Frederick A. (Fred) Leuchter, Jr. (born 1943) is an American execution technician who rose to controversy for his testimony in defense of Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel. He claims to have improved the electric chair to make it more humane, to have designed a lethal injection machine, and to have acted as a consultant about gallows and gas chambers, although a number of U.S. states he claims to have acted as a consultant for have denied such a relationship ever existed. After receiving his Bachelor's degree in history from Boston University in 1964, he did postgraduate work at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Leuchter holds patents for a geodetic instrument and an electronic sextant. His study for Zündel's trial is referred to as the Leuchter report after it was published by Zündel as such and is often framed as a scientifically based work of Holocaust denial, though his research methods and findings have been refuted. A documentary, entitled Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., was released by Errol Morris in 1999.
An October 13, 1990 New York Times article described him as "self-proclaimed execution expert and manufacturer of death machinery" who "was charged today in a Middlesex County District Court with fraudulently practicing engineering. It quoted an experienced anesthesiologist as saying Leuchter's lethal injection system would indeed paralyze a condemned criminal, but far from being humane this paralyzation would merely stop the prisoner from screaming at the "extreme pain in the form of a severe burning sensation" caused by the potassium chloride injection. A subsequent article in the June 13, 1991 New York Times details his agreement with prosecutors to "serve two years' probation for practicing engineering without a license.
The Associated Press quoted Carnes claiming that Leuchter made "money on both sides of the fence. In his memorandum to death penalty states, Carnes observed that in Florida and Virginia the federal courts had rejected Leuchter's testimony as unreliable. The court in Florida had found that Leuchter had 'misquoted the statements' contained in an important affidavit and had 'inaccurately surmised' a crucial premise of his conclusion. In Virginia, Leuchter provided a death-row inmate's attorney with an affidavit claiming the electric chair would fail. The Virginia court decided the credibility of Leuchter's affidavit was limited because Leuchter was "the refused contractor who bid to replace the electrodes in the Virginia chair. (In the film Mr. Death, Leuchter, states electrocution would be his choice if he were compelled to select the means of his own execution, and gives Florida, Alabama, and Virginia as the names of three states where he would not want to be electrocuted.)
On the recommendation of Bill Armantrout, warden for Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri, Leuchter was hired by Ernst Zündel, who was being tried in Canada for publishing works of Holocaust denial, to investigate and testify as an expert witness at his trial, at a salary of $35,000. In his capacity as warden, Armontrout was personally responsible for carrying out executions by the use of cyanide gas. Leuchter traveled to Auschwitz and Birkenau to examine the structures identified by guards, prisoners, and investigators, as gas chambers, and concluded that they could not have been used for mass murder. Zündel's Samisdat Publications published his findings as The Leuchter Report: An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek Poland (published in England by Irving's publisher, Focal Point Publications, as Auschwitz: The End of the Line: The Leuchter Report - The First Forensic Examination of Auschwitz) which the court accepted only as evidentiary display and not as direct evidence; Leuchter was therefore required to explicate it and testify to the veracity of his findings under oath in the trial. His report was widely republished and translated by various denial organizations, and he has since lectured on it and his subsequent experiences. Protests were organized in response. Leuchter's defenders say these protests destroyed his career and his life.
In 1988, Leuchter traveled to several sites of structures identified as gas chambers, where, although he did not have permission to do so, he collected samples from walls, ceilings and floors, using a chisel and hammer to chip and scrape off pieces of the masonry. He took copious notes about the floor plans and layout, and all of his actions were videotaped by a cameraman. (Leuchter, who had been married for about one month before the trip, told his wife that the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was their honeymoon.) Leuchter then brought the samples back to Boston, where he presented them to Alpha Analytical Laboratories, a chemical laboratory, for testing. Leuchter told Alpha only that the samples were to be used as evidence in a court case about an industrial accident. The lab tested them for exposure to cyanide and found trace amounts in the alleged crematoria, which Leuchter dismissed in his report:
Lab manager James Roth swore under oath to the results at the trial. It was only after he got off the stand that Roth learned what the trial was about. In an interview for Morris's film, Roth states that cyanide would have formed an extremely fine layer on the walls, to the depth of one-tenth of a human hair. Leuchter had taken samples of indeterminate thickness (he is seen in Morris's film hammering at the bricks with a rock hammer). Not informed of this, Roth had pulverized the entire samples, thus severely diluting the cyanide-containing layer of each sample with an indeterminate amount of brick, varying for each sample. Roth offers the analogy that the tests were like "analyzing paint on a wall by analyzing the timber that's behind it."
Leuchter did not examine the walls of the gas chambers until fifty years after they had been used; his critics note that it would have been virtually impossible to discover any cyanide at all using his method. In fact, tests conducted on ventilation grates immediately after the end of the war showed substantial amounts of cyanide. The chambers were demolished by the Nazis when they abandoned Auschwitz, and the facilities Leuchter examined were, in fact, partially reconstructed. Leuchter was unaware that part of the camp and chambers were reconstructed, so he had no way of knowing if the bricks he was scraping were actually part of the original gas chamber.
Leuchter also asserted that the necessary ventilation systems and other pieces simply would not fit. Documents from the period show that the gas chambers in fact had powerful ventilators capable of clearing the gas chambers in minutes. When challenged in court, Leuchter said he was unaware of those documents.
Many of Leuchter's conclusions are based on the assumption that it takes 20 to 30 hours to air a room disinfected with Zyklon-B; since far lower concentrations are required when gassing people it actually takes 20 to 30 minutes to air out the room and the forced ventilation systems used are more than adequate to allow the gas chambers to be operated without endangering the executioners. When questioned in court, Leuchter admitted he had not seen a document by the Waffen SS Commandant for construction issued when the gas chambers were constructed which estimated they had a 24 hour capacity of 4756 people, more than 30 times Leuchter's estimate of 156.
During the trial, Leuchter also made claims that it would be dangerous to house the furnaces for cremating the victims in the same building in which the gas chambers were located, because the "gas might explode" The gas only explodes at a minimal concentration of 56,000 PPM, about 200 times more than the lethal concentration. Leuchter also testified that it was impossible to kill six million people at Auschwitz. Six million is the estimate commonly given for all Jews killed during the Holocaust, not the estimated number of those killed at Auschwitz.
Leuchter's opposition to the possibility of gas chambers rests on the relatively low concentration of cyanide residue measured in his sample of the remains of the gas chambers in Auschwitz, compared to his sample of the "delousing chambers" in which clothes were deloused using the same gas, hydrogen cyanide. However, his report contains the assumption that lower concentrations are required for delousing than to kill humans and other warm blooded creatures; in fact, with their simpler structures and slower metabolisms, insects are more resistant to such gross metabolic poisons than mammals. Both toxicological study and practical experience demonstrate that it takes a much higher concentration of cyanide (16,000 parts per million) to kill insects than to kill humans (300 PPM), as well as an exposure time of many hours rather than only minutes. Leuchter also fails to explain his belief that Zyklon-B was used for delousing, in view of his belief that the product would present technical difficulties in ventilating and decontaminating such as to make it impractical for use in a gas chamber.
Leuchter claims he did not have any desire to disprove the Holocaust, and only came to doubt its occurrence as a result of being convinced that the structures he saw were not gas chambers. He claims he conducted the investigation and testified about it because he believed in freedom of speech and freedom of thought and felt that people should be allowed to publish their views, however misguided and that he believes every man deserves a fair trial (Zündel was facing 25 years in prison if he lost), and he was the only expert competent to provide the key testimony.
Protests were organized outside the court house in Canada, and near Leuchter's home in Malden, Massachusetts. However, despite the bad publicity Leuchter remained active until 1990, when his lack of qualifications to practice was exposed. In the late 1980s, following the Ernst Zündel trial, he was featured in both the Atlantic Monthly and Prime Time Live in items on capital punishment, neither of which mentioned his association with Zündel. Also following his involvement in the Zündel trial, Leuchter began giving lectures to Holocaust denial groups such as the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) about his research and continued belief in the conclusions to which he testified in the trial. A speech to the Eleventh IHR Conference in October, 1992, included the following remark:
In October 1990, the state of Massachusetts brought criminal charges against Leuchter for representing himself as an engineer without a license. Leuchter says he was a victim of selective prosecution, since only 10% of engineers are actually licensed. Leuchter not only lacks an engineering license but has neither an engineering degree nor any other relevant professional certification or recognized credential — his education consists of a BA in history, which he completed in 1964. He admits to having no formal training in toxicology, biology or chemistry.
When he tried to sell parts of a lethal injection machine and other inventory from Fred Leuchter Associates, much of it items pending work for various states who refused to pay him for previously contracted or agreed work, he was again charged (Leuchter claims that the Massachusetts Attorney General had to explain that the sale of the offered equipment was not, in fact, illegal); his wife divorced him in this same period. The issues surrounding the equipment sale were covered in Boston area newspapers. Leuchter further claimed that states (he has named Delaware and its Deputy Attorney General, Fred Silverman) refused to do business with him and reneged on existing agreements not because of his lack of qualification but because of his involvement in the Zündel trial.
Now without a job or wife, he received an offer to come out to California, but the company he went to work for ran out of money, leaving Leuchter stranded. David Irving, speaking several years before losing his libel lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt and the ruin of his own reputation before a British court, expressed surprise that Leuchter did not commit suicide as a result of his destitution. Irving has called Leuchter a "simpleton" even as he has said that Leuchter's report convinced him that the established history of the Holocaust is a lie (Lipstadt's counsel in the libel trial cited Irving's contemporaneous statements to this effect in his opening statement).
Leuchter was arrested in and shortly thereafter deported from the United Kingdom in November 1991. He had been banned from entering the country by the Home Office and his entry and presence in the country was therefore considered illegal. Leuchter claimed that United States consulate personnel effectively refused him aid. He had been interrupted while giving an invited speech at Irving's instigation; his talk followed immediately one by Robert Faurisson. The account of this incident was given in the same speech from which the previous quoted block was taken.
Leuchter has blamed criticism of his work on an "international cabal... those who have unjustly attacked me and violated my rights... the Klarsfelds, Shapiros, and Kahns of the world".