As Kathleen Reed removed a fresh tray of cookies from the oven at her Lancaster Ave. café on a recent Saturday afternoon, a pleasant smell of warm chocolate filled the room. Yet, the atmosphere was anything but pleasant.
“The media has been coming in here with their cameras for months, asking if we knew him,” Reed said. “He was gone before we got here, thank God. If he wasn’t, I don’t know what I would have done.”
The “He” Reed was referring to is Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
Gosnell, 72, operated an abortion clinic in the 3800 block of Lancaster Avenue until he was arrested in January 2011. Currently, Gosnell is on trial, charged with eight counts of murder. Those charges involve the death of Karnamaya Mongar and seven infants whose spinal cords Gosnell allegedly severed with scissors. Mongar was a 41-year-old woman who was 19 weeks pregnant when she went to Gosnell for an abortion procedure in 2009. She had arrived to the United States four months before from a refugee camp in Nepal.
“A lot of people have a lot of negative feelings about what happened here,” Shaka Drapper said while recently standing outside Gosnell’s now shuttered clinic. Drapper said that building often suffers vandalism and graffiti…plus continuing news media attention related to the charges against Gosnell.
According to published reports Karanmaya Mongar died after Gosnell’s staff administered a lethal dose of anesthesia and painkillers. Gosnell’s defense attorney, Jack McMahon, has argued that Mongar had drugs in her system, possibly from an attempt to self-abort the fetus, before she arrived at the clinic. McMahon has been vocal in basing his defense of Gosnell on the claim that Mongar had other health issues that she did not disclose to Gosnell’s staff that contributed to her death.
Gosnell, a graduate of Jefferson Medical School, opened his Lancaster Ave. practice, the Women’s Medical Society, in 1972. According to prosecutors, he is not certified in gynecology or obstetrics. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if Gosnell is convicted.
Derick Dudley, who lives at 3814 Lancaster Ave., which is diagonal to Gosnell’s now defunct practice, voiced frustration with the circus-like antics of news media coverage of the Gosnell story.
“They are like buzzards and they are all telling us that they are here because it’s news,” he said.
“They weren’t here when the snow was on the ground last year and we all couldn’t get out of our houses. They don’t care about us, just their stories.”
Gosnell owned another abortion clinic beside the one he operated at 3801 Lancaster Ave., located directly across the street from the building Kathleen Reed and her husband George purchased last year.
“I just feel bad for all of those poor babies and that woman,” she said.
“You picture your own grandchildren being killed; it’s so sad,” George Reed said.
When Kathleen Reed gave up her job working for an insurance agency a few years ago, she and her husband decided to open up a small café in Mantua. Since they reside in South Philadelphia, she said they both were unaware of the alleged acts of horror that took place inside Gosnell’s clinic when they opened their business last year.
So, Reed was caught off guard when a local media outlet walked in with a camera and microphone.
“They asked us both if we had ever talked to Dr. Gosnell or any of his workers. But since we just moved to the area at the time, we didn’t know him or what they were talking about for that matter,” she said.
Mary Pitts, who lives down the street from the now vacant building where Gosnell performed the alleged deadly acts, has been frustrated with the increased media presence.
“This is a small community and it has always been quiet for the most part,” Pitts said as she sat over hot coffee and homemade waffles, a popular Saturday special at Reed’s Café.
“It’s been weird having the news people here asking us if we knew him.”
There is a neighborhood side of Dr. Gosnell now lost among the criminal charges said Kojo Preston, whose home of 40-years is located next door to the clinic Gosnell operated.
“He treated a lot of people in the community who didn’t have money for free. He treated all my children,” Preston said. “I don’t know how he got carried away.”
Vernick Smith, a social worker at a Logan outpatient treatment facility, is originally from New Jersey but moved to Mantua last year. Smith says while the media has been present, there has not been a disruption along the relatively peaceful section of Lancaster Ave.
“What he (Gosnell) did was so horrible. It was murder,” Smith said. “People heal by telling their stories, so hopefully with the media here, people will be able to tell their own stories of how this has affected them personally.”
Kathleen Reed said that while she heard from customers that the media was visible during the original investigation after Gosnell was arrested, news reporters have not been in the neighborhood as much since the trial began on March 18th.
“One of the guys came in here last week to do a story on [Gosnell] again,” she said. “He was a young guy, real cute. He wasn’t here for long though. But I think they have short attention spans.”
While Reed understands the interest in the Gosnell case, particularly the vacant building, she said the residents long for the day when everything returns to normal.
“It’s called the ‘House of Horrors’ around here,” she said. “I don’t know who would want to move in there though.
“We all say they need to ‘tear down the evil’ over there,” George Reed said.
Recently, city government workers boarded the windows of the Women’s Medical Society. While the alleged evils that took place inside are now concealed from the outside world behind the plywood, it appears the pain and disruption residents along Lancaster Ave. have faced will remain burned in their memories for the foreseeable future.