The Trump Babies of Milwaukee

The government official enlisted two female agents to covertly gather details about Trump’s establishment. The women claimed to be newly-pregnant and inquired of the doctor’s services. Leland agreed to perform abortions on the women if they returned with cash. Drews drafted a report, but instead of submitting it to the board, he called his friend, attorney Michael Wittenberg, for advice1.

The attorney suggested using the evidence for their own financial gain. Wittenberg and Drews became partners in a plot to extort $2,000 from the doctor. Adjusted for inflation, they attempted to collect the equivalent of $35,000 in exchange for suppressing Drews’ document.2.

On July 1st, 1938, Michael Wittenberg telephoned Leland Trump. He told the doctor about the report and offered to “hush up” any charges, as long as Leland was willing to pay the money.  Wittenberg stressed that he would have the Trump’s license permanently revoked should he fail to comply3.

On July 2nd, Leland gave the lawyer $20 and a diamond ring, promising the rest in a few days. Trump later recalled Wittenberg saying, “I can fix everything through my connection with Drews, the state board of health, and the district attorney4.”

Instead of procuring the funds, however, Trump contacted District Attorney Herbert Steffes himself. Upon hearing the doctor’s story, Steffes took action. He arranged for two investigators to hide in Trump’s office when Wittenberg returned for the balance of his payment5. Wittenberg was arrested after presenting Dr. Trump with an envelope full of documents. When questioned, Wittenberg gave a full confession, implicating Drews in the extortion plot.

In the end, Drews and Wittenberg were both convicted and each sentenced to over a year in prison6.  None of the documents in Drews’ evidence file were ever used to convict Dr. Trump of a crime. Because the information had been gathered as part of an extortion plot, the authenticity of its contents was questionable.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Dr. Josephine Gabler was operating one of the largest abortion facilities in the Midwest.7 In 1933, a state employee and two of his assistants threatened to expose Josephine’s activities unless she paid them $3,000. Gabler refused to cooperate and instead charged them with extortion.8

Although Leland didn’t lose his medical license again, he did lose custody of his only child.

When the doctor gave Wittenberg $20 and a diamond ring, it’s a fair guess that ring belonged to his ex-wife, Mary. Less than a week after Trump received his first threatening phone call, Mary petitioned the court to appoint Rodger as legal guardian of Leland L. Trump Jr. On August 5th, 1938, Rodger was granted custody of his brother’s son.9.

Lawrence recalled Leland continuing with his medical practice until the early 1950’s.

I would see Dr. Trump in his office when I would visit my dad.

Dr. Trump’s nurse was there … I think she was doing more of the work because, health-wise,  in his later years, Trump was not able to.

Although Dr. Trump had a long career and a busy practice, he did not die a wealthy man. Probate records indicate Trump’s total assets in 1954 included a modest home, a 1949 Oldsmobile 98, and $472 in a saving’s account10.

Dr. Trump, circa 1950. Notice the portrait of Rodger on the windowsill.

Thanks to Dr. Trump, Lawrence’s mother didn’t give birth alone, nor was she left with a child society wouldn’t allow her to keep. Though her heart likely never stopped aching for the loss of her firstborn, her body healed. In time, she married and had two more children.

Thanks to Dr. Trump, Lawrence was placed in a loving home with a mother who cherished him and a father who encouraged him to pursue his dreams.

Thanks to Dr. Trump, countless lives were saved. Women who might otherwise have taken drastic, dangerous measures to end or conceal their pregnancies, instead found a savior at the corner of Humboldt and Meinecke.

I believe there are other “Trump Babies” like Lawrence out there and I would like to find them. These “babies” would have been born in Milwaukee between 1930 and 1953. They may or may not have been provided falsified documents. If you or someone you know is an adoptee who fits this profile, please contact me. I also encourage anyone with additional information about Dr. Trump, his clients, or his possible associates to please reach out.

— Thank you Lawrence, Sylvia, Dawn, and Russell, for letting me join you on your quest and for encouraging me to write this story. 

 

  1. United Press “Testimony of Walter Drews is Attacked.” The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) 27 Feb 1939: Page 1
  2. https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=2000&year1=193807&year2=201807
  3. United Press “Walter Drews Faces Charges of Extortion.” The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) 20 Jul 1938: Page 1
  4. Associated Press “State Investigator and Attorney Face Extortion Trial.” Wausau Daily Herald (Wausau, Wisconsin) 25 Oct 1938: Page 2
  5. United Press “Walter Drews Held for Trial at Milwaukee.” The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) 25 Oct 1938: Page 12
  6. “Extortionist is Sentenced” The Rhinelander Daily News (Rhinelander, Wisconsin) 07 Mar 1939: Page 1
  7. Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. University of California Press, 2008.
  8. “Woman Doctor Accuses 3 of Extortion Plot” The Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 02 July 1933: Page 2
  9. City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Guardianship Case File for Leland L. Trump, minor. 5 August 1938. Case no. 112,025, vol. 198, page 125
  10. City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Probate Case Files. Certificate of Survivorship for Leland L. Trump, 9 February 1955. Case no. 338-137, vol. 311.055, roll no. 1669

5 Comments

  1. Thank you. Article is very well documented, and presents US history very accurately.
    Three areas of interest: 1. Milwaukee is my birthplace, 1946. 2. I am researching my grandparents’ heritage, both born in Burgenland. 3. A friend, adopted, recently discovered two blood relatives via DNA.
    When I attended college, pregnancy was a major issue with parental disowning. However, in Burgenland baptismal records with father unknown are not that rare. My own grandmother’s parentage is uncertain, born in Leka, Vas. Many births in Europe during and immediately after WWII were by women alone.

  2. Hello Kay,

    Thanks for your feedback. Which part of Burgenland are you researching?

    I wish your friend luck in her search, but it sounds like she’s already close to finding what she’s looking for.

    And regarding parental disowning, I wish I had more space to address that in the article, but 1930s-1960s America did seem to have a greater stigma against out-of-wedlock births than pre-1900s Austria-Hungary. In one particular village, I noticed that nearly 10% of all births between 1855 and 1895 were illegitimate (out of a sample of ~1400). In most cases, they would marry just before having a second child, but some women, especially widows, never did marry the father of their child(ren). Then again, there was too much else to worry about back then to fuss over social stigma. Diptheria and tuberculosis were enough to worry about.

    • Thanks for your reply.
      Grandparents were baptized in Lockenhaus, Vas, Austria. Managed to get funds to visit a few years ago. As far as we can tell, great-grandmother never married;great-grandfather died when grandmother was very young. Uncle Filop in Hammer sent her to boarding school. Last name? Schumeth, Schoamat, even maybe Schmid(t). Were Schumeths in town north of Hammer. Might have a Horvath in my tree from Sopron??? With spelling variations, hard to know.
      Friend already reunited with two brothers. She was devoted to adoptive parents. DNA test was gift by daughter seeking more info.
      As far as my birth, 1946 Milwaukee but father never let me have birth certificate. Mother died early. My aunt, in Milwaukee, told me to use that city and get duplicate from state. Nothing unusual. When dad died he had everyone’s certificate other than mine, original lost. Always bothered me. I have no children so do not think the expense of a DNA test is worth it. Dad always said officials must accept baptismal record in lieu of birth and that is how I got Passport and driving license. So your article opened a “scab” but not worth pursuing.
      By the way, husband born May 8, 1945 does not have birth certificate. Used Russian ration cards to his mom to get some US documents (baby food) in addition to Polish ID. Born in old Poland, now Ukraine, and deported to Silesia that September. Came to US during Solidarity Uprising.
      I too find history via genealogy fascinating. People, not dry dates.

      • Very Interesting stories! Have you visited the Burgenland Bunch website for information about Lockenhaus? I have ancestors from Sopron, but their surname was Paar.

        Sorry my post touched a sore spot, regarding your birth certificate. To clarify, Lawrence has a document he received when he was about 10 years old that served as proof of birth for official purposes. It’s an affidavit signed by the man who baptized him, as well as his elementary school principal.

        • Received your name from the Burgenland Bunch website. I joined before I visited Lochenhaus. I might never have an opportunity again.
          Most Augustins are deceased, on war memorials. One widow of recently deceased business owner is still in town but the only person who would converse with us was waitress in restaurant we ate in. Police station was open. We entered and actually roamed around second floor. It was empty of people at 2pm. The “tourist” office worker only wanted to sell us tickets to the castle (fascinating by the way). The workers at the cemetery were not helpful. We never found the widow.
          The town was strangely like a ghost town. Church was open; no custodian, parishioner nor priest despite gold, silver and many valuables. Tourist agent said many visited for the infamous Polish bloody countess in the basement, an amazing story in itself. Most stories say the location of the crypt is unknown; I did not know the story until after I saw the coffins of her and her husband.
          http://historythings.com/historys-nutcases-the-blood-countess/

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