After Rachael’s story came out in September 2016, police started getting more complaints about Larry.
Within two weeks, another 16 women and girls had come forward.
By November, Larry was charged with sexually abusing a child under the age of 13.
Even then, many wondered: How could the parents of these girls have been in the room while Larry abused their child – and not know it was happening?
For their part, the parents are asking themselves the same question.
They’ve seen all the comments online: how the parents are to blame; how they must have been so obsessed with their kids’ gymnastics careers that they just looked the other way.
And the moment Rachael Denhollander spoke out publicly about her abuse, their lives changed, too. Suzanne Thomashow remembers showing her daughter, Jessica, the IndyStar article. Suzanne remembers Jessica reading it and then saying, “Mom, that’s what he did to me.”
Suzanne says, “That was when we figured it out. That was when she figured out that she’d been assaulted.”
For Larry Nassar, the beginning of the end comes in the summer of 2016, thanks to three things:
- a tough police detective,
- a dedicated team of journalists in Indiana, and
- a homeschooling mom from Kentucky.
That mom is Rachael Denhollander. She’s also a lawyer and a devout Christian.
If you’ve seen coverage of the Larry Nassar case, Rachael’s face is probably a familiar one.
Back in the summer of 2016, an article on Facebook caught her eye.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing the article come through,” she says.
It was this big investigation in The Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics had been covering up complaints of sexual abuse against coaches — coaches who were able to move from gym to gym, abusing kids.
Rachael had been waiting for that moment for 16 years.
Because Rachael had also been abused — not by a coach, but by Dr. Larry Nassar, back in 2000 when she was a high school gymnast.
Larry was not licensed to treat the Pelvic Floor, but he used his version of it to treat all sorts of issues.
Larry used a 25-slide power point of different techniques to justify what he did.
He intimidated and manipulated the investigators, who did not verify his techniques with other experts or check it with the area prosecutor. An area prosecutor would have been aware of other complaints.
It’s late on a fall evening. Dark. September 16th, 2004.
A 17-year-old girl walks towards the bright lights of a hospital in Lansing, Michigan.
She’s with her mom and a police officer.
Brianne Randall-Gay has just come from the police station, where she reported what Dr. Larry Nassar did to her during an appointment earlier that day — how she went to see him for help with her scoliosis, and how he used gloveless hands to massage her breasts and vagina.
The police take her straight to the local hospital for a rape exam.
Brianne remembers the emergency room being packed. But the police escort means she skips the line. Goes right back into an exam room.
The nurse gives her a pelvic exam and also asks a lot of personal questions.
“I do remember telling the nurse, saying to her, you know, ‘what if no one believes me? What if everyone thinks I’m lying?'” recalls Brianne. “And she said, ‘you know, people who are lying about this don’t have the details like you have. And this man’s going to lose his license.’ And I remember – it’s so weird to me now – but I remember feeling so guilty after … I even think I told her something like, I don’t want that to happen. Thinking I made a mistake and feeling guilty for ever reporting him.”
The next step is for the police to question Dr. Larry Nassar.
But it takes about two weeks for a detective named Andrew McCready to sit down with him for an interview.
McCready still works for Meridian Township’s police department, the township where Brianne’s appointment was.
McCready wouldn’t be interviewed for this podcast, and there are no tapes of his interview with Larry.
What we have, however, is the written police report from 2004 (Note: Contains images that will be disturbing to many readers) where Larry lays out his defense. It consists of two things: an explanation claiming that what he did to Brianne was legitimate medical treatment, and a PowerPoint. It’s one of several presentations Larry created for speaking engagements and lectures he gave at medical conferences. And, apparently, to defend himself.
“Yeah, it is, it’s one of the many things I think that made…that fooled the officer,” said Meridian Township Police Chief, Ken Plaga.
Plaga wasn’t chief back in 2004. But he has reviewed Brianne’s case. And he says, look, you’ve got a doctor at the top of his field, explaining this complex medical procedure, providing evidence.
“I think that, you know, you bring in this PowerPoint with demonstrations of the actual procedure that are part of that PowerPoint where you see the hands inside the groin area. Similar to what was explained by the victim by Brianne, by several of the victims. You know, ‘here it is, I teach this.'”
This was one of Larry’s moves: create confusion; blur the lines between his abuse and legitimate medical techniques.
Larry would treat patients who had injuries like a heel fracture or a shoulder sprain, with his so called “pelvic manipulations.” He wasn’t even certified to treat the pelvic floor. But your average patient may not know any of this.
Brianne Randall-Gay saw that PowerPoint for the first time this year.
“The PowerPoint is cringe worthy. It was really difficult to see,” she says.
“And what, you know, made me angry is that what I told them he did is not what he presented to them in the PowerPoint. He’s like on the side of their shorts, he’s not trying to penetrate them, he’s not massaging their breast. He’s doing none of that. So I feel like that PowerPoint, you know, it didn’t prove anything.”
Police Chief Ken Plaga admits there are at least two ways his department messed this case up.
One is, even though Larry was the suspect, the detective didn’t run his explanation or his PowerPoint by any other medical expert. They just took his word for it.
And second, the detective never brought the case to the local prosecutor for review.
Prosecutors see cases from all over the county — not just one town. So they would know, for instance, if multiple people have come forward about the same sports doctor.
But with Brianne’s complaint, that didn’t happen. And Larry went back to work.
When Amanda Thomashow was a graduate student at Michigan State University in 2014, an old cheerleading injury started to flare up. Amanda’s mom Suzanne is a pediatrician, so she recommended a doctor she’s known since medical school: Dr. Larry Nassar.
Amanda frantically called her mom after the appointment to tell her what happened.
“I think my words were, that’s disgusting. It was repulsive,” recalls Suzanne. “I could not fathom what had just happened and what she was telling me. It was like, ‘what? He did what to you?’ And she repeated it to me a couple of times that I said, ‘well, that’s just not okay. It’s not okay.'”
After she talked to her mom, Amanda decided to make a formal complaint about Larry, which triggered two investigations.
Chapter 1: The Police Interview
After Amanda’s complaint about Larry, Michigan State University police detective Valerie O’Brien asked him to come in for a chat.
We got the tape of this police interview through a public information request.
It’s dated May 29th, 2014. The full interview lasted two and a half hours. We edited it down to a 20-minute version, which you can see below. (Note: Contains content that will be disturbing to many readers.)
Larry’s genius in this police interview is that he flips the script.
Instead of denying anything, he admits it; he says he did touch her breasts and vagina, but says it wasn’t sexual. It was medical.
This is Larry’s playbook. He hammers his credentials and bombards the investigator with complicated medical terms about his techniques.
In the video, you hear Larry describe his version of what happened at his appointment with Amanda. We also have Amanda’s version, as she told it to us.
We want to play Larry and Amanda’s stories side by side so you can hear for yourself how Larry got people to believe him, not Amanda. How he constructed an alternate reality, one where he’s not abusing these girls…he’s healing them.
Toward the end of the interview, Detective O’Brien starts reassuring Larry.
She tells him, “You should take a polygraph to prove your innocence.”
He never does; the test operator tells the detective that a polygraph wouldn’t work in this kind of case.
What he does do is send police several follow-up emails, with PowerPoints about his techniques. (Just like the PowerPoints he gave Meridian Township police in 2004. Note: These contain images that will be disturbing to many readers.)
When the interview’s over, Detective O’Brien thanks Larry for coming in so fast. They shake hands and she walks him out.
The MSU police chief denied our requests for an interview with O’Brien, saying the report has to speak for itself. O’Brien still works for MSU Police, and has since been promoted to Assistant Chief.
So now, Larry had talked his way out of two different police investigations. Once in 2004. And now, again, in 2014.
But with Amanda’s case, it wasn’t just police who let Larry go.
Chapter 2: Title IX
Since Larry was a university employee in 2014, Amanda’s report triggered a federally mandated Title IX investigation.
Title IX investigations look into whether somebody broke a school rule — in this case, Michigan State University’s sexual misconduct policy.
These investigations are done by school staff, not by police.
Two months after she reported Larry, Amanda remembers a school official called her in for a meeting. They wanted to show her the results of the Title IX investigation.
Amanda Thomashow around the time of her abuse.
Courtesy of Amanda Thomashow
She says, “I mean, I was really nervous, but I thought that there was going to be some sort of trial or something like that. That’s what the information was that I was going to get, was that like, ‘okay, we realize that this was sexual assault. Like, these are your options going forward.'”
Amanda meets with a woman named Kristine Moore. She’s the Title IX investigator.
And as Amanda remembers it, Moore sat her down and pulled out a sheet of paper. She put it on the table, pointed to a simple diagram of a human body, and explained why Larry’s treatment was medically sound. Amanda says Moore told her they interviewed four female experts about Larry’s technique.
There’s something you should know about these four women Kristine Moore interviewed: they’re not patients of Larry’s, they’re all doctors or athletic trainers. And they all worked with him at MSU. One was even a close friend of Larry’s.
Amanda explains, “But she had phrased it as she went to, you know, she talked to four female experts in the field and they all said that what he did, while it wasn’t what they would do it, it wasn’t sexual and that I had not been sexually assaulted. That it was medically sound.”
Then, Amanda says, Kristine Moore handed her an information packet on sexual assault and told Amanda about a support group on campus for sexual assault victims.
And then Amanda remembers Moore apologizing, profusely.
“‘I’m so sorry. There’s nothing more I can do.’ And I told her, ‘don’t apologize to me. You’re not sorry.’ And I slammed the door and I walked out.”
What Amanda didn’t know in 2014 is that MSU didn’t give her the full report.
Kristine Moore kept one of her findings out of Amanda’s copy.
Sources shared that confidential section with us this year. In it, Moore sounds some major alarms.
Moore said the treatments were “medically sound” but what Nassar was doing could get the school sued.
Of course in hindsight, we know MSU did get sued. This summer, the school settled for half a billion dollars. In that lawsuit, about 500 people said they were abused by Larry Nassar, and that MSU could have stopped him sooner.
But back in 2014, with Amanda’s case, the Title IX investigator simply said that Larry is exposing patients to “unnecessary trauma.”
Moore’s report concludes the university must address the fact that one of the school’s doctors is not getting patient consent, and patients may mistake his practice for “inappropriate sexual misconduct.”
We asked to talk with Kristine Moore, but she declined our request. Since the 2014 investigation, she’s been promoted to a position as one of the university’s top lawyers.
After less than three months on leave from his job at Michigan State University, Larry was allowed back to work. With conditions. He’d have to follow basic medical guidelines: wear gloves, get consent, have a chaperone in the room. In other words, really basic things that any doctor working with minors in their private areas should do.
But nobody at MSU ever actually checked to see if Larry’s doing any of those things.
That means young girls and women kept streaming into Larry’s treatment rooms…not just at MSU, but at USA Gymnastics and local gyms, and a nearby high school. Even at his home, where Larry “treated” patients on a massage table in his basement.
Some 70 survivors say they were abused by Larry after MSU cleared him to go back to work.
It would be two years until another MSU police detective would bring Larry in again. This time, he wasn’t getting away.