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Transsexual held in castration death

Police say Butler County man died after botched surgery in trailer

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

By Johnna A. Pro and Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

A Butler County transsexual has been accused of killing her husband, a drug addict who died less than two days after she castrated him in a makeshift operating room in their rural trailer.

Tammy Felbaum is escorted from the state police barracks in Butler yesterday. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Tammy Lynn Felbaum, 42, of Marion, is charged with homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and unauthorized practice of medicine and surgery and is being held without bond in the Cambria County Jail.

She is accused in the Feb. 25 death of James J. Felbaum, 40, her sixth husband, who was pronounced dead at 4:40 a.m. at United Community Hospital in Grove City after suffocating on his own vomit, a complication of the at-home surgery.

James Felbaum moved back into the home on Feb. 22 after undergoing drug rehabilitation and serving time in a halfway house, authorities said.

His wife, who underwent a sex change at least two decades ago and was known widely as Tammy/Tommy, had no training to perform medical procedures.

Her arrest brought relief to neighbors and township officials, who said they have been bothered for years by her behavior..

"That's the best news I've heard," said Susan Badaracco who lives next door and who was among several neighbors cheering Tammy Felbaum's arrest.

According to authorities, Tammy Felbaum told investigators that her husband performed the surgery on himself, but when the procedure went awry, she stepped in to help and obtained a signed consent form from him to do so.

"I don't know if it was consensual or not. Obviously we felt there is evidence that implicates her in the crime," said Butler County District Attorney Timothy McCune. "You can't consent to a medical procedure being performed on you by someone who's not a medical doctor."

Butler county forensic pathologist Dr. Karl Williams told police "it was highly unlikely that the victim performed the surgical procedure on himself."

Authorities said that on Feb. 23, the day after James Felbaum returned home, Tammy Felbaum performed the crude castration.

Around 7 p.m. that night, a friend of the couple identified as Charles Adams, went to the home. According to the arrest affidavit, Adams told police that Tammy Felbaum answered the door, and that when he went inside the trailer, he saw James Felbaum lying in a blood-soaked bed.

"Adams related that he observed the scrotum of the victim and what appeared to be recent stitches," the affidavit said. "Adams advised that the victim told him he had been in a vehicle accident and had ruptured himself and underwent surgery."

Adams told authorities that he wanted to take James Felbaum to the hospital, but he refused to go, saying he had no money or insurance.

Over the next 32 hours, James Felbaum consumed a toxic but not lethal dosage of oxycodone, a synthetic morphine originally prescribed to his wife for back pain.

At 3:52 a.m. on Feb. 25, with her husband nude, unconscious and unresponsive, Tammy Felbaum summoned paramedics, saying he had overdosed. Paramedics took James Felbaum to the hospital in nearby Grove City thinking he could be revived. He was pronounced dead by Mercer County Deputy Coroner David Hoyt at 4:40 a.m.

While James Felbaum lay dead in the hospital of what investigators initially thought was a drug overdose, Tammy Felbaum was committed to the Butler Memorial Hospital for a psychiatric examination because of her erratic behavior and the condition of the property.

The home at 318 Smith Road lacked heat and water and was filled with human and animal waste.

In spite of Tammy Felbaum's behavior, the condition of the home, and the surgery, , state police initially believed that Jame Felbaum had died of a drug overdose. Dr. Michael Stalteri, the emergency room physician, had told them there were no visible traumatic injuries -- such as a gunshot wound or stabbing.

"At first glance, it was a drug overdose," McCune said. "The guy had a relatively small surgical cut. What they would see [at the hospital emergency room] was a surgical cut with stitches."

On Feb. 26, the day after Felbaum's death, officers searched the home for evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia that may have contributed to his death. They seized several bottles of prescription medication.

Later that day, a team of investigators also searched the property for evidence of an illegal drug lab because Tammy Felbaum had previously been accused of producing methamphetamine. They found none.

Then, according to state police Sgt. Ted Swartzlander, authorities decided to wait for the results of toxicology tests on James Felbaum.

Tammy Felbaum was released from psychiatric observation and was taken into custody on outstanding warrants for violating municipal ordinances.

As of March 1, Swartzlander and other Butler County officials were insisting that the death was not suspicious.

That changed three days later when preliminary toxicology tests showed that none of the drugs in James Felbaum's body would have killed him.

The following day, March 5, Williams performed the autopsy and discovered the castration.

At the same time, Rebecca McDonald, a humane agent, was preparing to search the property.

In addition to removing two dogs, five cats and three birds, McDonald found numerous dead animals, including turtles, a parakeet and a cat that had been strung up in a tree in the back yard.

The following day, Tammy Felbaum talked to investigators.

"The accused related that the victim had initiated a castration on himself but the procedure was not being performed properly," the affidavit said.

On March 7 and 8, armed with information from the autopsy and McDonald's findings, state police headed back to the house to conduct another search.

In addition to finding blood-soaked bandages, bedding and clothing, police also found a piece of paper with a date, pulse rate and temperature written on it and the consent note that Tammy Felbaum said her husband had written and signed. Police also took books, magazines and catalogs that dealt with human anatomy, drugs and medical procedures.

As police were searching the home last Thursday, McDonald took action against Tammy Felbaum, charging her with animal cruelty.

On Monday, Williams told police he didn't believe that Felbaum could have castrated himself. That information, along with the other evidence, led to Tammy Felbaum's arrest.

She is being held in the Cambria County Jail because of overcrowding at the Butler County Jail.

Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 20.

McCune said that he does not believe Tammy Felbaum intended to kill her husband .

He said that if the case proceeds to trial, he will seek to have her convicted of third degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.

Post Gazette Staff Writer Jonathan Silver contributed to this report.

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