Robert Anderson's former daughter-in-law claims doctor contributed to her teen son's death

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The former daughter-in-law of the late University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson said Tuesday that sexual abuse by the doctor might have played a role in the death of her son who died by suicide in 2016.

Teri Anderson,55, of Ann Arbor appeared at a press conference Tuesday where she read a statement outlining her experiences with her former father-in-law, who was head of University Health Services and a UM athletic department physician during his 35-year career.

Teri Anderson was married to Kurt Edward Anderson, the youngest of Robert Anderson's children, from 1995 to 2008, she said.

Teri and Kurt Anderson had two children. Their son, Charles Edward Anderson, died by suicide in March 2016 when he was a freshman at Community High School in Ann Arbor. 

Teri Anderson, former daughter-in-law of the late University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson sits with her attorney, Parker Stinar, in Ballroom D at the Sheraton Detroit Novi Hotel in Novi, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, as she reads a prepared statement to the media about her personal family experience with the doctor. She said sexual abuse by the doctor may have contributed to the death of her son, Charles Anderson, who died by suicide in 2016.

She said she decided to speak after being inspired by the small group of Anderson accusers who have come forward publicly, adding their stories and the university-sanctioned WilmerHale report investigating Anderson's conducthelped her piece together a puzzle about her ex-father-in-law.

"I hope our stories will spread awareness across the country about suicide, grooming and sexual abuse," she said. "I hope our stories will prevent loss of life and sexual abuse that can occur in the family setting."

She said she remembers being told the doctor was a closeted gay man and hewas"fooling around" with male students on campus, but did not say who told her that. She added that she was at Robert Anderson's home in 1995 when the doctor got a call that he was being accused of sexual abuse of a woman during an employment physical. 

"Looking back as I put the puzzle together, the picture is dark and ugly, and there are so many signs that Bob was grooming," saidTeriAnderson, who did not take questions. "I remember my son sharing with me, when he was very very young, coming home and saying, 'Momma, we never tell on family.'"

She described her former father-in-law as "a very odd person" who was "quiet, reserved, disconnected and showed little emotion."

"He giggled and smirked a lot," she added.

She said she remembers her son calling her crying when he was staying with Anderson and his wife Jacquelyn.

"He said he didn't want to be left alone with his grandpa," said Anderson. "He said, 'Momma there are dark clouds over the house.'" 

Kurt Anderson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Granddaughter refutes claim

But Teri Anderson's daughter, Anna Anderson, 23, told The Detroit News on Tuesday she does not think her younger brother's death is connected to alleged sexual abuse by her grandfather.

“My grandpa was really sick when we were young but my mom has a lot to do with my brother’s suicide,” Anna Anderson said when asked to respond to her mother's comments earlier Tuesday. “I think she is using this as a way to deflect and monetize on this because my brother is not here to defend himself. This is a really unfair thing to do to all the other victims because I don’t want them to be discredited. But I don’t believe that my brother was abused.”

Robert Anderson, 80, died at home on Nov. 27, 2008 of pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, according to his death certificate. 

“Even if he was abused, I don’t think he would want this to be public information,” Anna Anderson said of her brother. “He was a shy, nice kid.”

Teri Anderson added that her ex-husband was an international pilot with American Airlines and was frequently away from home for weeks. She said he was awarded joint custody of their children and when he was out of town during his parenting time the court ordered the children to be with the doctor and his wife.

"I always felt uneasy about Bob's interactions with my children, especially my son," Teri Anderson said. "When I tried to voice my concerns, I was immediately shut down ... because how could anyone criticize this beloved doctor or his family?"

Parker Stinari, second from right, attorney for Teri Anderson (not pictured) briefly answers media questions after a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. Teri Anderson, former daughter-in-law of the late University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson, said sexual abuse by the doctor may have contributed to the death of her son, Charles Anderson, who died by suicide in 2016.

She appeared with Parker Stinar, a Denver, Colorado-based lawyer who represents numerous people alleging they were abused by the UM doctor.

Stinar said Teri Anderson is not involved in the lawsuits against UM, and that she came forward because she believes abuse by Anderson played a role in her son's death.

"Her goal is to spread awareness ... She was doing this to hopefully save a life."

Abuse claims date to 1975

UM is in mediation with more than 850 former UM students and others who claim they were sexually abused by Anderson.

University of Michigan officials knew as early as 1975 that Anderson had been accused of sexual misconduct, according to a report commissioned by the university and released in May.

The report from the WilmerHale law firm showed more than two dozen UM employees were told about Anderson's alleged behavior over his nearly 40-year career. While several employees reported Anderson after learning of complaints, the majority of the people his patients told — including some of the most powerful people on campus — did not act to stop the doctor, the report found.

Multiple officials, ranging from coaches to university administrators, received "credible reports" about Anderson, the WilmerHale report found. Those officials, according to the report, included Thomas Easthope, hired as assistant vice president of student services in 1972 and later promoted to associate vice president; legendary football coach Bo Schembechler; former track coaches Jack Harvey and Ron Warhurst; former wrestling coaches Bill Johannesen and Cal Jenkins; and former athletic director Don Canham.

Anderson was able to retire from the university in 2003. He died in 2008. 

Anderson's alleged misconduct included unnecessary hernia and rectal examinations on patients who went to him for unrelated ailments, manual stimulation of male patients and arrangements in which he provided medical services in exchange for sexual contact, according to the report.

He is accused by former football players, other university athletes and patients from his medical practice, as well as pilots who needed physicals to get or maintain a license. For 40 years, Anderson was designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as a medical examiner in the region, the Associated Press reported. It meant pilots, air traffic controllers and others who were required to have health exams could make an appointment with him.

Anderson is also accused of collecting semen from an unknown number of men. Jonathan Vaughn, once a standout on the football field and a Black man, said the doctor collected semen from him on multiple occasions when he was a student three decades ago, explaining the procedure away as research on creating "a perfect Black athlete," Vaughn said. 

Teri Anderson, former daughter-in-law of the late University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson sits with her attorney, Parker Stinar, in Ballroom D at the Sheraton Detroit Novi Hotel in Novi, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, as she grimaces while reading a prepared statement to the media about her personal family experience with the doctor. She said sexual abuse by the doctor may have contributed to the death of her son, Charles Anderson, who died by suicide in 2016.

Vaughn met with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel earlier this year to request an investigation. Anderson researched male infertility and took an interest in andrology, the study of disorders of the male reproductive system. He also was linked to a reproductive medicine clinic during his career, investigative reports commissioned by UM show.

UM hired WilmerHale in March 2020 one month after Robert Julian Stone, a former student, last year became the first man to publicly accuse Anderson of sexual misconduct nearly 50 years after an alleged incident. Stone shared his story exclusively with The Detroit News. That brought to light an 18-month UM investigation of Anderson that began after DeLuca's 2018 letter but had not been publicly announced.

UM apologized after the allegations emerged and asked other potential victims to call a hotline to report complaints. The university also offered free counseling and promised an investigation.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com