New York doctor may have abused more than 1,000 victims over 40 years

NEW YORK — Patients and relatives of those treated at a famous research hospital in New York want to know why Rockefeller University stayed quiet about a prominent doctor who died 11 years ago and is believed to have abused children for decades. Attorneys representing those individuals now say there may be over 1,000 victims in what may be the largest case of sexual abuse by one person in U.S. history.

"He was revered like a god," said Matt Harris.

He is one of thousands of former patients who saw Dr. Reginald Archibald as a child at the prestigious Rockefeller Institute in New York City. Archibald was a highly regarded growth specialist who said he could help children who were not maturing like their peers.

"He was like going to be our family's savior," Harris said.

Archibald's research was supposed to help kids grow taller. But former patients told CBS News Archibald sexually abused them. Harris was 14 years old. Gail Coleman was 11, Robert Granato was 8 and Mitchell Scher was just 5.

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Matt Harris, Mitchell Scher, Gail Coleman and Robert Granato. CBS News

"The entire time you're in the room there with him, you're naked," Scher said.

"He took his finger and he pushed one of my nipples," Coleman said.

Now officials from the Research Institute, known today as Rockefeller University hospital, admit Archibald may have sexually abused young patients for decades. In a statement in October, officials revealed they had investigated complaints about Archibald's "inappropriate conduct" in 2004 and reported it to authorities. But they also found complaints going back to the 1990s, some deemed "credible."

Attorney Jennifer Freeman said her firm has had hundreds of calls.

"That says that are a tremendous number of victims out there," Freeman said.

Yet the former patients who spoke to CBS News said they never heard anything from the hospital until officials there sent out a letter in October to more than 1,000 of Archibald's former patients, asking for information.

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Dr. Reginald Archibald is accused of abusing patients over decades. NIH/Ernie Branson

"I got the letter and all of a sudden I felt like I was flashing back 50 years ago," said Granato. "It was burned in my brain, what he did to me."

"I'm outraged. Outraged," Coleman said.

Coleman said she's particularly angry because the doctor took pictures. She and the others were told to stand without clothing, like children in old studies, while he took Polaroid photos of their naked bodies.

"Those pictures are what has haunted me through the years," she said.

In 2003, she contacted Rockefeller University Hospital, looking for answers.

"I got my medical records back and there were no pictures and that tells me they weren't for medical research. They were for him," Coleman said.

"When something like this happens to you you're kinds of robbed of hope. Robbed of trusting people, trusting institutions, trusting humanity," Harris said.

"The hospital has to take some responsibility for this. To me they covered this all up," Scher said.

Hospital officials said they "deeply regret pain and suffering caused," and they're investigating. Three more people told CBS News Archibald recruited them for his "studies" at the Madison Square Boys' Club, where they said he was the club's doctor. The Boys and Girls Club said they're investigating as well.