Dr. William S. Kroger, a gynecologist and neuropsychiatrist who pioneered the use of hypnotism in medicine and criminal investigations, has died. He was 89.
Kroger, who practiced for more than 65 years, first in Chicago and later in Los Angeles, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of heart and kidney failure.
The author of a dozen medical textbooks, Kroger began experimenting with hypnotism in 1930 and taught more than 100,000 physicians to use the 4,000-year-old technique as the least intrusive method of dealing with such areas of medicine as childbirth and chronic pain. The American Medical Assn. finally approved the use of hypnotism in 1958.
"One must not be afraid to have his thoughts called absurd," he once told a biographer. "What is heresy today is conservatism tomorrow."
Kroger was often consulted about uses of hypnotism in fields other than medicine, notably interviewing crime victims or witnesses. In 1977, the FBI asked him to question the school bus driver who was kidnapped with his 26 young passengers in Chowchilla, Calif. Under Kroger's hypnosis, driver Frank Ray was able to recall all but one digit of the license plate of the kidnappers' van, greatly assisting in tracking them down.
The psychiatrist trained FBI agents in hypnosis techniques and assisted them in solving about 30 homicide and other cases using age regression, time distortion and imagery to interview hypnotized witnesses. He was also a consultant to the Los Angeles Police Department and law enforcement agencies around the country.
Candid in stating that hypnosis could make witnesses "disremember," or have false memories, Kroger maintained that it nevertheless assisted in better recall "because of the associated relaxation, concentration and greater objectivity."
Kroger also worked with athletes, using hypnosis to improve their performance.
One of his most celebrated patients was comedian Freddie Prinze, who died in 1977 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 22. The family of the young actor, star of the hit television series "Chico and the Man," sued Kroger for malpractice, charging that he first took away and then returned the .32-caliber pistol with which Prinze shot himself. Kroger denied any wrongdoing, but paid the family a settlement to end the civil case.
Kroger was clinical professor of anesthesiology at the UCLA School of Medicine and consultant to its pain clinic and a neuropsychiatrist at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, as well as a private practitioner.
Born in Chicago, he was educated at Northwestern University. He taught at the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Chicago and later at Chicago Medical School, while practicing privately, specializing in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, hypnosis and sex therapy.
He was a co-founder of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and founder of the Institute for Comprehensive Medicine and the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Kroger is survived by his wife of 43 years, Jimmy Louise Kroger; a son, William Jr. of Los Angeles; three daughters, Carol Lynn Kroger and Lisa Robin Eitani, both of Los Angeles, and Debra Sue Lesser of Creskill, N.J., and four grandchildren.