A punishing paid obituary exposing a woman’s affair in small-town Minnesota in the 1960s forced a review of what’s fair to say about the departed.
Kathleen Dehmlow died last Thursday in Springfield, Minn., at the age of 80. On Monday, the Redwood Falls Gazette published a death notice online and in print that spelled out some salacious details of her life.
The obituary starts out conventionally enough, noting her birth in 1938, marriage in 1957 to Dennis Dehmlow in Wabasso and the arrival of children Gina and Jay.
What it said next attracted the attention of USA Today, London tabloids and other widely read news outlets: Kathleen became pregnant by Dennis’ brother Lyle, and Kathleen and Lyle pulled up roots and relocated to Northern California.
“She abandoned her children, Gina and Jay, who were then raised by her parents,” the obituary continued.
Kathleen Dehmlow died “and will now face judgement,” the notice said.
“She will not be missed by Gina and Jay, and they understand that this world is a better place without her.”
As the obituary spread across the internet and drew upset responses, the twice-weekly Gazette removed the online version from its website. Lisa Drafall, general manager of the Gazette, said that the family paid for the obituary. Drafall declined to say more, other than it was taken down on Tuesday.
‘This kind of trashing’ rare
This uproar has prompted legacy.com, a global online obituary website based in Evanston, Ill., to review its standards and not just lean on the newspapers that feed it.
“Because the content standards of our newspaper partners are extremely high, we haven’t needed to implement independent standards in this area,” CEO and founder Stopher Bartol said in a statement Tuesday. “That said, we take very seriously the trust placed in us by our partners and the families we together serve, and we will review and re-evaluate our procedures as necessary.”
Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said, “This kind of trashing of a decedent doesn’t happen very often,” but there is nothing illegal about what was published.
Minnesota law doesn’t allow libel lawsuits on behalf of the deceased, Anfinson said.
As for the ethics of publishing such criticism, Anfinson said, “each individual news organization makes those decisions for themselves.”
Steve Yaeger, chief marketing officer for the Star Tribune, said the newspaper’s standards mean, “We would have never run an obituary like the one that’s making news today,” he said. “And yes, obituaries are sometimes rejected or sent back to the family or funeral home for changes.”
‘She made a mistake’
One relative said the facts in the obituary are true, but “there is a lot of stuff that is missing.”
Dwight Dehmlow, who lives in the Twin Cities, said, “The sad thing about this is there is no rebuttal. There is more to it than this. It’s not simple.”
Dehmlow, who declined to specify his relationship to Kathleen, said she had lived in a nursing home for the past year, and her sisters were there when she died.
“She made a mistake 60 years ago, but who hasn’t?” he said. “Has she regretted it over the years? Yes.”
Contact information for Jay and his sister Gina was not available Tuesday.
The obit writer “decided to go out with hate,” Dwight Dehmlow said “This is going to hurt a lot of people.”