People & Places

Walter Freeman

Freeman lobotomized around 4,000 people across America during his long career. His patients included a child of just four years old and a woman in her eighties.

Never off duty

Freeman loved to take his six children hiking and camping, and regularly interrupted family vacations to perform lobotomies around the country. He had his children sit in on the operations and even called on his sons to help hold his patients down while he stunned them using an electro-convulsive machine. His daughter, Lorne, dubbed her father “the Henry Ford of lobotomy,” a nod to Freeman’s production line approach to the procedure.


In his later years, Freeman bought a motor home – dubbed his “lobotomobile” by the press. He drove the length and breadth of the country, visiting former patients and checking up on their progress.

Transorbital Lobotomy

Freeman invented the cheap, easy “ten-minute lobotomy” known as the transorbital lobotomy in 1946. It involved hammering ice pick-like instruments through the thin orbital bone at the back of the eye sockets to sever connections in the brain.


Freeman used a variety of surgical instruments over the years including these leucotomes which he would hammer into a patient’s brain using a surgical mallet.

West Virginia

In 1952, Freeman embarked on a state-sponsored lobotomy campaign in West Virginia, which became known as “Operation Ice Pick.” He sought to empty West Virginia’s five public psychiatric hospitals, including Huntington and Lakin State Hospital, by lobotomizing their patients on a mass-scale.

Media Coverage

The media aided Freeman in his lobotomy crusade with glowing coverage of his procedure.

Before & After

Freeman took Before and After photographs of all his patients. He annotated these with his observations on the change in them following lobotomy.

Case 428
Case 128

Freeman said that all that could be done to help this female patient with schizophrenia was to lobotomize her, after which she was turned into a “veritable household pet.” He regarded this as a positive outcome.  

Howard Dully was just 12 years old when Freeman lobotomized him in 1960. Dully was not mentally ill. He wrote a book about his experience, My Lobotomy: A Memoir.

Rosemary Kennedy

Rosemary Kennedy (on right in top pic), sister of future American President JFK, was among the people Walter Freeman, and his then operating partner James Watts, lobotomized. The procedure had disastrous results; Rosemary was left incontinent and could not walk or feed herself (in center in bottom pic, taken in her later years, after she was lobtomized). Her family kept the operation a secret and hid her away in a residential facility.