Ann McElhinney is one of the filmmakers at work on a movie about the case of Kermit Gosnell, who has been described as “the worst serial killer in America.” For this work, McElhinney has interviewed Gosnell, most recently in person.
She talks about what that was like and what she’s learned.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How did your recent interview with Kermit Gosnell come about? How did you get in to see him in prison?
Ann McElhinney: I have been interviewing Gosnell for a long time now, but always on the phone. I am writing a book about him, which is being published by Regnery and comes out next year. But I wanted to meet him in person. It’s different talking to someone over the phone and in person. No journalist has interviewed him in person in prison before this. It’s difficult to get the full measure of someone until you meet and talk to him face to face.
Lopez: How did the interview begin?
McElhinney: The visiting room is open and inmates are sitting on armchairs with their visitors. We had arranged to be there at noon and at 12 P.M. Gosnell walked in. He sat opposite me and leaned forward so that he was very much in my personal space. During the interview he repeatedly touched my leg. He’d apologize but do it again and didn’t adjust his posture to give me any room to avoid these unwelcome touches.
Lopez: What did he say?
McElhinney: We talked for two hours. He spoke of how he spent his time, his absolute belief in his innocence, the friends he has made, and he answered my questions about the case. He lied continuously. Writing this book I know a lot about the case now — he lied about everything and if he wasn’t lying he was concocting elaborate stories to explain away the horror of what really happened at 3801 Lancaster Ave. He is convinced he is getting out and says he will do a triathlon the year he is released. That’s why he spends so much time in the “wonderful” gym in the prison — so he will be ready. He thinks of himself as a martyr. He compares himself to his friend, George Tiller [who was murdered in 2009], who he describes as “a wonderful man, warm and gentle.”
Lopez: What was the most important question you asked him?
McElhinney: I asked him to tell me about Baby Boy A, the baby who was so big he joked about him, the same baby that staff photographed because he upset them so much, because he looked just like their own babies. Baby Boy A’s photograph was shown continuously in the court. When I asked Gosnell about that baby, he said “I don’t remember that.”
Lopez: What was most revealing to you?
McElhinney: It was all revealing. The most disturbing aspect of the whole visit was his demeanor — he is relaxed, he smiles all the time. Twice he broke into song. This behavior is not what one would expect from a convicted serial killer.
Lopez: Did you tell him about your movie plans? Did he have a reaction?
McElhinney: Gosnell is a complete narcissist — he showed scant interest in why we were there. He casually asked us about our plans, I moved on to other topics, and he was very happy to keep talking about himself.
Lopez: What will you do with the interview? When will you release it?
McElhinney: I am writing a book about Gosnell — all of this interview and all the others I have done with him on the phone will be in that.
Lopez: Has the time you spent with Gosnell changed your approach to the movie?
McElhinney: It has confirmed for me that we have gotten the character of Gosnell right in the script and it will help enormously when we are shooting the film.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.