, they had another orchid house, this one above the garage, accessible from the kitchen through a foyer.


Orchids are the ultimate hothouse flower, gorgeous, difficult, demanding attention – and heat (which might explain wearing little or nothing to tend them). They thrive in 70 to 80 degrees, all the way into the 90s. The movie of the detective classic The Big Sleep starts with Humphrey Bogart meeting a frail elderly client in a wheelchair, wrapped in a shawl in the sweltering orchid house inside his mansion. Bogart takes off his jacket, sweats through his shirt, mops his brow, gulps his drink. “The orchids,” the old man laughs, “are an excuse for the heat.”
But heat is not enough. Under the heading “Harvesting the Seeds,” the American Orchid Society Bulletin for March 1937 prescribes this treatment for the seeds of new hybrids like the Murdocks worked on:
“Take some test tubes of different sizes, stop them up with cotton treated with bichloride of mercury. Sterilize them by baking in an oven at 180C for thirty minutes. The cotton should be slightly yellowed when it comes out of the oven. Next, place the test tubes with the stoppers in a tin box, the bottom of which has been covered with cotton to avoid breaking, and store in a dry place.”
That kind of chemical connection is why Tim Murdock identified with Frederick Wellman’s background; the first paper in Wellman’s archive was an experiment with the same chemical, mercuric chloride (also known as mercury bichloride), to disinfect cabbage seeds. Wellman's son was born in Beltsville in 1936, about 40 miles west and five years later than Vivian Murdock, as Wellman experimented with the new ethlymercury dust Ceresan on all kinds of seeds. (Another of the first 11 fathers was a forestry professor who worked around a new lumber preservative, Lignasan, made with ethylmercury.)
But seed treatments aren't the only plausible connection to mercury in the Murdock family background.
Harry Murdock was born in Omaha in 1903, Margaret Shaw in Des Moines in 1904. Harry got his bachelor’s of science degree in 1925 from the University of Nebraska; Margaret was a student at the University of Iowa. They met and married. Bruce, their elder child, was born in 1927 in Nebraska.
That same year, Harry got his M.D. from the University of Nebraska, and he taught at the Colorado School of Medicine while a Commonwealth Fellow at Colorado Psychopathic Hospital.  In 1930, he took a job at Sheppard Pratt in Maryland. Vivian was born there on August 29, 1931. (Kanner reported the date incorrectly as September 13, perhaps in error, perhaps to disguise the family of a local colleague.)
That move east in 1930 may have shaped the way the Age of Autism was about to unfold. The ethylmercury vaccine preservative thimerosal was first introduced that year in multidose vials of the new diphtheria toxoid vaccine. Baltimore – home of Johns Hopkins, a leading medical school with a major public health outreach to the community – was an early adopter.


This chart from the 1931 Baltimore City Health Department Annual Report shows the first use of diphtheria toxoid -- the 30 c.c. packages at the far right are multi-dose containers of the new toxoid vaccine that would have been preserved with ethylmercury. The older and less effective antitoxin and toxin-antitoxin compounds, at left in the chart, were being phased out in favor of the new toxoid formulation.

"During the year the Department began the distribution of diphtheria toxoid on a large scale," the 1931 report said. "In May, we began the distribution of this product in individual packages to physicians. On October 1 the Bureau of Child Welfare began the use of diphtheria toxoid exclusively in all their clinics."

That means the bureau abandoned the older formulations completely in favor of the new mercury-preserved diphtheria toxoid shots, right when Vivian was born.

At the same time, the Health Department began an annual drive to inoculate all infants against diphtheria at six months of age. The Director of Health wrote, ""Diphtheria is one of the most preventable of diseases. If each child in the city could receive two doses of toxoid a month apart, shortly after the age of six months, this scourge of childhood would rapidly disappear. It is the hope of the Health Department, with the assistance of the medical profession and cooperating civic groups, to eradicate diphtheria from Baltimore."

So in 1931, "During the months of August and September [Vivian was born August 29], the Health Department conducted a diphtheria immunization campaign in which a large number of pre-school children were immunized against diphtheria."

That means the first child with autism was born the same month a campaign to inject all infants with mercury-containing shots was launched, and local physicians were called on to help.

Vivian, daughter of a doctor, turned six months old in February 1932, the right age for the new shot. By the end of that year, about a quarter of Baltimore children had gotten the injections, and "by the end of the year 1933 it is estimated that 31.3 per cent of children under five years of age have received the required inoculations of toxoid." Vivian Murdock likely was among them. 

As we wrote in The Age of Autism, speculating on where we might eventually find “Virginia S.”: “She was born just in time to be caught up in the early wave of diphtheria vaccination in Baltimore or New York or Boston or another early-adopter location.” Indeed she was. (Another of the first 11 cases we've identified was the daughter of a public health pediatrician who actively campaigned for early childhood vaccinations -- "in the case of diphtheria, booster shots are extremely important," she told the Annapolis PTA. Three more of the 11 children were infants in Baltimore in the early 1930s as the mercury-containing shots became universal.)
A third possible vector: Psychiatrists in the 1930s often encountered a mental illness in syphilis patients called general paralysis of the insane. One of the main treatments was mercury, both in the form of rubs and mercuric chloride injections. Records show the Colorado Psychopathic Hospital had a practice in neurosyphilis back in the period from 1928-30 when Harry Murdock was a Fellow there. Such patients would have occupied a number of beds there and at a large, long-term facility like Sheppard Pratt. For Murdock, exposure to mercury would have been an inevitable occupational hazard.

Four of the first 11 fathers were psychiatrists. While some have said this points to "selection bias" -- meaning psychiatrists would have been likelier to get help for a child with a strange new affliction than typical parents -- that is just speculation. One thing is certain: It had nothing to do with the way Virginia was discovered.
Though she was the oldest child in birth order, Vivian Murdock was not the first to come to Leo Kanner’s attention at Johns Hopkins. That child was Donald Triplett, from Forest, Mississippi, who became “Case 1 – Donald T.” (We identified him first, in 2005.) After that, the order in which Kanner wrote about the children seems random, perhaps designed to create a coherent narrative. Vivian Murdock was “Case 6 – Virginia S.”
In order of referral to Hopkins, Vivian was next to last, seen in November 1942, just six months before publication of “Autistic Disturbances.” By then, we know Kanner already had formulated his observations on the “markedly and uniquely” different syndrome that came to be known as autism. So Vivian's arrival helped him fill out the profile, rather than creating it.
She was first spotted not by Kanner but by Esther Richards, a colleague at Hopkins who was on the board of visitors at the nearby Rosewood School, the institution for the mentally handicapped where Vivian, then age 11, was living. No doubt  Richards was familiar with Kanner’s developing research on the strange condition he would call “autism,” and brought the girl to his attention.
"Virginia stands out from other children," Richards wrote, "because she is absolutely different from any of the others." She did not talk. She did not play with other children. She did picture puzzles by the hour. "All findings seem to be in the nature of a congenital abnormality which looks as if it were more of a personality abnormality than an organic defect."

No wonder she seemed absolutely different. She was the earliest known case of a brand-new disorder.


It is not hard to see how the “refrigerator parents” image got its start with Vivian's family: the parents by the father’s own account were less than attentive to their children; the brother had his own grievances and disability; the father was a leading psychiatrist at a posh private mental hospital who "dumped" -- Kanner's word -- his 6-year-old daughter into a public institution for the mentally handicapped.

And Rosewood was, even by the standards of seven decades ago, a hellhole. "About one-fourth of the patient body at Rosewood consists of custodial cases," according to a 1946 report; Vivian would have been one of them. "Most of these are individuals with mentality of infant level or lower. All any institution could do for them is to provide adequate care and reasonably pleasant surroundings. 

"However, Rosewood fails even in this respect. Instead these unfortunates are herded together into huge basement 'playrooms'; the total effect of the smell, sight and sounds of Rosewood's Hill Cottage can be guaranteed to produce revulsion and often nausea into anyone viewing it for the first time."

That was bad enough. But there is another, more personal reason Kanner might have loathed anyone who committed a relative to Rosewood. In 1937 – just a year before he saw his first autism case – Kanner delivered a paper at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Pittsburgh. Titled “Habeas Corpus Releases of Feebleminded Persons and Their Consequences,” it recounted his own investigation into the scandalous treatment of patients at the Maryland State Training School for the Feebleminded – Rosewood.

Ksnner discovered that many of them, especially young women, had been sent over a period of two decades to live with families that treated them as little better than indentured servants. (And probably worse.) The school, with judges’ consent, released 166 such patients between 1911 and 1933, all but 15 of them females. “The Maryland Courts,” Kanner wrote with contempt, “were allowed to function as employment agencies for domestic servants."

Kanner’s expose made headlines in the local papers and quickly brought an end to the practice. So when he came upon Vivian there just five years later, that could have strengthened his dislike for the parents. Not for the last time, it may have led him to overlook a much more dangerous “environmental” risk in the child's early life – toxic substances.

What we’ve learned about “Virginia S.” raises a final, and unexpected, question for us:  Did mercury affect more of the Murdock clan than just Vivian? Could it explain any of the anti-social strangeness in the parents that Kanner remarked on to such unfortunate effect?

 That’s impossible to say, of course. But we do know mercury can cause a condition called erethism, characterized by behavior changes such as irritability and excessive shyness; it was known to afflict people who worked too long around mercury vapor. This might explain Kanner's observations of others among the original families as well. The father of “Alfred L.”, he wrote, “does not get along well with people, is suspicious, easily hurt, easily roused to anger, has to be dragged out to visit friends, spends his spare time reading, gardening, fishing.” That father was a lawyer at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington – and a chemist by training. 
If mercury played a role in parental behavior as well as the children’s disorder, and led to a misunderstanding of its cause, that would be a sad echo. We proposed for the first time in The Age of Autism that many of Freud’s early hysteria cases were mercury poisoned – by mercury rubs for syphilis and mercuric chloride antiseptics. Families of the first autistic children suffering similar effects, and psychiatrists once again missing them, would not surprise us.

What became of Vivian? In Leo Kanner’s 1971 follow-up paper on the first cases of autism, he wrote: “Virginia will be 40 years old next September. She has been transferred to the Henryton State Hospital. ‘She is,’ the report from there, dated November 2, 1970, says, ‘in a program for adult retardates, with her primary rehabilitation center being the Home Economics Section. She can hear and is able to follow instructions and directions. She can identify colors and can tell time.
“She can care for her basic needs, but has to be told to do so. Virginia likes to work jigsaw puzzles and does so very well, preferring to do this alone. She can iron clothes. She does not talk, uses noises and gestures, but seems to understand when related to. She desires to keep to herself rather than associate with other residents.”
Nothing but her location had changed in three decades, in short, including the fact that she was still surrounded by people who were nothing like her. Nothing at all.
After that, Vivian the person disappears from history. She died seventeen years later, and was cremated. Her simple marker at Wicomico Memorial Park in Salisbury, Maryland:

Virginia-Vivian Memorial

So what might this new, if still unfinished, portrait of “Virginia S.” as Vivian Ann Murdock tell us about autism?
Set side by side with the other seven cases we’ve identified, we believe it strengthens the case that autism is an environmental illness, not a genetic one; that the “markedly and uniquely” different behavioral syndrome called autism, strikingly evident from infancy, had a beginning with the commercialization of ethylmercury compounds in agriculture and medicine; that those like Vivian with the earliest and greatest mercury exposures faced the first and worst risk.

This risk has now spread worldwide and probably includes other sources of mercury and other vaccine ingredients, such as aluminum, another toxic metal used as an immune stimulant in vaccines.
That is a tragedy of historic proportions. The good news is that because the Age of Autism had a beginning, it can have an end. But first these clues need to be taken seriously, along with the eyewitness accounts of thousands of parents whose children have regressed immediately after mercury-containing vaccinations; the growing body of research that shows  ethylmercury is exquisitely toxic at infinitesimal, parts-per-billion levels; and the unconvincing denials by public health officials and drug company spokesmen who, we suspect, are in too deep to ever face the truth.
Early in 2013, the United Nations, backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, exempted vaccine mercury from its treaty banning mercury compounds. A World Health Organization panel said it was “gravely concerned" the debate could harm vaccination efforts “without scientific justification.” It called mercury a “safe, essential and irreplaceable” component of vaccination programs, “especially in developing countries.”

But from the very first, we believe, the link between mercury and autism has been there to see, hidden in plain sight in those first 11 cases. Public health officials in the United States and around the world need to look at the evidence again, this time with open eyes and a healthy respect for the precautionary principle. That should be the real legacy of Vivian Murdock, the first child of the Age of Autism.


Teresa Conrick, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill are Contributing Editor, Editor, and Editor at Large of Olmsted and Blaxill are co-authors of The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epdemic, published in 2010 by Thomas Dunne Books.  Thank you to Stuart Dahne Photopraphy for the use of the photograph of Rosewood.



Karin - because HIPPA didn't exist until 1996 and I doubt it retroactively covers dead people.


I cannot get the picture out of my mind of a little girl, only 6 years old for the love of GOD, going into a strange and scary place all by herself. No one who loves her. No one to count on. But Teresa: you gave her a name, you told the world what happened to her. Thank you! What happened to her was a terrible tragedy - one that should have never happened, but for her story to go untold for so long is a double tragedy. Awesome work Teresa, Dan and Mark!

Patricia Lemer

This is an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism. It should win an award! Congratulations!


Thank-you Teresa, Dan and Mark,

For all your hard work.

It must be satisfying when some of the questions are answered.

Now, all our children need, is the Pharmaceutical Industry to apologise for damaging them!

Elizabeth Gillespie


Martha Moyer,
The HV-40 that was in most polio vaccines for decades, both injected and oral, simian in origin, is highly carcinogenic, and found in most brain cancers and leukemia, as well as other kinds of cancer. I agree, mercury seems to be responsible for virtually every kind of neurological disability, but there are many other likely candidates that may cause increased damage synergistically.


And don't forget, White Rose, about the one in ten with ADHD and the one in six with a learning disability, also caused by the vaccine encephalitis. That's probably one in four discenibly damaged, plus the one in nine with asthma, one in ten with a food allergy (like to peanuts), the one in ten with a skin allergy like eczema, one in 350 with childhood diabetes, and a lot with bowel disease. We need to start educating about alternative ways to prevent and treat the vaccine preventable diseases, to give parents a real option to vaccinating.

Martha Moyer

This is a very interesting article and I appreciate the good research that went into it. I do think we need to think about other possibilities about what may cause autism. I got the Hong Kong flue at the conception of my son. He is age 39. I feared during the whole pregnancy what effect it would have on him. And then he was born posterior and caught on the lip of the cervix so he was pulled out using forceps and had bruises over both ears. His speech probably was impacted by that but his use of words, not sentences, gets the message across usually.

I do feel the many ways people used components with Mercury might account for many other things such as I had a cousin who died of Leukemia and her father was into creating
new kinds of fruit trees. Mercury might have been a component of what he used in the process.

I am sure there is a lot more we will learn as time goes on. And on bowel issues, we are just now learning about the brain-gut connection. Just an example about how times are changing.


The book Age of Autism is mesmerizing. The chapter on its having been mercury which caused the neurasthenia of many of Freud's patients is as fascinating as the present article. I remember neurasthenia being mentioned many times in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, and had no idea what it was. Now I know that it was the late nineteenth century version of mercury poisoning. The chapter on the mental and neurological diseases appearing in industrial England in the nineteenth century was also great, with its charts on the skyrocketing rates of mental illness. The chapter on syphilis being treated with mercury for hundreds of years was remarkable too. Norway was the only country in Europe to have ZERO cases of general paralysis of the insane, because it was the only country not to officially permit the treatment of syphilis with mercury. And people still didn't put the pieces together, being just as enslaved by official propaganda then as most are now. Researchers were convinced they'd find lots of GPI among the Indians of the US, as they were poor and lived in such wretched conditions, and had a lot of syphilis. But the poor blacks and Indians did not suffer GPI, because they could not afford the gold standard mercury treatment, and so had much better outcomes than the rich, many of whom (not all) eventually developed Alzheimer's,oops, GPI, and were interned in institutions, insane and paralyzed. Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, anyone? The chapter on pink disease, the hundreds of children poisoned by the mercury in their teething powders in the early twentieth century. And, of course, the role of mercury in the genesis of autism.

Mercury is still in most injected flu vaccines, which were first put on the recommended childhood vaccine schedule in 2004. Before that, flu was considered so mild an illness in children that it was not a vaccine that most children should get. But once vaccine companies realized the lengths to which their indemnity from lawsuits for vaccine damage allowed them to go, they started pushing those limits to the max to reap maximum profits. Many people are still adding 25mcg a year of ethylmercury in a flu shot to that already stored in their brains. Some people are better at excreting it quickly from their systems than others, and in those of us who store it in our brains, it causes extremely damaging conditions.

Great biochemical explanations of how mercury wreaks the havoc it does in the chapters at the end of The Age of Autism. Definitely a book everyone who reads this site regularly should own.


And here's quite a sordid twist just to throw fuel on the fire - maybe folks here are familiar w/it but it was new to me, from a history of vaccines I was reading:
Person-to-person (smallpox) inoculations were used for a time but then were outlawed, and ended up having to come only from animals, because health authorities had become concerned that the person-to-person inoculations had become responsible for increasing the spread of syphilis, as well as other public health diseases.


Donald Triplett was from Forest, Mississippi. It would therefore have been enough to disguise his identity to call him Donald T., as Forest was far enough away from Johns Hopkins to obscure the trail for researchers seventy years ago. Virginia/Vivian lived close enough to Johns Hopkins and her psychiatrist father was closely enough related to Dr. Kanner's field of associates that more obfuscating measures to hide her identify were warranted, although Dr. Kanner slipped and called her by her real name once in his report.

Why do you trolls want to deny the obvious? Do you have any vested interest in prolonging this tragic epidemic?


Thanks, Elaine Hill is a Federal Autism Troll! I looked at your link about her being employed to quiet unrest about the autism epidemic. You should be ashamed, Elaine Hill. Why would you come on this site to say that it renders this research worthless since, according to you, Dr. Kanner clearly would not change the names and personal data of his study subjects to avoid embarrassing their families? You can't do any better than that to make us change our minds about vaccines having damaged us? My baby was given a mercury-containing hep-B shot the day she was born, given without permission, a year after a congressional committee found that the vaccine was very dangerous and should never be given with mercury. And so my baby reacted to it with encephalitis, and then drooled a lot until she was ten years old, which I learned in the book The Age of Autism is a key symptom of mercury poisoning. In addition to symptoms of mercury poisoning like hand flapping, lack of eye contact, extremely delayed and deficient speech and social skills, sleep and GI disorders. I reacted to a tetanus booster (with mercury) by both arms becoming paralyzed the same day, brachial plexus neuroopathy, and went on to develop MS, the symptoms of which, paralysis, especially of left side (in one attack my left arm and leg were completely paralyzed for over a month), numbness, dizziness, lack of balance, are all symptoms of both mercury poisoning and MS. My mother died three weeks ago of GPI, otherwise known as Alzheimer's, from the yearly flu vaccines she and my father got. She started losing her memory fifteen years ago, lost the ability to walk seven years ago, lost the use of her arms a year and a half ago. My father got a flu shot in Nov. 1999, and became paralyzed as a result. He also completely lost the ability to speak for over a month. Doctors were mystified, but, when he recovered the ability to speak to some degree, lost interest. I learned in The Age of Autism that loss of the ability to speak is another symptom of mercury poisoning. My brother now has peripheral neuritis, numbness in the extremities and loss of balance. He went to the Mayo Clinic and had an MRI to test for MS, since I have it. He is religious about getting the flu vax every fall, does not care whether or not it has mercury. (Not that I'm saying they're safe if they don't have mercury.)

Elaine Hill, did you honestly think that your silly post meant anything to anybody here? You get big bucks for this kind of irresponsible putdown of those fighting to end the autism epidemic?

Louis Conte

Well done.

Tragic and compelling.


This is so interesting. Thank you so much for doing this great work. I hope you can find more of these kids from Kanner's initial report of autism.

One of the interesting things is the comments saying how different Vivian was from the other "inmates". One of the story lines often repeated by the "there's-no-increase-in-autism" proponents is that in prior generations a hidden hoard of undiagnosed auties filled the mental hospitals, but that doesn't seem to have been the case at Rosewood.

How extremely sad that she was not loved and appreciated by her parents, that they had no idea how to help and nurture her. You would think that a psychiatrist would at least try!

How exciting for her surviving family members to learn more about her and their family's history.


Fred –
A few corrections…

Re: “even in the 1980-90 period when thimerosal was used in vaccines”
More like from 1930 to the present. Thimerosal was voluntarily decreased in most vaccines starting in about 2001 to 2004, but existing stock was used up and not recalled. Thimerosal is still used as a preservative in most flu shots and a few other vaccines. It is also used during the manufacturing process of some vaccines and then supposedly removed, using a purification process which the FDA says it does not monitor; once the vaccine is licensed, ongoing testing of this purification process is left up to the manufacturers.

Re: “Mercury exposure was much higher then than it is now…”
Mercury was not routinely injected into infants until the 1930’s.
Mercury in our environment has continued to increase: “The researchers, led by scientists from Harvard University and the U.S. Geological Survey, found that the ocean’s mercury levels have already risen about 30% over the last 20 years.”

Although mercury has been decreased (but not eliminated) in vaccines, the CDC continues to add more and more vaccines to the schedule, containing many ingredients such as aluminum which is neurotoxic and which has the purpose of stimulating the immune system. And yes, there’s a reason for adjuvants, but they may be having unintended effects on developing immune, nervous, and GI systems.

Re: “You don't have any evidence…”
Have you looked at all their evidence? Or are you assuming that all their evidence is described in this brief article? Did you miss the part about “having spoken with family members, and pored over countless records and archives…”

Re: “The fact that her parents were formal, not warm parents, and handed out Christmas presents according to a schedule means absolutely nothing.”
How about Kanner’s description of Vivian’s brother Phillip saying, “The only time my father has ever had anything to do with me was when he scolded me for doing something wrong,” and then Phillip’s son saying, “That’s point-blank accurate. My father has always made reference to the fact that there was zero connection with his parents. They didn't have time for him, to the point of my father apologizing for not being a father because he didn't have a father." That goes way beyond being formal.


Yes, Fred:
I listen to 'em and hang on to every word.
From where I am sitting - it is just logical.

Plus of course it did not help to get the Simpson Wood meeting about mercury released,

Heee,heee, heeee and oh that aluminium meeting in Puerto Rico that was another good one.

Elaine troll dear - I didn't read anything from coming back saying it was not true.

And who was the guy that in a round about way asked if the pertusiss numbers were coming down about that time?

Hmmmmm trading one disease for another disorder is that how it works?


While people had mercury exposure before the advent of vaccines, I don't think it was injected.

Storm Tentler

Dan or someone at AoA, can you please link or refer me to the original post that went through the background and environmental exposures of each of Kanners original cases (there was a list with a breif description of each of the possible exposures via parental occupations)? I remember reading the article a long time ago, but cannot find it on the website. I would love to print it and this one and have them in my files. Wonderful read-- Thanks!

Birgit Calhoun

Thanks for finding out the details about Vivian!

I can't believe the Elaine discussions. Elaine must be a product of the internet age. I have no idea how old she is. I was born in 1941. So I know something of what happened then. And that included my veterinarian stepfather who was "allergic" to mercury. He was suffering from erethism, and I'd say he was insufferable. He also lost his teeth early. That's another symptom of mercury poisoning. I also know that changing names to protect families was done on a regular basis.

In the days when Kanner did his studies people made more mistakes than might be believed. There was nobody to check up on anything. There was no Google, and there were very few people who knew anything about medicine or a way to find details we can find now.

The one thing that is absolutely certain is that no doctor, no psychiatrist, no dentist, no veterinarian, no farmer was aware of the dangers of mercury in the same way we are aware today because mercury in those days was medicine or a preservative and so "useful" for so many things. At worst people were allergic to mercury. They had no idea that the reason why teething powder worked was because it killed nerve cells. That's why no one suspected that pink disease was the result of mercury poisoning.

Elaine, please, if you want to become a speaker for people with autism, CHANGE your Mindset! Read up on mercury, and then we can talk.


How is this not a HIPAA violation?


Looks like it's time for the most important history book on Autism to get an updated chapter! What an amazing set of facts you've uncovered and presented here.

Cheers to all for the great detective work! Now if only people would listen and hear and read and then take action to finally put a long overdue end to this tragic Age of Autism.

Jeannette Bishop

Thank you, AoA!

Some in medical history resisted evidence of the germ theory (Semmelweis reflex). Maybe the threat of something invisible and transmissible, or only microscopically visible but still transmissible, had a powerful taboo. Maybe some of the blindness over harm from our chemical adaptations was/is fueled by a desire to feel we have unassailable means to protect ourselves from the former. There seems to be further taboo about substances impacting the intellect--mind over matter, we wish! And perhaps there is further taboo over the gut-brain autism connection. I think autism illuminates how much of our health, intellectually, emotionally, and otherwise, is nutrition dependent and detox dependent, and how profoundly devastating a compromised gut can be. Though the source may require looking even deeper, and the compromise perhaps will finally be seen, again microscopically, at the cellular level? Chemically disturbed gene function? Immune cell function? So many now will not consider, hear, investigate the immune dysfunction we are seeing with autism, because that perhaps implicates what they don't want to be true.

I particularly agree with the close, we need "..a healthy respect for the precautionary principle. That should be the real legacy of Vivian Murdock, the first child of the Age of Autism." I hope currently and throughout the future, we learn to, and remember to learn even what we don't want to to know, to prevent such harm as has now happened.

Angus Files

Superb but sad in a way how one family got Autism..

JC Travers

well done Age of Autism... compelling yet so very sad. Thanks for all of the work and perseverance you put into this (as always) in search of the truth.


Do you people even listen to what you are saying? Mercury was used in many applications in medicine and agriculture in the early part of the 19th century. Mercury exposure was much higher then than it is now, or even in the 1980-90 period when thimerosal was used in vaccines. And you are trying to argue that Vivian's mercury exposure caused her disability. On the other hand, you argue that autism is supposed to be newly discovered at that time. If Vivian's mercury exposure caused her disability, then the prevalence of such disabilities should have been much higher then than it is now.

Your argument suggests that autism rates should be decreasing in the US, not increasing. There is less mercury in vaccines than ever before, and we don't use mercury in medicines or orchid treatments.

I agree with Elaine. You don't have any evidence that this is the same person. You don't have any evidence that the real person, Vivian, had autistic traits. You didn't speak to a single person that knew her. The fact that her parents were formal, not warm parents, and handed out Christmas presents according to a schedule means absolutely nothing. At that time, parent were respected and were not expected to be their children's friends.

Moreover, I bet if you looked closely at the family history of ANY child born in that time frame you could find that their parents had exposure to mercury.

Finally, I see no significance in the fact than many of the Kanner parents were in psychiatry. I assume that Kanner asked around to his professional colleagues to find examples for his paper.

Ellen S

Excellent work A of A, a fascinating read, and in an odd way hopeful. I would love to add that lead as well has helped to create our age of autism, and it's prevalence and devastating effects cannot be ignored. again excellent job, AoA!!!!!


Great work to all of you !

I would suppose the mercury used with Case #1 was due to the doctor thinking he was a bit wiser than everyone else and was preventing problems for his wife and daughter.

I would suppose TODAY the same thing is happening, except Autism rates are lower for the children of pediatricians and other doctors as they KNOW what is going on.

Carolyn Flannerg

Just for fun to take Elaines point--- suppose that Vivian WAS another case of autism, one Kanner missed.

Well, her family and records describe autistic like behaviors and her family confirms mercury exposure. So either she is Virginia or she is another case of autism caused by mercury exposure. So at best case it is Virginia. At worst it still confirms that mercury exposure and autism are linked and have been since day one. And that the shots put these children right over the edge of tolerance on top of other new exposures....

train wreck

Another question about that diphtheria chart, Dan. Does "number of cultures examined" refer to the number of clinical cases of diphtheria, dropping year by year? I don't understand the lingo.

Astounding to see how you have dug up these dusty papers!

train wreck

Thank you for clarifying the chart, Dan. The photo documentation is really superb.

I find myself wondering about the mother. "Frosty" and college educated, but there must be a lengthy story to her too.

Laura Hayes

Simply awesome work Teresa, Dan, and Mark! So grateful for your inquisitive minds, meticulous and grueling research, and excellent writing skills. God is using you to bring truth to light! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

dan olmsted

train wreck -- added some phrases there to try to make that as clear as possible. the chart shows baltimore phasing out the old diphtheria preventives -- the antitoxin and the toxin-antitoxin -- and phasing in the diphtheria toxoid shot, a different formulation and the one that first contained thimerosal. this started in 1930, presumably late in the year, and really picked up speed in 1931. so that by the time vivian was born in august, the full tilt campaign was underway, replacing the older and far less effective compounds with the toxoid shots and aiming to vaccinate every child with them at six months of age. this is the time and place the first child with autism was born into, and her father was a doctor, to boot.

Jane Green

Agreed that autism is for the most part an environmentally induced disorder. Disagreed that mercury plays a major role.

Four of the first 11 fathers were psychiatrists. What this tells me is that their pregnant wives had easy access to popular sedative drugs in the 1930s -- PHENOBARBITAL. In the 30s it never occurred to anyone that drugs could cross the placenta and affect a fetus. Because of this strong yet faulty presumption, Kanner never even asked about prenatal exposures of his 11 patients!

Most of the Kanner kids likely had Fetal Phenobarbital Syndrome.


Well done!

Elaine Hill - of course you have forgotten, or read too fast & missed, what they mentioned about Kanner slipping and referring to the same patient called Virginia as Vivian.

And changing birth dates was commonly used in the past to slightly alter history to avoid association for many things. The approach was also used in adoption, when families were embarrassed if a woman gave birth out of wedlock the doctor could change the date of birth on the records, so that the child & biological mom could not be connected. Or, in Murdock's case, probably to protect his professional reputation and family privacy from his peers.

With so many psychiatrists involved in this early history it's no wonder the genetics & refrigerator mother side of things took flight. How embarrassing to be considered eminent in your own professional field and fail in helping your own child so that she (or he) would need to be committed. And during a time of little or no womens' rights and not much female presence in industry in general, not surprising that the male thought leaders in the various involved fields at the time would slough off any personal contribution of their own (through mercury contamination) by quickly accepting the "blame the mothers" scapegoat approach to things (eventually expanding to refrigerator "parents), instead of looking just a bit deeper & finding the true cause - the unmitigated disaster of hubris that is the chemical industry, without which the pharmaceutical industry could not exist, without which allopathic medicine could not exist. Maybe they did not have the benefit of hindsight like we do now, but now that we have it, things must be changed to reflect more recent findings.

So could it be said that topical or inhaled exposures to any form of mecury could lead to epigentic changes in the body that may go completed unmanifested at all or may create changes in personality that today would be catagorized as high functioning aspbergers (socially/emotionally slightly awkward or out of touch but not enough to prevent accomplishments like good employment, marriage & parenthood), which put the next generation(s) at higher risk for autism when exposed to heavy metals in ANY form, including & especially in vaccines, reflecting a cumulative effect that will keep getting worse as time goes on. Maybe the healthier families have not yet seen a generation with autism, but the next generation will succomb. And maybe those families not being effected enough by fumes yet, will show aspbergers in the upcoming generation & autism in the one after that, unless changes happen to break the cycle.

train wreck

Wow! This is exciting investigative journalism at its finest.

I hope you will someday be able to interview Phillip. And maybe find some people who remember Vivian at the institute.

Dan, can you please explain about the Diphtheria vaccine table- what the toxin, toxin-antitoxin, and toxoid columns mean?

Elaine Hill

Kanner called Donald Triplett Donald T. He reported his birth date as September 8, 1933. He was born on that date. If he called Vivian Murdock Virginia S. Why did he not change Donald's name to David G, and his date of birth as well?

There is no evidence that you have the right person - the only things in common between Virginia and Vivian is that they have one male sibling and their father's profession. Not much proof.

Adam M

RE: the growing body of research that shows ethylmercury is exquisitely toxic at infinitesimal, parts-per-billion levels; and the unconvincing denials by public health officials and drug company spokesmen who, we suspect, are in too deep to ever face the truth.

Early in 2013, the United Nations, backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, exempted vaccine mercury from its treaty banning mercury compounds. A World Health Organization panel said it was “gravely concerned" the debate could harm vaccination efforts “without scientific justification.” It called mercury a “safe,( LIE) essential( LIE) and irreplaceable (LIE)” component of vaccination programs, “especially in developing countries.” LIE, LIE ,LIE



Kanner changed the names of all of the subjects he described, to protect the privacy of the families. A birthdate given which is within weeks of the real birthdate would, as observed in the article, be either a mistake or another attempt to protect the privacy of the family. The coincidence of so many factors described both by Kanner in the 1940s and Conrick, Olmsted, and Blaxill in their excellent, meticulous detective work cannot be dismissed as meaningless. Do you think the evidence given about and by Donald Triplett himself can also be dismissed as meaningless?

Mercury has been mined for millenia. It seems very likely that the most genetically vulnerable, when exposed in certain ways to certain amounts of mercury, have always been damaged in ways similar to or identical to that caused by mercury in vaccines. Some who lived in areas polluted by mercury from factory fumes developed symptoms of autism in industrialized areas of Great Britain two hundred years ago. One of Kanner's original subjects seems to have developed autism from a reaction to a smallpox vaccine, which didn't have mercury. The only Amish boy who has Kanner's autism lived near a mercury-producing electrical plant.

Since mercury and other vaccine components can alter DNA, is there reason to believe that the DNA can go back to normal after several generations, or is the damage that may result in autism likely to be permanent, meaning that there will never be an end to the age of autism?

Lujene G. Clark, MA, LMT

Excellent article. Fascinating and compelling. Thank you.

Elaine Hill Has is Federal Autism Troll

Elaine is a troll, appointed to lie to families:

"Elaine Hill has been appointed as the new Specialist Advisor for Autism at the Department of Health. Working four days a week, Elaine’s responsibilities in her new role will be to lead the development of an adult autism strategy. She will advise on the needs of people with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) in policy work on projects for social care and health services."

Elaine Hill


Vivian vs Virginia
Murdock vs S.
DOB August 29, 1931 vs September 13, 1931.

With 3 of 3 of these failing to match, I think you might just possibly have gotten this one wrong.

Maurine Meleck

Wow! Terrific read. Thanks to all three of you. Reads like a modern mystery, but we know it's no longer a mystery.

White Rose

Enthralling ! and tragic .

"Our own research convinced us the autism rate before 1930 was effectively zero (it is now 1 in 50)."

I suggest this is a conservative estimate of the damage done - I believe the South Korean figures of 1 in 38 is the true statistic at this time , and its soon to be increase greatly with the vaccination during gestation campaigns (flu & pertusis).

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