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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The sad but true case of Dr. Ketcham, missionary child molester

This is not a gossip column, and The White Man certainly does not take any delight in the misfortunes of others. So it is with some trepidation that I now open up a can of worms regarding the charges of paedophilia against Donn Ketcham, M.D.

Before I start, I should say that I don't personally know any of the Ketcham family, or any of the alleged victims. While I'm certainly less than six degrees of separation removed from the persons and situations of which I now report, I'm far enough out to--I trust--render an impartial account. All the information that follows is from publicly available sources.

First, a bit of background. When Donn was born in June of 1930, his father was the pastor of a Baptist Church and a leader in the movement to purge the American Baptist Conference of modernism--an attempt that was ever met with failure. As Donn grew, his father rose to the forefront of the movement and, as pastor of Baptist churches in Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana, became the President of the separatist General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. An arch-rival for control of the separatist Baptists was J. Frank Norris of Dallas, TX, whose modus operandi was rumor, insinuation, and inflammatory rhetoric. He attacked, for example, Donn's half-sister Lois for having "left the mission field" when she departed Brazil on the verge of death from vitamin deficiency and remained in the States for an extended recovery.

Little Donn was not yet ten at the time, but the event surely had an effect on him. His father, a founder of the Baptist Mid Missions agency under which Lois and her husband served, put out the call for missionary doctors, so that a tragedy like this could be averted. And in fact, when he was only twelve, Donn is reported to have set his sights on becoming a missionary doctor. After biblical training that resulted in his ordination as a preacher of the gospel, he went on to receive top-notch medical training from the University Of Illinois. By 1960 he and his wife Kitty were ready for appointment to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to serve at a new mission hospital being started by Viggo Olsen of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism.

But there was one problem. Beneath the ideal-missionary exterior, Donn Ketcham kept a hidden secret: he was a serial adulterer, and he preferred virgins. He'd gotten his start while attending public high school in Waterloo, defrauding quite a number of coeds all while planning a missionary career. His father, often on the road and busy with the demands of leading the GARBC, paid little attention to any reports that may have come his way. As for Donn? Well, he was doing nothing illegal--nothing that any hot-blooded young man in his peer group wouldn't want to do anyway--right? And thus commenced a double life that was to continue for some fifty years.

By the time Donn met Viggo Olsen, he had already secretly cheated on Kitty several times--but still had his sights set on being a missionary doctor. With all his theological training, he had no problem passing the mission's rigourous examinations for acceptance. And as a developing surgeon, his skills would remain in top demand on the mission field. Donn and Kitty Ketcham were the first members of Wyoming's Newhall Baptist Church to be appointed as foreign missionaries. Off to East Pakistan they went.

There's something rather unique about being a doctor. Normally a woman would not think of taking off her clothes for anyone else, but will doff everything at a doctor's request. No part of her body is safe from his invasive reach--in fact, her most private parts are his special concern. And a doctor gets to touch, in his profession, parts of a young girl's body that her father will never see. Furthermore, at a mission hospital we have the additional element that the patients know their doctor first of all as a friend, or the father of their friends. So it takes a special kind of a man to be able to do all this without giving in to lust--and, to their eternal discredit, the fundamental Baptists at ABWE who so rigorously grilled their candidates on theology and ecclesiastical separation never took the trouble to find out whether or not Donn Ketcham was that kind of man. The truth is, he was exactly the opposite.

It's not that there weren't signs. No doubt Donn had a reputation as a Lothario from way back in high school. He was well known even at Bible school as a womanizer, and this did not stop when he married Kitty. Yet Don Ketcham seemed to have some sort of Teflon coating that kept him from ever getting in trouble for his picadillos, even when they resented in his sexual partners being expelled for immorality. This pattern was to continue right up into the 1980's, until Donn's proclivity for virgins finally got him in the kind of trouble that no one could overlook. Cover up, yes. But not overlook.

By 1989 Donn had been on the mission field for decades. His children were all grown, but his services were as much in need as ever. There was no reason, professionally, why he couldn't have continued to serve for decades more. But his long string of adulteries finally caught up with him when a 14-year-old girl with whom he'd been involved sexually for two years finally confessed her moral shortcomings to a youth counselor back in the States. When word of this confession made it back to ABWE headquarters, mission leaders realised that something would need to be done.

After interrogating the girl to determine that she wasn't making it all up, they flew her back to Bangladesh to confront Dr. Ketcham. To their relief, he confessed to everything--in writing. Now all they had to do was to implement the standard mission procedure for dealing with moral failure--something they were all too familiar with by then:

1. Send The Missionary Home. This was done as soon as bags could be packed and tickets bought. The sooner he was out of the Situation, the better. And the family of the Victim got the same treatment as that of the Offender. [but according to this report, they remained on the field for a while.]

2. Terminate His Membership in the Mission. This was done more slowly and methodically, to allow time for the Ketchams to find and settle into a new home and job before cutting off their financial support. As ironic as it may seem, no thought was taken of the possible danger to girls Back Home with Donn Ketcham now released from any direct accountability to the mission. They even left it up to him how to explain his release from the mission, using the vague term "moral failure" whenever the topic did come up. No attempt was made to notify the State Medical Board or Child Protective Services that a sexual predator had been turned loose in their state and was now their problem.

3. Damage Control. Missionaries in Bangladesh were told of the offense in similarly worded general terms, and cautioned, "for the good of the work," not to discuss it with anyone. Anyone who asked was just to be told that "the Ketchams had to leave the field." No attempt was made to discover or enumerate his many other victims.

This damage control continued unabated for over a decade. It wasn't until 2002 that anyone thought the matter worth looking into again, but after a few half-hearted attempts it was concluded that there was no sense in digging up the past, and it was put to rest once again, with a little more sugar coating over the rottenness.

It wasn't until this very year, 2011, that a group of rebuffed victims got together and started a blog, in which they identified Dr. Donn Ketcham by name as a paedophile. A few weeks into that, ABWE management were finally roused to life and started the long-neglected Phase II of damage control--actually doing something about the problem. It was too late to hold Donn accountable for his actions, though--by that time the statute of limitations had run out. Even the Michigan State Medical Board wasn't interested in hearing about alleged abuses that had taken place a world away, and in a previous century.

But as more and more people went to the blog, and reports started to air in the local media, there was a rising furor over ABWE's longtime mishandling of the affair. In the aftermath, president Michael Loftis was asked to resign, and ABWE leadership hired another lawyer to guide them through the minefield of liability that was filling up around them.

This brings us to the present. Donn Ketcham, age 81, is still practicing medicine part-time in Allendale, MI. He still receives a monthly pension check from ABWE. That much is known. What hasn't yet come to light are how many girls he's molested in the 22 years since ABWE sent him home; and how much liability ABWE may face for having turned him loose.

Will this case change how mission agencies screen prospective members, or who they deal with moral failures on the field? Probably. Will it be enough to keep any of this from ever happening again? Probably not. The reasons why will be enough to fill up another post.

Donn William Ketcham, M.D.

It has come to my attention that there is an anthropological distinction between paedophilia and pederasty, with the age of the victim being the deciding factor. Unfortunately for our purposes, pedaresty is used strictly in a homosexual context, so it does not apply to Donn Ketcham's case. But for purposes of distinction, it should be noted that paedophilia refers only to prepubescent victims, and Dr. Ketcham clearly preferred his victims to be at least pubescent. He may have molested younger children, but did not exhibit the preference for prepubescence that is the hallmark of a paedophile (literally, one who 'loves' children).  So charges of paedophilia may be legally, but not anthropologically, correct.
[The term in vogue now is hebephilia--sexual attraction to children going through puberty]

Update April 2012
Many of my readers will be interested in this update: 

Update May 2012
ABWE can't wait for the full GRACE report, goes ahead and apologises, investigates further reports of abuse

Update May 2015
There are more posts on this topic here.

Update August 2016
The investigative news report which has been driving traffic to this post is here. 

Update July 2017
A recent blog post by an ABWE missionary doctor defends ABWE as having adequately dealt with the problem (scroll to the bottom of the page).


  1. Sad for everyone involved, one way or another.

  2. Sad for his children. I believe his oldest son knew what his father was doing, confronted him and was sent to boarding school in West Pakistan as a result.

  3. I don't see any correlation. Marty was sent to Muree because he was high school age and that was where ABWE sent their kids. If this is going to degenerate into rumormongering I'll delete comments.

  4. Dr. Merchant is no longer practicing medicine in Allendale. As soon as this came to light earlier this year he was stopped from seeing patients.

  5. Thanks for that information, but please use his given name.

  6. Thanks for your well-written account of DK's sexual sins and ABWE's cover ups. I am a former MK from Bangladesh, and even lived next door to DK for a period of time in 1983. However, my parents were with Baptist Mid Missions instead of ABWE.

    I have a poll running currently on my blog at which asks this question:

    Should some or all of ABWE's leadership be fired or resign after having protected a criminal pedophile for decades?

    Believe it or not, the current tally of votes are 13 Yes and 107 No. That's right... 89% of those who have voted do not believe ANYONE in leadership of ABWE should be fired or resign. I find that disgusting and appalling, especially since some of the ones involved in the cover up are still in leadership at ABWE now.

    Wes Patterson

  7. Marty was not his oldest son, Tom was.

  8. OK, thanks for that clarification; do you have information on why Tom was sent to Muree?

    1. Many of the MK's from what was then East Pakistan were sent to Murree, (MCS) the Walsh's, Olsen's Ketchum's etc.

  9. No. I only know that Tom was back in the states attending college circa 1972 - 1974. I would suspect that he may have known or had a hunch when he came home for college. His life became increasingly reckless as he grew older and he died of substance abuse in the late 80's or early 90's. Marty died in 2010 of a heart attack. Sad story, no matter how you look at it.

  10. 2009, I think.

  11. I came to your blog researching a reader`s comment from story "Boy Scouts helped alleged molesters cover tracks, files show",

    You have certainly delivered on ex-Dr. Ketcham. Tks.

  12. Why does a man continue without signs of divine discipline?

  13. some interesting sidelines. Don's daughter Becky has started a non-profit for women call Women at Risk.

  14. What has happened to ABWE lawyers Robert Showers and Nancy Anderson and presidents Michael Loftis and Wendell Kempton? When someone tries to protect the bureaucracy at the expense of others, it does not serve God. So, does ABWE serve God now? Or, does it need to go away?

    1. ABWE needs to dissolve. Systemic corruption requires termination. Anonymous, Grand Rapids, MI

  15. They all were fired. I think it was unfortunate that Dr Loftidbwas fired as he tried to get to the bottom of it and was very helpful to the victims. His downfall was to delegate the internal investigation to the company's lawyer who didn't follow through

  16. Tom was extremely conflicted over events in his hound adult life. His substance abuse began at Muree. For a time, he was clean, but was struggling after graduating from UM School if Publuc Health- Epidemiology. He had lost a significant relationship due to cross addiction, along with several marriages. . He went through long term recovery, actually completed Medical School and died from heart damage related to the long term narcotics abuse.


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