Philadelphia Inquirer

Aug. 13, 2003

Gross Inadequacy

Associated Press

A coroner whose career was derailed after he botched an autopsy - prompting a murder charge against an innocent man  - will retire. But he will not go quietly.

Elliot Gross is giving up his $142,500-a-year job as medical examiner for Cape May and Cumberland Counties, but he plans to fight state-imposed sanctions stemming from his March 2001 mistake in the autopsy of Ellen Andros, he said.

"My plans for the immediate future are to take all steps necessary to remove the cloud placed upon me by the state medical examiner's unwarranted actions," he told Cape May County officials in a letter.

Gross, 69, has been under fire since last December over the Andros autopsy, in which he concluded that the 31-year-old mother of two had been suffocated.

His conclusion led prosecutors to charge Atlantic City Police Officer James Andros with murder.

Andros, who lost custody of his daughters and was suspended from his job as a result, was exonerated a month before he was to go on trial after two forensic pathologists reviewing Gross' work determined that Ellen Andros died of a rare cardiac condition, not suffocation.

Gross, who admitted his mistake, was ordered to undergo remedial testing by the state medical examiner's office, which said his oversight constituted professional incompetence.

As part of the censure, Gross was banned from performing unsupervised autopsies and ordered to perform 20 autopsies under the supervision of a state-designated forensic pathologist as well as to observe 20 others.

Last month, acting State Medical Examiner John Krolikowski said Gross' work in the remedial tests was shoddy, and he refused to reinstate Gross' privileges.

At the time, Gross took an unpaid leave of absence.

But he said Monday that he had decided to step down after discussing his predicament with family members.

"I'm certainly not retiring from my professional life," he said in an interview. "Whether I'll come back in another position as medical examiner, I don't know."

Gross, the son of a pediatrician, served as chief medical examiner for the state of Connecticut and later chief medical examiner for New York City, where he was fired in 1987.

He has performed more than 7,000 autopsies - including one on ex-Beatle John Lennon - in his career. Several have made headlines.

  • In New York, he said subway graffiti artist Michael Stewart died of cardiac arrest; in fact, he died of injuries suffered while in police custody.

  • In New Jersey, where he began working in 1995, Gross blamed blunt-force trauma - from an exploding automobile air bag - for the 1997 death of Tracy Thomas, a dentist's wife; Michael Baden, a pathologist working for Ford Motor Co., contended that she was strangled.

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