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CBS 2 Exclusive: Inside the shocking discoveries of stockpiled fetal remains on Dr. Ulrich Klopfer's property, from those on the front lines

Inside the shocking discoveries of fetal remains on Dr. Ulrich Klopfer's property, from those on the
Inside the shocking discoveries of fetal remains on Dr. Ulrich Klopfer's property, from those on the 08:52

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The case rattled veteran crime scene investigators - thousands of fetal remains were found hidden in the Will County home of one of the nation's most controversial abortion doctors.   

For the first time Wednesday night, we heard the voices of those on the front lines. They opened up to CBS 2's Chris Tye about what it was like to uncover the secret stockpile of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer.

Fifty members of the Will County Sheriff's Department descended on Klopfer's garage in September 2019 after he died, for a case as unprecedented as it was unimaginable.

"Well, it really was unprecedented," said former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. "Nothing like this had ever happened. There was no handbook on what you do under this circumstance.

"It was awful," said Will County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Zdzinicki. "I mean, it was an awful thing to view."

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CBS 2

Dr. Ulrich "George" Klopfer was born in Germany during World War II. He became Indiana's most well-known and controversial abortion doctor - operating out of three clinics in the northern half of the state.

For the better part of 20 years, Hill was in charge of cases that brought Klopfer to court – first as the Elkhart County prosecutor, then as Indiana Attorney General.

Tye: "In layman's terms, what was he doing wrong?"

Hill: "He wouldn't follow the rules. He wouldn't maintain proper records."

Midway through last decade, Klopfer was in and out of court — found to be in violation of a number of state laws, which led to a suspension of his license in 2016.

Klopfer, who had become a staple of Indiana television news reports, fell off the radar of Indiana authorities - until his death three years later.

"There had been a grisly discovery in an Illinois doctor's garage," Hill said.

Those who prosecuted Klopfer in Indiana never knew he lived in Illinois - and they certainly didnt know what he kept in a home he owned in Crete Township near the state line.

It was discovery so out-there that even veteran crime scene investigators didn't buy what they were hearing at first.

"I'm sitting on my couch and I get a call from my lieutenant," Zdzinicki said. "He's like, 'You're not going to believe this,' he prefaced the call."

Heading up the crime scene investigation in Will County, Zdzinicki has stored and studied everything from the valuable to the vile in an evidence story facility the size of a football field. But in his decades combing crime scenes, the evidence in this case wasn't just a first for him – it was a first of its kind anywhere.

"Relatives cleaning up after his death had discovered boxes and boxes that contained what appeared to be the remains of human fetuses - several hundred at that point," Hill said. "That got our attention."

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Supplied to CBS 2

Last year, CBS 2 shared with you the first look inside the garage. Tye showed Zdzinicki some photos of the inside of the garage and asked him what he remembers.

"You can see, in the photos, the mold and mildew - the boxes are crushing the boxes below it," Zdzinicki said.

The garage was full of old boxes of motor oil and car parts used by Klopfer to keep, camouflage, and catalog a secret.

But the lingering question loomed - why?

"At the time, we didn't know if it was a crime or not a crime," Zdzinicki said. "When you first walk in, it was kind of just like you're walking into your grandma's musty basement – you know what I mean? Like it's dusty - not dingy, but just unkempt."

Those navigating the front line of this unprecedented case — and those in charge of determining if there was a crime in that garage — have shared, for the first time, details of what they saw.

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Supplied to CBS 2

2,411 fetal remains

"Grisly is probably not the right word for it," Hill said. "It was just very troubling scenario," Hill said. "Tissue that could not be identified to human tissue, and remains that was very clearly fingers, feet, toes - that type of thing – and it was very traumatic for some of our folks."

Zdzinicki: "Some of the bags, you could see hands, arms, legs, heads, you know, of fetuses – in the bags."

Tye: "That's almost hard to hear. How was it to see up close?"

Zdzinicki: "It was disturbing. I mean obviously, we all take it differently in this profession of how we deal with it. We've seen shootings. We've seen suicides, you know, homicides – stuff like that. And this - it was a whole different scene and aspect of what you were viewing.

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Supplied to CBS 2

Dozens of crime scene investigators canvassed the garage - forming human chains to remove and preserve evidence that was both microscopic and massive. There were over 2,000 fetal remains in all.

Tye: "How do you put all that to the side and still do your job in that kind of setting?"

Zdzinicki: "It affected some of the members of the department, you know, more than others."

Hill added, "We had some folks who – they were happy to volunteer the first time, but asked not to go back - and we respected that."

What was not found in that musty and meticulous garage were any clues as to why Klopfer shuttled the specimens home.

As all this was going on at his home, those navigating the scene and the law didn't yet know the case with no precedent — the case whose tiny evidence was being stored in ornament boxes — had more evidence yet to be found.

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Supplied to CBS 2

"Then several days later, they found more remains in the trunk of an old car – and so the total remains then came up to 2,411," Hill said.

In the two and a half years since this story broke, the garage has a undergone a makeover, and the house has been sold. Meanwhile, the realization has come into focus - the why. Why Dr. Klopfer did what he did at all will never really be known.

Hill: "These remains had been there for almost 20 years in some sense, so there was a big mystery behind how they got there, why they got there, what the purpose was. A troubling aspect of it that we couldn't figure out was that there was a starting point and a stopping point. What we found was that they were all from a three- to four-year period - if my recollection is correct, right around 1998, '99, 2000, 2001 - in that range."

Tye: "And why were those years special?"

Hill: "That's what makes it interesting is what was special about those years? Was there something going on in that time period that made some significance to him?"

I personally just think he had a bad encounter with maybe an activist, and then he was trying to keep the remains from being broken into and being buried, or used for propaganda on whatever side they were on," Zdzinicki said. "So I think he was just for a few years bringing them home to kind of avoid all of that stuff.

What investigators do have a good sense of is that Klopfer's widow had no sense that these fetal remains were there.

"I 100 percent believe that the family members were unaware of any of this," Zdzinicki said.

"There was good cooperation from his family, and did not appear to be any reason to believe that they had any understanding or knowledge that the remains were present or how they got there, why they got there," Hill added.

No charges were ever filed. Klopfer would have faced thousands of counts for illegally transporting the remains over state lines.

The fetal remains were eventually buried together at a ceremony open to the public in South Bend.

The mysteries that linger

The case that is unprecedented and unthinkable has two key unknowns lingering. Of course — there's the question of why. But there's one more.

Tye: "As we sit here today, do you think there are more remains of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer somewhere in the world?"

Hill: "I don't think so. We certainly weren't able to find them. What we don't know - is there another property that he had that we don't know was his? There's always that possibility. But we exhausted every opportunity that we could find to try to determine that. We'll never know that. Did he do this after 2001 and we just haven't found the remains?  Or did he do something else with the remains? There's no real way of knowing that. But because he had died, the best evidence that we were going to have of what had happened, died along with him."

And we have looked. Prosecutors and police have looked too. And to this day, there has never been a case like it anywhere on earth.

It is a case the Klopfer family has declined to speak with us about.

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