SEASON 03 | EPISODE 06
The Believers Part 1
In today’s episode, Andrea seeks an outside perspective on the controversial Maya Kowalski case. Laura Richards, host of Crime Analyst and cohost of the Real Crime Profile podcast, joins Andrea to talk through the complexities and contradictions of the Netflix documentary. The conversation reveals just how polarized interpretations of this case have become. With the verdict in the Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens looming, today we look at what’s been revealed by the both the vast amount of documentation on this case, as well as the trial unfolding before our eyes.
Host Andrea Dunlop:
For behind-the-scenes photos:
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For information and resources:
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s MBP Practice Guidelines can be downloaded here.
More about Dr. Marc Feldman:
Megan Phelps-Roper TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/megan_phelps_roper_i_grew_up_in_the_westboro_baptist_church_here_s_why_i_left?language=en
The Witch Trials of JK Rowling: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-witch-trials-of-j-k-rowling/id1671691064
Crime Analyst: https://www.crime-analyst.com/
[00:00:00] Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of LARJ Media. That’s L A R J Media.
Before we begin, a quick warning that in this show we discuss child abuse and this content may be difficult for some listeners. If you or anyone you know is a victim or survivor of medical child abuse, please go to Munchausensupport. com to connect with professionals who can help.
People believe their eyes.
That’s something that actually is so central to this whole issue and to people that experience this is that. We do believe the people that we love when they’re telling us something. If you questioned everything that everyone told you, you couldn’t make it through your day.
I’m Andrea Dunlop, and this is Nobody Should Believe Me.
If you’d like to support the show, you can subscribe on Patreon and Apple Podcasts. Where you will get all episodes early and ad free, as well as tons of bonus content, including weekly recaps of the Kowalski [00:01:00] trial, which is happening now, with me and our Florida pediatrician friend.
If monetary support is not an option, rating and reviewing Always helps as does telling friends about the show on social media or wherever you talk to people. So, as you know, this season we have been covering the Kowalski, the Johns Hopkins All Children’s trial, better known as it’s called On Court TV as the take care of Maya trial because this is most well known by the Netflix film that covered this story, which we have discussed at length.
So, I wanted to tell you before we get into today’s episode that this verdict is potentially coming down the week of November 6th. And as you know, we have been covering this trial in real time on our Patreon. We’ve had lots of real time updates this season in our main feed. And we are going to [00:02:00] be dropping some extra stuff, some unexpected episodes in the feed as we come up on the trial. And of course, as soon as we have a verdict, we will be on the feed talking about it and let you know.
So something I’ve been thinking a lot about this season as we’re getting into this topic of quote false accusations is my own bias that I bring to this subject. I mean it’s there and it’s strong as some of my listeners have pointed out.
I have a history with this subject matter that is always going to color the way I look at it. Now I don’t think that that in any way, you know, invalidates my opinion on it. I also really try hard to be as fair minded as possible. We fact check everything, you know, and I base my opinions when I give them on the research I’ve done and the experts I’ve talked to.
And, you know, I’ve really tried to keep that question of like, [00:03:00] what evidence could I be presented with in one of these cases that would convince me that it was a false accusation? Because if the answer is nothing, you know, if the answer is there’s no evidence that I could be presented with, that would change my mind on this, then that’s how you know that you’re too dug in is if you just can’t even think of something that someone could present you with, that would change your mind.
And honestly, like, this is something I thought about a lot with my sister Megan’s case when we were covering it last season, because there was a back and forth with my producer, Tina, where she was giving them the chance to respond. And While we were waiting to see if they would respond, I had this thing in the back of my mind that I’ve honestly had there for 13 years.
Is there an explanation for all of this that I have missed? You know, I think sometimes people may perceive me as trying to fit facts into a narrative that I have that exists already. [00:04:00] That’s something that we all do to some degree. Confirmation bias is very real, but like I think people maybe underestimate the degree to which I’m always questioning myself because of what this experience was like.
So I cannot totally take credit for this framework that I’m using here. I got it in part from listening to Megan Phelps Roper and she is Absolutely fascinating. She is a former member of the very infamous Westboro Baptist Church. They’re the folks that do things like protest veterans funerals, and they have very offensive signs.
They’ve gotten a lot of media coverage. So, incredibly, Phelps Roper was talked out of these extreme beliefs by some extremely patient friends that she met on Twitter. Um, RIP. We all know it’s called X now, I guess. Um, anyway, uh, here is a clip from Phelps Roper’s excellent TED talk about leaving the church.
My friends on Twitter didn’t abandon their beliefs or their principles, only their scorn. They channeled their infinitely justifiable offense and came to [00:05:00] me with pointed questions tempered with kindness and humor. They approached me as a human being, and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain, and violence.
I know that some might not have the time or the energy or the patience for extensive engagement, but as difficult as it can be, reaching out to someone we disagree with is an option that is available to all of us. I really recommend actually listening to this entire TED talk as well as listening to her.
incredible podcast that she hosted. It’s called The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling. This is a bit of a sidebar, but I’ll include links to both of these in the show notes. And truly, like, however you feel about the J. K. Rowling mishigas, this is one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in a long time. Okay, so, you know, I accept Of course, false accusations happen in these cases.
They happen in every type of crime. But really everything, you know, that I’ve learned since I started [00:06:00] researching this show, since I started getting into this topic, has informed me that they are exceedingly rare. And what I mean by false accusation here is that someone has intentionally made or doubled down on what turns out to be a false report, right?
A doctor reporting a suspicion of abuse is just that. A suspicion of abuse, it’s followed by an investigation. So what I would consider an actual false allegation, and we’re going to talk about one this season, you know, is something where the evidence didn’t shore up the idea that it was abuse, and the people who were accusing that person of abuse.
continued to stand by that allegation. To me, that would be what I would consider a false allegation. It’s coming from someone who has information otherwise that they’re either ignoring or intentionally obscuring, right? So again, I think that these kind of situations are extremely rare. We know [00:07:00] how hard it is to get these situations even to the point where they’re being investigated, where they’re being prosecuted.
There are many people out there who disagree with me about this. This narrative about false accusations being an epidemic has really caught on, and in particular about the Maya Kowalski case. So, I really wanted to talk to some of these people because there’s so many people out there who seem utterly convinced that Beata Kowalski was innocent.
You know, my natural inclination is to think, is there something I’m missing? And, you know, I, I recognize that It may look like we’re a bit of an echo chamber on this show because especially as we were really just in the first season and the first two seasons establishing, you know, what this abuse was, we talked to experts.
So we talked to a lot of people on the same side, if you will. But to be frank, especially throughout last season, I really looked for dissenters who would come on and talk to me. I asked Mike Hicksenbog, who’s a journalist we’ve mentioned several times. He politely [00:08:00] declined. I asked Taylor Mifantendreski, who is the local journalist who covered my sister’s case.
Reached out to her a few times. She didn’t respond to me. I reached out to the creators of the Netflix film, including Caitlin Keating, who has done plenty of podcast interviews. Um, You know, none of these folks want to talk. They all passed. I don’t know why they passed. They didn’t really give me that information.
In one case, when I reached out to some of the Netflix people, they said, oh, we’re being protective of the Kowalskis because of the trial, etc. I don’t know if they thought I was going to be some kind of attack dog and like set them up for like weird gotcha questions. I genuinely like, I have no desire to do that.
That’s not really in my nature. I just, I would really appreciate it if the people who are putting these. pieces of media out into the world would stand by their reporting. And I wish that some other media outlet larger than me was asking these people that question. I wish that, you know, the Today Show would have Caitlyn Keenan ask these questions instead of me.
Um, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody else at the moment [00:09:00] who is terribly interested in asking those questions. So when I was talking about this series that we were planning, um, in an Instagram post, a listener tagged a fellow podcaster, Laura Richards, and said in her comment that she was also going to be covering the Kowalski case.
And so I really sort of jumped at the chance to have Laura on our show and get that outside perspective that I had been looking for. So I hadn’t previously known much about Laura’s show. She has two shows that she’s on. One is Crime Analyst where she’s the single host and then she has another podcast called Real Crime Profile with two other hosts that we’ll talk about.
So I really kind of did a deep dive into her show Crime Analyst and I was impressed. You know she’s Clearly, really smart, she has a really interesting
background, she’s obviously very feminist, and she’s also a new mom, like me, so I thought this would be a really interesting situation where we could get someone where she and I share a common perspective in some things, but also just have, you know, different worlds that we’re coming in from.
So here is Laura just giving a [00:10:00] little bit about her background. I’m a criminal behavioral analyst, former New Scotland Yard and founder of Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service and I’m an expert on coercive control and domestic violence and risk assessment. I have a podcast called Crime Analysts where I talk about a lot of cases and a podcast called Real Crime Profile.
So, it was very interesting just to give you a little bit of behind the scenes about how both my interview with Laura and then the interview that I did on her other podcast, Real Crime Profile, unfolded. Because as I knew they were covering the case, and so their two part episode on the Netflix film Take Care of Maya aired before I did my interview with Laura.
So, to be frank, when I listened into these two episodes, I started to get a little bit concerned. You know, I really did set out in this conversation to get my beliefs challenged, but, you know, I was worried that [00:11:00] these folks that are bringing in two of the host cases pretty substantive expertise to this issue seemed to be really accepting the story that the documentary put forth wholesale without looking at any other sources or really seemingly asking any questions.
I was really just at the beginning of researching the Maya Kowalski case when these episodes aired and when I did these interviews. And I cannot emphasize enough how much documentation there is. Even going into the trial, you have six years of motions and depositions. But even from what I had so far, which was a copy of the police report.
the copy of the conversation between Jack Kowalski and Detective Stephanie Graham, and a handful of experts of the doctor’s testimonies that I had received from one of the hospital’s attorneys. Now, just to say, I reached [00:12:00] out to attorneys from both sides about giving me materials, and only one of them responded.
So that’s why those are the documents that I had at that moment. So, already what I had on hand just really pointed to these major discrepancies with the film that we’ve covered in these previous episodes. So this was probably, honestly looking back, this was probably very naive of me, but since it was really clear listening to those first two Real Crime Profile episodes on the film that they were using the film as their primary source material, you know, I thought that maybe when I sent these documents over.
that I felt were really compelling, that this might really shift their perspective. Because honestly, like, if I had an opinion and then I saw some documents that really contradicted it, it would at least make me stop and think. Anyway, in the interest of time, I sent these documents over to Laura Richards because she was doing an interview with my show, and I wanted her to be able to be prepared, so I kind of pointed out, like, the stuff that I was going to ask her [00:13:00] about and sent her questions.
So on the subject of the police interview, they play this tiny clip of it in the film, and as we’ve discussed, that broader conversation between Jack and Stephanie Graham had so much more context, right? And so I brought up a couple of those things to Laura, and here’s how that conversation went. The first thing I wrote was leading questions.
The detective asked a lot of very leading questions and the detective gave 16 opportunities for Jack to throw Beata under the bus. Okay, for him to say, yes, she’s the problem, she’s the person at fault here, and you should be looking at her. But the interesting thing was, he never took that opportunity.
But each time she asked him a critical question, he would answer with, aha, aha. And he wouldn’t take what I would call the bait. So I’ll give you some examples of those questions. So she would say things like, [00:14:00] Maya doesn’t look like a child in, in pain. Okay. And the first thing to say about that is that she’s not an expert in children in pain.
That’s not her expertise. But the judgment has been made. So she gives a number of statements like that for Jack to comment on. Then direct questions like, does your wife benefit if Maya’s sick? And that she sees a happy child and that Maya’s trying to appease her parents. That’s what she believes. So there’s another opportunity for Jack to say something.
She talks about the crowdfunding, the GoFundMe. that she believes Beata has set up. So she’s leading into this financial benefit for Beata. And then she’s corrected that actually Maya had put one of those GoFundMes together. And, uh. But to me, you know, this is an interview where it’s completely voluntary.
She reminds him many times that he doesn’t need to be there. She even mentions that, you know, his lawyer is probably not going to be happy that he’s there. So [00:15:00] I just think that’s important for people to understand that he wasn’t being detained for questioning in this interview. So back to this kind of just question of leading with curiosity.
So, after you watched the film and as you were going into these documents, like, what were some of your questions? Yeah, just to comment on what you said previously, the, the not being detained. Let’s not forget the seriousness of when you’re being questioned by a detective and under these circumstances. So, it’s very serious.
When you have a detective who is questioning you about abuse of your child. It doesn’t get more serious than that. Yeah. And she was not messing around. She had done her homework. She asked, in my opinion, the right questions, although some of them were, were very leading, i. e. it appeared to me she had made up her mind.
And although Beata was being what people had described as pushy, demanding, even aggressive at [00:16:00] times, and frustrated, and doing things that frustrated
She was still playing by the rules legally in the sense that that’s what they were told to do, but I felt that the, in fact, Detective Graham said she didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all that that had happened. So, for me, these were things that counted against them, that seemed to stack up against them, that were seen as red flags.
And I think a lot of things within this case, there were red flags. And, you know, you may have red flags in a case, but the context is so important. Red flags in a case doesn’t mean the same thing in every situation and every case, but I believe they misunderstood the things that they were seeing and hearing, and there was what I would call medical misogyny.
within this case. And I do see that a lot when women are advocating, or when they are strong, and when they [00:17:00] are direct, and when they are difficult, in inverted commas, i. e. they’re not towing the line, they are documenting everything, they’re challenging things. And that medical misogyny, uh, there is that gender bias.
And you know, one of my biggest questions for Laura was, as a fellow mom, right, looking at this through the lens of a mom. And I think this material can hit people both ways and it clearly hit Laura in a really different way where as a mom she was really sympathizing with Beata. You know, something that struck me reading this was this timeline of events and how quickly Beata had moved on to pursuing treatments that were life threatening.
In particular, there was these comments that Beata made that we now know were really consistent with some other things that she was saying throughout the
course of Maya’s treatment about her being terminal. There were multiple conversations about hospice care. So when I brought these [00:18:00] comments up to Laura, she just really didn’t seem concerned by them.
Yes, well, the first thing I would say is that context is everything. And these statements have just been lifted out of the full context of the conversation. So things like Maya saying that she wants, she, you know, she doesn’t want to live like this. I could understand that she might say that. No one wants to live with chronic pain, and it’s not knowing exactly what it is, and particularly when you’re younger, and you’re vulnerable.
Sorry, Beata, Beata actually said that. Beata said, Maya wants to go to heaven, she doesn’t want to live like this. She said that on her behalf to the doctor. Yeah, and I believe there were two sets of statements that were listed in the chapter 39. There were statements from Maya that were lifted out of context, and there were…
Statements also from Beata lifted out of context. And for me, you could take anything out of a context and make it sound whatever you want it to sound like. So, [00:19:00] I always say context is everything, and I can’t make a judgement on that, because I don’t know the full round of the conversation. So now, of course, we do, at this point, have quite a bit more context about these comments.
The instance of her making these comments to some of the first providers that they saw during that Johns Hopkins hospitalization was far from the first time that Beata had discussed Maya’s mortality. She had been pushing to have the word terminal added to her prescription. She had discussed hospice care with Dr.
Kirkpatrick. So, obviously, I think that these comments just can’t. be dismissed, I think that they were taken seriously and they should have been taken seriously. So, in our conversation, Laura also really doubled down on this idea that Dr. Sally Smith had acted as some kind of Lone Ranger in having Maya removed from her parents.
I just think the context, being removed, is a big problem. [00:20:00] And the second point, let’s not forget the criminal investigation began. Because of the notification from the hospital. So, Detective Stephanie Graham was asked on her deposition whether her suspicion was totally based on what she had learned from Dr.
Sally Smith. And she said yes. That’s important. Right. And that’s, let me just finish the thought because this is important to me of who generates what and what that leads to, bearing in mind that these professionals know each other. Okay, so the report by Dr. Sonny Smith hadn’t, hadn’t been concluded at that point, but what I can tell you, having worked in the police and worked on cases like this, is that there are verbal briefings, and you are briefed before you go in to interview someone, and if you’re not, asking questions to find out that information, and I can tell that Detective Stephanie Graham was briefed.
before she went [00:21:00] in to interview Jack. So there, in my opinion, there was a verbal briefing and the report came later and what Detective Stephanie Graham said about that was that her assessment wasn’t 110 percent reliant on Dr. Smith’s. Now, in my opinion, when you get somebody giving an overestimation of a percentage, it tends to point to a deception.
It’s an oversell, an overextension
to make a point. So, it’s my belief that that criminal investigation was informed by Dr. Sally Smith. Opinion, her briefing, saying things like, this isn’t a child in pain. There are certain things that were said by Dr. Stephanie Graham that was… absolutely mirror of what Dr. Sally [00:22:00] Smith had said. So I think it is important to know the origins of where a report comes from, or even with the interview, and Detective Stephanie Graham had to concede that on deposition, that her suspicion was totally based on what she had learned from Dr.
Smith. So they knew each other. The family are the unknown quantity. So now we addressed this in the last episode, but the idea that Dr. Sally Smith originated this concern of abuse is just not accurate. That is not what happened. So Laura also parroted one of the most, I felt, outrageous claims that the movie made, that all of these doctors were just in it for the money.
Here is that part of my conversation with Laura. That was something really interesting that came up in the film that I unpacked a little bit. So, parts of Florida’s child welfare system are privatized, right, but they’re still non profits and they’re funded [00:23:00] by other non profits. I mean, I looked up Suncoast Center, it’s a 501c3, so all of that information is pretty accessible.
Um, and so this was, you know, a result of some reforms in the 90s that they were trying to get. their system to be more functional, right? And I, I don’t really have any opinion on whether it was a good idea to privatize parts of it or not. Um, but I think as to the incentive of separating families from their children, I don’t really see an incentive there.
Where, where do you see an incentive? That’s not the incentive. The incentive is the 650, 000 that the insurance company was billed for. You mean for, for her treatment, for her treatment while she was there? Yes, for 650, 000 of which 175 entries related to CRPS, the very thing that they said that Maya didn’t have.
That’s a problem. The, if you’re billing for something that you’re saying doesn’t exist. Okay, so I [00:24:00] did push back on this in my conversation with Laura, but I wanted to clarify here, and this is information that Laura would not have had at the time because this has now been addressed directly in court. So the bill for Maya’s time at Johns Hopkins, all children’s, was for all of the things that they did for her while she was there.
And it’s worth mentioning that the treatment. According to most professionals and the medical consensus on this, the treatment for conversion disorder and CRPS is the same. So she was given that treatment and also they never 100 percent ruled out CRPS. They were trying throughout this hospital stay to transfer Nemours where they could give her a more accurate valuation of whether or not she had CRPS and Beata and Jack did not accept that transfer.
We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. None of the [00:25:00] people who were on staff at Johns Hopkins thought she had CRPS. None of the people at Lurie’s thought she had CRPS. None of the people at Tampa General thought she had CRPS. But they never did completely rule it out and even if she did have it, the treatment Johns Hopkins was giving her would have been appropriate for CRPS.
So, this idea that this is somehow fraudulent, or it was a scheme to make money off the insurance for something that they didn’t have, correct, they didn’t think she had it, but they also were being extra careful until they could get her evaluated by an expert. Laura did recognize that the hospital did follow the protocol.
Well, firstly, the separation is the right thing to do, right? If you believe that you have somebody who is, um, fabricating or inducing an illness in a child, then you want to take that person out of Play. So I believe that was the right thing to do. You separate them and you want to see what happens next.
Because if you have got, let’s say, Beata who is [00:26:00] adding to this, you would then expect the symptoms and pain to start to dissipate. But that’s not what they saw. What was noted in the, um, the shelter order, which I have a copy of, was the, the pain continued. The pain was Consistent. And that’s what was written in the notes at the back.
And she was going to have rehab, as you said, but the pain was still there. So separating, stopping mum from seeing Maya, did not have an impact on her medical condition as it was presenting. So the first thing is that if they believed, if Dr. Sally Smith believed it to be by proxy, i. e. mum was doing it, that should be something that could then be ruled out, which I believe they did.
They then believed it was Maya doing it to herself. Well, so yes, they did. You’re, you’re correct about that. They, they did also [00:27:00] have some suspicions of factitious disorder on Maya’s part. And we actually, we had, and I think you listened to this episode, we had a survivor, Joe, come on and talk about how, and you know, without making the determination of whether Maya was a victim or not, but that’s not really, if you believe someone is a victim of abuse, then.
sort of casting this as them making things up is just not quite appropriate. But I mean, they hadn’t ruled out Munchausen by proxy because they were still investigating her, right? I mean, that’s a, that’s a criminal investigation and a CPS investigation that had to happen. And I wonder, you know, you said, like, her pain was consistent, but there’s reports from numerous professionals within Johns Hopkins that Maya, you know, a few things that stuck out to me.
One, that Maya was not having any physiological signs of pain, right? No anxiety, no elevated heart rate, etc. Um, and also that she was reporting pain and acting very differently when mom was in the room during the initial visit than when she was out. And [00:28:00] Detective Graham brought that up to Jack Kowalski and he said to her, that he had noticed that as well, that Maya would be fine when she was home with him and then when Beata came through the door that she would suddenly be in pain.
I mean, what do you make of that? Well, the first thing is that within the shelter order, it does talk to the fact that she was still having pain and that she was kept in as an inpatient for that. And Given her symptoms, she couldn’t even attend the hearing because of her medical condition. She requires a high level of medical attention, they say, and that’s why she couldn’t actually appear at the hearing.
She was on the phone. Um, what I understand of CRPS, and I’m not an expert, so I’m learning about this as everybody else is from, you know, the various experts who have studied it, is that it can Okay, [00:29:00] so I want to be perfectly fair to Laura here because she’s not a doctor. I’m not a doctor. We recorded this interview a while ago.
We were operating on the information that was out there at the time. CRPS is a rare and complicated diagnosis. And so what I want to say here from a zoom out
level about this question of When Maya was in pain and how much pain she was in, is that that is coming from Maya’s reports of pain from the dozens of doctors who saw her through this period of time from several different institutions, the reports about Maya’s pain are remarkably consistent, that she was distractible, meaning that she would be moaning in pain, but then she would be able to answer questions that she would report that she couldn’t move in a certain way, but then when she wasn’t being asked about it, they would see her [00:30:00] moving that way.
That she would often refuse, and Beata would refuse, to let her be examined, to let her vitals be taken. And when they were taken, she showed no physiological signs of pain. This is in every report from every institution that they’ve brought up. So namely, you know, two places she spent a decent amount of time during this period were Lurie Children’s in Chicago and Tampa General Hospital.
Back to my conversation with Laura. You can learn a lot about what’s going on, but I don’t believe it’s right to say that she wasn’t experiencing pain or symptoms. I believe that there were medical notes to say that she was. And the second point, just to regarding Jack. I didn’t read anything about him saying that her symptoms were always, uh, acute or the onset happened when Beata came into the room.
So just to clarify, here is the portion of that interview with Detective Graham. This is Jack in his own words. This piece of the interview [00:31:00] was played in court last week. So this is a clip from Law YouTube coverage of the case. When nobody else was in the room but Maya and the staff, she didn’t have to go through the door.
When mom would walk in the room, she would sit
still. I heard that many times. There’s no other explanation for that. I noticed it too with myself being home, and then Maya comes home from work. And all of a sudden she’s back. So you’re at home, you guys are doing well. No complaints at all. No complaints at all. She’s okay.
So I also talked to Laura about another thing that really stuck with me, which was the idea of Possibly subjecting my child to a life threatening treatment for an illness that is not in and of itself fatal. Here’s that part of my conversation. I think for me, just as a mom, watching that with the [00:32:00] understanding that obviously it would be excruciating to watch your child in, chronic pain.
This is not, you know, the standard treatment. And Dr. Kirkpatrick, he seemed strange to me in the film. I will say the one thing that really stuck out is that he
had written this note to Beata and to the hospital that, you know, that he recounted in the film that if Maya was not given this ketamine treatment that she would die.
a slow excruciating death. And that just seemed so bizarre to me because CRPS cannot be fatal. I mean, it’s obviously very serious in that it’s very painful, but it can’t kill you. So that drew me for such a loop. What was your take on that? To talk from a mother’s perspective, if you were in a desperate situation and you wanted to find out, A, what was happening to your child, [00:33:00] but B, There’s a treatment that’s unorthodox and unconventional.
Might you be tempted to, even with all the risks? to agree to that treatment and Beata did a lot of research and she, according to Jack, was on the computer the whole time and let’s also just mention that she was a nurse. So she had some medical knowledge more so than I have. Therefore that probably got up people’s noses too, but she did her research and she chose an unconventional and unorthodox way with very high risks to try and treat her daughter, and I guess we could all be pushed to our limits to make, and I hope to God I never have to make a decision like that, but I think when you are desperate you might try some desperate measures, and I can’t talk to whether CRPS Uh, has lethal consequences, but I could imagine that if you are in extreme pain and you are, your [00:34:00] legs are atrophying, you can’t walk, you may start to not want to eat, you may start, you know, certain organs then might start to shut down, and therefore you could…
end up dying and therefore everything has a knock on effect, but I can’t talk to whether there are, um, you know, x amount of cases where somebody had CRPS and there was a, that they, they did die from it. So just to jump in here, this has been settled. during the course of the conversation that’s happening in court.
So here is what actually happened. Beata had reported to Dr. Kirkpatrick that Maya was completely immobilized in the hospital, which she was not. And based on that, Dr. Kirkpatrick told her that if she wasn’t moving at all, she could get a blood clot in her leg and die as a result. So, We have no reason to believe that Maya’s condition on its own was ever life threatening, though I gather, and again, I also am not a doctor or an expert on CRPS.
I’m not a doctor, obviously, but I [00:35:00] gather that there are instances where people die because of complications from it. So, it’s not quite so black and white, but that is what we are talking about in this instance of Dr. Kirkpatrick saying that to Beata Kowalski. Here’s the part of her conversation where I was talking to her about the neuropsychological evaluation that Maya Kowalski received while she was at Johns Hopkins.
So one of the other things that stuck out to me and I just wondered because I think you probably have some insights into this process that I don’t, was some of Maya’s comments when she was in the hospital and when she got her neuropsychological evaluation saying that she didn’t want to have the disease anymore but that she was afraid to tell her mother because she was worried and sad and that the ketamine treatment scared her and that, you know, she seemed very aware of how much money her parents had as Spent on her care.
Do you have any interpretation of that? Um, there was only, you know, a small amount of notes. So I just wanted to get your take on that. You know, leading things can be put to vulnerable people and you can get them to say [00:36:00] things and then lift that out of the context. So I would imagine that she didn’t want to have the disease anymore.
I mean, That is a true statement. She’s afraid to tell her mom because her mom’s worried and sad. Well, I don’t know whether those two things were said together and what it related to, and I would imagine that she was scared of the ketamine treatments. I think any form of treatment or anything that you don’t know About and then when you have something and there’s a risk she did hear about those risks.
She was sat there Of course, it’s going to be frightening and scary. And of course, she’s worried about the amount of money that’s being spent by her parents I think likely to be they’re likely to be true statements But what was the context and is this just one person reporting? I think it was a nurse The comments that Laura and I are discussing come from the neuropsychological evaluation that was done of Maya Kowalski during her time at Johns Hopkins.
You know, why is it just [00:37:00] one person? If this were to be true, that it was something by her mother, I would expect multiple reports. Of her saying these things consistently, but at no point does she say anything more negative about her mom. And what’s more important is right now she’s advocating for her mother.
She’s got plenty of opportunity to be able to tell people the truth about what’s going on, and what she’s doing is advocating. for her mom and being very vocal about that. Yeah, Laura, I have to say I, I see that a bit differently. Um, you know, again, with the determination, which I know I’ve said it 18 times in this interview, that, you know, we can’t know the full picture of what happened and whether or not this was abuse.
And I think it’s really, it’s important for me to say, because You know, this, obviously, this is my lens. This is what I deal with. One of the reasons I was so, you know, interested to talk to you and why this has been such a helpful
conversation and will be so helpful for our listeners is that I don’t want to be in an echo chamber, you know, of just people who are [00:38:00] seeing this through the lens of, you know, of working on these cases.
But in terms of Maya, even if she was, She may not understand that. I mean, I am close with a number of survivors, and I got a note from a survivor just this week who said that she works in child abuse. And it wasn’t until she listened to the show and listen to one of the survivors we had on recently that she realized that it happened to her and that is actually the story I hear the most is that people are in their 20s or 30s even when they realize they sort of something kind of unlocks it and then they go back through all their records and and realize what happens and they sort of start talking to family members that didn’t want to bring it up.
So I, I just, I think we both wholeheartedly agree that Maya is the victim and that her and her brother have suffered greatly. And I have to say, I worry about them being put in a media [00:39:00] spotlight. I just, again, you know, I understand Jack’s been through a lot, but I just, that seems troubling to me to put a traumatized child.
I mean, she’s still, she’s only 17. To put her, not that children shouldn’t have a voice. You know, that’s, it gets complicated there, but I, to me, I just, I feel worried about her. Yes. I mean, firstly, victims, particularly victims of coercive control, most oftentimes don’t know that they’re being abused. That is true.
And a lot of times the abuse is invisible to you and to other people around you. And I’ve spent my career shedding light on that. And that’s why every case I approach, I look for those signs. Probably like you do when you’ve had experience of this, so you’re looking for the same patterns to repeat, but the patterns in this case just don’t repeat for me in a way.
that I’ve seen many times before. [00:40:00] Now, you always get the one percent of cases, so I’m always looking for the one percent. You know, I’ve worked on thousands and thousands of cases, and I’m always looking for that potential one percent that I’ve never seen before. And talking about victims or survivors, they’re an expert on their own experience.
They’re not an expert on other people’s experience, and I think that’s really important to say in the current climate where I hear people saying, well, I’m a victim of abuse, and she wasn’t abused. Or, he wasn’t abusive to me, therefore he’s not an abuser. You can only talk to your own experience. So I don’t think we should ever, um, overgeneralize that just because you were a victim or you’re a survivor now, that somebody else’s experience is the same.
And to Maya advocating, well I think that’s a decision for her. And as I always say to… To victims, to survivors, no matter what age they are, it’s up to them how they want to tell their story, and it can be very cathartic to have your voice heard, and we have to remember with Maya, she hasn’t had her voice [00:41:00] heard.
So Laura makes a good point here, that number one, No survivor’s experience is monolith, but I do think that Munchausen by Proxy survivor’s voices need to be heard, and by and large they are not. And it’s also true that Maya deserves to share her story. The only problem in this case is I don’t think this is her story exactly, but the more that this case has gone on, the more it’s occurred to me what an impossible situation this girl is in.
Honestly, I look at this and what choice does she have at this point? If she says that she’s not really sick, then her father’s 220 million lawsuit that he’s in the middle of and that he’s dedicated the last six years of their life to isn’t valid. If she says she’s not sick, then She’s admitting that her mom lied about it.
I mean, what a position to be put in as a 17 year old who was even younger when all of this was going [00:42:00] on. So one of the things I have had so much trouble getting to the bottom of is what people think the various parties investigating this case So I asked Laura that, what were some of those things that you would have liked to see happen in a case like this?
Well, I think first of all, that you talk to the experts and you understand that something that’s outside your sphere of knowledge or influence and sphere of knowledge, you know, as professionals, you, you’re not an expert on absolutely everything. That’s why I say I’m an expert on coercive control and, um, and child abuse, but not.
CRPS, not the medical side of this. That’s a whole other world that you would want to, as you’re doing, speak to lots of different experts and, and test out how many cases have they actually worked. How many cases of child abuse, how many cases, you know, we know with women, even psychiatrists, there’s a, it’s not just medical misogyny.
A lot of disorders [00:43:00] are, um, not They’re made up, like Stockholm Syndrome, it’s not even a thing. It was made up by a male psychiatrist based on one case and the victim saying that it didn’t happen, but yet that’s still something that everyone talks to. And borderline hysteria. It’s over pathologizing, like over pathologizing of female behavior sometimes is something that you’ve talked about.
Yeah, it’s over pathologizing, but yet when a man presents it’s Poor Me Syndrome, they get given every pass as to why. They did X, Y, or Z. So we have these biases, and they’re in the system. They’re men, women, you know, professionals. And I do think there were some biases here, but the, the investigation, if you believe there to be child abuse, then separating them, having them under surveillance, but having numerous other professionals.
Those who are experts in CRPS, not just a social worker or an expert in child abuse. You want to have people who understand [00:44:00] the very thing that that child is, supposedly has. There are the symptoms, are the behaviors, the psychology, the emotional, everything holistically to that child is that’s indicative of CRPS.
And there seemed to be, you know, this very long period of months of her being kept in a room, which just seems barbaric to me, that she was insulated to such a degree, even from other family members, when the shelter order very clearly says that Jack and Carl could have unsupervised visits, and that two other children, two of her friends and two family members, could…
But that didn’t happen. Why? Why not? I can’t answer the question, but I can say what was in the order and what I saw on screen were two very different things. So just to address what Laura is saying here about the visitation. So she’s right about the initial shelter order. However, as these things [00:45:00] always are, this was a dynamic situation and there were reasons.
that these visits became supervised visits, and that’s because they were worried that they were setting Maya back. And as to the other family members and friends that were allowed to see her, they were eventually allowed to see her. So that did happen. Obviously, it may not have been exactly the way that the family would have liked.
And there is no argument from me that being stuck in the situation with this kind of bureaucracy would be a good time. But I think the implication that it’s something sinister just is off the mark. And what I wanted to say too, listening back to this audio, what I wished I’d asked her at the time, because I kind of only see it coming through now in this broader context, is if she doesn’t think Munchausen by proxy is real.
If she just doesn’t think that this abuse happens. I’ve seen as this trial’s played out and with the arguments that the plaintiff is making, there are more people out there than I [00:46:00] realized that believe this. So now as to the question of having someone independently evaluate CRPS in this child during her hospital stay at Johns Hopkins, she’s right.
That would have been ideal. They could not, it appears from the court back and forth, get someone to do that. This isn’t terribly surprising. Given the context of this was a child abuse investigation, but Maya did see someone with expertise in CRPS before her admission at Lurie Children’s and they also had a very credible expert from Stanford do a complete medical record review after for this lawsuit that’s going on now.
Okay, so back to my conversation with Laura. I guess I just want to point out that Dr. Smith’s role in this case would have been to do the medical record review. So that’s what she was doing. And they, they look through all these usually tens of thousands of pages of records. and make an assessment based on those records, and it’s part of the investigation, right?
So, [00:47:00] yes, certainly we can say whether or not she had more influence than we feel she should have, etc., but I mean, she put together a 45 page report that, as you said, neither of us have seen. Your point is taken about, yeah, her, her manner and, and how she kind of comes across, but I suppose what I’m saying is I haven’t seen evidence that she wasn’t doing her job properly, and you did, you did mention those omissions from Dr.
Kirkpatrick’s notes. That’s very important. You know, if I wrote a report and I just went down one line and I didn’t give other, you know, I talk about just the things I see and not the things that are absent, then I’m biased and I’m conflicted. Your role is to provide an independent assessment. of what’s going on and you have to have an interaction and she did.
She went into the room and spoke to what Jack said, him and Maya for 10 minutes. So I want to just interject here to clarify the actual series of events of Dr. Sally Smith’s investigation and reports because, um, and with all [00:48:00] fairness to Laura, some of this This was not known at the time. Some of this has come out during the course of trial.
So it was presented in the film that Dr. Sally Smith came in, they didn’t know who she was, she talked to them for 10 minutes, and according to them, just decided that this was a child abuse investigation and went about finding evidence to support that. That is not what happened. They did have an initial 10 minute meeting with her, they may have been confused about who she worked for, but at some point Beata had a much longer conversation with her, about an hour and a half, where Beata relayed Maya’s history to her.
We know that because Beata sent a text message to Jack about this interaction so they did have a longer interaction at that point. Beata did know who she was. So Dr. Sally Smith did an initial evaluation for the shelter order and then she did her longer 45 page report where she reviewed a stunning amount of records.
Back to my conversation with Laura. And if you are writing an assessment [00:49:00] that is going to be the difference between a child going home or not and being separated from the family… You should include your discussions with those experts and specialists who have diagnosed that patient with CRPS when it’s the crux of everything regarding this case.
So yeah, I would love to be able to get to the bottom of that, that part of it, because I, I would assume that she had reviewed their records. I’ll have to go back and see exactly what they said about that. But um, she apparently had, and that’s one of the HIPAA complaints, that there wasn’t permission for her to do that.
So, you know, I think in the, I believe in the context of a criminal investigation that does not apply because I believe they would have subpoenaed those records for her to review. I mean, I know because we went through this process with my sister, the police investigation and all the information that I found, there was this subpoena and that subpoena and this subpoena to get medical records.
So you can either get a release from the parents, but if the parents don’t give you a release, then you can subpoena them [00:50:00] in the context of a criminal investigation. So I don’t believe that would be a HIPAA violation, but I’d have to check. Apparently there was one. I’m only saying what, what I’ve understood of the case and of course how cases come to pass.
The timeline of it is important. Okay, so I did check in on this and this matter has been completely settled. Dr. Sally Smith did not violate HIPAA. Doctors are allowed to look at records when DCF or police investigation and also if another doctor wants to consult with them on something. So that is what happened here.
It was not a HIPAA violation. So back to my conversation with Laura. What I worry about is the chilling effect that this can have on doctors to report. We don’t want doctors to fear for their livelihoods, reputations, etc. for reporting, in good faith, suspicions of abuse because that puts children in harm’s way.
And so, you know, that I think is [00:51:00] like the concern that I bring to the way the film presented. the, the doctors and in particular, you know, in particular they went hard on, on Dr. Sally Smith. I haven’t seen any evidence of her wrongdoing. Your points are well taken about the shelter order being especially draconian and those kind of things and Kathy Bedia being perhaps a questionable character, but I haven’t seen anything to me that indicated wrongdoing on the part of doctors and that is sort of how this story is being framed and I really worry about.
that chilling effect it could have on doctor’s willingness to report, which they’re required by law to do. Well, yeah, they’re mandated reporters and they can report anonymously as well. And, you know, from Bonnie Rice’s deposition, she had the most interaction with the family. And there was a, what we would call a case conference where they had a discussion, the professionals, and it was deemed that because she had the most interaction that she would call DCF, [00:52:00] which she did.
And she gave her concerns about. what was happening. She called it emotional abuse, but she was told that it wasn’t a reportable case. Oh, the pre, this is the previous, the previous report? In 2015, the previous report. Right. From the rehab center, right? The nurse from the rehab center. That’s right. So, you know, there are lots of different ways that you can report.
And, of course, we don’t want to see a chilling effect. I don’t believe that, you know, anyone takes just one case and then that becomes the chilling effect for everybody. But if you have one case, and let’s say, let’s say it’s an anomaly, you still have to question, and there still has to be accountability and transparency with decisions.
You can’t just say that you believe that there’s child abuse, and that’s it. And the problem with Dr. Sally Smith, that, for me, is the, what should have also been included in the report, and of course I haven’t seen this report, but two [00:53:00] warnings were omitted from the very specialists. about CRPS and how common it was for misdiagnosis with CRPS.
So, to clarify, some people are allowed to report anonymously to DCF, but doctors cannot. And more on Bonnie Rice, the nurse practitioner who gave that first complaint a bit later, her testimony was fascinating. But I’ve dug into all of this Sally Smith stuff. So, Dr. Chopra, who evaluated Maya, after her mother’s death would not have been included in Dr.
Sally Smith’s report because that hadn’t happened yet. And as to Dr. Kirkpatrick, why a child abuse pediatrician with 30 years of experience Would include in her official report that a doctor who’d seen the patient a total of three times had called to quote warn her about not Misdiagnosing Munchausen by proxy because that happens all the time in CRPS [00:54:00] cases in his opinion.
I have no idea There is no evidence that this was a misdiagnosis. There’s no reason to believe that that is what happened Do I think she took this warning seriously? No, I do not, nor can I imagine why on earth she would after hearing Dr. Kirkpatrick’s testimony. Now, because we are three quarters of the way through this trial, we have heard a lot more from and about all of these doctors.
And we’re going to talk about some of that testimony in the next episode and where everything has sort of come down on a couple of these big questions, like does Maya have CRPS or not? And also next time we are going to talk about the next interview that I did with these folks, which was my appearance on Real Crime Profile with Laura Richards and one of her co hosts, Jim Clemente.
So that’s next time on Nobody Should Believe Me.
Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of Larj Media. [00:55:00] Our Senior Producer is Tina Nole and our Editor is Corine Kuehlthau.
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Share this episodeSEASON 02 | EPISODE 07MeganIn the wake of obtaining shocking public records about her sister’s case, host Andrea Dunlop decides to divulge the details of the second investigation into her sister, Megan Carter. Seated alongside Detective...
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Share this episodeSEASON 02 | EPISODE 10Everything Everything EverythingIn the finale of Season 2, we finally hear from the person at the center of our story: Alyssa Waybourn. Despite the immense challenges she has faced, Alyssa shines as a beacon of...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 01Special Report: Watching Take Care of Maya (re-release) Warning: This content includes references to suicide and child abuse. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available. Call or text...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 02Shelter As the Maya Kowalski case heads to trial, we dig into the massive trove of documents about this case and begin to unpack what we know about what really happened during Maya Kowalski’s fateful stay at Johns...
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Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 04RetaliationNote: This episode contains sensitive content related to child abuse and suicide. Listener discretion is advised. Beata Kowalski’s tragic death by suicide in January of 2016 is at the center of the $220...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 05The WomenIn the flattened version of the Maya Kowalski story that has dominated the headlines, Beata Kowalski is a mother who fell prey to age-old biases against women. This story attaches itself to the well-documented...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 07The Believers Part 2As the Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens trial barrels forward, new information comes to light each day about what really happened to Maya Kowalski during her time in the hospital. In part 2 of...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 08Trial of the CenturyWith a verdict in the case days away, host Andrea Dunlop unpacks some of what’s happened so far in the Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens trial with lawyer and trial consultant Jonathan Leach....
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 09The VerdictAndrea and special guest Bex (aka our Florida pediatrcian friend) process the shocking verdict in the Maya Kowalski trial. After 9 weeks of testimony, the jury awarded the Kowalski family nearly $300 million...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 10The Verdict Part 2Andrea checks in with lawyer and trial consultant Jonathan Leach hours after the Kowalski verdict comes down. They talk about the judge’s decision to disallow testimony from the defense on medical...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 11Star WitnessAs we continue to process the far-reaching implications of the shocking verdict in the Kowalski case, we take a closer look at Maya Kowalski’s testimony and what we know about her. She’s emerged as a...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 12System OverrideWith the jury's stunning $242 million verdict in favor of the Kowalski family, host Andrea Dunlop looks at why this case has struck such a nerve on both sides of the political spectrum. She examines why...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 13What Now?Just when we thought the endless saga of Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens was over...it turns out it might only be beginning. In this episode, lead attorney for the Johns Hopkins All Childrens defense...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 14Media CircusThis week Andrea examines how the harrowing and complex story of the Maya Kowalski case turned into a pop culture moment, and spread dangerous misinformation in the process. We continue our conversation...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 15The Trials of Dr. Sally Smith (Season Finale: Part 1)In an exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, host Andrea Dunlop travels to Florida to speak to the embattled child abuse pediatrician about her life and work and...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 16Bad Press (Season Finale: Part 2)In the second part of our exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, we discuss how the media coverage of her reached a fever pitch and turned her life and career upside down. We explore...
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